S.D. must face climate change

Farm Forum

PIERRE – The most important topic missing from political debate in South Dakota is potentially more harmful in the long run than any semi-automatic handgun or AR-style mock-assault rifle.

The topic is climate change. There isn’t a single piece of legislation in the 2013 session that addresses it.

During the 2012 election campaigns for state Public Utilities Commission and U.S. House of Representatives, there was next to zero public discussion beyond the bumper-sticker level.

That was despite the previous involvement in climate change matters by two of the Democratic candidates, Matt McGovern and Matt Varilek.

McGovern and Varilek, rather than make their cases, dodged political punches from their Republican critics on the topic.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Global Change Research Program issued the latest version of the national climate assessment. You can find it at globalchange.gov.

The draft report is now in the public review stage. Assessments previously were completed in 2000 and 2009. A 60-person team with scientists from a variety of U.S. universities and agencies put together the current draft.

It is worth taking a look. There are 30 chapters covering specific topics and regions. Chapter 19 looks at the Great Plains. Chapter 27 addresses mitigation.

The overall sense seems to be time is slipping away faster than the existing efforts can respond.

The five key messages in the Great Plains chapter discuss:

·Demand for water and energy increasing because of rising temperatures;

·Warming winters and changes in timing and magnitude of rainfall events are altering crop growth cycles, and new agriculture and livestock management approaches will be necessary;

·Species are finding more difficulty in adapting because of landscape fragmentation, including from energy development;

·Communities already stressed by weather and climate extremes will face more frequent extreme events; and

·The changes will exceed what was experienced in the last century.

Consider one fact from the report: “North Dakota’s increase in annual average temperature is the fastest in the contiguous U.S. and is mainly driven by warming winters.”

None of this seems overly new, unfortunately.

During the 1990s, the Izaak Walton League held its national convention in Pierre. Two members of the Clinton administration addressed the big room of conservation-minded sportsmen about climate change.

The two disagreed on the reason for climate change, but they agreed on what was happening and what was ahead.

One of their forecasts was that weather events would become more extreme. We certainly seem to be seeing that come true in South Dakota.

Climate change as it continues to occur – and that is an assumption, that it will continue, because the trends of human behavior aren’t reversing – point to significant changes in how we live and prosper in South Dakota.

From blizzards to drought we will increasingly prove true our early state slogan, Land of Infinite Variety.

Just a decade ago South Dakota was at the front edge of addressing climate change through a carbon sequestration research project.

A South Dakota School of Mines and Technology faculty member got the ear of then-Gov. Bill Janklow about the concept known as carbon sequestration.

The idea was to allow farmers, ranchers and foresters to offer their crops, grasses and trees to companies that needed to offset emissions of carbon dioxide.

Through the photosynthesis process the CO2 is converted to oxygen.

Janklow worked with the Legislature and, for a time, put state funds behind the project at School of Mines.

Eventually the project sidetracked for a variety of reasons.

Now we are behind. Last November, California held its first auction of carbon credits under a new state program there.

California legislators passed a law in 2006 seeking to reduce greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020. A 17 percent decrease is necessary to reach that target.

Essentially it is a cap and trade program. Cap and trade was one of the Obama administration’s early goals, but the president gave up because of fierce opposition in Congress from members of both major parties.

Meanwhile we live with another Obama legacy. His EPA regulations have stopped development of new coal-fired power plants in South Dakota and throughout much of the nation.

We are instead steering more toward plants fired by natural gas. Gas plants are needed for peak demands and as backup for wind power, which is more expensive and sporadic.

We face other challenges. As passenger vehicles become more fuel efficient, and electric-powered vehicles become more popular, South Dakota’s fuel-tax revenues will be increasingly pinched.

That means funding will be increasingly stressed for highway maintenance and construction. At the federal level the transportation funding already has been forced to get help from general funds, which means the federal deficit increases.

No one seems to have an acceptable answer yet about how to put highway funding back on a path of self-sufficiency through revenue from highway users.

Many of the wind farms in South Dakota have been built for utilities outside South Dakota. While we get some taxes, we also have exported tax breaks for those ratepayers elsewhere in our nation.

Those tax breaks would make more sense if they were aimed at saving money for South Dakota ratepayers.

Perhaps one of our state universities could develop an economically priced system for home-based wind chargers for people with electric cars.

Those motorists could tap stored electricity from batteries kept in their garages, rather than use their conventional home sources of electricity to plug in their vehicles.

Those kinds of units could be built in South Dakota and marketed worldwide.

We face climate change’s effects on the Missouri River too, from the insanity of the 2011 flooding when the reservoirs couldn’t hold all the water that nature sent, to the drought that now has the Mississippi River’s barge industry scraping by as it demands water from the Missouri.

We have so much at stake and we are paying so little attention.