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Earth Day

As many of you already know, the celebration of Earth Day has its roots in Wisconsin. A good website to review its history can be found at http://earthday.envirolink.org/history.html where Senator Gaylord Nelson reviews how it all began. Since we share this small planet with over 7 billion people, it is important to see how we are doing with its ability to sustain itself and its inhabitants. So a few comments on climate change might be instructive as we just completed the 37th consecutive year of above-normal global temperature. This means that more than 4 billion people alive today have never experienced a year that was cooler than last century’s average. Just a few weeks ago in Yokohama, Japan, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—the preeminent international climate scientific body—released a new report on the grave threats climate change poses to humans and the natural world. It issued a very sobering warning by reminding us that there is not even one place on this small planet that isn’t already feeling the effects of climate change. It also points out that even if we could immediately and dramatically reduce emissions, cultures around the world would have to take major steps to adapt to the global warming we are already seeing…and it will still get worse.

Since the year that Sarah, our owner, was born, each decade has averaged 0.28 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the preceding one. As emissions from burning fossil fuels and forests have soared since the Industrial Revolution, the amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere has increased, peaking at 400 parts per million last year. The last time the CO2 concentration was this high was over 3 million years ago, when there was far less ice on the planet and the seas were much higher.

This condition has produced many unusual weather events, but the one thing that most folks agree upon is that the risk of weather surprises is increasing as temperatures climb. One of those surprises might be the danger of hitting invisible thresholds, such as the loss of major ice sheets, where the effects of global warming become irreversible on a human timescale. With rapid rates of climate change, adaptation becomes difficult if not impossible. To address this possibility, governments around the world have agreed on the goal of staying within a temperature rise of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. We are, however, on the path of rapidly surpassing this goal unless we accelerate the process of dramatically reducing fossil fuel burning and deforestation. This requires investment, but the alternative costs that will mount from inaction are beyond measure. Please consider what is “Good for our Planet.”