By Terrah Baker
Congressman Steve Womack of the Third District of Arkansas was not happy with the group he saw before him on Jan. 31 in a meeting room in his office in Rogers. To him, they were radicals of the worst kind; spouting about climate change, a carbon tax and the economic, social and environmental dangers of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
An older gentleman sitting next to him in a baggy, earth-toned sweater and a 5 o’clock shadow on his face laid out detailed reports from the National Weather Service’s climate assessment and other scientific organizations on the table in front of him.
“If you look at the charts, you’ll see that at the current rate of emissions…,” the man explained, and pointed to the graph.
Suddenly, Congressman Womack put up his hand, sat up straight in his chair and began a defensive stance. He made it clear he wouldn’t put up with charts in his office. There would be no talk of “rhetoric” from the whole of the scientific community, Department of Defense and about 80 percent of the American population. No, no. He would only listen to himself talk. And I could tell by the blank look in his eyes — as we sat there and listened to him take over the meeting he was so kind to accept — that he had this routine down. “No taxes. No climate change. No earth-toned sweaters. And no open mind for facts and possible solutions to looming problems.” (paraphrasing, but you get the idea.)
His arguments consisted of frustrations with environmentalists telling him to “just shut off fossil fuels,” and with the liberals asking him to implement behavior forcing techniques, like a carbon tax or tax incentives for adopting clean (sustainable) energy. Forget that we had only agreed with him minutes earlier that our dependency on foreign oil should be gradually diminished, not just “shut off.” And that “behavior forcing” techniques are what we in America call law and order; like no littering, no dumping of harmful chemicals in bodies of water, not having 40 cats within city limits, etc.
He went on to say — or rather, he went on to leave the room to “take an important call from Washington” and have his intern say for him — that they feel the jury is still out on climate change, but Womack did support clean energy.
In the past, I think I would have been happy with this conclusion. “At least he’s doing something,” I’d tell myself. I am extremely thankful to him, as are many Arkansans. But I saw a different side of things sitting in that room, on the side of the climate lobbyists.
What I saw was a man who wasn’t in his position to be educated, to help people, or to push his country forward. And I don’t mean because he didn’t agree with what we were there to say. I mean, because instead of listening to presented facts and making sound arguments for or against, he was overcome with emotion, called us “silly” at one point and flared his hands around like a congresschild.
What he would have realized if he had let us present the facts we came there to discuss, is that Yale University through the Yale Climate Change Communication project reported that a pro-climate stance wins votes among democrats, independents and has little negative impact with republicans; and 82 percent of democrats, 68 percent of independents and 44 percent of republicans feel the U.S. should make an effort to reduce global warming. And even he as an ex-Army National Guardsmen must realize his own employer (the big DoD) has acknowledged climate change, its dangers and are taking steps to curb their Carbon emissions.
Basically, Congressman Womack could have had the edge among his fellow conservative companions. He could have gone down in history as the Arkansas, U.S. champion in turning the GOP mindset around on the issue of climate change and of crossing the isle on an extremely important issue. Instead, he lived up to his reputation of being intolerant, ignorant to science and just another face on the wrong side of history.
The Northwest Arkansas chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby group has monthly meetings where they talk by phone with dedicated members across the country sharing successes, methods and setting goals for the future. While their meeting with Womack on Jan. 31 didn’t seem promising, many in the group feel it’s not too late for Womack and others to become leaders, instead of followers in this historic fight to save our resources, become energy independent and protect future generations from natural, economic and social disaster.
If you want to help lobby legislators and provide your talents to changing the minds of skeptical politicians and be on the winning end of climate change, email Shelley Buonaiuto (firstname.lastname@example.org) to see how you can get involved locally.