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Debate on Global Climate Change

March 15, 1990

The column by Donella H. Meadows ("In Global-Warning Debate, Skeptics Corral Bush With A Policy of Inaction," Feb. 11) mischaracterizes the scientific debate on global climate change.

The "greenhouse effect" is a natural atmospheric phenomenon which keeps the Earth's temperature at livable levels by preventing some of the Earth's heat from escaping into space. If there were no greenhouse gases--including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide--the average global temperature would hover somewhere around zero degrees.

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meeting in Washington, D.C., highlighted a number of scientific uncertainties about the potential for an "enhanced" greenhouse effect. It is this potential which is being widely debated by the scientific community. To date no scientific consensus has been reached as to the magnitude or timing of any temperature rise nor as to estimates of potential impact.

The American Petroleum Institute encourages an accelerated pace of basic climate science and impact assessment as these issues are debated. We also favor expanded efforts to understand and communicate the economic, social and political consequences of both climate changes and proposed policy responses.

The choice the United States and other nations face on climate change is not a choice between doing something versus doing nothing, as the article implies. One can be a greenhouse skeptic and still endorse policy actions--such as economically efficient conservation, and the phase-out of chlorofluorocarbons and of deforestation. The most effective response is one which balances environmental and economic needs--as has been advocated by President Bush--with continued research.


Vice President, API

Washington, D.C.

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