Comment from Sikorski, Wade
I strongly encourage Northwest to take the strongest measures to reduce climate change. My family owns a ranch in southeastern Montana, and it is very clear to me that we are already suffering harm from climate change. Over the last decade, I have noticed that steel fence posts are being driven into the ground by spring blizzards. I increasingly find myself jacking up steel posts up out of the ground when I make the rounds checking fences in the spring, where I never used to do that. It didn’t used to be a problem. The wire would break, but the ground would be frozen and the steel posts would stay where they were. I take this as a sign of the climate crisis. It isn't the only symptom. On another part of our ranch, we have a draw that is filled with trees. We discovered that they are all aging, near death, and no new trees are replacing them. We invited a government scientist in to try and figure out what was wrong. He had us fence in two test plots on the draw. One we grazed heavily, the other we didn’t graze at all. Grazing didn’t change anything. The scientist told us that he believes that the reason the trees are not reproducing is because of a change in the hydrological cycle due to global warming. As it was with the steel posts, the warmer winters are melting snow throughout the winter. Snow does not accumulate on the ground the way that it used to, piling up deep in the draws where the trees are. Without the heavy snow to water the sprouts and to delay the grass, the trees are finding it too hard to compete against the grass in the draws. As a result of global warming we are losing the small number of native trees that we have on our place Some of the changes I have notice have serious economic consequences. On our ranch, we have a flood irrigation system of about 60 acres. When I was a child, the spring melt usually filled the system of dikes with runoff from top to bottom. Some years, we might have had 2 or 3 times as much water as we needed to flood all the dikes. One of my most vivid memories of my childhood was standing on a muddy dike in the middle of this project, water all around me like a sea. I was little more than 3 feet tall, and I would have been in over my head on either side if I fell in. I remember how tired I was, dragging 10 pounds of mud on each boot, and thinking how cold the water would be if I slipped and fell into the water. Today, I don’t have to worry about that anymore because the water doesn’t come anymore. For most of the last decade, I could walk the lands between the dikes and not even get my shoes wet. Perhaps our annual precipitation has declined, but not by that much. What has happened is that our long cold winters, where the snow accumulated until spring and then melted in a rush, have changed. Now, the snow melts away throughout the winter. By spring, the ground has thawed and the water soaks in before it gets to our irrigation project. This system, which worked really well throughout my childhood, is not flooding anymore. This is a considerable economic loss to my family. The swather windrows used to be too big for me to jump across. Now our yields are only a fraction of what they were. Recently, I saw a study the other day that said that North Dakota could average 50 days a year with temperatures over 100 by the end of the century. Although most of Montana might fair a little better, my end of Montana can expect to have North Dakota's weather. My personal rule of thumb, which is probably conservative, is that every day temperatures are over 100, our yields fall one bushel per acre, two if there is a breeze. We continuous crop using no till. Our yields now are between 20 and 30 bushels per acre. We can assume that half of those days over 100 will be during the growing season. So, if this forecast turns out to be true, and we lose 25 bushels per acre because of higher temperatures, we might not even be getting our seed wheat back by the end of the century. Some people say that we need coal fired electricity because it is cheap. I say there is nothing more expensive than coal. The Montana legislature has a choice to make. Either it chooses to support "cheap" coal, or it chooses to support agriculture. It cannot do both. If we choose "cheap" coal, we are going to lose not only agriculture, but the timber industry and the tourism industry as well. "Cheap" coal is going to bankrupt the state. James Hanson, one of the world's leading climate scientists has said that we need to keep carbon dioxide levels under 350 ppm to keep the Arctic Ocean's ice cover. We are now approaching 390 ppm. If we lose the Arctic ice cover, which reflects most of the energy which reaches it, and it is replaced by open water which absorbs most of the energy reaching it, the world's climate will be irrevocably changed. The huge amounts of carbon dioxide stored in the Siberian and Alaskan tundra will be released. The methane hydrates stored at the bottom of the ocean will bubble up, increasing the greenhouse effect. If we do not dramatically change our energy policy soon, we will live on an entirely different planet, one that is not nearly as favorable to human life. We must move quickly if we are going to save the economy of Montana. But not even that is enough to save the economy of Montana. We must find a way to take carbon out of the air, reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases until they are under 350 ppm again. I would suggest turning biomass into charcoal and plowing it into farmland across Montana. This is one of the cheapest ways to take carbon dioxide out of the air and it will have the added benefit of improving Montana's soil quality.