High in the Rocky Mountain, climate change is getting the scientific proof that should settle the question once and for all: Is the earth getting warmer?
“We’re at about 9,600 feet on the Western Slope, about half-way between Aspen and Crested Butte right at the edge of the Maroon Bells Wilderness,” said John Harte, the UC Berkeley ecosystem sciences researcher who has been conducting the experiment since 1989.
“I set up what we call an ecosystem warming experiment using electric heaters suspended above a sub-alpine meadow. It’s been running now for 27 years,” said Harte, who will be coming to Quarryhill Botanical Gardens later this month in their Peter H. Raven Lecture Series.
His topic at the Aug. 26 lecture will be “Can Civilization Endure?” and it’s a question that should be on everyone’s mind, if it isn’t already. Al Gore’s new movie “An Inconvenient Sequel” picks up where his 2006 “An Inconvenient Truth” left off, and it’s an even more demoralizing look at the next few decades, in that it necessarily incorporates the political blow-back that the environmental movement has endured over the past decade, culminating in Pres. Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Paris Accord.
But back to Harte’s study, above treeline in the Rockies.
“The heaters are on day and night, summer and winter. They are warming the meadow to a level that is roughly what we anticipate the climate will look like around mid-century, around 2050.”
What the experiment has shown is that the warmer plots of meadow are losing their wildflowers and turning into sagebrush, after years of being only four degrees warmer than their neighboring control plots. The soil is getting drier, and even losing carbon that is absorbed into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, the “greenhouse gas.”
“We thought it would be a smaller, more subtle effect, but it turned out to be very dramatic,” said Harte, in a telephone conversation from his Colorado research station with the Index-Tribune. But an even more dire, and unexpected, result has come out of the study.
“The control plots now show exactly the same qualitative trends as in the heated plots, but at a slower rate. In other words, we’re seeing real global warming in the control plots.” In other words even the unheated parts of his study area are showing signs of a warming climate – drier soil, carbon release, and the slow decline in wildflower habitat.
“We now have kind of unambiguous evidence for real global warming affecting our ecosystems,” he said, based on a 27-year long experiment. “We can attribute the changes in the control plots to real global warming, because we have the experimental evidence for what global warming looks like from the heated plots.”
Meantime, the County of Sonoma passed their Climate Action Plan 2020, outlining the steps that local jurisdictions can take to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG), under the auspices of the Regional Climate Protection Authority comprised of the county’s ten incorporated jurisdictions, including the City of Sonoma.
“Although most actions will be the responsibility of local governments and countywide agencies, Sonoma County’s residents, businesses, and community groups must remain engaged in order to achieve the goal of reducing community-wide GHG emissions,” reads the plan’s preface.
But the steps and strategies the Climate Action Plan (CAP) outlines were thrown for a loop last month when a lawsuit brought by the environmental watchdog group California River Watch of Sebastopol was upheld by a county judge, which called into question the validity of the environmental studies that went into preparing the plan.
Climate change and civilizatoin
“Can Civilization Survive?” A lecture by John Harte at Quarryhill Botanical Garden, 12841 Highway 12, Glen Ellen, on Saturday, Aug. 26, 5:30 p.m. Tickets $35, available online at www.quarryhillbg.org.
“An Inconvenient Sequel” is currently playing in Sonoma County at several theaters, including the Summerfield in Santa Rosa, but not in the Sonoma Valley. The movie website is inconvenientsequel.com.
“Tomorrow,” presented by Transition Sonoma Valley. French filmmakers travel worldwide to investigate concrete solutions to environmental and social challenges. Monday Aug. 21 at the Sebastiani. 6:30, $10.