Climate speech sparks debate at fossil site

Tony Casey • Oct 23, 2014 at 7:50 AM

“I love fossil fuels” read the shirt of Abingdon, Va.’s James La Force, who spoke up after a climate change talk at the East Tennessee State University and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum and Gray Fossil Site Saturday afternoon.

His nearly six-minute rebuttal to speaker Dr. Audrey M. Depelteau’s presentation was met with opposition from an audience not sympathetic to climate change denial, and also disputed the 97 percent of peer-reviewed scientists with an expertise in climate that acknowledge human involvement in climate change, cited by Depelteau. La Force shrugged off a nearly across-the-board consensus of involved scientists, giving credence to a conspiracy, saying that he’d heard of scientists who went against the consensus and wound up with their grants cut.

La Force, a coal worker of 38 years who followed in the footsteps of his father who was in the industry for 32 years, recognized Depelteau’s call for a change in the conversation and behaviors of the world’s inhabitants, but suggested going about the solution in a different way.

“My solution is the use of fossil fuels,” La Force said. “The jury is still out in my mind about man’s involvement in climate change.”

He cited America’s emergence into an economic superpower after the fuel-driven Industrial Revolution as his reason.

“The point is that we wouldn’t be able to explore these alternative energy options without the coal industry, without many of the resources we have,” said Dr. Blaine Schubert, director of the Natural History Museum and the Gray Fossil Site. “But we need to, and I don’t think (Depelteau) is saying anything else.”

The Industrial Revolution time period, Depelteau showed in her 150-slide presentation to the crowd of about 60 people, not coincidentally, was near the beginning of a serious change in climate patterns in the United States and across the globe, even prompting the coal industry to recognize this in the early 1920s and causing it to begin the discussion of looking at options of cleaner coal.

She explained that the sun emits solar energy toward the Earth, which reflects a lot of it back into outer space, but with an increase in carbon dioxide caused by both the human pollution and some natural causes. The heat is trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing a general warming of the planet in what’s called the Greenhouse Effect.

One of her slides showed that in 1824, the negative effects of greenhouse gases were first discovered, and throughout the next 190 years, how climate conditions have worsened because of human involvement.

Depelteau, who has a background in biology and environmental toxicology and pathology, recognized the controversy of the topic, noting comments to a recent related story on the Johnson City Press’ website, but said even with 97 percent of expert scientists on the side of battling human-invoked climate change, she’s not surprised there’s opposition to changing the status quo.

Big money and special interest groups linked to the oil and coal companies often put out bogus information to an argument that should have no backing and are frequently found at the base of deniers, she said.

In the disagreement, Depelteau welcomes the conversation as a means of trying get the public serious about the matter.

“I can handle people not agreeing with me,” she said. “Bring it on.”

Through education and a collective change in habits is how Depelteau said improvements can be made. A new national push to wind and solar energy options, although not an immediate cure-all, would be a step in the right direction and clear sign that the public is ready to act on reducing involvement in the problem. She offered local information about how flooding has hit Johnson City in recent years, but also how much of a global issue it was, quoting leaders in China and Russia who have recently acknowledged the topic.

The U.S. doesn’t currently have carbon policies like many other countries, she said. She pushed for people to put pressure on their politicians to take up the fight, but excused herself from considering it a political topic.

“Everyone thinks I’m a liberal or a Democrat for what I’m saying,” Depelteau said. “But I’m taking an apolitical stance on this.”

She showed one slide of a woman who was a “conservative evangelical” who talked about how there is 4 percent more water vapor in the skies above seas than there was 30 years ago.

Depelteau applauded energy companies for recognizing the issue, and gave a shout out to Johnson City’s Iris Glen Environmental Center, which uses its methane gas to power parts of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus at Mountain Home, and points to the chance of getting active on climate change and making a difference before it’s too late.

She said she doesn’t intend on being gloom and doom about the issue, but had a grave prediction about the future.

“The next war of the future won’t be a war over religion or land or power,” Depelteau said. “It will be an environmental war.”

For more information about the topic, visit climaterealityproject.org.

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