Ochenski 

Warm up to survey: Legislature invites public input on global warming

Most people these days are pretty well justified in believing that politicians are unduly steered by hordes of special interest lobbyists and corporate cronies. Likewise, they’re not far off base to think that their chance to influence such vital issues as global warming are minimal at best. But for the next month, the legislature’s Environmental Quality Council (EQC) has an online survey of suggestions made by the Governor’s Climate Change Advisory Council that will give normal citizens an opportunity to have their voices heard, their opinions weighed, and hopefully, in the end, to influence the policy decisions of the next legislature.

A recent poll by the Lee papers may be the best indicator so far that Montanans are very aware of the climatic changes occurring around them. Of the 625 registered voters questioned, fully 62 percent said they believed that “global warming will produce adverse effects,” with half of those respondents saying we’ll see “many adverse effects” and the other half “anticipating some adverse impacts.” Of the remaining respondents, 33 percent didn’t expect problems and of those, somewhat stunningly, 26 percent considered global warming “unproven.”

Strangely, more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans are concerned about the impacts from global warming. Perhaps it’s a partisan inclination to ignore the obvious results from the Bush administration’s infamous ignorance on the issue. Or perhaps it’s fear that addressing global warming problems may hurt corporate earnings and the economy. But leaving those who think global warming isn’t happening to merrily live their lives in denial, the options open to those who acknowledge the effects of climate change and face up to the critical question: What to do about it?

And that’s where the EQC poll comes in.

Given the snail’s pace of congressional and presidential movement on global warming, Gov. Brian Schweitzer followed the lead of other states that have begun to seek solutions to energy supply and demand, greenhouse gas emissions, conservation, and efficiency options at the state level. Instead of waiting in the smoke, heat, and drought, his Climate Change Advisory Council came up with a broad cross-section of feasible actions we, as Montanans, could take to reduce our inputs to the problem.

The list of options the Council presented are certainly not all-inclusive, but they do cover a wide spectrum of the issues. As one might suspect, the governor’s penchant for coal development is prominent, particularly in the area of carbon capture and sequestration technologies, but there are plenty of other suggestions that can be implemented to give Montanans a better, more energy efficient, less polluting life decades before we are likely to see the dubious miracle of cleanly using coal.

One proposal, for instance, suggests a minimal efficiency standard for all new appliances sold in state. The obvious result would be that we would consume less energy to enjoy the same benefits with every new appliance sold. Smart shoppers already look for the efficiency ratings when they purchase appliances, so implementing the suggestion would not likely result in earthshaking changes for most people.

The grander recommendations on the demand side of the equation include upgrading state building codes to institutionalize energy efficient designs for homes and businesses. Concurrently, consumer education programs and conservation incentives could be expanded to let people know what’s possible and to reward them for implementing energy-saving technologies.

Likewise, the use of “smart meters,” that charge consumers based on the real-time cost of the utilities they use, could spur cost-conscious consumers to consume electricity or gas when it is cheapest, not during peak times when it is most costly. Again, setting a timer to run your freezer at night wouldn’t be a big hassle for most of us if we were to see an immediate reduction in the drain on our wallets.

Or leading by example, the state government itself could set goals to reduce its own energy consumption—a step that has already been at least partially implemented through Schweitzer’s effort to reduce state energy use by 20 percent by 2010. The options here are many, including heating and lighting of state buildings, upgrading transportation fleets, using low-carbon fuels, and mandating energy efficient design in all new state buildings.

On the production side, the Council’s suggestions include increasing the use of renewable energy sources, incentives for renewable energy production such as biomass, wind, solar and geothermal, and research and development funding for emerging technologies such as compressed wind storage.

Infrastructure changes are considered, too, such as breaking down the barriers now facing small energy producers seeking to tie into existing transmission lines. Options are offered to increase incentives for net metering, allowing small producers to sell the power they generate back to the utilities and thus ease the need for new, large, centralized power generation facilities.

Finally, goals are suggested to make our lives more efficient simply through how we structure our towns. Consolidating business districts, expanding public transportation, and increasing the efficiency of our vehicles and the fuels they use are all offered in a variety of options.

But no need to take my word for it, go online at http://leg.mt.gov/css/climate_survey.asp and take the survey. There are comment boxes available so you can expand on exactly where you think Montana should go as we grapple with our changing climate.

While 63 percent of the Lee poll respondents said they were willing to make sacrifices to slow global warming’s impacts, many of the Climate Advisory Committee’s options can be implemented with little or no sacrifice—not to our wallets, our safety, or our life styles. Sacrificing a little time to fill out the survey, however, will not only be a great investment in a better future, but gives normal citizens a chance to finally have their voices heard.

Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the
Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.
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