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Tempers heat up during climate change debates

FARGO, ND - For local weather and climate experts, the correlation is clear: Talking about the rising global temperatures can lead to hot tempers.

It can be a frustrating process for scientists to be wrapped up in a debate fraught with “political dogma,” said John Wheeler, chief meteorologist at WDAY-TV.

“Interestingly enough, both sides (Republican and Democrat) will use science as a way to defend their points of view, without really – and this is going to sound cold and mean – without really having much of a grasp of climate science at all,” he said.

On one hand, climate change deniers tend to believe that everything happening to the global climate is a natural process. On the other side, some believe that global warming is 100 percent caused by humans.

“Reality is probably neither of those but a combination of both,” Wheeler said, “but it’s hard to get people to accept that.”

With the term “climate change” now firmly in the lexicon, it seems too many people use it to explain any weird or extreme weather, local experts said.

Daryl Ritchison, a researcher at the North Dakota State Climate Office, pointed to the current wet cycle in the Red River Valley. The wet and dry cycles here are naturally occurring and always have been, he said.

“Everything now is attributed to ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change,’ ” Ritchison said. “Oh, come on. Let’s get real here. These things have always occurred, you know, and there are natural cycles that we don’t understand, and there are these other influences out there. We’re just trying to determine, where is our impact?”

Wheeler said people often talk to him about how Cooper’s hawks are now nesting in Fargo and they attribute it to “climate change.” There’s no evidence to support that theory, he said.

“Climate change may have a role in forcing some changes, but it’s really difficult to just be a casual layperson and figure out which one is which,” Wheeler said. “It’s just not simple.”

There’s also some difficulty in explaining that even though the argument for man-made global warming is strong, the “vast majority” of it is still just a forecast.

“It is a prediction,” Wheeler said. “It’s based on pretty good science. It’s based on trying to resolve a combination of knowns and unknowns, but it’s still a forecast.”

Adnan Akyuz, North Dakota’s state climatologist, said Earth’s climate has always experienced cycles of variability, dating back more than 2,000 years ago to warming and cooling trends that lasted hundreds of years.

“The difference (today) is the humans,” he said. “We have more humans. And we have newer technologies.”

Still, Akyuz said the argument that global warming will continue ad infinitum is formulated using historical trends, which he said can be “dangerous forecasting,” especially when you extend those trends out 50 or 100 years.

“It is possible that you put these trends into a computer and the computer is going to give you an output,” he said. “It is all under the assumption that if the current trend can be extrapolated into the future, which, in most statistical courses, it might be OK. But in climate, it is just not OK.”

Akyuz said he is criticized by some for espousing that global warming is good for North Dakota because the warming of the state has led to a lengthier growing season.

Still, Akyuz, who teaches courses on meteorology and climatology at North Dakota State University, said he doesn’t get frustrated hashing out details of climate change.

Being an educator helps, he said.

“It naturally gives me tendency to be patient and put it 

Erik Burgess
Erik Burgess covers city and county government for The Forum. He started as the paper's night reporter in 2012, after graduating from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn. He was born and raised in Grand Forks, N.D., and also spent time interning at the Grand Forks Herald.  Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to
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