A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Hot Air on “This Week”

House Republican Minority Leader John Boehner was a guest on ABC’s "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" on Sunday, and he made a remark that could use some clarification and correction.

A conversation about climate change included the following exchange:

Stephanopoulos: What is the Republican plan to deal with carbon emissions, which every major scientific organization has said is contributing to climate change?

Boehner: George, the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you’ve got carbon dioxide.

To start, we haven’t noticed environmental groups, or anyone else for that matter, labeling CO2 a "carcinogen." According to the American Cancer Society, carcinogens are "substances and exposures that can lead to cancer." Carcinogens are harmful to people, not necessarily the environment, so how they relate to a conversation on climate change is unclear. But, for the record, CO2 is not listed as a carcinogen by any of the national or international organizations the ACS monitors.

Furthermore, Boehner’s comment that CO2 isn’t "harmful to our environment" runs counter to the scientific consensus on climate change. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and there’s widespread scientific agreement, as Stephanopoulos noted, that carbon dioxide emissions from factories and exhaust pipes across the country are a cause of global warming. (There’s not concern about the CO2 humans exhale.) As we’ve pointed out before, the U.N’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that "the primary source of the increased atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide since the pre-industrial period results from fossil fuel use." And last week, the Environmental Protection Agency said CO2 emissions could be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

Finally, while it’s true that when every cow (and other types of livestock) "do what they do, you’ve got carbon dioxide," as Boehner described it, that’s not the relevant issue in the climate change debate. The bigger concern is the methane gas that is released with livestock excrement, flatulence and burping. Methane is "23 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere," according to the EPA.