The United States and the rest of the world must cut back their use of fossil fuels, make more use of renewable energy sources, and plant more forests to combat the possible melting of a polar ice sheet from carbon dioxide buildup in the air.
In a report just issued, the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) urges such steps to deal with the so-called "greenhouse" effect that scientists have found is caused by the carbon dioxide released when fossil fuels are burned. Carbon dioxide tends to hold heat on Earth's surface.
"The carbon dioxide problem is too important and too close upon us to be neglected in the making of energy policy," said CEQ chairman Gus Speth in calling for immediate steps to deal with it. He said a general warming of the Earth could begin 20 to 40 years from now.
Among the steps recommended in the council's study:
* The US should "not become committed to an extended period of unrestricted fossil fuel use." The council opposes massive increases in the use of coal and oil shale, which emit even greater quantities of carbon dioxide than does oil.
* All emergy plans should be made while taking into consideration the carbon dioxide risks.Today the two issues are "isolated," says the report.
* Major new efforts should be made to conserve energy and to use such alternative energy forms as solar power, which does not release carbon dioxide. (Nuclear power, which does not release the gas, was not endorsed in the report, which found that nuclear risks equaled those of carbon dioxide.)
* The US should promote the replacement of forests throughout the world, since plants will absorb carbon dioxide in the air.
Mr. Speth said major efforts to hold down the rate of carbon dioxide buildup could keep the level to only 50 percent higher than it was in 1800, when the Industrial Revolution began. (The level is said to be 15 to 25 percent higher today.)
However, without those steps, he said, the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere could reach double the pre-industrial amount by the early 2000s -- and that increase could bring serious changes throughout the world, including an ice me lt and a consequent rise in sea level.