Unseasonably warm weather heats up climate change discussion


by Joe Arnold


Posted on January 11, 2013 at 5:15 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 11 at 7:54 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- Unseasonably warm weather drew people outside in Louisville on Friday, but not without a thought in the back of their minds.

"I believe in climate change," said Dick Shulhafer after completing a hole at Cherokee Golf Course.  "It's obvious."

Climate change or the even more loaded phrase "global warming" are hotly debated.  

"No such thing as global warming," wrote Linda Woods Alford Adkisson on the WHAS11 Facebook page.  "Scientific data = our tax money."

"My opinion is that I put more faith in experts than I do trade groups who don't want to address it or people who wouldn't understand science if you put it on a microchip and put it in their head," countered Rob Mattheu.

U of L glacier researcher Keith Mountain says - yes weather is cyclical - but the increasing human imprint on the climate is also undeniable.

"We're in a stage of sort of unknown levels," Mountain explained, "unknown levels of methane, unknown levels of carbon dioxide.  We've never seen these levels in the atmosphere no matter how many cycles we look back certainly for the last 850,000 years."

Yet, Mountain also understands public confusion about the issue.

"I would possibly argue that the scientific community in the past has not done a very good job explaining it in a matter that provides accountability and passes on that knowledge in a very straightforward way," he said.

2012 was the warmest on record in the United States, the first full year for the Louisville Zoo's Glacier Run.  While some zoos and aquariums shy away from what can be a controversial discussion, the Louisville Zoo addresses it head on.

"That's the zoo's responsibility, to present objective, scientific information about what's happening with the environment and these precious creatures of course which are the heart of our mission, which is to better the bond between people and the planet."

Glacier Run is a recreation of an actual Canadian fishing village, Churchill, Manitoba.  The exhibit includes a model of a receding glacier in Glacier National Park to bring "climate change," home.

"As there are more and more of us we need to learn how to live in balance with the precious resources of this planet better and better all the time," said John Walczak, the Louisville Zoo Director.

One theory why Qannik -- the Zoo's star polar bear -- began losing weight in the wild as a cub and was eventually orphaned is that its mother had only enough body fat and energy to care for one cub.  The stress of climate change is evident on the polar bear habitat.

"There's less ice. The ice forms later, it melts sooner," Walczak said.  "Those bears have less time to go out on to the ice to seek their food."

"Climate change is going to manifest itself differently in different parts of the world," Mountain said.  "And this idea now of a general warming of what is the winter months of the middle latitudes in the United States seems to be a systematic pattern."

Why should that be a concern?

"We're seeing a shift in terms of water resources," Mountain continued.  "We're seeing shifts in wintertime lows that really hold vegetation together.  The whole biological community was held together on a certain prediction of what the weather would be.  And so now we see changes in aquatic ecology.  We see changes in invasive species. And so the wintertime temperatures are a significant control in our biological functions in this part of the world."