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Environmental Protection & Preservation


Global Climate Change Tip Sheet


Climate change is becoming obvious to the casual observer, said J C Randolph, an environmental science professor at Indiana University and former regional director with the National Institute for Global Environmental Change. "Scientists are no longer in the position of having to convince people that global warming is real, because they are seeing it for themselves. More and more people are noticing things around them that don't seem quite right -- lakes freezing later in the fall and thawing sooner in the spring, mosquitoes appearing at higher altitudes, places that used to be ski destinations having little or no snow all year," he said. "These personal observations drive home the images of melting polar icecaps and the possibility of rising sea levels that they hear about on the news. People are now questioning whether the increased occurrence of severe weather they are experiencing is part of a larger global trend. Ten years ago when I lectured to students about global warming, all their questions were challenging the evidence and whether it was really happening. I gave a similar lecture a few weeks ago, and all they talked about was what we can do to try and stop this process."

WATER STRUGGLES IN NORTH AMERICA. Conflicts over water supply have already emerged between the U.S. and Mexico, and may soon be a Canadian issue as well, according to Indiana University environmental science experts.

Bill Jones, a professor in the School of Public and Environmental Sciences who specializes in water management, said the present dispute between California and Mexico over construction on the All-American Canal will not be the last clash over water rights between the two nations. "Water conflicts are only going to get worse between the U.S. and Mexico. We have a compound problem involving prior appropriation rights, drought problems and new development, all of which create an environment of water scarcity. The first rule of Western water law is 'First in time, first in right,' meaning that if a company has been using 100,000 gallons of water a month, they have an indefinite right to keep using that much water. That means that during a drought, upstream users continue to appropriate the same amount of water, leaving little or nothing available for Mexico. As development continues in the drier of areas of the West, the problem gets worse because the U.S. winds up breaking treaties with Mexico in order to divert water for new projects. From the standpoint of developers in California, if you are not growing you are not prospering, so they'll make every effort to maximize their own supply as demand increases. That's bad news for Mexican crop farmers."

Farther north, forestry and environmental studies expert Matt Auer foresees water problems involving Canadian cropland. As temperatures rise near the earth's surface, farmland in the U.S. heartland may become inhospitable for crops like wheat and corn, Auer said. The continent's "bread basket" may need to move north to Canada. But cutting down Canada's boreal forest for agriculture could have serious consequences for water supply and water quality. "Forests in upland areas act like clean water generators," he said. "In the absence of forests, there is little retention of water -- it runs down hillslopes or is quickly evaporated from soils instead of percolating deeper into soils. Less groundwater recharge occurs. Moreover there are real unanswered questions about whether the agricultural system of the Great Plains can be transported to Canada. Are the soils the right type? Will precipitation patterns be comparable to that in the Great Plains? Answers to these questions have consequences for North American food security but also water security."

FLOODS IN MIDWEST AND NORTHEAST EXPECTED RESULT OF GLOBAL WARMING. Persistent wet weather will likely lead to severe flooding in the Midwest and Northeast states as a result of global warming, said Indiana University environmental affairs professor Matthew Auer. "Climate change models suggest more rain and bigger storms," he said. "During the growing season, a sizable volume of rainwater can exit the system as water is taken up by trees and vaporized out of leaf surfaces. But in the winter, broadleaved trees are leafless. Less water leaving through trees means more water piling up on the ground where we live. Look out -- there are some gully washers coming."





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