Skip to comments.Courting Regulatory Disaster - or Clarity
Posted on 07/05/2006 11:33:08 PM PDT by Lorianne
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case being brought by a dozen states, several major cities, and environmental groups who want carbon dioxide, widely believed to be contributing to the current global warming trend, to be designated as a pollutant. The plaintiffs are challenging the Environmental Protection Agency's decision in 2003 that carbon dioxide (CO2) is not a pollutant that would come under the regulatory portions of the Clean Air Act. That decision has been upheld by two lower court rulings.
A Supreme Court decision siding with the plaintiffs could have wide-ranging consequences, since it would open the door for the regulation of myriad human activities that produce carbon dioxide, especially the use of automobiles and the production of electricity by utilities.
To examine the role that carbon dioxide plays in our daily lives, let's review a little basic science. Whether we like the sound of it or not, everything is made of chemicals; including people. Many chemicals are absolutely necessary for humans to live, for instance oxygen. Just as necessary, human metabolism produces by-products that are exhaled, like carbon dioxide and water vapor. So, the production of carbon dioxide is necessary, on the most basic level, for humans to survive. (We haven't heard yet whether the plaintiffs will later want to see water vapor regulated, which is by far the Earth's most important greenhouse gas.)
Moving beyond or body's needs, for humans to thrive we use a variety of fuels to get the necessary work done. Burning of these fuels releases larger amounts of carbon dioxide than do our bodies, and as a result the CO2 concentration of the global atmosphere has risen by about 30% over the last 100 years: from 300 parts per million (ppm) in the early 1900's, to its present value of about 380 ppm.
The carbon dioxide that is emitted as part of a wide variety of natural processes is, in turn, necessary for vegetation to live. It turns out that most vegetation is somewhat 'starved' for carbon dioxide, as experiments have shown that a wide variety of plants grow faster, and are more drought tolerant, in the presence of doubled carbon dioxide concentrations. Fertilization of the global atmosphere with the extra CO2 that mankind's activities have emitted in the last century is believed to have helped increase agricultural productivity. Doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide will probably occur late in this century.
And even though carbon dioxide formation requires oxygen, there is no danger that the production of carbon dioxide will deplete the vast store of atmospheric oxygen, which is 550 times as abundant as CO2.
In short, carbon dioxide is a natural part of our environment, necessary for life, both as 'food' and as a by-product.
Yet, the possibility that there might be some negative consequences associated with its production has led some to want to regulate it. This harkens back to the 'precautionary principle': if something has potential negative side effects, don't do it. Those that advocate the precautionary principle apparently haven't noticed that no one lives his life according to it.
Central to the argument that CO2 be regarded as a pollutant subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act is that it "may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare." This will be difficult to prove scientifically, since we have no way of proving that current global warmth is due to carbon dioxide emissions. While some theoretical modeling research that has suggested that all of the current global warmth could be explained by the extra CO2 we have produced, there is an element of circularity inherent in this type of science. The computer models built to predict climate fluctuations were based upon knowledge of what the answer was to begin with. Natural climate fluctuations (such as a small change in cloudiness) can also cause temperature changes, but since we don't understand what causes them, we can't model them.
But even if the 1 deg. F warming in the last 100 years can be convincingly demonstrated to be due to humans, it will be just as difficult to prove harm to human health and welfare. This is why the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the plaintiffs last year.
Proving harm from global warming is confounded by natural climate fluctuations that are so large that the global warming signal becomes lost in the noise. Note that the 1 degree of warming in the last century is much less than what humans routinely endure as part of normal weather variations and the progression of the seasons. And throughout human history, warm has always, on balance, been better than cold.
And, contrary to what Al Gore's movie implies, we have always had droughts, floods, major hurricanes, tornadoes, and ice calving off glaciers and falling into the ocean. There is no convincing evidence that weather has gotten more severe, more drought-prone, or more flood-prone, as a result of global warming. Yet we are exposed to claims that 'global warming is killing people now'.
Even if CO2 production has some negative consequences, it is not at all clear at what level the costs associated with increasing carbon dioxide concentrations would even come close to the benefits associated with its production. Our risk-adverse culture tends to forget that our daily lives involve balancing a wide variety of risks and benefits. The risks and benefits of one possible decision are weighed against the risks and benefits of another decision. It would be hard to find a more beneficial natural resource, with fewer risks, that has elevated humanity to new heights in prosperity, health, and longevity, than fossil fuels.
Nevertheless, it could be argued that in some sense, all human activities, products, and by-products represent 'pollution' and pose a possible "danger to public health and welfare." Car accidents claim 40,000 lives each year in the U.S. alone. Why don't we regulate everything out of existence that has the potential to cause harm? Because the things we use on a daily basis provide benefits that greatly outweigh the risks.
Assuming that CO2 is eventually classified as a pollutant, and the EPA is given regulatory authority over potential ingredients of climate change, it seems critically important to avoid past regulatory mistakes. The government has a long history of instituting regulations that end up doing more harm than good. It would be difficult to imagine a regulation that carries so much potential for harm to humanity as the regulation of carbon dioxide.
Dr. Roy Spencer is a principal research scientist for the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) on NASA's Aqua satellite.
Seeing as how all mammals exhale CO2 constantly, can the SCOTUS come up with a genocide plan which will satisfy all these turdbuckets?? Inquiring minds.
Come to think of it, if we ban Nitrogen and Oxygen, we won't have any CO2 to worry about. Not so's anyone would notice anyhow. Eh?
I think Big Al should though.