By Mass, Warren
The New American , Vol. 25, No. 10
The term "cap and trade," in terms of a plan to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions into the air, is one that is heard widely of late as a proposed solution for the supposed problem of global warming. It will be discussed with more frequency as cap-and-trade proposals that failed to pass in the last Congress are reintroduced this year. But many people are still a little hazy about what "cap and trade" actually means. One succinct explanation appeared in an article on the Congressional Budget Office website: "The government would set gradually tightening limits on [C[O.sub.2]] emissions, issue rights (or allowances) corresponding to those limits, and then allow firms to trade the allowances."
Aside from telling us how cap-and-trade programs might operate, the reference to "tightening limits on emissions" gives away the ostensible purpose of these programs: to fight that supposed ominous scourge of the 21st century, global warming.
Those who have accepted the widely promulgated theory that the melting of the polar icecaps and rising of the seas is imminent may believe that any economic cost is worth enduring, if only global warming can be forestalled. However, regular readers of THE NEW AMERICAN, especially those who have read our February 16, 2009 cover story entitled "Whatever Happened to Global Warming?" as well as those who have read any of several well-researched books * disputing both the severity of global warming and the theory that it is caused by man's activities, will not easily accept the argument that a massive and costly government program is needed to prevent a catastrophic ecological event.
To make an informed decision about whether a cap-and-trade program is advisable, therefore, requires that several questions be answered.
Is global warming real, or at least real enough to be threatening?
This question is best dealt with by referring to our February 16 cover story or one of the books cited in the footnote. Suffice it to say that the issue is not as settled as many in the media portray it to be.
What impact, if any, do man-made C[O.sub.2] emissions have on global warming?
In the April 3 issue of the Wall Street Journal, deputy editor George Melloan noted that, according to "serious scientists," "the greenhouse gases are a fundamental part of the biosphere, necessary to all life, and ... industrial activity generates less than 5% of them, if that."
Furthermore, the theory that C[O.sub.2] is the prime culprit in so-called global warming may also be flawed. In the compendium Earth Report 2000, Dr. Roy Spencer, senior scientist for climate studies at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, noted: "It is estimated that water vapor accounts for about 95 percent of the earth's natural greenhouse effect, whereas carbon dioxide contributes most of the remaining 5 percent. Global warming projections assume that water vapor will increase along with any warming resulting from the increases in carbon dioxide concentrations."
Dr. Spencer points out that such assumptions are unproven, noting that "there remain substantial uncertainties in our understanding of how the climate system will respond to increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases." He observes that the natural greenhouse effect that heats the Earth is offset by natural cooling processes. "In other words," concluded Dr. Spencer, "the natural greenhouse effect cannot be considered in isolation as a process warming the earth, without at the same time accounting for cooling processes that actually keep the greenhouse effect from scorching us all."
Theories on runaway global warming based on C[O.sub.2] emissions postulate that increases in C[O.sub.2] will cause some (minor) heating of the Earth that will in turn cause more water vapor to enter the air from the oceans, thereby causing dangerous heating of the Earth. …