WASHINGTON -- A report prepared for the Energy Department warns of a potentially perilous buildup of carbon dioxide -- a situation that could create a global warming trend with serious consequences for all nations of the world.
The report says future coal use by the United States, China and the Soviet Union will have an important effect on the so-called greenhouse effect -- the warming that results from man-made buildups in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
The impact, it said, will be 'beyond human experience.'
'The decisions of these countries concerning national uses and exports of coal will have preponderent influence on the future rates and amounts of carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere,' it said, noting that only the United States is currently poised to export large amounts of coal.
The study, entitled 'Environmental and Societal Consequences of a Possible Carbon Dioxide-Induced Climate Change: A Research Agenda,' recommended additional research on climatic changes caused by the greenhouse effect. It was conducted by outside consultants for the Energy Department.
Carbon dioxide, an otherwise harmless gas used by all plants in photosynthesis, is transparent to sunlight entering the atmosphere, but traps heat radiated by the earth's surface.
'If large quantities of fossil fuels continue to be used, there will be a slow, continuous increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide and probably a slow, continuous rise in average atmospheric temperatures over the next one and a half centuries,' the study said.
It said average surface temperatures 'are likely to be warmer, than at any time during the last 100,000 years.'
Through deforestation, which reduces vegetation that converts carbon dioxide into oxygen, and rising energy use, 'mankind is unintentionally conducting a great biological and geophysical experiment,' the study said.
'If large changes occur, they may be irreversible on a human time-scale.'
Because only some regions would benefit from the greenhouse effect, the study said 'climate change could pit nation against nation and group against group.'
The report said governments should find ways of 'avoiding or ameliorating the unfavorable impacts and gaining most benefit from favorable impacts' of the greenhouse effect.
Coastal plains, deltas and valleys of great rivers like the Mississippi, Mekong and Nile -- 'the richest and most densely populated agricultural lands' -- would be flooded 'if climatic warming causes disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet,' the study said.
But it said a longer growing season could benefit the northern Soviet Union, increase Chinese rice production and regulate the monsoon season in the Indian subcontinent.