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We were lucky this year. The weather was perfect for the 40th American Birkebeiner Ski Race from Cable to Hayward, Wisconsin. The snow depth was knee deep, and temperatures hovered just below the freezing mark all day. You could say that it was a nicely average winter day in late February.

A group of citizens concerned with keeping things that way filled the Park Theater on Thursday night to hear environmental author Bill McKibben speak on the topic of Preserving Winter. He is the leader of the worldwide movement to combat global warming, who just a week earlier had gathered 50,000 people together in Washington D.C. to protest the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

This worldwide topic was prominent at the world class Birkebeiner ski race in northwest Wisconsin. READ MORE BELOW THE FOLD.

McKibben's talk was sponsored by Cool Planet MN, the Forest Lodge Library, Cable Natural History Museum (CNHM), WOJB 88.9 FM and Half of the money raised through admission fees that night go to the library and museum for a project to get the library off of the grid. The four solar panels already in place are used to air condition the library in the summer, a project they call Keeping Reading Cool. More panels will be added thanks to the funds raised.

Speaking on behalf of the CNHM, board president Ron Anderson, also a Cool Planet Skier, thanked that organization for their support. He noted that the museum has records of natural events such as when lake ice melts in the spring or the first robin appears, and that over the last 100 years “winters are getting shorter, and shorter and shorter.”

The audience was then asked to participate in the event. Pastor Lynn Larson of the Cable United Church of Christ, a long time Birkie skier and founder of Skiers for Global Cooling, was the first of several people to read short statements entitled “What I love about winter”.

In an introductory statement prior to McKibben's presentation, Jonathan Patz, director of the University of Wisconsin Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment noted the following observations about Wisconsin winters. He said that since 1950, the annual average temperature for the state has increased by one degree; the winter temperature has increased 2.5 degrees; and for northwest Wisconsin the temperature has increased 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Patz is part of the group of International Panel on Climate Change authors who, along with Vice President Al Gore, received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He is also a member of the Madison Masters cross country ski group. This year he started the Birkie in Wave 2.

McKibben then spoke first about his love of winter. “The time of no friction....the default season here in the north, where we have more months without leaves on the trees than months with leaves.” Leading into the many reasons why it is necessary to stem the tide of global warming, he told of an EPA report predicting a future where by mid-century there is no more skiing and snowmobiling in New England. He also noted in a later statement that the maple syrup season in his home state of Vermont “was a wreck” in 2012.

Three significant numbers were a big part of the author/activist's presentation on human causes of global warming. First, there is the amount of temperature increase that our civilization can endure before catastrophe changes occur: 2 degrees Celsius. This was the amount agreed to by most of the worlds nations in the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference.

Second is the amount of carbon that we can burn and still remain below the 2 degree limit: 565 gigatons, which we are likely to consume by 2030. He said we should keep in mind that even now we are experiencing extraordinary “natural” events like Hurricane Sandy, the droughts and wildfires of 2012, and the alarming melt off of polar ice caps, the Greenland ice sheet, and glaciers around the world. The price of food is skyrocketing due to grain shortages, with famine sure to follow. The world's oceans are 30% more acidic than historic norms.

Then McKibben produced the third and scariest number of the three. The amount of coal and oil reserves already on the fossil fuel companies' books totals 2,795 gigatons. Scientists have concluded that if we burn all of those hydrocarbons, we could arrive at a level of atmospheric carbon not seen since Earth was entirely ice free and ocean levels were 200 feet higher than they are now.

This is why much of his time these days is spent organizing protests to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline, which is being planned to convey tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, through America's heartland to the Gulf of Mexico. This one project alone could unleash 142 million tons of carbon.

The author's most recent book on the topic, eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet outlines the need for change, methods people can use to bring it about, and how even in the best case scenario we will have to adapt to life on a planet like nothing that's been seen since the beginning of civilization.

His talk can be seen in its entirety on at this link: He first skied the Birkebeiner in 2002 after writing Long Distance, a book about training to become a serious competitive amateur athlete. He completed this, his second Birkie, in 3 hours and 55 minutes.

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For more information about fighting global warming CLICK HERE

Originally posted to James Richard Bailey on Tue Feb 26, 2013 at 09:08 AM PST.

Also republished by Badger State Progressive.

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