- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2001

Swayed by science or at least, by the fact that the science about "global warming" is by no means settled President Bush has decided not to pursue mandatory reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) output, publicly distancing himself from comments to the contrary made by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman and some other Bush administration staffers.

Environmental activists have tried for several years to portray carbon dioxide an inert gas that comprises a great portion of the Earth's atmosphere as a "pollutant" that must be regulated to combat "global warming." Since C02 is, among other things, a byproduct of the burning of fossil fuels and industrial activity, significant reductions of man-made CO2 output would entail dramatic cutbacks in energy usage and industrial activity with potentially massive negative economic impacts. "If you attempt to regulate carbon dioxide, you will regulate us into a permanent energy crisis in this country," said Republican Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, who along with a few other stalwart Republicans went to the mat on this issue, refusing to be cowed by political correctness or fear of being portrayed as "anti-environment." Said Mr. Craig: "I think they understand that at the White House now" meaning, the practical consequences of appeasing radical environmentalists.

Indeed, it appears that Mr. Bush has come to the altogether reasonable conclusion that the so-called "precautionary principle" is not a sound basis for establishing public policy that could affect the well-being of millions of people for the worse. Simply put, the precautionary principle posits that steps be taken proactively to address a given risk, even if the risk is no more than theoretical. Environmentalists have basically been arguing that drastic precautionary steps be taken to deal with the purely theoretical bogeyman of human-caused catastrophic global warming. Mr. Bush has properly stepped back from this precipice.

Among the problems with global warming theory are the troubling incongruities between satellite data and measurements of temperature taken at ground-based stations. They contradict one another. The satellite data indicate an overall cooling trend while some ground monitoring stations suggest a slight warming is taking place. Further complicating matters is the fact that most of the warming trend observed by scientists occurred in the early part of the last century, or well before mass industrialization worldwide. In any event, the entire theory of global warming that forms the basis of the argument for "wrenching changes" (former Vice President Al Gore's words) in our use of energy is based on vague computer models whose predictive value is dubious. There are simply too many variables. Add to all of this the facts that many scientists believe we are just now emerging from a period of abnormally cool planetary temperatures (the so-called "Little Ice Age") and that natural sources of CO2 production far eclipse humanity's contribution, and you have, at minimum, ample reason to proceed with caution.

Reducing U.S. output of CO2 to below 1990 levels as advocated by such as Mr. Gore and enshrined in the Clinton administration's "Kyoto Protocol" global warming treaty would likely precipitate major economic dislocations, perhaps even a worldwide depression. That's a stiff price to pay for a threat that may not even exist or, if it does, may be caused by factors entirely beyond our control.

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