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Utah Legislature Proposes Return to Dark Ages

In a bizarre turn of events (though perhaps not so much for the Utah legislature), the Utah State House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution this week “questioning the science” of climate change (I guess its been snowing lately in Salt Lake City), and asking the federal government to abandon its pursuit of cap and trade legislation and carbon emissions regulation.

Expressing concerns about the consequences of current proposed climate legislation and emissions regulation on the Utah economy (that gets nearly 90 percent of its electricity from coal), Representative Kerry Gibson, the resolution’s sponsor, not only took on the policy, but the science and scientists that underpin that policy as well. Despite how well they may actually understand climate science or the real work and careers of the thousands of scientists who study it.

The version of the resolution that passed on a 56-17 vote had its original language referring to “tricks,” a “gravy train,” and “conspiracy”  removed. But as Solve Climate reports, what was left in the resolution parrots the talking points from conservative think tanks like the Heartland Institute and others.

The Utah capital has a record of hostility toward scientists when the conclusions reached threaten (real or imagined) their status quo. When Republican representative Mike Noel didn’t like something Utah State University associate professor of physics Robert Davis said to a reporter last fall, he went crying to the president of the university. The bluster from Noel prompted a response from 18 BYU scientists saying in part:

We feel it is irresponsible for some of our legislators to attempt to manipulate the scientific evidence in order to support a political agenda.” (read the full response from the BYU Earth scientists – pdf)

Fast forward to last week when the resolution was in committee. The following exchange between Noel and bioengineering professor Joseph Andrade aptly demonstrates how people like Noel find no need to even try to understand science, instead relying on a juvenile attemp of twisting the facts to serve his political aims (as reported by Solve Climate):

Rep. Noel: “Are you stating on record that CO2 is a pollutant? Are you saying that CO2, carbon dioxide, is a pollutant, are you saying that?”

Professor Andrade: “I’m saying that carbon dioxide has a unique molecular structure which absorbs infrared radiation, and that that is in part responsible for the effects that you’re concerned with, Representative Gibson is concerned with, and Representative ….”

Noel: “I want to get this on the record, ok? Are you saying that we have to rid the planet of carbon dioxide?”

Andrade: “Of course not!”

Noel: “It’s not a pollutant then, it’s not going to kill you. It’s not going to kill plants. Is that correct? I also have a degree too, professor. So I want to get this straight. Is it a pollutant?”

(At this point the conversation devolves into a “verbal skirmish until the committee chair breaks it up)

Noel: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry … It got out of hand.”

The notion, of course, that anyone is proposing that we should “rid the planet of carbon dioxide” is foolish and a disgrace to anyone in a position such as Noel’s, belying his utter lack of even conversant knowledge of climate science and the natural carbon cycle. Noel has a degree – largely wasted in this case.

Tyler Volk, the science director of environmental studies at New York University, who is coming to Utah this week to give a keynote address at the University of Utah’s “Climate of Change” conference, also expressed concern regarding this abject lack of understanding (or willful ignorance) of climate science.

Remaining ignorant of the facts lets people be “swayed by the winds of politics, either by the disaster-mongers or those who say, ‘Everything’s fine, party on,'” he said. Volk’s aim is to “get people to a healthy level of concern.”

For Noel, I am reminded of a recent comment I received here on this blog recently from a thirteen-year-old boy admonishing me for “believing in global warming” and then going through the common list of 1)Al Gore 2) what global warming? 3) Water vapor is the dominant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere (though the young man didn’t know how to express it)  4) how can anyone propose regulating our breathing (since we exhale CO2 – a notion Glenn Beck loves to espouse) and 4) it’s all Barack Obama’s fault.

I suspect my young commenter was heavily influenced in his comments by the adults in his life, so I simply tried to gently set him straight on the more cogent points and encouraged him to pursue the facts on the issue independently of anyone else’s influence (including mine) and make up his own mind. The issue is no more important to anyone than a thirteen-year-old, he and his friends will live in the future we pass on to them.

For Noel and the Utah legislature, they have no excuse. Yet they think and act like children.

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