|What the heck is a futurist? That was the question on Great Rivers Sierra Club members Wednesday evening when their keynote speaker was self described futurist Ivan Potter.
Potter, who worked for four Kentucky governors and two American presidents, is an expert in rural development and planning. He isn't a crystal ball gazer. He studies past and present events to make educated guesses about the future. Using news reports, the internet and personal observation, he searches for patterns.
He is in the early stages of putting together a thesis that coal fired plants along the Ohio River are possibly affecting weather and increasing the ferocity of weather events in the Jackson Purchase.
So far, he has a list of eighteen weather events in the past five years that lead him to believe the weather is getting more extreme. From an early winter snow storm in 2005 to Hurricane Ike hitting mid America and culminating in the expensive and debilitating ice storm of 2009, weather in the Purchase is nothing like it was when Potter was a high school student at Hickman County High School in 1965.
He believes that power plants create “heat islands” that can raise area temperature as much as ten degrees within a one mile area. According to Potter, that may not be bad if the plant is a stand alone – but when sixty or more plants are strung like beads up the Ohio River from Paducah to Pennsylvania, the effect on the weather may be cumulative. He also points out that the introduction of factory farms in West Kentucky contain one million hogs producing methane gas. Methane is a greenhouse gas that has an effect on climate similar to carbon dioxide. Chicken barns also produce gases that have not been measured for their effect on climate.
Potter emphasizes that stand alone operations may have little or no effect on climate. It’s the combined effect of human activity that he says is creating a wind tunnel effect. He told Sierra Club members that cities like Louisville and Cincinnati to the east of the Jackson Purchase that seem too far to feel the effects of changing weather patterns are “at the tip of the spear”. Potter pointed out that Louisville had recently had a flash flood that caused considerable property damage.
Potter believes that a tipping point is close to being reached and unless serious moves are made to move off dependence on carbon dioxide and methane producing industries, that there will be no escaping extreme weather events in West Kentucky.
“Politicians listen to lobbyists and those who tell them it’s all about jobs,” he says,
“Mother Nature doesn’t have a lobbyist. She doesn’t need one. We seem to be in a war with her – and we’re losing.”
After the Sierra Club meeting, WKMS / NPR reporter Jacque Day interviewed Ivan Potter. Read her story or listen to the interview by clicking on the link. WKMS