Roach: Time is ticking for people to act

There are many reasons to believe climate change
Roach: Time is ticking for people to act
The Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom during the September 2018 floods

The lightning and thunder arrived after midnight. Then torrents of autumn rain.

At dawn, with coffee cup in hand I move to the picture window to gaze upon the lake, a meditation common to folks who escape to the sanctuary of the natural world.

Then to my wondering eyes was made clear, the rising waters removing our brand-new pier. Our little lake, historically high after being historically low, was lifting the cedar sections from their moorings and sending them floating away, as if to say, “Sure, I’m beautiful. But I can mess with you anytime I choose.”

Setting down the coffee cup, I hear a newscast about North American ornithologists declaring that our continent has lost more than 3 billion birds over the last 50 years. That’s BILLION. And not just the obscure, already near extinction species, but your run-of-the-mill sparrows and blackbirds. Ken Rosenberg, a scientist from the mecca of ornithology, Cornell University, described the trend in two words: “It’s staggering.”

Five minutes later I read that dengue fever, a malady common in the tropics, is projected to continue to spread in the United States as far north as St. Louis. Warming trends are apparently giving dengue-carrying mosquitoes a bigger field in which to play. Imagine a starting pitcher for the Cardinals being scratched because of dengue fever.

Right about now is when you hear the climate deniers rev up their rhetorical machinery. Their braying is proudly ignorant while at the same time sadly gullible.

All this fuels an apocalyptic vibe in our world culture. Maybe that’s why I’ve had an impulse to buy flint fire starters, solar battery chargers and water purifying drinking straws. It’s only a matter of time before I purchase canned goods and a scatter gun.

I recently read two books about climate change. The first was a gripping tale: “The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs” by Steve Brusatte. The other was a stunner: “The Ends of the World” by Peter Brannen. The Brannen book details his global travel to investigate the sites that tell of Earth’s five extinction events, when a huge percentage of Earth’s species perished, never to return. For those keeping score, those catastrophes were the End-Ordovician, Late Devonian, End-Permian, End-Triassic and End-Cretaceous. Each involved massive species die offs due to cataclysmic volcanoes, asteroids or tectonic shifts leading to dramatic changes in Earth’s air and water chemistry. Brannen writes of touring Colorado looking for roadside evidence of the K-T boundary — the geologic time between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods 65.5 million years ago and the moment when the dinosaurs looked to the sky and thought, “Oh crap.”

There are many reasons to believe in the warnings of climate change. I have a personal one. When I hear climate deniers, I think of a quiet guy who sat next to me in Latin class at Madison Edgewood High School decades ago. His name was David Fahey. He was not flashy. Or a showboat, like someone else I can name. He was shy and smart in the most humble of ways. I won’t pretend that Fahey was a close friend, and I haven’t seen him since graduation, but I knew him well enough to know that he was rational and honest.

Fahey got his Bachelor of Arts in Physics here at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, then his doctorate in physics at the University of Missouri. David Fahey’s accomplishments, include co-authoring the 2007 climate science assessment that shared the Nobel Peace Prize with, among others, Albert Arnold Gore Jr.

Yeah. The Nobel Peace Prize.

A clever speaker can make you doubt anything. Many are eager to tell you why climate change isn’t real. But none of them have studied it the way Madison’s Fahey has.

The older I get the more I believe we were forged in our earliest years and our adulthood is merely variations on a theme.

And I’m here to tell you that the David Fahey I knew is exactly the kind of person you can believe when they tell you something is wrong with our world — and that it’s time to act.

Tick tock.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at