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Climate change figure

Climate change means global and local changes in historical patterns of temperature, snow, rain and wind. Ninety-seven percent of the world’s climate experts agree: Human activity is driving climate change!

Previous opinion pieces have described climate change reality and the negative impacts on Montana‘s quality of life and economy. The changes have been dramatic since 1850. Actions that Montanans can take to help remedy the effects of human activity have also been described. Here’s the way forward to build on what’s been described.

Remedies for reducing the impacts of human activity on climate change require unprecedented changes in our political and economic systems. Changes in the systems will be hard. However, we know how to make system changes. What is needed is to get the critical mass of Montana voters, legislators, state and local officials, community leaders and business leaders to agree in three areas. The first area is dissatisfaction with the reality of human activity-driven climate change and the immense negative impacts on quality of life and economic prosperity. The second area is a compelling vision of what reduced climate change would achieve. The third area is an affordable, achievable plan to achieve the vision.

Reaching agreement in the first area, dissatisfaction with climate changing activities is critical. It will be extremely hard. Despite the hard evidence, unfortunately, there is no consensus that human activity is driving climate change. One column noted that approximately 85 percent of Montana farmers and ranchers accept climate change reality. But, only approximately 43 percent believe human activity is the cause. Most Republican politicians deny the reality of climate change. They don’t like the remedies, so the science is rejected.

We have a classic dilemma — beliefs trump facts. The column revealed that denials are related to the degrees of politically conservativeness. Deniers don’t like the potential remedies. U.S. Sen. Steve Daines states that climate change is not caused by human activity. He should know better since he’s a chemical engineer.

Here’s a simple but good enough explanation of why the earth’s temperature is increasing.

Climate Change Fundamentals 1: Energy hitting an object is reflected, transmitted or absorbed.

Increased temperature drives climate change. High-temperature energy from the sun passes through the atmosphere. The earth absorbs the energy and gets warm. But the earth’s energy is at low temperature. The low-temperature energy can’t pass back through the atmosphere. It is reflected back to the earth. Burning fossil fuels raises levels of greenhouse gases — primarily carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — and increase the insulation effect of the atmosphere. The earth gets even warmer. The increase in temperature around the earth is uneven, resulting in uneven weather patterns.

Climate Change Fundamentals 2: The simple hot car concept captures the essence of climate change, increasing temperatures.

Consider the car as a model of the earth and its atmosphere. Sun energy radiates from the high-temperature sun. Most of it passes through the atmosphere and car windows. The air and car interior absorbs the energy and heat up. However, the air and car interior energies are at low temperature. Most of the energy can’t pass out through the car windows because the windows absorb and reflect the low-temperature energy.

Now let a burning candle be placed in the car. It simulates the carbon dioxide and energy emission of cars, trucks, factories, power plants and houses. The burning candle emits carbon dioxide and energy. The carbon dioxide further insulates the car interior. The candle energy heats the car interior. The car temperature increases even more.

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Allen Gates of Stevensville is a former chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department and former director of the Renewable Energy Center at the University of Nevada in Reno.

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