Acid Rain: Another Alarmist Story by Tim Ball

Published March 1, 2015

Some historians hold that history is just one damned thing after another.
Arnold Toynbee, British Historian

I became aware of the political exploitation and bad science behind the acid rain scare quite early. It was a major issue in the rise of extreme environmentalism. Like most of these issues it bears little examination. Even cursory research exposes the lack of evidence behind the claims. Anybody who dared to raise questions was eco-bullied and marginalized: they were paid by corporations, had a right-wing agenda, and didn’t care about the children, the planet or the future. Enviro-hysteria developed and Salem-like-witch hunts were promoted by environmentalists and dutifully reported, unchallenged, by the media.

In the late 1980s I chaired a climate conference at the National Museum in Ottawa. Afterward an Environment Canada (EC) researcher wanted to talk about a problem with the issue of acid rain.

He wouldn’t talk at the museum so we met at the airport coffee shop, like cold war spies. EC directed him to provide research proving that pollution from Midwest US coal burning plants was creating acid rain and killing Maple trees in Quebec to the detriment of maple syrup industry. He had two problems. 1. The research showed no connection between acid rain and a decline in maple syrup yields. 2. Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was publicly saying the acid rain was to blame.

The problem was his research showed the decline in Maple Syrup production was caused by two natural, cyclical, events. One was drought. The other, very early spring warming that triggered leaf production, followed by a leaf destroying “black” frost. The impact is the same, a condition called “dieback”, that is a loss of leaves. Trees have recovery and catch-up mechanisms that drive them to seed production. They grow new leaves and go through a shortened and reduced production cycle, which includes reduced sap flow, hence the reduced maple syrup yields.

The researcher wanted to know what to do. The answer was obvious. Retain your scientific integrity and let someone higher up the bureaucrat ladder make the political decision to shelve the report. Three American and three Canadian investigators later confirmed his findings that acid rain was not the cause of decline in Maple Syrup. His story is only one of many reasons why bureaucrats should not be doing research. Within a few years climate conditions changed again and yields exceeded previous records.

What is Acid Rain?

Most people don’t know that all rain is acid rain. Raindrops are created when water vapor, a gas, condenses onto particles called condensation nuclei (CN) in the atmosphere and form water droplets, a liquid. Clay (Kaolinite) and salt make up most of the CN. The nuclei influences the chemical nature of the liquid water drop created. For example, salt particles change the freezing temperature so the droplet becomes super-cooled and remain liquid below the freezing point.

Water droplets are extremely small. They are visible in groups, because that is what you see when you look at a cloud. It takes an estimated 1 million to form a medium-sized raindrop. All water absorbs CO2 and droplets with a very high ratio of surface area to volume absorb CO2 it a known rate. The chemical formula is CO2 + H2O H2CO3, which results in a weak, approximately 10 percent, carbonic acid, in chemical equilibrium.

So what was the scare of “Acid Rain”? Why was it different from other rain? The key is the CN. If it is a sulfur particle, the water droplet becomes a mild sulfuric acid droplet and that became the Acid Rain of environmentalists focus.

Acid rain occurred in concentrations sufficient to destroy plants in some restricted locations. I lived in Sudbury Ontario for a year, with its smoke stack, identified as the source of 10 percent of North American Acid Rain, and saw the effects. This is a standard technique of alarmists; take a ‘point of impact’ problem and expand it to a global issue. Ironically, after scrubbers were put on the stacks, reports appeared of reduced tree growth downwind because small amounts of sulfur were a fertilizer enhancing growth. Here is what a German scientist wrote in 2008 about what went on.

Forests can be found everywhere on our planet. But only in German (and, to a certain extent, also in Swiss) forests, a special phenomenon occurred about 30 years ago called “Waldsterben” (dying of forests). The starting point were local damages to certain tree species which scientists, journalists and politicians eagerly interpreted as a global threat to all forests. Man-made emissions were seen as the cause of the Waldsterben which was expected to thoroughly deforest the country within a few years. However, none of the apocalyptic prophecies of that time fulfilled. Seen in retrospect, Waldsterben spared the trees. It only seized the minds of the people.

They can appear to justify the point of impact approach, because with today’s technology, it is always possible to detect things everywhere. For example, a few years ago I learned about a quintillionth (1 followed by 18 zeros in the US and Canada or 1 followed by 30 zeros on the UK, France and Germany). I asked a professor of chemistry to explain in simple terms what this means. He said, it is like a tablespoon of a chemical in Lake Superior. Just because you can detect something, doesn’t mean it is a problem. Paracelsus, the 16th century alchemist explained that the toxicity is in the dosage.

For example, from the very first test over 100 years ago, there was a minute quantity of arsenic in Winnipeg’s water supply. The quantity is so low you could never drink enough water for it to become a problem and to my knowledge, the quantity has not increased over the years. But, imagine the reaction a headline, “Cities Water Contains Arsenic” would generate. No doubt, like all such stories, it would contain all the conditional words, like could, maybe, computer model, speculate. They reveal that the headline is, deliberately scary and unjustified. The problem is, and the environmentalists know it, the headline is what people remember. They also know if it is repeated three times, it becomes fact.

Another part of many environmental claims is to identify humans as the source of the problem. For example, chlorine was the supposedly active ingredient in CFCs that was destroying the ozone. The problem is chlorine occurs in the atmosphere with varying strengths naturally. They claimed, incorrectly, that they could distinguish human produced chlorine from the natural chlorine. They did the same with CO2 claiming, again incorrectly, they could identify by isotopic analysis natural CO2 from that produced by humans use of fossil fuels. Acid rain, like that identified as dangerous acid rain from human sources, also occurs naturally, often in large quantities.

Every volcanic eruption, and there are thousands every year, puts sulphur particles into the atmosphere. They create acid rain similar to that formed from sulphur particles from human sources. It is transported throughout the atmosphere and also falls as acid rain. Important in all this is the assumption that whatever humans do is unnatural. As Geothe said, “The unnatural – that too is natural.” Greenpeace, in their book on global warming, state that CO2 is added to the atmosphere naturally and unnaturally. This means what we do is not natural and therefore, by default, we are unnatural. They claim to accept Darwin’s views, but they ignore the contradiction that we are the most successful of the species. Indeed, what Darwin considers evolutionary advance, environmentalists deride and oppose. David Suzuki, a former genetics professor, might see the irony, although I doubt it. He said.

“Economics is a very species – chauvinistic idea. No other species on earth – and there are may be 30 million of them – has had the nerve to put forth a concept called economics, in which one species, us, declares the right to put value on everything else on earth, in the living and non-living world.”

First, he is wrong, because all other species do put a value on everything else, – it is food or it is not food. Second, they are not capable of any other assessment because they haven’t evolved. When they evolve to the point where they can paint a picture or take a photograph of Suzuki, then I might consider his opinion, until then stop forcing your warped views on others, especially children. Especially since it is done with religious-like fervor, but then, religion is another concept no animal has developed.

12 Responses to “Acid Rain: Another Alarmist Story by Tim Ball”

  1. mike higgins March 10, 2015

    Sorry that was Barium not Boron.Would be interested in knowing the effects of each if there are any scientists out there.

  2. mike higgins March 3, 2015

    Re acid rain.It is a natural phenomenon for the water to bring down the carbon,creating carbonic acid which is what earthworms do to carbonaceous material in the soil.The cabonic acid dissolves minerals (inorganic) in the soils and when the plants take them in they become organic and are digestible by people and animals eating the plants.Earthworms were not native to North America but came over with the Europeans,so this release of carbonic acid in the rain was the way plants got it since time began.The problem with acid rain is that it is out of balance and leaches a lot of the minerals in the soil and consequentially our food.

  3. Rod Packwood March 2, 2015

    At first I thought some of those replies were wonderful spoofs, now I see they were real!
    So I guess they are right after all, there must be someone spreading something!

  4. mike higgins March 2, 2015

    The chemtrails are made up of a mixture of fine aluminum particles and boron,as admitted by govt officials,that affect the quality of the soil and water on the land and its value as a food producer.Of course it gets into our bodies possibly leading to increases in Alzheimers disease.
    Flouride is banned from the water supplies of most of the world.It also contains aluminum hydroxide,as it is a by-product of aluminum production.Also it is the main ingredient in Prozac and was first used as a sedative in the Gulag and concentration camps.It acts in toothpaste as a disifectant to attack the VIRUS that causes tooth decay–its not a bacteria. On the toothpaste tube is says if swallowed call the poison control center.A pea sized drop of toothpaste is equivalent to drinking a glass of city water? It is also difficult to store,cant be put on farmers fields and causes a crippling disease in animals pastured where is has been sprayed on fields.I have come to these conclusions after studying this for a number of years,but can be corrected if someone knows better.

  5. Bob Marcellus March 1, 2015

    Mr. Suzuki has been gaining fame on next to no science for years.
    Is the term travesty appropriate?

  6. just a man March 1, 2015

    army personal have openly shown the world ON U TUBE that they are just following orders to spray the sky with CHEMICALS ,I wish people would do there home work ,it’s so sad too see humans with only left brain function.please wake up quickly.

  7. Roger Graves March 1, 2015

    Grace Joubarne – um, I think you might find that “what was being released from planes in those criss-cross patterns and parallel lines over cities and towns right across North America” are actually contrails, which are simply clouds. Water vapour from the engine exhausts of aircraft condenses as it hits the cold atmosphere and becomes a series of tiny water droplets, which take the form of linear clouds extending backwards from the aircraft. Depending on atmospheric conditions, these clouds can disperse in a few minutes or hang around for hours. But they are no different in principle from those fluffy white clouds that sail across the sky all by themselves.

    If you really want to get rid of any significant amount of coal dust by releasing it into the air from planes, as you suggest, the amount of coal dust generated in the US would easily occupy the entire fleet of commercial aircraft in the US on a full-time basis, and then some. Surely someone would have noticed by now that there were no passenger flights because all the aircraft were engaged in dumping coal dust?

  8. Rod Packwood March 1, 2015

    Dr Tim. …You’re the Man!

  9. Grace Joubarne March 1, 2015

    To Ken Hughes: yes those are the result of coal dust releases 24/7 for the last 40 years. Scientists just proved that what was being released from planes in those criss-cross patterns and parallel lines over cities and towns right across North America is a coal dust/water mixture from corporations who avoid the cost of decontamination of the by-products of their processing activities by releasing it into the air from planes. They now know the locations of the airports where the trains carrying this slurry unload.

    This activity has been going on since about 1950 when a California woman noticed the lines of white material being released into the sky above her town that would expand until it dimmed the sky. She sounded the alarm and was called a nut despite the fact that everyone could see the lines being laid in the atmosphere. Eventually this permanent dimming was observed right across North America and no one is calling her a nut anymore.

    Geoengineers have openly admitted they are doing this, but claim they are doing it to cause sunlight to reflect back, thereby keeping the earth ‘cool’ and preventing ‘global warming’. However, geoengineer explanations of needing to ‘protect’ the earth from global warming are akin to that of the dentists in the fluoridation issue, where fertilizer production by-product is released into the environment because dentists say it’s important to protect ‘children’s teeth from tooth decay, meanwhile fertilizer producers save serious decontamination costs. They not only save money, they make money by selling the by-product that is listed as a Class 1 Hazardous Waste Product by the EPA to the many municipalities that refuse to listen to scientists around the world about this practice. That’s how magic works…it (coal dust and fertilizer by-product) are poisons until released into the atmosphere and the drinking water and miraculously poison becomes ‘healthy’.

    Dentists love the practice of fluoridation of drinking water…they make a killing with the cosmetic repair of dental fluorosis caused by the fluoride in the drinking water. In the meantime, these scams by corporations (with the blessing of our governments) are causing epidemics of cancers, bone problems, thyroid dysfunction and of course dental and skeletal fluorosis (passed off as osteoporosis by the medical cartel).

  10. Shirley Baziuk March 1, 2015

    Another brilliant essay. Dr. Ball, I wish a publisher would compile many of your essays into book format and that this would be a required text in Canadian schools.

  11. Lorne Hooper March 1, 2015

    Dr. Ball makes another successful attack on Junk Science. His articles are my favourite read in The Landowner magazine. He’s a treasure.

  12. Ken Hughes March 1, 2015

    Facts: I used to live at 1450 feet above sea level in Lount twshp which is 100 miles s east of Sudbury and our garden was always covered with white dust which I was always told came from the big chimney.It never hurt anything that I could see at the time but many neighbours got sicknesses and died!Any body know what the white dust consisted of ?

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