Rep. Mike Noel’s recent op-ed (“Utah leads out on win-win to climate controversy,” April 16) addresses an important question: What is Utah doing to mitigate the effects of climate change? Unfortunately, the solution he provides, and others proposed by the state, offer little reason for celebration.
What exactly is Noel’s suggestion for Utah’s best hope of mitigating climate change? Is Noel calling for a mandatory renewable energy portfolio, as many other states have implemented? Is he taking his lead from another Western Republican politician, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who in 2008 proposed mitigating climate change by cutting greenhouse emissions from 2005 levels by 60 percent in 2050? Is Noel suggesting a showing of bipartisan support for President Obama’s much more modest goal of reducing carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 30 percent in 2050?
Disappointingly, Noel is recommending none of the above. Noel’s “win-win” is a resolution on carbon sequestration. Objectively speaking, the resolution’s text is replete with laudable goals that no scientist or conservationist would ever find fault with. After all, we all can agree that healthy, well-managed farms, forests and rangelands can help restore ecosystems and thus better sequester carbon.
While the language of the resolution seems agreeable enough, what’s more concerning to range scientists and practitioners is the idea that we can effectively manage livestock to increase carbon sequestration. The progenitor of this practice, Allan Savory, prescribes a “high intensity/low duration” grazing management system (basically rotating larger livestock herds through smaller pastures in shorter amounts of time) that could end up doing more harm than good. Noel’s resolution seems to be a Trojan horse — no pun intended — for higher intensity grazing under the guise of ameliorating climate change.
Putting more cows on arid Utah rangelands to improve soil health and curb climate change is like smoking more cigarettes to cure lung cancer.
The problem with Savory’s work is that he avoids the standard scientists use when they’re promoting solutions: the scientific method. Savory has published no peer-reviewed, objective data that can be evaluated by the scientific community. And when others have performed experiments testing his methods, the oft-claimed results of improved rangeland health usually do not materialize. Nice rhetoric, but if those ideas cannot hold up to rigorous scientific scrutiny, what’s being practiced isn’t science; it’s faith-based range management.
Climate change is too profound a threat and the cost of inaction too great to leave to faith-based solutions. And worse — Noel’s ineffectual resolution was this legislative session’s only attempt to come to grips with climate change.
Back to Obama’s modest Clean Power Plan — Gov. Gary Herbert’s energy adviser, Cody Stewart, recently issued comments on the draft plan to the EPA. Perhaps not surprisingly, these comments focused on attacking the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gasses, and incredibly — even the EPA’s application of the Clean Air Act to the power sector.
When it comes to making plans to mitigate climate change, the state has left Utahns with two equally awful options: either bury our heads in the sand and do nothing, or bury our heads in the loamy soil of unscientific range management plans.
Moreover, while Savory’s findings and Noel’s assertions can’t be verified, what has been shown by scientists is that any increased carbon storage gained through recovered rangeland vegetation by improvements in livestock grazing practices is outweighed by livestock’s significant contributions to greenhouse gas emissions via methane.
Allison Jones is the executive director of the Wild Utah Project. Robert DeBirk is the policy director for HEAL Utah.