We’re Montanans who also happen to be scientists. As scientists, we understand the scientific principles demonstrating that human activity is rapidly changing our climate. That is why we joined more than 100 other scientists across Montana in sending a letter to our top elected officials calling on them to support policies that reduce carbon pollution.
Thousands of scientists have produced thousands of studies on the causes and impacts of climate change. Each of those studies has undergone a rigorous peer review process. Building such a body of evidence to explain what is happening in the world around us is a careful, slow, and painstaking process, which rarely yields broad agreement. That’s why it is so remarkable that 97 percent of scientists who study climate change say that it is real, and largely caused by human activities that produce carbon pollution.
Climate change is a major concern for Montana. Scientists in Montana and around the West have documented that spring snowpack is melting on average two weeks earlier than in the 1950s. There has been an extension of two months in the wildfire season since the 1980s. August stream flows now average 20 percent lower than in the 1950s. These impacts are already having notable impacts on agriculture, recreation, wildlife, and water resources.
The effects of climate change go beyond water and fire. Because of warming, the recent outbreak of the tree-killing mountain pine beetle is more than 10 times larger than any recorded in the past, and includes an expansion of the beetle attacking two new tree species and thousands of square miles of forests in high elevations.
Given the impacts we’re already experiencing after 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit of warming, imagine the challenging environment we’re passing on to our kids. Scientists predict temperatures will increase between 5 to 10 degrees if we continue on our present path.
Study after study reports that global warming is already disrupting food production, harming human health and societies, increasing drought and variability in water supplies, and causing more extreme and expensive storms, floods and fires. These impacts are predicted to become more severe and more expensive to address the longer we wait. Our institutions and infrastructure have been designed for the relatively stable climate of the past, not the changing one of the present and future.
Some of Montana’s political leaders continue to ignore the most basic scientific findings about climate change. We hear them say, “I’m not a scientist so I cannot be sure.” We are scientists, and let us be clear: The scientific evidence that Earth’s climate is warming is overwhelming. We need to move from debate to solutions.
We urge our policy makers to formulate solutions commensurate with the gravity of the issue at hand. Actions are needed at every level of government. The Environmental Protection Agency’s recently released Clean Power Plan is one of those important actions. It will limit carbon pollution from the largest emission sources — power plants — for the first time ever. It is a necessary step if we hope to avoid catastrophic climate change.
The good news? Innovations in clean energy and efficiency technology show that viable and affordable solutions exist. Our leaders should use the extensive body of scientific evidence to enact appropriate policy solutions, both to limit carbon pollution and promote energy conservation and clean energy. They should support the proposal to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. Supporting and developing more clean energy jobs would place Montana as a leader and business hub in this arena. Such opportunities are as exciting as they are necessary.
If 97 doctors out of 100 said that state-of-the-art tests confirm that you have cancer that is treatable, would you follow the advice of the three doctors who said they just weren’t 100 percent sure and suggested doing nothing? No. Now is the time to accept the overwhelming scientific reality of global warming and take action. We support the EPA’s actions to limit carbon pollution, and we urge our leaders to do the same.
The views stated are our personal views — Loren Acton, Ph.D., Astro-Geophysics, Astronaut, Eric Grimsrud, Ph.D., Analytical & Atmospheric Chemistry, Steve Running, Ph.D., Forest Ecophysiology, Nobel Laureate, Diana Six, Ph.D., Forest Entomology, Bruce Smith, Ph.D., Zoology, and Kyle Strode, Ph.D., Analytical Chemistry.