Global Warming Policy: Some Economic Implications

Policy Reports | Global Warming

No. 224
Saturday, May 01, 1999
by Stephen P. A. Brown

Global Warming Theory

The theory of global warming holds that increased levels of atmospheric CO2 are linked to generally rising temperatures around the world.5 To better understand global warming, consider the greenhouse effect. Sunlight heats the earth, but the earth would be far cooler without atmospheric water vapor and greenhouse gases. The gases let sunlight through to warm the earth but trap as infrared radiation some of the heat escaping back into space. Thus the gases act like the glass walls and ceiling of a greenhouse.

The effect of increasing the level of atmospheric greenhouse gases mimics the effect of using thicker glass in the greenhouse: less heat escapes. Some scientists believe that the CO2 released by human activities is enhancing the greenhouse effect and contributing to an increase in the earth's overall temperature. This increase is commonly called global warming.

Many scientists and others are concerned about global warming's potential effect on the environment. Among the predicted consequences are increased rainfall, melting polar ice caps, rising ocean levels, increased flooding and widespread crop failure. On the other hand, some scientists say the net effect of any global warming could be beneficial, enhancing crop production and reducing the onset of and death from some types of diseases.6

Scientists also disagree about the magnitude of the temperature change and the contribution if any of human-caused CO2.

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