The University of Nebraska-Lincoln said it will issue a report that includes the role of humans in climate change — now that the state's climate committee apparently plans to exclude the impact of humans in a separate study.
University officials on Friday said that they will complete their own unrestricted study by September 2014 so that its publication coincides with anything released by the state.
Earlier this week, the Department of Agriculture and its climate committee issued a bid document requesting information on how to do a climate study but stipulated that it examine only natural internal and external forces.
The problem with this approach, said UNL climatologist Don Wilhite, is that it becomes an examination of distant events such as the next ice age. It doesn't study current trends that pose an immediate threat to farmers and ranchers.
Humans are the dominant cause of the warming that has occurred since the 1950s, according to the latest review of the scientific literature, a September 2013 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In Nebraska, warming is contributing to a number of subtle but accelerating changes, including hotter days and warmer nights, decreased snow cover and longer growing seasons.
While some of this has benefited agriculture, research indicates the trend line points toward conditions that will inject more chaos into the weather and diminish crop yields.
Ronnie Green, vice chancellor for UNL's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said he decided to set aside money for the university study because the issue is vital to Nebraska's future.
“For the good of the state, we need to know the full breadth of the science,” Green said. “Our scientists are absolutely correct (in objecting to a limited study), and I support them.”
To the extent that the university is at odds with some legislators and members of the executive branch, it is a situation that it comes to reluctantly, Green said.
The university will not conduct new research but instead will summarize the results of a wide range of existing studies. This is a common method for assessing the state of science on a topic.
For the most part, the university's faculty will absorb the work involved, although Green has set aside $20,000 to hire someone to gather the studies.
State Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm, who sponsored the bill authorizing the state's study, applauded the university's decision.
“It's exactly the kind of science we need from the university. I'm just disappointed the money isn't going to come from the Legislature,” he said.
Haar said the study as bid by the Agriculture Department and its climate committee does not reflect the intent of his bill.
He sent a letter this week to the 31 senators who voted with him on the bill, asking that they sign a letter supporting his position that legislative intent has been thwarted; about one-third of them have done so.
Bobbie Kriz-Wickham, the Agriculture Department's assistant director, said she believes she did reflect legislative intent in the way she wrote the definition of climate change in the study proposal.