Our Views: Rather than deny, let’s find ways to ease global warming

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Monday, April 21, 2014

If he were alive today, U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin would be discouraged by the debate about whether humans are harming the world’s climate.

Nelson, who founded Earth Day in 1970, would need no convincing. Likewise, Robert McCallister is convinced that carbon emissions are causing global warming. The UW-Rock County professor of geography and geology organized last Thursday’s lecture, “Splendor Without Diminishment: Opportunities for a Sustainable World.”

“Deniers” will point to the frigid winter that the Midwest just endured, or the many cool spring days we’ve had in southern Wisconsin. McCallister reasons we must look beyond our backyards—to Pacific islands where people are moving to higher ground to escape rising seas, to winter deluges in London, to lack of rain for California almond growers and to a deadly drought in central Africa.

He would point state residents to a video on the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts website. He urges people to consider how the Skeptical Science website refutes myths.

Critics of government initiatives argue that severe limits on carbon emissions in the U.S. will hurt our economy and offer only a tiny worldwide benefit. Yet if the U.S. doesn’t lead, what nation will? Besides, McCallister points out that Shell Oil is among many companies talking about how businesses must adapt. Shell wants government to level the playing field to help reduce carbon emissions. Even Bloomberg Businessweek filed a report in November 2012 titled “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”

McCallister admits he’s no expert. Instead, he knows some climate scientists, respects what they do and appreciates the “monumental amount of evidence.”

“We have no choice but to cut back on carbon emissions,” he says. “How do we do it and do it in a way that’s good for the economy? A lot of people are thinking along these lines, including business people.”

What can individuals do?

 McCallister suggests:

-- Eliminate wasted food, particularly meat, because production uses so much energy. Support local agribusinesses by buying healthy foods at farmers markets.

-- Switch to LED light bulbs. They might be expensive, but you’ll save overall by using less electricity than if you used incandescents or fluorescents.

-- Consider utility buy-in programs that support green energy. McCallister says his household does it through Evansville’s power company for less than $10 extra per month.

In his office, McCallister has a cartoon from Pulitzer Prize winner Joel Pett. It shows a guy in the audience at a climate summit saying, “What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?” A sign behind the lecturer lists benefits such as energy independence, preserving rainforests, green jobs, livable cities, clean water and air, and healthy children.

“Nobody’s going to know anything 100 percent,” McCallister says of science. “So what if it isn’t 100 percent? If we can do all these good things, let’s do it.

“When is the knowledge good enough that we need to start acting? We all have insurance because we think maybe something’s going on that we should start thinking about and taking action if this occurs and be ready for it.”

When it comes to global warming, McCallister says, “we need to get ready, and we need to start yesterday.”

As we celebrate Earth Day again Tuesday, Sen. Nelson would applaud McCallister’s outlook.

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