As global warming as a threat moves closer to reality, one of the more difficult questions facing President Clinton in 1997 is what the nation should be sacrificing now to buffer itself against the global warming threat in the future. With the knowledge that proposing something as modest as a 25-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax for this purpose wouldn't suit the American public with it's penchant for gas-guzzling sports vehicles, prospects for resolution are dim. The two choices of doing nothing or paying $100 to $200 billion a year in higher energy costs (considered costly) presents a dilemma for the White House.

Global warming isn't just a fear, it's a fact. Average global temperatures have risen about one degree Fahrenheit during the past century. Moreover, research suggests there is a strong connection between average temperatures and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Over the next century, the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is projected to double. As a result, the Earth's average temperature probably will rise by two to six degrees Fahrenheit.

Some effects of global warming can be predicted. For instance, the melting of the polar icecaps would put a beachfront property in Florida in danger, and plant life indigenous to certain regions of the U.S. would disappear. Certain soothsayers carry predictions to more drastic extremes. Ross Gelbspan's book The Heat is On , predicts hurricanes, droughts, waves of disease-carrying vermin, a general breakdown of the ecosystem and a general breakdown of other organized systems.

The White House is considering a plan that would reduce carbon-dioxide emissions in the U.S. to 1990 levels by as early as 2010. The efforts to make that happen, White House economists believe, could raise gasoline prices by 25 cents to 50 cents a gallon and electricity bills by 20% to 40%. The total effect would be equivalent to a tax increase of $100 billion to $200 billion a year. Economists argue the cost is too high, given the uncertain benefits. Environmentalists reject cost-benefit analysis as a tool of the oil industry, and dispute cost estimates noting the government's success in reducing sulfur-dioxide emissions at lower-than estimated costs.

President Clinton's primary concern over the issue is regarded as one of posterity. However, Vice President Gore bears greater weight from this since he has built his reputation on environmental issues and can't afford to go into the 2000 election with environmentalists feeling he has betrayed them. At this juncture, President Clinton has committed to stabilizing emissions at 1990 levels by either 2010 or further into the future, but remains vague about the costs. Instead of a tax he will talk about an emissions-trading system but play down the effect of such a system on energy prices.


-- Posted the week of October 14, 1997

Source: The Wall Street Journal The Outlook October 13, 1997 pg. A1