Should climate change deniers help make policy?

PAST AND FUTURE Flooding around 1975 illustrates future coastal indundation scenarios thanks to sea level rise. Photo courtesy City of Arcata

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – ​Humboldt County’s interest in forming a Climate Advisory Committee hinges on an initial question – should those who are skeptical be disqualified from its membership?

​The idea of forming a committee to recommend climate change responses was discussed – and debated – at the August 27 Board of Supervisors meeting.

​Board Chair Rex Bohn, who prioritizes economic concerns, acknowledged that people may be surprised that he sponsored the discussion as an agenda item. But he said two residents of his district – well-known political action advocates and Petrolia residents David Simpson and Jane Lapiner – are “true educators for me in this.”

​Bohn also favors a regional approach so Humboldt isn’t put at an economic disadvantage. Walter Smith, a sustainable forestry advocate, described how Mendocino County is in the process of forming an advisory committee.

​Smith said interest in the Mendocino committee includes “people from all walks of life, not just enviros.”

​But how Humboldt should approach appointments became a flashpoint of debate. The county is already in the midst of devising a Climate Action Plan and Supervisor Mike Wilson is wary of muddying the local response to what’s come to be known as a climate emergency.

​“What I don’t want to get in the way of is the momentum of the Climate Action Plan,” he said.

​Wilson told Bohn that people will indeed question why he sponsored the discussion, “Because of the obvious politics of that.”

​Bohn, who is running for re-election, quickly responded, “I live here.”

​Pointing out that “climate deniers” have been appointed to high profile entities like the Planning Commission, Wilson added, “We want to make sure our commitment is real, we want action, and I think some people fear that if we want big ideas to die, put it in a big committee, because maybe it’ll never get to the board and be accountable.”

He envisions a committee united in commitment to its purpose and not one that gets “lost in a swirl of unending discussion.”

​Wilson’s reference to climate change denial on the Planning Commission likely refers to Bohn’s appointment, development contractor Alan Bongio.

When the commission discussed sea level rise planning last November, Bongio said he’s not convinced by climate change warnings that are “shoved down our throat on a daily basis” because “you can get whatever results you want if you get the right scientists to go along with you.”

And there may be room at the table for those beliefs.

“I find it absolutely fascinating that’s there’s so much defensiveness and over-reacting coming from that end of the dais,” said Supervisor Virginia Bass, referring to Wilson’s area of the chambers.

Adding that “I think  it’s strong that you call some people ‘climate deniers,’” Bass said she gets into climate change debates with people, including “some that live in my house” and most of them don’t deny changes are happening.

“It’s just, how is it happening,” she continued. “I also think it was kind of a dig, talking about the political reasons for bringing it forward.” ​

​On the make-up of the committee, Bass believes there could be “some value to having people who don’t all share the same place” and can “bring a different perspective to it.”

​Bohn agreed. “On the diversity – it can’t all be one way,” he said. “It’s amazing, I hear, ‘We have to have diversity’ and I believe in that 100 percent, except you don’t want diversity if it’s something you believe in – ‘I just want everybody on my side,’” he said.

​Getting “the public’s buy-in” won’t happen “unless everybody has a seat at the table,” Bohn continued.

​On the possibly politically-geared timing, Bohn said he’s been talking about the idea with Simpson, Lapiner and Smith “for years” and given Mendocino’s actions, “This is the time we could bring it forward.”

​Supervisor Steven Madrone said he respects all opinions but “perhaps the worst thing we could possibly do would be to set up a committee that is equally divided between those that believe it’s happening and those that don’t and we get nothing done or we waylay the action.”

The tenor of the discussion ensures that if the committee reaches the level of an appointment process, the picks will be closely scrutinized.  

Supervisors directed county planning staff to develop recommendations for forming a committee and present them to the board at a future meeting.




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