Global warming comes home

The small patches of snow on Mt. Rose that pass for a snow pack this year are, according to scientists, the shape of things to come if the climate continues to change.

The small patches of snow on Mt. Rose that pass for a snow pack this year are, according to scientists, the shape of things to come if the climate continues to change.

Photo By David Robert

“Well, the impact on Reno and the northern Nevada area has been pretty well documented in other reports in terms of climate models,” Dan Geary said.

He was having lunch in a Reno restaurant while talking about global warming, and it wasn’t those other reports that were on his mind. It was the long-awaited report released in Paris that morning by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations/World Meteorological Organization group. But Geary took time to answer a question about how global warming relates specifically to the Reno area.

“And what the climate models have said for areas like the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Columbia River basin and the Colorado River basin as well, some of the immediate impacts of an increase in the average temperatures … is that much more of the precipitation that comes in is going to come in the form of rain instead of snow.”

He spoke one day after release of a survey that said average snow pack (on which Reno and other communities depend for their water supply) for the 400-mile Sierra Nevada range is 59 percent of a normal winter. The Truckee-Tahoe region is at 40-45 percent.

Geary, Nevada spokesperson for the National Environmental Trust and a member of the Nevada Renewable Energy Task Force, was on a swing through Northern Nevada to talk to reporters in an effort to make sure that the IPCC report was not overlooked.

Not much chance of that. The Paris report was the worst nightmare for those who claimed global warming was a myth. Years in the making, peer-reviewed in 130-plus nations, the report was so conservative that it was accused of being too optimistic. Yet its bottom line was a body blow to those who have trivialized global warming.

It said that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” and that even in the most positive scenario, temperatures are slated to reach an unsustainable level. A rise of more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit will cause massive species extinctions and melting of ice mass that could be irreversible within a generation. The IPCC provided several scenarios, and the most conservative projected a 4.5 degree increase by 2100.

The IPCC also said that fast action could avert such disasters.

Is this entirely a federal concern or is there something local governments can do? Geary said the place to start here was for the Nevada Legislature to kill Gov. James Gibbons’ plans for another coal plant.

In his state of the state message, tucked between two paragraphs about “ramp[ing] up the incentives for greater production of solar, wind, biomass and geothermal energy” and “incentives to the utilities to improve the environment, reduce greenhouse gases, stimulate job growth, hedge against fossil fuel volatility and help guarantee availability,” Gibbons made this proposal:

“After visiting with Wyoming Governor [David] Freudenthal and seeing what his state is doing, I will encourage the creation of a coal-to-liquid fuels plant in Nevada, similar to the successful plant in Wyoming. It would use existing rail to transport coal to the plant and convert that coal to diesel and jet fuel for use at airports. It could also create natural gas to be injected into a natural gas pipeline for domestic use.”

Geary said the plant would contribute to the problems Gibbons said in the other paragraphs he was committed to solving. Plus, he noted, Wyoming has substantial coal production and Nevada does not, which means that coal for the Gibbons plant would have to be transported into the state.

That would not only make the fuels produced less competitive but would also consume fuel, which would have additional climate impact. The Las Vegas Sun editorialized, “It is regrettable that Gibbons has latched onto an energy idea that depends on water-intensive procedures and imported resources when Nevada has few peers in the world when it comes to sunshine. … We hope the Legislature understands that we need a plan based on our own resources, not Wyoming’s.”

The day after the IPCC report was released, a second global warming report was released, this one by Environmental Defense and Colorado-based Western Resource Advocates. This one examined the impact of global warming on Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. It said that in terms of climate change, coal-fired power plants planned or already being constructed in the southwest would be the equivalent of putting 12.5 million cars on the highways for a year.

While there have long been some deposits of coal around the Nevada—most of them in no longer active or now-forgotten mining camps such as Lewis in Lander County and Verdi in Washoe County—coal has never been a substantial part of Nevada mining. Coaldale’s output in Esmeralda County was so meager that when the Nevada State Journal in 1914 reported that the camp’s output was finally coming to fruition, in fact its best days were already past.