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Climate change or Mother Nature, preparation is key

Climate change, global warming, a shift in the atmosphere, better news coverage of crazy weather — whatever it is, the debates and political posturing carry on, with scientist having "proof" of their claims, politicians searching for a plan, and the social media pundits screaming "fire" on the over-crowded web.

But the general consensus, crazy climate change activity is happening; whether it is just the normal ebb and flow of the earth and Mother Nature, or a man-made phenomenon, remains the big debate of the century. And the even bigger question, "What, if anything, can we do about it, either way?"

Obama took a proactive stance, focusing on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions with his Clean Power Plan that has left taxpayers with an estimated $2.2 billion debt from the federal government's energy loan guarantee programs, according to an audit in April, 2015, along with 27 states, 24 trade associations, 37 rural electric co-ops, and three labor unions challenging it in Federal court.

"The basic problem with Obama's mitigation-focused approach is that the overwhelming majority of future emissions will come from the developing world as it grows rapidly. U.S. policy has shown little ability to influence that trend, even when we make brave commitments to incur large costs ourselves," blogged Oren Cass, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. "We can — and should — invest in developing new technologies that might reduce emissions more cheaply, but that takes time, and success is not guaranteed."

“President Trump and Congressional Republicans’ contempt for clean air, clean water, and our clean energy future endangers the health of our children and the strength of our economy.”Nancy PelosiHouse Minority Leader

President Trump's executive order to roll back Obama's plan has re-opened some doors for the energy business, but left many wondering if he is going to even look at a climate change plan, or just ignore it, and see if it goes away.

"Without major mitigation, though, adaptation becomes all the more important. And that is a place where good American policy can make a major difference," Cass wrote.

SCIENCE

With the science behind climate change somewhat marred, the task of coming up with a climate change plan will not be easy.

"It wasn't too long ago when it was "global warming," not "climate change," that was all of the rage. There was no talk of "climate change." But then, practically overnight, "global warming" gave way to the latter. Why?," Jack Kerwick, PhD at Temple University in New Jersey, Pa., questioned.

Kerwick concludes that the catalyst for change was the leaking of over 1,000 emails and documents from the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit in 2009. Dubbed "Climategate," the leaks cast a shadow over climate scientists, and the validity of the studies.

With the Trump Administration, history appears to be repeating itself. Headlines such as "2016 Was the Hottest Year On Record – Again," have been popping up, and naysayers are questioning the scientists, pointing out contradiction and challenging media publishing the reports, reminding readers that it wasn't long ago that the planet was supposedly cooling, oceans were dying, and California was washing away.

President Trump's executive order, rolling back Obama's Clean Air Plan, did not rule out science, but does direct agencies to use the best available science in addition to looking at the economical cost of any regulatory analysis, which, according to the Trump administration, was not utilized by the previous administration.

President Trump's roll-back plan, as expected, is not sitting well with Democrats and environmental groups, and has House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi ready to fight.

"President Trump and Congressional Republicans' contempt for clean air, clean water, and our clean energy future endangers the health of our children and the strength of our economy," she said in a statement.

CLEAN POWER

Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy accused the Trump administration of wanting "us to travel back to when smokestacks damaged our health and polluted our air, instead of taking every opportunity to support clean jobs of the future."

The former Clean Power Plan, legally challenged by Republicans, along with oil, coal and gas industries, is not the only program on Trump's chopping block.

The executive order directs all agencies to conduct a review, within 180 days, of existing actions that harm domestic energy production and suspend, revise, or rescind actions that are not mandated by law. The order is also lifting a 14-month-old moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands. It calls for a review of efforts to reduce the emission of methane in oil and natural gas production as well as a Bureau of Land Management hydraulic fracturing rule.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue praised the president for taking "bold steps to make regulatory relief and energy security a top priority."

A summary of President Trump's order is posted at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/03/28/president-trumps-energy-independence-policy

STATE PERSPECTIVES

Climate change or not, there is science available that is raising some red flags and some states are taking matters inside state-lines.

In a 2015 report from USDA Southern Plains Climate Hub, the authors say climate change is not that simple to pinpoint. "Highly variable weather has been a benchmark of life and agriculture in the Southern Great Plains since long before the states of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas were formed." However, "over the last 15 years, the region has experienced an increasing frequency of some of the more extreme events central to agriculture, a direct result of more dynamic atmospheric behavior," including "extensive, crippling periods of drought that ended with record-breaking downpours and flooding."

In 2010-11, some of the same areas experienced a wet spring and summer, with lots of growth, to eventually dry out, making the perfect storm for massive fires, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports.

On the crazy weather and fire end, according to a University of Colorado study, 84 percent of all wildfires in the U.S. are started by people. The remaining 16 percent are started naturally. The study also found that humans have added almost three months to the national fire season on average. "Thanks to people, the wildfire season is almost year-round," said CU study lead author Jennifer Balch. Humans also account for nearly half the acreage burned each year.

Balch and co-authors looked at 1.5 million wildfires from 1992 to 2012 and found that the human-ignited fire season was three times longer than the lightning-ignited fire season and added an average of 40,000 wildfires per year.

These studies on climate change and many more, can be found at a number of land-grant universities.

Nebraska's 2012 struggles led to legislation to study the impacts of climate change in Nebraska, but didn't get completed. University of Nebraska-Lincoln went ahead with its own study, claiming that Nebraska was already warmer than the previous century.

"What we've seen so far is maybe the tip of the iceberg as we move to the future," said UNL climate scientist and professor emeritus Don Wilhite.

According to the study, some of the changes include: temperatures have risen about 1 degree Fahrenheit since 1895; the frost-free season has increased from five to 25 days since 1895; very heavy precipitation events have increased 16 percent in the Great Plains Region; the projected summer of 2100 will have 13 to 25 days over 100 degrees Fahrenheit; number of nights over 70 degrees Fahrenheit will increase by 20 to 40 days by 2100; soil moisture is projected to decrease 5 to 10 percent by 2100.

"Nebraska represents a very fragile ecosystem, so even slight changes in the climate of the state are going to have tremendous impacts," Wilhite said.

And some of the states, including Nebraska and Colorado, are going beyond just studies.

Climatologists have predicted in the next 25 to 50 years, Nebraska summers will be similar to the 2012 record-setting, hot, dry year. That news has state senators asking for a state climate action plan. Nebraska state Sen. Tyson Larson of O'Neill has proposed that a seven-member special committee of senators take the lead in preparing a plan for submission by Dec. 31, 2018.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, announced plans to move forward with more affordable renewable energy, despite President Trump's orders. Hickenlooper said Colorado had met the 30 percent carbon pollution goals under the Clean Power Plan, but was later corrected by his spokesperson, saying the state was on track to meet goals by 2030, the date set by the EPA.

SHIFTING WEATHER PATTERNS

According to climatologists, some of the fly-over states may be in for a short spring. All of eastern Colorado is classified as either moderately or abnormally dry along with much of Kansas and Oklahoma, and some of northern Texas, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

In most Midwest states, planting a garden before Mother's day is nothing short of creating double work for the money, but this year, the USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) said that flip-flops and shorts may be in style, right along with planting, about two-to-three weeks early.

The USA-NPN is a partnership among governmental and nongovernmental science and resource management agencies and organizations, the academic community and the public. Led and funded by the U.S. Geological Survey, the Network says the entire southeast, from San Antonio to Atlanta to Washington, D.C., can expect an early spring, and unusually early springs in those areas will likely keep rolling north, bringing surprising signs of spring to portions of the central Midwest and northeastern states.

USA-NPN claims climate change is a variable advancing the onset of spring across the U.S. A new set of maps from the USGS-led USA-NPN now demonstrates just how ahead of schedule spring is in some places. View these maps online at http://www.usanpn.org/data/spring.

"While these earlier springs might not seem like a big deal — and who among us doesn't appreciate a balmy day or a break in dreary winter weather — it poses significant challenges for planning and managing important issues that affect our economy and our society," said Jake Weltzin, a USGS ecologist and the executive director of the USA-NPN.

Weltzin pointed out, early springs can affect human health, including earlier ticks, mosquitos and pollen. And a longer growing season is usually a plus, but it can also create problems with late frosts or plant damage.

A Colorado State University and University of Arizona study looked at warming in the 21st century and the reduction of Colorado River flows. According to the study, the river is down by at least 0.5 million acre-feet, or the amount used by approximately 2 million people in one year. The research is the first to quantify the different effects of temperature and precipitation on recent Colorado River flow, said authors Bradley Udall of CSU and Jonathan Overpeck of UA.

"The future of the Colorado River is far less rosy than other recent assessments have portrayed," said Udall, a senior water and climate scientist/scholar at the Colorado Water Institute, a unit within CSU's Office of Engagement. "Our findings provide a sobering look at future Colorado River flows, and send a clear message to water managers that they need to plan for significantly lower river flows."

Bottom line it would seem is still that change, whether its permanent or temporary, plays a part in agriculture production, and preparation is key. "Increases in temperature and carbon dioxide (CO2) can increase some crop yields in some places," EPA scientists wrote. But concluded, "Overall, climate change could make it more difficult to grow crops, raise animals and catch fish in the same ways and same places as we have done in the past."

But regulation of any changes, at least for now, will be self-imposed, instead of mandated, as President Trump promised in his campaign. ❖

— Eatherton is a freelance writer from Beaulah, Wyo. When she's not writing, she's riding her horse or playing with her grandson. She can be reached at teatherton@msn.com.