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Former governors debate climate change at Energy Summit

Collin Smith

Although the questions surrounding global warming – its existence, causes and effects – were not settled Friday, two former Colorado governors took the opportunity to discuss the issues in front of an audience deeply invested in the debate.

Republican Bill Owens and Democrat Richard Lamm spoke during the lunch break on the last day of the Fueling Thought Energy Summit 2009.

Yampa Valley Partners hosted the event at the Holiday Inn of Craig.

More than 100 people – the majority of which work in some segment of the energy industry – sat quietly, listened and applauded both speakers.

Lamm, who served from 1975 to 1987 and now is the co-director of the University of Denver Institute for Public Policy Studies, said leading scientists throughout the world agree Earth is in a warming period, and humanity is at least partly responsible.

“The question of global warming, I believe it is largely settled,” he said, adding the energy industry should spend money on developing solutions, not on battling the proof that global warming exists.

“I believe the coal industry, and industry in general, should really not fund and believe the opposition to the fact that it exists,” Lamm said. “I believe it would be much better to say, ‘How do we solve this without creating economic dislocation?'”

Owens, who served from 1999 to 2007 and is a senior fellow at the institute Lamm helps lead, said there is no proven evidence that greenhouse gases are the cause of the warming people see today and cited his own scientific support.

“We have had small differences in temperatures well before mankind was on the Earth,” he said, adding global warming has happened before.

Greenland received its name because the country’s first settlers in the 1300s found a green, grassy land, and not the ice-covered tundra it is today, Owens said.

The average temperature continues to change, he said, such as during the global cooling period from 1940 to 1975.

He also contended Earth has not gotten “measurably warmer” since 1998. Owens cited a study from the University of Illinois Arctic Climate Research Center to back up his point.

The study showed that between September 2007 and spring 2008, the world experienced the greatest accumulation in sea ice since 1979.

Climate change, then, may be the result of ebbs and flows in natural forces, Owens said.

“I would suggest : what’s happening has to do with the sun,” he said.

The research of two Canadian climate scientists shows that solar activity is a “major driver” in climate changes up and down, Owens said, and can be correlated to historic temperature changes when carbon emissions can’t.

“There has been a small amount of global warming,” he said. “We don’t know yet what causes it.”

In that regard, Owens said the world’s governments should spend their financial resources on other issues that may be more pressing than global warming, such as disease and the supply of clean drinking water.

The spontaneous ups and downs of recorded temperatures should not be exaggerated, Lamm responded.

Earth’s temperature has never risen as fast as now, he said, and there has never been as much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“Let’s not confuse weather with climate,” Lamm said. “There’s always going to be variations in weather.”

He added that 11 of the 12 warmest years ever recorded were in the past 12 years, and cited studies from the Intergovernmental Panel about Climate Change and the British government that said climate change is a key issue for every world government.

As for other scientists who disagree, Lamm was unconvinced their research was more valid.

“You always find somebody,” he said. “I would suggest to you, you have this overwhelming consensus (about greenhouse gases). Why would the world’s scientists be lying to us?”

Lamm added the financial cost tied to climate research and mitigation is worth the investment.

“Being in public policy is like sleeping with a blanket that’s too short,” he said. “Your shoulders get cold, and you pull up the blanket around your shoulders and your feet get cold.

“I think it’s not only a matter of the odds, it’s the stakes. When you really read the world’s top scientists, and they’re saying that our grandchildren’s future might be at stake in this thing, I always said that gets my attention big time.”


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