Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Do you believe in global warming?

Invariably, when I talk about my book, people ask if I believe global warming is as serious as some make it out to be. Truth is, I don’t know; and even the experts don’t agree.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global warming is not only a serious problem, it is much more serious than scientists had previously thought. However, there are some scientists—many of them well-regarded in their respective fields—who contend that global warming is not a serious problem at all; it is just one of many theories.

Still, according to a recent Gallup poll, the majority of Americans believe that global warming is serious (though a growing number of people think the threat is exaggerated). And the EPA has reportedly sent the White House a proposed finding that greenhouse gases pose a danger to the public, a finding that could open the door for environmental regulations and/or cap-and-trade legislation to curb the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in this country.

Under the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to set standards for those air pollutants that are deemed harmful to public health or welfare. The six major air pollutants for which national ambient air quality standards have been set are carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide. However, in 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases—including carbon dioxide, which accounts for over 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions—are also air pollutants and that the EPA has both the authority and the obligation to regulate those emissions should they endanger public health or welfare.

The Obama administration has made it clear that it believes climate change to be a serious problem. The Democratic majority in Congress has also made it clear that it is willing to enact legislation to cap or tax carbon dioxide emissions in order to reduce the anthropogenic (i.e. human caused) greenhouse gases that are responsible for trapping heat from the sun on the earth’s surface.

But for those who believe global warming to be an exaggeration at best and a hoax at worst, any kind of emissions regulation or legislation could have disastrous effects on our economy with no real benefit to the earth’s natural ecosystems. Earlier this month, at the Heartland Institute’s International Conference on Climate Change, 80 experts presented arguments that demonstrated “the breadth and high quality of support that the skeptical perspective on climate change enjoys.”

It’s easy, when faced with dramatically opposing viewpoints, to adopt a wait-and-see attitude until all of the scientific experts finally agree; unfortunately, our political climate is such that we need to come up with our best guess answers now.

So, for lack of a better answer, the next time someone asks me, “Do you believe in global warming?” I will tell them that I believe it is in our best interest to live and work sustainably, to eliminate our dependence on foreign energy, to develop alternatives to fossil fuels, to reduce our waste (and increase profits), and to create “green” jobs. And if we can stop arguing long enough to really focus on accomplishing those things, then maybe there won't be an issue to discuss after all.


GutsyWriter said...

Funny how people need to find out others beliefs as though we have to find out before we can determine whether that person will be on "OUR SIDE," or not.
Great post. Thanks for the detailed information.

Small Footprints said...

Wonderful post. And I agree ... if we wait around for everyone to agree, it may be too late for solutions should the consensus be that yes, global warming is a threat. Since arguments on both sides seem valid, wouldn't it be prudent to error on the safe side and proceed as though global warming was a huge threat to life on earth. After all, there are so many other benefits to doing so ... cleaner air, sustainability, etc.

Thanks for sharing this!

Small Footprints