July 2004

Coming soon to a state near you: Global warming

By Janelle Holden

As the conference hall erupted with applause, I leaned over to a colleague and said, “I think the alcoholic intake in West Yellowstone is going to increase rapidly in the next hour.” We had just finished a two-day conservation conference focused on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. For the most part, the conference speakers inspired us to keep on fighting — to save this place from coalbed methane, clearcuts, and snowmobiles. Most of them ended on a note of hope, except for the keynote speaker.

For the past hour, I’d been contemplating the most ecologically sound way of committing suicide. The speaker, George Woodwell, an internationally-renowned scientist, had detailed several ways that global climate change could destroy the world. His point? It’s great that you’re working on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, but these threats are small compared to global climate change. If we don’t slow our consumption of fossil fuels, everyone and everything is at risk.

The most well-known human influence on global climate change is production of greenhouse gases that trap sunlight in the atmosphere and warm the planet. You might also have seen the latest film on the subject, “The Day After Tomorrow.” It explores abrupt climate change, and the possibility of flooding our coastal cities and plunging the earth into an Ice Age when global ice caps melt and raise sea level 20 feet. Abrupt climate change is actually more science fiction than fact, but it is clear that it’s only a matter of time before our consumption of fossil fuels catches up with us in a very bad way.

If you’re like me, you’ve become a little immune to the threat. The situation seems hopeless. However, we could do a lot with just a little bit of sacrifice. For instance, if everyone drove one less mile a day, we could save billions of gallons of gasoline in just three weeks’ time.

Although Dr. Woodwell’s talk was depressing, I did leave that conference committed to taking responsibility for my own consumption of fossil fuels. I don’t drive an SUV, but I could carpool more, bike more, and walk more. It takes a little more time, and a little more planning, but it’s worth it.

Also, in Montana, NorthWestern Energy offers its customers free energy audits for their home and businesses. I’m planning to take advantage of that service, as well as a free renewable-energy site assessment. I can’t imagine that my neighbors would be thrilled if we put up a windmill in our backyard, but insulating my house might be an option.

Last but not least, we can vote, and we can make sure that our local, state, and federal officials are aware of the problem. Removing the Bush administration from office may not solve the problem, but clearly it might help. We need a government that will promote, if not demand, energy conservation in the United States. It’s abhorrent that our government is willing to wage a foreign war over fossil fuels, and at the same time ignore our waste of these resources at home. If you’re looking for a reason to vote for John Kerry, this could be it.

The U.S. Senate is considering legislation that addresses global climate change. The McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act uses free-market incentives to encourage companies to make new investments in energy-efficient technologies and renewable energy. Write a letter and support this type of legislation.

There are many benefits to reducing your use of fossil fuels, so take your pick. You can do it to save money. You can do it so that we’re not as dependent on foreign oil. You can even do it to save the planet. The important thing is that we do it.

Janelle Holden, a former resident of Montezuma County, writes from Livingston, Montana.