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Utah Legislature: Professors blast climate-change disbelievers

SALT LAKE CITY — The ever-boiling controversy of climate change science bubbled over at a Friday evening press conference, with several members of the local academic community calling political disbelievers "irrational and unreasonable" in their pursuit of legislative nonsense.

The volleys specifically target Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, who is running a pair of message resolutions that urge Utah to withdraw from the Western Climate Initiative and assert carbon dioxide should not be regulated as a greenhouse gas emission.

Characterizing the resolutions as absurd, University of Utah professor Phil Emmi said such legislative disbelievers muster their political clout in a variety of slick ways.

"They do not need to be reasonable, and they think they can get away with such nonsense," said Emmi, a professor of architectural planning. "They play on the fears of those who would be hurt by change. … They're conniving, irresponsible, but not dumb."

Attempts by the Deseret News to reach Noel for comment were unsuccessful Friday evening.

The forum at the U.'s Orson Spencer Hall Auditorium kicked off a two-day event that concludes Saturday called "A Climate of Change: Working for Peace, Social Justice and a Healthy Planet."

Aside from the local brain trust that signed on to participate, the event also featured a talk by former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and a keynote speech by Tyler Volk, a biologist and earth systems theorist from New York University.

Press conference participants urged a groundswell of noise-making to convey opposition to Noel's resolutions, which, even if passed, carry no force of law and are simply a message.

"We must hold our politicians accountable for preying upon our predictable weaknesses," Emmi told the crowd.

Joe Andrade, a U. engineering professor, said climate change supporters need to write letters, call talk shows and get involved.

At the conference it was announced that multiple other signatories were throwing their support behind a letter written by BYU scientists that rebuked some lawmakers in response to a committee hearing in which both sides of the debate were presented.

The letter said the lawmakers were being irresponsible in manipulating the data to promote a "political agenda."

Affecting change in Utah's Legislature will not be easy, Andrade said, because climate change is not about science as much as it is about belief, and belief systems are tough to alter.

"We have to understand that rationality is not ubiquitous," he said. "It is so hard to get through to preconceived notions as to how the world works."

Change, though, he added with a smile, is possible in one arena: "One way is to find those totally irrational legislators and get rid of them."