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Energy and Environment

A Local Take On The Paris Climate Talks

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Climate change has been the focus of international attention all month as world leaders convened for the UN global climate summit in Paris. To get a read on what people in our region think, our reporters talked to some Reno-Tahoe locals and a University of Nevada, Reno researcher for their takes.

Everyone has been talking about the global climate agreement reached in Paris last week, and whether it will bring real change or is just lip service. For a local perspective, we sent our reporter Marcus Lavergne to downtown Reno on a chilly winter day for a highly scientific straw poll.

Marcus: "So what do you think about climate change?"

Natasha Lyna: "It's cold"

Marcus: "What makes it cold?"

Natasha: "Maybe because we're by the mountains."

That was Reno resident Natasha Lyna. The idea that global warming can't be happening if it's cold outside is one that senators and some presidential candidates have suggested, too. But according to Maureen McCarthy, who directs the Academy for the Environment at UNR, that’s actually more about weather than climate.

"It is definitely getting warmer, on a daily basis. We're talking about longer periods of drier years in a row. Ask any farmer - they'll tell you: There's weather and then there's what's happening long term. What their grandfathers did versus what they're doing is climate, what happened last week or last month or last season or last year versus this year, is weather."

Air pollution is another climate issue that concerns Reno residents. Recent news coverage of smog in Beijing stuck out to both Wendy Boznak and Mike Aber.

Wendy: "There were just pictures of Beijing where the people were told to stay inside and they couldn't see to drive because it was so bad. So eventually if we don't do something about it, pollution everywhere even comes to the people who are doing something about it."

Mike: "In China, you can't even go outside or even see the skyline because it's so foggy. It's there today. We can look at that and say well we're probably there in other parts of the world pretty soon, either in this generation or next. So it's like, while the problem is small, just solve it now."

McCarthy, the UNR researcher, points out that air pollution is already an issue in Reno -- not because of factory emissions, as it is in Beijing, but because prolonged drought has increased the length and intensity of the wildfire season.

"You've seen substantial uptick in the forest fires, and from a community impact one of the first things we've seen is poor air quality days. The horrible air quality we had as a result of the big California fires and the smoke inhalation issues here."

Truckee town councilman Morgan Goodwin adds that air quality issues have a real economic impact.

"Ironman organizers have said they're not coming back to Tahoe because the risk of cancelation due to smoke is so high. They can't take the unpredictability that is now a reality here."

Back in downtown Reno, Alexander Joseph Renteria would like to see politicians taking the lead on doing something now to prevent any future impacts of climate change.

"I get it, they're under a lot of pressure about a lot of things and we've got these world crises like ISIS and this and that right now. But if we start making the appropriate changes, a lot of times stuff doesn't start taking place until several years down the road but if you begin now -- it's better to get started now than later."

McCarthy is already seeing those who deal with the direct impacts of variations in climate -- particularly farmers and water districts -- making decisions now to hedge their bets for the future.

"We're seeing this - the change, the variability has led to a whole host of factors that affect everything from the environment to human health."

No matter what's happening on the global stage, in the Reno-Tahoe region, local leaders are starting to make their own plans. Truckee and Reno are both beginning to draft climate action plans, and various regional initiatives are looking at ways to tackle everything from wildfires to drought to car emissions

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