Earth’s climate is changing faster than Wyoming’s politics
It would be callous to begrudge anybody in Wyoming for wanting to maintain the state’s fossil fuel extraction industries for the thousands of jobs they support and for bolstering more than 60 percent of our statewide economy.
Yet it’s possible, and even wise, to advocate for something less than full-throttle development. And it’s not “anti-industry” to understand the reality of climate change and to advocate for policies and investments that cut the carbon footprint of fossil fuels. That’s the reality occupied by most Americans — and by more Wyomingites than you might think.
But sadly, the earth’s climate is changing faster than Wyoming’s politics on global warming and energy matters — despite a crippling drought that brought every county in Wyoming to federal disaster status eligibility and forced ranchers to cull their herds. Despite the wildfires that raged all summer long. Despite the devastation of Hurricane Sandy that represents exactly what we can expect from a warming atmosphere.
Last week, all but a few candidates for Wyoming’s precious two congressional seats up for grabs in the election proclaimed they are either climate change deniers outright, or that too little is known about climate change to determine man’s role in it.
“Climates do change,” incumbent U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming) said in response to a question during a live debate Thursday hosted and moderated by Wyoming PBS, Wyoming Public Radio and the Wyoming Business Report. “We’re just beginning to explore what mankind’s role is in climate change, so I’d argue that the jury’s still out.”
Just an hour earlier, incumbent U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) had responded to a similar question regarding climate change; “Climates continue to change, and the role of man in that is completely unknown.”
But back to coal country politics. Third-party candidates in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate races also delivered whoppers of climate denial positions on Thursday evening.
Country Party candidate for the U.S. Senate, Joel Otto, said it’s “counterproductive and a waste to try to cut CO2 emissions.”
Constitution Party candidate for the U.S. House, Daniel Cummings, believes global warming is caused by the sun, and said, “I reject the propaganda that it’s caused by man.” Country Party candidate for the U.S. House Don Wills claimed there’s been no rise in global temperatures whatsoever during the past decade, and Libertarian candidate for the U.S. House Richard Brubaker conceded only that there are natural climate cycles.
Chris Henrichsen, Democratic candidate for the U.S. House, revealed some grasp of the reality of the situation; “I have no reason to question the experts on the science,” he said. Tim Chesnut, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, took it a step further and said that in the next 100 years, “we may come up with fuel cells that will make fossil fuels obsolete. Right now we are a colony where these resources are being pulled out.”
Those last two candidates were the minority voice on climate and energy policy in Wyoming during the election.
So what’s wrong with denying or downplaying the seriousness of climate change and wanting to protect Wyoming’s fossil fuel industries? It placates and gives the public a set of false expectations — not the least of which is the notion that Wyoming’s unbending stance on climate and coal is somehow going to convince our fellow Americans in coastal cities and states to ignore coal’s contribution to climate change. Those citizens care very little that Wyoming is dangerously dependent on fossil fuels for its revenue, and they’ve got more power in Washington D.C.
Even the hard-fought successes that Wyoming’s delegation had in retaining the state’s share of Abandoned Mine Land Funds ultimately ended in failure this year when the delegation’s fellow GOPers “cannibalized” the fund in the dead of night. According to Lummis’ own admission during the debate, one fellow GOP colleague wouldn’t even return her calls on the matter.
And if you’re voting for Mitt Romney as the friend-of-coal and because of his promise to squash federal regulations, be careful what you wish for. If Romney wins the White House and makes good on his promise to neuter the Environmental Protection Agency it will likely create a flood of nasty lawsuits given that, in the eyes of the U.S. Supreme Court, EPA is legally mandated to control manmade greenhouse gas emissions. Neutering EPA isn’t the type of policy that creates certainty among the investment community — which is still poised to make cleaner energy investments.
Certainty would come from a comprehensive energy policy that requires political leadership and Congressional compromise. Instead, what we have is a lot of bluster about red, white and blue energy — and by the way, let’s ship our red, white and blue coal to China.
In the line of climate change questioning during Thursday’s debate, Sen. Barrasso warned that even if the U.S. does cut its greenhouse gas emissions, it would place us at a disadvantage because China and India would continue to increase their greenhouse gas emissions fueling their industrial growth while ours falters. How’s that for pessimism and American-can’t-do-ism? Why would any elected leader downplay America’s role as a world leader on something as paramount as energy and climate change?
Are we to believe that America is powerless in working with China to reduce carbon emissions? That’s not what I heard from Chinese officials or young Chinese professionals when I traveled to Shanxi Province in 2009. And by the way, China is whooping our tails when it comes to building and using carbon-cutting coal refineries.
Reducing our own carbon emissions won’t be the death of coal mining in Wyoming. It would require us to broaden our portfolio of energy sources — you know, expose ourselves to less market and infrastructure risk. It’s the kind of incentive to innovate that brings about cost-saving efficiencies, an attribute that makes businesses more competitive. Of course it requires a capital investment that takes more than four years to pay off. So we’re talking about vision and leadership and investing in generations to follow.
Unfortunately, that’s not what we’re getting from our Wyoming leaders on climate and energy matters.
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