Climate, credibility and rhetoric: What to do?

As a former professor and former research scientist, I am disappointed with our collective apathy and the politically driven misconceptions about climate change. As a result of political meddling, science credibility has suffered enormous damage over this issue.

Please consider that scientists worldwide have repeatedly confirmed that through its approximate 4.5 billion years of existence, the earth has cooled and warmed many times. These natural processes happened thousands to billions of years ago and involved mega-global events. These natural events have failed to show any recent changes that could fully account for the rapid warming in the last century. Ancient changes characteristically took several thousand years for the planet to warm between 7 and 12 degrees Fahrenheit. The warming of the past century — over 1 degree Fahrenheit — is many times faster than the average rate of warming since the last ice age. Recent national polls reveal that most of us now accept that climate change is real.

Mathematical models used by the Geos Institute in Ashland and obtained from the MAPSS team of the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis, based on three general circulation models, predict average Rogue Valley annual temperatures will increase 1 to 3 degrees by 2040 and 4 to 8 degrees by 2080. These models also show snow accumulations declining by 25 to 75 percent by 2040, and up to 94 percent by 2080, reducing summer stream flows, water quality and quantity. Big winter storms could increase chances of flooding. These climate-induced events will necessitate many changes in our lives. Therefore, I believe the time for passionate political rhetoric is over.

As climate change becomes increasingly evident and our lives continue to "heat up," we should discuss and plan for the future.

There is much to be done, and we should all get on with it.

On Aug. 6 in Ashland, seven specialists will address what climate change may mean for you, your children and beyond as our climate changes over the next century. The anticipated changes will likely affect local lives and businesses in many ways, and we want to share with the audience what some of those changes may be in our own Rogue Valley (think agriculture, air quality, health, recreational changes and more).

As a microbiologist with experience studying the ecology of numerous bacterial pathogens from Oregon's ecosystems, including drinking water, marine habitats and surface waters of the Rogue Valley, here are a few of my concerns.

Changes in climate will increase occurrence and the spread of some diseases. For example:

Food-borne diseases

Higher air temperatures can increase cases of salmonella, staphylococcus, listeria and other bacterial food-poisoning agents because bacteria grow more rapidly in warm environments. Your picnic foods will "spoil" more quickly.

Flooding and heavy rainfall cause more frequent overflows from sewage treatment plants into creeks, rivers and lakes, contaminating irrigation water used on crops consumed raw.

Water-borne diseases

Heavy rainfall or flooding, especially in the early fall, can overwhelm potable water treatment systems. Water-borne, infectious outbreaks of intestinal pathogens giardia and cryptosporidium, carried by wildlife, have happened in Oregon, including Jackson County, so these parasites are in our local watersheds, "waiting" to slip through into our drinking water supplies.

Animal-borne diseases

Many disease-carrying insects favor warm, wet climates and can spread a variety of bacterial and viral diseases into wildlife and human populations. For example, the geographic range of ticks that carry Lyme disease is limited by temperature. As air temperatures rise, the range of these ticks is likely to continue to expand northward.

Attend our evening event on Aug. 6 and hear many other topics discussed by the panel of seven experts. In addition to myself, we are:

Jim McGinnis, the keynote speaker, is a sustainability advocate and forest ecologist trained by the Climate Project who has given more than 100 climate-change presentations throughout the nation.

Greg Jones, Southern Oregon University environmental studies professor, is a research climatologist and a contributing author to the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize-winning IPCC report.

Alan Journet, professor emeritus from Southeast Missouri State University, is an ecologist and climate change expert. He has given numerous presentations on climate change since 1990.

David Blackman is a retired research associate in mathematics at the University of California Berkeley and honorary professor at Albert Schweitzer International University.

Susan Bizeau, public health nurse for Jackson County, works to connect Jackson County with other Oregon counties and the federal Centers for Disease Control on developing plans for climate change effects on public health.

Dr. Marni Koopman of the Geos Institute in Ashland is an ecologist with expertise in climate change effects on wildlife, ornithology, metapopulation ecology, conservation genetics and invasive species.

Ramon Seidler, Ph.D. is a microbial ecologist, a professor and a retired senior research scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency and the recipient of two bronze metals from the federal government for meritorious research.

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