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EPA offers options to slow global warming.

EPA offers options to slow global warming

The nations of the world could substantially reduce the threat of global warming by instituting a range of policies that do not require a change in basic lifestyle, according to an Environmental Protection Agency report, released in preliminary form last week.

"There are quite reasonable policy options available that do make a big difference," says Daniel A. Lashof, an editor of the EPA study.

Congress, which is considering several bills to ease global warming, had asked EPA to examine policy options that would stem the atmospheric buildup of greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and nitrous oxide. Scientists have warned that these gases will raise Earth's surface temperature, with adverse effects on climate, sea levels and health, and have offered suggestions for slowing that warming.

But until now, no group had completed a comprehensive study on the efficacy of different policies, Lashof notes. "One of the major conclusions is that you don't have to sacrifice economic growth to make a substantial difference in limiting global warming," he says.

To test the policy options, EPA assembled a computer model of human practices and natural processes affecting the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This model contained six elements plucked from models at several federal agencies and academic research centers.

The EPA model showed that government policies play an extremely important role, and could either substantially decrease or increase global warming. No one action could stabilize the climate on its own. But in general, practices that reduce coal burning would make the biggest cuts in the growth of greenhouse gases. EPA's list of most effective specific policies includes:

* improving energy efficiency in cars, home heating and industry.

* developing biomass fuels, such as trees grown on special plantations. Wood from these trees could be gasified, then burned to produce electricity. This would not add any net carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, since the trees would absorb carbon dioxide as they grew.

* introducing an energy-emissions fee that taxes fossil-fuel burners, with the heaviest taxes falling on coal burners.

* creating reforestation projects to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

* completing a phaseout of CFCs and a freeze on methyl chloroform, both of which add to global warming and destroy stratospheric ozone.

* developing low-cost solar energy technology.

Such policies, along with others, would slow global warming to a rate of 0.6[deg.] to 1.4[deg.] per century -- at least 60 percent slower than what would occur without any policy response -- and reduce its total magnitude, the report contends. If governments want to stop global warming completely, they must take much stronger action, essentially phasing out coal use during the next century, EPA says.

The model demonstrates that industrialized countries cannot stabilize greenhouse gases on their own; developing countries also must reduce their emissions. It also shows that Earth would experience much more significant warming if governments delayed action for 20 years.

At a hearing last week, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said, "The policy options report makes a compelling argument for action now. The question confronting us is, will we heed this warning?" Baucus introduced a bill advocating some of the policies examined by EPA, such as raising energy-efficiency requirements and banning CFCs by the year 2000.

Missing from the bill was any mention of an emissions fee for fossil-fuel burning. Lashof says the idea of a fee is gaining some public support, while William Megonnell at the Edison Electric Institute in Washington, D.C., contends it remains politically unpopular.
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Author:Monastersky, Richard
Publication:Science News
Date:Mar 25, 1989
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