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News for Norther Colorado and the world

Monday, July 28, 2014

THE CLIMATE DEBATE: TWO PERSPECTIVES

Climate Change Senate Hearing: My View

By Kevin Lundberg
State Senator, Dist.15

The hearing Sen. Udall and Sen. McCain conducted in Estes Park concerning climate change, Rocky Mountain National Park, and our other national parks was reported by some as a “proof” for global warming. Having attended the hearing myself, I found that to not be the case.

Throughout the hearing it was obvious that both senators assumed anthropogenic carbon dioxide is the primary reason for any changes that occur to our local climate. That assumption, however, was never substantiated or allowed to be challenged. Sen. Udall stated at the beginning of the meeting that they were not going to discuss or debate any of the merits of the global warming argument.

I can understand his desire for a focused discussion on the problems in the park, but I find it a bit troubling to intentionally steer away from discussing such a fundamental assumption.

The panelists scheduled for the hearing also talked as if they had no serious concerns with the global warming theory as the principle cause for changes in the ecological balance in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

However, again, no statistical, or other compelling evidence was mentioned that demonstrated a cause and effect between global warming and the greatest immediate problem for the Park today, the bark beetle infestation. The best case they made was to cite the stress of the recent drought and some mild winters.

The local drought, that no longer is with us, and some recent mild winters that favored the growth of bark beetle populations have very distant correlations to the theories that anthropomorphic carbon dioxide is warming our planet at a dangerous rate.

If global warming is the main reason for the bark beetle outbreak today, what explanation is there for the bark beetle problems Colorado had in the 1970s? Though not quite as widespread, I remember the bark beetle devastation southwest of Denver at that time. Back then a drive down U.S. Hwy. 285 showed the same tree kill as a trip along Interstate70 does today. How could that have been, as Colorado temperatures were, in the 1970s, at the lowest point we have seen in the past 80 years?

Additionally, to implement the course of action that global warming advocates urge, we must reduce carbon dioxide at virtually any cost. This will do little to help alleviate the bark beetle epidemic we are experiencing in Colorado today. The only direct effect would be to divert that much more of the money we could use to address the immediate ecological needs of our national parks.

In the brief moment I had with both of the senators I encouraged them to push the Federal Government to be better stewards of our forests here in Colorado. We know how to develop healthy forests that are able to withstand bark beetles, but we have instead allowed dense monocultures of mature trees to grow, which are the most vulnerable to disease and fire.

If this hearing was just another bully pulpit for the global warming advocates, it was not a step forward for the people of Colorado. If the federal government ends up working harder to maintain healthy forests, then the hearing in Estes Park will have been a success. I trust that will ultimately be the case.


To Be Better Stewards of Forests, We Must Address Global Warming

By Robert Cifelli, Keith Hay and David Nimkin

Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) wisely avoided getting sucked into a debate over the existence of global warming at a recent climate change hearing in Estes Park because there is no debate. The senators also did not question the fact that global warming is at least partly responsible for pine beetle infestation and other environmental threats to Rocky Mountain National Park –– and with good reason. There is a firm consensus among scientists that drought and warmer winters –– due to global warming –– have exacerbated the pine beetle problem.

The fact that human activity –– particularly burning fossil fuels –– is warming the planet has been recognized by major national and international scientific bodies, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union in the United States, as well as thousands of expert scientists worldwide who collaborated on the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The U.S. Global Climate Research Project, a collaboration of 13 federal agencies, recently echoed the IPPC’s conclusion: “Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced,” it stated in its June 2009 report. “Global temperature has increased over the past 50 years. This observed increase is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases.”

As for the pine beetle, according to an August 2009 report by the National Parks Conservation Association, warmer temperatures and drought triggered by global warming has made lodgepole pines more vulnerable to beetles. The dryer climate in Rocky Mountain National Park has hindered the trees’ ability to produce enough resin to drown the beetles, and the cold snaps that kill the pests have become less frequent. The U.S. Forest Service now projects that all mature lodgepole forests in Colorado will be dead by 2013.

Warmer temperatures in recent decades also has enabled the beetle to complete its lifecycle in one year instead of two –– which could double its population growth rate –– and allowed the beetle to move to higher elevations, where it threatens whitebark pines that have no natural defenses to it.

Because global warming pollutants remain in the atmosphere for a long time, it is critical that we move quickly to establish a cap on emissions. It is equally imperative that we provide the National Park Service and other land management agencies with the resources they need to safeguard our forests, fish and wildlife from climate change impacts that already are underway.

There are actions we can take on the ground to protect lodgepole and whitebark pines. Given that the beetles generally ignore young trees and attack ones that are 5 to 6 inches in diameter, we should create forests of different age-group trees. We also should encourage the growth of a diversity of tree species. Monocultures of mature trees are indeed a problem.

We need to be better stewards of forests in Colorado and across the American West. But we also have to squarely address global warming, and we have to do it now.


Robert Cifelli is a senior research scientist in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Keith Hay, an energy advocate for Environment Colorado, is based in Denver. David Nimkin, the Southwest regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, is based in Salt Lake City. (Note: Dr. Cifelli’s title is listed for identification purposes only. His views do not represent the official position of Colorado State University.)

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