Tony Vagneur: The frosting on the climate debate

Tony Vagneur/Saddle Sore

Mona Frost might have drilled it home to us in the sixth grade — photosynthesis, that miracle of our sphere, the Earth, that turns carbon dioxide, water and sunlight into green, sugary plants. And oxygen.   

Carbon dioxide has a somewhat unpopular name right now, being a central player in the climate change mantra, as though CO2 is somehow a bad thing. If it wasn’t for CO2, there wouldn’t be any oxygen for us to breathe or food to eat. You don’t think so, eh?

As Mrs. Frost said all those many years ago, it’s a very simple process — plants collect carbon dioxide from the air, and using that, sunlight and water, they become the plants they are. As they do this, the plants emit their waste product, known as oxygen, as valuable to our atmosphere as CO2 and water. And remember this – each time we exhale, we are blowing CO2 into the air. The plants like it.

For years, many people have branded people like me “climate deniers,” for some global reason they have to demean those of us who feel differently about the idea of “human caused” climate change. If you think about it, you can’t deny climate — it surrounds us, and if coronavirus taught us anything, it is that science can be used by varying postulations to “prove” a belief, not necessarily based on scientific evidence. To quote G.K. Chesterton, “Unfortunately, science is only splendid when it is science. When science becomes religion, it becomes superstition.” But I digress.

For years it has been my observation, based on the unassailable photosynthesis of plants since the beginning of time, if there was increasingly more CO2 in the air, our crops, our gardens, our food sources would be increasing in some sort of a collateral fashion. That doesn’t seem to be the case, although some agriculturists today believe that more productive plants, based on increased, miniscule amounts of carbon dioxide, are helping to feed the hungry in a world of decreasing farmland.

Sequestering carbon dioxide in the soil seems to be a relatively new thing, like apparently no one knew that photosynthesis and the consumption of CO2 takes place every day on planet Earth — I guess the idea was just happened on by some novel thinkers in our midst. Instead of plowing up ground to raise crops and vegetables, and then trampling it down by application of fertilizer and insecticides, maybe we should leave more of the grasses and legumes undisturbed by the plow or till, leaving them tall and true to grab every available molecule of CO2 that comes their way.

Ranchers in the Roaring Fork Valley have been doing that for well over 100 years — did my ancestors know they were on the cutting edge of helping to save the planet? It goes hand-in-hand with raising cattle or sheep. In California, the government thinks it is wise to sequester carbon in the land, as though that is a new idea, and raising more cattle and herbivores to thrive on the grasses is a good thing. In the same breath, however, they tell people to eat less red meat.

Think about it. Grasses consume carbon dioxide to grow and thrive; cattle and sheep eat grasses to grow and thrive, inadvertently (and with intent) consuming carbon dioxide. People eat vegetables, fruits and meats to survive — it doesn’t matter whether you are a strict vegetarian or a red meat eater, or both, you’re a consumer of carbon dioxide — and an emitter. Roughly 96% of the mass of the human body is made up of just four elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen, with a lot of that in the form of water. Carbon, considered a trace gas, is so small (measured in parts per million) it’s the only chemical the numerical climate models don’t include.

The issue of climate is serious, as the climate is continually changing, but we need to be very careful about the validity of information we are exposed to if we are to make intelligent decisions concerning climate and our atmosphere.  

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at