A Brief History of CO2 Policy

The concept of the human environment, which includes both the natural world and humanity's impact upon it, has its origin in the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, but it was more succinctly defined by the nations of the world -- including the United States -- in the Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment in 1972. Among the principles set forth in this latter Declaration is the philosophy that protecting the human environment not only includes safeguarding the natural environment, but also includes defending a fundamental right of society to utilize and transform the natural environment so as to sustain and enhance the quality of human life.

In recent years, governments at all levels have largely abandoned a balanced approach to protecting the human environment. Far too many regulations and laws have tilted the scales toward safeguarding the natural environment at the expense of humanity. The most egregious example of such in our day includes government and private sector efforts to restrict the use of fossil fuels via tax, caps or fiat limits on CO2 emissions. Such efforts are based upon the false notion that CO2 emissions are polluting the atmosphere and causing dangerous global warming. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The real story is that CO2 emissions and fossil fuel use have actually enhanced life and improved the standard of living, and will continue to do so as more fossil fuels are used.

Nevertheless, forces opposing fossil fuel use have grown in both number and political power. Their efforts enabled President Obama's EPA to declare in late 2009 that CO2 emissions resulting from the combustion of carbon-based fossil fuels are a "current threat" to human health and welfare. This so-called Endangerment Finding, however, was not the result of rigorous scientific study and debate; EPA relied too heavily on flawed computer model projections of possible harms that might occur in the distant future, and in the process they chose to ignore real-world observations that invalidated the conclusions reached from computer models projections. The EPA also failed to analyze and account for critical (and very significant) direct and indirect benefits to the human environment through fossil fuels and CO2 emissions resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels in reaching their Endangerment Finding, benefits of which, if included, would have likely reversed their decision.

It is undeniable that fossil energy initiated (and continues to sustain) the Industrial Revolution and the many human and environmental benefits that have emerged therefrom. Without adequate supplies of low-cost centralized energy, few, if any, of the major technological and innovative advancements of the past two centuries that have enhanced and prolonged human life could have occurred. Additionally, without the increased CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use over the past two centuries, Earth's terrestrial biosphere would be nowhere near as vigorous or productive as it is today. Rather, it would be devoid of the growth-enhancing, water-saving and stress-alleviating benefits it has reaped in managed and unmanaged ecosystems from rising levels of atmospheric CO2 since the Industrial Revolution began.

When considering and accounting for such positive improvements in the human environment, it becomes scientifically and morally indefensible to demonize fossil fuel use and declare CO2 emissions a current (or long-term) threat to human health and welfare. Consequently, it is the Institute's position that more, not less, fossil fuel use is needed to enhance the future human environment. Thus, the 2009 Endangerment Finding should be reversed and State or municipal levels should remove established or emerging policies aimed at eliminating fossil fuel use so that critical policy balance can be restored so as to allow for the continued enhancement of the human environment as originally outlined in NEPA and the Stockholm Declaration.