Guest Column: A climate update

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RBC | Here are a few random observations of note:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just released its report on Oceans and Cryosphere (IPCC 2019a.)  (The cryosphere comprises regions of ice and snow, i.e. Arctic and Antarctic and high mountains.) This follows IPCC’s recent global climate forecast (IPCC 2019b.) and report on terrestrial ecosystems (life on land, IPCC, 2019c.). Remember those? The summaries documenting evidence we’ve got about ten years to avoid catastrophic consequences of global warming above 1.5  ? While, in the meantime, terrestrial ecosystems are collapsing, including the systems that keep us alive? Remember those reports?

Shucks. We’re all busy. A lot of other stuff has happened.

The new Oceans and Cryosphere report isn’t any jollier. Ice caps at the poles are melting faster than we thought. Sea level is rising faster than we anticipated. Because of rising ocean water temperatures, tropical cyclones are becoming even more powerful and destructive than we imagined. (Remember Maria? Harvey? Haiyan? Dorian? Even as I write this, hurricane Lorenzo is setting new records.) High mountain glaciers are receding, and runoff into the major rivers of Asia and the Subcontinent is dwindling. Less water, less rice for half the world’s population. The Atlantic conveyer is slowing. (But nobody knows what that is—the vast system of currents that keeps Europe from freezing—so why worry.) Ocean dead zones are increasing. The ocean is acidifying. Coral reefs are dying; most of the tropical reefs will be gone in our lifetimes. Fisheries are collapsing.

“Climate change” is a marketing euphemism. It implies not to worry. “Change” is benign. “Change” is good. But what we are witnessing is not change. It is collapse. The climate is in crisis.

Which reminds me. Anybody out there see the bird report (Pennisi, 2019)? Three billion fewer birds in North America today than there were in 1970? That’s billion with a “b.” Kind of puts into perspective what I see (or don’t see) right here in my own backyard. Used to be a little flock of mountain bluebirds every summer. They’d fledge their young and head south about this time. But this year they didn’t show up. Used to be some lazuli buntings, too. No more. Used to be a northern oriole pair. No more. Used to be western tanagers around the neighborhood. And western kingbirds. Not this year.

And the skies. Take a look straight up in the morning on a clear Fall day. That glorious blue used to extend rim to rim across the bowl of sky. No longer. And the stars. Used to be you could see stars clear down to the horizon. Right here in Meeker. But no more. They’re obliterated by lights and haze. The horizon is a milky sludge. Some days you can taste the air. Or take a gander across the Uinta Basin from the top of Dinosaur Monument. It’s a squint to see the far side through the smog. Or study the air quality maps. These days, Rangely typically sits in ozone code yellow, drifting in from the Basin. Acceptable to breathe but not healthy, and the yellow is creeping year to year over Meeker, too. There’s code red on those Basin maps right behind the yellow.

We’re living in an impoverished world of our own creation.

Is anybody out there willing to help? Faith leaders who might alert their worshipers that it’s God’s Creation we’re destroying? Educators who might alert their students it’s their future at stake? Doctors who might alert their patients global health is at risk? Political leaders who might actually lead an effort to address the problems? And plain ol’ us, who might change our habits?

Rio Blanco County occupies a unique confluence of interests in the energy economy and the outdoors. We could be leaders in an effort to restructure the economy and rescue our outdoor resources.

Or we can rock on, same ol’, and watch the planet collapse.


IPCC. The ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate. 2019.

IPCC. Climate change and land: Summary for policymakers. 2019.

IPCC. Special report: Global warming of 1.5: Summary for Policymakers. 2019.

Pennisi, Elizabeth. Three billion North American birds have vanished since 1970. 2019.

By Bob Dorsett, MD | Special to the HT