Maybe you have seen him speak at an industry event. If so, Tom Rufty, the distinguished professor of environmental plant biology at North Carolina State University, probably made an impression on you.
Rufty knows turfgrass… and a lot of other things. Rufty is also not afraid to touch on lightning-rod issues in his talks, such as global warming, which has a direct impact on what golf course superintendents do for a living. But Rufty will tell superintendents that human beings are causing global warming, even though he knows most of them might not believe it.
“Each time I stand and talk, I run the risk of having [superintendents] not give me credibility,” Rufty says. “I’m giving them the scientific explanation of what’s going on, but if they already have a preconceived notion that what I’m saying is not true, it’s hard to break through that.”
In September, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the summer of 2015 was the Earth’s hottest on record since records began in 1880. The highs occurred on the surface of both land and sea. Rufty believes that current temperature change isn’t a natural cycling of weather patterns.
“It is human activity that is causing it,” Rufty says. “You can see it in the models there are for carbon dioxide accumulation.”
Rufty believes the scientific community is “very much unified” that human beings are causing global warming, but adds, “The public perceives that 50 percent of scientists believe that climate change is true and 50 percent don’t believe it’s true.”
It is safe to say that most superintendents don’t believe global warming is caused by humans. The issue has become politicized, with most conservatives insisting that global warming is cyclical. The golf course maintenance industry is largely conservative.
There is nothing wrong with taking a conservative view, Rufty is quick to point out. “In many ways, that’s a very positive attribute,” he adds. “There is a lot of misinformation around, and sometimes it’s hard to get past that.”
Scientifically, global warming should not be as controversial as it has been made out to be, Rufty insists.
“It comes back to something as basic as when the windows in your car are rolled up on a summer day,” he explains. “It gets hotter in your car than it is outside the car. That is caused by light radiation coming in a short-wave form, going through the glass and hitting the inside of your car and changing to long-wave radiation, which can’t escape the car. It’s exactly the same phenomenon [with global warming]. The long-wave radiation can’t escape because it’s being absorbed by carbon dioxide molecules.”
There is no doubt that global warming will continue to impact turf maintenance. Rufty believes that pest pressures — insects, diseases and weeds — once found only in the South will migrate north. But Rufty believes superintendents will have no problem adjusting.
“These guys are some of the smartest and most well-educated and creative people we have in our society,” Rufty says. “They are solving difficult problems every day.”