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Commentary - Earth Day is April 22; global warming is occurring

By Patty Bracey, Citizens Climate Lobby member, Brandon, MN

The first Earth Day was organized in 1970. The purpose and goal was to inform and amend practices that contributed to "dirtying our environment." Today, the purpose is the same because the problem is the same, but with increased scientific certainty on climate change and its causes (primarily the burning of fossil fuels), global warming has become the new focus.

We now know an immediate change in human behavior is what is needed to stem the tide of global pollution of every kind. Here in Alexandria, the effects of global warming have been felt in many areas and public awareness is on the rise from the farms to the city. There is a local group, Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL), boasting membership from the 7th Congressional District, whose members are represented by farmers, educators, business, church, retirees and youth.

CCL is a grassroots movement. It is nonpartisan and non-profit, with 100 chapters across the United States and Canada. Our primary goal is to educate government officials and the public on the science of global warming and to lobby our legislators to put limits on carbon fuels. We are trying to create the political will for a stable climate and are looking for solutions to help prevent further damage to the environment.

The group is focused on reducing carbon levels. Most climate scientists agree that carbon in the atmosphere causes temperature hikes and that human activities are increasing carbon levels. We need legislation that will protect people from health, economic and environmental disasters, which are caused by the dominance of energy based carbon fuels.

The local Alexandria group is part of this international effort to rein in dangerous carbon levels by the proposal of a carbon tax. There is support both in Canada and the U.S. for this action. There is support in Washington. The bill that would establish a program called Carbon Fee and Dividend was introduced in the Senate in 2011 with 22 co-sponsors. However, because time expired on the bill, it has currently been reintroduced.

Many ask, "How is all this talk about global warming affecting me, here in Alexandria?" There are many, many environmental, economic and social issues that are impacted by global warming, but I will restrict the discussion to a few. Examples are:

 Taxes: We have helped pay for Katrina and Sandy, as well as the $100,000,000 bill for the flooding of Duluth last year.

 Insurance coverage: In the past four years, insurance rates, directly traceable to climate change, are up by 20 percent.

 Health: In Minnesota, heat related deaths have increased as well as respiratory issues, especially with young and seniors.

 Extremes: Extreme heat and cold, drought and deluge have impacted Minnesotans from crop failures, to out of control fires, as well as businesses (e.g., snowmobile sales, resort usage).

 Farming: Soil erosion, aquifer depletion, changing weather patterns, crop shrinkage due to heat waves, too much rain and then drought.

Mark Seeley, UM climatologist, explains that it is not the change in weather trends alone that threatens disastrous consequences, it is the pace of change. Temperatures might rise faster than people or nature can adapt. For instance, the huge storms that caused damaging floods in Duluth in June resulted in the highest water level recorded from the St. Louis River. Yet, five months later, the St. Louis River also recorded its lowest level.

Even though big storms dump enormous amounts of water on the land, they are so intense that much of the water runs off before it can soak into the ground and into the aquifers. This, combined with drought in some parts of the state, is creating significant problems for farmers. "Many of our soil moistures are at the lowest levels we have ever recorded," Seeley said.

The most respected scientific bodies have stated unequivocally that global warming is occurring, and people are causing it by burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests. This conclusion is shared by the national science academies of developed and developing countries, plus many other organizations, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was established by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization to provide the world with "a clear scientific view" on climate change.

In conclusion, global warming is caused by human activities that produce heat-trapping CO2 and other greenhouse-gas emissions. The only real debate now is about how fast warming will occur and how much damage will be done.