In June, leaders of the U.S., China, and Europe separately vowed a renewed focus on the issues of climate change. Each region decided to take a new, separate approach.
However, the real debate continues about the source of climate change: is it man-made, or, in fact, is it real?
Regardless of the cause, what do we do?
During the last several years, there have been 11,000 scientific studies focused on the cause of climate change. 97% have concluded that the cause is humans on our planet. On the other hand, in the U.S., 56% of the population is either not aware of climate change or denies that climate change exists.
For purposes of full disclosure, I admit to being biased and am part of the 97%. I have read numerous reports over many years, looked at the data, and have a strong belief of the understanding of the origins of climate change: 7+ billion people on this planet and growing with more cars, more cell phones with lots of apps, and more demand for power. I have also seen greater evidence of the results of shifting global weather patterns and the impact on the environment. Look no further than hurricane Sandy in 2012, last summer’s drought in the Midwest, the ongoing drought in the South West, or the recent forest fires and heat in Russia or Eastern Europe caused by extreme drought. Add in July’s current heat wave in the mid Atlantic states and signs point to something unusual going on!
But, let’s not stop here. As a well known New York based sportscaster says “Let’s go to the video tape.”
I just returned from a family holiday in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It was my first trip to that region, and certainly will not be my last. Jackson, the Tetons, and Yellowstone Park are some of the most beautiful sites in the world. Visitors from all over the U.S. along with large crowds from Asia, Europe, and Canada were jamming the roads to view Old Faithful, the crashing waterfall at the “Grand Canyon” of Yellowstone, and bears, bison, elk, and moose. Or, checking out a beaver dam! It is an opportunity to go back in time and see what the western U.S. may have looked like a couple of hundred years ago.
Unfortunately, the parks are changing quickly. We spent time with Josh Kleyman of the Teton Science Schools (TSS) www.tetonscience.org in Jackson and gained greater insight into the dramatic shift taking place in the ecosystem. He and his team and students at TSS spend days in the forests, rivers, and lakes, or on the hills studying the environment, geology, and ecology using place-based education and field science. TSS has a renowned environmental science program for youth, high school students, and graduate students. With Josh’s effort and his staff, the issue of education about sustainability and understanding of further degradation of the ecosystem are a top priority of the curriculum.
My family spent a week on and off road as well as rafting on the Snake River. We saw the Tetons and Yellowstone up close and personal. While the sights are breathtaking, some of the news is not as encouraging.
We spent several days with Sean Beckett, a trained biologist, from TSS as our tour guide. Sean is a dedicated environmentalist who has studied the issues and history facing this western region. We peppered him with questions over several days and gained a greater insight into some of the major issues facing the Tetons and Yellowstone. With the two parks covering more than 2.5 million acres (the 2 parks are larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined), there was no shortage of questions.
Some of the answers to our questions were not encouraging. As we were riding in our van for hundreds of miles throughout the “protected” national parks, I asked why there were such a high number of brown or dead pine trees throughout the Tetons. Unfortunately, we found out that there is an attack by mountain pine beetles that is slowly killing the lodgepole pine trees. These deadly beetles have developed an immune system that is causing the quick death of huge parts of the woods.
What is the cause? Until the last several years, the extreme cold weather would kill the beetles during their short life cycle which previously prevented the spread of their devastation. Unfortunately, the slight rise of 2 degrees in temperature now allows these pests to continue to grow and thrive in the Rocky Mountains. And, the devastation is not just Wyoming: it’s occurring in Colorado, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Oregon, and Canada. With the damage estimated to cover nearly 5 million acres, if left unchecked, mass deforestation will continue to rise.
The national parks are “protected” by rangers for the benefit of the millions of visitors. The rangers protect visitors from damaging these national treasures from waste or over use. But, the parks are not “protected” from the many environmental forces.
The death of the trees caused by the beetles’ infestation is then followed by the rotting of the trees and a subsequent increase of CO² levels. CO² levels would be reduced if normal growth of the trees occurred, but since there are fewer healthy trees, global temperatures rise resulting in more disintegration. In short, it is a vicious cycle if left intact.
The impact on the wildlife is also severe, but also not acknowledged outside of the region. While herds of bison, elk, moose, antelope, and many other animals have been on the decline for decades, it has become more acute in recent years. Part of the reason is due to a shifting “greenup” season after the spring rains denying the herds an opportunity to fatten up before the summer drought season and before the winter freeze arrives. The herds have been in the region for thousands of years, but the newly changing weather patterns now threaten their existence.
So, back to the 56%ers. While many of the naysayers sit on the beach soaking up the rays or play golf on well manicured and well watered golf courses, the deterioration in the West is not even on their radar screens. The ocean bathers and sun seekers biggest fear is a new tropical storm or a hurricane inconveniencing the family vacation.
My unofficial due diligence trip as a financial services professional, not an environmental scientist, opened my eyes to some of the less publicized issues of global warming and climate change. Many of the 56%ers were worried about the reopening of the boardwalks and shops from Sandy. Many of these same 56%ers think that this climate change “thing” is hogwash.
Climate change is real. Climate change is here. I’ve seen it in the Northeast, and I saw it in Wyoming. We need to adapt our lifestyles and make greater improvement to the infrastructure if we are to arrest the cause of climate change.
If only the pine trees, elk, or bison could talk. They would provide a close up view about the changes taking place.
In the meantime, the beat goes on. But, there are many organizations like TSS that are providing greater understanding. 350.org is providing greater consumer awareness of the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lower it to levels from many prior decades. But, with the population clock ticking globally, pressure continues to grow.
While the TSS and other schools, colleges, and universities such as New York’s Columbia University, are making tremendous progress in educating students, this effort needs more support possibly by the parents of these students to move this effort forward. And, we need it more quickly!
While the hurricane season is upon us once again in the U.S., we must learn to be more proactive to the causes of climate change rather than reactive.
What we really need to do is to reduce the gap between the 97% of the scientific studies which reflect the damage being done and the 56%ers who deny these facts. Narrowing this vast divide will be a major step forward for progress in this environmental battle. The debate won’t conclude in a year, or 2, but it will continue to show dramatic growth in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
First, we need to have more people acknowledge that there is a problem. That’s a great next step.