Episode 5: Climate Change and Global Public Health

Climate change isn’t just an environmental issue, it’s a public health issue.

Human health and the health of the natural world are intricately linked together. Understanding these connections is increasingly important. 

Dr. Bill Rom, originally from Ely, Minnesota and now a research scientist at New York University’s School of Public Health, discusses impacts that extreme weather, wildfires, and other climate-related disasters have on human health.



Dr. Bill Rom, originally from Ely, Minnesota and now a research scientist at New York University’s School of Public Health, discusses impacts that extreme weather, wildfires, and other climate-related disasters have on human health.



Dr. Bill Rom  00:01

So going forward, if the temperature continues to rise P wave exposures going to be like eight out of 11 billion people and 2100 There’ll be water stress. There’ll be risk to power production because so many air conditioners, crop yield change, habitat degradation. But we’re still not on track to decarbonize.


Chris Knopf  00:27

Hello. Welcome to the Friends of the Boundary Waters podcast, and Chris Knopf, their friends Executive Director. for over 45 years, Friends of the Boundary Waters has connected people, communities, and the wilderness. It’s Wednesday, November 17. And we’re talking about climate change, as government officials and delegates continue to meet in Glasgow, Scotland, to negotiate a greener future for our planet. On today’s podcast we’ll talk to Dr. Bill ROM, who is originally from Ely and his father was a leading advocate for creating the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness. Dr. Rom is a research scientist and professor at New York University’s School of Public Health. Dr. Rom will talk about climate science and the impact that extreme weather wildfires and other climate related disasters have on human health. For more information, if for resources presented in this podcast, please visit friends-bwca.org. Here’s Dr. Bill Rom.


Dr. Bill Rom  01:29

Welcome to a seminar on climate change. We’ll cover some of the science of climate change, a little bit of the public health ecology and then policy. So I’m a 1963, graduate of Ely Memorial High School, and I grew up as a wilderness guide for my father at canoe country Outfitters and was a guide in the Boundary Waters and Quetico. There was a great time in the 60s. And then early in the 70s. I even had a chance to lobby with Bud Heintzelman for the Boundary Waters Canoe Act Wilderness bill, which was a lot of fun. And I’ve been going back to our Burntside Lake cabin ever since, every summer since. I realized it’s gotten a lot hotter. We’ve been had heat waves as well as forest fires. Last summer, we had a severe drought, and then some severe Derecho winds that knocked down many trees and up ended the entire Blueberry Festival in Ely. So climate change, as the science has been around for more than a century if you’d believe Svante Arrhenius described the global warming that would occur from increased greenhouse gases on the surface of the Earth in 1898, and received the Nobel Prize for this and chemistry in 2003. So on this slide, you can see the average temperature in the continental US 1951 61 to 1980, compared to 1990 to 2020. And you can see we’ve gone from blue and pink to bright red. So the global mean temperature is increased by 1.2 degrees Celsius. And this can be even felt in the United States. On the right, you can see precipitation because a warming world will increase evaporation. So you can see that in Minnesota, we have more precipitation in the last 30 years compared to the 30 years previous to that and much more precipitation here in the Northeast. But the mega drought of the Southwest is intensified, particularly over the last two decades in the Colorado River Basin, as you’ve heard, in California, and the Southwest. The cause of all of this heating is greenhouse gases, that greenhouse gases form a layer where the visible light comes through the sky, and it’s infrared radiation that hits the surface of the earth and bounces back up to this greenhouse gas layer and then is reflected back to the surface of the earth causing global warming. The main greenhouse gas has been increasing, as shown on this chart on the left called the Keeling Curve. That was started by Charles Keeling in 1958 and 59 in the International Geophysical Year when he invented a machine to measure co2 At the summit Manau Loa where he thought there would be clean air and measured a value of about 310 parts per million. He was able to keep measuring this year by year, and most recently it’s hit almost 420 parts per million more than a 40% increase. The problem was co2 is that’s a long lived gas you You can see on the lower right that at the end of 100 years 33% of it is still up in the sky. So it’s very different than air pollution. On the upper right, you can see that in light blue 80% of the greenhouse gases are our is co2. But there are three other important ones. The dark blue is methane. You’ve heard a lot about methane lately, but it’s 80 times more potent than co2 and causing global global warming over a 10 year period. It comes from oil and gas drilling, particularly fracking, pipelines, end users and furnaces and stoves, and also from landfills. And even from cattle with their burping on farms in green is into nitrous oxide, which primarily comes from farming, with fertilizer and rice paddies being the main emitters in red is a very important potent greenhouse gas, and they’re called the Montreal Protocol trace gases. Those are the chlorofluorocarbons that we use for refrigerants and air conditioning sets. Unfortunately, the chlorofluorocarbons would destroy ozone and cause an ozone hole. So the chemistry protagonist changed to hydrochlorofluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons which did not destroy ozone.


Dr. Bill Rom  06:30

That improvement, however, was a real tragedy for global warming. Since these compounds were 2000 times more potent than co2. We are now changing to ISO butane and propane, and (unintelligible), and to accelerate that we have a protocol, originally the Montreal Protocol 1988. But now the Kigali agreement to phase out all of these chemicals. This is a treaty that requires two thirds of the Senate, which is as you know, probably impossible to achieve. So it was added, as a special American innovation and manufacturing act to the omnibus bill that passed December 27 was signed by Trump so that we got this Kigali agreement into law. A week ago, the EPA has put out regulations for these chemical compounds. Fossil fuels, as you’ve heard, are the main causes of co2 and methane. And here you can see on the right that since about 1960, we’ve had a tremendous increase in coal, oil and gas production, causing this anthropogenic production of co2. On the left, you can see that in a cumulative manner, the United States has been the number one emitter over time, he you the second China third, Russia for more recently, China has passed the United States as being the major emitter, and India has moved up to fourth position primarily from all their coal production. So we have a national climate assessment that comes out every few years. And we’re currently writing the Fifth National Climate Assessment assessment. But these have shown on the left that global warming is primarily human caused in the production of fossil fuel emissions. And on the right you can see that most of these emissions are now from the transportation sector, automobiles, second electricity sector and green for coal fired and natural gas fired power plants, industry 22% primarily steel and cement, agriculture and building sector. So in planning, changes to policy, one has to keep in mind all of these prospects. So global warming has really heated up the world. Most of this heat has been stored in the ocean 90% the total heat gain is something like 358 Zetta joules. If you’re like me, I don’t I really can’t picture a Zetta jewel. And you might imagine that that would be the equivalent of four Hiroshima atomic bombs going off every second for 25 years. That kind of gets your attention about how will we really heated up the planet. So for public health, our first major concern is heat waves and increased number of hot days. This has become the deadliest of weather related hazards in the United States. And you can see it’s primarily across the center part of the globe, we’ve had to heat waves in a number of key areas the famous one was in August 2003. In France, where the mean maximum temperature exceeded the seasonal norm by 11 to 12 degrees Celsius on nine consecutive days, there were 15,000 excess deaths in France 32,000 in Western Europe, and these are primarily due to heat stroke, hyperthermia, high dehydration, chronic respiratory disease, heart failure stroke. This is primarily among the elderly and the lack of air conditioning was a key challenge. More recently, we had that heat dome in Portland and Seattle in British Columbia, where there were about 1000 deaths this past summer. cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul will have a urban heat island profile from the buildings and parking lots that will be lower in the suburbs where there are trees.


Dr. Bill Rom  11:02

And there are disparities in relation to heat and cities. This is a map of Richmond, Virginia. On the right, you can see what’s called redlining. This is from the 1930s where the federal government guaranteed mortgages and a red line areas that were poor. Those also turned out to be areas of persons of color, primarily black, and green was more wealthy areas, those turn out to be right, white primarily, on the left, you can see red, the hotter areas were in the red line districts and that’s where there would be more ambulance with heat stroke patients, and blue is less hot. And if you look at the impervious surface surfaces on the lower right, you can see that the red line areas had more asphalt and highways and things of that nature, whereas the suburbs had more trees and greenery on the upper left. So Minneapolis was a heavily redline city, as you may imagine, as well as Portland, Oregon, where much of the conflict over the past year occurred. So those areas are also areas where there’s increased air pollution. This is a slide looking at particulate matter, that’s the most concerning air pollutant for causing cardiopulmonary mortality. The particles that are 2.5 microns and smaller are what get into the lower lungs and are absorbed into the blood causing cardiac and pulmonary mortality. But we’ve been pretty good with our Clean Air Act. As you can see in the upper right, the PM 2.5 has been declining over the last 40 years. Although in the upper left you can see it’s still pretty intense in the eastern third of the country in California. If you look at districts where there are air pollution monitors, the most polluted areas in 1981. Were still the most polluted areas in 2016 36 years later, despite a shown in the bottom here, that all of these areas had about a 40% improvement. So here in the middle, you can see that the areas that had the least change and pm were still the cleanest and the dirtiest were still the dirtiest, over 36 years of disparate disparities persist in air pollution. On the right is the mortality curve from cardiopulmonary disease related to particulate matter concentration on the x axis, and the hazard ratio risk for death from these diseases on the ordinate. The standard in the US has always been around 15 micrograms per meter cube. Under Obama, there was a big push to lower this and Obama lowered it to 12. The World Health Organization has set 10. But as you can see this as a straight line relationship, and our standards should really be lowered from 12 to 10, or maybe even down to eight. Interestingly, if this were to happen, that would not only clean up power plants, but it would also reduce co2 pollution dramatically. So under Biden, the PM 2.5 standard is going to be re evaluated as well as the ozone standard. So that’ll be occurring over the next year. So PM 2.5 is not only from transportation and power plants and major sources now wildfire smoke and we had this and Ely all summer we got it from fires and aquatica. We’re just north of Crooked Lake that went all the way up to Sturgeon. And I hear even up to Lonely Lake and that area, so a lot of the critical burn and that smoke came down to Ely. And then we had the Greenwood fire south of Ely that closed Highway One. We had smoke coming from both directions, and Ely was full of firefighters sleeping in their tents on the college campus at vermillion. But if you look at the mortality and morbidity from wildfire smoke, the wildfire season is increased by more than two months. average duration of fires has increased fivefold, you can probably remember that the area of these fires has increased from about half a million acres to four to 5 billion acres every summer now.


Dr. Bill Rom  15:49

There’s an interesting study in a journal of the American Heart Association that looked at a time series analysis that found California wildfires in 2015. were significantly associated with emergency department visits for ischemic heart disease, just really dysrhythmia heart failure, pulmonary embolism, stroke, and respiratory conditions, especially if you’re more than 65 years of age. So going forward, what are we expecting and heat if the temperature continues to rise to up to three degrees Celsius, heatwave exposure is going to be like eight out of 11 billion people and 2100 There’ll be water stress. There’ll be risks to power production because so many air conditioners crop yield change habitat degradation. The UN with a current Glasgow commitments say that we might lower this three degrees to two seven or two four. But we’re still not on track to decarbonize. So the second public health concern, or the third after air pollution and heat waves is extreme weather. These are examples of Hurricane Sandy hit New York on the left is are the ambulances evacuating NYU hospital on the right is the surge of 14 feet that flooded Bellevue Hospital. So I worked at Bellevue for 25 years as head of the chest service. And I had seven freezers full of research samples and the freezers were at risk of stopping electricity. The flooding flooded the basement of Bellevue, the elevators were then shorted out. The diesel emergency generators are on the 13th floor but the elevators and the pumps weren’t working to bring diesel up to the generators. So the lights would flicker out after about 24 hours. The pumps were out for bringing water up to the 22nd floor that would by gravity, flush 1000 toilets. So 1000 toilets wouldn’t flush after 24 hours. So all these hospitals had to be evacuated. You can imagine the challenge to get patients transferred to other hospitals, but we had months without having patients to train our fellows. So we had to mobilize other hospitals to help with all of that effort. The fourth area of concern is food insecurity. This is what’s happening in Africa. Some of the occurrence in the Indian Ocean provide a cold blog that provide drought conditions to parts of South Africa. southern Madagascar is in a severe famine right now. Some of these warm blobs spread and bring too much water to crops like in Kenya, where they have huge locust outbreaks that eat their corn. And they heat in general reduce crop quantities by five to 10%. So he ecological changes include a loss of ice or glaciers are melting. On the left is what’s happening to Kilimanjaro. The ice about 11 square meters will decline to zero in the next few years. In 1970 As a University of Minnesota, third year medical student I went to Tanzania and climbed Kilimanjaro. That’s me on the left in 1970 with a nice big glacier behind me. Then I got married and had Nicole who works at ClimateGen in Minneapolis. 29 years later, she was at Bates and did a semester at Tanzania. And you can see at Uruhu Point that the glacier is gone. This photograph interestingly was used for the first debate on this floor of the United States Senate in 2003 for the McCain Lieberman, Cap and Trade Bill, I was on sabbatical with Senator Clinton and talk to her staff and the senator into giving a speech on the floor of the Senate. And at eight o’clock at night, she gave her five minutes bashing George W. Bush and etc. But McCain, Lieberman, Clinton and Rom are the last four people on the floor of the Senate. So I was able to meet all of those distinguished individuals.


Friends of the Boundary Waters  20:28

We’re going to take a short break here to ask Do you need help planning for your next Boundary Waters trip, visit our website at Friends dash BW ca.org, where you’ll find amazing trip resources, route maps, articles and free guides to prepare for your next BWCA adventure.


Dr. Bill Rom  20:49

So glaciers are disappearing Glacier National Park is at risk. This huge glacier came up to the Alsek River in near Alaska. And the Yukon was gigantic and photographed in 1906, by the international border survey. And this was found by a friend of mine, Neil Hartling, who runs rafts services in Canada, and had canoed with him down the south Nahanni and Northwest Territories. But after seeing that picture I wanted to visit see what happened to that huge glacier. And I rafted with him down the Alsek River. And there’s the Alsek glacier way back away from the river with a huge lake between it and the Alsek River. The other big glaciers are in Greenland and Antarctica. And the question is Greenland melting. In the Arctic, you’ve all heard that the Arctic ice is melting. So this is the minima of the ice in September, it was about 11 million square kilometers. Now it gets down to 4 million square kilometers. This is 2020 Arctic ice extent and blue you can see it’s a dramatic loss of surface melting surface floating ice. But Greenland is more important because if the Greenland ice sheet were to melt, it would raise mean global sea level by over seven meters that’s over 20 feet. I’d be underwater where I am right now in New York City. So you can see on the right that other surface mouth and melting from the warm water, or the glaciers come down from the land and meet the water and at the end of fjords. 1000s of giga tons of ice have been lost. And here’s a picture of me looking at one of these glaciers near (unintelligible) where Paul Scherke, who you all probably know, in the friends led an expedition that I joined to go on a spring hunt with the to lay into it. And we had eight dog sleds with 120 dogs and the to lay anyway are incredible since they are hunters for seals and walrus, and were polar bear leggings and sealskin tops and speak their own Thule language, that culture will disappear as the ice melts, and they’re unable to hunt for polar bears. So looking at the other extreme on the Antarctic, you’ve heard that the ice shelves have been melting and crashing. These are ice shelves on the right that broke up in 2002 along the Antarctic Peninsula, which is warmed more than two degrees Celsius. But the real concern is down here at the Amundson sea where it’s in red. And the ice shelf here is beginning to melt. And there’s two glaciers, the Pine Island and Thwaites Glacier that will have their grounding line melt by this swarm seawater and you’ll see that Satellite images show that the Pine Island Glacier here is cracking and breaking up as it advances and the same with a Thwaites Glacier that as it advances, it begins to break up and shed huge icebergs. So is this a point of no return for the Antarctic? This is a history system diagram. And if the temperature goes up to two degrees Celsius, the history says predicts over here with my arrow more than 2.5 meters of sea level rise. So if we hit that, by 2050, we could have flooding of low lying areas. Like this is in Florida. So this is six feet, that’s two meters. Most predictions are below one meter for 2100. But if it works two meters, we lose the Everglades and Miami is way over here. So the trend right now is up to about eight inches of sea level rise from this warm sea expansion and the melting of land based glaciers and then Greenland and the Antarctic ice sheets. So the co2 absorption into the water occurs as well as the heat, a third or more of it is absorbed into the water. But this can form a weak acid called carbonic acid. And carbonic acid is bad for marine organisms that need calcium carbonate for their shells, as you can see on the right, but the warmth of the seawater also causes bleaching of corals, and a quarter of the world’s fishes are born and live in the coral reefs. Continued bleaching will result in the death of coral reefs and peoples in Philippine Caribbean, Indonesia with suffer from greater food insecurity. So there are a number of tipping points other than melting of these huge ice shelves. Another is loss of forests. Forests capture co2, and are responsible for a major carbon sink, primarily in Brazil, the Congo, and then the taiga forests of Canada and Russia, and our own Taiga forests of Northeastern Minnesota. But in the Amazon, you can see we’ve lost maybe a fifth or more of this due to logging and soy production and cattle ranching. And you can see it’s encroaching from the south, primarily in Bolivia, as well as Brazil. And you can see that it’s encroaching upon these striped areas that are indigenous territory. So the way to really preserve the forest is through these indigenous territories and keep them intact. The data for a number of fires and loss of acreage from logging and farming suggests that we’re encroaching upon 20% at at more than 20% loss of this forest, the carbon sink will turn into a savanna and a carbon source. So we are close to a tipping point in the Amazon. It’s good that in Glasgow, Brazil, joint Canada and Russia to protect their forests by 2030. But as in everything a commitment needs action, a further tipping point is something of concern called permafrost. If any of you have paddled to the Hudson Bay or northern Canada, and you put your hand down in those bogs, it’s really ice cold as you touch that ice that’s all permafrost. So permafrost across the tundra of the North is frozen solid year round, but it’s beginning to thaw because of the high temperature. And as it thaws, it puts at risk about 1000 600 billion tons of potential co2 and methane. And this could be a major concern. Currently, it’s infrastructure at risk, such as the trans Alaska pipeline, roads, buildings, indigenous communities are having problems with their buildings, tipping and sea level rise and searches that several indigenous communities and Alaska now are planning to move. Okay, what is the policy so, the market is doing a lot here you can see that renewables and black have been increasing every single year. So wind and solar are replacing coal fired power plants and gas fuel power plants. As you can see in the bottom, new gas, oil and coal are gargantuan sources of fossil fuels compared to the small amount of other renewables. And the real problem is China, India, Japan, Russia and Germany all still burning coal. 40 countries in Glasgow now want to eliminate coal consumption, but that doesn’t include China or India or the US or Russia. But at least there are commitments now by China and the US to stop funding coal fired power plants in other countries, looking at President Biden’s goal of having a renewable energy source of electricity dominate by 2035.


Dr. Bill Rom  30:08

You can see the good news that power plants, co2 emissions are going to be decreasing from coal and natural gas going forward. And actually, by 2035, many of the coal plants and black and the natural gas power plants in red are going to be reaching the end of their life. And if we can build out wind and solar farms over the next 15 years, we can replace that. Also Small Modular nuclear would be acceptable. So that we have a chance here, if we’re able to stimulate the market and get some bills passed through Congress. But to build out wind, and solar is a huge challenge. This is a New York Times map from late May this year, you can see where wind and solar is today, Minnesota does pretty well Iowa does really well, Texas, and the Great Plains, there’s virtually nothing offshore. But this is where we need to be at to be at zero carbon and 2050. So it’s a huge production of wind turbines in the Midwest, solar in the southeast solar and California. And you can see that we really need to develop those 30 gigawatts of offshore wind on the East Coast, which is a goldmine for the East Coast. The challenge in doing this is money, workers, factories, manufacturing. It’s also a challenge called NIMBY are not in my backyard, we have to get transmission lines to deliver this power to cities. So the federal government could have a key role there. Importantly, for the marketplace, solar and wind has declined in money, that 43 or $42 per kilowatt hour compared to coal, which is more than double so that wind and solar are now competitive with natural gas, so that the Minnesota Public Utility Commission now can get their opportunities to promote and renewables throughout Minnesota and also in neighboring states. Because it’s cheaper. Okay, what is the problem going forward? Well, President Biden says we’re going to bring manufacturing back to the US. But the poly crystallin for making solar panels is producing Jin Yong in western China. Where would they have eager Uyghurs doing the manufacturing, they say they’re providing jobs for the Uyghurs. We say this human rights violation because they’re given no choice. But the wafers, the modules, the panels are 80% produced in China, I visited Jinko That one of the world’s largest solar factories, halfway between Shanghai and Wuhan, in 2020. And I was very impressed with the incredible factory in their manufacturing skills. So the Chinese are able to produce these and large quantities, and high quality and low price they’re at, they were over 400 watts per panel. And in my cabin, in Ely, I have six General Electric American made panels, there are only 150 Watts, they’re more than 10 years old, you can see that technology has really improved.


Dr. Bill Rom  33:50

So the other big challenge is transportation, and getting our cars and trucks to electric vehicles and batteries made from lithium. You can see that China plans to really zero in on EVs and be the world’s leading producer. In light yellow, you can see that Europe is also building out with Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz, Reno, North America, it’s just this little gray area up here with my arrow so that GM and Ford have a real challenge ahead of them to compete with China. So President Biden has been active in trying to meet this existential crisis of climate change and put the country on a forward path to renewables. He has a huge challenge ahead of them. You can see that the historical emissions at about 40 billion tons of metric tons of co2 is going upward every single year, Copenhagen did a little the Paris pledges were significant, they would have lowered emissions substantially. But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has showed that to stay at 1.5 degrees, we need to be at half the current emissions by 2030. And a huge challenge. So there’s a roadmap the International Energy Agency have made a roadmap for the 1.5 degree goal and trying to keep the temperature below two degrees Celsius. This roadmap for 1.5 is pretty extreme. That means this year, stop approving new coal plants stop approving the development of new oil and gas fields. That’s this year, no more new oil and gas, and no more. Sales of BLM land in Wyoming and Montana and Utah are oil and gas no more sales of Gulf of Mexico oil and gas 2025 ban the sale of new oil and gas furnaces to heat buildings instead. Switch to cleaner electric heat pumps, I would add hot water heaters and gas stoves. A third of the houses in the US are cooked have cooking with gas stoves. New York City is 70%. So we really need to switch to electric stoves I bought a new electric stove for my cabin last summer. And I love it it really is as good as gas. I just bought a electric stove to replace my gas one in my apartment here in New York. So we all can do a little bit. So in 2030, we have to have electric vehicles making up 60% of new car sales from 5%. Today, by 2035. We need to stop selling gasoline or diesel fueled passenger vehicles. We need millions of charging stations, I envisioned coming to a rest area, driving up from Minneapolis to Ely and looking at 100 charging stations at the rest area on the freeway. And then a big wind turbine and a battery providing a direct current to charge up our vehicles and 20 minutes to get a full charge 2035 zero emissions from power plants shifting away from coal to technologies like wind, solar, Small Modular nuclear or carbon capture. By 2040. All remaining coal fired power plants are closed or retrofitted with carbon capture technology. Also by 2035, we have to work on trucks and by 24. aviation fuel needs to be sustainable. And we have to start looking at hydrogen for some of these heavier vehicles and planes. So Senator Nelson in the founder of Earth Day, said the ultimate test of man’s conscious maybe his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations. This words of thanks will not be heard. So gayler Nelson was the founder of Earth Day. And I remember in 1970 on Earth Day, there were 20 million people demonstrating, and I held a symposium at Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota. With Bill McGee and several people about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in 1970, our big concern was logging. And we had a good time, coming up with a lot of pro environmental standards that were incorporated in the 1970 law a few years later. So thank you.


Friends of the Boundary Waters  38:48

I’m a friend. I’m a friend. I’m a friend. We’re friends, friends. Do you want to be a friend of the Boundary Waters, join the movement to fight for clean water and help foster the next generation of BWCA enthusiasts today. Connect with us donate and learn more about membership at Friends-BWCA.org.


Maya Swope  39:11

So if you were on yesterday’s presentation with Dr. Steve Emerman, you would have heard about one of the kind of most direct connections between our work at the friends and a lot of the work to fight climate change is through fighting copper-sulfide Fighting. If Twin Metals and Polymet these proposed copper-sulfide mines were to go online, that would be the equivalent of adding like half a million cars onto Minnesota roads each year in terms of carbon emissions. And so that’s kind of one thing that we’re really working directly on to stop these mines before they get built has a clean water impact. It also has a very big climate impact. So to get involved in some of that work, I encourage everyone to look into our Prove it First law. So this is a law that we’re trying to pass in the Minnesota Legislature that would help kind of bring science into the permitting process more than it is, and require anyone wanting to build a copper-sulfide mine to have more proof that it can be done safely. I also would ask folks to become a Prove it First delegate. So this will be delegate at your local precinct caucus this winter. And you’ll basically stand up and say, “Hey, I support clean water. And I support this Prove it First bill.” And I will start to take some questions. I also wanted to just shout out a couple of the comments that were kind of popping up in the chat throughout the presentation. So far, I know a lot of people mentioning the smoke that they’ve been seeing over the summers, especially this past summer in northern Minnesota, and that, you know, really kind of bringing home this idea that that climate is already impacting our health in ways that we can see and recognize. I also noticed, Jackie, in the chat had made a comment about Line 3 and saying, you know, something really impactful right now that everyone can do is to tell elected leaders in Minnesota that you don’t support line three, it’s, you know, not a good thing for our climate. And so that, you know, calling on all of you to take action on that is another way to to jump in and help. I see a question from Risa who asks, Dr. Rob, you mentioned something about indigenous communities planning to move. And I’m not exactly sure what that was in reference to you. But wondering if you have more information about what that looks like. Or it could point me towards an article about that.


Dr. Bill Rom  41:44

In the infrastructure bill, just passed by Congress, there’s over 45 billion for adaptation to climate change. In there, there’s money to move several communities that are at risk for sea level rise. One is in Louisiana, where the land is sinking and the sea is rising, and they have increased floods, and they are attached to their communities. But they are considering considering moving the entire town. The indigenous communities and Alaska includes several small towns in the Alamo region on the western shore, where there’s not only sea level rise, but increased storms and increased surges so that the beach is being eroded. And then the land is being eroded. And numbers of the houses are now overlooking air and are eroded. So they have to move inland. So that’s taking place in Canada, one of the rivers to Hudson Bay had a huge ice jam at the source and flooded the community of wineskin. They Canadians move witness to pee when och further upstream. So all of this is changing and affecting indigenous communities.


Maya Swope  43:16

Great. Yeah. Thank you for that answer. A question I had and I think I saw somebody else kind of mentioned this in the comments as well. But would you just talk a little bit more about, you know, changes that you’ve seen in the Ely area? I know you’ve grown up in Ely and have often been back there to visit, you know, changes related to health and climate that you’ve noticed or that you expect to see coming up in the coming decades?


Dr. Bill Rom  43:43

Yes. So I’m one of many cabin owners who go and spend summers and Ely. Every summer everybody spends 1000s of dollars fixing up their cabin doing some landscaping and what have you. So I noted beginning about 20 years ago that straight line directo storms would come through with howling winds upwards of 60 to 70 miles an hour, knocking over spruces balsams cutting cedars in half and breaking off aspen trees at the mid level. These are trees that were probably 100 years old since the logging era of 1910. So this is something really never seen before. Last summer there was a director of storm that affected the blueberry festival, destroying many of the booths 16 of my biggest trees came down and fortunately I had good terms with the fence ski tree service and they spent a full day clearing out the trees. So that’s one thing but everybody noted it was really really in Ely last summer. Now I’ve been on a few trips or the past half dozen years where the lakes are dead still and the sun is beating down. And I’ve never experienced such heat and Ely before. And then drought. This past summer, we had a drought and now I’m trying to plant flowers and trees on my property and there was just no rain all summer. So we are being affected directly by climate change. And I might say that in northern Minnesota, mining is huge. And there are six taconite mines with production of the pellets. And they’ve always used cold us to produce their taconite pellets, and they’ve just switched to natural gas. So somebody needs to start looking at electrification of this mining business, so that they aren’t producing NO2, NO particulates, and particularly mercury, that extends into the atmosphere over the Boundary Waters.


Maya Swope  46:09

Yeah, I think, I mean, there’s so many, unfortunately, so many ways that we are seeing it already, and that it is impacting I know, somebody commented on fires and having to run sprinkler systems a lot more than they ever had before because of heat and being worried about fires. And also just wanted to mention that we do have another presentation tomorrow that will kind of more directly address some of the ecological impacts that the Boundary Waters area will, we’ll see in the future. And so that is with Dr. Leif re, like from the University of Minnesota. And he’ll be talking about, you know, kind of from an ecological standpoint, what will what tree species will be around what animals will be able to survive, kind of in these different climate conditions. So I will add a link to that in the chat here. This is just a place to sign up for tomorrow’s zoom, and if anyone wants to attend that that will be tomorrow at noon, as well. Um, to get back to a few of the other questions that I’ve seen, somebody was asking, if you have tips for for dealing with climate skeptics who say that I’m trying to find the exact words, but to who say that, you know, this is, uh, let’s see glaciers growing. High co2 is good for plant growth, kind of some of the other arguments that people maybe have to climate change if you have advice for dealing with that conversation.


Dr. Bill Rom  47:45

So after I play nine holes of golf in Ely, I sit down with all the white, Elyites who are pretty far to the right wing, and sit down with a cup of coffee and I start talking to them about climate change. What seems to work with them is I take out my cell phone and I show them the temperature going up. I show them the co2 going up with the Keeling Curve. And they’ve never seen it before. So they’re receptive to information. But I think the real kicker here is to talk to them about their children. What kind of planet do they want their children and grandchildren to inherit? Probably that has more impact on Republicans and populace than beating them over the head. They do care about the future. And that may be a compelling argument.


Maya Swope  48:41

Great, yeah, I think I think that makes a lot of sense. Excuse me. Let’s see what other questions do I see here? We do have a lot in the chat, which is great. But I’m just trying to scroll through to see what people have mentioned. Um, I see in the q&a, somebody had asked, Are they saying solar panels are great, renewable and clean? How…however, the ingredients required are not necessarily renewable and clean and are needed to be mined. How do we go about this? I’m in wonder if you have thoughts on that.


Dr. Bill Rom  49:19

That is a challenging question. I always sign up for Great Decisions, which is a organization that puts great questions to people to think about and talk and there’s usually about 40 people on Great Decisions. And I keep making the argument as a Eighth District person in Minnesota, where I grew up where everything is union and democratic, and that we should have manufacturing back in this country and make things and, on Great Decisions. I’m like one out of 40 and the other 39 Say well Well, America is now a service industry country. China makes things and they do it more cheaply and better than we do. And that we should stay as a service country. I have a hard time with that, because I think we still need to make things and support our supply chains. One argument that the mining industry always makes is that they’re more environmental in America. There’s a huge lithium mine proposed north of Winnemucca, Nevada, that the indigenous community is very much opposed to. So we’re going to have to think about how we’re going to go about this, whether we’re going to import panels from China, and whether we’re going to manufacture wind turbines in the US, for wind for the offshore wind here in New York. And the East Coast, you have to have special ships to haul these huge steel, turbans, and piles, out to 300 feet or so of water. And with the first five wind turbine spilt off Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay, we didn’t have any ships. And this is because of the Jones sack that requires our ports and our shipping to be done in American ships. So the builders of the wind turbine farm offshore in Rhode Island, took a European ship, brought it to Halifax and brought in wind turbines from Halifax, Nova Scotia, put them in the ocean and then went back to Canada. So we’re going to have to build ships, we’re going to have to have ports that are renovated, this will occur in some of the infrastructure bill, New York and New Jersey are already fighting over ports for wind turbines and building out an industry to put in offshore wind. So I think they’ll probably a mixture of American manufacturing, and importation of some of these things over the next 10 years, we only have 10 years to do this. So wind and solar are the only options that are ready, modular, small nuclear plants are on the drawing board. But it’ll take 10 years for any of those to be built at Glasgow, John Kerry just shook hands with the Prime Minister of Romania, for new scale to build one of these small modular nuclear reactors in Romania. So there’s a major effort to move forward. And I think it’s going to happen on multiple fronts, the most important thing is to go green.


Maya Swope  52:48

Yeah, thanks. I think that’s a lot of yeah, really interesting points about how we should be thinking about this. And just to add, something that we often talk about at the friends is the potential for metal recycling, especially, you know, copper cycling, or other things. That is, in some ways, a untapped resource. That, you know, increasing the ways and the efficiency that we recycled metal, will allow us to kind of have both the technologies that we need, and protect clean water in really special places like this. I’m jumping back down to the chat. Somebody had a question, is there any relation between climate change and increased likelihood of world health crises, such as the pandemic that we are in the midst of now?


Dr. Bill Rom  53:36

I think it’s critical to prepare for emergencies such as this. We had international health regulations that the United States was the leader. And yet we had the worst outcome of any country in the world with COVID-19. We have over 750,000 deaths, and a not only a pandemic, but a misinformation pandemic. So, for the climate change crisis, we need to have all hands on deck. We need to convince the independent voter and as many Republicans as we can that this needs to be a top priority. We need to get the government on board we need to get the business and banking industry on board. And the nexus between COVID-19 and climate change is probably best seen in air pollution, where fossil fuel particulate matter 2.5 microns in size has increased the risk for getting infected with COVID-19 and increase the risk for hospitalization and death. And you can see this in the counties with the highest PM 2.5 level The highest COVID rates as well. So there is a relationship between air pollution and COVID. Also, when the shutdown occurred, PM 2.5 and nitrogen oxides declined dramatically. But they’ve all gone back up. With the economy reopening co2 emissions went down about six or 7%. But they’re already back up. So the biggest relationship is public health preparedness. And we are once again not funding public health agencies at the level we should be. Both the infrastructure bill and the bill back better act have a lot of money for CDC to filter down to state and local public health agencies. But in Montana and a few places, just west of Minnesota, a lot of the local public health agencies are losing leaders and losing funding because of the misinformation pandemic. So we have a lot of work to do.

Chris Knopf  56:11

Thanks again to Dr. Rom, for his informative and sobering presentation. You can find a video of this presentation and more information on the Boundary Waters and climate change at our website at Friends-BWCA.org. Thanks again for joining us today. You are the strength of the friends and you have made us the leading voice for protecting the Boundary Waters. We look forward to having you join us again on the next Friends of the Boundary Waters podcast.


On the Friends of the Boundary Waters podcast, we bring together people who share a love of the incredible BWCA wilderness in Northeastern Minnesota. The podcast will features scientists, political figures and experts in outdoor recreation and wilderness skills to help you learn new facets of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, the most visited wilderness in the United States.

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Google Podcasts Listen on Amazon Music Listen on Spotify Listen on Stitcher

Continue Listening

Old photo of Early BWCA Advocates outside Sig Olson's cabin. Text Reads,

Podcast: Guardians of the BWCA

Don't miss this podcast about the legislative and political battles from those who fought to preserve the Boundary Waters in…

Picture of Darren Bush - Podcast: Game Changing Gear

Podcast: Game Changing Gear

Find out how to choose the best gear for your BWCA trips from Rutabaga Paddlesports shop owner Darren Bush.