Opinion

Don't treat C02 as a pollutant

From higher energy bills to lost jobs, the impact of carbon regulations will hurt us far more than CO2 itself ever could.

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A few days before this year's Earth Day, America's ideological greens received a present they have been desiring for years: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – responding to a 2007 US Supreme Court ruling – officially designated carbon dioxide (CO2) as a pollutant. That spurred Democrats in Congress to push a major climate change bill. In the next 25 years, their massive cap-and-trade scheme would, according to a Heritage Foundation study, inflict gross domestic product losses of $9.4 trillion, raise an average family's energy bill by $1,241, and destroy some 1,145,000 jobs. Democrats want it passed by July 4.

Get ready for a veritable Pandora's box of complications.

A generation ago, it was considered great progress against pollution when catalytic converters were added to automobile engines to change poisonous carbon monoxide to benign carbon dioxide. Now, CO2 has been demoted.

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The EPA's characterization of CO2 as a pollutant brings into question the natural order of things. By the EPA's logic, either God or Mother Nature (whichever creator you believe in) seriously goofed. After all, CO2 is the base of our food chain. "Pollutants" are supposed to be harmful to life, not helpful to it, aren't they?

Of course, it is true (although environmentalists often ignore it when trying to ban such useful chemicals as pesticides, insecticides, Alar, PCBs, and others) that "the dose makes the poison." Too much oxygen, for example, poses danger to human life. So what is the "right" concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere? There is no right answer to this question. The concentration of CO2 in Earth's atmosphere fluctuated greatly long before humans appeared on Earth, and that concentration has fluctuated since then, too.

The current concentration is approximately 385 parts per million. Some scientists maintain that 1,000 parts per million would provide an ideal atmosphere for plant life, accelerating plant growth and multiplying yields, thereby sustaining far more animal and human life than is currently possible. Whatever standard the EPA selects will be arbitrary.

"Forget about the plants," say the greens. "What we're trying to control is how warm Earth's atmosphere gets." To which I reply, "With all due respect, are you kidding me?"

As with a "right" concentration of CO2, what is the "right" average global temperature? For 7,000 of the past 10,000 years, Earth was cooler than it is now; mankind prospers more in warm climates than cold climates; and the Antarctic icecap was significantly larger during the warmer mid-Holocene period than it is today. Are you sure warmer is bad or wrong?

And how do you propose to regulate Earth's temperature when as much as three-quarters of the variability is due to variations in solar activity, with the remaining one-quarter due to changes in Earth's orbit, axis, and albedo (reflectivity)? This truly is "mission impossible." Mankind can no more regulate Earth's temperature than it can the tides.

Even if the "greenhouse effect" were greater than it actually is, the EPA and Congress would be powerless to alter it for several reasons:

1. Human activity accounts for less than 4 percent of global CO2 emissions.

2. CO2 itself accounts for only 10 or 20 percent of the greenhouse effect. This discloses the capricious nature of the EPA's decision to classify CO2 as a pollutant, for if CO2 is a pollutant because it is a greenhouse gas, then the most common greenhouse gas of all – water vapor, which accounts for more than three-quarters of the atmosphere's greenhouse effect – should be regulated, too. The EPA isn't going after water vapor, of course, because then everyone would realize how absurd climate-control regulation really is.

3. Even if Americans were to eliminate their CO2 emissions completely, total human emissions of CO2 would still increase as billions of people around the world continue to develop economically.

Clearly, it is beyond the ken of mortals to answer the metaquestions about the right concentration of CO2, or the optimal global average temperature, or to control CO2 levels in the atmosphere. I feel sorry for the professionals at the EPA who are now expected to come up with answers for these unanswerable questions.

However, I do not feel sorry for the political appointees, like climate czar Carol Browner, because it looks as if they are about to get what they evidently want – the power to increase their power over Americans' lives and pocketbooks via CO2 emission regulations.

From higher energy bills to lost jobs, the impact of CO2 regulations will hurt us far more than CO2 itself ever could. Let's nail shut the lid on this Pandora's box before it swings wide open.

Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College, where this essay was first published.

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