SALT LAKE CITY — Bruce Everett has heard every argument in the debate surrounding climate change over the past three decades and has come to some conclusions, few of which he believes are, at this point, scientifically definitive.
"Despite what people like former Vice President Gore say, the science is, in fact, still very uncertain," Everett told the Deseret News in a telephone interview. "We need the actual empirical evidence to make a determination on the science."
Everett, who will speak next week at Westminster College, said that because we have no way of knowing what average global temperatures truly were thousands of years ago, we cannot definitely determine whether increases in temperatures are due scientifically to man-made carbon dioxide emissions.
But Everett also believes in the merits of environmental responsibility when considering the potential impacts of commercial and energy growth in today's global economy.
Everett, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's school of foreign policy and professor of business at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Policy, will speak as part of a free lecture series at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Vieve Gore Concert Hall of the Emma Eccles Jones Conservatory. The topic of discussion, "The Quest for Sustainability: Climate Change & Economic Growth," is one of the more politically charged and controversial in society, especially in Utah.
Everett said that while implementing policies to dramatically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions is a laudable goal, the economic cost of doing so would be so high that "unless you're convinced that you're facing a near-term catastrophe, (there is) not a good argument to do it."
However, he said, there is a very good argument to be made for developing strategies that would mitigate the problem in the longer term and be less financially stressful than ideas currently under consideration nationally and globally.
Having spent 22 years working as an economist for Exxon Mobil, Everett acknowledged that some critics may question his motives and ideas. But he said the motivation is to help open the debate to include a broader range of possible solutions than are currently under consideration by organizations like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international scientific body tasked with evaluating the risk of climate change caused by human activity.
"My argument is that unless you understand the whole (climate and atmospheric) system, it's hard to just say, 'What's the impact of man-made gases?' " he said.
"There is undoubtedly some effect (from man-made emissions), and what that tells me is that over the long term, it's probably not something you want to let get out of control."