The first step in solving a problem is acknowledging that there is a problem.
Among scientists, there is virtually no debate: The earth’s climate is changing, and human activity, specifically burning fossil fuels, is causing those changes.
In West Virginia, where coal dominates political conversation and plays a big role in the economy, it’s more complicated, and politicians are reluctant to even say there is a problem.
A majority of West Virginia’s political leaders either declined to respond or gave evasive answers when recently asked a yes-or-no question, whether they thought human actions were causing climate change.
A national report released Tuesday, warned, in dire language, of increasingly severe effects of climate change, including heat waves in Southwestern West Virginia and greater flood risk in the state’s mountain regions.
The White House released the report, but it was written by a team of 300 independent scientists and included two oil company representatives on its advisory committee.
The report focused on the effects of climate change, but was unambiguous about the fact that it is happening.
“The warming of global climate and its causes are not matters of opinion; they are matters of scientific evidence, and that evidence is clear,” the report says. “Scientists do not ‘believe’ in human-induced climate change; rather the widespread agreement among scientists is based on the vast array of evidence that has accumulated over the last 200 years. When all of the evidence is considered, the conclusions are clear.”
Another recent, more conservative, report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was equally unequivocal.
“The effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans,” the report says. “Observed impacts of climate change have already affected agriculture, human health, ecosystems on land and in the oceans, water supplies and some people’s livelihoods.”
The Gazette asked all of West Virginia’s national representatives and major statewide leaders the following question: “Do you believe that man-made carbon emissions are causing climate change?” Only Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both Democrats, answered yes.
None of the Republicans elected to federal or statewide office — Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey — responded to repeated requests. Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin also did not respond to the question, but sent a statement about the environment.
Rep. Nick Rahall, a Democrat, wrote that the Earth’s climate is “ever changing,” and blamed a “variety of factors.”
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, a Democrat, did not directly answer the question. She said that it is “not her job to argue the science,” but her campaign spokeswoman said that Tennant does not dispute the “broad consensus among scientists.”
Capito and Tennant are both running for the Senate seat that will be vacated by Rockefeller, who is retiring.
Here are the responses of West Virginia’s political leaders when asked if they think humans are causing climate change. All responses were sent via emailed statement, except for Rockefeller, who answered in person at an event in Buckhannon about two weeks ago.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin
“We understand the importance of environmental stewardship and are committed to preserving our state’s natural beauty for future generations to enjoy. It is important that we work together to develop reasonable standards that balance the environment and economic opportunity.”
Sen. Jay Rockefeller
“I do. I always have. I’ve always believed in the science and climate and I think that those who don’t are just, in a way, they feel good doing it because it gives them a rallying cry, but it hastens their doom.
“I’ve fought for coal miners all my life and they just dig the coal,” Rockefeller said. “The utilities are the ones who make the decisions about whether they’re going to invest in the kind of carbon capture and sequestration that’s been proven already, twice in West Virginia, takes 90 percent of the carbon dioxide out of emissions. But that’s going to take money, that’s my point. So long as we say our sanctity and rectitude is never spending a dime more than we already have, we will just (Rockefeller made a declining motion with his hand).”
Sen. Joe Manchin
“There is no disputing climate change. With more than seven billion people on the planet, we have made an impact on the environment as global energy demands rise. As in everything in life, it’s up to us to find the balance between our environment and our economic needs.”
Rep. Nick Rahall
“We know the earth’s climate is ever changing. I believe there are a variety of factors and that those who focus their blame so intensely and entirely on our coal industry are being completely illogical.”
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito
Capito did not respond to repeated requests sent over the last several weeks.
Rep. David McKinley
McKinley did not respond to repeated requests sent over the last several weeks.
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant
“Let me be very clear: I will fight President Obama and anyone else who tries to undermine our coal jobs. It’s not my job to argue the science. It’s my job to make sure policy solutions work for West Virginia. I refuse to accept that we have to choose between protecting our air and protecting our jobs when I know West Virginia can lead the way in producing technology that does both.”
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey
Morrisey did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Reach David Gutman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5119.