Climate Change: Everywhere but Utah?

This week, a state I used to live in did something I find unfathomable.  Utah’s House of Representatives passed a resolution 56-17 urging the EPA to “halt its carbon dioxide reduction policies and programs and withdraw its ‘Endangerment Finding’ and related regulations until a full and independent investigation climate data and global warming science can be substantiated.”  Even more sad to me: the guy that represents where I used to live, Kerry Gibson (R-Ogden) sponsored the bill.  At least they struck the word “conspiracy” from the document.

The resolution has no political clout.  The EPA most likely won’t stop looking at regulating greenhouse gases and states like New York won’t suddenly reconsider whether joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative was a good idea.  But the fact that a bunch of rational adults can put together this resolution and pass it through a state legislature is a sad testament to where science stands in our public discourse.

I’d like to go through the resolution and pluck a few sections out that I find particularly troubling.  If you want to read the whole thing, you can find it here.  I really urge you to go check it out.  There’s some shockingly inflammatory language that made it through committee before being struck from the full House resolution.  What’s in there isn’t exactly easy on the eyes, though.

The resolution actually starts with a valid premise: should the EPA be regulating CO2?  Personally, I’m not sure if the Clean Air Act, which the EPA used to issue the Endangerment Finding the resolution highlights, is the best mechanism.  So yes, by all means, I’m with you Utah House members.  Let’s have a rational debate on this.  Play ball!

One of the first reasons the EPA should reconsider regulating CO2 is that “global temperatures have been level and declining in some areas over the past 12 years.”  Fair enough, there have been some areas that have seen temperatures cool.  But maybe Kerry Gibson, didn’t get the memo from NASA that the 2000s were the warmest decade on record.  There will always be outliers in any data set.   What matters is the overall trend (remember, climate change is a global problem), and the bottom line is the world has been warming over the past 12 years.

Strike one.

Then there’s a section on Climategate.   It says that “emails and other communications between climate researchers around the globe, referred to as "Climategate," indicate a well organized and ongoing effort to manipulate global temperature data in order to produce a global warming outcome.”  Let’s be honest: Climategate was an absolute PR disaster.  But to say the emails indicate “a well organized” effort is beyond me.  There are thousands of scientists working on climate change.  A few emails, which while not pretty, don’t discredit the science of global warming, does not constitute the concerted efforts skeptics are making it out to be.

Strike two. You’re in the hole Utah House members.

How about money?  The resolution says that “more than $7 billion annually in federal government grants, may have influenced the climate research focus and findings that have produced a ‘scientific consensus’ at research institutions and universities.”  Basically, the argument is that EPA Endangerment Finding is based on the work of scientists who were willing to forge results to make an extra buck.  No scientist I’ve talked to is in the field to get rich.  Especially during the Bush years, funding for climate change study wasn’t exactly robust.

Sorry, HJR12, but strike three.

What are the real motivations of this bill?  Well, for one the coal and agricultural lobbies have a big stake in Utah.  Almost 90% of Utah’s electricity comes from coal.  Cap and trade would hit Utah hard.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Kerry Gibson was a dairy farmer in a previous life, so agriculture was probably on his mind, too, when he introduced the resolution.

It’s too bad because Utah could have a great clean energy economy.  Its geographic position is perfect for generating wind power and Utah State University is working on algae biofuel.  And agriculture producers in the US stand to benefit from climate change legislation if they get in the game.

Unfortunately, as House minority whip David Litvack noted, the resolution “does nothing but shut the door on dialogue.”  It’s full of erroneous claims, paranoia, and language that insults hardworking climate scientists.

That said, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.  What do you find most erroneous?  Is there anything in here you agree with?  How would you try to open the door to constructive debate?

Photo Credit: Flickr