Last Friday night was a rather sad night for those of us in the commonwealth who like to stay abreast of current issues affecting our state. Al Smith, who has served as the program moderator for one of the longest-running programs in KET history, "Comment on Kentucky," made his final appearance as the program's host.
Since the show's inception 33 years ago, I have counted on Al Smith and his ever-changing panel of journalists to provide unbiased, straight talk about significant issues of importance to all Kentuckians. It has never really mattered whose toes were stepped on or whose ox was gored on this program. As journalists beholden to nobody, you could always count on getting the unvarnished truth, as they saw it, from the program's moderator and participants.
And so it was on this last program when Al Cross, a former regular participant on the program until his appointment in 2004 as director of the University of Kentucky's Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, was asked by Al Smith to comment on last week's meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture and National Resources, which was held ostensibly to discuss the very important issue of global warming.
In case you missed this Kentucky version of the Scopes monkey trial, the chairman of this committee, who has been a longtime ally of the coal industry, Rep. Jim Gooch, D-Providence, held a hearing in Frankfort to discuss this scientific phenomenon. The only problem was, he didn't invite any scientists. Instead, the only invited speakers were James Taylor, an attorney with the Heartland Institute in Chicago, which is partially funded by Exxon-Mobile, and Lord Christopher Monckton, a British journalist with no scientific credentials whatsoever, who took the opportunity to once again espouse his belief that persons with HIV should be locked away for life.
In response to Al Smith's request to comment on this hearing, Cross immediately reminded me of why I miss him being on the program.
"Jim Gooch is not a stupid man," he opined, "but this hearing was stupid and it made Kentucky look stupid."
You go Al! In a short, succinct statement, Cross hit the nail on the head. In direct contrast to a host of scientific studies directly linking global warming with man's pollution of the atmosphere, including a series of scientifically based reports issued by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Gooch portrayed the advice of these unqualified witnesses as proof that the ongoing changes in climate are nothing more than unrelated happenstance.
Given the economic impact of coal on Kentucky's economy, I could certainly understand Rep. Gooch hosting a hearing to explore how state government could assist in the development of clean coal technologies, or other programs that would mitigate the environmental impacts of burning coal. But, in the face of unequivocal scientific studies showing a direct cause-and-effect relationship between global warming and fossil fuel consumption, Gooch's charade is an embarrassment.
In fact, if you close your eyes and listen to the nature of the discussion and arguments put forth on this matter, it sounds strikingly similar to the defense put forth by the tobacco industry as study after study began to document the link between tobacco and cancer. During that debate, I can remember Kentucky political icon Wendell Ford saying that he had seen a study that found smoking tobacco was actually healthy. Then, as now, we are doing nobody any favors by failing to acknowledge valid scientific findings. Certainly, our state leaders should be expected to develop public policy based on scientific facts rather than unabashed loyalties.
It is more than ironic that in the same week that Kentucky is in the national news for this asinine attempt to deny reality, the United Nations Intergovern_mental Panel on Climate Change issued a report calling on the United States and China to play a greater role in reducing greenhouse gases. Certainly, the possibility that between 20 and 70 percent of all animal and plant species on earth face the risk of extinction if this crisis is not effectively addressed played a significant factor in the urgency expressed by the UN.
After noting that global warming is unequivocal and that human activity is largely responsible, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated, "Today the world's scientists have spoken, clearly and in one voice … I expect the world's policymakers to do the same."
It is apparent that the secretary general's expectations for the world's policymakers are misplaced in the Kentucky General Assembly. I mean, after all, those findings being put forth by the UN were made by a bunch of … scientists.
Bob Leonard can be reached at email@example.com.