Nitrogen, Not Carbon, Is Killing the Planet, Worriers Say
Will the globalists start calling on citizens and businesses to reduce their nitrogen footprint?
We breathe it. It surrounds us. It makes up 78% of our atmosphere. Nitrogen, element 7 in the periodic table (see Mendeleev), is as common as air. But it’s about to become the next planet destroyer, threatening the environment even worse than carbon (element 6) is said to be doing. If draconian measures are deemed necessary to sequester carbon from the environment, burying it deep under the sea or destroying our energy infrastructure to reduce CO2 emissions, what will be necessary to reduce a far more common element, nitrogen?
In an article reminiscent of the DHMO parody, a report on Phys.org warns, “We must wake up to devastating impact of nitrogen.” They have a point. After all, with DHMO, its solid form really can cause tissue damage, and its liquid state is associated with cancer. Similarly, some forms of nitrogen can do bad things.
More than 150 top international scientists are calling on the world to take urgent action on nitrogen pollution, to tackle the widespread harm it is causing to humans, wildlife and the planet.
The scientists highlight that “the present environmental crisis is much more than a carbon problem” and are asking all countries “to wake up to the challenge” of halving nitrogen waste from all sources globally by 2030.
The diatomic molecule N2 in air is non-reactive and stable. The atoms are difficult to separate, requiring high heat in the Haber-Bosch process used to make fertilizer (10 Sept 2013, 6 March 2010), or lightning (4 July 2019). Nitrogen-fixing bacteria, with their complex nitrogenase machines, separate the atoms at room temperature (a feat humans have not mastered yet, 5 Oct 2015). Most molecular nitrogen, though, floats around harmlessly, providing bulk for the atmosphere so that the much-more-reactive oxygen doesn’t overwhelm us with wildfires. In his film FireMaker (free online), Michael Denton elaborates on the delicate balance of molecules in Earth’s atmosphere that make life possible.
Good and Bad
As with carbon, nitrogen can have an evil side. Carbon compounds exist in both sugar and rat poison, DNA and tailpipe soot, protein and cyanide. Compounds of pure carbon include diamonds, graphite in pencils, buckyballs, coal, and the upcoming stars, graphene and carbon nanotubes — useful and relatively safe molecules. Once diatomic nitrogen is “fixed” or separated, each nitrogen atom with its three valences can combine with many other elements, forming useful or harmful substances. If carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas to be worried about, how about nitrous oxide?
Nitrogen, through its many forms—which include ammonia, nitrogen dioxide, nitrous oxide (‘laughing gas’, a greenhouse gas 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide) and nitrate—is polluting our air, soil and water, posing a threat to human health, biodiversity, economies and livelihoods.
A future focus on sustainable nitrogen management would help prevent millions of premature deaths, help ensure food security, and simultaneously help protect wildlife and the ozone layer.
Similarly, carbon-based CH3 (methane) is hundreds of times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. It would seem that global warmists ought to focus on those, more than the weaker carbon dioxide, which tends to get all the attention.
Human beings can misuse good things like carbon and nitrogen. The scientists at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology have a point: beneficial nitrogen compounds, like fertilizer, can be mismanaged, leading to accumulation of waste. The molecules of our environment pass through natural cycles: the water cycle, the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the oxygen cycle. Environmental policy should seek to maintain these natural cycles.
Rather than scaring people about nitrogen in the style of the DHMO parody, we should recognize the role of nitrogen in the good design of the Earth and use it wisely and responsibly. Nitrogen is an important component of a wondrous natural system, in which everything works together to support life. Thank God for it. Don’t make nitrogen into a bogeyman.
Imagine the horror film a clever scriptwriter could make about water: avalanches, floods, icicles used as javelins, toxic solutions, burns from hot water, and all the rest in the satire, ending with a clip of a cancer patient slowly raising a cup of water to his lips, the haunting music rising and ending with a scream. The same could be done with nitrogen.
Let’s understand what’s driving some of these scientists. As with carbon, the nitrogen police want government control. They are globalists, seeking to regulate the behavior of all humans on the planet. Take their legitimate concerns to heart, and enact reasonable policies that manage this good, beneficial resource for the benefit of all life. Just don’t give the globalists power, or they will rob us of our liberties.