After the hottest start to a year ever recorded in the United States, local activists gathered to point out the obvious from a symbolic spot.
Career National Weather Service meteorologist John Pollack is devoting his retirement to educating the public about climate change, suggesting ways to lower carbon emissions. Standing in front of the “high and dry” Salute to Labor statue on the riverfront that was underwater last summer during the flood of 2011, Pollack warned that “the Earth is catching a fever.”
“The average temperature during the past 12 months in the lower 48 states has been 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit above normal” Pollack told reporters, “While that may not seem all that significant, think of how your body feels with a 101.5 temperature, 3-degrees above our normal 98.6.”
Pollack was joined by Tim Rinne of Nebraskans for Peace and David Corbin of Physicians for Social Responsibility. They held up a banner from the organization 350.org, which takes its name from the fact that 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is what scientists consider safe for humanity. The currently level is 392 ppm.
In June, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed in its State of the Climate report that the first six months of 2012 were the hottest on record in the United States since record keeping began in 1895, producing drought conditions over much of the country. A sample of record breaking temperatures in Nebraska includes McCook’s all-time high of 115 on June 26th and Omaha’s July 6th high of 104.
Pollack cited the figure that 98 percent of climate scientists agree recent weather-related disasters — heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and a derecho (straight-line windstorm), are part of a pattern made more frequent by global warming. The 98 percent figure came from a 2010 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of 1,372 climate researchers who conduct research and publish in peer-reviewed journals.
Hotter weather has an effect on Nebraska’s signature industry, agriculture. Higher temperatures reduce yields per acre, especially when corn is pollinating. Livestock suffer and die in extreme heat. Violent weather patterns cause damage to crops, structures, and the economy at large.
Extreme weather is hard on the taxpayer. The U.S. Forest Service is projected to have a record year of spending on burned-area recovery efforts largely due to wildfires in New Mexico and Colorado. The Department of Agriculture also will assume additional financial obligations in Colorado.
In addition to being a weather scientist, Pollack and his colleagues are working to advocate for change, focusing on solutions to reduce carbon emissions now. “As a nation, we need to very quickly implement energy-efficiency measures by insulating homes and businesses and shift to utilizing Nebraska’s vast renewable wind and solar energy resources rather than rely on out-of-state coal and oil for our energy supply,” he said.
David Corbin, who ran for OPPD board but lost, cited some specifics of Nebraska’s energy potential. Nebraska still has the 4th best wind resources in the U.S. and the 13th best solar resources. Iowa supplies 25 percent of its energy needs from wind power, but Nebraska generates only 4 percent. Iowa firms invested in wind because of tax subsidies, explained Corbin, but Nebraska is the one state that only has public electrical power so there is no tax incentive to invest in wind farms. According to Corbin, OPPD CEO Gary Gates said recently that private firms could build wind farms and sell the electricity to OPPD, “That’s progress,” Corbin said.
Pollack, Corbin and Rinne have a vision that western Nebraska, which has the strongest wind in the state, could supply energy to eastern Nebraska where the population needs it. “What benefits Nebraska most?” asked Rinne. “Shipping coal from Wyoming or paying farmers out west for wind power?” They also envision building transmission lines to move wind energy from west to east.
“We can do everything we need to do to get off carbon,” Pollack said, “If we exercise the political will to do it.”