Last week, Bob Inglis, a long-time member of Congress from South Carolina, spoke at Weber State, Westminster and the University of Utah about human-caused climate change. Hailing from what he calls "the reddest district in the reddest state" Bob insists that if he gets it, any conservative should.
While Utahns may dispute who can claim the title of "reddest" anything, they certainly can't argue with Bob's conservative qualifications. Bob is deeply religious, far right on all social issues, in favor of limited government, suspect of most environmental regulations, a champion of free market capitalism and definitely no tree-hugging liberal. For six terms in office, Bob enjoyed near unanimous support from the Christian Coalition, the NRA, the National Right to Life, the American Conservative Union and was a darling of the Republican Party. He routinely won elections with 85 percent of the vote.
That was until he started verbally wondering about energy security and climate change. In 2010, somehow, a challenger found space to the right of Bob, garnered tea party support, and Bob was ousted with barely 29 percent of the vote. His crime: suggesting that by burning fossil fuels, humans have a great deal to do with climate change.
Bob didn't come to this conclusion by way of a revelation. He studied the science, traveled twice to Antarctica, talked to the experts and looked at the evidence. His conclusion: Climate change is real, the consequences are dire, and we're to blame. The overwhelming majority of the world's credible scientists agree with Bob. In fact, it's now nearly a consensus. If we continue to pour carbon into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, we can expect weather like last year's hurricane Sandy, this summer's wildfire season in the West and the recent flooding in Colorado to become regular occurrences. The climate system of the Earth has become that unstable.
This is not a faith-based belief system. This is fact. The evidence is overwhelming. A climatologist colleague of mine summed up the mountain of scholarly literature on the subject like this: "climate change is real, it's our fault, scientists agree, it's bad, and it's not too late."
As environmental writer Bill McKibben likes to say about the climate mess we're creating, "When you are in a hole, stop digging!" That's the problem, certainly in Utah; we just keep digging.
Rush Limbaugh recently told his talk radio audience that "if you believe in God then intellectually you cannot believe in man-made global warming." Really? What if God decides to change the climate? That would be a real quandary wouldn't it? It would seem, frighteningly, that Utah has a similar belief system. Despite overpowering evidence that Utah's climate is changing, as a state we've done essentially nothing to mitigate the changes or at least plan for them.
All around us things are in decline: air quality, winter snowpack, reservoir capacity, groundwater tables, endangered species, open space and human health. Yet we continue to promote development and habits that can only exacerbate these already worrisome declines.
This list is especially long, but includes: producing 96 percent of Utah's electricity with fossil fuels, 81 percent with ultra-dirty coal; implementing a tremendous expansion of oil and gas production on the state's public lands; enacting policies that favor low-density, car-dependent suburban sprawl; requiring thirsty landscaping with non-native trees and grass; starving the climate moderating Great Salt Lake of its tributary streams through dams and diversions; having lots of kids; and generally avoiding any program or policy or progressive action that would make Utah more energy efficient, resource conserving, and sustainable.
We cannot continue on this path and expect to leave anything remotely livable to our grandkids. We've got to change now.
After losing his re-election bid, Bob Inglis launched the Energy and Enterprise Initiative to offer a conservative approach to solving our nation's energy and climate challenges. Bob's program is wrapped up in free enterprise solutions rather than government regulation, positions that most Utahans will find palatable. Check out their website (http://energyandenterprise.com/our-leaders/), talk to your family and friends, and influence your leaders about climate and energy.
If Bob Inglis gets it, why can't Utah?
Eric C. Ewert is associate professor of geography at Weber State University.