The Danger of Dithering About Climate Change in South Dakota

05/11/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As a South Dakota native, I was dismayed by the misguided resolution the South Dakota State Legislature passed urging students to look at climate change as unsettled science. Below is the editorial I wrote on the issue in the state's largest newspaper, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.


Just because South Dakota's prairie is peppered with prairie dog holes doesn't mean we should stick students' heads into them. But that's what the South Dakota Legislature is proposing with its misguided resolution that dismisses the overwhelming scientific evidence of the dire threat that climate change poses to South Dakota.

In a move akin to creationists calling the theory of evolution into question, the resolution's authors and supporters -- even in HCR 1009's amended form -- are using ideology-based distrust of the environmental movement to spread dangerous myths about the threat we face.

Yes, it's true that international reports on climate change have been found to include some sloppy work, and some climate researchers have reacted foolishly toward critics of their work. But none of that changes the fact that there is a mountain of evidence that the planet has been warming to a dangerous degree for 100 years, and there's every sign the trend will continue. If you're skeptical of the United Nations-sponsored research, check out the major studies and reports from our own National Academy of Sciences.

The immediate threat climate change poses for South Dakota is to the state's largest economic sector: agriculture. As the planet warms, crippling droughts, volatile weather and worsening pest and disease outbreaks drastically will hamper our ability to grow food and fiber. Many scientists, including those at the United Nations, project yield losses between 30 to 60 percent because of the ravages of climate change.

Denying that climate change is occurring also undercuts South Dakota's ability to boost its economy through clean-energy development. Corn ethanol's promised contributions to reducing carbon emissions are dubious, but other advanced biofuels might well pay off. More importantly, wind energy is a proven clean technology with near unlimited potential for South Dakota. State legislators' message effectively eliminates a major justification for the investments needed to bolster clean-energy technologies with direct economic benefit for South Dakota.

Every day we dither about climate change gives China and other nations a competitive advantage as they dive head first into clean-energy development, setting the stage for decades of prosperity. Taking action against climate change won't enslave America to a socialist global cabal like some deniers will have us believe. Instead, we will shift from our damaging addiction to Middle Eastern oil to a dependency on clean Chinese energy technology. That's not a good deal.

In our current hyper-partisan atmosphere, it's understandable that climate-change skeptics might be immune to persuasion from the likes of former Vice President Al Gore. But what about the U.S. military? Climate change is a top priority for our military planners, who are focused on everything from protecting our many coastal bases from rising sea levels to the potential for millions of displaced climate refugees to become a serious destabilizing force around the world.

Look also to researchers at South Dakota State University, whose participation in a recent study on the effects of climate change on the prairie pothole region generated alarming results. Their projections show significant losses for waterfowl, a major source of sporting revenue for the state and rural communities.

And while the causes of climate change are a different debate than its actual existence, South Dakotans should be hoping that humans are in fact the cause - because that's one thing we can change.