“WHEREAS, the ‘hockey stick’ global warming assertion has been discredited and climate alarmists’ carbon dioxide-related global warming hypothesis is unable to account for the current downturn in global temperatures … “
“WHEREAS, emails and other communications between climate researchers around the globe, referred to as ‘Climategate,’ indicate a well organized and ongoing effort to manipulate global temperature data in order to produce a global warming outcome … “
— from House Joint Resolution 12
It’s been 10 years — and about a half degree Fahrenheit — since the Utah Legislature passed HJR12, “Climate Change Joint Resolution.”
The resolution, a reaction to the Obama administration’s call to regulate carbon, carried no power of law, but it was intended as a clear signal of where Utah stood.
It also was complete bunk.
Industry lobbyists delivered the smoke and mirrors, and Republican legislators — many of whom are still in office — bought it eagerly and unquestioningly. The vote was along party lines. Gary Herbert — in his first legislative session as governor — signed it.
Call it the lost decade. Everything mocked by HJR12 has been substantiated in the intervening years. The deniers have gone quieter, but there has been no state government effort to address carbon production. In fact, efforts more often have gone the other way, like looking for ways to extend our footprint by exporting coal or building railways to oil country.
And now it’s not even about being able to stop climate change. That window has closed. It’s about limiting the devastation, devastation that is already visible across the planet on a daily basis.
Now comes the University of Utah’s Gardner Institute with its climate-change-dominated “road map” for legislators. Ready or not, Utah’s leaders are being told in no uncertain terms that climate change is real and human fossil fuel consumption is mainly responsible.
The road map sets the goal of cutting Utah’s carbon footprint by a quarter in five years, half in 10 years and 80 percent in 30 years.
Aggressive, but even those are political numbers. In reality, if in 30 years the entire planet is still burning even 20 percent of the carbon it is now, we’ll be living in a Mad Max world of firestorms, mass migrations and species die-offs.
What’s the real target? California law is already at 100 percent reduction (no energy from fossil fuels) by 2045, and now it’s looking at moving that to 2030.
And Gardner makes it clear: Because of our coal-fired power plants and urban sprawl, we’re among the fatter footprints in a country that is the carbon-per-capita leader among major nations. We’re 0.04% of the world’s population, but we’re 0.2% of its carbon production.
That means Utahns — more than most people on earth — are causing the oceans to rise and the forests to burn.
We also are — more than most — in a better position to change. We have abundant wind, sun and geothermal assets, and we have enough resilience in the economy to get there without financial collapse.
The Gardner report calls for accelerating closure of the coal plants and making the state a leader in electric vehicle adaptation. It also pushes smart growth (higher density near transportation) and cleaner buildings.
The most important ask is Gardner’s seventh bullet point: “Participate in national discussions about market-based approaches to limiting carbon emissions.”
Ultimately, any approach to carbon has to have national and international scale. It’s only through cooperation that we will solve this. And cooperation will require a common acceptance of science.
A word of caution: We are not going to simply innovate our way out of this. The Gardner Institute has done an A+ job of informing, but if this report has a flaw, it is the promise of a seamless, technology-driven path. We have many reasons for optimism, but this will take sacrifice, particularly for those who can’t or won’t adapt.
This is about the near future, the world of our children and grandchildren. They can run, but they can’t hide. It’s not too late to make a difference, but we don’t have another 10 years.