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Welcome new attention to Global Warming  

| By Nicholas P. Chopey

In families, organizations or nations, it can happen that when leaders at the top do not lead, those supposedly led take things into their own hands. That seems like an adequate, if imprecise, summary of how the largely regional, state-level and corporate response to global warming has recently been shaping up in the U.S. The details of facing up to CO2 and other greenhouse gases are spelled out in the news roundup article, “Global Warming: On the Front Burner,” that begins on p. 19. That article triggers several observations and reflections.

In the first place, while cutting CO2 emissions is basically synonymous with burning less fuel, the article shows that more-imaginative chemical engineering helps do the trick, too. Consider the partnering between Shell Canada and Dow Chemical involving the energy-saving use of a waste hydrogen stream, and BASF’s lessened CO2 emissions thanks to a high-yield acrylic acid catalyst. As article author (and former CE Managing Editor) Suzanne Shelley puts it, the possibilities are limited only by the imagination of the engineering community. Even in instances where lowering CO2 emissions is not the primary goal, it is surely a most welcome fringe benefit.

Also notable is how the industrial community’s acceptance of a link between CO2 and global warming has grown and spread. A handful of years ago, a scant few chemical-process companies, such as BP and Air Products & Chemicals, stood out for their acknowledgement of that hypothesis. But with every year that goes by, full-fledged naysayers become harder and harder to find.

Meanwhile, the absence of federal greenhouse-gas standards, and President Bush’s refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol, do not mean that his Executive Branch of the U.S. government is monolithically opposed to CO2-abatement measures; quite the contrary. For example, the article points out the activities of the Dept. of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency in documenting the greenhouse-gas problem and/or helping companies to set goals for CO2 reduction.

The main concern with greenhouse-gas emissions focuses on climate change; but meanwhile, the weather is surely not being overlooked. The idea that global warming makes the weather less stable has been pointed out by more than one scientist. And extreme-weather events that used to come once every 30 years are now becoming once-every-five-year events, notes Patrick Zimmerman, director of the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. With New Orleans’ devastating Hurricane Katrina still fresh in their minds, government planners at all levels are less likely than ever to give short shrift to global warming.

Finally, here is a line of thought, expressed on this page before, that seems more obvious than ever, especially for that great majority of us who do not live in major oil-producing nations. Given today’s fuel prices and geopolitical question marks, even people with diehard skepticism about a link between CO2 and global warming cannot sensibly oppose today’s mainstream measures against CO2 emissions, because those actions are generally synonymous with energy conservation. If you don’t think that CO2 emissions cause global warming, at least recognize that they tend to be a measure of (often unnecessarily high) petroleum and natural gas consumption.