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Opening Pandora's Box By: Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, June 09, 2009


A few days before "Earth Day" (which happens to be the same day as Lenin’s birthday), America’s ideological Greens and reds received a present they have been desiring for many moons: The Environmental Protection Agency—egged on by the U.S. Supreme Court—officially designated carbon dioxide (CO2) as a pollutant. That means that either congress or the EPA is expected to produce a plan for regulating this common gas.

So opens a new chapter in regulatory absurdity, 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 demonized.

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. CO2 nourishes plants, plants nourish animals and humans, and plants and animals serve a variety of human needs. “Pollutants” are supposed to be harmful to life, not helpful to it, aren’t they?

Of course, it is true (although Greens often ignore it when trying to ban such useful chemicals as pesticides, insecticides, Alar, PCBs, etc.) 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 purely arbitrary.

“Forget about the plants, Hendrickson,” say the Greens. “What we’re trying to control is how warm the 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 last 10,000 years, the 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 the earth’s temperature when as much as 3/4 of the variability is due to variations in solar activity, with the remaining 1/4 due to changes in the earth’s orbit, axis, and albedo (reflectivity)? This truly is “mission impossible.” Mankind can no more regulate earth’s temperature than 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 (according to NASA data) accounts for less than four 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 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 almost 3/4 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 meta-questions 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 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, and the whole Al Gore, left-wing political fraternity, because it looks like they are about to get what they want—the power to increase their power over Americans’ lives and pocketbooks via CO2 emission regulations.

The big questions facing us regular citizens is whether Congress or the unelected folks at EPA will decide questions like:
  • Who will be forced to drive and fly less often? (If we quit using every gasoline-powered vehicle in the country, we still wouldn’t reduce CO2 emissions as much as Al Gore wants.)
  • How much economic pain should be imposed on Americans for heating and cooling their homes? (Your 75-percent-higher electric bill will fund President Obama’s “green jobs” machine.)
  • Which businesses will need to move offshore to power their operations at a competitive cost? (This is nothing new. EPA regulations started to off-shore oil-refinery jobs decades ago.)
The impact of CO2 regulations will hurt us far more than CO2 itself ever could. We need a miracle, folks. Let’s hope that someone nails shut the lid on this Pandora’s Box before it swings wide open and infests us with a multitude of plagues.

Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College.


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