Nebraska lawmakers spar over intent of $44,000 climate change study -
Published Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 9:35 am
Nebraska lawmakers spar over intent of $44,000 climate change study

The Nebraska lawmaker who initiated the Legislature's first study of climate change now prefers to see the study abandoned rather than continue along what he called a politicized, scientifically invalid path.

State Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm said Tuesday the state committee handling the study is disregarding the intent of the Legislature.

Haar, a Democrat, is asking his fellow senators to help him salvage the $44,000 study by encouraging the committee to reconsider the restrictions it published Monday in the official request for study assistance.

The request says researchers “should consider 'cyclical climate change' to mean a change in the state of climate due to natural internal processes and only natural external forcings such as volcanic eruptions and solar variations.”

The use of the term “natural” would rule out the primary cause of the climate changes that have occurred in the last half-century: humans.

The issue of “cyclical” climate change was successfully amended into Haar's bill by Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, a Republican candidate for governor.

McCoy on Tuesday elaborated on his opposition to using state tax dollars to study man-made climate change: Humans aren't capable of influencing climate patterns.

“I firmly believe our planet goes through cyclical weather patterns. There have been hotter times, colder times, wetter times and drier times,” he said.

A fourth-generation rancher who has become involved in construction, McCoy said he “lives and dies” by the weather. Environmental extremists, he said, are drumming up climate change hysteria to further their own agenda.

“It's environmental groups who have an issue with our way of life, who have an issue with farming and ranching and the way we feed the world,” he said. “They are seeking to destroy farming and ranching as we know it.”

The Nebraska committee, known as the Climate Assessment Response Committee, is appointed by the governor and coordinated by the State Department of Agriculture, which also is overseen by the governor's office.

Gov. Dave Heineman has said that he will not become directly involved in the study, and that the study is the responsibility of the climate committee.

Bobbie Kriz-Wickham, assistant director of the Department of Agriculture who wrote the climate change definition, said she is trying to hew to the Legislature's definition as she understands it after reviewing the transcripts of the legislative debate.

She said she also consulted with the climate committee and talked with climate researchers.

Weather and climate change are two different things. Weather happens day-to-day, climate occurs over the long term.

Climate change research has advanced so much in recent decades that scientists now are 95 percent to 100 percent certain that humans have been the dominant cause of warming since the 1950s, according to the September 2013 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading international reviewer of research.

Humans are having a dramatic effect because industrialization has enabled people to dig up and burn, within a few hundred years, the carbon that it took the Earth millions of years to bury in what is called the carbon cycle.

The types of climate changes affecting Nebraska include:

— A tendency toward warmer summer nights, which reduces corn pollination as well as the productivity of backyard vegetable gardens.

— Less water for irrigation as the timing of mountain snowmelt shifts. The snowmelt helps feed the state's rivers.

— Longer growing seasons.

— Increased vulnerability of crops to frost and freeze damage because the occurrence of extreme cold snaps is not shifting in concert with the overall warming of spring and fall.

What troubles scientists most is that the resulting rate of warming is accelerating far beyond anything seen in recorded history, said Don Wilhite, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln climatologist who helped Nebraska become a world leader in drought research and policy.

As proposed, the Nebraska climate study would limit researchers to such things as talking about the next ice age, Wilhite said. “If we had to, we could write a report about when the next ice age is coming,” Wilhite said. “But what we're concerned about is the rapidity of change over the next few decades and how we're going to adapt.”

Contact the writer: Nancy Gaarder    |   402-444-1102    |  

Nancy writes about weather, including a blog, Nancy's Almanac. She enjoys explaining the science behind weather and making weather stories relevant in daily life.

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