Bozeman Daily Chronicle
Editorial Submission :: 2 July 2010
© Conrad Anker
“While action is not without cost, the costs of inaction are greater. What is the cost of a trout stream whose waters are too warm to fish?”
U.S. Senator Max Baucus
Senator Baucus framed the importance of climate change in a way that we in Montana can identify with. While we live in the green vale of the Gallatin, we might not think that the climate is changing. May was wet and chilly and local snowpack is still gracing the peaks that define our valley. For Montana this was the fourth coolest on record. Yet on a global scale May 2010 was the warmest since humans began record keeping in 1880. 2009 was the second warmest year for the northern hemisphere and the warmest for the southern hemisphere. The first decade of the 21st century was the warmest on record. The data is gathered from more than a thousand meteorological stations around the world, Antarctic research station measurements, and satellite observations of sea surface temperatures. The net result is that the temperature is rising 0.36 degree Fahrenheit per decade. Overall temperatures have risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 100 years, with the majority of the warming occurring in the past three decades.
Climatologists specifically study the weather over a period of time. Weather creates climate and trends over time give provide a clear measure of temperature. 97% of these atmospheric scientists attribute the increased temperatures to human based activity. Our voracious appetite for energy comes at a cost. The emissions that result from their combustion, notably carbon dioxide, are insulating the planet and trapping heat. The resulting conclusion is that climate change is anthropogenic. The fact that we are in a stage of rapid warming is undisputable.
Earth’s climate is always changing. It has changed dramatically over for the past 4.5 billion years. Some attribute the recent warming to natural causes, a normal variation that has no connection to human activity. Paleoclimatology is the study of the climate taken from the entire history of Earth. By using records found in ice sheets, tree rings, corals, sediment and rocks scientists can understand the constantly changing climate on Earth. The consensus from the Geological Society of America is, “The warming of the last century is unusual in both speed and size, and cannot be explained by natural factors, except for the modest solar contribution during the first half of the century.”
The trout streams mentioned by Senator Baucus and the pine beetle infestation that is ravaging our forests are two examples of a warmer regional climate. On a global scale Canada and Russia might benefit from increased crop yields. This would be offset by crop losses at lower latitudes where many plants are at the limit of what they can tolerate. For the 80 % of the world’s population that lives on less than 10 dollars a day the intense storm cycles, rising oceans and decreased crop yields will make their existence even more troublesome.
As a citizen of the United States as ask myself what can we do? Our education system leads the world in innovation. The same determination that landed man on the moon in 1969 needs to be applied to energy sources, energy conservation and human well being. The clean energy economy has potential to employ millions of people and make our planet a better place for future generations. On a personal level we can strive for good energy practices, while understanding that none of us, by our very existence, will achieve perfection. These small steps when pulled together and combined with a comprehensive national energy policy will get us on the track towards being better stewards of our planet.