The conclusion that human activity is precipitating more extreme droughts, storms and floods is supported by scientific research and the consensus of the vast majority of climate scientists worldwide. The climate assessment released on Black Friday by the U.S. Global Change Research Program draws on research from 13 federal departments and agencies:
- Department of Agriculture
- U.S. Agency for International Development
- Smithsonian Institution
- National Science Foundation
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Department of Transportation
- Department of State
- Department of the Interior
- Department of Health and Human Services
- Department of Energy
- Department of Defense
- Department of Commerce
Together, the data analyzed by all those agencies presents a disturbing picture of changes that threaten America’s economy. The human-caused increase in carbon dioxide in the air has set in motion myriad changes in average temperatures, ocean acidity, growing seasons, and polar ice melting, to name a few.
Climate change puts human health at risk. “Climate change is generally expected to increase (ground-level) ozone pollution in the future throughout much of the United States, in part due to higher temperatures and more frequent stagnant air conditions,” the assessment said. Increases in ozone “are forecast to cause premature deaths, hospital visits, lost school days and acute respiratory distress.”
Montana has not escaped these changes. Consider the wildfire season of 2017 — the most expensive on record. Those fires burned up livestock forage and cut short tourist trips. Bigger impacts on the economy are projected as the Northern Great Plains sees more days above 90 degrees and fewer days below 28 degrees in coming years. The earlier snow melts will affect ski resorts as well as agriculture. Water will become even more precious as summers get hotter and evaporation takes a greater toll.
Montana anglers have already seen “hoot owl” rules closing streams to daytime fishing because of warm water that threatens trout survival. A massive fish kill linked to warmer water closed 100 miles of the Yellowstone River for weeks.
Montana and neighbor states have some of the biggest challenges as well as the greatest opportunities to address climate change. “Greenhouse gas emissions from petroleum and natural gas production across the Northern Great Plains are among the highest in the nation,” the assessment stated. “Potential wind energy resources are among the largest.”
While 13 U.S. agencies produced the climate change assessment, the Trump Administration has been working quickly to undermine rules and laws intended to curb carbon dioxide emissions. The rollback of the rules to reduce methane gas leaking a flaring is just one example. The administration is promoting wasteful practices while even some major oil and gas producers are using methane leak prevention to improve their operations.
The administration is axing yet-to-be-implemented rules for passenger cars and pickup trucks to become more fuel efficient. Flaws and errors in the analysis used to justify the rollback were pointed out by scientists writing recently in the journal Science.
Montanans pride themselves on good stewardship of their land. Stewardship includes conserving energy, avoiding waste and consciously making choices to preserve clean air and water.
Climate changes will hasten the invasion of noxious weeds and other non-native species. Farmers and ranchers will need new crop and livestock varieties that can thrive in hotter weather. Those challenges can be met with agricultural research, which has helped Montana’s ag industry thrive for generations.
The transition to cleaner energy must include support for workers and communities that now rely on fossil fuels for their jobs. Energy conservation, energy efficiency, solar, wind and other alternates also create jobs.
There are many other things that Montanans, our state and federal leaders must do. For starters: The local food movement is great for local small businesses and reduces transportation costs, thereby reducing use of fuel. The cost of fighting wildfire has grown largely because more homes have been built in wildlands. Better planning for where homes are built — and not built — will reduce risk to life and property over the long run.
It’s time to pay attention, to do what we can individually and to engage with our neighbors to figure out how to stave off the most dire effects of the changes we have set in motion with our dependence on fossil fuels.