Climate Change

The debate over climate change has raged for many years. Natural factors such as solar activity, volcanic eruptions and orbital changes have affected the Earth's climate, resulting in both ice ages and periods of warming as far back as current technology can measure. Beginning with the Industrial Revolution, human activities began to change the composition of the atmosphere in the form of increased carbon dioxide emissions, which is the natural result of burning wood, natural gas and coal, or petroleum fuel, which many scientists believe to be responsible for the 'greenhouse effect' that contributes to and may be the primary cause of human-induced climate change. While there is no dispute over the fact that the Earth's climate has changed many times over the planet's history, the underlying cause of these climactic shifts is ultimately not well-understood and is a matter of vigorous debate. In June 2008, the Senate debated a climate change measure proposed by Senators Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) and John Warner (R-Virginia).

This lack of understanding is exactly where academic science should play a large role. What is often overlooked is the leading role the US plays in climate change research to apropriately understand and address climate change challenges. In June 2001, the Bush Administration created the U.S. Climate Change Research Initiative (CCRI) to study areas of uncertainty about global climate change science and identify priority areas where investments can make a difference. In 2002, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) was initiated to serve as a collaborative, interagency program designed to improve the government wide management of climate science and climate-related technology development. You may be interested to know that the U.S. government spent nearly $2 billion last year, more than the rest of the world combined, researching climate change science through CCSP. Moreover, President Bush continues his commitment to finding environmentally-friendly solutions. As outlined in his State of the Union address, following the enactment of the 2008 budget, the federal government will have invested $15 billion into the development of cleaner, cheaper, more efficient and reliable energy sources since 2001.

The United States is partnering with other countries around the world to bring about solutions that will best fit the needs and abilities of each participating country. The Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (AP6) launched on January 12, 2006. It is an international non-treaty agreement among Japan, India, the People’s Republic of China, Australia, South Korea and the United States to cooperate on development and transfer of technology which enables reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Environment and energy ministers from partner countries outlined a new model of private-public taskforces to address air pollution, energy security and climate change. This agreement allows member countries to set emission reduction goals suitable to the circumstances of their individual country, unlike the Kyoto Protocol, which imposes mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

In general, the best policies are grounded in sound, peer-reviewed science, protect our quality of life and provide the greatest benefit to both the environment and people. Successful legislation should provide incentives to reduce harmful emissions and better coordinate federal and private research into the question of human impact on the climate. Sound environmental policy decisions must include constructive public participation and consider any immediate and harmful impact on economic vitality.

So how does this fit into Idaho's energy needs and economy? Idaho gets 74% of its energy from hydropower, 20% from natural gas and 5% from renewables, and as such has the lowest carbon footprint per capita in the nation. Idaho also has been the fastest growing economy in the country for the last five years and the fourth fastest-growing population at 13% annually. With that growth comes an increased need for electricity. The amount of hydropower available is static, and political pressures from salmon threaten existing dams, to say nothing of building future ones. Wind and other renewables can only meet a fraction of the needed power demands of the state. As the state has made clear, through the passage of the two-year coal plant moratorium, new coal facilities in-state are not a viable option.

Given these factors, the balance would have to be met with natural gas burning facilities and coal power transmitted in from out-of-state. Estimates show electricity prices rising over 20-133% under Lieberman-Warner. Any incremental increases in power consumption for Idaho will be dramatically more expensive and threatens to inhibit the state’s dynamic economic growth.

Key words:

Climate change: Refers to any significant change in measures of climate (such as temperature, precipitation or wind) lasting for an extended period (decades of longer). Climate change may result from natural factors, natural processes or human activities.

Global warming: An average increase in the temperature of the atmosphere near the Earth's surface and in the troposphere. According to the EPA, "in common usage, global warming often refers to the warming that can occur as a result of increase emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities."

Useful links:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Climate Change

Climate Change: What You Can Do: Includes information on how to reduce energy consumption at home, at work, on the road and at school. Also has a personal emissions calculator.

U.S. Climate Change Research Initiative

Last updated 04/23/2013