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Consequences of Banning Greenhouse Gases

 By David R. Legates        

You have often heard: “As greenhouse gas emissions from human activities increase, they build up in the atmosphere and warm the climate, leading to many other changes around the world.”  We are told these consequences always will be devastating and, of course, they will become worse if we don’t take draconian efforts to stop the emission of greenhouse gases now.

This last session, the Delaware legislature passed, and Governor Carney signed into law House Bill 99.  Known as the Delaware Climate Change Solutions Act of 2023, the law implements Delaware’s Climate Action Plan to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to 50% by 2030 and to 0% by 2050.  State agencies must “consider climate change in decision-making, rulemaking, and procurement,” which puts the decisions into the hands of state bureaucrats.

Greenhouse gases are called “trace gases” for a reason—they make up very little of the dry atmosphere by volume.  The three gases targeted by House Bill 99 are carbon dioxide (0.04%), methane (0.00019%), and nitrous oxide (0.00000015%).  Together, these three molecules comprise so little of our atmosphere that in a stadium of 100,000 people, the composition of these three molecules in the atmosphere would be the equivalent of just 40 people.

Moreover, these gases are not pollutants; in fact, an increase in carbon dioxide has been a huge benefit to the entire planet.  Over the last forty years, the majority of the planet has greened significantly.  Simply put, carbon dioxide is plant food—commercial greenhouses increase carbon dioxide concentrations by a factor of about four to enhance plant growth as plants grow faster under higher carbon dioxide concentrations.  In addition, plants use water more efficiently when carbon dioxide concentrations are higher.

But the Delaware General Assembly has labeled these gases as pollutants and has prescribed that we take draconian steps to curb their production. The electric vehicle mandate prescribes that we reduce the number of gasoline and diesel automobiles sent to dealers to zero by 2035.  House Bill 10 requires the phase in of electric school buses, House Bill 11 demands new commercial buildings be able to support rooftop solar panels, and House Bill 12 incentivizes the purchase and lease of electric vehicles through a rebate program.  Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 103 calls for all newly constructed single- and multi-family residences in the State to include electric vehicle charging infrastructure.  All these bills are now the law in Delaware forcing Delawareans to solely rely on wind and solar energy. At the same time, Delaware’s Federal delegation and the Biden administration are pushing for restrictions to the production of NMP, (N-Methyl pyrrolidone) which is an essential processing aid for lithium batteries that are key to energy storage and electrification storage. Without batteries to store this energy, our houses go dark and cold when the wind stops blowing and the sun stops shining.

So, why demonize fuels that have made energy inexpensive and have led nearly seven billion people out of poverty?  As a climatologist, I can tell you that our climate is not becoming more deadly or more extreme because of increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  For this small fraction of gases, we are proposing to devastate our economy, send billions of people to live below the poverty level, and destroy our way of life. What are we thinking?

David Legates is a retired tenured professor of climatology, geography, and spatial sciences in the Department of Geography at the University of Delaware and a retired adjunct professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics.