Scientist working on local climate change report

Social, environmental effects assessed as area grows warmer

Posted: Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The annual average temperature in Juneau has risen 4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1943, according to a meteorologist with the Juneau Weather Forecast Office.

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This and other climate changes could have a significant effect on Southeast Alaska, officials say.

The city's Scientific Panel on Climate Change is finishing a report on what environmental and socioeconomic changes could be on the horizon for the state capital, said Brendan Kelly, chairman of the six-person group.

"That's an area we want to understand better and help the community understand better," he said.

The panel was set up by Mayor Bruce Botelho to help educate the public on climate change in Juneau, Kelly said at the panel's meeting Tuesday afternoon.

"The first order is to lay out the facts in as clear a way as possible," he said. "We want to make sure we do that well before we weigh in what policy actions should be taken."

Kelly said there is no doubt the trend appears to be warmer temperatures across the globe.

"It certainly is a reality that the climate overall is warming," he said. "The earth overall is warming. ... In Juneau we're warming faster overall than the overall average."

In 1943, when local temperatures were first recorded, the average temperature for Juneau was 38 degrees. The average now is about 42.5 degrees, said Tom Ainsworth, a panelist and the meteorologist in charge of the Juneau Weather Forecast Office.

"It's not necessarily a bad thing," Ainsworth said, adding that the planet continuously goes through climate-change cycles. "It's a natural thing. But if we can use our information of these cycles to improve our lifestyle, then I think we should."

Panelist Jim Powell said there is a lot of "gloom and doom" associated with climate change and global warming, but there are things that can be done to deal with some of the issues the community could face down the road.

"There's a story here but there can be a good outcome," he said.

Powell said the community needs to turn the corner and realize that climate change is not just a global issue.

"There are things that we can do, and we can take action," he said.

Kelly and Ainsworth said the whole community should weigh in on the debate.

"This is a community issue," Ainsworth said. "It touches energy. It touches transportation, and it touches how you cook your meals."

Kelly said the panel doesn't think it has all the answers but said members can lay out what the scientific figures mean to the community.

"As scientists we have something to add to the discussion, but we should by no means necessarily be leaders of the conversation," he said. "The policy has to involve obviously a lot more than the scientific minds of the community."

Kelly said it will take business leaders and policymakers to use the panel's report to steer the community in the right direction.

"It's much harder to get a handle on is how will this translate into the socioeconomic impacts," he said. "What is this going to do to tourism?"

Ainsworth said the report will help tighten what scientists know about the climate change and present it in a community-friendly way.

"It's going to take this cosmic science thing and bring it down to the dinner table, I think," he said.

Kelly said he didn't want to give a firm date on when the report will be completed but indicated during the meeting he hoped to present it to the mayor by the middle of next month. He said the report will be presented to the Assembly and possibly other community forums during the fall or winter.

"I think it's a good sign that the community of Juneau has the foresight to take a look ahead at this time and see what we can learn," Ainsworth said.

• Eric Morrison can be reached at

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