Letters From the West

Obama group calls Crapo out on climate science

Zion Klos, a doctoral student at the University of Idaho, speaks in 2012 at the Northern Rockies Climate Change Workshop held at the Foothills Learning Center in Boise. He outlined how scientists view climate change. (Idaho Statesman file)

Zion Klos, a doctoral student at the University of Idaho, speaks in 2012 at the Northern Rockies Climate Change Workshop held at the Foothills Learning Center in Boise. He outlined how scientists view climate change. (Idaho Statesman file)

Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo got caught up in an Obama campaign stunt to help push his initiative to address climate change.

Volunteers for Organizing for America, the political arm of President Barack Obama headed by Boise’s Jim Messina, gave Crapo the Unicorn Award, along with 134 other Senators and Congressmen who deny climate change is caused by greenhouse gases.

“Senator Crapo has shown leadership in land use issues and worked closely with the environmental and scientific community. Why won’t he sit down at the table with them – and a majority of the American people – on climate change?” said Jill Kuraitis, a Boise Obama volunteer. “Senator Crapo is highly intelligent and Harvard-educated. It doesn’t make sense that he isn’t acting with the urgency this issue presents.”

The group is highlighting Crapo’s 2010 comment:

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo

“While there is no dispute over the fact that the Earth’s climate has changed many times over the planet’s history, the underlying cause of these climactic shifts is ultimately not well-understood and is a matter of vigorous debate.”

In my personal discussions with Crapo he has gone slightly further acknowledging that we are going through an extraordinary period of climate change and that greenhouse gases are among the causes but how much remains debatable.

Lindsay Nothern, his communications director, stood by the quote Kuraitis supplied. But he pointed out how much Crapo has supported renewable energy alternatives like wind and solar power, electric cars and nuclear power, which does not emit carbon dioxide.

“We just can’t turn our backs on fossil fuels,” Nothern said.

Kuratis is correct in saying that 97 percent of climate scientists agree about the basics of the climate change causes. A decade ago there still was some debate but this reality, accepted by the broader scientific community that Crapo and Idaho’s Republican congressional delegation have successfully delivered millions in research dollars, is polarized by politics.

The public is only beginning to catch up. That’s because so much data has been generated in the past decade, said Jerod Blades, a University of Idaho social scientist who I talked with in 2012.

He was one of a team of U of I scientists, funded by the National Science Foundation, who traveled the state to get the science into the hands of the people who are making decisions can help policy makers and the public begin to adapt to accelerating changes.

So what is this scientific consensus according to the University of Idaho team?

Levels of carbon dioxide and other gases released by the burning of fossil fuels are at levels unseen in human history, said Zion Klos, a U of I hydrologist.

These gases trap more heat in the atmosphere as the sun’s radiation is captured by the Earth and sea — the concept known as the greenhouse effect. At 391 parts per million, carbon dioxide is at levels higher than any time in the past 140,000 years. This has led to rapid warming — about 2 degrees in the Pacific Northwest since early in the 20th century.

So I asked Kuraitis, a former reporter, if Crapo would simply acknowledge the scientific consensus to help provide a model for the school children who are all learning this basic reality would she be satisfied? If he were to say yes, climate change is caused by greenhouse gases but we as a society can’t walk away from them as quickly as President Obama wants because it would hurt our economy and the state, would that suffice?

“No because the solutions are given to us by science and I would be very wary of anything the senator said that was not in line with his campaign contributors,” Kuraitis replied.

That’s where her politics begins and the science begins to get debatable. The scientific community has provided many alternative paths to reducing greenhouse gases but there is no precision about how these solutions may actually affect this rapid change.

There is where the clash of values will play out. Meanwhile Idahoans will continue to adapt to warmer winters with earlier, larger spring runoffs, hotter summers, reduced snowpack, longer growing seasons and later frosts.

Oh yeah, and hotter more dangerous fires.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West