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September 2013 Issue

August 2013
Feature 1

HEARING
ALL SIDES

Feature 2

CO-OP CONVOCATION

Editorial

EDITORIAL
"Setting the Standard"

Wisconsin Favorites
Wisconsin Favorites
"A Breed Apart"

 

 

 

 

Hearing All Sides

Senators Quiz Climate Activists, Skeptics


The first legislative hearing we ever heard of on the subject of global warming was held on a blistering Washington, D.C., summer day in 1988, when then-Colorado Congressman Tim Wirth later admitted opening the hearing-room windows the night before so the air conditioning would be overwhelmed and the audience would swelter.

No such stage-management took place at the most recent hearing, before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works July 18. But against the backdrop of a new Obama administration initiative to regulate Earth’s climate through the Environmental protection Agency (EPA), it didn’t lack for interest.

Evident in this latest installment of the federal government’s multi-act climate drama was the fact that there are more than two sides to the global warming issue. Based on the testimony, we identified at least three.

Coming In From the Bench

The Senate and House of Representatives don’t figure in the climate plans announced by President Obama in a Georgetown University speech June 25. The speech itself was short on specifics, though on earlier occasions the president has advocated reducing carbon dioxide emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

More substantive comments on the administration’s plans appeared in a New York Times preview story the morning of the speech. Harvard Geochemist and White House adviser Daniel Schrag was quoted saying, “The one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants. Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.”  

Having seen a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade proposal die without coming to a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate four years ago and with little momentum for a carbon tax in either house, the administration’s announced intention is to bypass Congress and enact its policies through EPA regulation.

Nevertheless, in mid-July, Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Barbara Boxer (D–CA) gaveled her committee to order and took testimony from a range of witnesses, all energetic advocates for one or another view of the state of Earth’s climate.   

Introducing the hearing—titled “Climate Change: It’s Happening Now,” Boxer pulled no punches. The predicted impacts of climate change “are coming true before our eyes,” she said, and this “puts our environment and public health at risk, and the long-term risks are enormous.” Moreover, she said, “Human activities are the primary cause. That is what I believe.”

Majority Democrats and minority Republicans spoke in turn. Ranking Minority Member David Vitter (R–LA) complained that there would be no administration witnesses to testify about what he called their “sweeping climate action plan, which will undoubtedly tighten the federal government’s grip on our economy.”

Vitter said it would have been “useful to hear the exact, measurable benefits that the United States can expect from these [regulatory] actions,” and quoted former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson telling the same committee four years ago that action by the U.S. alone would have no effect on the climate.

The Give-and-Take

Arguably the star witness for those favoring the administration’s plan was Dr. Heidi Cullen, chief climatologist at Climate Central and a former Weather Channel presenter who several years ago said meteorologists who question human-induced global warming should have their American Meteorological Society credentials revoked. 

Cullen cited events including heat waves, droughts, heavy rain, and wildfires as consequences of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions warming the atmosphere, adding, “Climate models predict an alarming increase in Western wildfires in the coming years.”

Questioned by Vitter, who cited the decade-plus stall in global warming reported mainly by British media including the BBC and The Economist, Cullen responded, “The rise in global mean surface temperature has been slower over the past 15 years” but contended that instead of affecting the atmosphere, “the warming continues to penetrate into other components of our climate system,” notably the deep ocean below 2,300 feet.

Vitter began producing a series of graphs showing no recognizable trends in severe weather events, but Cullen argued that it would be a mistake to look to nationwide averages for signs of global warming, saying they would be more visible in regional trends.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R–AL) displayed a graph depicting the average of temperature trajectories predicted by 44 computerized climate models in current use, compared with actual, observed global temperature averages. The observational record shows temperatures since the late 1990s essentially flatlining within a range of 0.2 degrees, Celsius. The models had predicted they would continue rising through more than three times that range.

Cullen replied, “While we’ve seen this slowdown in warming in the past 15 years, the warming increases; it’s still increasing, and it’s going into other parts of our climate system.”         

Research Professor Jennifer Francis of the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University backed up Cullen, acknowledging the 15-year slowdown but pointing to “natural fluctuations in the ocean circulation that modulate this increase in temperature over time. Things like El Niño, we know, tends to increase the global average temperature, whereas La Niña has the opposite effect.”

Lukewarm?

Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado-Boulder, testified that his work with extreme weather and climate began at the nearby National Center for Atmospheric Research 20 years ago. Pielke said he would give the senators seven “take-home points.”  All seven, he said, are “consistent with what’s been reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” (IPCC) yet they collide head-on with conventional wisdom.

Pielke said it is “misleading and just plain incorrect” to say hurricane, tornado, flood, or drought damage have increased “on climate time scales either in the United States or globally.” Globally, he said, weather-related losses have actually declined about 25 percent as a proportion of GDP since 1990. “Hurricanes have not increased in the U.S. in frequency or intensity or normalized damage since at least 1900, Pielke said, adding that the same is true of tropical cyclones globally since 1970, the period of reference limited by the availability of good data. Floods, he said, “have not increased in the United States in frequency or intensity since at least 1950,” and “tornadoes have not increased in frequency, intensity, or normalized damage since at least 1950 and there’s some evidence to suggest they’ve actually declined.” Drought, Pielke said, quoting the IPCC, has “for the most part become shorter, less frequent, and covered a smaller portion of the U.S. over the last century.” Quoting Nature, Pielke said that globally, “there has been little change in drought over the past 60 years.” And finally, he said, “It is nonetheless a fact that the absolute cost of disasters will increase significantly in coming years no matter what you think about climate change or a human role in it, simply due to greater wealth and populations exposed in locations that are prone to extremes.”

Then the kicker: Calling global warming an “intensely politicized” issue, Pielke asked that his remarks “not be misconstrued” and said, “Humans influence the climate in profound ways, including through carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel combustion.” On the other hand, he said, “Some activists, politicians, journalists, corporate and government agency representatives, and even scientists who should know better have made claims that are just unsupportable based on evidence and research.”

Those “false claims,” he said, could “lead to bad decision-making.” 

Something for Everyone

Irrespective of individual views on global warming, anyone could have heard plenty that they wanted to hear—and plenty that they didn’t want to hear—over the course of nearly four hours’ testimony and questioning from senators firmly dug in on their respective sides of the issue.

Wyoming Republican John Barrasso said 40 percent of the nation’s electricity supply will be affected by EPA rules due out next year to regulate existing power plants, compliance costs will reach $130 billion, and there will be indirect job losses due to rising energy costs. Barrasso quoted then-candidate Barack Obama telling the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board in 2008: “Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”

But Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse said, “Climate change is happening now, the consequences are real, and we here in Congress should be working to slow the known cause of that change, the incessant dumping of carbon pollution into our atmosphere and oceans.”

Meanwhile, Vitter had entered into the committee record what he said was an e-mail from Ken Berlin of the White House energy and environmental team, listing things that shouldn’t be discussed when promoting the administration’s plan. Among subjects not to be talked about, Vitter said—adding that he was quoting directly from the e-mail—were “straight economic arguments,” “regulations to control greenhouse gas emissions from power plants,” “the validity or consensus of the science that is already settled,” “the need to regulate industry and shut down power plants,” “the increase in electricity rates,” and the admonition to not “overpromise on impacts taking action will have.”

Evidently, the discussions won’t take long.—Dave Hoopman, director of regulatory affairs, Electric Division, Cooperative Network

 

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Co-op Convocation

Youth Congress Grooms Future Leaders


Using the facilities of the University of Wisconsin–River Falls, for the past 50 summers Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives have engaged high school students by hosting a seminar to familiarize the teens with co-op principles and operations and to help develop leadership skills. July’s Youth Leadership Congress drew 130 teens and 20 chaperones a program that featured workshop sessions, team-building activities, presentations, and cooperative case studies.

Top-notch professional speakers, teen peers, UW–River Falls staff, and cooperative employees provided students with information on topics such as cooperative business principles, co-op job opportunities, electrical safety, and developing personal skills and confidence for everyday use. Many students got their first glimpse of college-campus life during the three-day program.

Cooperative Network, the state association for cooperative businesses of all types, coordinates the annual education conference on behalf of the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association, and students are sponsored by Wisconsin’s cooperatively owned electric utilities.

More than 7,500 teens have attended the Youth Leadership Congress since it began in 1964.

 

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EDITORIAL
by Perry Baird

As mayor of Black River Falls in 1974, Anderson (left) helps welcome a new business to the community: the Arrowhead Lodge. During Washington, D.C., visits on behalf of electric co-ops, he was the perpetual team leader for visits to his congressman (shown with Rep. Ron Kind, above right).

The story that drew me to a western Wisconsin high school one Saturday night in December 1996 was about Mike Anderson, Jackson Electric Cooperative’s long-time manager, and his return to refereeing basketball games. Following a nine-year hiatus from the court, Mike was newly partnering with his son, Todd, to co-officiate high school contests.

Mike’s daughter Tia had worries about her father’s reffing re-emergence: “He’s pretty energetic when he blows the whistle, and they [the crowd] can get on him about that.” Indeed, he used broad gestures and commanding vocals following the infractions he called—and the spectators responded as you might expect.

As all came to realize during his 44 years working for the electric co-op, that was the way Mike did things—with great energy, purpose, and flair. He couldn’t simply sit still. Jackson Electric staff, in Mike’s recent obituary, used the term “contagious” to describe his enthusiasm.

Breathless Entourage

  He had a way of pulling people along, whether willing or reluctant. I recall coming out of a 2005 Capitol Hill meeting in Washington, D.C., with Mike and some other electric co-op personnel and directors. Though our hotel was miles distant, without discussion Mike announced we’d be walking back, whereupon he lit out down New Jersey Avenue, and led the group on a long and brisk hike through northwest Washington. We didn’t—or couldn’t—resist, though many of us, including two of his own directors, were gasping by the time we reached our destination.

Taking charge and getting people to follow his lead were his style, and Mike’s career was peppered with examples of where he organized and engaged varieties of stakeholders in worthy efforts. It was why his name in electric co-op circles became synonymous with economic development.

Relentless, Recognized

In 1970, Mike continued his co-op employment while winning election as mayor of Black River Falls. At a 2004 award presentation, then-Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association Manager David Jenkins noted that when Mike became mayor, a third of Black River Falls storefronts were vacant, unemployment was high, and the area was plagued by “formidable” social problems. Eight years later, Jenkins said, Mike left office in “a thriving community…in large part due to one man who refused to give up on his home town.”

He set the standard for how co-op leaders might adhere to “concern for community,” the seventh cooperative principle. Spearheading the planning, financing, and construction of his community’s industrial park and bringing numerous businesses and jobs to the area, Mike in 1993 earned the highest award of the Wisconsin Economic Development Association.

Referring to his co-officiating son in that 1996 story mentioned above, Mike declared, “You’re only as good as your partner.” He consistently applied that same selfless perspective when crediting others for their role in successful development work.

Another quote from that earlier story offers a fitting characterization: “The crowd reacts, not only to the calls but the flourish with which they’re made.” Mike made the calls, showed the flair, and had the crowd with him.

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When you think of spending a day at the farm, you probably don’t think of spending a day frolicking with playful alpacas. However, that’s just what you’ll get to do during Alpaca Farm Days September 28 and 29.

This weekend has been set aside by the Alpaca Owners & Breeders Association as National Alpaca Farm Days, for which alpaca breeders across the country are encouraged to open up their farms to the public to introduce people to these unique animals.

Among the breeders hosting free, fun-filled events on this weekend are Dennis and Christy Pace of Pacesetter Alpacas in Beloit. They will be joined by County Road Alpacas of Brooklyn and Dreaming Tree Alpaca Farm, Ltd., of Rockton, Ill., in welcoming visitors to the Pacesetter Alpaca farm for a weekend of alpaca-related activities. This is the fifth year the Paces have sponsored this event; last year’s Alpaca Farm Days drew approximately 600 visitors.

Once again this year, guests will have an opportunity to watch hand spinning and fiber-preparation demonstrations and even try their own hand at spinning. They can peruse alpaca products, including raw fleece and a selection of sweaters, socks, scarves, etc., all of which will be available for purchase. Craft activities using alpaca fibers will be available for children. New this year is Peruvian food in a nod to the animals’ South American roots.

But the real attractions are the alpacas themselves. After spending an afternoon petting and playing with these gentle, intelligent animals, you might find yourself falling in love with them. And as you’ll learn during Alpaca Farm Days, there’s a lot to love.

As livestock, alpacas are close to ideal, according to the Paces. They’re fairly small, with an average weight of 100 to 180 pounds; disease-resistant; and resilient enough to thrive in locations with both very hot and very cold climates. Plus, alpacas are environmentally friendly. They don’t need a lot of space, and they don’t eat much; Dennis said a single cow eats as much in a day as about seven alpacas. They also have padded feet and just a bottom row of teeth with a hard palate on top, which minimizes wear and tear on pastures.

What they’re mostly known for, however, is their fiber, which is often compared to cashmere. Alpaca fiber is stronger, lighter, and warmer—three to four times warmer, in fact—than sheep’s wool. Unlike sheep’s wool, alpaca fiber has no lanolin, so there’s no “itch factor” and the fiber doesn’t irritate the skin the way sheep’s wool sometimes can. It comes in a variety of beautiful natural colors, from pure white to shades of brown and gray to black, and it can also be dyed easily.

The two breeds of alpacas—Huacaya and Suri—are differentiated by their distinctive fibers. Huacaya alpacas have more wooly-like fiber, while the more rare Suri alpacas have longer, silkier fiber. The fleece is sheared once each spring. Some of the fleece is sold to local artisans who spin it into luxurious yarn. At County Road Alpacas, a co-host of Alpaca Farm Days, alpaca fleece is skirted, sorted, washed, picked, carded, spun, and then knit, crocheted, and woven into beautiful products right on site.

Since alpacas are still relatively new to this country, having been first imported from South America in 1984, the commercial market for alpaca fiber is still evolving. Therefore, Dennis said much of the fleece is sold through a national alpaca fiber cooperative.

The Paces have a retail store right at their farm, where they sell Alpaca products as well as items from County Road Alpacas. The store will be open during Alpaca Farm Days, providing a perfect opportunity to stock up on warm gear for the cold days ahead.

At the same time, enjoy a beautiful September day on an unconventional Wisconsin farm.—Mary Erickson

Alpaca Farm Days will be held at Pacesetter Alpacas from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. September 28 and noon to 4 p.m. September 29. The event is free, although some craft activities have material fees. All proceeds and donations will benefit “Friends of Noah Wisconsin,” an all-breed animal rescue. Pacesetter Alpacas is located at 5546 West Plymouth Church Road, Beloit. For more information, call (608) 751-2261 or visit www.pacesetteralpacas.com. To find other Alpaca Farm Days events in Wisconsin, visit www.nationalalpacafarmdays.com/#farmfinder.

 

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©2013 Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News