Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Conspiracy in the House (literally)

Last week the Utah House of Representatives passed HJR12:CLIMATE CHANGE JOINT RESOLUTION sponsored by Rep. Gibson (R-Ogden) on a more-or-less party line vote. The House did make a couple small amendments to the resolution before passing it, however. Most notably, they deleted the line "conspiracy," along with some other language originally in the bill about the "tricks" related to global temperature data and a reference to the "climate change 'gravy train.'" Evidently, according to the writers of the bill, climate change data is based on a giant conspiracy of tricky scientists motivated only by the financial gains that can be made by jumping on the "climate change gravy train." Evidently the amendments were the attempt of GOP representatives to reclaim some small sense of credibility after they passed the original bill out of standing committee with language about conspiracy and "tricks" in place. Even with the amendments, however, the resolution is so thoroughly problematic and based on such questionable data, it's passage is an embarrassment to the state. Enough has been written by others questioning the premises of the resolution that i won't focus on that here, rather i'll point you to a couple of other sources, including a letter written by a group of BYU professors challenging the data presented in the resolution. (Check the bottom of the post for a few other stories about the resolution).

Instead i'd like to focus on the alleged "conspiracy," because conspiracy theory is far more entertaining; though not so entertaining when it has the potential to enter official public policy. In fact, it is getting downright frightening that a man as ignorant as Mike Noel has a position of power in this state, and i don't use the word ignorant lightly. This is the guy, after all, who made an amendment to a resolution sponsored by a group of school kids to encourage people not to idle their cars, to remove the words carbon dioxide, because according to Noel, Carbon Dioxide is found in soda pop, and therefore can't be dangerous to our climate. I wonder if he's confident enough in his science to wrap his lips around the exhaust pipe of any fossil fuel-driven vehicle, since he seems to think the emissions don't do any real damage and certainly don't contribute to climate change.

But i digress, back to the conspiracy theory alleged by Gibson in the original resolution and defended by Noel in the standing committee hearing. The orginal resolution mentions "conspiracy" in two places. Lines 13-18 state:

This resolution: urges the United States Environmental Protection Agency to immediately halt its carbon dioxide reduction policies and programs and withdraw its "Endangerment Finding" and related regulations until a full and independent investigation of the climate data conspiracy and global warming science can be substantiated.

Further on, lines 67-71 read:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Legislature of the state of Utah urges the United States Environmental Protection Agency to immediately halt its carbon dioxide reduction policies and programs and withdraw its "Endangerment Finding" and related regulations until a full and independent investigation of the climate data conspiracy and global warming science can be substantiated.

During the standing committee meeting, Rep. Barrus questioned the use of the word "conspiracy" as "inflammatory" and mentioned that is was stronger language than legislators were accustomed to, but went ahead and voted for the resolution. Noel adamantly defended the use of the word and explained why it was included. According to Noel, the climate data conspiracy is actually part of a larger conspiracy to limit population growth. I swear, I can't make this stuff up.

During the standing committee Noel read numerous passages from a science textbook published in 1977 called Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment. John Holdren, who is now Obama's "Science Czar" was one of the authors of the book, in which he and the other two authors, Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, discuss numerous methods of curtailing population growth such as government-mandated population regulation, mass sterilization, the forced removal of children from unfit single mothers (minority women, the authors write, are especially inept at caring for their children), and compulsory abortion.
Although I have not read Ecoscience, only skimmed some of the aforementioned passages, I do agree with Noel that ideas discussed by Holdren and the Ehrlichs are offensive and immoral. In fact, they reflect a paternalistic, imperialistic, and racist worldview that has firmly been rejected by women around the world. Holdren and the Ehrlichs have attempted to distance themselves a little from the textbook, calling it just that, a three-decade old textbook in which they are discussing numerous viewpoints, rather than advocating anything in particular, although by my brief reading they do certainly seem to be advocating many of the positions they discuss rather than just presenting them (although it's hard to tell because of their irresponsible use of the passive voice, which i abhor). The Ehrlichs, after all, did serve on the board of advisors of the Federation for American Immigration Reform until 2003.

So how does this textbook relate to climate change? If the links are not yet clear to you, that's because there aren't any. In his statements defending the inclusion of the word "conspiracy" Noel stated, "I in my mind absolutely believe that this is a conspiracy, there is no question in my mind that it is and I can give you some absolute data." At that point he read numerous passages from Ecosceince, after which he concluded by proclaiming rather emphatically,

"This is Paul Ehlrich and John Holdren, and he is the energy advisor for the president. Now if you can't see a connection to that you are absolutely blind to what is going on. This is absolutely, in my mind, this is in fact a conspiracy to limit population, not only in this country, but across the globe."

Now I like to think I'm a pretty smart guy, but I don't see a connection. And Noel certainly doesn't spell it out for us. He just says, I'm going to give you some "absolute data," after which he reads some passages from a thirty year old textbook that, appalling as they may be, have no connection to the climate change debate. Noel then sums up with the lengthy, lengthy leap that because Holdren put this stuff about population control in a textbook thirty years ago and because he is now the "science czar" for the Obama administration, there must be collusion between climatologists and population control advocates. Seem like an outlandish and desperate grasp at straws, even for someone as far on the fringe as Noel? Does Noel really believe that Holden, as the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, has enough global power and influence that he has single- handedly orchestrated a conspiracy, based on false science and "tricks" as Noel contends, that has convinced the overwhelming majority of climatologists and atmospheric scientists to jump on the climate change bandwagon in a nefarious attempt to control population?

If Noel is really interested in pursuing conspiracies he might have more luck investigating the collusion of big oil and PR firms (some of which were also involved in muddying up the science about the lethal effects of cigarettes) in order to confuse the public about the science of climate change in the first place.

But don't despair that our state is being run in part by fringe politicians getting their science from conspiracy websites. Now is your chance to act. Tomorrow (Friday, February 19, 8:00 am, rm 415 State Capital) the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Standing Committee will consider HJR12 and vote on whether to pass it on to the Senate Floor. This is your chance to show your opposition to the antics of Noel and Gibson. Show up at the standing committee to testify. Call your senator. Email your senator. Call and email all the senators who sit on the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Standing Committee. Here are their email addresses:

Sen. Dennis E. Stowell, dstowell@utahsenate.org

Sen. Allen M. Christensen, achristensen@utahsenate.org

Sen. Gene Davis, gdavis@utahsenate.org

Sen. Margaret Dayton, mdayton@utahsenate.org

Sen. Karen W. Morgan, kmorgan@utahsenate.org

Sen. Ralph Okerlund, rokerlund@utahsenate.org

Other links and stories related to HJR12:

Discussion on Climate Change Pushed Back, Daily Utah Chronicle

House Formally Questions Global Warming, Deseret News

Utah legislative panel OKs resolution on climate-change, Deseret News

Lawmaker: Climate change just ruse to control population, SL Tribune (w. a fact check on the assertions in the bill)

BYU, UofU scientists chastise legislators on global warming resolution, Standard.net

And click here for a link to the letter written by BYU professors.

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