COLUMN: Cutting through the political talk

Faculty Voices

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Published: Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, February 23, 2011

    In Montana this year, a state legislator his written a bill simply declaring that global warming is natural – at least he admits it's happening, which is more than we can say for Sens. Hatch and Lee and Representatives Bishop and Chaffetz. Still, I'd like to suggest that this is a tragic waste of legislative power. If we can legislate physics, why not write a law that declares cow shit is gold. Now THAT would benefit Montana.

    In Utah last year, our own legislature passed a bill (HJR 12) simultaneously declaring that: 1) Global warming isn't happening; 2) Global warming is happening, but natural; 3) Physics-based climate models are nonsense – and by "physics-based", we mean the same physics that has brought us laser pointers, iPhones and the Cheeto – 4) Economist-based proclamations of the economic disaster to ensue should we attempt to regulate carbon, are the word of God – and by "economist-based," we mean the same economists who successfully predicted the subprime mortgage crises, subsequent global financial collapse and the success of the Zune – and 5) Those scientists who "promote" global warming are both incompetent and dishonest – by "those scientists" we mean the unsavory, seedy, fringe bunch who comprise the National Academy of Sciences and more than 70 other such ridiculous organizations with blatantly reality-based agendas.

    Still, my personal moment of rapture came when my home state of South Dakota passed a bill declaring global warming to be largely due to "astrological" influences. Is there an emoticon signifying "my head just exploded right after snrrrfing milk through my nose?"

    Here in Cache Valley, the county council suggests that the only problem with our winter air is bad press, and one member of the Logan City Council writes that our winter air problem is clearly not a problem since Cache Valley residents live longer than average. In Salt Lake, the legislature is poised to pass another bill (HJR 19) calling on Congress to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases. Now, bear in mind that the EPA is actually mandated by Congress to regulate pollutants and has been ordered by the Supreme Court to specifically regulate greenhouse gases. Thus, HJR 19 is on par with asking Congress to prevent the Food Safety Administration from regulating salmonella because it would be too expensive for food producers to, you know, clean their stuff.

    As I write, the U.S. House of Representatives prepares an inquisition for scientists who study climate. Not because anyone has found anything wrong with their science but because Sen. Inhoffe hates Al Gore – by "hate" I mean, with the heat of ten thousand burning rain forests. Here in Utah, the chair of the legislature's Public Education Subcommittee, Sen. Chris Buttars, says educators who teach global warming are "pushing the communist party line." Nice. To be fair, he may have a point: my hammer and sickle sit right next to my copies of Newton's Principia and Darwin's Origin of Species.

    So what's going on? Are these people stupid? Evil? No. And no. That would be easier. What they are is woefully unprepared to evaluate the information before them. And that's a tragedy. The job of leadership is to look ahead, to recognize risks and opportunities and prepare accordingly. But rather than acknowledge problems, our leaders choose to declare them "no problem." While China prepares to dominate the 21st century, investing heavily in renewables, our leadership here in Utah and the nation looks to reclaim the 19th century – declaring coal, oil and fossils the energy of the future.

    While others move forward, our own policymakers are hamstrung with a consummate "can't do" attitude. "Transition to renewable energy? Can't be done!" I personally witnessed Rep. Bishop declare we will never, NEVER, get more than 20 percent of our energy from renewables. In other words, our learned representative believes we will always, ALWAYS, get 80 percent of our energy from NON-renewables. I'm not sure he's clear on the meaning of non-renewable. While serious people study how to move us forward, ignorant bullies on talk radio and cable "news" villify them. You remember the bullies, don't you? They shout everyone down, must have their way, then laughingly apologize when the damage is done, crying "How were we supposed to know?"

    As university students, this is the time to begin asking yourself on a daily basis what you believe – and to follow that question with another: "Based on what?" And it's a time to examine those things that, until now, you have just accepted – that atoms exist; that viruses cause colds; that BYU sucks. And it's most certainly a time to wrest your future from purblind, adolescent policymakers. And do some totally rad roadtrips.

    

Rob Davies is a physicist with the Utah Climate Center and guest faculty in the department of Plant, Soils and Climate.

 

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