Monday, October 17, 2011
Lora Lucero Guest Blog: Climate Perspectives
This is a guest blog by Lora Lucero, a long-time resident of Albuquerque, NM and an adjunct professor of law at UNM. Climate change is a major focus of her research and writing, and she serves as the Natural Resources Director for the League of Women Voters of New Mexico.
Tempers got hot Sunday during the panel discussion at the Albuquerque Jewish Community Center. An estimated 150-175 people attended the “Perspectives on Climate Change” presentation organized by the New Mexico Chapter of the Fulbright Association. The University of New Mexico’s Chapter of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society, and the League of Women Voters of Central New Mexico co-sponsored the event.
Senator Jeff Bingaman opened with pre-recorded remarks about the seriousness of the climate change threat.
Retired PNM-CEO Jeff Sterba shared the business perspective with his considerable experience working on the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a national group of businesses and environmental organizations that unsuccessfully lobbied Congress to pass climate change legislation in 2009.
Sterba was followed by UNM Professor David Gutzler who can aptly be described as New Mexico’s resident science expert on climate change. He shared the science behind global warming with lots of charts and graphs. Although scientists acknowledge that any single data set might be limited and have flaws or errors, Gutzler made the point that all of the data sets, taken together, point in the same direction. The earth is heating up and humans are a contributing factor to the steep rise we see in all of the data sets since about the 1950s.
Many scientists don’t know how to translate their field of science for public consumption, and the gulf between what the scientists believe and what the policy makers understand appears to be growing. Professor Gutzler is an excellent bridge between the two. His take-away messages were (1) the “increased CO2 concentration is human-caused, no doubt about it” and (2) we are “long past the time to question the science.”
Mark Boslough, a physicist with Sandia Laboratory, discussed the potential consequences of climate change. His presentation raised my blood pressure and I think added a palpable tension to the room. Sandia Labs does a lot of risk assessment work, and Boslough spoke about climate change in terms of the risks we’re facing, using the phrase “global catastrophe.”
He noted there is a range of opinions falling between climate deniers on one end and climate alarmists at the other. He effectively used the analogy of the game of Russian roulette when he talked about the risks versus the consequences, and said that “nobody can say there is NO chance of global catastrophe.” All climate risk assessment models point to some risk.
Boslough went through several global warming predictions made by scientists as far back as the late 1800s up to the current work of James Hansen from NASA, who believes that it’s “game over” if the Keystone XL Pipeline is built to open up the Alberta Tar Sands. The point is that this climate change discussion is not new, but it may be more urgent now than ever before; it certainly is more controversial today.
Jeff Sterba, representing the business perspective, said it was “far better to believe there is a problem and address it now, and be wrong; than do nothing and be wrong.”
He blamed the climate naysayers, the “extreme” environmentalists, the public distrust of financial markets and even President Obama for Congress’s failure in 2009 to pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). The legislation might not have been “perfect” he admitted, but at least it set us in the right direction. Sterba predicts that no progress will be made in DC before 2014 or beyond, but he encouraged the audience not to wait for Congress to act. He wants to see a price on carbon, but climate change is off the public’s radar now. Individuals’ demand and patterns of consumption are what drives business, he noted. We can make a big difference by our individual purchasing decisions.
All three speakers shared a sense of urgency about addressing climate change. The audience appeared to be in agreement, with the exception of one outspoken critic. I didn’t expect tempers to fly, but at one point during the Q & A, a shoving match ensued and security was called into the room. No doubt, climate change provokes passion on all sides, as it should when we’re talking about the risks of a global catastrophe.
As Natural Resources Director for the League of Women Voters of New Mexico, I asked Mr. Sterba to respond to the fact that PNM is fighting against a carbon cap in New Mexico, while he advocated in DC two years ago for a carbon cap. Full disclosure: the LWVNM is actively supporting the carbon cap rule adopted by the Environmental Improvement Board in late 2010. The newly-appointed members of the EIB will consider overturning that rule in December 2011.
Sterba’s response was a disappointment, but predictable. He believes a statewide cap on carbon emissions will “disadvantage” New Mexico when other states do not have a similar regulation. The League’s opinion? New Mexico’s carbon cap may not be “perfect” but at least it sets us in the right direction.
This is a guest blog by Lora Lucero. All photos by Lora Lucero. Click on images for larger versions.
If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page.
Thanks for the report of this important event. The mainstream media will not cover these kinds of events so it is very important that the blogs and citizen reporters do so.
Posted by: Melinda | Oct 18, 2011 12:26:42 PM
Thanks for the report from Sunday's panel discussion. I've been using the Russian Roulette metaphor in my talks recently as well. In order to national debate back around, we need to point out how it is irrational and immoral advocate non-action given the catastrophic risks, even if one had (unjustified at this point) uncertainty about the science. I'd convey this with TV commercials using Russian Roulette imagery.
I am increasingly convinced that the primary source of opposition to GHG limits is no longer industry (w/ the exception of coal), but opinion makers from Republican politics like Limbaugh and Hannity who don't really care about the issue other than as a partisan wedge. See this article for a discussion of the current politics:
Posted by: Jason Marks | Oct 19, 2011 1:18:44 AM