Where’s the harm in reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

In this March 8, 2014, file photo steam from the Jeffrey Energy Center coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the setting sun near St. Marys, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

With recent predictions of a quadrupling of sunny day floods in Charleston to at least 30 times per year by 2020, I am reminded of the admittedly unintentional disservice provided by former Vice President Al Gore in publicizing predictions of global warming and focusing attention on man’s contribution to that process through his production of greenhouse gases.

Had someone equally prominent but having no strong political association publicized those theories, our governments’ response to the theories might have been very different. Unfortunately, however, Gore’s association with theories of global warming politicized them.

As a result, many if not most Republicans either deny the theories’ validity or point out that they are not scientists and, therefore, don’t know whether these theories are correct or not. Politicians in North Carolina even went so far in 2012 as to ban the basing of coastal policies on scientific predictions of how much the sea level will rise as a result of global warming.

Like most of our politicians, I am not a scientist. I, too, do not know whether predictions of global warming and the effect of greenhouse gases on the process are correct. But I do acknowledge that global warming is occurring and that sea levels are rising both because many land-based glaciers are melting and ocean temperatures are warming. Those are facts.

The controversial question, of course, is whether man’s activities are contributing significantly to this warming trend.

I do not pretend to know the answer to that question. But common sense suggests we need only answer two questions to determine whether predictions of global warming and the effects of our greenhouse gas emissions on that process should be taken seriously.

Question No. 1: If we assume the predicted impact of greenhouse gas emissions on global warming and its subsequent effects on the environment are correct, what will be the consequences of taking strong actions to reduce our production of those gases in an effort to minimize the expected effects and then learning 20 or 30 years from now that the predictions were exaggerated?

Question No. 2: If we assume that the predicted impact of greenhouse gas emissions on global warming and its subsequent effects on the environment are exaggerated and, therefore, do nothing to reduce our production of those gases, what will be the consequences of discovering 20 or 30 years from now that the theories were correct?

Let‘s look at the answers to those two questions,

If we work aggressively to reduce greenhouse gases and the theory and predictions are wrong, we will have done the following: 1) developed large-scale sources of renewable energy; 2) developed a more efficient nationwide distribution system for electrical energy; 3) developed more energy-efficient means of ground transportation; 4) developed a wide range of new technologies to support all of the above; and, 5) created exciting new areas for investment, wealth creation and employment.

On the other hand, if we assume the theory of global warming and predictions of climate change are nonsense and do little or nothing to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and the theory and predictions turn out to be right on the money, the consequences will include the following: 1) a significant rise in sea level and flooding of many coastal areas; 2) changes in rainfall patterns; 3) an increase in extreme weather events; 4) major loss of ecosystems and killing off of many life species; and 5) more severe effects longer term because of the delay in taking remedial steps.

And these are only partial answers to the two questions. The changes described in response to the first question, for example, would require major infrastructure investments, the development of new technologies and some dislocations as older technologies were replaced by the new. The impacts listed in response to the second question — particularly those involving changed weather patterns and rising sea levels — would have potentially profound and often negative effects on all parts of the country.

One does not have to be a scientist to figure out what our approach to this issue should be. Moreover, it should be obvious to even the most partisan of politicians that his constituents — the people he is supposed to represent — will be best served by taking these predictions seriously and working aggressively to do whatever is necessary to reduce our output of greenhouse gases in an effort to mitigate the effects of global warming.

In short, there are few downsides to taking predictions of global warming seriously and learning later that those prediction were exaggerated.

The downsides to doing nothing and then finding out that the predictions were correct, on the other hand, are enormous.

John Roberts, a former newspaper reporter and Du Pont Co. public affairs manager, is the author of “Uncommon Sense — A View from the Middle.” A resident of Edisto Island, Mr. Roberts can be contacted at www.un-common-sense.net.