Uncertain about Global Warming

Arguing that limiting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants during an energy crisis would only make matters worse, the President last March wisely rejected the Kyoto treaty. By dismissing the controversial environmental treaty, President Bush protected the United States from a drastic return to 1990 carbon dioxide emission levels by the year 2012. This would have required a seven percent reduction from current emission levels and as much as a 30 percent reduction in energy use.

Unfortunately, the decision to pull out of the Kyoto treaty kindled a firestorm of criticism from European nations as well as from several environmental groups in the United States.

An alternative to the Kyoto Treaty

This negative reaction led President Bush to work on a replacement plan for the Kyoto Treaty. The Presidentís goal may very well be achieved by a proposal offered by Treasury Secretary Paul OíNeill, which would do more than limit carbon dioxide emissions. It would ban them.

Developed and developing nations would have to cap and then eliminate emissions of carbon dioxide according to the plan. The following timetable has been proposed.

  1. CO2 emissions in developed nations would be capped at then-current levels by 2012.
  2. CO2 emissions would be eliminated by developed nations by 2025.
  3. Developing nations would cap CO2 emissions at then current levels by 2035, and
  4. CO2 emissions would be eliminated by developing nations by 2050.

According to the Bush administration, these goals can be met through a combination of carbon dioxide control technologies such as drawing carbon dioxide from power plant air emissions and mixing it with calcium chloride to form lime and carbon dioxide sequestration strategies; to remove carbon from the atmosphere by planting trees and crops.

The plan introduced by Secretary OíNeill was the creation Joe Edmonds, a scientist from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory who convinced Secretary OíNeill, a longtime believer of global warming, that the technology to meet these targets either exists or can be soon developed.

Also, adding further fuel to OíNeillís plan was a report on global warming recently issued by the National Research Council which began with these words: "Greenhouse gases are accumulating in [the] earthís atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise. Temperatures are, in fact, rising. The changes observed are most likely due to human activitiesÖ" (The report was requested after the President rejected the Kyoto treaty.)

Secretary OíNeillís plan represents a good compromise to supporters which include Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Christie Todd Whitman, and possibly Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice.

The plan seems a winner to both sides since it implicitly acknowledges that it is human-induced and provides a timetable for tackling the problem, it appeases global warming believers. However, since no immediate action is required, the plan also appeases opponents of steps to limit energy use.

The Feasibility of Secretary OíNeillís Plan

Although the plan seems to solve the problems of carbon dioxide emissions, the reality of pleasing both sides may be harder than the planís argument suggests. On the one hand, President Bush is committed to producing more energy at reasonable cost. On the other hand, his commitment to the nationís energy resources is threatened by Secretary OíNeillís plan to cap and then eliminate carbon dioxide production by 2012 and 2025, respectively.

For example, the construction of 1300 new power plants over the next two decades is called for by the Bush energy plan. However, it is difficult to conceive that so many plants can be built without emitting more carbon dioxide at this point.

Eliminating carbon dioxide emission from power plants may be technologically possible. However, creating technology that is economically feasible is quite different.

In search of a reason to exist ever since the Cold War ended, the Department of Energyís national laboratories, were previously tasked with the job of developing the nationís nuclear arsenal. If Congress signs onto Edmondís recommendations for fighting the "Warming War," their budgets stand to increase dramatically.

Is Global Warming Really a Threat?

Along with the doubts of the feasibility of Secretary OíNeillís plan, the legitimacy of the threat of global warming is still under debate.

President Bush requested the report by a committee of the National Academiesí National Research Council (NRC) summing up scienceís current understanding of global climate change over the last century by characterizing the global warming trend. It revealed a significant uncertainty about the surface temperature record to the theory of man-made global warming. The report also examined the extent to which warming may be attributed to human activity and what may be in store for the 21st century. Itís response to the Presidentís questions about global warming were recorded in a 40-page report entitled "Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions."

Inexplicably not demonstrating warming was the recent temperature record compiled from balloon and satellite measurements.

Also, "Because of large and still uncertain levels of natural variability in the climate record and the uncertainties [relating to manmade greenhouse gases] a casual linkage between the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the observed climate changes during the 20th century cannot be unequivocally established," acknowledged the NRC.

Committee Chair Ralph Cicerone, chancellor of the University of California at Irvine said, "We know that greenhouse gases are accumulating in [the] Earthís atmosphere, causing surface temperature to rise. We donít know precisely how much of this rise to date is from human activities, but based on physical principles and highly sophisticated computer models, we expect the warming to continue because of greenhouse gas emissions.

The scientists from the Committee on the Science of Global Climate Change emphasized the uncertainties in the science and the need for further research although none of the information is new, according to a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) statement.

Also, during the 20th century, measurements demonstrated that temperatures at the Earthís surface increased by about 1 degree Fahrenheit or about 0.6 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the last 50 years of global warming is likely the result of increases in greenhouse gases that include the atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane according to the scientific community. Furthermore, computer models suggest that average global surface temperatures will increase between 2.5 and 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit (1.4 and 5.8 degrees Celsius) by the end of the 21st century which was previously reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). And, the NAS indicates that more abundant in the atmosphere now than at any time during the 400,000 year ice record are both carbon dioxide and methane-gases that occur both naturally and as a result of human activities.

However, the ability to determine the estimates of future warming remain uncertain due to the level of natural variability inherent in the climate, the questionable ability of models to simulate natural variability on centuries Ė long-time scales, and the degree of confidence that can be placed on estimates of temperatures going back thousands of years.

(Steven Milby, "Bush Push for Son of Kyoto Is Misguided," FoxNews.com, June 8, 2001; "Leading Climate Scientists Advise White House on Global Warming," Press Release, June 6, 2001)

Back to American Voice Institute of Public Policy Home Page