Cathy Whitlock, PhD, is a paleoecologist at Montana State University in Bozeman.
She has written over 200 peer-reviewed articles for scientific journals, and was the lead author of the 2017 Montana Climate assessment, that among other findings forecast continued decreasing winter snowpack; increasing numbers of wildland fires; increased forest mortality, and increased numbers of 90+ days in summer. The study has been corroborated by other peer-reviewed articles including one that predicts most of the forests of the Greater Yellowstone will become high-elevation grasslands due to ongoing climate change.
I love the greater Yellowstone area – the National Park itself is a treasure that should be visited by everyone who is able to do so.
It is the American Serengeti for the variety and populations of wild animals that live there. In some ways, it is an island under siege – surrounded by growing populations in nearby cities, destructive recreational practices in formerly wilderness areas; pressures on animal migrations from agricultural and ranching interests, and the increased visitations to the National Park.
But one doesn’t have to love Yellowstone or have visited it to appreciate the dire warning in that Cathy Whitlock will publish in an update to the assessment that deals with the human health impacts of climate change.
As she told an interviewer:
“From a health perspective, the greatest climate threats in the decades ahead are the additional days with temperatures over 90 degrees F, smoke from more wildfires, and the increased likelihood of unexpected climate events (floods, drought, extreme storms). Warmer temperatures, more wildfires, and climate surprises will challenge our physical as well as mental health.”
No matter where you live, you will face some of those threats: increased temperatures, unexpected climate events, and other climate surprises.
Consider the physical and mental health challenges people have experienced over the last year due to COVID-19. There is at least the hope that life at some point will return to a semblance of what was called normality.
Now consider the mental and physical health challenges when there is no hoped-for light at the end of the tunnel – only an infinite tunnel that will grow darker and more grim.
Some estimates are that we have 10 years at most to stop the worst aspects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that emissions must be halved by 2030, and then reduced to zero by 2050 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Achieving those will limit the average temperature increase to 1.5 Celsius over per-industrial temperatures. And note the average temperature has already increased by over 1 Celsius.
We are running out of time.
You can read the interview with Cathy Whitlock here.