Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its intention to enforce regulations that would effectively ban new coal-fired power plants in the United States. As coal is by far America’s cheapest and most plentiful fossil fuel, and coal-fired power stations account for 45 percent of all electricity generated in the U.S., the destructive economic effects of this edict can hardly be overstated. It is therefore imperative to subject the EPA’s logic to a searching examination.
According to the EPA, despite their disastrous economic effects, regulations to prevent the U.S. from making use of its coal resources are necessary, because coal combustion produces carbon dioxide, which allegedly will cause global warming, which would allegedly be harmful to the Earth’s biosphere and human society. Others, wishing to avoid an environmentalist-created economic catastrophe, have challenged this argument’s first premise, to wit, that global warming is really occurring. Since there is no actual global temperature, but only an average of many different constantly changing local temperatures, this approach has led to convoluted debates revolving around data sets that can easily be based upon an unrepresentative mix of measurements.
This has left the EPA’s second premise — that global warming would be a harmful development — largely unchallenged. This is unfortunate, because while it is entirely possible that the earth may be warming — as it has done so many times in the past — there is no rational basis whatsoever to support the contention that carbon-dioxide-driven global warming would be on the whole harmful to life and civilization. Quite the contrary: All available evidence supports the contention that human CO2 emissions offer great benefits to the earth’s community of life.
Putting aside for the moment the question of whether human industrial CO2 emissions are having an effect on climate, it is quite clear that they are raising atmospheric CO2 levels. As a result, they are having a strong and markedly positive effect on plant growth worldwide. There is no doubt about this. NASA satellite observations taken from orbit since 1958 show that, concurrent with the 19 percent increase in atmospheric CO2 over the past half century, the rate of plant growth in the continental United States has increased by 14 percent. Studies done at Oak Ridge National Lab on forest trees have shown that increasing the carbon dioxide level 50 percent, to the 550 parts per million level projected to prevail at the end of the 21 century, will likely increase photosynthetic productivity by a further 24 percent. This is readily reproducible laboratory science. If CO2 levels are increased, the rate of plant growth will accelerate.
Now let us consider the question of warming: If it is occurring — and I believe it is, based not on disputable temperature measurements but on sea levels, which have risen two inches in two decades — is it a good thing or a bad thing? Answer: It is a very good thing. Global warming would increase the rate of evaporation from the oceans. This would increase rainfall worldwide. In addition, global warming would lengthen the growing season, thereby increasing still further the bounty of both agriculture and nature.