February 5, 2014 | Roberta Fonzi and Heather Moreno

In response to the editorial of February 2, 2014, “Atascadero leaders should have stuck up for science:”

Science is never “settled.” True science is continuously subjected to study, debate and vigorous peer review, but when it comes to “climate science” that process is distorted by the insistence that there is only one point of view. When scientific debate by public policy-makers is curtailed by ridicule or intimidation, both science and freedom are put at risk. There are many distinguished scientists who object to this dogmatic approach to climate science. Among them is Dr. Richard Lindzen of MIT, formerly of Harvard and one of the most distinguished climate scientists in America. He acknowledges warming of the earth, but stipulates the warming is minimal as will be its effects on the earth, with natural and cyclical explanations better describing what is being observed in our climate.

Climate science is enormously complex; we are just beginning to understand the myriad of factors that go into the creation of our climate and the weather it generates. The media often oversimplifies the scientific results of climate research, leading many to believe the answers to most questions are resolved. Unfortunately, that simply isn’t true; by insisting such, those who disagree are marginalized. Within the field of climate science, there is increasing debate about the climate sensitivity of the earth and how much impact human-generated greenhouse gas emissions actually have upon the planet and what, if anything, can be done about it. Policy-makers (City Councilmembers) are charged with enacting measures to address the impact of man upon the climate, even though the effectiveness of mandated measures themselves remains open to question.

Such was the position of the Atascadero City Council during meetings on the draft Climate Action Plan (CAP). Both of us are well-educated and well-read but we dared question the validity of the introductory chapter to the CAP that emphatically asserted all of the dire predictions of calamity caused by human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. After negotiations, draft CAP proponents agreed to change the wording of the CAP introduction from “will happen” to “may happen.” Other changes eliminated financially burdensome commitments to build 25 miles of sidewalks and virtually eliminate downtown parking spaces. We opted for alternative, practical commitments that were achievable within our means. Due to the unique character of Atascadero, its topography, large lots and rural character, we replaced the term “smart growth” and instead referenced our previously adopted General Plan which establishes sound planning principles while adhering to the vision that created our community. Ultimately Atascadero’s CAP exceeded greenhouse gas reductions mandated by the state without breaking the community bank or destroying its character.

It is not easy to take a minority stand but we call upon precedent. In the 19th century, Louis Pasteur, a French chemist, advocated the theory that germs cause disease. He was ridiculed, persecuted, even prosecuted by the State and forced to flee France for a number of years. Pasteur was right, the vast majority of medical doctors were wrong as we now know, resulting in millions of lives being saved. We don’t compare ourselves to distinguished scientists, but we call upon their example for inspiration. Our responsibility as elected officials is to examine all of the facts, not to uncritically accept whatever is served up, “going along to get along.” By electing us you trust us to think, to listen, to analyze and to act  in our community interest.

Some characterized the CAP discussion as “a circus,” a term we reject. We believe that it’s essential that the public “buy in” to the process; a “rubber-stamp” adoption of the CAP would leave many disillusioned and disenfranchised.  Controversy is the norm in public life.  Challenging the conventional wisdom of man-caused climate change is certain to draw ire and harsh rebuke, but is essential that proponents prove their case before public policies are put into place. Rather than suppressing debate, let’s eliminate the divisive language and opt for civil discussion. In time, the science will be supported or refuted.

Tribune News Article | Roberta Fonzi and Heather Moreno, Atascadero City Council Members