“Climategate” may have undermined some people’s beliefs in global warming, but not Joan Brown, a Franciscan sister and director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, a faith-based global warming action group.
“Being here is like being with the whole human earth family in one place,” Brown writes in an email to SFR from the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, which she is attending as a member of the Franciscans International delegation. “To see indigenous people from the Amazon, northern Alaska, Island nations, people of the South and the North in one place trying to work for a single cause of addressing the destruction of earth’s biosystems, nations and cultures is very moving. We are one. We have one home Mother Earth.”
Brown’s reflections join the voices of several other New Mexicans who are at the two-week global conference, absorbing its information and learning from the rest of the world.
“There are thousands of people in the convention center every day,” Mark Giorgetti, a managing partner at the multidisciplinary environmental company AmEnergy, tells SFR in a phone interview from Copenhagen. “It’s actually a challenge to stay on top of the scheduling of all the different events!”
But even as global hopes for altering climate change concentrate in Copenhagen, the debate surrounding climate science intensifies. On Nov. 17, the leakage of thousands of documents and emails from the United Kingdom’s University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit revealed a range of questionable practices in how climate science is conducted, seeding Al Gore’s inconvenient “truth” with doubt.
According to a Pew Research Center report, the percentage of Americans who believe there is “solid evidence the earth is warming” plummeted from 71 percent in April 2008 to 57 percent this October. The sharpest regional decline—from 77 percent to 58 percent—occurred in the Mountain West, in part because of increasingly vocal skeptics like Petr Chylek, a fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory who has worked in the climate science field for 30 years.
For Chylek, the “Climategate” emails proved a phenomenon he’s already observed: the abdication of truth in pursuit of political heft.
“The major problem is that we have a majority of scientists who are proponents of anthropogenic global warming, claiming that the current rising temperatures are predominantly caused by increasing greenhouse gases,” Chylek tells SFR.
Anthropogenic global warming, or AGW, is the scientific term for manmade climate change. Chylek’s complaint isn’t with the assertion that global warming exists; it’s with what he says is an unscientific process leading to hasty conclusions and fear-based power plays.
“I see it within Los Alamos National Laboratory; I see it everywhere,” Chylek says. “Most people in power, even within the lab, support this anthropogenic global warming. Whoever does not agree with that is a black sheep.”
Self-interested science happens in other fields, of course, but Chylek says climate science is different.
“Climate is special, because climate became very much intertwined with politics,” Chylek says. “People with [a] definite political view support [a] definite interpretation of climate; this is completely ridiculous. The question is not what is the truth, [but] how my view will prevail.”
In Copenhagen, Brown has observed almost the opposite: “Peoples from throughout the planet are not at all questioning global warming because many of them are living it,” she writes. “The indigenous people say, ask us about our science that is one of observing and living and we will tell you there is no question that the climate is changing…Yet, in NM I read letters to the editors and op-eds that question climate change and global warming. The rest of the world is moving forward and leaving us behind while beginning to demand reparation.”
But Chylek’s argument is with the science, not necessarily with its implications: He supports finding alternative energy options to reduce dependence on foreign oil—and even just for the hell of it.
“The sun is there, shining over New Mexico, so there is no reason not to develop it regardless of what climate does,” he says.
On Dec. 14 at the Copenhagen conference, Giorgetti presented on the subject of national climate plans. As both a post-graduate student at the University of Edinburgh and a climate policy leader in the New Mexico business community, Giorgetti had the vaguely discomfiting task of contrasting Scotland’s unanimously adopted, uniquely aggressive national climate bill with America’s, well, apathy. But he says renewable energy is one area in which New Mexico stands to shine, especially if a climate bill eventually passes in the US Senate.
“Because of the abundant solar and wind resources we have, New Mexico stands to gain substantially from passage of a national climate change law, to the tune of over 10,000 new jobs likely,” Giorgetti says. International negotiations, he adds, will provide a foundation on which the US and states like New Mexico can build—and for that, he has hope.
“It’s hugely significant that [President Barack Obama] is coming [to Copenhagen], that the EPA has entered into a position where it will regulate emissions in lieu of a congressional act, and that the US has offered a commitment to reduce emissions—arguably less ambitious than the world had hoped, but a starting point,” Giorgetti says. He’s referring to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Dec. 7 decision to categorize carbon dioxide as a health hazard—a designation that calls for EPA regulation. (Not surprisingly, Exxon Mobil Corp. called EPA regulation the “least efficient and least transparent” means of reducing emissions.)
But Obama’s symbolic presence in Copenhagen on the final day of the conference and Congress’ molasses-like progress on a climate bill simply aren’t enough for New Mexicans like John Fogarty, the executive director of the New Energy Economy, an initiative for changing climate policy in New Mexico.
Fogarty has taken action into his own hands, leading a petition of 240 New Mexico businesses in support of a national cap-and-dividend program (taxing big industry on emissions and returning most of the revenues to taxpayers). He’s also spearheading a petition to get the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board to cap carbon emissions without waiting for a federal or international mandate, which Fogarty says the EIB has the authority to do.
“What we’re showing is that in the absence of international and national leadership, New Mexico is going to step up and take action,” Fogarty says. “People want renewable energy and, with just small incentives, we can transform our energy sector.” That, he says, is how countries like Japan, Germany and Spain have become leaders on the alternative energy front, while states like New Mexico—abundant sun and wind notwithstanding—have fallen woefully behind.
“If the people of New Mexico could look into the eyes of the man from Bangladesh that I had lunch with,” Brown writes—by several accounts, Bangladesh has been the country most affected by climate change—“or the indigenous man from the Brazilian Amazon wearing his native headdress, or see the youth desperately asking for us to lead the way, perhaps the debate over whether climate change is real, which no one else in the world seems to be stuck in, would shift to action, compassion and change of lifestyle.”