Big Ten Climate Scientists Call for Dialogue

Dead corn stalks lay in the fields in northern Vigo County Thursday July 5, 2012. The current drought has scorched thousands of acres of cropland in Indiana. The drought that’s hitting much of the Midwest this summer will hit consumers in the pocketbook by next year, Purdue agricultural experts said Thursday, July 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Tribune-Star, Jim Avelis)

By Bill Brown, IU Director of Sustainability

Is this what climate change feels like? The first six months of 2012 were the warmest ever recorded in Indiana, in the continental United States, and across the globe (according to NOAA’s National Climate Data Center). The last 12 months were also the warmest ever recorded.

The USDA now counts 1330 counties, a third of the nation, in their “drought disaster zone,” and 50 of Indiana’s 92 counties are included in this designation.

As the climate continues to warm, can we expect more of this extreme weather we have witnessed in 2011 and 2012? Indiana and Big Ten climate scientists recently answered that question with a “yes.”

Professor Scott Robeson, chair of the Indiana University Department of Geography and Purdue’s University’s Paul Shepson, a professor of analytical and atmospheric chemistry, recently wrote an opinion page letter in the Indianapolis Star linking current extreme weather with climate change. Their letter was co-authored by climate scientists from all twelve Big Ten universities, and similar letters appeared in major newspapers across the Midwest.

Their letter stated:

 “There is a strong probability that climate change is influencing certain extreme weather events. That’s what we, as climate scientists, know.

As the climate changes, Earth’s normal cycles become altered. Whether from human-related or natural causes, shifts in temperature associated with the changing climate can change the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, and this can lead to major changes in the probability for extreme weather. Some evidence can be found by looking at the ratio of extreme highs and lows in U.S. weather over the last 50 years.

Scientific models are starting to suggest that disasters like the 2010 Russian heat wave, which resulted in the loss of 50,000 lives and billions of dollars of wheat crops, are likely related to human-induced climate change.”

After offering a range of strategies to mitigate climate change, the authors concluded, “We can and should educate ourselves about climate science. We can use one of the most pressing issues of our lives as an opportunity to foster open and frank dialogue about the ways for people to work together to ensure the Earth’s productivity now and for generations to come.”

Big Ten institutions have a long history of  providing the kind of creative research, leadership, innovation, education, and engagement required to foster this critically important dialogue to mitigate the causes of and adapt to the effects of climate change. They have been at the forefront of the response to other societal challenges such as segregation, gender inequality, diversity, international cooperation, poverty, hunger, and public health.

The Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), which includes all the Big Ten Schools plus the University of Chicago, started an Environmental Stewardship committee a couple of years ago to highlight best practices in campus sustainability that may show the way to a more sustainable future. Big Ten institutions are finding ways to dramatically reduce their environmental impact and reduce utility costs while also educating their students about the importance of doing so. They are practicing what they are preaching in the classrooms by using their campuses as learning labs and progress has been dramatic.

This summer’s extreme weather provides a wake-up call to redouble these crucial efforts to, as our Big Ten climate scientists suggest, foster a public dialogue about “ways for people to work together to ensure the Earth’s productivity now and for generations to come.”

Interested in how you can get involved? Let’s talk.


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