Climate Change & Candidates

Climate change has hardly been an issue in presidential debates since Al Gore and George W. Bush faced off in the 2000 elections.

The topic has come up a grand total of 16 minutes in the four series of presidential debates since.

But climate change is getting harder to ignore.

Heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes, and droughts are getting harsher and more numerous. And any place not suffering from those four will be mobbed by newcomers as the rising sea level devastates major cities.

Gallop has found most Americans–including 67 percent of Westerners–feel something needs to be done.

It’s not a good time to have a President so set against cutting fossil fuel use that 17 U.S. automakers are complaining that he’s set fuel standards too low (New York Times, June 6).

On the other hand, most Democratic presidential candidates this year are acknowledging both the escalating environmental damage and the concerns of voters.

So Greenpeace set out to help voters decide just which of the candidates qualified to appear in televised debates is serious about climate change.

The organization sent a 28-question survey to candidates asking not only which policies they support, but how they plan to achieve them. Fifty points were allotted for plans to phase out fossil fuel production and another 50 for plans to create good jobs and better futures for the communities affected by the phasing out of fossil fuel production.

Only six of the 21 Democratic candidates completed the questionnaire, but Greenpeace didn’t let the poor response prevent a comprehensive evaluation. It gathered responses to surveys by the New York Times and the Washington Post, studied campaign platforms, and looked at previous actions and statements.

Then it ranked the candidates and wrote one paragraph summaries of their record, including links to questionnaires, platforms, statements, etc.

I don’t agree with Greenpeace on some methods and issues so their rankings are not mine.

But the breadth of information the organization is sharing is valuable.

I was surprised to find the buying and selling of rights to release carbon dioxide–which Oregon senators managed to stop in their state by hiding out in Idaho–wasn’t a top recommendation.

The goal for most candidates is cutting carbon emissions, not charging more for them. Simulations indicate climate crises will continue long after meaningful cuts are made. The sooner progress is made the better.

I studied the answers of Greenpeace’s number one ranked candidate–Washington Gov. Jay Inslee–to see just how he imagined the government programs could end pollution.

One obvious step Inslee mentioned is for government is to stop subsidizing production and marketing of fossil fuels. He also supports phasing out fossil fuel production on public lands and requiring producers to eliminate their on-site pollution.

Inslee would also set ambitious standards for decreasing emissions from electrical plants, vehicles, and buildings, and follow that up with subsidies and tax breaks aimed at encouraging research in new technologies.

These steps, Inslee acknowledges, must be followed up by training workers and inspectors, as well as by financing, both public and private, to help companies afford the required changes.

None of it sounds easy or inexpensive.  During this election, we’ll find if that 67 percent of Westerners are worried enough to support action.

I’d share the URL for the Greenpeace resource, but the URL has 45 random characters; I’d never get them right.

A search for “Climate 2020 scorecard” should find the googledoc. Scroll past the discussion of processes to find the summary and resources about each candidate.

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019

Climate change apparent – solutions aren’t

Black Friday this year marked the containment of one of the nation’s worst wildfires and the release of a 13-agency study detailing what Americans can expect from global warming in the next 70 years.

California’s Camp Fire was the nightmare predicted by climate change research. It started Nov. 8, well after the normal fire season, and in 16 days burned 153,000 acres and destroyed 18,733 structures. Eighty-seven deaths are known; 475 people are missing.

Idaho is no stranger to wildfire.  In 2016 the Soda Fire in the Owyhees and the Pioneer Fire north of Idaho City together burned three times as many acres as Camp Fire has, Yet, no deaths were reported. Even with winds, people had time to escape.

California, however, had seen months of hotter, dryer days.

And the woods exploded.

Since 1975, Idaho’s average temperature has risen two degrees Fahrenheit and the number of acres burned annually has doubled. If our average temperature continues to rise a degree every 20 years, Idahoans too will see hotter and more deadly fires.

Yet, the new study, the Fourth National Climate Assessment, Vol. II, predicts Idaho will suffer less damage from climate change than much of the country. Imagine higher temperatures in Phoenix, more powerful hurricanes along the East Coast, larger algae blooms around Florida, and greater insect infestations nationwide and you’ve got a preview of the report.

Weather-related disasters have gotten so much worse, it’s hard to believe more people don’t believe in climate change.

But they do. The latest poll by Stanford Professor Joe Krosnick shows that 74 percent of Americans’ believe the world’s temperature has been rising.  Even more respondents–81 percent–believe the U.S. should cut greenhouse gases to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and give tax incentives to companies that create electricity from renewable resources.

Over two-thirds support taxing carbon emissions and imported fossil fuels.

The real question is why do voters who worry about global warming continue to elect politicians who subsidize coal mining and support more offshore oil drilling?

A March 28 article on The Verge, an online source of technology news, explored possible answers.

People are in denial. “A lot of people think that we won’t bear the brunt of climate change until 2050 or 2100, and that other parts of the world will be affected, not the US, not their state, their city, or their community.”

Magali Delmas, a UCLA professor, points out that there is a 99 percent chance that a 6.7 earthquake will strike California in the next 30 years, yet only 13 percent of residents have purchased earthquake insurance.

More immediate problems demand our focus. Worries about health and bills come before concerns about earthquakes and melting sea ice.

People are discouraged. Scare tactics make climate change seem like an “insurmountable problem that’s just too big” to tackle.  They may turn the thermostat down, take shorter showers, and cut down on driving, but the problem keeps getting worse.

We need assurance that solutions are achievable–like good news about renewable energy and some assurance that Congress will take action.

People have a sense of my team, right or wrong.  Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change, points out that fewer Americans believed in climate change after the rise of the Tea Party in 2009 and the election of President Trump in 2016.

Time keeps passing.  The problem keeps growing

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2018

Heat wave – no joke for Idaho

Hot enough for you?

That overworked, but cheerful greeting continues to make me chuckle. It’s a wonder we can still joke about 100 degree plus weather.

2018 is on track to be the fourth hottest year on record for the U.S. That would mean that 18 of our 19 hottest years  will have occurred since 2000.

And, it is expected to get worse.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts Idaho’s summer and winter temperatures will increase another 5 F degrees (range of 2-9) by the next century.

I’ve had this secret dream that Idaho would do okay during the coming climate changes. All that melting Arctic Ice could bring us more rain!

What’s a little more heat if we have plenty of water?  In time, we would build cities higher in the mountains.  Temperatures in the mile-high city, i.e. Denver, are 10 to 15 degrees below those in cities only half-a-mile up.

Our biggest problem would be all the coastal dwellers crowding into our mountains.

My bubble just burst.

The wildfires–particularly in California–are proving that It’s not how much water we get that matters; it’s how much we can store. Traditionally we’ve stored water not only behind dams, but as mountain snow.  At one time, Idahoans could leave footprints on snow-covered northern slopes in July.

Those days are past.  Now warmer, wetter springtimes are feeding undergrowth which later dries out and fuels summer fires.

Last week there were 84 wildfires burning that had consumed more than 1,000 acres each. The annual number of these big wildfires has more than doubled since 1970.  And the fire season is about 10 weeks longer.

According to an EPA report on climate change in Idaho, wildfires are only one of our worries.

Dairy cows don’t produce as well in hot climates.

Potatoes don’t thrive in heat. Maine is Idaho’s competition, not California.  (Wheat, hay, and barley yields may actually increase,.)

Warmer water and lower flows will threaten “salmon, steelhead, trout and other coldwater fish.”

Lower flows could also mean less hydroelectric power.

Warm weather will increase the need for irrigation just as competition for water gets more  intense.

Expect more mosquitoes and ticks along with more West Nile and Lyme disease.

The Great Basin desert may expand.  Burned forests may not regrow but become grasslands.  Some grassland may become desert.

It could be a problem.  It will be.

Many of us exerted pressure on our legislators so they’d okay talk of climate change in science classes.

Can we get the same enthusiasm behind getting legislators to take some steps to prepare for a hotter, drier future?  Or behind electing new legislators who care a bit?

January 24 Ilana Rubel introduced House Concurrent Resolution 31 authorizing a committee to study the impacts of climate change “on Idaho’s agriculture, water resources, wildlife and public health” and to study the potential policy options.

January 25 it was sent to the House Ways and Means Committee never to be mentioned again.

It’s not that legislators have done nothing.  They did grapple with the weighty problem of finding a substitute tax so vehicles that use little or no gasoline will help pay for roads.

State committees have come up with solid ideas to make transitioning to advanced education easier for students and to encourage excellence and accountability in our K-12 schools.

Surely, a committee of experts should at least be studying what the rest of the country is doing to alleviate the problems we’re all facing and searching for solutions that’d fit Idaho.

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2018


“Alternative Facts” possible euphemism of the year

by Judy Ferro

“Now that we live in an “alternative fact” world the Raiders just won the Super Bowl!!!!!!!!!!”

“Mom, it’s not cheating, it’s “alternative studying”!”

Within hours of Kellyanne Conway’s description of the White House’s claims about attendance at the Trump inauguration as “alternative facts”, the term was a Facebook fixture, had a Wikipedia page with 40 references, and was declared an “early contender for euphemism of the year” by the Boston Globe.

Lies have long been a part of politics—Machiavelli said as much in 1513 AD. Columnist Dustin McKissen recently pointed out several instances of leaders using alternative facts, including “Kennedy’s insistence that troops were merely serving as advisors [in Viet Nam], Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin incident, and Richard Nixon’s claim that he did not sabotage the 1968 peace talks.” He added President George W. Bush’s claims of “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

Many generalizations true in some cases but not for the majority come close to being “alternative facts.”

Increasing the minimum wage causes people to lose their jobs. (Many states have seen the opposite. Even cities have increased their minimum wage and seen job growth that neighboring cities didn’t.)

Illegal immigrants are criminals and don’t pay taxes. (The vast majority of illegals make a real effort to avoid being noticed.)

Public schools aren’t as good as they used to be. (Students are mastering a far more structured and detailed curricula than in my day.)

People could afford health insurance if they felt it was a priority. (For a family, insurance can cost as much as rent and food combined.)

Right now we have Republicans in Boise claiming we must decrease taxes if we want to attract and retain businesses—even though a recent state said 40 states have higher taxes than we do, even though the tax decreases are miniscule for the small businesses that create most of our jobs, even though some states have increased job growth after raising taxes and increasing investment in infrastructure and schools.

Yet, “selective facts” are not the blatant lies that “alternative facts” are.

Tobacco companies concealed in-house research while deny any relationship between smoking and lung cancer.

Investment houses, fearing that certain stocks were tanking, claimed they were great buys for their customers.

Manufacturers took out ads with glowing—and false—descriptions of working conditions in their Asian factories.

And oil companies launched “institutes” to deny Global Warming even as they bid on drilling rights in the North Sea that would have no value if the ice didn’t melt.

This week “alternative facts” generated by oil company largess resulted in the chair of the Idaho House Environment, Energy & Technology committee refusing to schedule a hearing on climate change. According to an Idaho Statesman article, Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, said climate change is merely a fraud; volcanoes contribute more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than people do; carbon dioxide is good for plants; climate change has always been with us; and there is nothing we can do about it.   Former House minority leader John Rusche responded, “I think that a hearing on the effects on Idaho’s forests, water supply, fire risks, wildlife, potential change in world markets and transportation, energy production and transmission all are legitimate legislative issues.”

Thirty-seven states are working on climate-change plans. Thirty-seven. But not Idaho.

With alternative facts so common, why are President Trump’s causing such a ballyhoo? Because his are so easily disproved? Because everyone loves being a comic? Or, perhaps, because people are starting to fear he believes them?

Image courtesy of

Climate change: Paris Accord Depends on Innovation

by Judy Ferro

“The 12th of December, 2015, will remain a great date for the planet,” said French President Francois Hollande.

“This is a turning point in the human enterprise, where the great transformation towards sustainability begins,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, an adviser to the German government and the Pope.

“History will remember this day,” said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Delegates wept and embraced while thousands protested in the streets.

Yet, I think plans for the holidays, the Bowl Games, even the next confrontation of presidential candidates, captured the attention of more Idahoans than the Paris Accord on Climate Change.

Today posed the major question, “What does the new deal really mean for the future of the earth?” The journal followed with a pessimistic answer. “The great ice sheets remain imperiled, the oceans are still rising, forests and reefs are under stress, people are dying in their tens of thousands in heat waves and floods, and the ­agriculture system that feeds 7 billion ­human ­beings is still at risk.”

So what did the Paris Accord accomplish?

Nearly 200 nations agreed on the goal of keeping future global warming under one degree Centigrade. All but eight submitted plans for reductions in their own countries. All agreed to revise their plans and adopt stricter cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in the future.

That is about all governments can do at this point.

Inventors, investors and industry must develop new emission-cutting technologies before anyone can develop plans that can possibly keep the ice sheets from melting.

The advances of the last decade in wind and solar could eventually replace fossil fuels in production of electricity. Current predictions by the International Energy Agency are that solar will produce 27% of the electricity needed by 2050 and wind power, 18%.

Half of our air pollution, however, comes from transportation. Automobiles have become more efficient through the years. We haven’t had the breakthroughs, however, that would make electric cars practical for long distances and rugged terrain. Hybrids are merely a step in the right direction.

And we have yet to see plans for airplanes, ships, trucks, tanks, etc. powered by anything but fossil fuels.

Scientists are, however, looking at another way to control climate change: increasing the Earth’s ability to sequester or convert carbon dioxide. Planting trees is one option. Others being developed will be far more expensive.

Where are the climate deniers in Congress and the rest of the United States in all this? Out of the picture. Nearly 200 nations have ignored them to say that climate change is real and must be controlled.

Predictions are that even if we are successful in holding global warming to one degree C., rising waters will destroy the homes of 280 million people. If the global temperature rises enough more that the ice sheets melt, the ocean could rise 18 feet.

Congress does not need to agree to the Paris Accord. The United States has pledged to do no more than already pledged in an earlier climate pact with China. At one point the Accord had included language saying that wealthier nations “shall” help poorer nations deal with the climate change caused by their industry and vehicles. United States delegates managed to get that language changed to “should” help poorer nations.

No, it will not be our Congress that decides if the United States is a leader in the fight to prevent worsening climate catastrophes. The challenge is now in the hands of our scientists, engineers, innovators and industry leaders.