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Press Release

    Global Warming’s Uncertain Future

    09/17/2002

    A recent report by the Environmental Protection Agency includes a notable departure from the last six years. The report, which provides an assessment of various pollutants, does not include any discussion of global warming, or global climate change. According to the New York Times, many environmentalists attribute the change to the administration’s close ties to industry, which has been opposed to moving forward with global warming policies, such as the Kyoto Protocol, which would force nations to make significant cutbacks in the use of fossil fuels.

    There are, however, important reasons to focus the report on emissions of recognized pollutants, instead of global warming. The EPA’s pollution assessments examine specific pollutants identified in the Clean Air Act that affect air quality and have the potential damage to health and the environment. And, for the most part, the trend is good—since 1970 total emissions of all principal pollutants have decreased by 25 percent, despite an increase in the U.S. economy of 162 percent. Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, is not a pollutant and does not affect the quality of the air we breathe.

    Yet increased levels of carbon dioxide have been linked to global warming, and environmentalists assert that man-made emissions of carbon dioxide will increase the Earth’s temperature with calamitous results. Human sources of carbon dioxide, aside from the air we exhale, are primarily generated by burning fossil fuels—oil, natural gas, and coal. While man-made emissions have been increasing, it is important to put this in perspective. Carbon dioxide is one of several greenhouse gases. By far, the most prevalent greenhouse gas is water vapor, which makes up 98 percent of all greenhouse gases. In addition, most greenhouse gases are natural, rather than man-made. Natural sources of carbon dioxide, for example, are more than ten times greater than man-made sources.

    All of which suggests that the Earth’s climate is extremely complex and difficult to predict, and understanding the human impact on global warming is subject to uncertainty. The scientific community is still debating the significance of man-made emissions of carbon dioxide, and claims of scientific consensus have been premature.

    The greenhouse effect itself is not in dispute and we do know that there has been some warming over the past century; however, this does not necessarily point to a human induced global warming crisis or worldwide calamity.

    For example, while there was warming over the last century, much of it occurred before 1940—before industrialization led to increased uses of fossil fuels. Moreover, more recent satellite data on global climate suggest that since 1979 there has been a slight cooling trend in stratosphere temperatures. Indeed, much of the “scientific consensus” purported to global warming theory, especially of the world disaster flavor, comes from distinctly non-scientific sources. Beyond agreement over basic facts such as a slight warming over the last century and increased carbon dioxide levels as well, there continues to be a great deal of uncertainty about global warming and little scientific support for drastic policy measures, according to atmospheric scientist Dr. Richard Lindzen.

    That the Kyoto Protocol will be costly, on the other hand, is well known; private and government estimates of the required greenhouse gas reductions place the cost to the U.S. economy alone at $130 billion to $400 billion annually. However, the benefits of a Kyoto-style policy should definitely be questioned. The protocol does not include developing nations such as China and India, which will clearly increase their levels of carbon dioxide emissions as they develop. Energy restrictions that raise costs in the developed world will only accelerate the shift of emissions (and jobs) to the developing world.

    If the Kyoto Protocol is simply an exercise in international wealth redistribution, it is wise that the EPA’s recent report focused on real pollutants rather than carbon dioxide. The uncertainty surrounding carbon dioxide’s effect on climate must be resolved before imposing costly and poorly designed policies. As research scientist Dr. Sallie Baliunas, concludes, “Scientific facts gathered in the last 10 years do not support the notion of catastrophic human-made warming as a basis for drastic carbon dioxide emission cuts.”