It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like, Spring?

Last night was a good night in our house. I went home, threw some steaks on the grill and drank a cold beer (or three). With two teenage boys, steak is a real treat in our house, mostly because it takes about half a cow to make even a small dent in their hunger.

I don’t want to sound like an old codger, and I’ll willingly admit that good steaks (New York Strip or T-Bones) have always been pricey, but I do remember the days when a nice sirloin was a treat but not a luxury.

I also remember the days when I put the grill away during December. I realize complaining about warm weather might seem odd, especially to my friends in Minnesota. They don’t have a lot of sympathy when I complain about how warm I was playing golf last Sunday (or that I’m grilling steak on Dec. 6). But, can I share my first world problem with a tinge of political outrage?

Lamar Smith, long-time Republican Congressman from Texas (one of those men who is, ironically, an anti-government career politician), has been named chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Smith, despite the fact that he’s from Texas and lives in a state suffering from the worst drought since the 1950s, has his doubts about the impact of humans on the climate and his bonafides regarding science are certainly questionable.

At the same time, Smith notes “we can help future generations get [to space] by encouraging kids to study in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). If America is going to remain competitive in today’s global economy, we need to remain innovative and focused on exploring science and expanding new technologies.” (Maybe the Republicans did learn from the election that crazy has no place in science.)

On the surface, it sounds like Smith at least recognizes that science matters. If I had Smith’s ear, I would tell him let’s leave behind the notion of blame regarding the climate and recognize that we simply must do something about climate change. In other words, stop fighting the idea that humans are or are not having an impact, and start focusing on initiatives that push renewable energy and invest in companies, universities, and individuals who can help us overcome the impact of climate change. I’ll offer Rep. Smith a little more advice, also. Drilling for more oil isn’t the answer and, while this may sound like heresy, in an era with limited funding, I think Smith can invest our money someplace other than pushing educational initiatives from a committee that isn’t an educational committee. (Call me crazy, but how about if we leave encouraging kids to study STEM fields to the Education Agency?)

In other words, Smith’s committee should be investing in research and development. Stay focused. And, while I love NASA, the most important issue of our time is going to be the climate and water. President Kennedy challenged us to get to the moon. How about if Smith challenges us to reduce our carbon footprint? We have some of the greatest scientists in the world–let’s create a Manhattan Project focused on the climate and water availability.

As the chair of the Science committee, I need Rep. Smith to invest in educational initiatives targeting farmers and ranchers in these changing climates. Extension agencies across the West are exploring ways to feed and grow with less water, but they need money for research and, more importantly, money to take that information to the land owners. Land owners need funds to make changes. If we want them to water crops differently help them replace old equipment. Likewise, let’s focus on cities and urban areas reducing the water they use and increasing the LEED buildings. Let’s build smart buildings and let’s build smartly.

I would also encourage Smith to actually visit Texas and look at the ranch lands trying to recover from over-grazing, drought, and falling water tables. If that doesn’t help, perhaps he can head up to HEB, visit the meat counter, and ask the butcher why steak has become increasingly expensive. If that doesn’t help, have him show up to my house and I’ll take him shopping. What he will see is the direct impact of a changing climate on our bottom line. Milk, butter, meat–these are staples of the dinner table and every month of drought increases their cost and impacts college funds, purchasing power, donations, and other tools that drive the economic engine of the country.

If he shows up, though, he better bring a pair of shorts because last time I saw old man winter he had on a swimsuit.


About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

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