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Published: 11/8/2009

Denial, rush to judgment cloud debate over climate

Q.: What do George W. Bush, GE Chairman Jeff Immelt, BP, Shell, the Dow Chemical Co., Alcoa, the Detroit 3 automakers, Pepsi, Republicans for Environmental Protection, Exelon, Duke Energy, Florida Power & Light, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., DTE Energy, and FirstEnergy Corp. have in common with Al Gore?

A.: More than you may realize.

It's in our DNA to argue about everything, especially the planet's biggest environmental challenge. We can't all agree if a sunny, 75-degree day with low humidity is a good thing or not, let alone how much mankind is responsible for the frequency in which those days occur.

So as 192 countries prepare for the world's most historic climate negotiations in Copenhagen and as the U.S. Senate ramps up its debate over a landmark cap-and-trade bill to control greenhouse gases, things will get a little nutty.

Enter Rush Limbaugh. The conservative commentator outdid himself during his Oct. 20 radio broadcast, when he encouraged New York Times environmental writer Andy Revkin to kill himself.

"Mr. Revkin, why don't you just go kill yourself, and help the planet by dying," he stammered.

The context, in a nutshell: Mr. Revkin had delicately broached the subject of family planning while on a panel Oct. 14 hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, one that discussed how the Earth's burgeoning population will drive up greenhouse gases.

Mr. Revkin wondered aloud if would-be parents might someday be offered financial credits to keep their families small - something he described on his blog as a "thought experiment," not a proposal.

The context, in a broader sense: Mr. Revkin is one of America's top climate-change reporters, if not the dean on the subject. He began covering climate change 21 years ago while few newsrooms were printing stories about it, yet he has angered some on the left for bringing a healthy dose of skepticism to the debate himself. Mr. Limbaugh apparently knew little of his background while he was busy vilifying him as some radical "environmentalist wacko."

What exactly has caused such deep emotion, even hatred - not just in Mr. Limbaugh, but others, too?

Fear of higher taxes? Fear of getting schnookered?

Something else must be at work. Colleagues and I have remarked about the hate mail we get whenever we write about climate change.

Scientists, especially climatologists, acknowledge the problem. To some degree, so do officials in the military, religious, and investment communities.

No matter. Polls show fewer Americans believe climate change exists today than a year ago. And some people will never, ever, concede that climate change exists.

I'm a journalist, not an advocate. I deliver a message some people want to hear and some don't. The facts exist whether the message gets delivered or not.

Many groups and people largely unassociated with climate change now recognize the problem exists and are ready to move on with a strategy to address it.

So who's the recipient of lobbying efforts from those who steadfastly deny there's a problem?

Most businesses above belong to the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, founded by Mr. Immelt. It stated on Aug. 12 that delay "is no longer a viable option" and that climate legislation "will create economic opportunities for all Americans."

Neither DTE Energy nor FirstEnergy are U.S. Climate Action Partnership members. But DTE has planted thousands of trees to help absorb carbon dioxide, and FirstEnergy is hosting one of the largest carbon-sequestration research projects in the Midwest.

Many of us have varying thoughts about what should be done to address climate change, which is as it should be.

Otherwise, the Rush Limbaughs of the world will have us wearing blinders.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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