Aug. 2, 2002
Cheers to the Bush administration's "Clear Skies" proposal for what it doesn't do.

Bob Tippee

Cheers to the Bush administration's "Clear Skies" proposal for what it doesn't do.

The initiative aims at reforming the Clean Air Act with a cap-and-trade program for emissions of air pollutants from power plants.

As expected, the legislation submitted to Congress at the end of July applies to nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and mercury.

Environmentalists and Bush's political opponents naturally dispute the president's contention that the proposal would cut emissions by promised amounts, if at all.

And they're slamming the initiative for not targeting power plant emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

An alternative bill introduced in the Senate by James Jeffords, I-Vt., calls for quicker cuts and adds CO2 to the list of target pollutants.

The New York Times called the Bush proposal's silence on CO2 "a huge omission."

That's ridiculous. CO2 is much different from NOx, SO2, and mercury, which can certainly be harmful.

CO2 not only isn't harmful, it's essential to life. And if it's contributing anything to suspected warming, it can't be contributing much.

Suggestions that it be treated as a harmful pollutant reflect a dangerous rush to react to warming fear, even if the fear is unwarranted and even if the response is wrong.

Water vapor is a greenhouse gas, too, and a much more influential one than CO2. Should it be classified as a harmful pollutant subject to Clean Air Act regulation?

Of course not. And neither should CO2.

In fact, there's strong evidence—largely ignored—that CO2 enrichment of the atmosphere stimulates plant growth. If so, restricting emissions of CO2 might limit the planet's capacity to produce food.

That proposition is no more certain than is the idea that rising levels of CO2 overheat the planet.

But the possible benefits of CO2 enrichment deserve attention they don't receive. Intent on constricting human activity, warming alarmists have foreclosed debate on questions that challenge the need for aggressive response.

That—not sensible refusal to treat a vital compound like poison—is the huge omission of climate change politics.

(Online Aug. 2, 2002; author's e-mail: [email protected])