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New Mexico governor picks climate denier Harrison Schmitt to run energy department

New Mexico is facing a grim future — brutal heat waves, massive wildfires, permanent Dust Bowls — in a world of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions (see “U.S. southwest could see a 60-year drought like that of 12th century “” only hotter “” this century” and below). Yet, as Brad Johnson reports:

New Mexico governor Susana Martinez (R-NM) has picked Harrison Schmitt, a prominent global warming denier to run the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. The 75-year-old Schmitt is a former geologist, astronaut, and U.S. Senator, defeated in 1982 after a single term by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). Schmitt believes that mainstream climate science is a conspiracy “to increase government control,” as he wrote in his resignation from the Planetary Society in 2008.

Equally bizarre, Schmitt has little evident energy experience — except in one area. He is an adjunct professor of engineering physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but as his website there reveals, his expertise is in what may be the single most impractical idea ever proposed for generating energy on a significant scale for humanity in your lifetime (no matter what your age):

Professor Schmitt is a consultant engaged in research with the Fusion Technology Institute on the utilization of resources from space, including the feasibility of using helium-3 from the moon to supply energy on Earth.

It is famously said about fusion that it is 50 years away and always will be. That goes double if we need to get the stuff to run the reactors from the moon! The only thing harder to believe than planning to build a fusion economy around extracting helium-3 from the moon is listing that on your academic website as your primary consulting activity.

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Let’s go back to Schmitt’s absurd resignation The Planetary Society (TPS). As you can see in its innocuous if overly optimistic “Roadmap for Human Space Exploration in the 21st Century,” TPS lists as one of its recommendations, “There is an imperative to begin an aggressive campaign to understand global climate change and to address the challenges facing planet Earth.”

Just research, no action. Pretty harmless stuff. But Schmitt writes:

As a geologist, I love Earth observations. But, it is ridiculous to tie this objective to a “consensus” that humans are causing global warming in when human experience, geologic data and history, and current cooling can argue otherwise. “Consensus”, as many have said, merely represents the absence of definitive science. You know as well as I, the “global warming scare” is being used as a political tool to increase government control over American lives, incomes and decision making. It has no place in the Society’s activities.

Aside from the fact that the leading earth scientists from around the world and every single member government agreed the year before that warming of the Earth’s climate is “unequivocal,” TPS didn’t actually “tie this objective to a ‘consensus’ that humans are causing global warming.” Schmitt apparently only skimmed the document once he saw the offensive phrase. Here is what TPS wrote:

Concurrent with the restructured initiative for international human space exploration, the United States must begin an aggressive campaign to understand global climate change and address the challenges facing planet Earth. Although it is not the subject of this document, broad consensus has emerged that Earth science research has been undervalued in the NASA portfolio in recent years and must be augmented, both in terms of budget and as an element of national space policy. It should be noted that, far from being separate in the human psyche, space exploration and Earth science represent an important synergy. Cultural awareness of Earth as a planet has been dramatically enhanced through observations and commentary by astronauts, and one of the iconic images of Earth from Apollo 8 — a “big blue marble” against the stark backdrop of outer space — is credited with having stimulated the environmental movement which continues to this day….

Pretty friggin’ alarmist.

Seriously, that’s the ‘consensus’ TPS was talking about “that Earth science research has been undervalued in the NASA portfolio in recent years and must be augmented.” Extremists!

Schmitt is a hard-core denier, as this Santa Fe New Mexican article makes clear:

Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, one of the last men to walk on the moon and a former U.S. senator from New Mexico, doesn’t buy the idea that humans are causing global warming.

“I don’t think the human effect is significant compared to the natural effect,” he said.

Schmitt, who is among 70 skeptics scheduled speak at an international conference next month, admitted his beliefs fly in the face of the political consensus that burning fossil fuels has increased carbon-dioxide levels, temperatures and sea levels.

Memo to reporter: It is a scientific understanding, not a “political consensus.”

In a Saturday interview, Schmitt expounded on what he called “indisputable facts” that global warming is the result of natural, rather than man-made, causes. He said historical documents indicate average temperatures have risen by 1 degree per century since around 1400 A.D., and the rise in carbon dioxide is because of the temperature rise….

“In Antarctica, it looks like the total volume (of ice) is increasing and if that’s true, that’s probably why you’re getting increased ice moving away from the center of the continent and therefore these big icebergs and stuff are breaking off,” he said.

Although Greenland’s glaciers receded for decades, Schmitt said, they began advancing again around 2005.

Of course, this is all just non-stop nonsense. Carbon dioxide is rising because of human emissions. That is pretty much an undisputed fact. Schmitt mixed up his denier talking points on this one (see Cook: “When someone mentions to you that CO2 lags temperature, remind them they’re actually invoking evidence for a positive feedback that further increases global warming by an extra 15 to 78%”).

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The total volume of Antarctic ice has been declining. Schmitt probably means Antarctic sea ice, but in that case he should get his denier talking points straight. Same for Greenland, which has continued to see ice loss. Again, Schmitt can’t quite get his talking points straight.

What is it about walking on the moon that makes people say such strange things about climate? (see Sorry, Buzz Aldrin, we’re not sending people to Mars by 2029 to “homestead” or study “climate change”).

Sadly for New Mexico, climate denial and failure to adopt sensible low-carbon policies risks multiple catastrophic consequences, which could well combine to depopulate the state in the second half of the century.

In a terrific March 2010 presentation, climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe has a figure of what staying on the business as usual emissions path (A1F1 or 1000 ppm) would mean (derived from the NOAA-led report):

Half the state would be above 100F for longer than the entire summer.

Than we have this chart from the National Academy of Sciences 2010 report, Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millennia:

Percent increase (relative to 1950–2003) in median annual area burned for ecoprovinces of the West with a 1°C increase in global average temperature.

Yes, that is just from a 1°C warming (by mid-century). We’re facing a lot more of that by century’s end if we listen to the likes of Kahn (see M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F “” with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F).9

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On the bright side, while there might be a few hundred percent increase in median annual burn area — at least it’s only over the part of the state with trees!

Finally, back in 2007, Science (subs. req’d) published research that “predicted a permanent drought by 2050 throughout the Southwest” “” levels of aridity comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl would stretch from Kansas to California. This year, the National Center for Atmospheric Research warned that by mid-century, New Mexico faces a drought index worse than that of the 1930s dust bowl [click to enlarge, details here]

“The maps use a common measure, the Palmer Drought Severity Index, which assigns positive numbers when conditions are unusually wet for a particular region, and negative numbers when conditions are unusually dry. A reading of -4 or below is considered extreme drought”¦.”The PDSI in the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl apparently spiked very briefly to -6, but otherwise rarely exceeded -3 for the decade (see here). So the numbers projected by NCAR are beyond catastrophic for New Mexico by the 2060s.

See also two more studies discussed here: “U.S. southwest could see a 60-year drought like that of 12th century “” only hotter “” this century.”

Finally, Brad Johnson notes:

Martinez has taken other steps to eliminate science-based government from her state. She nominated global warming denier Jon Barela, who lost his bid to unseat Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), to head the Department of Economic Development. Earlier last week, “Martinez removed all the members of the Environmental Improvement Board, citing the board’s approval of regional and state cap and trade statutes,” reports the New Mexico Independent. “Unfortunately, the majority of EIB members have made it clear that they are more interested in advancing political ideology than implementing common-sense policies that balance economic growth with responsible stewardship in New Mexico,” Martinez ironically claimed.

The future is grim indeed for New Mexico.

UPDATE: New Energy Economy says “Martinez overstepped bounds in halting carbon reduction program”:

According to a New Mexico clean energy group, Gov. Susana Martinez overstepped her bounds in halting the carbon reduction program early last week. The Environment Department requested the regulations not be published in the state Register and the state Administrative Law Division complied. The regulation would have required three-percent annual cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from sources like power plants.

Mariel Nanasi, Executive Director of New Energy Economy, told The Independent on Friday that this is illegal. While Martinez froze all pending and proposed regulations with an executive order on her first day in office, Nanasi says this was not proposed but already passed by the Environmental Improvement Board.

“There’s a whole myriad of legal ways to go around doing this,” Nanasi told The Independent. “But she can’t just bully an official and say ‘don’t do your job.’”

One way to challenge the law would be in the courts, according to Nanasi.

“Is she afraid of the courts?” Nanasi asked of the former district attorney. “Why wouldn’t she go through the regular legal process?”

Nanasi says that New Energy Economy will file a mandamus to the state Supreme Court. If granted, this would force Martinez to publish the rules passed by the EIB last month.

According to the New Mexico Business Weekly, Attorney General Gary King is reviewing whether or not the process in which Martinez halted the rule is legal.