Voices of Minnesota: Dean Abrahamson on global warming, and Eville Gorham on acid rain

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This January edition of Voices of Minnesota features MPR’s Dan Olson interviews with Dean Abrahamson, medical doctor and professor at University of Minnesota, and Eville Gorham, recently retired professor of ecology at University of Minnesota. Abrahamson discusses global warming, and its present and future impact on the Minnesota region. Gorham, who discovered the harmful influence of acid rain, discusses the past and current state of this pollution problem on the global environment.

Read the Text Transcription of the Audio.

(00:00:00) This will be 16 percent higher than in 1997. Even though there was also a strong economy that year as well Carvel says a combination of low mortgage rates and unemployment High consumer optimism and warmer than normal weather last fall fueled the strongest Market in decades one record was set at least through November in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. And that is that pending sales past the 50,000 level for the first time ever. It also appears that closed sales for 1998 will also pass the 50,000 unit level Carvel expect strong sales in 1999 and note some experts predict mortgage rates to fall as low as just over six percent around the region at this hour. Mostly sunny skies reported Duluth report Sunshine nine below zero a wind chill index of - 53 in the Twin Cities. Mostly sunny three above a wind chill of 29. That's news. I'm Greta Cunningham. Thank you Greta six minutes now past eleven o'clock today is programming is made possible in part by The Advocates of Minnesota Public Radio contributors include General Mills Foundation. And the Dayton Hudson foundation on behalf of Dayton's Mervyn's and Target stores for Arts and Cultural programming. And good morning. Welcome to midday on Minnesota Public Radio. I'm Gary eichten glad you could join us given today's wind chills the prospect of global warming may not seem like such a bad thing here in Minnesota, but scientists in general are concerned about global warming and many scientists say there are solid evidence that global warming is a present danger mother things. They point out that in 1998 records were set for the planets average surface temperature. The numbers collected by the World Meteorological organization show. The Earth's temperature. Last year was the highest by far since records have been kept today on. Midday. We're going to hear from an expert on global warming. We're also going to hear from next spurt on a related problem acid rain. It's part of our voice is a Minnesota interview series Minnesota public radio's Dan Olson spoke with two scientists wrapping up their careers at the University of Minnesota. Who Leaders in those fields first, we'll hear from Dean abrahamson about global warming later in the hour. We'll hear from Evel Gorham often described as the discoverer of acid. Rain Dean Abramson says global warming for Minnesota means more weather like the summer of 1998. There were 45 days with temperatures above 90 degrees the average Minnesota summer has 15 days with temperatures that high in addition the minute of the Mississippi River flow was at a record low level because of the lack of rain abrahamson is a medical doctor and a physicist. He was a professor for years at the University of Minnesota where he became an expert on energy and the environment here's dance conversation with Dean Abramson. What's the evidence to show that there's a problem? (00:03:04) Well, the evidence is straightforward. First of all, the science the basic science of the greenhouse effect has been understood since the 1890s. It's over a hundred years, the the concentration of these gases in the atmosphere is increasing carbon dioxide concentrations of increased almost 30% in the last hundred years concentrations of methane had doubled and could go through them all but there's a substantial increases and these are Known to very high accuracy and the the temperature. The Earth's surface temperature and lower atmosphere temperature has increased its been a measured increase its in the order. It's more than one degree Fahrenheit and probably less than 2 again over the last roughly a hundred years. (00:04:07) Some numbers kept by climatologists Don Baker and others from the University of Minnesota show that in some Minnesota locations. The temperature increases have either have even been higher I Eveleth jumps out at me is having a nearly 44 degree temperatures. (00:04:24) It's part of the part of the Greenhouse Effect and and result in climate change is that high latitudes warm substantially more than low latitude. So the increase let's just say that there's an increase on average of one degree. At the equator and near the equator. It'll be more like a half degree. And when you get up to say 60 degrees north, you'd expect it to be two or three times that much and the latitude here is 45 degrees. So you expect higher temperatures more warming the further that you go north (00:05:11) the predictions for what could happen to Minnesota specifically with global warming are pretty dire. The forests would perhaps shrink under one scenario rainfall amounts would change the weather patterns would be different. What what are some of those changes? What what do you think? What what are you satisfied might (00:05:32) happen with with global warming not so much that I'm satisfied with his in the matter of opinion. It's just basic the basic science their whole many Feedback systems that operate in the in the in the atmosphere and as temperature increases one expects to see significant changes in precipitation patterns in this part of the country probably increased total precipitation increasing more in the winter than in the summer and because of the increased temperature expect if I have higher evaporation, and so there's lower soil moisture all of the evidence are consistent with lower summer soil moisture in in this part of the country and then that of course leads to whole bunch of things you have less runoff have less Aquifer recharge Lower Lake Levels, Lower River levels, probably lose a lot of (00:06:42) wetlands. And that of course would if that were to be true Minnesota wouldn't be as much of a farming State wouldn't be as much of a Timber harvesting State as it is right now (00:06:54) presumably. Well, it's quite plausible. It's not certain by any means but it's plausible that Minnesota could just lose her forests. These systems are very sensitive to temperature and water vapor and soil moisture and the length of the growing season. So the tree species that are now here, Might well be lost. (00:07:21) We have a hundred years of Records. Roughly. We're talking about here in terms of temperature changes and that's a long time in my terms and your term. So in human terms, that's more than a blink of an eye but in geologic terms, that's barely a blink of an eye and we've seen over the span of the age of the Earth vast fluctuations in temperatures (00:07:45) for what Eddie reasons what (00:07:46) convinces you that this is just anything more this temperature rise in than just another fluctuate (00:07:52) fluctuation. We measured the Increases in concentrations of greenhouse gases measuring increases in temperature changes in precipitation. The Glaciers are retreating the temperature of the tundra permafrost is changing species are moving and they they're the overwhelming evidence that this is taking (00:08:20) place. The media accounts are showing us the torrential rains and different parts on different parts of the planet strong and intense storms heat waves and some parts of the United States are are all of these part of global warming. (00:08:36) It's all it's all consistent is one of the things that's been expected since this has been understood is more frequent extreme well events that had been regarded as extreme. We've seen it extreme temperatures Etc the us as a whole precipitation is increased about 10 percent over the last I don't know exactly several decades and interestingly. Most of that increase is come in downpours. That is they very high rainfall over short short durations tropical storms. Typhoons in the Pacific and hurricanes in the Atlantic are more intense. It's not at all clear that there will be more hurricanes, but that they will be more intense is as expected. (00:09:34) And what we're hearing is that it is human activity. That is the margin of difference that is tipping this balance that is causing global warming. But to be sure there are really big natural forces. I assume which contribute to global warming as well. Is that so (00:09:50) well, there's several things one is that if the sun intensity changes and the sun intensity changes a little bit and again, that's well understood volcanoes that are sufficiently energetic to put particulates in the high atmosphere cool the coolest Stratosphere and that's been measured and that's understood and all of those factors have been taken into account and and it's as important the rate of change is probably as important as the magnitude of the change and and the rate of change now is probably higher than its. Well it certainly higher Then it's been in any time for which there's a record (00:10:37) who are the big emitters. I human activity. I assume causes the a big portion. So is it industry or individual human activity that has to change or both the (00:10:48) major there? Lots of things are taking place. But the major component is burning of fossil fuels burning coal oil to a lesser extent natural gas produces a lot of carbon dioxide produces a certain amount of methane for for other reasons, and that's fossil fuel. Use itself is responsible for probably 60 plus percent of the total the total greenhouse effect. and You can't you've got dirty coal. I mean I'll call this dirty. But I mean you can scrub out the sulfur dioxides and you can take care of some of the other pollutants but you but you can't scrub out the carbon dioxide and the the single most important change is to reduce use of fossil fuels as quickly as we can and we can achieve the same Energy Services with probably a certainly less than half of the amount of energy were using now some analyses suggest we could reduce by 60 70 percent just by cost-effective. Increases in the efficiency with which we use energy and that's necessary but it's not sufficient. If we did all we can do to Halt the (00:12:16) creation of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and the others would global warming still take place. Not only because of the natural effects but also natural causes but also because of what's in the environment by by Human (00:12:31) by humans already. Yeah, there are two things one is because of a leg that's built into the system. We've only seen about half of the heating that will be caused by carbon dioxide and so forth in the atmosphere now the other will Express itself over the next 20 25 30 years and that's because it takes a long time to heat the surface layers of the ocean and bring and bring the ocean into equilibrium. So even if we could miraculous miraculously just stop emissions of Carbon dioxide we'd still see an increase of in temperature of at least as much as we've seen so far. Then the lifetime of these gases in the atmosphere. Most of them is quite long. It's on the order of a few hundred years and So eventually when we stop the emissions of CO2 and other gases eventually it will Decay back to to Natural levels, but it's we're talking about a few hundred years that is from from a social and economic and political standpoint. It's irreversible. It's not a reversible in geologic time, but we're stuck with it for Generations. (00:13:52) You're listening to Dan Olsen's voices of Minnesota interview with Dean abrahamson, former University Minnesota Professor who lectures widely on the effects of global warming recently at an international meeting in Buenos Aires delegates put off adopting rules for reducing fossil fuel emissions in a general way is the Earth's ecology environment resilient enough to withstand. What could be this fairly drastic global warming picture you paint (00:14:21) you come back to you come back to rate of change in if we would have a couple of degrees warming say In Minnesota over a period of a couple hundred years. As long compared with the lifetime of trees and so forth one would see a gradual shift from one from forests with their present three populations to populations that are happy with the warmer temperature, but when we're moving it quickly and we're now increasing at about two or three tenths of a degree per decade that is very fast. And so it is not likely that we'll see smooth transitions. But of course, I mean there will be something there friend of mine in Colorado who used to rub the national Center for atmospheric research referred to it as they as Minnesota moving into the sumac world. That is the big trees are gone and and brush and stuff and it of course entirely different species of animals and fish insects and And so forth there is (00:15:31) dispute sometimes fairly loud dispute over the measurement of temperatures and what people are finding in that way. So most recently, for example, the media carried accounts of the upper level temperature readings collected by satellites and the fact that they were either recording warmer temperatures or cooler temperatures, and there was a dispute over that. So how are we to evaluate that as lay people (00:15:59) the satellite things this was a real problem and and for a while certain of the satellites were measuring Temperatures that were inconsistent with what was being measured on the on the surface in the last few months that's been resolved and it turned out to be a technical problem associated with the way the the satellites were were calibrated but there's uncertainties and they are substantial uncertainties on detail and they will remain (00:16:32) still on the issue of dispute. There are people saying well we've been taking these temperature readings clocking the increase in global temperatures and they haven't been evenly spaced temperature readings around the globe. We've been doing them close to cities or we've been doing them in areas that generate more heat. (00:16:50) I understand and there's been great deal of noise and it's just noise. There is no such that there is no substantial scientific dispute regarding the science of the greenhouse Fey effect or the general trends that we're seeing where there is a very substantial dispute is what we should do about it and how earlier you mentioned the possibility of a carbon tax or something equivalent. Well, there are strong arguments to use the carbon tax as one of the tools and their arguments to use other devices and there is the that there's where the argument is. The argument is how to affect these changes that we know have (00:17:39) to be done. What are the things that need to happen (00:17:41) in December of 1997. This last year the signers to this. Treaty this International treaty met again in Kyoto and took the first steps first specific steps to affect these changes and that agreement calls for the industrialized countries taken as a whole to reduce emissions by about five percent by 2010 and its allocated some countries larger some countries agreed to larger reductions in others. The US was 77 percent and the question now is how to what kind of policy tools should be used to realize this which is a first step toward the reductions that are necessary. The Kyoto Protocol is controversial for a number of reasons and one is that it does not mandate reductions by the non industrial countries, India, China, Indonesia. Jump Etc are not bound by the agreement. They will ultimately of course have to be and that is that's a weakness. There's no question about it. That's a weakness of the of the of the Kyoto Protocol but it's not surprising and also the these countries industrialized countries are responsible for 75 80 percent of all of the increases in the past were by far the largest emitters now on a per capita basis, and of course, we've got the money in the technology to to make it happen. One should look for Majors that are simple effective relatively easy to administer and I think takes the opportunity of Market of Market forces. One of these is a look at it several ways. You could look at it as a tax on carbon carbon tax another way to look at it is to try and assess a value for the avoided pollution and avoided impacts associated with it. We're now I mean it said now that electricity is cheap in Minnesota and it is cheap in the sense that a kilowatt hour doesn't cost much but the cost of it is enormous. I mean, it's ranges all the way from smog particulates much of the mercury in the lakes of acid rain that remains all of these impacts are not paid for and one should it's called externally pricing that is that is one should assess a substantial charge call it what you will on on these fuels. And that I think I think a modest externalities tax carbon tax what you have can be very effective easy to administer provide substantial Revenue more than enough to compensate individuals that through no fault of their own are are adversely impacted either impacted because of higher energy costs or because of the the disruption of their livelihood and lifestyle associated with climate change (00:21:28) somehow. There's the impression that things are fixable we can do this. We can Define the issue and then we can put public policy in place to fix things. Do you think we're on the track here for a fixing global warming? We're about (00:21:44) 20 years behind what I think is the science would would justify but we've started you mentioned that the president Administration is strongly in support of reduction. Europe is much more so than we are. It's starting and unfortunately, it should have started earlier, but it but it hasn't as to can we fix things we can certainly soften the blows? You can't really fix climate. So we're going to have to live with. Here, for example, we're going to have to live with conditions that are more like the summer of 1988 than we would like and it's going to be very difficult, but we can deal with it on the other side the reducing emissions that technology is pretty well in hand. That is we know climate change and the greenhouse effect instructs us that we have to move to non-fossil. Primary energy sources Renewables solar Hydro biomass wind Etc or nuclear power nuclear power is also a relatively free of emissions of greenhouse gases, and we know that we're going to have to choose between Renewables and nuclear or some or some mix and we're going to have to do it and we're going to have to do it very quickly. and this this argument really hasn't started the the affected Industries. The nuclear power industry has been very much involved with the climate change things. They they sponsored in one way or another many of the earlier studies in the late 70s early 80s. They've been positioning themselves to Have a renewal of the nuclear option and which seems like a very appealing idea as you (00:24:04) point out because of the low emissions. We still have not addressed one big issue with nuclear power and that's how or where to store the (00:24:12) high-level waste. That's not the big one. The big issue is nuclear power is weapons proliferation. And and which relates of course to the waste management question, but most of us, I've been a Critic of nuclear power since the 60s rather active one and waste per se I don't regard that as a particularly serious issue from a technical standpoint, but the question of proliferation that is if we had a full-blown nuclear industry in response to something like climate change the the plutonium management issue would be absolutely mind-boggling and (00:25:00) you mean difficult to control people would have a all over the place and would be using it for it. Not only civilian purposes but for bomb-making (00:25:08) that's right. They there there's a there's a distinction between the military atom in the peaceful atom but it's a it's a completely arbitrary one and anybody Sickly anybody that has access to these things can use it either way (00:25:25) in abrahamson. Thanks for the conversation. Thank you very much. Former University Minnesota Professor Dean abrahamson an expert on energy and the environment you're listening to two voices of Minnesota interviews here on our midday program this first hour, and we'll hear from an expert on acid rain in just a moment right now a news update from gotta Cunningham Greta Greta. Good morning, Gary a source close to the talk says NBA Commissioner David Stern and players union had Billy Hunter struck an agreement to end the six-month NBA lockout agreement came after an all-night bargaining session and just hour before a key players vote One Source says a shortened season of about 50 games will begin in early, February President Clinton's impeachment trial begins tomorrow and there were still lots of unanswered questions Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott says he doesn't yet know how long it might last Clinton spokesman Joe Lockhart says President Clinton's lawyers are in the dark about what the procedures will be. AA card says President is anxious to get the matter resolved quickly and fairly in Regional news the University of Minnesota president, Mark yudof plans to ask the new legislature for a budget increase of more than 18% to improve undergraduate programs during the next biennium beautiful also ask for an extra 17 million dollars for building projects at the U of M right now Duluth Sunshine - 9 windchill index of - 53 in the Twin Cities. Mostly sunny three above a wind chill index of - twenty nine and Gary. That's a look at the latest news. Thank you Greta reminder over the noon hour. Today. We're going to take a look at some of the questions surrounding the start of tomorrow's Senate impeachment trial that's over the noon hour today programming and NPR is supported by the Twin Cities food and wine experience Valentine's Day weekend Minneapolis Convention Center programs available at lungs and Byerly's or 61237158572 decades ago experts predicted acid rain would cause a lot of damage. Minnesota's forests and lakes eventually Congress passed new laws, which caused power plants to start burning low sulfur coal switch to low sulfur coal diminish the problems caused by acid rain the man often credited with discovering acid rain as Evel Gorham Gorham a native of Canada was University Minnesota professor of ecology who retired in December before he stepped down Gorham talked with Danielson. Why is acid rain bad? (00:27:48) Well when you acidify the rain it falls on lakes and that in certain areas on types of Bedrock that don't resist it very well things like granite and quartz sides. It creates acid lakes. And of course acid Lakes are harmful to a lot of different organisms particularly fish and particularly sport fish. Use the (00:28:12) is the rate of harm caused by acid rain on the rise about flat or actually declining (00:28:19) Well acid rain in the eastern United States has declined because we've cleaned up some of the emissions from coal-fired power plants a lot hasn't declined as much as we do we'd expected. But in other parts of the world say China for example parts of the developing World acid rain is getting worse. (00:28:42) Granted the loss of Lake water environments is is a shame. What is the long-term harm? What is the cost in a broader sense to the (00:28:53) environment? Well, if one loses some sport Fisheries that that does harm to the state that has a recreational potential there that also does harm to native peoples who rely on those Fisheries some of them quite extensively it also tells us something about what we're doing to our environment. Generally if we're harming our lakes with acid rain. We're probably doing harming our forests as well. We're probably doing other things the environment that are harmful. So this is just one of many pollution stresses on our environment and it's one of the ones that's received more publicity. (00:29:35) It sounds as though as you mentioned just a moment ago. Maybe the most severe acid rain problems are in Asia right now. I gather that the burning of coal and lots of fast growing Asian economies is really a big part of the (00:29:47) economy. Yeah, China particularly depends largely on coal and it has a huge population. So the problems they are getting getting Severe (00:29:56) is it about eight years ago that we took a really major step in the United States, maybe North America generally to to take on the issue of acid rain and thus very nearly take care of the issue. (00:30:09) Well the debate started in the late 70s and early 80's and by the mid-80s, we'd come to come around to making agreements with Canada about trans boundary pollution and cutting back on sulfur oxides and it has had a positive benefit but it hasn't been as great as we had hoped and one of the surprising things is that the reason for that is that we're now putting into the atmosphere less dust less Road dust less agricultural dust and so on and that dust tends to neutralize acid rain, so we're not we're not emitting as much of the acid forming compounds. We're not admitting emitting as much of the basis that neutralize acid rain. So the overall effect is not been a all that we had. For (00:30:56) does acid rain harm much plant life or animal life in other than animal life in the in the Lakes? (00:31:04) Well, it's it's a somewhat debatable question in Europe in particular. It's thought that acid rain is one of a number of stresses ozone pollution sulfur dioxide pollution, which is a gaseous pollutant to precursor of acid rain and maybe some natural stresses such as droughts which interact to cause a syndrome called Forest Decline and the whole complex of forest decline hasn't been well sorted out but it's thought that acid rain is a major contributing factor to it along with other other stresses now in eastern North America, we have the same problem but to a lesser degree and we haven't been able to tie it down quite so tightly as they have in Europe, but probably acid rain is a stress on Upland ecosystems particularly because it leaches Nutrients nutrient bases such as calcium and potassium out of the (00:31:59) soil. Out of our power plants switched from so-called high-sulfur coal to the low sulfur coal what late 80s early 90s or whenever the big switch took effect. So for much of the United States, especially Minnesota did that at least stabilize the acid rain problem. If not, cause it to decline or did that cause new problems? (00:32:21) Oh, no, I think that was generally very helpful and it has caused a decline in the emissions of sulfur oxides, which has led to some decline in the acidity of lakes. But as I say, it hasn't been as favorable as we'd hoped (00:32:34) our Minnesota Lakes currently threatened by acid rain in your view. (00:32:39) I don't think so. I don't think our Lakes of ever been under a really major threat. There have been a few likes that of extreme sensitivity that might have been affected a little in their loss of alkalinity, but we haven't had an acid rain problem in Minnesota. Really our problems are much more those of mercury in our Lakes. Particular (00:33:02) sounds as though you link acid rain to a broader family of issues pertaining to the environment, especially what we're putting into the air. I get the feeling that acid rain is a serious issue no question about it, but perhaps in the in the on the scale of things less so than some other problems. (00:33:25) Well, I think the acid rain problem is a serious problem, but it pales into insignificance beside the possibility of some of the global warming scenarios that we see which would have a much greater and much broader impact on all of the environment and on all of human (00:33:43) society. You looked as when you were a young scientist at the environmental damage caused by smelting at Sudbury, Ontario. What did you (00:33:52) find? Well, I because I'd done some work on acid rain in England in the 50s. When I came back to Canada in the late 50s a friend of mine asked if I was interested in working on the effects of smelter pollution around the Sudbury copper-nickel smelters. And of course, I thought this was an interesting thing to do and so we went up and had a look the those smelters smelt vast amounts of copper and nickel ores which are sulfide ores and of course the sulphide wants you roast. It comes out of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere and this has a major impact on the local forests because sulfur dioxide tends to bleach chlorophyll. It tends to kill growing growing cells at the tips of branches and so on and so the sulfur dioxide fumigations were causing a terrible damage around the Sudbury smelters and we started looking at that and in order to get a feel for how V the Sulphur pollution was we use the small ponds in that area as as a central catchers for the acid rain that was a consequence of all this sulfur dioxide pollution, and we found that as we approach the smelters, the the sulfate levels of oxidation product of sulfur dioxide is sulfate the sulfate levels Rose sharply as we approach the smelters (00:35:17) was a strictly a local matter or was this widespread. (00:35:21) Well, we could trace the effects out about 30 miles or so from the smelters. But of course some of the that sulfur dioxide was going far beyond that because it can travel for a day or two or more on travel hundreds of kilometers are hundreds of miles. (00:35:37) I guess this work at Sudbury is what caused some people to pin on you the moniker the discoverer of acid rain your you're a little modest in that regard you say acid rain in fact was discovered what nearly a hundred years before that (00:35:52) well, I work at Sudbury was really a consequence of work I did on acid rain in England in the mid 50's. We were studying. I was studying the the chemistry of rain in the English Lake District, which I thought of as a clean country area and I was very surprised to find that it was subjected to a land deposition of a lot of sulfuric acid in the rain and at that time acid rain was something people weren't talking about some swedes of the who are working at the same time. I did found it in sweet and Scandinavia, but in the late 70s in going through early literature, I found that Angus Smith who was Queen Victoria's Inspector General of alkali works and really the first scientific civil servant discovered acid rain in the city of Manchester in 1852 over a hundred years before I'd found it in the in the Lake (00:36:46) District and he and he probably hasn't gotten much credit or do for that. (00:36:50) Well, I've tried to write him up and Given what credit is due and most of the people who are really interested in acid rain. Now know about Angus Smith, which I think is only right. (00:37:02) Well, the reason of course as you mentioned that you were over in Great Britain was work and and and finding a job and and then in the process in your own writing you mention a detail that is well remarkable that you and your wife lived in London during the what you call the Great Smog of 1952. I'm confess my ignorance. I had never heard of the Great Smog of 1952 and it's killing (00:37:26) power. Oh, yes. It was a very serious problem and it killed about 4,000 people in a week. They found this out by looking at the weekly death rates and all of a sudden during this week when they had an inversion over the London atmosphere that just penned the pollution in the death rate Rose by 4,000 people. What was causing this small? Well, it was fossil fuel combustion. But and in those days they were using a lot of dirty coal and burning it in in-home greats. So there was no clean up at all. And what happened was that an are Trap that pollution over London to an unusually severe degree. Normally the inversions would blow out in 48 hours or so, but this lasted for four or five days and so it just allowed the pollution build up to reach really toxic levels and my own feeling having lived through it was I'm surprised it wasn't 40,000 because we were in our 20s my wife and I and we felt pretty sick. (00:38:31) That's a rate of death. That one would associate with with the Dark Ages in the Bubonic plague and I suppose the only reason it didn't cause a riot in a panic was because it wasn't like it could be clearly linked to the inversion in the (00:38:43) pollutants. That's right. It took a took a while before people were able to really think seriously about this and it took another couple of minor episodes of smog related deaths to persuade the government that this was not a problem that was going to go away and let they should do something about it. Of course, one of the things they did was to to build taller smokestacks on their industry so that they could send the pollution off to Scandinavia (00:39:11) when he first arrived in Minnesota Evel gorham's interest in acid rain took him all over the state when he saw a Minnesota's vast peat bogs Gorham told State officials those peat bogs must be preserved. Let's return danielson's conversation with Evel Gorham jumping ahead. You came to Minnesota and in In 62 to teach it the University of Minnesota. When as you've established already a time when the term ecologist was was unknown. (00:39:40) I wouldn't say it was unknown because the university had some good ecologist. They were they had some of the Pioneers in ecology Frederick Clements was here in the early 1900's. He was a Pioneer plant ecologist when I came down Lawrence was a very well-respected ecologist. So there were ecologists around and this was one of the few departments that had a long history of ecology and it's background not too many departments had that sort of historical perspective on the subject. (00:40:07) Were you allowed to pursue any line of any line of research you wanted to or did you already have one in mind? (00:40:16) Well, when I came here there were no restrictions put on me as to what sort of research I could do. I could do whatever I pleased in the way of research. I did have some lines established. I wanted to study the chemistry of Lake water since I've been doing that in the Lake District and Minnesota has a wide diversity of Lake times. You can go from lakes that have Waters about the strength of rainwater in terms of their salt content. And if you go just across the border into the Dakotas, you can get it get into lakes that are about the strength of seawater in their salts. Although it's it's a not sodium chloride but sodium sulfate, but they're they're very like Marine Waters and some of them some of those North Dakota lakes actually have salt marsh plants around them. They're very much the same as you'd see on the East Coast. (00:41:05) When did you become interested in Minnesota's bogs or peat lands? I may be mixing two terms there that are dissimilar. And and what what importance do you attach to? Minnesota's peat lands? (00:41:18) Well, Minnesota's peatlands are comprised of bogs, which are acid and fans which are sort of neutral in their their balance of acidity and alkalinity and their Northern Minnesota is truly an area of dominated by peat lands and people tend to think of this as the Land of 10,000 lakes. It's probably the land of 20,000 peat lands. And if you want real Wilderness don't go to The Boundary Waters canoe area go to the Minnesota peat lands north of Red Lake, but I became interested in them because I'd been interested in peat lands in in England and during my postdoctoral year in Sweden. I'd I'd grown up in Nova Scotia where there's lots of there's lots of Pete, but (00:42:02) you can't swim in them. You can't troll in them you Difficult to build a resort around them and jet ski and them so their biological Imports I gather is the key. (00:42:12) Yes, they're interesting biologically and there they actually have a global importance because the peat lands of northern Minnesota are representative of the Boreal peatlands that stretch all through Canada around through fennel Scandia and through the Soviet Union or Russian Aza now is so those Northern peatlands store about 400 billion tons of carbon now, that's about three fifths as much a carbon as in all of living plants and about three fifths as much as is in the atmosphere. So they these peat lands are a major player in the global carbon (00:42:45) cycle, where where do they exist in the carbon cycle? In other words if we started burning those peatlands or in some other way harming them what would (00:42:55) happen? Well that raises the question of global warming and if global warming occurs According to some of the scenarios the most likely Result is the water table in the peat lands will fall what that means is that the surface Pete will become aerated it only accumulates because these sites are waterlogged and oxygen gets used up very rapidly by Decay. So it's only in these waterlogged oxygen-free environments that Peter can accumulate and if you dry out the Pete if you are aerated and expose it to oxygen all that that Pete will start to oxidize the carbon will become carbon dioxide and you'll have a huge positive feedback to global warming. (00:43:37) It's a great it's a great Pete is a great fuel. (00:43:40) That's right. And there were in fact some proposals 10 or 15 years ago to convert it into natural gas and use it as a fuel in Minnesota. Fortunately the state government behaved very wisely and decided on a lot of environmental impact statements. And by the time those had been down the federal money that was fueling all this Research into converting Pete into natural. As dried up the company's lost interest and we're safe for at least a while. (00:44:12) Are you pretty optimistic that at this point in your career? We have really arrived at a point in human understanding of the environment and the planets ecology that we know how to do these we know how to solve these problems. We know how to take care of these (00:44:28) matters. Well, it's it's hard to say because we know what we have to do if we want to reduce the CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. So that's that's pretty straightforward. But in terms of repairing damage to ecosystems that have already been damaged we're babes in the woods, you know, we just don't understand enough about nature to be able to restore it in the way that we would like. There are all sorts of headaches along the way and there's a lot of knowledge that we're going to need if we decide to restore the damage that we've caused already there. We know some things we can do about it, but we just don't understand nature. Well enough to do it do it. Well, (00:45:12) are you happy satisfied with the way we're training young people young biologist young ecologists to look at things. Is there a better understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of of the ecology and the (00:45:25) environment? Well, I think that's true. I think our students can get excellent. Now and many of them are really concerned about the environment and want to do something about the damage that were causing. I think what we need is a is a wake-up call for the public room not so much that we we need better training for our scientists. We can always do better than we're doing but we're training a lot of really first-rate scientists particularly in this department. We're getting really excellent graduate students and they're getting a good training. What we need is for people to perceive a threat to their psyche to do something about environmental problems. We saw it with acid rain the we only became concerned in Middle about acid rain in Minnesota. When the Canadians were going to put a power plant at atikokan that would threaten The Boundary Waters canoe area, which is deep in Minnesotan psyche. The Germans only became a concerned about acid deposition not when it threatens Scandinavian Lakes because they were exporting pollution there. It came when they were there their forests were And the the German forests are deep in the German psyche and when there was a threat to those they acted. So it takes a psychological threat to mobilize people to action and I don't think we've seen that yet with regard to say global warming. (00:46:48) When you were trying to bring people's attention to acid rain, there were some really powerful interests a raid saying well, no, that's not really such a serious problem coal companies even even scientists colleagues and and others and I assume that that equation is still the same in terms of interest groups who are arrayed looking at the global warming question and voicing the same sorts of opinions, or do you perceive that it is different this time that in fact no there isn't so much of that head in the sand attitude. There are in fact more people including people who have a big economic stake in the issue saying, you know, we really do have to do something. (00:47:37) Well, I think it's that's truly the opposition in terms of global warming is there all right, but it's not as blatant as it was with acid rain there. Energy Specialists working for petroleum companies who are beginning to think that this is something they have to take account of one of the interesting things is that one of the entities that takes global warming very seriously is the insurance industry because they're threatened with massive losses if global warming takes place if flooding of coastal areas takes place as sea levels rise and so on as the strength of storms increases and damage from tornadoes and hurricanes gets greater or from flooding. So the insurance industry is becoming concerned and when they become concerned, I have a suspicion that that Industries who depend on insurance become concerned as well. So I think I think I think it's better than it was but there's still a lots of well-financed opposition to any idea that global warming is a serious problem and there are reputable scientists the few not many but a few who believe that some sort of negative feedback will come along to save us. But by and large the the world community of scientists believes that global warming is a threat many of us believe that it's probably already here in terms of the human impact, but I can assure you that we will know probably within the next 10 or 15 years because if you look at the pattern of Rise of CO2 in the atmosphere, we are just on the hinge of the curve. It's about to turn up sharply because of the increase in fossil fuel use. And so if if that is true, we should see it in 10 or 15 years and know which track were on. (00:49:32) Neville girma a pleasure talking to you. Thank you very much for your time. My pleasure indeed University of Minnesota professor of ecology. I will guard him who retired from the you in December our voices of Minnesota interview series is produced with the help of Danielson five minutes now before 12, this is midday on Minnesota Public Radio time for the writers Almanac and here is the writers. Almanach for Wednesday. It's the 6th of January 1999. It's the birthday of Joan of Arc born in a town in the north east of France domremy in 1412. She was 17 years old when she claimed hear the voice of a saint urging her to battle against the English. And she said I answered the voice that I was a poor girl who knew nothing of riding and warfare, but she took up arms over the next year. She drove the English out of French cities in a series of battles during the Hundred Years War saying I am not afraid I was born to do this. She spent the last year of her life imprisoned by the English by Church authorities who charged with blasphemy for hearing Divine voices and the age of 19. She was burned at the stake. It's the birthday of famous abolitionist and opponent of slavery Charles Sumner born in Boston, 18:11. He was elected to the US Senate in 1851 where he spoke out against slavery. He said where slavery is their Liberty cannot be he was one of those who organized the Republican Party Carl Sandburg was born on this day in Galesburg and Western, Illinois 1878. The son of Swedish immigrants moved to Chicago in 1913. Got a job as an editor at a business magazine then joined the Chicago Daily News at around the same time his poem started coming out in poetry magazine including his most famous one that made his reputation the one entitled Chicago hog, butcher toolmaker stacker of wheat player with railroads and Freight Handler to the nation at the end of the first world war. He wrote pile the bodies high at austerlitz in Waterloo shovel them under and let me work. I am the grass I cover all two years 10 years and passengers. Ask the conductor. What place is this? Where are we now? It's the birthday in eastern Nebraska little town called Central City on the Platte River novelist, right Morris born in 1910 author of the field of vision ceremony in Lone Tree my uncle Dudley and other novels about life in small towns in the Midwest and it's the birthday of Bluegrass banjo player Earl Scruggs and Flint Hill North Carolina 1924 who with Lester Flatt formed Flatt and Scruggs in 1948 a band that went on for 20 years. Here's a poem by Carl Sandburg on his birthday the hangman at home. What does a hangman think about when he goes home at night from work when he sits down with his wife and children for a cup of coffee and a plate of ham and eggs do they asked him if it was a good day's work and everything went well or do they stay off some topics and kill about the weather baseball politics in the comic strips in the papers and the movies do they look at his hands when he reaches for the coffee or the ham and eggs if the little ones say Daddy play horse. Here's a rope. Does he answer like a joke? I seen enough rope for today or does his face light up like a bonfire of joy and does he say it's a good and dandy world. We live in And if a white face Moon looks in through a window where a baby girl sleeps and the moon gleams mix with baby ears and baby hair the hangman. How does he act then? It must be easy for him. Anything is easy for a hangman, I guess. Upon by Carl Sandburg the hangman at home from the complete poems of Carl Sandburg published by Harcourt brace jovanovich used by permission here on the writers. Almanach for Wednesday, January 6th made possible by primedia special interest Publications whose titles include Horticulture sale and crafts magazines research by Brian Newhouse be well do good work and keep in touch. It's 12 noon. This is midday coming to you on Minnesota Public Radio news headlines are next and then we're going to focus on the start of the Senate impeachment trial scheduled start tomorrow. We'll take a look at just what we might expect during the course of that trial on the next All Things Considered Industrial Hemp promoters. Hope their crop will finally be legalized. Now that Jesse Ventura is an office that story on the next All Things Considered weekdays at 3:00 on Minnesota Public Radio, KN o WF M 91.1 You're listening to Minnesota Public Radio. We have a temperature reading of three degrees above zero wind chill 30 below at Kenner wfm 91.1 Minneapolis. And st. Paul winter weather advisory in effect for the cities today with wind chills 35 to 45 below tonight clear and cold with a low near 15 below tomorrow increasing cloudiness with a high of 5 above.


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