GUEST COMMENTARY: Climate protection agreement should be reconsidered

Wednesday, September 25, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:02 a.m. CDT, Thursday, September 26, 2013

To City Council:

I’ve discovered that, for some at city hall, the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement has been dismissed as not possible due to growth — this is a big problem, as it sets the culture at city hall in the wrong direction.

I just realized today the anachronism for this important guiding document (that could have been dusted off for Mr. Mike Matthes, when, as our new city manager, he asked us if we had a plan) is: Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. It’s very confirming that our Mayors Climate Protection Agreement is, or should be, like our guiding agreement. We should all take a good look at it so that more decisions, especially controversial ones regarding more investment in and strong commitment to non-climate friendly fuels, such as the natural gas we are getting today via a different, more extreme form of fracking and our decision to invest in it, described as ‘diversification,’ with the strong and clear intent to help break out national and global markets for compressed natural gas vehicles and other uses of natural gas, are not found to be in serious violation of its guidance, goals, principles and direction but it would, rather, help steer us to the accomplishment of far greener, more sustainable energy and "everything else," for a more hopeful future in light of our responsibility and obligation to ‘strive’ for this sustainable direction as signatories to our Mayor’s agreement and as those responsible for decisions impacting present and future generations and their well-being.

No CPA or CEO would ever consider a business decision with only part of the facts, but that is exactly what we’re doing. We’re making extremely critical decisions with only half or less of the data and information needed for a wise decision. When we citizens try to bring more data and different scientific peer-reviewed studies, confirmed by other independent studies, than only the studies often cited by Matthes and city staff, which are found heavy on the industry-funded side, we are brushed aside, ignored and the science we bring dismissed, while climate related disasters are costing us billions.

Not even a year ago, Hurricane Sandy took at least 117 lives, and is estimated to cost between $50 billion and $60 billion, with clean-up and recovery still underway. In 2011 and 2012 alone, the U. S. experienced 25 floods, storms, droughts, heat waves and wildfires, each causing at least $1 billion in damages. Combined, these extreme weather events were responsible for 1,107 fatalities and up to $188 billion in economic damages. An analysis by the Center for American Progress found the federal government — we the taxpayers — spent $136 billion from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2013 on disaster relief — an average of nearly $400 per household, per year for just these three years. Nearly all this spending was for relief and recovery from large and smaller natural disasters, most symptomatic of man-made climate change from massive amounts of carbon emissions and pollutants in the atmosphere, warming the oceans and the Earth.

As climate change accelerates, so, of course, will federal spending on disaster relief and recovery, ultimately paid for by the taxpayers. This accounting imbalance becomes harder and harder to deny, with warming-related climate events happening everywhere. We all know these past few days climate-related heavy rains and flooding in two states: Colorado and New Mexico have hit hard and will add to a 2013 count. What do you think the environmental, financial and public health impacts of the flooding of at least 20,000 fracking wells in Colorado, alone, will be? This reporting is curiously absent from the mainstream reporting and will surely have consequences that will impact the the natural gas business you so wisely invested us in. You refused to hear 100 percent of the public, educated and caring enough about our community’s participation and role in climate change to be at City Council after 1 a.m. the next day with you, all saying no to compressed natural gas for Columbia, many warning or having warned of the many and far-reaching risks involved.

Further, these data and costs pointed to do not fully consider "other" environmental degradation and costs; nor even a look at climate-related refugees, overall climate related problems to public health, or general climate impacts on plants or animals, on which humans and our survival depend.

When considering and setting the city’s budget, it is important to check with our other CPA, the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. It seems we would surely want to rush to find good solutions that, even if they turned out not to "make a significant difference" on "anthropogenic climate change," we not only tried, but in so doing, we at least did succeed in significantly reducing "good-old," regular, every day pollution — pollution which medical science, with which we seldom "argue," confirms causes or significantly contributes to human ailments such as: cancers, asthma, new endocrine-disruptive illnesses and many other environmental-related ailments for us, as well as animal and plant life, on which we depend. If only for this reason, the Mayor’s climate protection agreement should never be violated.

We respectfully, request you immediately curtail further action implementing a conflicting decision on this direction to compressed natural gas until there will be no further violation, as a result of the compressed natural gas agreement with Clean Energy, of at least eight points of the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, by your recent vote to invest taxpayer money, at much higher amounts than previously stated to council members that this compressed natural gas investment would cost.

Monta Welch is president of the  Columbia Climate Change Coalition and Interfaith Care for Creation and director of Peoples' Visioning.

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Ellis Smith September 25, 2013 | 8:43 a.m.

There are times when it may not be feasible to make decisions based on all the information we might like.

A favorite cartoon shows a wall with three closed doors. On one side is a little mouse; on the other side of the wall and behind each door are, respectively, a cat, a baited mousetrap, and a piece of cheese. The mouse can't see what is on the other side of the wall.

The cartoon caption says, "There are times when we must reach decisions while lacking all the data we'd like to have."

[I hope Foecking and Williams see this. I suspect they will agree.]

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams September 25, 2013 | 9:16 a.m.


Those who spend 95% of their time trying to find the last 5% of information end up making no decision at all.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking September 25, 2013 | 10:59 a.m.

I agree. You can't always have all the information, or precision of measurement, you'd like to have. Statistical methods were invented for just that purpose.

What is lacking in the whole fracking debate is objective, neutral information about what types of water and air contamination have occurred, its source (producing wellbore or surface/well casing leaks), and how common they are relative to the total number of wells. People on one side will say industry is suppressing it (who says industry has to gather this data?), while people on the other will say that contamination is largely natural and landowners are simply playing the Lawsuit Lottery (having landowners submit a water sample before and after drilling/fracking happens is a good idea, as well as providing data for the above database). Both are politicizations, and unfortunately there is very little that is not political when anyone mentions fracking. This in itself makes all the information harder to get.

I think we'll find that our new found natural gas glut is a bubble (well starts are dropping because the process is expensive and the price of NG low), and if it were me, I'd hold off on the fueling station for a few years to make sure the city is not left with an expensive boondoggle. However, we will continue to need natural gas even for current uses, and may need to be prepared for some environmental degradation in order to get past fossil fuels. Risk-benefit decisions cannot be made without good information.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 25, 2013 | 2:41 p.m.

Thanks, Mark and Michael.

One further comment: It makes little difference how much information and/or data are gathered and how brilliant a decision may appear to be - if the decision isn't followed by monitoring the results when implemented. Changing situations or conditions can radically change the validity of a decision.

Perhaps no better illustrations of this can be found by some of the legislation (representing, in effect, "decisions") passed by our state and federal legislative bodies. No specific laws will be cited. :)

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates September 25, 2013 | 3:19 p.m.

The farther you are from the flagpole, the easier you can see. I agree with Ellis.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 25, 2013 | 4:37 p.m.


In a sense your above statement reminds me of the late Genichi Taguchi (1924-2012), who's work was largely in the field of product quality but can be applied to other matters.

Taguchi and an emeritus professor of Engineering Management at MS&T were big buddies, resulting in Taguchi gratuitously coming to campus when in the United States to host seminars for students, faculty and interested alumni. Cool!

The only problem was that while Taguchi both spoke and wrote good English his accent was so heavy it was tough to understand him.

Skip: Yes, and I will swear from experience that the more miles you put between the USA and where you re working, the greater an expert you become. It's an exponential function. :)

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