The topic of climate change will bring out any number of reactions from people. In the larger, national picture it is often politicized in a way that creates one side versus another. However, in the world of science, politics has very little to do with the research that goes into it. That was partly the focus of a climate change talk given at Farm Science Review on Thursday.
Dr. Aaron Wilson, an atmospheric scientist with the Ohio State University and Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center (BPCRC), and Jason Cervenec, the Education & Outreach Director also at BPCRC, spoke at the annual agriculture exhibition near London about the science behind what makes climate change real and how it impacts rural communities.
How do we know?
“It’s really pattern recognition,” Dr. Wilson said. “And the patterns that we talk about are typical weather.” Scientists look at patterns over long periods of time, anywhere from 100 years ago to thousands of years ago. They look at the overall changes in climate as well as the weather patterns of smaller measures of time like months or years. In making the distinction between climate and weather, Dr. Wilson gave a metaphor of a dog walker and a dog on a leash.
“As the dog walker is walking in a direction, the dog on the leash can meander about that path,” he said. “The dog walker is like the climate and the dog is like the weather.” This is to say that climate moves in a direction over time while weather patterns, particularly those in small areas like counties or towns, can vary as much as that wandering dog.
This makes reading climate data more difficult, unless it’s looked at as part of that pattern over time. So despite the weather changing year to year, scientists can see that over a long period of time, there is a warming effect happening.
Global warming trends
“Since the Industrial Revolution, we have been adding carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere,” Dr. Wilson said. The process has contributed to the warming of the earth. “The last 800,000 years, never have we had this amount (of CO2).” Looking at this information as part of that larger pattern, scientists have determined that, by the end of this century, the amount of CO2 in the air will have more than doubled.
So what does this mean for the people of Ohio or even rural Madison County? With the warming effect comes an increase in temperature and precipitation which can lead to an increase in livestock illnesses and the precipitation can lead to more soil erosion — an issue already facing many Ohio farmers. These issues then go on to impact food and water and, ultimately, human health and safety.
Point of no return?
Although this reality seems like a problem without a solution, there are still ways for people at the local level to combat this from getting worse. Jason Cervenec talked about two approaches that people, especially farmers, can begin to take: mitigation and adaptation.
“There’s never a point of saying you shouldn’t do something,” Cervenec said. “The sooner you do something, the more you can mitigate.” He said that once the CO2 is in the air, it has a continued warming period for about 30 years.
“So we’re still feeling some of the warming from the late ’80s. It’s having its final impact now. But even if you stop emitting today, you still get the 30-year lag,” he said. That is on the mitigation side of the solution, but the adaptation is a different way to approach it. “It’s kind of a transition. How quickly do you want to transition to a system that doesn’t emit the CO2 and won’t continue to cause warming.” These questions start to lean toward the policy side of prevention and solution.
Both speakers stressed the idea that it comes down to people and what they want to do about it. Despite the heavy connection to political division, the subject of a changing climate is more personal than being the platform of a particular party. Dr. Wilson tried simplifying the topic in talking about studying the melting of the polar ice caps.
“At our center, we do show a lot of ice that melts and that’s all it can do. It can’t say ‘I’m a Democrat, I’m a Republican,’” he said. “It just melts.”
Reach Michael Williamson at 740-852-1616, ext. 1619.