After the long, cold, snowy winter South Dakota has just experienced it is hard to fathom that the world is in the middle of a global warming trend.
And yet, at Wednesday's International Forum at USD's Faber Hall, the four panelists — Dr. Moses Ikiugu (School of Health Science and a native of Kenya), Dr. Dennis Johnson (Economics), Dr. Mark Sweeney (Earth Sciences) and Prof. Elizabeth Burleson (USD School of Law) – said it is a problem that is growing exponentially.
"What people need to remember is that weather is not climate," Sweeney said during his presentation. "Weather is the current state of the atmosphere – hot or cold, wet or dry, calm or stormy. The weather of one year does not change the average conditions over time."
Sweeney said trends are averaged over decades or more, and that even a trend might not accurately represent the state of the overall climate.
"For the last eight years, people have been saying that South Dakota has been cooler than normal," he said. "While that is true, the climate has still been warming, the oceans have been warming, the atmosphere has been warming."
That warming has had a devastating effect on Ikiugu's homeland. Because of that, he says he is the face of global warming.
Ikiugu explained that growing up in 1960s in Kenya was like growing up in a lush garden. Now it is baked ground with very little water.
"On the plains of Kenya, you can see the ice caps on Mt. Kilimanjaro," he said. "Those ice caps are now expected to be gone this decade. Once they are gone, there will be no water for the people."
He said that since 1912, 85 percent of the ice caps have melted away – 26 percent of that since the year 2000. He added that in the area where he grew up, there once was a running creek and a natural spring and now there is no surface water. The two largest lakes have dried up so suddenly that it has caused entire ecosystems to be lost because the animals did not have time to migrate.
"(Here's) something I want you to consider when you look at the ethical dimensions of global warming," Ikiugu said. "Kenya produces less than 1 percent of the overall global emissions of carbon dioxide. However, they suffer with 9/10 of the burdens of the results of all the emissions worldwide."
Looking at how to limit and even reverse the carbon emissions globally, is what Burleson (who recently attended the latest UN international Climate negotiations and participated via video link) and Johnson focused on.
Burleson said the scientific community at the negotiations did not think there had been nearly enough accomplished to mitigate the effects of global warming. However, no one was saying that it is too late.
"The scientists are saying we cannot exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial levels," she said. "At present, the best authors on the table show that we are currently at a 3.9-degree increase. That is going to have, according to the scientific community, catastrophic impacts across Africa and everywhere."
Burleson added that the political and scientific communities need to find a collective process in which to mitigate the effects.
"There are three ways to limit carbon emissions," Johnson said. "You can tax all carbon emissions, you can reduce through cap and trade, or, you can use direct governmental regulation."
Johnson added that before any of that can be done, scientists must first determine what the optimal level of pollution would be. He later added that even if that level is determined, it needs to be a worldwide effort and agreement, that the United States cannot do it alone.
He also acknowledged that global warming is a controversial topic, but said it is one that is critical it be discussed.
The next international climate negotiation will take place in Mexico. Burleson hopes that as the groups meet more often, familiarity with other countries will open the doors to negotiation and possible solution.