Recent regional studies claim the Earth is beginning to feel the effects of climate change, especially South and Southeast Asia. Yet, thus far, climate change has had no discernible effect on these regions, and recent analyses indicate adaptation is the preferable strategy to deal with any effects that may occur in the future.
It's been called a highly regressive tax, imposing relatively higher costs on the poor. Another agrees that it would impose a larger burden, relative to income, on low-income households than on high-income households. And these are just its advocates.
Global warming is a reality. But whether it is a serious problem – and whether emis- sions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases from human fossil fuel use are the principal cause – are uncertain. The current debate over the U. S. response to climate change centers on greenhouse gas emissions reduction policies, which are likely to impose substantially higher costs to society than global warming might.
In May 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that greenhouse gases meet the definition of an air pollutant in the Clean Air Act. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) responded in 2008 by issuing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) that explains how the Clean Air Act applies to regulating emissions of greenhouse gases thought to contribute to global warming.
The purpose of this primer is to explore some of the main scientific, economic and political issues surrounding the topic of global warming.
In early March, the polar bear could become the first species officially recognized by the U.S. government as threatened by global warming. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has proposed to list the polar bear as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) — even though U.S. polar bear populations aren't declining.
In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its Fourth Assessment Report. The report included predictions of big increases in average world temperatures by 2100, resulting in an increasingly rapid loss of the world's glaciers and ice caps, a dramatic global sea level rise that would threaten low-lying coastal areas, the spread of tropical diseases, and severe drought and floods.
Carbon dioxide (CO 2 ), a potent greenhouse gas, helps warm the climate. Absent water vapor, CO 2 and other natural greenhouse gases that trap a portion of the sun's radiation, the Earth would be about 60ºF colder than it is now — an icebox.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a new federal standard for ozone air pollution that is much stricter than the current limit. If the proposal is adopted, the EPA will reclassify most regions of the United States as “nonattainment” areas. This means they violate the EPA standard and will be required to implement costly measures to comply with the new limits. Cities unable to meet the new standard could face federal restrictions on development, road-building and construction of new commercial and industrial facilities.
Former Vice President Al Gore has long argued that human activities — primarily the burning of fossil fuels — are causing the Earth to warm significantly, with potentially catastrophic results. His most recent attempt to persuade the general public of his view is a movie and companion book entitled An Inconvenient Truth.
Recently, some scientists have claimed that human-caused global warming poses a significant threat to the survival of many species. For most species at risk, they argue, warming will cause the range of suitable habitat to shift faster than either the species (or their food sources) can move or adapt to a new range.
Environmental lobbyists quickly responded to the Gulf Coast devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita with loud assertions that the underlying cause of these more frequent, more dangerous and more costly hurricanes is global warming caused by human greenhouse gas emissions. There is just one problem: science. Historical data and ongoing hurricane research reveal scant evidence linking human-caused warming to more frequent or powerful hurricanes.
The Earth currently is experiencing a warming trend, but there is scientific evidence that human activities have little to do with it.
A consensus is forming concerning the appropriate response to global warming. While scientists continue to debate the extent to which humans are responsible for rising average global temperatures, a growing number of economists and policy experts have concluded that the best response to climate change is to adapt by investing resources in more pressing problems.
Should we try to prevent global warming? Or should we use our resources to adapt to the consequences of warming? This paper analyzes costs and benefits of two different approaches.
For over 30 years, Lester Brown, a MacArthur Foundation "genius award" winner and president of the Earth Policy Institute, has warned that human activities threaten agricultural productivity and human well-being. Brown and other environmental lobbyists argue that continuing human-caused global warming poses a significant threat of world famine. They say hotter temperatures will cause crops to wither on the vine and increase the evaporation rate of moisture from the soil.
Only in the past 20 years have scientists begun to understand that the Earth has a moderate, persistent 1,500-year climate cycle that creates warmer and cooler periods of time. Sunspot records and the isotopes of carbon, oxygen and beryllium trapped in ice cores and cave stalagmites indicate that this process is driven by a small cycle in the sun's radiance.
One of the cornerstones of the global warming "call to action" is the claim that average global temperatures over the last 1,000 years have remained rather stable, except for the significant warming during the last 100 years. This view is promoted by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which argues that recent warm years are mainly due to greenhouse gases emitted from the burning of fossil fuels.
The November 2000 negotiations at the Hague, Netherlands, on implementing the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change took place against a backdrop of lobbying by environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These NGOs used selective science and inaccurate news reports to demand that the United States accede to international demands for drastic, immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, a closer look at the evidence shows that they downplayed uncertainties in the studies that they cited, and ignored other studies that cast doubts on the need for immediate emission cuts.
In January 1999 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that 1998 was the "warmest year on record." A year earlier NOAA had declared 1997 the "warmest year on record." Then in January 2000 NOAA proclaimed 1999 the "second warmest year on record."
When James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute, testified before the Senate in 1988 that he was "99 percent" certain that human-caused greenhouse gases were changing the climate, Sen. (now Vice President) Al Gore took Hansen's argument seriously. In his book Earth in the Balance, Gore argued that human-caused global warming is the greatest threat facing civilization. In addition, the September 7th Washington Times reported that at Gore's 51st birthday party in 1999, he said his home state of Tennessee had warmed substantially since he was born. To prevent global warming, Gore advocates that the U.S. ratify a treaty that would reduce energy use and economic growth.
In 1988, James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, testified before the Senate that based on computer models and temperature measurements he was "99 percent sure . . the [human caused] greenhouse effect has been detected and it is changing our climate now."
The Clinton/Gore administration negotiated a treaty in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, that would require the United States and most other industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to slow global warming. The U.S. committed to reducing its annual greenhouse gas emissions, mostly carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) from fossil fuel use, by about 40 percent – to 7 percent below its 1990 level – between 2008 and 2012.
Economists often use cost-benefit analysis to determine whether government action should be taken and, if so, what action will produce the best results at the least cost. This study compares the worldwide benefits of U.S. reduction of CO2 emissions with the worldwide costs.
The Clinton administration has committed to signing- but the Senate has yet to ratify – the Kyoto Treaty, which would impose legally binding, internationally enforceable limits on the production of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide (CO2). Supporters of the treaty believe that human-caused gases are causing environmentally disastrous global warming and that only immediate government action can avert catastrophe.