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Wild Side: Global climate change is not a myth

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On Nov. 21 we were deer hunting south of Foster's End in the Flambeau State Forest in Sawyer County. It was foggy at dawn. As the sun burned through the haze, frost rained from the trees and the temperature got up to about 50 degrees.

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There's something screwy about the weather when you don't need long underwear on the opening day of deer hunting after a near record-cold October. The deer hunting party at Foster's End got skunked for the second time in 34 years. This year's strange pattern of weather in Wisconsin doesn't indicate anything in particular, but there is an abundance of evidence that human-induced global climate change is occurring now.

Climatology is an old field, today part of the atmospheric sciences. People have been keeping records and analyzing the historic trends of temperature, precipitation, wind, ice formation, river flows, ocean currents, and the phenology (seasonal timing) of biological events for millennia. More recently, climatologists have researched the physical processes forcing climate change. Climatologists have also studied paleoclimate over longer time scales using ice cores, tree rings, sediment and rocks.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an international scientific body tasked by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme to evaluate the risk of climate change caused by human activity.

The IPCC completed its Fourth Assessment Report in November 2007, the collective effort of almost four thousand of the world's best scientists working over five years. You can read the report on-line at: www.ipcc.ch/. The report was rigorously reviewed and was approved by governments of the world, including the United States. The IPCC won a Nobel Prize for its effort.

Some of the primary conclusions in that report are:

"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global sea level," and "Most of the observed increase in temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG (greenhouse gas) concentrations."

The IPCC reported that in the 20th century, average global temperature increased by 0.74 ºC (1.33 ºF) while sea level rise resulting from thermal expansion of the ocean and melting of ice across the globe amounted to 17 centimeters (6.7 inches). Life and property along low seacoasts like Louisiana, Florida, the Carolinas, Belize in Central America and the Maldives Islands in the Indian Ocean are threatened by continued sea level rise, storm surges and high waves.

Global climate change is not only global warming. Climate change is already increasing the frequency, intensity and duration of floods, droughts and heat waves in many parts of the world.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a leading non-governmental non-profit organization of scientists and citizens has conducted an analysis of the implications of global climate change in Wisconsin.

The most recent and reliable projections of future climate change in Wisconsin combine 100 years of historical data with the most up-to-date general circulation models of the Earth's climate system.

Wisconsin's climate is projected to grow considerably warmer and probably drier during this century, especially in the summer. The growing season is expected to gain 4 to 7 weeks. Temperatures are expected to rise 5 to 10 ºF in winter and 8 to 17 ºF in summer by the end of the century. Extreme heat waves will be more common and the frequency of heavy rainstorms and flooding will increase. The effects of climate change on infrastructure, agriculture, forests, rivers, lakes, fish, wildlife and recreation in Wisconsin will be profound.

Global climate change constitutes a major threat to the ecosystems we rely on, our economy and the human condition on Earth. We need to take immediate individual and collective action to reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses we send into the atmosphere.

I am dismayed that so many people in this country discount the work of thousands of scientists on the subject of global climate change. During most of this country's history, engineers and scientists were highly regarded. Now it seems that politics is trying to trump science. The next time you hear someone profess that global climate change isn't happening, ask them to show you their data.

Scoffers in the 1970s said that water pollution control was bad for business and not affordable. Following the federal Clean Water Act, tremendous advances in water pollution control technologies resulted in improved water quality in water bodies throughout the country. Reduced phosphorous loading allowed Lake Erie to recover from hypoxia, dense blue-green algae blooms and windrows of dead fish along the shore to become a clear-water lake with abundant walleye and yellow perch. The economic effects of water pollution control were good for business. 3M Company coined the motto "Pollution Prevention Pays" as they found ways to make wastes into profitable products.

I have reverence for life on Earth and I am deeply concerned about its future. As a skeptical scientist, I look to the scientific method to test hypotheses about how the world works. I look to rigorously reviewed professional scientific publications to be informed about global climate change.

I wouldn't go to Bowen's Garage in River Falls if I needed heart surgery. Although Mike Bowen has an encyclopedic knowledge about cars and trucks and is very good at fixing them, he's not a heart surgeon. Similarly, I don't get my scientific information from radio talk shows.

In his address to the U.N. Summit on Climate Change on Sept. 22, Dr. R.K. Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC and director of the Yale Climate and Energy Institute advised, "Avoiding the impacts of climate change through mitigation of emissions would provide incalculable benefits including economic expansion and employment. If those in this august gathering do not act in time, all of us would become leaders and citizens of failed states, because we would be failing in our sacred duty to protect this planet, which gives life to all species. Science leaves us with no space for inaction now."

Please send any comments and suggestions for this column to me at wildside@rivertowns.net.

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