When politicians and journalists use the phrase "carbon pollution," to which of the following substances are they typically referring?
There are more than 10 million different carbon compounds, but politicians and media outlets commonly use the term "carbon pollution" to refer to one of them: carbon dioxide (CO2). This phrase is unscientific because CO2 is not "carbon," just as H2O (water) is not "hydrogen." The term is also misleading because it conflates CO2 -- which is a colorless, odorless, and relatively nontoxic gas -- with noxious substances like carbon monoxide and black carbon. Reinforcing this false narrative, media outlets have published articles and commentaries that call CO2 "carbon pollution" while showing pictures of billowing smokestacks. Likewise, President Obama referred to CO2 as "carbon pollution" while criticizing "polluters" who "emit the dangerous carbon emissions that contaminate the water we drink and pollute the air that we breathe."