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Encounters With Climate Change: A Discussion With Three St. Louisans

courtesy photo
St. Louisan Brian Ettling spends his summers as a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake in Oregon.

St. Louisan Larry Lazar used to be a climate change skeptic, but a 2006 trip to see family in Alaska changed his mind.

“One of the things you do in Alaska is tour the glaciers. And when you see the before and after pictures there, and when you talk to the park rangers and read the information about why they’re doing what they’re doing, and they’re doing it around the world, you get hit with reality,” said Lazar. “I realized then that what I’d been reading and my sources of information at that time were just wrong.”

Like Lazar, seasonal park ranger Brian Ettling has witnessed the effects of climate change first hand. Ettling calls St. Louis home, but spends his summers, and some winters, working as a seasonal park ranger. For the past 22 years, he has spent his summers at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.

“Crater Lake, where I spend my summers, that’s one of the snowiest areas in the United States. It gets an average total accumulation of 44 feet of snow,” said Ettling. “Typically when I go back [to Crater Lake from St. Louis] in May …I see upwards of 10 feet of snow on the ground. These last few years I’m seeing less and less. They only have about half of their snow pack this winter. At Crater Lake our winters are getting shorter and I’m seeing more rain in May and September, where I should be seeing snow.”

Inspired by their experiences in Alaska and Crater Lake, Lazar and Ettling became involved with the Climate Reality Project, an organization founded by former Vice President Al Gore with a mission to inspire social action around climate change. In 2011 they founded Climate Reality St. Louis, which holds meetings and discussions on climate change at Schlafly Bottleworks.

The latest report from the United Nations panel on climate change, published April 13, calls for quick and dramatic action to reduce global warming. It is the most strongly worded message yet from the international body of scientists.

“The conclusion on the report that came out last week is that indeed, warming is here and it is more likely than ever believable before that it is a human cause,” said atmospheric scientist Jack Fishman.  After 31 years working as a researcher at NASA, Fishman became the director of SLU’s Center for Environmental Sciences in 2011.

“Scientists are basically very conservative people. And by nature, if you are a good scientist you have to be skeptical,” said Fishman. That’s why it took so long for scientists to reach consensus on global warming, and why the level of consensus they have reached is so meaningful.

Fishman joined Lazar and Ettling on St. Louis on the Air Tuesday, April 15 to discuss the impact of climate change on the Midwest, ways to reduce your carbon footprint, and local efforts to get the word out about global warming.

While St. Louis doesn’t have to worry directly about sea levels or ice melt, stronger weather patterns including more droughts and floods are likely consequences of global warming, they said.

“The other thing to keep in mind is that we don’t live in a bubble here in St. Louis,” said Lazar. “We’re a global system, so things that happen in South America or Africa—we can’t grow coffee anymore, or there’s less coffee, or the price of coffee goes up. If there are droughts in Nebraska or Kansas or Iowa where our food production is limited, the cost of our grocery bill goes up.”

For more information about the science of climate change, Ettling recommended NASA’s website and skepticalscience.com, a website started by an Australian physicist that lays out claims from skeptics alongside scientific findings.

Related Event

Panel Discussion on Climate Disruption
Thursday, April 17, 2014
7:00 - 9:00 p.m.
Training Center at East Central College, Union, Missouri
For more information, visit the East Central College website.

St. Louis on the Air provides discussion about issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.

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