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Tuesday, April 28, 2015 by Jo Clifton

Zimmerman rejects briefing by climate scientist

Our climate is changing because of human activity. Most scientists, including Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist who studies climate change, agree with that statement, although some do not. Hayhoe, a professor and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, was one of several speakers at Monday’s City Council briefing on resilience.

After Hayhoe’s presentation on global warming as it affects Austin, District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman took out his anger on the scientist over government involvement in trying to control climate change.

“The worst thing that can be done to humanity is to put government bureaucrats in charge of carbon dioxide emissions or whatever it would be,” Zimmerman said. “I’m really, really upset about this political move of saying climate change — now we have to have government in charge of climate. It angers me and I think it should.”

After the briefing was over, observers reported that Zimmerman berated Hayhoe about her views as she was leaving the Council chambers.

Lucia Athens, Austin’s chief sustainability officer, led the program, explaining that resilience for the city would mean responding to disasters, extreme weather events and economic downturns.

Looking at a future of increased temperatures represented by two curves, Hayhoe said, “I always look at two different future scenarios. And because the future is in our hands, we’re actually making decisions about how steep that curve will be.”

Hayhoe’s data showed what might happen “if we continue on our path of producing a lot of carbon-based energy — humans, not Austin — versus the example of following the path set by Austin.” She was referring to Austin’s commitment to renewable energy sources for producing electricity.

Austin has experienced two extremely hot summers, with a growing number of days over 100 degrees. Hayhoe said that could become the norm “within our children’s generation.”

She said, “We see that the choices that we as a society make have an impact on the steepness of the future curve.”

While acknowledging that Time magazine recognized Hayhoe as one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2014, Zimmerman let Hayhoe know that he strongly disagrees with the idea that humans are causing global warming.

Zimmerman said the sun is the greatest source of heat and that carbon dioxide does not cause global warming. “You don’t have to be as smart as a fifth-grader to know that the sun causes climate change — the sun,” he said. “People tell me carbon dioxide warms the earth. No, it doesn’t. The sun warms the earth.”

Hayhoe referred him to a website called skepticalscience.com, saying that it has answered every major question about climate science. She said one of the main reasons some object to the solutions is because they are big government solutions.

“So that’s one of the reasons that I think it is so important to give free market solutions (a chance),” Hayhoe said. “Because, as my husband says, a thermometer is not Democrat or Republican. It’s about looking at 26 1/2 thousand indicators of a warming planet, many of which you can see in your own backyard.”

After the meeting was over, two observers noted that Zimmerman continued his argument with Hayhoe, loudly criticizing her views on climate change until some staff members took her out of the chamber.

Image by David Baird licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Don Zimmerman: Austin City Council member for District 6.

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