Carbon-Free Sugar, Science-Free Environmentalism

I was at the grocery store the other day when I noticed that Domino is now advertising its five-pound bags of sugar as “certified carbon-free.”

This is the sort of thing that requires photographic evidence, so here it is.

It’s been a few years since I’ve been in a chemistry class, but at least I have been in a chemistry class once, so I knew there was something deeply wrong with this advertisement. I pulled out my smartphone and refreshed my memory on the chemical formula for sugar: C6H12O6. In case it’s been even longer since you’ve been in a chemistry class, the “C” stands for “carbon.” So carbon is one of the basic natural atomic components of sugar, which is no more “carbon-free” than a charcoal briquette.

I know that what they mean by “carbon-free” is that the sugar was produced in a way that does not create industrial emissions of carbon dioxide and therefore—according to the claims of environmentalists—does not contribute to man-made global warming. At least, they claim that their operation is “carbon neutral,” which means that they probably do emit carbon dioxide but they buy some kind of dubious “offset” to “greenwash” their operation.

But what struck me is that no one on the staff of a company that makes sugar was aware that it contains carbon, or at least no one thought that any member of the public would be aware of it. No one thought that they might be setting themselves up for ridicule by trying to sell us “carbon-free” C6H12O6. And that is symptomatic of how environmental dogmas are sold to the public.

For all of their bluster about how environmentalists have science on their side, they frequently appeal to a total ignorance of science in the minds of their audience.

In this case, the “carbon-free” pitch is part of a larger shift I’ve seen over the past ten years. Somewhere along the line, some PR flack for the global warmists figured out that to the scientifically ignorant, “carbon” sounds scary. It sounds dirty, it sounds toxic, it sounds unsafe. So the environmentalists all stopped referring to “carbon dioxide” and just started saying “carbon.” That’s how we get the terms “carbon footprint,” “carbon-free,” “carbon neutral.” I even remember seeing the New York Times refer to carbon dioxide as emissions of “carbon gas.” Run for your lives, everyone, it’s carbon gas!

“Carbon-free” is a turn of phrase that is closely related to “chemical-free.” Of course, what people mean when they say this is that something is free of “artificial” chemicals, though the distinction can be a bit, well, artificial. But the way the phrase is used will often give pain to the scientifically literate. Take the sign I recently saw at a cleaner around the corner from my kids’ school. They advertise the fact that their “pure organic cleaning” will use only “chemical-free H2O.” Again, this requires photographic evidence, so here it is.

If they had said “chemical-free water,” it wouldn’t have been so bad (except for the fact that they want to charge me to clean my clothes without using soap). But they had to proclaim their water to be “chemical-free” while using the chemical symbol for water.

Then there is the fact that all of this is supposed to be “organic.” In scientific terms, there are several meanings for the word “organic.” Two of them are the most relevant here. In biology, it means: pertaining to or containing living beings. As one of my Facebook friends quipped, “When water is ‘organic,’ it’s time to boil it before drinking.”

In chemistry, “organic” means: pertaining to chemical compounds that contain carbon. Note that in neither of these meanings is H2O “organic.” But there’s a bigger irony. We’re all supposed to be instilled with such an unnatural fear of carbon that we have to proclaim our sugar to be “carbon-free”—yet the same people tell us that the best kind of food is “organic,” a word that means “carbon-containing.”

This fast-and-loose borrowing of scientific terms has real consequences. Consider a recent study which looked at the health effects of “organic” foods versus food grown in the usual manner. It found, unsurprisingly, that “organic” foods are no more or less organic than any other kind of food. They are chemically and nutritionally indistinguishable. “Organic,” in this case, has long since ceased to be a scientific term and has just become a meaningless marketing label used to bilk consumers.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, when it comes to the scientific ignorance that environmentalists rely on even as they claim the mantle of science. They tell us to drive electric cars that don’t emit CO2, without bothering to tell us that the electricity is generated in power plants that probably burn coal or natural gas, which does emit CO2. And remember how they changed the name of their theory from “global warming” to “climate change,” so that they could claim any weather phenomenon—including snowstorms—as evidence to back them up? They are relying on the public’s ignorance of the actual history of the climate, which is constantly changing and over geologic time has swung wildly between hot and cold periods as part of its normal, natural variation.

All of this reminds me of the “logic” courses I took as a philosophy major in college. This was not good, old-fashioned logic; we never cracked a syllogism, nor did we study the classical logical fallacies (leaving us free to commit them willy-nilly). No, this was modern “symbolical logic,” a pseudo-science invented at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. I found that the class gave me no end of difficulty, and I eventually realized why. At the same time, I was studying a legitimate science, advanced mathematics, and I found that my logic class was using all of the same symbols—but it was using them in totally different ways. The humanities types have always been jealous of science and mathematics, with their reputation for rigor and accuracy—not to mention for producing actual, usable results. So they just stole the terminology of science and mathematics, using it as public-relations window dressing, with no regard for its actual scientific meaning.

The environmentalist movement is attempting a similar con. They are stealing the terminology of science to provide cover for an irrational, unscientific fear of industry and technology. And so while they loudly claim to be the tribunes of science, they actually play to and rely on the public’s ignorance of science.

That is how we ended up living in a world of carbon-free sugar, chemical-free H2O, and science-free environmentalism.

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10 Responses to Carbon-Free Sugar, Science-Free Environmentalism

  1. Alexander Temerev September 10, 2012 at 3:19 PM #

    C6H12O6 is glucose; the formula for sucrose is C12H22O11.

    Just wanted to say “even more carbon!”, but this statement requires some calculations with atomic weights, and I am too lazy to do it. But I think it is correct, sucrose contains even more carbon by percentage than your original estimate.

    Thanks for the great article!

  2. Marvin Jay Greenberg September 10, 2012 at 6:22 PM #

    While the thrust of your article is certainly correct, your two meaning’s of “organic” are not all that are found in a dictionary – namely

    organic [ɔːˈgænɪk]
    1. (Life Sciences & Allied Applications / Biology) of, relating to, derived from, or characteristic of living plants and animals
    2. (Life Sciences & Allied Applications / Biology) of or relating to animal or plant constituents or products having a carbon basis
    3. (Life Sciences & Allied Applications / Biology) of or relating to one or more organs of an animal or plant
    4. (Chemistry) of, relating to, or belonging to the class of chemical compounds that are formed from carbon an organic compound Compare inorganic [2]
    5. constitutional in the structure of something; fundamental; integral
    6. of or characterized by the coordination of integral parts; organized
    7. developing naturally organic change through positive education
    8. (Law) of or relating to the essential constitutional laws regulating the government of a state organic law
    9. (Life Sciences & Allied Applications / Agriculture) of, relating to, or grown with the use of fertilizers or pesticides deriving from animal or vegetable matter, rather than from chemicals
    (Life Sciences & Allied Applications / Agriculture) any substance, such as a fertilizer or pesticide, that is derived from animal or vegetable matter
    organically adv

    Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers

  3. Michael Golde September 10, 2012 at 7:45 PM #

    Fantastic article. Really debunks the junk science (or lack of science) shoved down the throats of the public by those who are obviously scientifically illiterate.

  4. Stephen Bailey September 12, 2012 at 11:28 AM #

    Do you have a reference to your college logic textbook? There is a valid mathematics based on boolean algebra that is also frequently referred to as boolean logic or logic for short. The entire digital hardware and computer software industry is based on boolean algebra. Electronics engineers do “logic design.” Therefore, I think it is important to ensure that your college experience was not related to the valid math of boolean algebra.

  5. Kyle September 12, 2012 at 4:00 PM #

    I do agree that manufacturers have gotten a bit carried away with their advertising of “free of this or free of that.” There is also a sense of dubiousness involved, but never the less as a concerned consumer I appreciate the fact that the company is trying to put forth an effort to help preserve of environment.

    Robert, all we have protecting our very existence is the environment. Without the environment, barring any catastrophic event (e.g. asteroid), we won’t exist. Our planet is very resilient, but at the same time very delicate. Take for instance our own body, we can beat it up, break bones, digest all kinds of crap, endure days without water, etc. But throw off something as simple as your blood-sugar level and you can die (i.e. diabetics).
    Our time on this planet at this moment in time is unprecedented (mostly the last 200 years). We as humans hold an extreme amount of power that no other creature ever has in the existence of Earth. We could literally blow the planet half to bits and wipe out our existence. Will the earth recover – surely in time. Will life continue, in minimal form but will bounce back. I’m not some doomsday-er or some person that thinks we are on the edge of destruction. But we need to realize that with 7 BILLION people on the planet, (again most of which in the last 200 years) that we are having an effect on the planet, particularly with our huge need for power and food.

    To your comment “…And remember how they changed the name of their theory from “global warming” to “climate change.” There is actually a difference between the terms global warming and climate change.

    Global warming refers to the recent and ongoing rise in global average temperature near Earth’s surface. It is caused mostly by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Global warming is causing climate patterns to change. However, global warming itself represents only one aspect of climate change.

    Climate change refers to any significant change in the measures of climate lasting for an extended period of time. In other words, climate change includes major changes in temperature, precipitation, or wind patterns, among other effects, that occur over several decades or longer.

    I wanted to comment on your comment “…actual history of the climate, which is constantly changing and over geologic time has swung wildly between hot and cold periods as part of its normal, natural variation.” You’re correct, these changes have occurred over time, but the current scientific information is telling us that the change in temperature (1.4°F over the past century, source: EPA) is not in accordance with the natural ebb and flow of the changes we should be experiencing.

    Yes, we have a lot of ignorant consumers and even intelligent consumers who get duped; Even environmentally conscience consumers who will buy environmentally friendly toilet paper but get in the Suburban to drive home. But without corporations leading the way and providing an example, especially since they are typically the largest consumer of energy, we won’t move forward with bettering our planet.

    Before you go classifying the EPA and biased because it is under Obama’s administration, let me also state that the International Institute for Environment and Development, scores of well-respected international scientists plus countless universities around the world have all come the same general consensus. Quite interesting we are the one of the only countries where gw/cc is a major dividing political issue.

    • John Pryce February 17, 2013 at 1:02 PM #

      And yet that consensus is very likely completely untrue, given the shenanigans that have been leaking out of the various IPECAC-affiliated groups.

      Also, consensus is IRRELEVANT in science. In fact, it’s more than that; the existence or non-existence of consensus in science, on ANY issue, is so completely beside the point that it might as well be comparing apples to atomic warheads. In science, what matters is truth or falsehood. The use of “consensus” is telling, because it is in POLITICS that consensus matters.

      • John Pryce February 17, 2013 at 1:02 PM #

        Sorry, IPCC-affiliated.

      • John Wilson May 8, 2013 at 9:35 AM #

        Okay, let’s take the bull head-on. Global warming is a fact. How much man is contributing is still in question, but there’s no doubt whatsoever that he is contributing. You can’t just “magic away” carbon dioxide and resultant methane from melting polar ice.

        I have a Ph.D in atmospheric chemistry and took on two climate change opponents (both longtime Ph.D recipients) at my defense a few years back, and dealt with them handily.

        Stating that consensus has no place in science is an intellectually lazy thing to do, my friend. Tsk. I can point you to many scientists who know much about their field, but simply ignore factual evidence because it doesn’t fit their beliefs. That’s well naughty and they need to be beaten about the head and shoulders smartly for letting their beliefs play with their science. Consensus is pressure from the weight of evidence. It is pressure that is needed for those who will not accept facts. Consensus is a valuable part of science. If a scientific finding doesn’t agree with your belief system, then you have to abandon that belief system when you’re engaged in the science.

        Here endeth the lesson.

      • Robert Tracinski May 8, 2013 at 10:41 AM #

        Thanks for the “lesson.” But my point is that citing a “consensus” is what makes you intellectually lazy, because it encourages you to beat your opponents about the head and shoulders sharply, as you put it, but without citing any actual scientific evidence. Which is what you just did.

        You might want to rethink who it is who is allowing their “belief system” to cloud their interpretation of the evidence.

        I find that appealing to a “consensus” doesn’t just make you lazy, it makes you smug, complacent, and condescending. Those are very bad habits for anyone, particularly for a scientist.

  6. Doug Proctor May 27, 2013 at 1:26 PM #

    Good, very good.

    “Natural” is another word with changed meaning for the eco-green. In his sense, “natural” means either health-promoting or health-neutral. Eating an apple is a good way to get “natural” vitamins and minerals, “natural goodness”. Eat the apple core, particularly the seeds, is a good way to get cyanide posioning (it takes a whole lot of seeds to get you dead, though).

    “Natural”, as “organic”, has evolved. Actually, devolved, as its meaning is less clear than it used to be: a Newspeak word.

    Years ago I picked up a cheap billfold that had the following: “Genuine Imitation Leather”.

    I bought it for its backass honesty.