Look at the Pollution! Oh, its Water, Never Mind

I think most of us are familiar with the clever movie poster for An Invconvinient Truth, with the smoke from a factory swirling into a hurricane:


In fact, this same picture of a white plume coming from a factory or power plant stack is often used to illustrate articles on pollution.  Just searching the first page of images googling "air pollution" gives us these relatively similar images illustrating air pollution articles:

Ap1 Ap2 Ap3 Ap4

Ap5 Ap6 Ap7 Ap8

Here is a big Roseanne Rosanadana Emily Litella moment for all of you using these images:  The big white cloud coming out of all those stacks is steam.  Water vapor.  H2O.  Though actually a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2, no one has had the temerity to label water a pollutant (except in that great Bullshit! issue when Penn & Teller get environmentalists to sign a petition banning dihydrogen monoxide).  All of these guys are using big plumes of water vapor to panic people about pollution.  That is because most pollutants emitted by combustion are invisible.  Visible smoke was licked by most plants decades ago (here is the only "factory" picture in the google search I could find with actual smoke). 

Just to avoid being misunderstood, my point is not that pollution is OK because it is invisible.  My point is that these scare pictures are yet another example of how environmentalists feel its OK to ignore science to advance their agenda in public.  Sometimes they even go further, as Small Dead Animals points out, resorting to photo-shopping to make things seem worse, but the dreaded steam plumes are still there front and center.  (I noticed that several of the pictures above where photographed at sunset.  I thought at first this was to make them look prettier, but maybe they liked the effect because it made the steam look browner without photo-shopping).

I did not go too deep into the Google search, but I went far enough to award my personal favorite for a scare picture that has nothing to do with the point being made:


This one is a classic, with the sad-faced little girl and her asthma** inhaler super-imposed over a scene of "industrial pollution."  Except, the scene is from a nuclear power plant!  The unique shaped cooling tower is almost exclusively used on nuclear power plants, but the ultimate proof is the small nuclear reactor containment dome you can see to the right.  That plume, which is supposed to represent pollution, has to be 100% water.  There are no combustion products at a nuclear plant, and even if there were, given the way the cooling tower works, this can only be water vapor coming out of the cooling tower.  The really sad and pathetic thing is that this illustration is from the air pollution site at Battelle, which is a world-renowned private scientific and technical organization. 

What's my point?   I think that scientists and academics, in their increasing arrogance, have no respect for the general public.  The only way I can consistently interpret scientist's actions, for example around the global warming debate, is to hypothesize that they consider truth and facts important when talking to other scientists, but irrelevant when talking to the public because, in their mind, the public is stupid and its OK to tell them anything.  I will leave you with this
from National Center for Atmospheric Research (NOAA) climate researcher and global warming action promoter,
Steven Schneider:

[In talking to the public about the climate] We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements,
and make little mention of any doubts we have. Each of us has to decide what
the right balance is between being effective and being honest.

** By the way, there is growing evidence that increasing reported asthma rates are not correlated with outdoor air pollution. I wrote about this here, and hypothesized that the growth in asthma has coincided with the post-70s-energy-crisis steps everyone has taken to better insulate and seal up their houses and buildings, making indoor air pollution more of a problem.

Update: I started to think the dome I was calling a nuclear containment building might be telescope dome on the top of the building below.  It's not.


  1. Mesa EconoGuy:

    You nailed it again, Coyote, and this is particularly insightful (and will piss off almost all the global warmers):

    “What's my point? I think that scientists and academics, in their increasing arrogance, have no respect for the general public. The only way I can consistently interpret scientist's actions, for example around the global warming debate, is to hypothesize that they consider truth and facts important when talking to other scientists, but irrelevant when talking to the public because, in their mind, the public is stupid and its OK to tell them anything. “

    Scientists and academics are indeed arrogant, as I witnessed firsthand working in several academic research clinics and labs, and most are so highly disconnected and thoroughly focused on their work that they are largely ignorant of everything else, including, at times, imperfections in their own reasoning and thought processes. And no, that is not a gross overgeneralization.

    The Simpsons Professor Frink caricature is not too far off, though Frink seems to have a better self-awareness and “Frinkishness” than many scientists, especially the global warmers.

    What’s my point here? It’s that self-proclaimed scientific “experts” are just as capable as (in this case more capable than) the rest of the general public or any enterprise of being willfully blind to their own mistakes and bad judgment, especially when outside (and affirming) forces give them reason to take the easy way out, which in this case is sloppy and highly subjective pseudo-science packaged with emotional cheerleading, masquerading as “high probability” and “consensus.”

    Nearly all of the scientific “consensus” is completely ignorant of economics. Those who have studied it simply don’t understand its practical framework and application, and none understand the tradeoff they are asking of the rest of the global population to make based on their very suspect “evidence” on this issue.

  2. bob:

    The comment about asthma is interesting. In New Zealand where I live, 1 in and 4 kids and 1 in 6 adults has asthma. This is in a relatively unpolluted country. In the USA, only 6% of children have asthma. Go figure.

  3. Dan:

    I'll betcha there's overdiagnosis of asthma, too. I was diagnosed when I was a teen, though I never suffered from it. Years later, for irrelevant reasons, I actually got tested. The original diagnosis had been false. It's anecdotal, but at least it's my anecdote.

    And otherwise great analysis. Thanks, Coyote.

  4. Mesa EconoGuy:

    Here’s the latest “global-warming-holocaust-denier” insight:


    “Since 1990, the baseline year of the Kyoto Protocol, methane emissions have dropped by 12.8 percent. This reduction of approximately four million metric tons represents an equivalent reduction of about 90 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. Continued reductions in methane may make worries about carbon dioxide moot.
    Most climate scientists did not forecast this enormous reduction in methane emissions, largely because it did not fit neatly into the accepted paradigm that climate change was an entirely human-induced phenomenon.”

    Basically, cow farts are on the decline, and Prime Rib orders are on the rise, due to increased standard of living, so we can all relax.

    See? Prosperity really is good for the environment….

  5. Mesa EconoGuy:

    Okay, okay, okay, last post, and thank you Coyote for providing the forum. You’re asking “who is this econojerk, and how does he know this stuff?”

    Organic Chemistry quiz for you global warmers:

    Since “methane emissions—another greenhouse gas that is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide” is CH4, highly combustible, what makes you think that ethanol,


    also highly combustible, but chemically nearly identical to methane, won’t pollute more than, say, benzene


    or Methyl-tertiary-butyl-ether (MTBE)

    which we are currently using as additives?

    And how do you explain that ethanol is in any way environmentally friendly, given that ethanol is 2/3 as combustion-efficient as regular gasoline (BTU/US gallon, i.e. we’ll need to burn more for equivalent output)?

    Huh? What’s your answer, Al? How is this “going green,” except the green going into your freakishly undersized pants pocket????


    [say it with me, Coyote…….B-U-L-L-S-H-I………]

  6. mjh:

    It had never occurred to me that the smoke coming out of those stacks was just steam. Of course, when I lived in Houston, not too far from oil refineries, you could see the tops of the stacks actually burning. I don't know what they were burning nor why, but it was definately flame. It lit up the night sky.

    In any case, I recall thinking that the stuff that they're doing is a means of concentrating the efforts of many. E.g. if we all had to produce X instead of a factory, we'd pollute much more than if a factory produces it for us. This is, of course, the argument the left uses when they preach public transportation. Yes, a bus pollutes more than a car, but a bus full of 20 people pollutes less than those 20 people driving 20 cars.

    So even if pollution were coming out of those stack, I find it ironic that they don't see this as a good thing since it's more efficient pollution than everyone producing the same thing on their own. Maybe the difference in their attitude stems from the fact that public transportation is publically run while most factories are privately run.

  7. Dan:

    Good post. You make some salient points.

  8. Jim Collins:

    mjh makes an interesting point, but what happens when that same bus makes 10 more trips with less than 20 people or no people for that matter? Public transportation is run by governments because it HAS to be.

    I look at it as an inadvertant welfare program. It exists for the sole purpose of transporting people who can't or won't use their own vehicles. I work in Pittsburgh and right now the public transportation system here is looking at an $80 million shortfall in funding this year. They are trying to cut back, but everytime they announce a reduction in service you end up with someone on the evening news saying how the bus system is the only transportation they have or a group saying how the cut backs are racist. I am not being critical of the people who use public transportation, if it could be relied upon to get me to work on time, I'd use it myself.

    Anybody who tries to tell you that public transportation is environalmentally friendly hasn't done their homework.

  9. JdJ:

    This remimds me of an episode that happened at Tucson Gas & Electric back in the 70s (before it became Tucson Electric Power). TG&E had small cooling towers at its Irvington plant on the south edge of Tucson; they're still there.

    One of the local papers, probably the Tucson Citizen, published a photo of steam rising off these cooling towers with a caption to the effect that it was a picture of TG&E's pollution.

    TG&E got on the paper's case about it and the paper did print a retraction.

  10. Paul:

    On the inland highway between Sydney and Brisbane you go past a couple of coal fired power stations.

    There is a road sign which depicts the cooling towers with steam and specifically says "Water Vapour".

    I wonder how many people drove along and were horrified at the amount of pollution... before that sign was put up.

  11. Matthew Brown:

    I suspect that in many cases the photos are not taken at sunset but at sunrise, when the air is colder and water vapor will make a more spectacular display.