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Western problems

Published July 2, 2013 1:01 am

Climate change is central issue
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If a group of governors in, say, Siberia, met to discuss their common challenges and how best to meet them, you'd expect them to include obvious topics such as long, sub-zero winters. But when the governors of Western U.S. states met last week, they danced all around what should have been the hot topic: climate change.

The American West is, in many ways, ground zero for human-caused climate change. We are already experiencing the devastating effects of our reliance on fossil fuels: severe drought; larger, hotter, more destructive wildfires; higher temperatures; shrinking snowpack; dwindling water resources; potentially fatal pollution. We have shortsightedly built our economy around mining and drilling for carbon-based energy.

That proverbial elephant in the room full of governors should have caught everyone's attention at the association's meetings. But, true to form, Republican governors, including Utah's Gary Herbert, ultimately ignored the issue that underscores all the others.

The group's 10-year plan for energy development cannot come close to solving the West's problems without a recognition of what is causing most of them. A tepid commitment to renewable-energy development, while the focus remains fixed on oil and coal, is bound to do little to cut carbon emissions, and that should be the ultimate goal.

"Climate change is an issue, whether we like it or not. It's an issue that has to be addressed," Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, a member of Canada's New Democratic Party, rightly pointed out.

But, since replacing former Gov. Jon Huntsman four years ago, Herbert has sought to cast doubt on the science-based conclusion that human activities are the primary cause of the enormous jump in carbon emissions recently and, as a result, in the rapid rise in global temperatures.

As governor, Huntsman participated in the Western Climate Initiative started in 2007 by governors of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington and two Canadian provinces. Herbert pulled Utah out of the organization.

The new plan purportedly focuses on energy security; clean, affordable and reliable sources; energy efficiency; an updated power grid; environmental and natural resource protection; and innovation.

But as long as governors maintain an ostrich-like approach to the role that fossil fuels play in perpetuating the huge challenges and natural disasters faced by states in the West, the solutions are apt to fail.