Guest Columns

UDALL: EVIDENCE OF HUMAN IMPACT ON CLIMATE UNDENIABLE

Rep. Lundberg, wise up: Climate change is real and impacting our national parks

In a recent column in The Colorado Statesman, state Rep. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, took issue with Sen. John McCain and me regarding the Senate National Parks Subcommittee field hearing that we held in Estes Park on the impacts of climate change on our national parks.

Rep. Lundberg’s description of the hearing is inaccurate in several ways. He begins by asserting that I stated that the hearing would “not discuss or debate any of the merits of the global warming argument.” That is simply not true. What Sen. McCain said, and what I agreed with, is that the hearing would not examine the merits of the so-called “cap and trade” legislation in Congress.

Rep. Lundberg asserts that there is serious debate regarding climate change. With all respect, that is not accurate, either.

Rep. Lundberg has joined a discredited chorus that denies what climatologists and scientists such as the U.S. National Academy of Sciences have concluded: that climate change is real and human beings are in fact contributing to it through the release of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. That is the reason that Sen. McCain and I did not take testimony on this “question.” And, contrary to Rep. Lundberg’s description of the hearing, we did not assert that human activities are the sole cause of warming. But it’s clear that human activities are contributing to it.

Notwithstanding the small band of nay-sayers, we are faced with the reality of a warming climate that will have serious impacts on people and the environment. The point of the hearing was to examine these impacts and find ways to respond to them. The evidence of these impacts is all around us, and it’s especially pronounced in our national parks.

One of these impacts is the accelerated destruction of trees caused by bark beetles. Contrary to Rep. Lundberg’s assertion, the hearing did not suggest that the warming climate is the sole reason that we are experiencing this insect epidemic — an epidemic that is also seriously affecting Rocky Mountain National Park, which was, in fact, discussed at the hearing. However, it is a part of the reason.

Bark beetles are a natural part of our forest ecosystems. They typically target trees that are stressed and over a certain diameter. The stresses on our forests that make trees more susceptible to a bark beetle epidemic include drought (contrary to Rep. Lundberg, we are still facing dry conditions; see the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Web site for more information), dense stands of even-aged trees, the suppression of fire (which acts to thin the forest and create diverse age classes of tree stands), and warmer winters (weeks of subzero temperatures can kill bark beetles and keep their numbers in check).

Any one of these factors can lead to greater than average outbreaks and, thus, produce large swaths of dead pine trees. When all of these factors occur together — as they have for this current epidemic — we can see large swaths of rust red trees.

Where Rep. Lundberg and I agree is on promoting forest policies that can reduce the extent and impacts from the bark beetle epidemic. That is why I supported the Healthy Forest Act, and I have authored legislation on this topic going back to 2000. I plan to introduce legislation in this Congress to provide further tools and resources to the federal land agencies, especially the U.S. Forest Service, where the impacts are most pronounced. We clearly need to employ thinning, controlled burns and other techniques to reduce fire threats and promote a healthier forest ecosystem for our future, while also finding productive uses for the removed material.

Again, respectfully, I have to take issue with Rep. Lundberg’s assertion that those who support reducing greenhouse gases recommend doing so at “any cost.” Promoting the use of renewable energies and the wise use of nuclear power and fossil fuels like natural gas can, in fact, promote a stronger economy and benefit our national security. Costs are a factor, and should be balanced with the great gains that can be achieved by controlling emissions.

As Sen. McCain put it so well at the hearing, “addressing climate change will create, and not destroy, jobs.”

It does not advance these objectives to deny that human activity is a contributing cause of climate change. The testimony at the field hearing underscored the reality of these impacts and our need to help mitigate them. I hope that Rep. Lundberg can join us in responding to these
realities, even if he does not agree on the causes.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, Democrat, serves on the Armed Services, Energy and Natural Resources Committees and the Special Committee on Aging.