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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Amy Gehrt: Time to face facts about climate change

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  • By Amy Gehrt
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    No matter where you live, you no doubt noticed the weird, too-wild winter weather this year.
    While a deep freeze had the Midwest and East in its icy grip, blasting residents with unrelenting waves of strong snowstorms — and making “polar vortex” part of the lexicon — the West found itself unusually hot and dry.
    While many of us in the Midwest may have felt like we lived in the Arctic, those who actually did experienced unseasonably warm temperatures. In fact, much of the world welcomed warmer weather — making 2013 the fourth-hottest year on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
    So what gives? It might seem like Mother Nature was experiencing an identity crisis but, as is so often the case, the answer is rooted in science. It’s called climate change. It’s real, and it’s fast becoming a big problem.
    Yes, I know there are those among us who doubt it, just as there were people who accused Galileo of heresy — twice. Yet any reasonable person now would agree that the Earth and other planets do, in fact, revolve around the sun.
    Plus, as with anything else, one must examine the source. On the one hand, we have buffoons such as Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh claiming the winter’s extreme cold means global warming can’t possibly be occurring. Longtime “Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak is the latest to add his voice to the crazy chorus of climate deniers, calling those who believe in climate change “unpatriotic racists.”
    He didn’t bother to explain his reasoning, naturally — blaming the constraints of Twitter. However, given that he watches people spin a wheel for a living and has boasted about being so drunk on the air he’d “have trouble recognizing the alphabet” in his younger years, perhaps he now finds it thrilling to drink and tweet. Or maybe, instead of offering contestants the chance to buy a vowel, Sajak needs to buy a clue.
    Michael E. Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University, responded with a tweet of his own: “Hey @PatSajak, this aint the Wheel of Fortune. If we lose this game, it isn’t just one person’s misfortune. All humanity pays the price.”
    Mann isn’t the only scientist weighing in. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists — let me say that again: 97 percent, all of whom have studied the issue, and have the degrees, research and facts to back up their assertions, not just a platform from which they can decry reason and gleefully sow the seeds of misinformation — agree that climate change is real, human activities are a major cause and it presents significant risks to our land and our health.
    So let’s look at the facts. The gradual warming of the earth isn’t going to suddenly stop winter weather from happening. However, a warmer planet means more moisture is held in the air, making many storms more severe, whether that precipitation falls in the form of rain or snow.
    Page 2 of 2 - “At the same time, because less of a region’s precipitation is falling in light storms and more of it in heavy storms, the risks of drought and wildfire are also greater,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Ironically, higher air temperatures tend to produce intense drought periods punctuated by heavy floods, often in the same region.”
    During an interview on CNN this spring, American astrophysicist, author and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson, who hosts “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” had this to say about the attention given to climate change skeptics: “I think the media has to sort of come out of this ethos that I think was in principle a good one, but doesn’t really apply in science. The ethos was, whatever story you give, you have to give the opposing view, and then you can be viewed as balanced ... you don’t talk about the spherical earth with NASA and then say, ‘let’s give equal time to the flat-earthers.’
    “Plus, science is not there for you to cherry pick. You know, I said this once and it’s gotten a lot of Internet play, I said the good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it. I guess you can decide whether or not to believe in it, but that doesn’t change the reality of an emergent scientific truth.”
    And while some people prefer to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to the rising sea levels, that won’t stop global warming. Changing the way we live can stop it, however, so I, for one, plan on doing everything I can to reduce my footprint... before the waters rise so high all of our footprints are underwater.
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    Amy Gehrt is the city editor of the Pekin (Ill.) Daily Times. She may be reached at agehrt@pekintimes.com, or on Twitter @AmyGehrt. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Pekin Daily Times or this publication.
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