Some Kentuckians see new climate report as proof of global warming; some see slanted hype

jwarren@herald-leader.comMay 6, 2014 

Not surprisingly given the volatile issues involved, a new federal report on climate change Tuesday drew a mixture of responses in Kentucky.

To some people, the report sharply pressed home the idea that climate change is affecting many areas of the country. Others saw little that was new.

"I think it's more of the same from the Obama administration," Kentucky Coal Association president Bill Bissett said. "It reinforces the notion that they're out of step with issues that are important to Kentuckians."

Bissett contended that the administration is trying to steer the United States away from coal use, when many other nations are expanding reliance on coal.

"I think the president is trying to establish these initiatives as a part of his legacy, and it's very clear he's doing this without the support of Congress or the people of Kentucky," Bissett said.

David Moecher, chairman of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Kentucky, said the report "drives home the point" that the country, and the world, are "smack in the middle" of climate change now.

"If you page through the report, they're showing you the evidence in a manner that most people should be able to understand," Moecher said. "The trends are there. It's a question of whether those trends will continue, and the projections are that they will continue."

Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Len Peters said in a statement Tuesday that many observations in the federal report were covered in Kentucky's Energy and Environment Conference last year.

"We believe it's important for Kentuckians to be aware of potential impacts, which is why we presented this issue at our conference," Peters said. "The report also supports the assertion we have made that climate impacts and the support scientific data are better understood at the regional level than they are at the local level."

WKYT chief meteorologist Chris Bailey said Kentucky has experienced extreme weather swings in recent years, but he declined to speculate on the cause.

"Just here in Lexington, we had the wettest year on record just a few years back," Bailey said. "Two summers ago, we had the second-hottest period on record. In 2012, we had tornadoes on March 2, followed by five inches of snow, and temperatures in the 80s a few days after that."

He said people probably will continue to argue over what it all means.

"I let those who are smarter than me try to figure that out," Bailey said. "I do think it's a shame that a science issue has become such a political issue."

Kentucky State Climatologist Stuart Foster said the whole question of a changing climate is challenging for scientists as well as average citizens.

"The year variability in our climate is so large that it's difficult to identify trends that might signal that a fundamental change is taking place," Foster said.

"To do that, you need to look over a long period of time. And yet we can only recall the experiences of our own lifetimes, and even then our memory tends to be fairly selective."

Foster, a professor at Western Kentucky University, said the major message from Tuesday's report might be that our society remains vulnerable to weather and climate.

"The common perception is that we are insulated by modern technology," he said. "But in many cases we are not."

Jim Warren (859) 231-3255. Twitter: @heraldleader.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service