September 11, 2013

State cool to climate-change action

The Wisconsin Federation of College Republicans made national news recently for taking an audacious stand: In a statement bashing President Barack Obama’s “nanny-state” climate-change initiatives, the state campus group argued that this is an issue the GOP should address.

“It is time we apply conservative principles to climate policy,” the statement said, quoting a member who predicted, “Wisconsin will lead.”

That may be overly optimistic. A recent study ranked Wisconsin 19th in the nation for clean-energy leadership, behind all four of its Midwest neighbors.

Of the more than 600 bills introduced in Wisconsin’s 2013-14 legislative session, none contains the terms “climate change,” “greenhouse gases” or “global warming,” and only a handful deal with energy policy.

A mostly Democrat-backed bill calling on state facilities to generate or buy 30 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025 has not advanced: no hearings, no committee action. Current law sets the goal at 20 percent by the end of 2011. The actual level in 2012 was 15.6 percent.

State Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, plans to introduce an “Energy Jobs Fund” bill this fall. It would create a revolving loan fund to make government buildings more efficient, paid back “through the realized energy savings.”

Meanwhile, Republicans have introduced bills to ease a mandate that electric providers use more renewables and let local governments enact tougher rules for wind-power systems than those in state law.

Environmentalist Spencer Black, who logged 26 years in the Assembly as a Madison Democrat, says that while states like California have taken major steps to address climate change, Wisconsin is “going the opposite way, making it harder to have renewable energy in this state.”

He blames this on Republicans who have “coalesced against anything that would limit the use of fossil fuels.” He says that’s because the industry has spent millions of dollars trying to create confusion over the danger posed by climate change.

Yet even when Democrats ran the show, in 2010, they weren’t able to pass a bill introduced by Black and backed by then-Gov. Jim Doyle calling for new emission controls, along with renewable energy and conservation mandates. Dubbed the “Clean Energy Jobs Act,” the bill and its Senate companion generated 15,200 hours of reported lobbying activity, more than anything else that legislative session.

The green group Wisconsin’s Environmental Decade, a proponent, logged 1,674 hours. The business group Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, registered in opposition, put in 1,111 hours.

Lobby groups representing the energy company Koch Industries and its subsidiary, Georgia Pacific, invested 1,124 hours. Their official position: “Undisclosed.” Koch Industries is run by billionaire oil barons David and Charles Koch.

Now the Koch-funded advocacy group Americans for Prosperity has crafted a “No Climate Tax Pledge” for state and national politicians, committing them to “oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.”

The pledge has more that 400 signers, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, U.S. Reps. Sean Duffy, Reid Ribble and Jim Sensenbrenner, state Sens. Alberta Darling, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich and Leah Vukmir, and state Reps. Dale Kooyenga, Bill Kramer, Jim Ott and Don Pridemore, all Republicans.

As governor, Walker has nixed a high-speed train, UW-Madison biofuels plant, state renewable energy initiatives and the state Office of Energy Independence.

Asked about climate change, Walker spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster writes: “The governor believes the focus in protecting our natural resources should be science-based and predictable. He believes you can ensure Wisconsin has clean air, clean land and clean water, while still fostering a positive business climate.”

Spokespeople for state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, did not respond to requests for comment.

If the College Republicans want Wisconsin to lead in this area, they have their work cut out.

  • mememine69

    The scientific consensus is that; “it is real and happening a could lead to a climate crisis” but in 28 years they have NEVER said anything beyond “could be” a crisis and have NEVER said it WILL happen eventually, like they say comet hits are. So why are believers of climate change crisis saying it WILL happen when science has never said or agreed it will happen?
    With a “maybe” scientific consensus deniers are able to perpetuate this costly debate to save the planet so why don’t both believes and deniers demand that science give us a real warning for a real crisis otherwise CO2 mitigation is impossible?

    • Rebecca Katers

      Mememine69: Have you ever spent time with a group of scientists? They NEVER make absolute predictions about any big new future phenomena that they can’t precisely control and measure in a laboratory. They would be “defrocked” as scientists if they did, because 100% pure absolute PROOF is impossible in most cases.

      Scientists are strictly admonished throughout their education and professional careers to moderate nearly all their predictive statements with words like “could be” or “probably” or “likely” or “possible,” etc … but this moderation does NOT mean the scientists are just guessing, or that it’s safe and reasonable for you to ignore their recommendations because they’re “not sure.”

      An expert assessment of an uncertain situation can still be a respectable basis for taking precautions, especially if a potential risk could cause a worldwide catastrophe.

      In this case, the issue involves incredibly complicated air, energy and water circulation patterns around an entire planet, and increasingly complex computer models. No one should be surprised that scientists endlessly debate the intricate details of mathematical formulas in the models, and constantly call for bigger, better sources of real data to feed into the models.

      Predicting a single comet trajectory is NOTHING compared to the difficulty inherent in long-term climate predictions.

      Climate patterns are seldom constant, consistent or evenly distributed through the centuries. Atmospheric conditions are always flowing, wavering and wobbling around … day to day, year to year, and decade to decade … so none of us should be surprised by wavering short-term data that seems to contradict a predicted long-term trend.

      No one should expect climate change to fit a neat straight trend line on a graph.

      Since “climate change” warnings first went mainstream in the 1960s and 1970s, scientists have been constantly testing and recalibrating their computer model simulations to make their predictions a better match for real climate conditions. When new climate influences are discovered, new factors (and new data) need to be precisely calculated and incorporated correctly in the model formulas. Then model predictions have to be tested again, compared to real conditions again, and recalibrated again.

      Model accuracy improves each year, but everyone needs to understand that respectable scientists will NEVER claim that they are 100% certain that their model predictions will be PERFECTLY ACCURATE under every possible condition. Good scientists don’t do that. They can’t know “every possible condition” in the future, especially given such a complex global system.

      So we need to ask ourselves, “How long should we delay corrective actions while waiting for 100% PROOF, if it’s IMPOSSIBLE for all scientists to ever agree that they have sufficient accuracy in their models to claim 100% proof?”

      Humanity needs to be capable of taking action on this issue despite less-than-perfect scientific predictions. We can’t continue to allow minor uncertainties to paralyze us while the problem grows worse. Our planet is increasingly crowded and politically unstable, and our basic resources (water, arable soil, fuel, etc.) are increasingly scarce, contested and vulnerable. We can’t afford the severe consequences of climate change.

      On the flip side, aggressive actions to reduce climate change would BENEFIT humanity in many ways beyond the prevention of climate change harm. Energy conservation directly saves money for individuals, businesses and governments, releasing money for use in stimulating other segments of the economy. It would also reduce serious public health threats from coal mining, air pollution, oil spills, and many other environmental impacts of fossil fuel use. Promotion of clean renewable sources also creates new clean energy industries and steady, sustainable long-term jobs for the future. In addition, increased research investments in renewable energy and conservation are likely to discover and spin-off new knowledge and improvements useful to other fields of research.

      Recent irresponsible and grossly exaggerated headlines are claiming that “Scientists Admit Being Wrong About Global Warming,” but base their hysteria on an unfinished, unreleased report and inflate the significance of a few specific model flaws that don’t change the overall climate change prediction. Once again, some in the news media are bogged down in a mudhole, but instead of climbing out and investigating further, they stay wallowing in the mud as if nothing else is possible. The pigs they work for prefer it.

      But despite these recent headlines, the IPCC (the international scientific organization that leads most of the global work on this issue) STILL says it is more confident than ever – 95 per cent certain – that global warming is mainly humanity’s fault.

      It should be obvious to everyone that “95% certain” is an uncommonly STRONG statement of scientific consensus … and should be more than enough to alarm and motivate all of us to make serious changes in our lives.

      • Rebecca Katers

        Why are so many Republicans REASSURED, and lulled into complacency and inaction, by “scientific uncertainty” about climate change?

        Uncertainty has the opposite effect on me.

        My fears are intensified when I consider the fact that scientists are still unsure about the full extent and speed of the change, or how to reverse it once it starts, because of the complexity of the climate system. Most climatologists believe a significant change is already underway, but nearly every news article mentions at least one major “unknown” that still requires investigation.

        How can anyone feel safe once they realize that NOBODY knows the full story yet?

        To me, the most worrisome debates involve buffering processes that help to slow down climate change. The biggest buffers may be oceans, which can absorb and store huge amounts of heat before warming significantly. This worked well over the last 100 years, when large ocean regions stayed near freezing and were well-stocked with massive blocks of ice. But that ice is disappearing now … much more quickly than scientists had predicted.

        Scientists STILL don’t know why it’s happening so quickly.

        When the ice is gone, the heat-cancelling capacity of the seawater will suddenly weaken and the oceans will start warming more quickly. At some point …. perhaps much sooner than expected? …the oceans will begin to mirror atmospheric warming and become huge heat reservoirs instead. From then on, the ocean buffer will be reversed. Even if humans do finally wake up and try to cool down Earth’s atmosphere somehow, the oceans will counteract our efforts by slowly releasing their stored heat, for as many decades (or centuries?) as it takes the oceans to cool back down to current temperatures.

        Permafrost is another major buffer against climate change. This frozen ground covers vast regions worldwide (~25% of North America alone) and for thousands of years it has trapped and accumulated enormous quantities of carbon and methane in frozen organic matter, keeping these gases away from Earth’s atmosphere. When the permafrost thaws, even just at the surface, this organic matter begins decomposing. Worldwide, this could release large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane (roughly 50/50), as well as other greenhouse gases. (Methane is 25 times more effective as a heat trap than equal CO2 amounts.) If large regions of permafrost melt quickly, the warming contribution could be substantial.

        But scientists are STILL a long way from fully understanding when, where and how much of the planet’s permafrost will thaw, and how deeply. The quantity of gas released will also vary greatly from site to site. (Air temperature is only one of many factors at work.) So far, scientists can give us only very rough estimates of the potential global impact.

        Why would such uncertainty reassure anyone?

        Republicans don’t seem to understand that climate change may not be gradual once it gets going. As major climate stabilizers like these are depleted and converted into huge CONTRIBUTORS to global warming, we could experience periods of rapid and accelerating change … and sooner than expected … once we pass critical thresholds.

        The scientific community is NOT at all sure about key details of the long-term schedule we’ve launched.

        Have Republicans ever considered the possibility that scientists could still be missing key pieces of the puzzle and their computer models could badly UNDER-estimate the true severity of our global risks? Why do Republicans always assume that the phrase “scientific uncertainty” means that scientists are exaggerating dangers to the public, when the opposite could be just as true? Scientific mistakes, uncertainties and unknowns can’t always be one-directional to our benefit.

        We’re charging at top speed into a dangerous new worldwide climate system, but no one really knows what we’re doing or what to expect. We have no “insurance,” no rational response plan, and no back-up plan if everything goes sideways.

        How can Republicans call themselves “conservative” or “pro-life” while ignoring such incredible risks?

        TRUE conservatives would be CAUTIOUS about changing the Earth’s atmosphere, especially when the full effects are unknown and unpredictable.

        TRUE pro-lifers would aggressively promote greenhouse gas reductions to try to save the lives of hundreds of millions of people worldwide who are already endangered by the global warming that we’ve already caused. But instead, millions of so-called “Pro-life Republicans” vote for politicians who aggressively block every serious attempt to address this issue.

        I just can’t fathom how Republicans can keep behaving this way.

      • Rebecca Katers

        The following articles contain excellent background info:

        1. The Case of the Missing Carbon (Discusses the significance of several uncertainties.)
        http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/missing-carbon

        2. The four biggest mistakes we’re making in the climate change debate (Good response to recent headlines.)
        http://www.catholic.org/technology/story.php?id=52404

        3. Debunking the 97% Climate Consensus Denial (Detailed response to critics.)
        http://www.skepticalscience.com/debunking-climate-consensus-denial.html

        4. Rain Forest Plants Race to Outrun Global Warming (Important news about vulnerable landscapes and wildlife.)
        http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/09/130915-climate-change-amazon-rain-forest-science/?google_editors_picks=true

        5. Experts: Fracking Methane Leakage Study Financed by Gas Industry with Partner EDF, is Deeply Flawed
        (Good example of an important scientific uncertainty and the potential for disruptive data rigging.)
        http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/events/view/176#sthash.dSw0pa6R.dpuf

  • Rebecca Katers

    I honestly don’t understand how our society can STILL be arguing about this.

    I’ve been convinced since 1975, when I first learned that humans had significantly changed the chemical composition of atmospheric gases on a global scale, over the prior 50 years. (The difference is much more pronounced now.)

    How could Earth’s climate NOT be changed by that?

    And how could measurable climate change NOT hurt humans and wildlife in many parts of the world?

    Do we need to know every nitpicking detail of every aspect of this issue before we try to stop and reverse the overall trend?

    I’ve never understood why anyone who cares about the future would want to continue this uncontrolled EXPERIMENT with our planet’s atmosphere, and risk serious damage to essential landscapes and oceans worldwide … especially now that the majority of climate experts have plainly warned all of us that this experiment is likely to cause significant global warming.

    Will our grandchildren respect and appreciate our society’s choices?

    This is our only home. How can this “experiment” be more important and more NECESSARY than maintaining stable global climate patterns that keep us all alive?

    Once you realize you’re playing with fire, do you just keep playing until a large group of scientists can all agree on precisely which body parts you will burn when, and how badly? OF COURSE NOT … because (1.) it’s impossible to predict such details, (2.) you could be badly hurt or killed while waiting, even if predictions were possible, and (3.) even limited burns could be extremely painful and cause permanent damage.

    In this circumstance, most people (even Republicans) would use common sense and stop playing with fire right away, just to be safe, because the POTENTIAL risks are unacceptably high. They wouldn’t need absolute certainty before deciding.

    Why can’t Republicans apply that same common sense to the risks posed by climate change?