Superintendent Magazine - November, 2012


Warming Up to Global Warming

It's getting more difficult for nonbelievers to say the weather phenomenon is unproven.
By Ron Furlong

To write an article about how global warming is affecting climate change, I suppose one would have to actually believe in global warming affecting climate change. Having said that, I can safely say that 10 years ago I could not have written this. Even as recently as three years ago it may have been a stretch.

But alas, I'm onboard. I am now a believer. Is there room on that bandwagon for one more?

One may be tempted to ask me at this point, "What took you so long?"

I guess I'd have to answer that the science behind global warming affecting climate change - which was often crammed down our throats - was a bit sketchy. And it was frequently presented in a manner that was, more often than not, irritating. Basically, we were told, "This is the way it is. If you don't buy into it, tough."

A great example of this was the 2006 documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." The science of the film has always been a source of great criticism. Although documentaries often present a one-sided view of a particular subject, this film went to extraordinary one-sided (some might say narrow-minded) lengths to get its point across about global warming. It was hard to take the filmmakers and Al Gore seriously mainly because of the manner in which the "science" was presented to us. Often something that is not looked at from all angles and viewpoints is not taken as seriously as something that is.

The message of this film seemed to exaggerate the threat and the very existence of global warming affecting climate change.

But perhaps those of us who wouldn't listen to this message six years ago should have paid less attention to the way the message was presented and more attention to the actual message itself. Maybe the truth was stretched a bit to fit the political aspirations of a certain individual, but as it turned out, those questionable truths may be turning out to be correct.

It's getting more difficult for those still not willing to admit the existence of global warming to say it is unproven. And it's just as difficult for others to say the warming levels, if they do exist, are insignificant.

I think it's important to differentiate between global warming and climate change because they are not the same.

Climate change is the measure of differences of weather patterns across the planet over long stretches of time - anywhere from a few decades to millions of years.

Man-made climate change?

Global warming is usually referred to as human-caused climate change. For example, over the last 130 years or so, the Earth's temperature has rapidly increased. It's not far-fetched to comprehend that the temperature increase has directly coincided with the human industrial revolution, more specifically, the burning of fossil fuels. It's getting more and more difficult to keep calling this coincidence.

The theory is simple: Global warming is causing a climate change - the first man-made climate change in the history of this planet.

So let's get to the business of golf course management. It doesn't take a genius to know that golf course management is one of many industries directly affected by a warming climate. Although considered a leisure activity by many, there is no denying the financial impact this industry has on literally millions of people worldwide.

And do consider we're not just talking hot summers and more water use here. Higher temperatures are not the only threats from a warming planet. Most climate change experts agree that if warming continues at its current pace, sea levels will rise anywhere from a half meter to 6 meters by the turn of the next century. If you averaged this out to about a 3-meter rise, this would submerge many coastal golf courses in this country alone.

Feeling the impact

No matter how you slice it, the golf industry is going to be one of the first impacted by a continued warming of the Earth.

In 2008, Golf Digest did a survey asking golfers if they believed global warming was a significant threat or simply a myth. An amazing 41 percent of golfers in the survey believed it to be a myth. That was compared to 27 percent of the overall population thinking it was a myth. Again, this was four years ago. I have to admit, four years ago I probably would have said "myth" as well. But I've changed my tune, which makes me wonder how many of those 41 percent have also changed their tune. I'm betting a fair amount.

So what can we do with all this information? There is little doubt that the Earth's climate is warming. How much global warming (human influenced) is affecting that warming trend is still open to debate. But whether you are onboard or not, the fact is there is absolutely nothing to lose by joining the fight against this warming of the planet.

Even if you believe the actions of "the few" will have no impact on the future result of this climate change, what can it hurt to do your part? Or, as a collective group of worldwide golf courses, our part - kind of like buying insurance.

Can we stop burning fossil fuels altogether on golf courses? Not right now. It isn't feasible (although that day may be coming). But for now, reduce them as much as you can. Try and get your carbon emission footprint as close to zero as possible.

In addition to the most obvious way to reduce your carbon output - burning fuel - what else can you do?

How about planting more trees? Stop clearing land. Excessive fertilizer and pesticide use can also leave a footprint. Also, watch your energy use in the clubhouse and in the maintenance facility.

There is no guarantee your efforts will help, at least, not yet. But is that any reason not to make those efforts? Strangely enough, I think that the answer to that question is no.

Furlong is golf course superintendent of Avalon Golf Club in Burlington, Wash. He can be reached at