Expert: Climate change demands behavioral change

Herb Grover, dean of the School of Mathematics and Sciences at Wayland Baptist University, moderates a forum on the Plainview campus featuring Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. (PHOTO/Wayland Baptist University)

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PLAINVIEW—Persistent drought indicates God’s creation is running fever, a climatologist told a crowd at Wayland Baptist University.

Scientific data proves the climate of the High Plains in particular and Earth in general is changing, said Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. Last year, Christianity Today named her among its “50 Women to Watch.”

drought question400A member of the audience asks a question of keynote speaker Katharine Hayhoe during a conference at Wayland Baptist University about drought in the High Plains. (PHOTO/Wayland Baptist University)People make a big mistake when they refuse to acknowledge the reality of climate change and fail to consider ways to modify human behavior to decrease its impact, she insisted.

Christians, in particular, should recognize climate change most directly affects people who are least able to adapt, said Hayhoe, founder and chief executive officer of ATMOS Research.

“We are told (in the Bible) to love our neighbors as ourselves,” she said, adding love demands each Christian act as a good steward of creation.

When she examines research on climate change, Hayhoe explained, she likes to think of the data as God’s voice to his people.

Earth has ‘low-grade fever’

“God’s creation is telling us it’s running a fever—a low-grade fever,” she said.

People traditionally view weather patterns like a driver whose eyes are fixed on the rearview mirror, without considering changing conditions, she said. The climatological history of the High Plains demonstrates cyclical change between hot and cold, wet and dry.

“It is part of our climate to have drought,” she said. “We have a cold-desert environment with highly variable precipitation.”

Historically, she said, weather patterns across time have tended to balance out, and the region has been able to prosper through those cycles because of “the aquifer under our feet,” she said.

Historical balance ending

However, data collected by climatologists shows that historical balance going away.

“Things are changing,” she said.

Over time, temperature across the region is getting warmer—particularly during the winter, she explained. At the same time, data shows precipitation has been fairly normal, although the timing of when that precipitation comes is changing. Long-term forecasts predict those two phenomena will continue, and drought will persist.

Even though overall rainfall amounts may be normal, drought persists because research shows an increase in extreme precipitation events—several inches of rainfall in a short time. That means longer dry spells between showers. Furthermore, the precipitation deficit is so great now, it will take greater than average rainfall to catch up.

Human factors cause global warming, she insisted. Since the sun’s energy decreases over time, that should cause the planet to cool. However, humans have introduced carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at such high levels, it acts like an extra blanket, she explained.

Too much heat

“This extra blanket is trapping too much heat,” she said.

“This is why we can’t drive the car looking in the rearview mirror anymore. Climate is changing because of what we are doing, and there is no way around it.”

Rather than looking to the past, people have to look ahead so they can negotiate the curves in the road, she insisted.

Switching to LED light bulbs could have a dramatic impact on energy savings, which in turn could have an impact on pollution, she noted. In fact, anything an individual does to reduce fossil fuel use helps reduce the pollution that is causing climate change.

“We have to start making sensible choices now,” she said.

Wayland Baptist University organized the presentation on “21st Century Drought on the Southern High Plains: Principles; Dimensions; and Prospects” in partnership with the Hale County Texas A&M Extension Office and the Plainview/Hale County Industrial Foundation.

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