Joseph Yetter

Joseph Yetter

Dear Representative Leif,

Thank you for your recent correspondence via email. I sincerely appreciate your willingness to engage with a constituent, but I am disappointed that you chose to terminate our dialogue with an “agree to disagree” sort of comment.

I cannot agree to disagree. You have a responsibility to make public policy decisions based on facts, and I have a responsibility to insist that you do.

As a photographer, you know about chromatic aberration and you act competently based upon this knowledge, I am sure. An artillery officer who did not understand the rotation of Earth, and thought that firing due north required the same calculations as firing due south — ignoring the Coriolis effect — would be incompetent; a NASA engineer who did not understand time dilation due to the Earth’s mass’ distortion of space and time would be similarly incompetent. Your GPS system wouldn’t work if engineers thought that a “second” out in space was the same as a “second” down here.

Your clients — when you were a photographer — expected you to understand a bit of optics and to use it to mitigate the effects of chromatic aberration. You didn’t have to be a physicist, but you did have to have an understanding of facts: apertures, f-stops, et al.: beyond me, but not beyond you.

As a public servant, you have a responsibility to understand the facts appropriate to your decisions. Your constituents have a right to insist that you do — just as that artillery officer’s commander does, or the NASA engineer’s supervisor.

Our dialogue regarded the Clean Energy Jobs Bill in the Oregon Legislature. In our emails, you made numerous assertions that are demonstrably untrue, and I responded by sending to you factual information; at this point, instead of reevaluating your position based on evidence, you chose to agree to disagree.

You asserted, for example, “Lets add the forest fires, since they create 10 times carbon compared to our automobiles. This creates more Carbon with the Fires and dead trees then we are trying to fix! This should be a topic point now! The Columbia Gorge Fire is one example that emitted over 20 years worth of Auto Emissions! Why are we not putting that on the table?”

Representative Leif, carbon is created, essentially, only in stars (a relatively tiny amount originates in the troposphere, when high-energy neutrons collide with nitrogen atoms; and a relatively tiny amount of carbon was similarly generated in nuclear tests here on earth). Carbon is not “created” in fires. You are thinking of carbon dioxide. Hydrogen is not water.

The burning of fossil fuels is responsible for far more carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere than are all of the wildfires on earth. Here in Oregon, wildfires emit about 1/6th as much CO2 as does the transportation sector, and about 1/9th as much as does the forestry industry.

Nobody favors lots more wildfires. They are bad for us in multifarious ways, and they worsen with increasing global warming. Wildfires add to the CO2 in the atmosphere. But, not only do they add less than does the burning of fossil fuels, but it is intellectually dishonest but-what-about-ism to use them to indicate we should not act on what we know to be a global threat. We need to work on both problems. Accepting facts is a start; let’s not agree to disagree; let’s agree to accept scientific evidence.

Further, let us accept our responsibility. You note that Oregon contributes only a small fraction of global emissions, and that the Green Jobs Bill alone will not solve much of the global warming problem. That is true, insofar as it goes, but it is no excuse for not trying to solve the part of the problem for which we are responsible. We create a disproportionate amount of emissions and we have a moral responsibility to act at least in proportion to those contributions. Not being able to solve an entire problem is no excuse for not trying to solve at least a part of a problem that we ourselves caused.

Representative Leif, you have also asserted claims about the effects upon your constituents, especially upon their economic lives; all of the evidence that I have seen indicates that the jobs produced by a renewable energy economy far outstrip the jobs produced by our continued reliance on fossil fuels. I believe that your claims are spurious, but I invite you to support them based on economic science.

Once again, I thank you for your correspondence. I urge you to look at the evidence. Examine the sources of your information. Support the Green Jobs Bill. Support facts.

Joseph Yetter, MD, MPH, is a retired physician with over a quarter-century of active duty in the U.S. Army and ten years of reserve time and private practice. He was board certified in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology, and in Family Medicine. He taught in several universities and maintains a strong interest in public health, especially as it relates to environmental issues.

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(5) comments


Mr. Yetter, you're going to have to excuse Leif, who lives in the by-gone era that defines Douglas County. You shouldn't expect our county to produce any 'leaders' of any intellectual higher learning. This one in particular waked over our county commission to get to where he really wanted to be - crafting only laws that espouse his by-gone era schooling and political traditions. Never assume the science involved in creating photographs to be sufficient in understanding the science of pollution.


Seriously, what's with the possums on a stick? Metaphor? Dinner?


Nah, not dinner--they're not big enough; they don't have to get to the 26-lb class that was served up at the White House in the Taft administration.

They are not metaphors, either. Though Marsupials as Metaphor might work: highly successful invasive like cancer or Tbc, killing what's desirable, and mostly viewed as a fault of the victims (us). Susan Sontag would have done a good job on it....

Nope. They are merely eye candy.


We should be able to expect all of our public officials, elected or not, to base all public policy decisions on facts. Beliefs alone are simply not good enough to make sound decisions. The environment is clearly one place where allowing our policymakers to make decisions based on opinions and beliefs not based on facts can be a fatal mistake.


You are giving Leif far too much credit if you expect him to base anything on facts.

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