The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is on a barnstorming tour, holding a series of innocuously-named “State Climate Dialogues.” While the promotional materials sound forward-looking — conservation, clean energy, efficient technology — make no mistake about the purpose of the events. The national chamber is trying to derail the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act or any other legislation that puts a price on greenhouse-gas emissions.

How’s the tour being received so far? Not so well:

Claims of dramatic job losses and rising prices for consumers were quickly dismissed by environmentalists, Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s office, Montana economists, and others. Those forecasts fail to account for new technology and emerging economies that will reduce carbon emissions and keep Montana’s economy humming.

“It’s fake and it’s not realistic,” Eric Stern, senior counselor to Gov. Brian Schweitzer, said of the industry forecast. “There is a clean-energy future, and Montana sits at the center of that.”

In the audience, former Billings Mayor Chuck Tooley, who began offering public presentations on climate change and the need for action two years ago, said he was taken aback.

He’s from upside-down land,” Tooley said of [“Frontiers of Freedom” President George] Landrith. “I wasn’t sure if he was serious or not.”

As oil prices top $109 a barrel, it’s quite an odd time to make the case that climate action will destroy our economy:

As the rising cost of crude oil trickles down to the gasoline pump, fuel prices are siphoning cash away from other consumer spending, making it harder to revive the flagging U.S. economy and putting pressure on the Bush administration. It also siphoned more money out of the country: The Commerce Department reported today that the U.S. trade deficit jumped in January to $58.2 billion, compared to $57.9 billion in December, as a record, $27.1 billion monthly bill for imported crude helped offset an increase in U.S. exports.

Yet continued reliance on fossil fuels is exactly what opponents of climate action are pitching as a crutch for our economy. I heard all about it at the recent Heartland Institute’s “2008 International Conference on Climate Change” in New York City. I couldn’t help but feel terribly depressed by the worldview presented there. Bleak doesn’t begin to describe their outlook on our future.

Despite wildly varying views on whether our climate is changing or if we’re to blame, every speaker agreed on several points: renewables can never meet more than a tiny fraction of our energy needs; carbon emissions must not be regulated; explosive growth in global fossil fuel use is a sign of progress.

So for all the pictures of children running through flowers displayed in the exhibit hall, if you take the Heartland Institute’s philosophy to its logical conclusion, humanity is helpless before the two possible paths ahead of it:

  • Stay dependent on fossil fuels forever, and
  • Carbon constraints will destroy civilization as we know it.

Self-styled “global warming expert” Christopher Monckton lays it out for us:

If we take the heroically stupid decisions now on the table at Bali, it will once again be the world’s poorest people who will die unheeded in their tens of millions, this time for lack of the heat and light and power and medical attention which we in the West have long been fortunate enough to take for granted.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has even created a video version of Monckton’s vision, featuring children shivering in the cold.

The national chamber’s effort to derail the Climate Security Act displays the disconnect between what’s happening locally across the country and the lobbying machines inside Washington, D.C. On top of the vast clean energy opportunities, local chambers have a vested interest in protecting sporting and wildlife-watching tourism opportunities. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, spending related to wildlife-related recreation totaled $120 billion nationally in 2006 — fully one percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. And nationwide, over 800 cities have signed on to the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.

All that means is that as it continues its “State Climate Dialogues,” the national chamber may not like what it hears.