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Peter H. Gleick

Peter H. Gleick

Posted: February 17, 2011 01:17 AM

Our legislators have a tough job. They have to balance competing interests of their constituents. They have to work to ensure the health and well being of their region in the face of conflicting challenges. They have to weigh in on complex topics about which they know little, or nothing.

And sometimes facts get in the way. Apparently, when that happens in Montana, the easiest thing to do is to simply try to pass legislation that overturns the laws of science and nature.

That's what Representative Joe Read, Republican from Montana's 15th district, did this week. Apparently, concerned over the growing evidence that human-induced climate change might threaten the economic well-being of the State of Montana, Representative Read submitted Montana House Bill 549 entitled "An Act Stating Montana's Position on Global Warming."

This bill does three very simple things. If passed and signed into law, Montana's legislature repeals the laws of nature and the realities of science by simply declaring that (1) carbon dioxide does not cause global warming; (2) oh, well, maybe there is global warming but it is entirely natural; and (3) anyway, it's going to be good for the welfare and "business climate" of Montana -- all findings that are self-contradictory, false, or simply out of the control of the Montana legislature, no matter what reality they might prefer.

I guess the scientific debate about climate change was too confusing and tiring and Read decided the bad news about climate change could just be turned into good news by declaring it to be so. This isn't the first time a state legislature has tried to turn science fiction into science fact by legislative decree. In 1897 the Indiana legislature tried to pass a bill on how to "square a circle" -- a mathematical concept that had already been proven to be impossible. In 2006, Kansas outlawed the practice of evolution (OK, not really, that was a very funny Onion article, but I'm not making up the Montana story).

This isn't the place for all the details about how the scientific community has long documented global warming, how human activities are clearly and certainly implicated, and the growing evidence that Montana, like most of the rest of the world, is going to suffer adverse consequences except to note the following: According to the scientists at Montana's Department of Environmental Quality and the Montana Climate Action Project, the state is expected to experience increased bark beetle pest outbreaks to ravage their timber, massive increases in the risks of wildfires, the complete disappearance of glaciers from Montana's famous Glacier National Park, a northward shift in mosquitoes carrying Western equine encephalitis, declining hydropower production, and more.

I guess if the legislature wants to make facts disappear through legislation or to define these things as good for the "welfare and business climate" of the state, they can try. They can also declare up to be down, gravity to be void, and left to be right, but that doesn't make it so.

Here is the main text of the proposed Montana bill:
A bill for an Act entitled: "An Act Stating Montana's Position on Global Warming"

Section 1. Public policy concerning global warming.
(1) The legislature finds that to ensure economic development in Montana and the appropriate management of Montana's natural resources it is necessary to adopt a public policy regarding global warming.
(2) The legislature finds:
(a) global warming is beneficial to the welfare and business climate of Montana;
(b) reasonable amounts of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere have no verifiable impacts on the environment; and
(c) global warming is a natural occurrence and human activity has not accelerated it.


 
 
 

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