Carbon dioxide: warming threat or plant food?

The climate change and global warming issue will be a major point of contention between candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the coming presidential election. Sen. Bernie Sanders continues his effort to influence the party platform; Sanders supporters “exploded in cheers” as the Democratic National Convention’s full Platform Committee finally voted to include his environment proposals. Those ideas include taxes on fossil fuel’s carbon dioxide emissions, subsidies for renewable energy and severe limits on fracking drilling for oil and gas.

The Republicans, especially candidate Trump and Republican Sen. James Inhofe, see global warming as a hoax to weaken the U.S. economy. They view carbon dioxide as a trace gas which has little influence on our climate. 

Republicans will note that fracking fuel has also lowered energy costs for American industry. 

The science on the issue of carbon dioxide’s effect on the earth’s temperature is not settled. The computer model warming projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are well above actual temperature increases. 

President Obama said, “We can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices.” But we drilled, and down went gas prices. 

There are reasons to limit coal burning. Coal burning emits pollutants like arsenic, mercury, soot and coal ash. So-called clean renewables like wind and solar are a feature of the Democratic Party platform. But the public will realize the cost of renewable subsidies, and the problem when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. 

Concerns about climate science credibility and unpopular new Democratic energy taxes and subsidies should make the climate issue a plus for Republicans in November.


Rolf Westgard
Geological Society of America member, guest faculty at Lifelong Learning program at the University of Minnesota

Editor’s note: This letter was edited for clarity and accuracy.