MINNEAPOLIS — An environmental group pushing clean energy released a report Wednesday connecting 2010’s bumper crop of extreme weather events to global warming from greenhouse gases. Those include wildfires in the West, drought-driven smog in Russia and historic floods in Pakistan and the U.S.
“We’ve had two once-in-500-years floods in the last 15 years in Iowa,” Ken Bradley of Environment Minnesota told reporters, “As the earth warms up, and as the water evaporates from the ocean and other areas, that is what is increasing the precipitation.” Bradley released his group’s “Extreme Weather Report” with the help of two heavy hitters in the climate change debate, polar explorer Will Steger and veteran meteorologist Paul Douglas.
The press conference took place at WeatherNation, the private forecasting agency headed by Douglas in Excelsior. “We are now the center of tornado alley! Tornado alley took a 500-mile deter to the north this year,” Douglas remarked, “We’ve had 145 tornados in Minnesota, twice as many as Oklahoma.”
Douglas conceded that one extraordinary year of violent weather does not, in and of itself, add up to an overheated planet doomed by man-made greenhouse gases. But he views 2010 as part of an alarming pattern.
“We’ve had 384 consecutive months now where the global temperature has been warmer than the 20th Century average,” he said, “As a meteorologist who studies short-term weather, I defer to the climate scientists, 97 percent of whom believe that something is going on, that this is not a coincidence.”
Steger said he decided to dedicate his life to slowing climate change after repeated treks through the Arctic Circle, where he saw monumental changes in the ice shelves and glaciers first hand. “In 2007 we had a major breakup of the Arctic Ocean in the summertime,” Steger said, “We lost over 50 percent of this ice. The Arctic Ocean’s is almost larger than Mexico and the United States put together. You have 50 percent of this breaking up.”
He said he believed it would take 30 years for Americans to make the transition away from fossil fuels, but asserts it must done as part of an economic revival. “I know the solutions to this are economic,” Steger said, “If there wasn’t a solution I think I’d hang it and live in the North Woods the rest of my life.”
The conservative think tank Freedom Foundation of Minnesota reacted sharply to the Extreme Weather Report Wednesday. “The climate change debate has been hopelessly politicized by organizations like Environment Minnesota that distort science in order to advance a narrow political agenda,” Jonathan Blake said in a statement released to KARE.
“This issue will not be settled, and should not be settled, by agenda-driven activists on either side.” Bradley said the report will be used to promote regulation of carbon-based pollution on a national level, and the establishment of a minimum solar energy standard in Minnesota. The state already has standards in place for wind power and renewable fuels.
The system of setting a limit on carbon pollution and selling companies the right to exceed that limit, known as “cap and trade,” has generated opposition from those who believe it will drive up the cost of electricity and throttle heavy industries. Bradley said, however, severe weather is not without cost.
“The flooding in the Midwest alone is tens of billions of dollars for taxpayers, so there’s a financial impact by not doing anything.” Paul Douglas said he decided to invest in the clean fuels movement himself, when he recently launched “Smart Energy,” a company devoted to accurately forecasting wind trends for those erecting wind turbines.
Douglas is a former KARE and WCCO personality, who provides services to KARE’s Weather Now digital weather channel 11-2. That was not a factor in KARE’s decision to cover the story.