Climate of Secrecy

State terminates climate change class

Santa Fe contractor Debbie Shapiro recently helped clients insulate an attic and install water catchment gutters to increase their home's energy efficiency.

"The Climate Masters class helped me understand how I could do this for my clients," Shapiro says.

Despite the popularity of the 10-week class put on by the New Mexico Environment Department since 2008, NMED is quietly terminating the program. The class ending Nov. 22 in Santa Fe will be the program's last, even though $18,634 in federal Environmental Protection Agency and state match money designated for Climate Masters still remains.

"I think the existing Climate Masters course right now, no pun intended, has run its course," NMED spokesman Jim Winchester says.

The grant provided NMED a total of $130,000 to teach the classes, modeled on a University of Oregon program that teaches citizens the science of climate change in exchange for 30 hours of relevant volunteer work.

An estimated 200 New Mexicans participated in the class, and two or three more would have been held had the program continued. The goal is for each student to reduce his or her personal greenhouse gas emissions by two tons per year and to influence about 50 people each to do the same, creating a multiplying emissions-reduction effect.

NMED doesn't have a specific program in place that would take Climate Masters' place in educating the public about climate change. Most of the remaining grant money is slated for a nitrogen dioxide monitor, "pending EPA written pre-approval," Winchester writes SFR in an email. Although Winchester does not have information on the monitor's placement, he says installation of such monitors is a department priority, in order to measure the impact on air quality of events such as the Las Conchas fire. Nitrogen dioxide levels, which react with sunlight to create smog, increased after the fire.

The remaining $5,309 would either go toward a second monitor or a one-day conservation conference.

EPA spokesman Dave Bary tells SFR that EPA hasn't received a written request from NMED to revise the grant, and "until an amendment request or proposal from NMED can be reviewed and approved, no formal change to the grant award can be accomplished." Former instructors say NMED's proposals don't line up with Climate Masters' original purpose.

"That grant money was specifically for pollution prevention and for that program," Carrie McChesney, an Albuquerque sustainability consultant and Climate Masters instructor, says.

Neither McChesney nor any other speaker involved with the program knew it was getting the axe.

"That's terrible!" Climate Masters speaker and Santa Fe Permaculture President Nate Downey says, noting that, out of the many groups he speaks to, Climate Masters was "the most enthusiastic and concerned and committed" [news, April 20: "Green Samaritans"].

Although Winchester at first said the Climate Masters curriculum might be "revamped" and brought back, he later clarified that NMED will scrap it, but may develop a different class in the future on environmental topics.

The program's cancellation follows a Sandia tea party web post criticizing Gov. Susana Martinez for allowing it.

"Just when we thought Susana was making a difference with NMED, they come out with this scheme," a Sept. 2 post attributed to Jim Crawford states. "They are preaching the unproven gospel of man made global warming and recruiting disciples to help in their evangelism."

Santa Fe Alliance Executive Director Vicki Pozzebon, who spoke at two of the classes, says they shouldn't provoke controversy.

"There's nothing controversial about climate issues," Pozzebon says. "If you don't agree there are such things as climate issues, I suppose it would be controversial, but this was something educating the community on more than just that," Pozzebon says.

In fact, Climate Masters helped cut through the myths around global warming, Shapiro says.

"It was the one place that the average person could go and learn about all these different aspects [of resource conservation]," she says. "Otherwise, it's so fragmented: One person says one thing and one person says another, and you don't really have the science to back it up."

Although Winchester says the grant money is simply "better spent for these air monitors," Climate Masters advocates don't buy it.

"I'm very disappointed in the state's leadership for canceling that," McChesney says. "And I do suspect it's for political rather than economic reasons."

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