Sunday, November 21, 2004

Global Warming or Not?

The US administration has signed an agreement targeting methane, a greenhouse gas. The treaty involves only a relatively small amount of money - $53 million - which is to be invested in companies to control methane emissions.

Methane is present in much smaller concentrations than carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 1998, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide was 365 parts per million (ppm) and methane was 1.75 ppm. Moreover, the rate of concentration change in the preceding decade was 1.5 ppm/year for carbon dioxide, and 0.007 ppm/year for methane. The EPA also says that, molecule for molecule, methane traps 21 times more heat than carbon dioxide. So, for global warming, methane does not seem to be as significant as carbon dioxide.

Now, if one believes that global warming is nonsense, then why sign the treaty?

Possibilities are:

1. The administration does not believe in global warming, but is throwing this as a sop to its critics on global warming. One might call it buying a little political capital.

2. The administration believes that global warming is nonsense, and signing the treaty is simply because of the irrationality that afflicts large organizations, of which the US Federal Government is a prime example.

3. The administration knows that global warming is not nonsense. However, the cost of reforming the economy to limit carbon dioxide emissions is enormous, and might require a lot of change in people's lifestyles. The administration does not want to spend its political capital on this. So the administration encourages its cheerleaders to attack the idea of global warming, in general. However, when something is doable relatively on the cheap, the administration will do it, despite its public rhetoric.

But I expect the scientists who say that global warming is not happening or is happening but not because of human activities, to clearly state that this treaty is a waste of money, and not just because it is an insignificant part of the overall problem.

1 comment:

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