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Climate Protection And The National Interest

The Links Among Climate Change, Air Pollution, And Energy Security

Shows how an integrated U.S. approach to dealing with of climate change, air pollution, and energy security would be a much more efficient and economical way of solving these linked problems.

Executive Summary

The report serves as a guide to sorting out the benefits of controlling greenhouse gas emissions, not only in reducing the risks of global warming, but in cutting air pollution and enhancing national security as well.

The challenge. The report concludes that the United States is confronting three closely related threats, all from the burning of fossil fuels. Dr. MacKenzie argues that these linked problems -- climate change, air pollution, and energy security -- can be solved efficiently and economically, if tackled together. Yet, U.S. policy makers continue to pursue piecemeal approaches which may address one problem while exacerbating the others.

The United States is missing out on the economic and efficiency benefits that could be gained by treating these problematic conditions as a whole. Climate Protection and the National Interest provides the foundation for designing sensible solutions by explaining how the problems are linked and what technological paths can most readily surmount them.

The source of the problem. The report explores how fossil-fuel consumption is the common source of these three problems:

  • Nearly 90% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions arise from the burning of fossil fuels;
  • The burning of fuels accounts for 90% of smog and acid-rain air pollution, and
  • In 1996, the U.S. imported more than 46% of its oil supply. At the same time, dependence on imported oil from the Persian Gulf has escalated. By 1996, the U.S. was importing twice as much oil from this region as it had in 1973, before the Arab oil embargo.

"The nation treats these issues separately, but they are really facets of the same problem -- how we supply and use energy," argues Senior Associate James MacKenzie.

Economic impact. According to the author, if government policies took these links into account, the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced significantly. One estimate contends that the side benefits of climate protection measures could offset between 30 and 100 percent of climate abatement costs. For example, a strong climate policy to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions would also greatly improve air quality, reducing the enormous cost of health care expenditures associated with air pollution-related illnesses. A reduction in oil consumption would substantially lower U.S. energy security risks. These findings are critical since much of today's debate over the cost of climate protection do not factor in the associated economic benefits of improved environmental, health and national security conditions.

Policy contradictions. The report provides numerous examples of policy contradictions that would reduce greenhouse emissions, including:

  • Motor vehicles are major sources of air pollution, the fastest growing source of carbon dioxide emissions, and account for about half of U.S. oil consumption. Yet the so-called alternative fuels being promoted -- e.g., ethanol and methanol -- have only marginal clean air benefits and little or no climate benefit.
  • The United States is a major part of the climate problem: with less than 5 percent of the world's population, the United States accounts for about 22 percent of global energy-related CO2 emissions. Yet, in Fiscal Year 1997, Congress appropriated $365 million for fossil fuel research and development.
  • The United States went to war in 1991 to ensure continued access, on favorable terms, to Persian Gulf oil. Yet, neither the Congress nor the Administration will support the kinds of domestic measures that would help cut U.S. oil dependence and enhance national security.

Next steps. The report concludes that the emergence of new energy technologies -- such as, solar cells, wind turbines, solar thermal collectors, electric-drive vehicles, batteries, and flywheels -- will stimulate a reduction in the burning fossil fuels and thus enhance environmental and national security.

These developments offer new, innovative opportunities for the American business community which, if taken, will signal the start of a transition toward long-term sustainability.

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