With the swearing in of Jon Huntsman, Jr., as U.S. Ambassador to China, the governorship of Utah is changing with Gary Herbert of Family City USA (Orem, Utah, for those of you not familiar with the token) is taking over.
Even though both Huntsman and Herbert promised a smooth transition with the change, there are sure to be some notable changes in the office that leads the state. One of the issues brought up almost instantaneously with the announcement was that of climate change. Ambassador Huntsman has been a strong leader on the issue by both talking frankly about it and backing up his words with actions, specifically by signing the Western Climate Initiative with California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington. The initiative is a commitment among the member states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When Herbert was asked if he would rule out the possibility of pulling out of the initiative, he surely upset many with his response: “Not right now, I don’t. Anything’s a possibility.” There’s a lot more to explore under the surface of this response.
One of Herbert’s many recent interviews was particularly revealing. In a question-and-answer session with KUED’s Doug Fabrizio, Herbert was asked if he believes the science presented on global warming. Herbert danced around the question saying, “The debate is not over.” I could see some level-headedness in that response. When I heard that answer, I thought maybe the critics were being a little hard on Herbert. My tranquility did not last long though: Herbert subsequently stated it “doesn’t matter to me whether the science is settled.” That answer was much more revealing.
He then went on to say that rising energy costs are his biggest concern, referring to the cap-and-trade system which has recently been proposed. “We should let the marketplace find solutions,” he continued. Following Herbert’s line of reasoning of letting the market work, the cap-and-trade system should be a good solution. Basic economics shows that cap-and-trade offers businesses a better alternative to high costs for using society’s scarce resources. In other words, businesses that want to keep polluting can buy the right to do so from another business at a cheaper cost than they would have been able to under, say, a pollution tax. Polluters have incentive not to pollute, those that are passionate about conserving our precious resources can spend more to buy those rights, and money can be used for improved technology. Businesses and society alike benefit from such a market-based plan.
When Herbert was pushed further about his position, he said he has considered public polls showing many think global warming is not caused by humans; this came shortly after saying he wanted to go by reason when analyzing the issue. At this point, I was just confused. When talking about reason and global warming, shouldn’t we talk about scientific conclusions? Take, for example, the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which bases its analysis on peer-reviewed and published scientific literature and consists of 620 experts from 40 countries. They have all cited an unmistakable trend over the past 100 years. The IPCC stated that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and that warming is “very likely due to” an increase in “greenhouse gas concentrations.” The footnote in the report clarifies that “very likely” means over 90% due to human activity.
A CNN poll of over 3,000 scientists (not a public opinion poll) taken at the end of 2008 asked if mean global temperatures have risen compared to pre-1800s levels, and whether human activity has been a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures. 90% of scientists agreed that mean global temperatures have risen and 82% agreed that human activity has been a significant factor. 97% percent of responding climatologists agreed that global warming has been significantly caused by human activity. If this science is not considered conclusive in Herbert’s mind, I’m not sure how much more conclusion he wants.
To be fair, Herbert has been clear that he wants to be a good steward of the earth and he does think we should all want clean water, land and air. I can only hope he follows his own advice and uses reason to achieve these worthy goals.
Randal Serr is a liberal political columnist for Rhombus. He liked Governor Huntsman and is sad to see him go.
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