Confluence and Energy: Limerick offers tips for overcoming disagreements

LOVELAND — If producing energy and protecting water have anything in common, it’s that people having an opinion about either tend to come at them with a fervor that can be difficult to bridge.

Yet there are ways to accomplish that.

Patty Limerick, faculty director and chair of the board of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado Boulder, suggested ways to do just that in her keynote address to attendees of two BizWest conferences Thursday.

Patty Limerick, faculty director and chair of the board of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado Boulder, delivers the keynote address at BizWest’s Confluence: the Northern Colorado Water Conference. Christopher Wood/BizWest.

Her topic, “The Nexus of Water and Energy,” was delivered as the keynote of Confluence: the Northern Colorado Water Conference, which occurred during the morning Thursday, and the Colorado Energy Summit, which occupied the afternoon discussions at the Ranch in Loveland.

Limerick said she has spent the past 15 or 20 years speaking to both energy and water conferences, and noted that the two topics ought to be talked about together.  

Energy production — whether oil and gas or wind — requires water, she noted. And water quality and supply is impacted by the energy-production industry.

Yet when topics are raised, they resemble arguments more than conversations and are characterized by exaggeration and hyperbole, she said.

If the topic is contamination of water resources, an oil and gas production advocate will say that there has never been a case of contamination from fracking, and a water-quality advocate will say there is always contamination from fracking. Neither, of course, is true, she said.

She suggested steps to having a conversation about topics that affect both water and energy.

  • Have an initial session where everyone is permitted to vent, but listen.
  • Discover those areas that are the same. 
  • Reduce the disconnect between production and consumption. It’s important for people to recognize the connection between production and consumption. “We depend every waking moment on their services, but then are upset if there’s ever any disruption in life,” she said.
  • Many discussions are shaped by drama and exaggeration. Devising a rule to drive more evidence-based discussion is important.
  • Humility and acknowledging uncertainty in arguments is important to disarming people who have opposing views and reaching common goals.

And common goals are possible. “I’m a believer in self-fulfilling prophecy,” she said. If people approach life believing that they’re doomed, then they are doomed, she said. 

She told the story of a Yakima tribe woman who brought the Yakima language back from the dead. Her success, Limerick said, was by first asking her students, “Do I have your permission to teach you.” 

Getting disparate groups to grant permission is the challenge. “It’s strenuous to have people hear one another,” Limerick said.

LOVELAND — If producing energy and protecting water have anything in common, it’s that people having an opinion about either tend to come at them with a fervor that can be difficult to bridge.

Yet there are ways to accomplish that.

Patty Limerick, faculty director and chair of the board of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado Boulder, suggested ways to do just that in her keynote address to attendees of two BizWest conferences Thursday.

Patty Limerick, faculty director and chair of the board of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado Boulder, delivers the keynote address at BizWest’s Confluence: the Northern Colorado Water Conference. Christopher Wood/BizWest.

Her topic, “The Nexus of Water and Energy,” was delivered as the keynote of Confluence: the Northern Colorado Water Conference, which occurred during the morning Thursday, and the Colorado Energy Summit, which occupied the afternoon discussions at the Ranch in Loveland.

Limerick said she has spent the past 15 or 20 years speaking to both energy and water conferences, and noted that the two topics ought to be talked about together.  

Energy production — whether oil and gas or wind — requires water, she noted. And water quality and supply is impacted by the energy-production industry.

Yet when topics are raised, they resemble arguments more than conversations and are characterized by exaggeration and hyperbole, she said.

If the topic is contamination…