Global warming comes home to Northwest Colorado: Part two
Friends of Northwest Colorado, a Craig group researching both a sustainable economy and a sustainable local ecosystem, presents the following three-part series on Moffat County's experience in contributing to, being harmed by, and seeking to decrease global warming.
The Daily Press' recent poll of Moffat County residents' acceptance of the science of global warming produced these numbers:
• 40 percent accepted the science
• 34 percent thought it was propaganda
• 26 percent were uncertain
There is no function of nature that will exempt northwest Colorado from climate change. Our winters are either milder or influenced by the relocating jet stream and by the Pacific Ocean's handling of accelerated Arctic ice-cap melt. Our summers are hotter and drier. Ranchers notice even small animal species seeking longer-surviving vegetation on the slightest higher elevations in summer; DOW must decide to monitor big game migration patterns for climate-affected change; the summer tourist and fall hunting seasons may change slowly or unexpectedly; the Yampa/White river basins snowpack in 2007 "peaked on March 13, at a level that was 72 percent of average for that date" (31 days before the April 13 average peak date); agriculture here finds irrigations seasons that are too early and end too soon in summer; fish find streams and rivers too deluged in spring from fast-snowmelt sediment and then overheated in summer, when slower, later snowmelt would normally cool the water.
Northwest Colorado is now home to pine-beetle dying forests (the beetle larvae are no longer sufficiently winter-frozen, and winter thaws often produce one extra beetle generation per year). As reported by Gary Severson, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, bark beetles "strangle trees by cutting off nutritional channels" and can kill 90 percent of an area's lodgepole pines. Our infested forests "are largely the headwaters for our rivers and streams."
When those dead or drought-dried forests burn, we will see decreases in the services that healthy forests provide for free: CO2 uptake and storage, cleaner sediment-free water and watershed (erosion and species habitat) management. Recent congressional hearings on climate change included University of Montana professor Steven Running reporting that since 1986 the fire season in the West has grown 78 days longer, a 20-30 percent increase. Another such increase is likely during the next decades, and fire sizes more than 100,000 acres are now the norm.
In response to the pine-beetle destruction, Colorado state legislators Al White, R-Hayden, and Joan Fitz-Gerald, a former State Senate president, introduced a bill in April 2007 to "allow municipalities and counties to create tax districts, with voter approval, to fund bark beetle mitigation and forest management measures."
We overproduce CO2 by an over-reliance on carbon fuels like coal and gas. As such fuels are used to produce electricity, gradually more of that electricity has been used to push the "product" through transmission networks. And before transmission, much energy is used to extract coal, gas, or oil and transfer them to power plants. "United States average net electricity efficiency reached its peak around 1910, at about 65 percent of the input energy. By 1960, efficiency had declined to 33 percent and there it remains today."
Plants that find ways to recycle 'waste heat' and minimize losses to transmission can achieve 65 percent to 97 percent net efficiency (Casten and Downes, Skeptical Inquirer, Jan-Feb 05, Albuquerque, N.M).
Northwest Colorado may be scheduled by planners to become another center of the West's coal bed methane production and oil shale production. Methane gas, held safely in underground geologic formations and, for the planet, in long-frozen Artic tundra, is released during extraction or continuing, fast-rate Arctic thaws. But methane contributes to climate warming by trapping the sun's heat at 21 times the rate that CO2 does. And oil shale production uses large quantities of water that are made toxic before evaporation or before being injected back underground.
(Part II of III: Authored by Rick Hammel, David Morris, Monty Robertson, Jane Yazzie, Ann Wagner, Pastor Bob Woods.)