Agents from 130 nations are meeting in Virginia this week in the first of a series of international gatherings seeking to draft a treaty restricting pollutants that some believe are causing the atmosphere to grow warmer - the so-called "greenhouse effect." But the attempt appears doomed because the United States wants more study before any action is taken.
Environmental advocates are sounding the alarm of possible world disaster if a recent trend toward warmer temperatures continues. The decade of the '80s included some of the warmest years on record.An earlier series of United Nations meetings concluded that unless greenhouse pollutants are curtailed, the Earth's temperature would increase 5 to 9 degrees in the next century - enough to cause agricultural catastrophes and to raise sea levels because of melting polar ice. Coastal cities would be flooded.
Many countries are pushing for at least a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2000. Other problem pollutants have been identified as methane and chlorofluorocarbons.
The United States wants to put limits on emission of such "greenhouse gases," but other nations say that obscures the need to concentrate on carbon dioxide pollutants.
However, scientific opinion is hardly unanimous on the greenhouse effect. Many, if not most, scientists are not yet convinced that pollutants are responsible for recent warming trends. The Bush administration wants more study on that issue, as well on the costs of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
The expense would not be small. A congressional study released this week by the Office of Technology Assessment said that substantially reducing carbon dioxide would cost $150 billion a year and require a major change in the lifestyle of most Americans.
Burning of fossil fuels - including the use of gasoline, oil and coal - would have to be sharply curtailed, and methods of processing paper, petrochemicals and metals would have to be changed.
Before embarking on $150 billion a year worth of changes, it seems prudent to do more studies on just what is causing global warming and how best to deal with fossil fuel emissions. Eagerness to "do something" should not take precedence over having all the facts.