Just a few days before climatologist, Dr. Michael E. Mann, came to speak at Washington and Jefferson College, forest fires in Westmoreland County flooded news reports throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania. With a dry early spring and very little green vegetation, forest floors in Southwestern Pennsylvania were tinder boxes ready to ignite at any moment. In preparation for the statewide trout season opener, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources issued a warning for anglers to take precautions to prevent forest fires in the area. The next day, firefighters successfully extinguished two forest fires that spread across 30 acres in Westmoreland County.
When addressing students, teachers, and adults at Washington and Jefferson College, Dr. Michael E. Mann discussed the potential impacts expected in Pennsylvania due to climate change during his presentation, “Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change.” These impacts include more heat extremes and heat waves that last longer, posing threats to the environment and people’s health in local communities. Increased instances of forest fires, like the one in Westmoreland County, are expected to occur. These projections and risks should be kept in mind as people realize we have a changing and more sensitive environment. Dr. Mann began the presentation with an in-depth description of the science and many models that depict changes in global temperatures, CO2 concentrations, and climate. An analysis of yearly averages that go back thousands of years demonstrate that the last 30 years have been the warmest 30 year period in the last 1,400 years.
Aware of the political debate and climate skeptics, Dr. Mann settled the debate with a clear presentation of information accepted by the scientific community that solidifies the evidence showing that climate change is indeed happening. Climate change trends modeled with only natural factors turn out to be much lower than observed climate changes and human influence makes up the difference and explains the phenomenon we are currently experiencing. Dr. Mann shared his concerns about the most common response to the climate change, which is a disconnection between the impacts and threats. He flashed an image of a stranded polar bear on an iceberg as he commented that no climate presentation is complete without this universal symbol for climate change and need for response. However, Dr. Mann stressed how the impacts of climate change are not limited to faraway places like the Arctic, but are actually felt here locally and throughout the world. Some of the greatest threats that climate change poses include longer droughts, more major storms, rising sea levels and floods. These risks and events will contribute to huge social costs, environmental damage, and hits to the global economy.
Dr. Mann ended on a lighter, hopeful note listing potential solutions we can implement to help combat the effects of climate change and slow further contribution of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Adaptation to the changes that are already occurring through water management, agricultural adjustments, and accounting for sea level rise will allow people to live with these changes, as well as work to prevent future shifts and more dramatic developments. However, this alone will not solve the issue and must be undertaken in concert with more substantial actions targeted at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Changes in the energy sector with increased production from renewable and clean energy technologies will help phase out the use of fossil fuels and emissions of greenhouse gases, the leading cause of climate change. Dr. Mann is hopeful and believes it is not too late to take the necessary actions to prevent irreversible harm to the climate that will contribute to unprecedented costs to people and the environment. Action must be taken soon in order to make the first step down a very long road toward preserving our climate.