Speakers: Southwest faces huge climate, water changes
by Steve Kadel
staff writer
Nov 21, 2012 | 1455 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Get ready for some changes, Moab. That was the message from speakers during a panel discussion earlier this month.

A top scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey says residents here live in “the bulls-eye” for some of the biggest temperature increases in the world during the next 50 years and beyond. Climate models point to an average increase of 6 to 8 degrees, according to Jayne Belnap.

Drought, dust storms and loss of native grasses also are on the horizon, she said Nov. 8 during a panel discussion at the Grand County Public Library about climate change on the Colorado Plateau. Back of Beyond Books sponsored the session with help from Plateau Restoration, and about 100 people attended.

“We are looking at a time when grasses will exit the scene, and it is already happening,” Belnap said. “We need to be very careful how we manage landscapes during drought, and drought is the new normal.”

Dust on mountain snow also is becoming a big concern, she added, because it makes snow melt weeks earlier than normal. If mountain run-off comes sooner in the season, water managers will have to let much of it go because they can’t contain it all, Belnap said.

Bill deBuys, author of “A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American West,” said changes are occurring faster than formerly predicted by climate models.

“The Arctic sea ice is opening up a lot faster than we expected it to,” he said.

In fact, deBuys said many scientists believe lack of sea ice created the high pressure that caused Hurricane Sandy to turn west into the Eastern Seaboard this fall rather than continue north in storms’ traditional path.

“We’ll see the end of conifer forests in the southern Southwest by 2050 because of lack of moisture,” deBuys said.

He emphasized that people must work together to develop strategies to combat climate change. Moab has an advantage because it is small and most people know one another, deBuys said.

“If the city wants to, you can pull together as a resilient community that can confront climate change. Moab has that scale where you can get political consensus.”

However, he said Moab’s small watershed makes it even more critical that residents pull together to develop strategies.

Jack Loeffler, author of “Thinking Like a Watershed,” said it’s generally accepted that carbon dioxide is contributing to climate change.

“We have to legislate putting less [carbon dioxide] into the environment,” Loeffler said. “We know we’re contributing carbon dioxide in massive amounts into the biosphere but we’re doing it anyway. A lot of that comes from the greed of our species.”

He added that some people believe U.S. residents are dominated by “the corporate will.” One of the problems of U.S. culture, he said, is that Americans have ignored the wisdom of indigenous people, who created sustainable communities lasting 10,000 and 20,000 years.

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