Policy: Environment & Energy

Indiana official's global warming comment draws fire

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Associated Press,Indiana,Climate Change,Energy and Environment

Indiana's top official in charge of improving the state's air quality has angered some of his staff with a remark expressing skepticism about global warming.

Keith Baugues, the assistant commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management's Office of Air Quality, posted a remark on a government message board in February complaining about his long commutes during the state's frigid, snowy winter.

"Anyone who says global warming is obviously suffering from frostbite," he wrote.

Baugues later said he was just joking, but in a state that's long ranked near the top in the nation for air pollution and coal production for power plants — both of which are thought to contribute to global warming — his comment angered some of his staff members.

Several IDEM staffers quickly responded with comments of their own saying that Baugues' remark had offended and embarrassed them because it flies in the face of nearly unanimous scientific consensus about global warming, The Indianapolis Star reported (http://indy.st/1ikVZNN ).

"Either support consensus science or please keep your opinions to yourself. The rest of us are embarrassed by your unwillingness to accept what is happening," one worker wrote.

Another IDEM staffer wrote that Baugues, who is not a scientist but studied engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, "should not speak on such matters until he is better informed."

Baugues wrote to his staff on March 19 in response to their outcry. But he stuck by his position, calling himself "a skeptic on global warming."

"It seems silly to be talking about global warming at a time when we were having extremely cold unseasonable weather," he wrote.

Although January was indeed unusually cold across much of the United States, it was actually the fourth-warmest January on record worldwide, said Lonnie G. Thompson, an Ohio State University professor of earth sciences who has researched the climate for more than 30 years.

"People tend to look out their back door and think that is an indication of what's happening on the planet, which of course it's not," Thompson told the Star.

The Hoosier Environmental Council said Baugues' remarks are disturbing.

"Simply because there's really cold weather in one part of the world doesn't in any way undermine the scientific concerns that climate change is real," said Kim Ferraro, a lawyer with the organization.

In Indiana, which ranks in the top 10 among states for coal production for power plants, Baugues is only the latest official to express skepticism about global warming and climate change.

In February, Gov. Mike Pence said during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he wasn't sure climate change was caused by human activities.

"We haven't seen a lot of warming lately," Pence said. "I remember back in the '70s, we were talking about the emerging ice age. We'll leave the scientific debate to the future."

Eighteen major scientific associations — including the National Academy of Sciences and the American Meteorological Society — have stated that climate change is occurring and the major cause is greenhouse gases emitted by cars, trucks, jets, factories, power plants and other human activities.

A United Nations scientific panel said Monday it had concluded that Earth's ice caps are melting, droughts and floods are getting worse, and coral reefs are dying because of global warming. That panel called for swift action to limit greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and other sources.

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