The fight against global warming heats up

No doubt some people think our global warming problem can be traced to all the hot air coming out of Washington,D.C. The fight against global warming heats upNo doubt some people think our global warming problem can be traced to all the hot air coming out of Washington, D.C. Certainly the political discourse on this controversial environmental issue has been warming up recently.

For example, certain political lobbying groups like the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) have been quite vocal in their denials that the temperature of the Earth's atmosphere is increasing due to human causes. In contrast, President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore have been fervently citing the dire consequences they claim will occur if our nation fails to start reducing greenhouse gases.

As U.S. politicians continue to argue over the reality of global warming, scientific research is increasingly documenting the impact of greenhouse gases on the Earth's climate. The basic theory of global warming is that as growing levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, chloroflurocarbons and nitrogen oxides collect in the atmosphere, they trap heat radiating from our planet toward outer space. These gases act like the glass in a greenhouse by allowing sunlight to enter into the Earth's atmosphere, but preventing the resulting heat from escaping back into space. Numerous scientists postulate that the increased temperatures could alter the world's climate, change rainfall patterns, melt polar ice caps and cause flooding in certain regions.

One such scientist is Dr. Jerry Mahlman, the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. He has helped compile calculations that examine the varying effects of natural variability, CO2 and other greenhouse gases and changing solar output on the 20th century climate.

"In general, these calculations make it clear that it is scientifically difficult to construct an explanation for the 20th century warming that does not include a major role for the added greenhouse gases resulting from human activities," Mahlman stated in a document he presented at a seminar on global warming hosted by the U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program in November 1999.

Based on the mounting scientific evidence of global warming, Clinton has proposed a climate change package for fiscal year (FY) 2001 that totals more than $4.1 billion — an increase of $760 million from the amount enacted for FY 2000. This includes $2.4 billion for programs directly aimed at combating global warming — a 43 percent increase over FY 2000 enacted levels.

The president's proposed climate change budget includes a new series of initiatives, such as accelerated efforts to promote the development and deployment of clean energy technologies around the world and a new Clean Air Partnership Fund to boost state and locate efforts to reduce both greenhouse gases and ground level air pollutants. In additon, it contains the Climate Change Technology Initiative (CCTI), which mixes tax incentives and direct spending to promote the research, development and deployment of energy-efficient technology, renewable energy and other climate-related investments.

The White House climate change budget also includes a stepped-up program to develop bioenergy and bio-based products. The budget shows Clinton's commitment to the directive initiating biomass research that is being promoted by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairman Dick Lugar (R - Indiana). Bio-based industrial materials are created by a biotechnological process of breaking down nearly any form of plant, tree or grass into its constituent chemical building blocks, mainly in the form of complex sugars. From this intermediate step, a wide variety of bio-based industrial products including ethanol fuel can be created

In addition to the Clinton administration, a bipartisan group of 15 other U.S. Senators, several environmental groups, the American Farm Bureau, other agricultural groups and the Biotechnology Industry Organization support Lugar's biomass initiative. To learn more about Lugar's bio-energy research initiative, visit his Web site at www.senate.gov/~lugar.

Congress and Clinton will work on these proposed FY 2001 appropriations this year with a goal of finishing the process by Oct. 1, 2000. For more information about Clinton's proposed climate change budget, check out the White House Web site at www.whitehouse.gov.

In this election year, it is also important to look at the leading presidential candidates' positions on global warming. Gore has been outspoken in his concern over global warming and will give it high priority if he is elected. He has been actively involved in promoting the Kyoto Protocol, which was negotiated in 1997 as an amendment to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The treaty, which still has not been adopted by the United States, calls for 160 industrialized nations to reduce their GHG emissions by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the period from 2008 through 2012.

Gov. George Bush and Sen. John McCain have similar positions concerning global warming; they both recognize that it should be taken seriously but will require any decisions to be based on the best science. They both oppose the Kyoto Protocol.

At a time when political consensus on environmental issues appears elusive, it is encouraging that an initiative like Lugar's biomass research project is prompting diverse groups to work together to combat global warming. Hopefully, industry, environmental groups and elected officials will be able to move beyond the heated debate and reach a workable solution to this growing international problem.

This article appeared in the April 2000 issue of Environmental Protection, Vol. 11, Number 4, April 2000, Page 6.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2000 issue of Environmental Protection.

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