Opinion briefs: A tribute to Norma Matheson . . . Is climate change or federal debt greatest threat?

What’s greatest threat to your family? I don’t really like the word “existential”, as in “existential threat.” The definition has been perverted to mean a threat to one’s very existence, rather than its original reference to the individual as a free agent responsible for his or her own actions.

But because the word is so commonly misused, I’ll further exploit it with what I think is a very interesting question: Which is the greatest existential threat: Climate change, or the federal debt? Which one will most damage your family, your children and grandchildren in the next 10, 15 or 20 years?


It’s a good question. We hear constantly about climate change and the horrors that are even now being wreaked upon the earth, and its inhabitants. By contrast, only a few prophets of doom forecast calamity as the federal debt reaches more than $22 trillion – and grows rapidly. The United States borrows about $1.25 billion EVERY DAY to keep its operations going.

If these are truly existential threats, the political establishment isn’t really doing much to solve either one of them.

It is politically impossible to deal with entitlements, the real cause of ballooning annual deficits. That means the next recession or interest rate hike will explode the debt bomb, with interest payments crowding out spending for discretionary federal programs.

And while the United States is reducing carbon emissions that cause climate change (mostly through technological advancements, not government action), the rest of the developing world is polluting more than ever. And we can do very little about that.

So let’s keep whistling past the graveyard, perhaps stopping for an debate that is mostly academic: Is climate change or the debt bomb the greatest “existential” threat?

A touching tribute to Norma Matheson. Many honors have been paid to Norma Matheson since her recent death at age 89. I was privileged to serve with her on the local board of The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

Many Utahns are probably not aware of her work for TNC. Here’s what TNC Utah State Director Dave Livermore shared about her in a message to board members:

“As her husband Scott did before her, Norma played a pivotal role in the development and growth of our Utah Chapter for many years. . . . Norma helped guide our land and water protection efforts with enthusiasm and selflessness that defined her life of service to others. She helped lead three of our capital campaigns, used her stature in the community to help raise millions and introduced many civic leaders in our community to the Conservancy’s work. She cared deeply about the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve, named after her husband, and delighted in the special places and plants and animals which were better off thanks to her support for the Conservancy’s efforts.

“Norma was a giant in our community in part because of her connections, but mostly because of her grace. Her warmth and caring personality made everyone she met feel at ease. She made time for ‘paupers and princes’ alike. She had an innate political insight not only due to her time as First Lady, but because she understood and cared for all people. She also cared deeply about the West and western voices. Wallace Stegner was one of her favorites. In 1991, when Wally spoke at the dedication of the Matheson Preserve, he gave Norma his notes. She had them framed and considered his words amongst her prized possessions.

“All that Norma did for the Conservancy and our community cannot be overstated….ours was just one of many causes she supported. Those whose lives she touched were many.  Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we earn, we make a life by what we give”.

Norma gave her all for others. Her legacy of family, service and natural areas protected will be long remembered. When we see a sunset at the Shorelands Preserve, hear the sound of water in Indian Creek, or watch a heron glide over the Matheson Preserve we will think of Norma.  All of us are better off for having known and worked with her. Rest in Peace, Norma.  In our work, your legacy of love and caring for the natural world will live on for all time.”