BOISE — During a visit to Boise Tuesday, Ken Salazar, President Obama’s first secretary of the interior, said climate change is real and the United States can come together to defeat it.
Salazar spoke at the University of Idaho’s annual Sherman J. Bellwood Lecture on climate change and renewable energy. His talk, titled “Climate Change and the Future of Energy,” explored his experience making the United States more energy-independent, the problems of a rapidly warming planet, and how action was necessary and possible.
“’There’s something I’ve heard from our Native American brothers and sisters,” Salazar told the 100-plus law students and other people gathered at JUMP Tuesday night. “We don’t inherit the planet from our parents; we borrow the planet from our children.”
Salazar is on a long list of famous lawyers to speak at the Bellwood lecture series. In years past, Supreme Court justices John Roberts Jr., Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia and Sandra Day O’Connor have spoken. Other legal celebrities, like Kenneth Starr and Janet Reno, have also made their way to the Gem State for Bellwood Lectures.
Salazar served as Colorado’s attorney general, leading the investigation of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and dealing with a number of large-scale environmental lawsuits in the state. In 2004, Salazar became one of Colorado’s U.S. senators before being confirmed as secretary of the interior in 2009.
During his time as secretary, Salazar worked to integrate Native American and other minority communities into the story of national parks, removed gray wolves from the Endangered Species List in Montana and Idaho, approved the first ever commercial wind operation in public water and began allowing the production of renewable energy on America’s public lands.
That relationship between renewable energy production and public lands is part of a balancing act future secretaries of the interior will have to strike, Salazar said.
“Public lands area a heritage of our nation,” he said. “Having public lands open for energy development, open for wind, solar and hydro are all important uses of our public lands.”
Salazar described being told by experts while flying over Glacier National Park in Montana that the glaciers that give the park its name would be gone between 2020 and 2030. He also spoke about his time on his family’s ranch in Colorado and how by the 1980s, parts of the ranch could no longer be irrigated because of a lack of water.
“How do we aim to try to stop the future warming of our planet and the speed at which it is unfolding before our very eyes?” Salazar asked the crowd. “What are the solutions that deal with the climate beyond our world?”
Salazar called for local and global solutions, in order to incorporate the massive populations of countries like India and China.
“The way the United States goes on these issues, the rest of the world will also follow,” he said.
Part of that, Salazar said, is coming back into line with the Paris Climate Accords, signed by Obama and rejected by President Donald Trump.
Salazar said in his conversations with CEOs of oil and gas giants, the business leaders felt leaving the agreement was a mistake.
“We need to address our energy future,” Salazar said.
According to Salazar, the best way to go about doing that and dealing with climate change is first by acting as a part of the global community to create a framework to combat climate change and, second, by creating a national climate change framework to be enacted by Congress and signed by the president.
“As citizens, we have to be informed about what’s happening to our planet,” he said.
Salazar, 64, recognizes he won’t be dealing with the worst of the fallout of unchecked climate change.
“It’s not gonna affect me a tremendous amount, but my little granddaughter, my nephews and nieces, it’s gonna affect them,” he said.
Climate change is not just a political and scientific issue, Salazar said at the closing of his remarks; it’s an “existential” one as well.
“It takes people of good faith and people who want to solve problems, he said — as opposed to succumbing to the dark forces of partisanship and the dysfunction of what we see in Washington” — to grapple with the issues surrounding climate change.