Utah lawmakers pressed forward Friday with their objections to dealing with climate disruption. And Utah scientists, academics and other leaders pushed back.
At a Friday night rally at the University of Utah, more than 100 people came out to hear the counter debate to the Legislature's two resolutions urging no action on climate policies. More than four dozen colleagues from Utah's colleges and universities have now backed up a Feb. 3 letter by Brigham Young University earth scientists who say that the time for debate over climate science is past and leaders should focus instead on taking meaningful action to deal with the problem. Among them is Utah's Nobel Prize-winning biologist Mario R. Capecchi.
Barry Bickmore, a BYU geochemist and author of the BYU letter, said he agreed with some of the concerns lawmakers have about the government's strategy to address climate change, like proposed cap-and-trade legislation. But he also thinks something needs to be done about the human-generated greenhouse gas emissions that are throwing the world climate system dangerously out of balance.
"Make no mistake -- doing nothing about climate change is very risky at this point," he told the crowd in a University of Utah auditorium. "I believe our Legislature needs to send a message that they are trying to think of viable solutions to the problem and making sure the concerns of their constituents are being heard."
Friday morning, the House Committee on Public Utilities and Technology approved a nonbinding resolution, 6-2, to urge Gov. Gary Herbert to pull out of the Western Climate Initiative.
If Utah were to withdraw from the six-state climate alliance, which is developing a region-wide cap-and-trade program, it would become the second state to do so. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed an executive order last week ending her state's participation in the regional carbon-reduction program. But Herbert is not looking to follow suit at this time, said Ted Wilson, the governor's chief environment advisor.
University of Utah engineering professor Joseph Andrade said the measure undermines the state's spirit of invention by showing "protectionism" toward the traditional fossil-fuel industries.
"That would be, in my opinion," he said, "exactly the wrong message to send" to companies thinking about using Utah as an incubator for their alternative energy innovations.
Andrade and Bickmore both attended the Senate Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Committee meeting, where members tabled plans to take up another climate-related resolution because its sponsor, Rep. Kerry Gibson, R-Ogden, failed to show up to present it. The measure, which already won House passage this week on a 56-17 vote, urges the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to drop plans for carbon dioxide regulations.
When some of the three dozen speakers who had come to oppose the bill complained about not getting an opportunity to speak, Committee Chairman Jerry W. Stevenson, R-Layton, said he would put it on the agenda for next Friday afternoon's meeting.
Drew Thompson, a U. physics student, said he had organized fellow students on the issue after reading that some lawmakers doubt the scientific evidence pointing to climate disruption and rejecting any role in helping deal with an issue important to his generation.
"It's kind of like the state is sticking its head in the sand," he said, noting he will return to testify next week.
At the evening forum, eighth-grader Brian Gregory, 13, had a similar complaint. He said his future depends on leaders heeding the warnings of the climate scientists.
"The politicians, they don't seem to care," he told the rally audience. "They deny the existence of a climate crisis as if they know more than the scientists, which even I, an eighth-grader, know that the politicians do not know more than the scientists when it comes to science."
Rocky Anderson, a leader in climate-change advocacy when he was Salt Lake City mayor, concluded the rally with a call to action.
"There is no greater priority at this time in human history than to do all we can to reduce CO2 and the accumulating carbon blanket in the atmosphere," he said. "Let us do all we can and no longer allow those who hold elective office to betray our sacred roles as stewards for the future."