The United States has experienced a number of very hot summers in the last decade. Does this mean the planet is warming? How big a part does carbon dioxide play in this phenomenon?
What is Global Warming?
The earth's upper atmosphere contains a layer of water vapor and other gases that trap some of the sun's energy and reflect it back to earth. Without this insulating blanket, the earth would be an uninhabitable, cold place. Water vapor, created by evaporation from the earth's water and soils, composes 97 percent of the earth's insulation. The other 3 percent of the warming blanket is composed of what are called greenhouse gases (GHG) - primarily carbon dioxide (CO2). Of this 3 percent, man-made releases of carbon dioxide and the other greenhouse gases amount to about 5 percent of the total.
Any burning of fossil fuels, whether wood, natural gas or oil, produces CO2. Refineries, for example, burn natural gas in order to manufacture gasoline. This same natural gas is burned to heat many of our homes. About 9 pounds of CO2 are released with each gallon of gasoline burned in a relatively fuel-efficient car. The largest single source of CO2 emissions (39 percent) is produced from the utility sector, primarily from the coal-fired power plants that provide electricity to our homes and factories.
When carbon dioxide is released, most of it is absorbed or tied up (sequestered) in vegetation or the ocean. Scientists are concerned about the small amounts of CO2 and other gases that are not sequestered and drift to the upper atmosphere.
The United States is responsible for about 23 percent of the world's greenhouse gases. Our fossil fuel burning releases about 1.5 billion metric tons of CO2 each year, and other greenhouse emissions such as methane, nitrous oxides and halo/chloro/flouro carbons account for another 200 million metric tons. This sounds like a lot, but keep in mind that if U.S. emissions were stopped completely, 99.97 percent of the global warming blanket would remain.
The global warming issue is amazingly complex. It is a daunting task to understand and calculate the interactions of every earth system, and then to create computer models that can predict global temperatures.
The stakes are also high for the petroleum and coal industries that provide most of the world's energy. Some of the solutions proposed to reduce greenhouse emissions include energy rationing or a carbon tax to discourage use. Current estimates project that this would add $.65 to the price of a gallon of gas. Other stakeholders include the automobile manufacturers, environmental groups, national and state governments, and many others. Environmental groups contend that immediate actions are necessary to reduce GHG emissions because a warmer planet will lead to detrimental changes in the planet's ecology, more severe storms and additional human health problems. Industry maintains that by 2008 new auto and other technologies will be on the market that will produce reductions in carbon emissions with less impact to the economy. Developing countries look forward to an influx of capital investment and clean technologies that could be forced by laws limiting emissions and setting up greenhouse gas global trading systems.
Ignoring the controversial science and questionable computer modeling on global warming, U.S. negotiators in Kyoto, Japan, agreed to a global warming treaty that requires our country to cut emissions of greenhouse gases 7 percent below 1990 levels. Although some 160 nations may sign the treaty, emission reduction requirements will only apply to 34 developed nations. President Bush thinks that the science linking CO2 to climate change is weak and has instructed his administration to conduct additional research and develop a more practical solution that is less damaging to the U.S. economy. The U.S. Congress is also considering legislation to reduce carbon emissions.
Where CITGO Stands
Since GHG emissions from every country mix in the upper atmosphere, we believe a global credit and trading program for greenhouse gas emissions has merit. Countries or companies that reduce their emissions beyond a set quota would be able to sell credits to other companies that need them. Nations such as Brazil and Venezuela would be able to issue credits to companies in industrial nations that make efforts to protect forests and create parks which might otherwise be logged. These "carbon sink" projects would allow U.S. companies to meet emissions quotas at a more reasonable cost. CITGO encourages governments to fashion such a trading program.
If taxes are imposed to meet treaty obligations, the price of gasoline could double. This will increase the cost of every commodity that is shipped to every market and U.S. household. CITGO believes the United States should not impair its economy without full public education and debate. CITGO will monitor the issue and support those who advocate technology solutions and legislation or regulations that do not impair the continued viability of CITGO's refining and marketing business.