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Published May 04, 2009, 04:00 AM

AG AT-LARGE: Greenhouse gas rules should consider science

MINNEAPOLIS — I was walking through the airport terminal in Minneapolis, on the way home from a North American Agricultural Journalists annual meeting in Washington. My head was spinning with information about climate change and carbon footprints for agriculture.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

MINNEAPOLIS — I was walking through the airport terminal in Minneapolis, on the way home from a North American Agricultural Journalists annual meeting in Washington. My head was spinning with information about climate change and carbon footprints for agriculture.

I started to think the guy I really should talk to about this is Leon Osborne from the University of North Dakota. And — unbelievably — there he was.

Waiting for his plane, Osborne reminded me he’s on a one-year development leave as an atmospheric science professor, writing a textbook on surface transportation weather. His Meridian Environmental Technology of Grand Forks, N.D., is the nation’s leader in surface transportation weather services. Coincidentally, Osborne had just come from Washington, too, and had been a panelist at an American Meteorological Society meeting. It’s a public-private partnership forum, and though these were meteorologists, the emphasis was on climate.

The evidence says carbon dioxide levels have increased in the past 100 to 125 years. And yes, he’s concluded there is “a human impact” to carbon levels in the atmosphere. There also are cyclical pattern to warming and cooling periods.

“My estimate — my educated guess — is we’re seeing these two features become superimposed on one another,” Osborne says. “We’re seeing a magnification of the human-induced feature on this.”

Lively discussions

Osborne says his conference was top drawer. The deputy administrator of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration was at his event as well as senior officials from the Environmental Protection Agency.

There was a lively discussion.

“There were questions raised from the audience on what is our skill level with climate prediction,” Osborne says. “But in reality, it wasn’t a discussion of whether it’s a reality or not, but how we’re going to adapt to a changing mandate — if you will — to respond to it.”

There was discussion of creating a national climate service, parallel to the National Weather Service. There would be monitoring of greenhouse gases, looking at temperatures at the surface and upper levels, the long-term and larger changes in climate.

Osborne noticed that many speakers at the conference would talk about “climate” as the “euphemism for cap and trade,” a policy to financially reward carbon savings and discourage carbon release into the atmosphere.

“The discussion wasn’t so much whether climate change exists, but how we’re going to monitor, collect data to know what the carbon levels are. The concept of a national climate services would be for observing, verification and monitoring.”

Osborne sides with colleagues who “question whether our climate models are far enough along” to impose penalties, but says the question is “how we’re going to respond to it because it’s moving toward a reality.” The scientific community should have an important role to play, but there is “some question whether science will have an equal seat at the table.”

Osborne is sure about one thing: “The outcome will result in ramifications for, possibly, centuries. One of the things we need — and it’s paramount — is improved monitoring and observation systems,” he says.

It’s especially needed between the surface and 3,000 feet — “that’s where we live.” This needs to be done globally.

Osborne noted that an official from the Office of Management and Budget wondered how we’re going to pay for it. Amen.

The “belief” is that it’ll create jobs, opportunities and will stimulate the economy.

I wonder about that, too, but I agree with Osborne on this point: “For the next four years, at a minimum, this is going to be one of the most fast-paced and lively times in climate science that we’ve probably ever seen.”