Pointing to declining river flows throughout the American West, University of Montana scientists Steve Running, Director, Numerical Terradynamic Simulation Group in the university’s Department of Ecosystem Sciences, reported on dwindling river flows between 1950 and 1970 and a 15 percent increase in average winter low temperatures in recent decades.
“We are dewatering our rivers right now at a very alarming rate,” he told assembled journalists and others participating in SEJ’s 20th anniversary annual conference. He cautioned at one point that with Lakes Powell and Mead about to set new record-low water levels, hydrologists expect that neither will ever again rise to previous high levels.
As for his messaging on climate change to non-scientific audiences, Running, an IPCC co-author, advised that simply relying on “more scientific graphs is not the answer.”
“We really need to engage all of society,” Running told an SEJ plenary meeting. “I talk as much now about sociology as I do about climate science,” he told the group, illustrating the increased recognition among earth scientists of the importance of the social sciences.
“It’s the overriding issue for all of our careers,” University of Colorado School of Law Professor Charles Wilkinson told reporters. “We’re off to a very slow start,” he continued, in part because “the politics of this are deadly.”
A lesson from the past months’ journalism experiences in covering the BP Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil tragedy:
Pulitzer Prize winning staff writer Mark Schleifstein, of The Times-Picayune, in New Orleans, pointed to himself and his newspaper — along with many others — for having “ignored residual risks” from reporting on previous disasters, including, but not limited to, Hurricane Katrina.
“We ignore residual risk at our own peril,” Schleifstein said in moderating an October 15 plenary session.
“We ignored residual risk … we blew it.”
Pointing to the enormity of the BP leak and response to it, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco told the session that the billions of gallons of oil released over the course of the leaks were the equal of one Exxon Valdez spill every four-and-one-half days — 18 to 19 Exxon Valdez leaks altogether. She reported that the clean-up efforts involved more than 40,000 individuals, about 10 million miles of boom, and more than 6,000 vessels in the Gulf. From an initial 37 percent of the Gulf of Mexico’s federal fisheries areas closed, the total remaining closed as of mid-October amounted to 37 percent, Lubchenco said.
Freelance journalist and Mark of the Grizzly author Scott McMillon, moderating a “Wolves, Grizzlies and Humans: Where’s the Balance” breakfast plenary, said:
“We’re kind of like a bad poker player: We don’t know how to deal with success. We recover a species, and then we don’t know what to do with it.”
In an analogy some might apply also to climate change, McMillon challenged those who say that reintroduction efforts involving species such as wolves and bears are the work of “a vast left-wing conspiracy.”
“I don’t know any left-wingers smart enough to pull it off,” he deadpanned.
A message from University of Montana Professor Dan Pletscher, director of the College of Forestry and Conservation’s Wildlife Biology Program, might carry an important message also for those involved in climate change issues. It’s short and sweet:
“For conservation to be successful, the local people have to benefit.” Touché.