Climate science debate? Emotions too superheated

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Gov. Gary Herbert is temporarily putting plans for a climate science forum on ice.

"Emotions are too high to have a good debate," said Ted Wilson, the governor's environment adviser, in explaining the move.

Herbert originally suggested a conference last year, shortly after he became governor when Jon Huntsman Jr. stepped down to become U.S. ambassador to China. Huntsman had convened an expert panel on climate change, and he had sign Utah up with the Western Climate Initiative to assess and address regional strategies for dealing with climate disruption.

But the new governor was not ready to take a position -- at least not the same position as Huntsman.

He announced plans in August for a debate on the science to, "for the first time, have a legitimate debate with civility, have discussion on climate change, man's impact on the climate and global warming: what it is, where it is and what you do about it, including cost-to-benefit analysis and making sure we have good science that dictates and leads us toward good policy."

His advisory team looked at January, then Earth Day in April, for the forum. Now, Herbert thinks the atmosphere has become too emotionally charged to have a sensible discussion, said Wilson.

"It's not off," Wilson said, "but definitely postponed for an indefinite time."

One factor was the animosity the Legislature has evidently generated in its handling of climate science this fall and during the session. In recent weeks, lawmakers have approved two measures that dispute the validity of the science, and their debates have been thick with accusations about the integrity of climate scientists and the professionalism of their work.

Stan Rasmussen, legislative director for conservative think tank the Sutherland Institute, noted that global warming advocates had been reluctant to represent their position in the debate. Skeptics, the advisory group found, "were more willing to step up and engage."

"We [on the advisory board] thought it might be better to wait for a bit," said Rasmussen, whose group leans toward the skeptics' view.

Dianne Nielson, the governor's energy adviser, said the delay won't change the executive branch's work on key climate-related initiatives, including alternative energy programs and energy-saving efforts for Utah businesses. Nor does the governor have plans to withdraw from the regional climate group.

She said: "We are going to move forward with all the programs we are working on."