Dr. James Hansen, who in 1988 issued the opening volley in the debate over global warming, argued recently that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), not carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels, are the actual culprits of climate change.
Hansen, of NASA’s Center for Climate Systems Research, and his colleagues have written a new report for the National Academy of Sciences, titled “Global Warming in the 21st Century: An Alternative Scenario.” The authors recommend focusing climate change policies on reducing CFCs and NOx, rather than carbon dioxide.
The new research reflects a dramatic departure from conventional methods environmentalists and many government officials say are needed to reduce global warming.
Turning away from his landmark testimony before Congress in 1988, Hansen claims now that carbon dioxide is not a main culprit in climate change. Methane, chlorofluorocarbons, and diesel and coal soot trap heat more effectively than does C02, explained Hansen. He also noted these are more easily reduced than C02 emissions and would face fewer of the political hurdles that currently slow efforts to curb global warming.
“The burning of fossil fuels produces a pall of particle haze that reflects as much of the sun’s energy back into space as the release of carbon dioxide has trapped in the air,” The New York Times quotes Hansen as saying.
Hansen’s new interpretation of the problem reinforces the “no regrets” solution promoted by scientists without an ax to grind: that is, the approach to solving a problem benefits society even if it turns out there was no problem to begin with.
The Environmental Protection Agency has many tools at its disposal to reduce the pollutants targeted by Hansen. By contrast, the Kyoto global warming protocol has not been ratified, and the United States has not taken any regulatory steps to reduce CO2.
“Had anyone followed Hansen’s policy prescriptions 10 years ago,” noted Ken Green of the Reason Public Policy Institute, “the wasted resources would be in the billions, for no gain, and in fact, could have exacerbated the problem, if there is a problem.”
Dr. Jay H. Lehr is Science Director for The Heartland Institute and senior scientist with Environmental Education Enterprises.