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A climate-change lesson for dim students PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 06 September 2017 18:21

Is it possible that politicians who reject global warming, whether through ignorance or political expediency, learned something from Hurricane Harvey?
    There is a lesson in that catastrophe that even those who insist that man-made climate change is a crackpot theory or a Chinese hoax should not be able to ignore.
    The lesson is not that global warming causes hurricanes. It doesn’t. But climate scientists are certain that the heating of the atmosphere is responsible for Harvey exploding into what is, by several measures, the worst natural disaster in American history.
    Harvey’s lesson is not about the existence of  global warming; the lesson is about the consequences of global warming.
    The impact of climate change was once thought to be a problem of the future, something that, if it happened at all, would have to be faced by generations to come. Harvey teaches that it is here now.
    There has also been a sense in the climate-change debate that if a toll were to be exacted by global warming, it would be paid mostly by inhabitants of parts of the world far from U.S. shores, that the foreseen flooding, famines, wars over distressed land and food supplies, obliteration of low-lying territory and threats to the structure of societies and economies would mainly affect already struggling undeveloped countries. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the climate agreement joined by nearly every other country suggests a belief that the U.S. with its vast economic power is somehow immune to the climate chaos caused by global warming.
    Harvey teaches that there is no immunity and that the prosperity of the U.S. actually makes it more vulnerable to climate disasters.
    With loss estimates now at about $200 billion, Hurricane Harvey is the most costly natural disaster in U.S. history. The combination of the storm’s never-before-seen deluges and the mind-boggling scope of the development of the Houston area made that true.
    Harvey’s lesson in the consequences of global warming is further driven home by the human misery it caused—the loss of lives and the devastation of the well being of tens of thousands of Texas residents—and its spiraling nationwide impact on everything from gasoline prices to the federal budget.
    Hurricanes have been battering the U.S. since long before the earth warmed to its current levels, but never has a hurricane produced as much rainfall. The 50 inches measured in parts of Texas is more rain than ever recorded from a single weather event in this country.
    One of the measures of global warming is the rise of seawater temperatures around the globe. As Harvey spun toward the Texas coast, the surface water of the Gulf of Mexico was as much as 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the gulf’s long-term average surface water temperature. As it fed Harvey, it was one of the hottest ocean-surface spots in the world.
    “This was the main fuel for the storm,” explained Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research and one of many climate experts who had no doubt about the source of the hurricane’s lethal energy. “It may have been a strong storm anyway, but human-caused climate change amplified the damage.”
    Harvey taught its lesson with a grim preview of the weather extremes that await the world if emissions of carbon gases into the atmosphere aren’t reduced.
    The lesson is so blunt and obvious that even federal elected officials like Rep. Glenn Grothman, who in letters to the editor published in Ozaukee Press and in his town hall meetings resorts to discredited shibboleths and fear-mongering claims about the impact of carbon reduction efforts on the economy to deny human-caused climate change, should be able to get it.
    If not, unfortunately, these dim students will have other opportunities to learn, because more lessons, some perhaps harder than Harvey, are sure to come.

 
Bambi and the big, bad wolf PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 30 August 2017 17:05

In this wet, mild summer, everything is growing like crazy in Ozaukee County—farm crops, garden vegetables, flowers, weeds and . . . deer.
    The fauna added to that list of flora are not out of place. All indications are that the local deer population is also growing like crazy. One of those indications is the impressive volume of domesticated plants the animals are munching in gardens and flower beds.
    Baby deer are all over the place. Fawns, fearless as puppies, frolic in parks and along the Ozaukee Interurban Trail and prance across streets. These adorable Bambis will soon grow into big, voracious plant-mowing machines and clueless road hazards. Concerning the latter, motor vehicles are about the only deer predators in this part of state, hence the flourishing herd.     
    Whitetail deer are so well adapted to various environments in Wisconsin that they are thriving in growing numbers even in parts of the state where they are sharing forests with the most deadly of all deer predators, timber wolves.
    The Department of Natural Resources reports that the deer herd in the 18 counties of the northern forest management zone has grown this year to more than 480,000 animals, an 18% increase over 2016.
    This jump in the deer population was accompanied by an increase in the numbers of wolves. The DNR says there are now 925 wolves in the state, more than at any time since the species was all but wiped out in the 19th century.
    Hunters should be delighted by the good news about deer numbers, yet claims that the burgeoning wolf population is an existential threat to the sport of deer hunting persist. It’s an often repeated refrain: “The wolves are killing our deer.”
    That belief fuels much of the effort to overturn the federal court decision that has allowed wolves to regain a foothold in the forests their ancestors once roamed in great numbers. That 2014 ruling held that wolves in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota are endangered or threatened, and prohibited those states from allowing wolf hunting or trapping.
    The impact of wolves on the deer population is often exaggerated. Wolves eat deer, of course; one wolf can kill as many as 20 adult deer in a year, according to wildlife experts. That might sound like a lot, but in northern Wisconsin that would amount to fewer than 2,000 deer taken by wolves from a herd of almost half a million.
    It turns out that in spite of their fierce reputation as deadly pack hunters, wolves have comparatively little effect on the deer population. Studies have shown that a harsh winter causes deer mortality in far greater numbers than predators.
    The biggest cause by far of deer death is human hunters. According to the DNR, rifle and bow hunters killed 599,000 deer in all of Wisconsin in 20l6.
    Deer hunting is a revered institution in Wisconsin, and it deserves to be. For many, the sport is a heritage passed along by generations. In its purest form, it is practiced as an ethic that honors the glory of nature.
    There should be no place in that institution for the notion that the deer are “ours,” that they are rightfully the prey of humans, and not of the natural predators that hunt them to survive.
    Humans who hunt should be thrilled to share the forests with noble animals that hunt and whose resurgence is such a welcome sign of nature’s enduring vigor.
    It’s tantalizing to think of what that vigor, in the form of a visiting wolf pack, could do to control the Ozaukee County deer nuisance.
    Never mind. Wolves belong in the wild. Deer do too, but they didn’t get the message.

 
Laws that make the state look foolish PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 23 August 2017 16:22

Eating Irish butter is a greater threat to Wisconsin residents than living in apartments that don’t have fire sprinklers.
    Goofy as it is, that’s one conclusion that can be drawn from the fact that the Walker administration was laying plans to get rid of a regulation requiring apartment buildings to have fire sprinklers at about the same time it was in court defending a law that makes it illegal to sell imported butter from grass-fed cows.
    Gov. Scott Walker has campaigned as a big foe of regulations that businesses don’t like, and in 2011 he pushed for and signed legislation that prevented state agencies from drafting regulations more stringent than rules set by state laws.
      A state lawyer recently determined that a state regulation requiring new apartment buildings with three to 20 units to have fire sprinklers can’t be enforced because it conflicts with that 2011 legislation.
    Walker’s Department of Safety and Professional Services then planned to scrap the sprinkler requirement, which has been on the books for seven years, but after criticism from firefighters that move is apparently on hold.
    Meanwhile, an attorney from the state Department of Justice was in Ozaukee Circuit Court last week fighting a lawsuit by a Grafton business owner seeking to overturn the butter law.
    The law, which prohibits the sale of butter that is not graded by a panel of experts based on 32 criteria, is a ridiculous restriction on commerce that deserves to be repealed rather than defended.
    Kathleen McGlone wants to sell Kerrygold Irish butter in her Slow Pokes Local Food store in Grafton, but could be fined $1,000 and jailed for six months if she does because it’s not graded by the Wisconsin butter panel.
    Kerrygold, pricey but prized for its taste as well as its cachet as a butter made from the milk of cows claimed to be free of growth hormones and antibiotics, is sold legally in every state except Wisconsin.
    It is so much in demand that the plaintiffs in the Ozaukee County lawsuit include a Cedar Grove woman suing for the right to buy it. Wisconsin residents living near Illinois, Minnesota or Iowa are said to cross state borders in considerable numbers expressly to buy Kerrygold.
    This sounds like a bit of a throwback to the so-called “oleo wars” when legions of Wisconsin residents became smugglers to bring butter-colored oleomargarine across the state line.
    Yellow margarine prohibition was in effect in the state from 1925 to 1964—evidence that America’s Dairyland has a powerful dairy lobby bent on making sure Wisconsin takes care of its own. People who wanted to eat margarine had to either buy it in a white form in a soft plastic container that came with a capsule of dye that could be kneaded into the gelatinous mass or sneak in butter-colored sticks of margarine from more enlightened states.
    To this day, it is illegal in Wisconsin to serve margarine of any color in restaurants unless a customer requests it and to serve it in state institutions, including state university cafeterias.
    Wisconsin has some legislative work to do, not lawmaking, but lawtaking—taking foolish or harmful laws out of the statute books. At the top of the list are the butter-grading law, the vestiges of the margarine law and the law that prohibits the enforcement of proven, common-sense fire safety measures.

 
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