When it comes to climate change information, farmers trust scientists most

A combine sits in an Iowa field (Carl Wycoff / Flickr)
A combine sits in an Iowa field (Carl Wycoff / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | January 28, 2015

The best way to reach farmers and agricultural workers who are skeptical of human activity’s effect on climate change may be direct connections to climate scientists, according to one Iowa State University sociologist.

A 2012 survey conducted by ISU’s J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr. found that 66% of Midwest farmers believe climate change is occurring, yet the respondents were mixed on whether or not human activity played a role. More than half said climate change either occurs naturally or is equally affected by human and natural factors. Only about 10 percent agreed that “climate change is occurring and it is caused mostly by human activities.”

Some of that skepticism may come from a general distrust of the mainstream media; the MSM was listed as the least trusted source of environment-related information. Given farmers’ dependence on scientific advances in crop development, it’s not surprising that the most trusted source of environmental information was scientists themselves.

This has important implications for anyone discussing climate change with agricultural professionals. In an interview with ClimateWire, Arbuckle recommended using language of adaptation to unpredictable weather events over explicit mentions of greenhouse gas emissions. More than half of the respondents believe it’s necessary to be prepared for more frequent high precipitation events like heavy rainstorms, even though many remain uncertain that increased atmospheric moisture due to higher emissions is to blame.

That’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking steps to bring current research on changing weather trends and adaptive practices to farmers around the country. The USDA’s eight “climate hubs” focus on communicating strategies for reducing risk and reducing the costs related to variable weather by connecting researchers to farmers on the ground. One of these climate hubs is in Ames, Iowa.

$48 million donation aims to assist states with reducing emissions

Emissions billow from the smokestacks of a facility in Heilbronn, Germany (dmytrok/Flickr)
Emissions billow from the smokestacks of a facility in Heilbronn, Germany (dmytrok/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | January 23, 2015

Two charitable groups have donated $48 million so that in can be used in helping states reduce carbon emissions over the next three years.

The plans were announced earlier this week with half the money coming from Bloomberg Philanthropies and the other half from the Heising-Simons family, a California couple devoted to reducing the impact of climate change. This project will provide technical assistance, economic forecasting, and legal analysis to a dozen or so states pursuing clean-energy initiatives. The money will not go directly to the states – which are each responsible for developing their own emissions reduction plans – and will instead go to groups like Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council which will advise states on strategies for cutting emissions.

“The science on climate change makes it abundantly clear that carbon pollution poses a deep threat to society, to agriculture, and to nature—and that early action is required to avoid these threats,” Mark Heising said in a press release. “New technologies ensure that the solutions to climate change can be cost-effective.  This initiative is designed to accelerate those solutions.”

The money is expected to be used to help create renewable energy systems which cause less pollution in the land, air, and water and therefore can improve public health. This donation coincides with President Obama’s Clean Power Plan which he announced in June of 2014 and which allows each state to set its own standards for reducing emissions from fossil fuels

Bakken pipeline seeks official approval

Pipes to form a pipeline in Williston, North Dakota (Lindsey G / Flickr)
Pipes to form a pipeline in Williston, North Dakota (Lindsey G / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | January 21, 2015

The Texas-based company seeking to build an oil pipeline spanning the state of Iowa has applied for approval from the Iowa Utilities Board, according to the Des Moines Register.

Dakota Access, LLC, a division of Texas company Energy Transfer Partners, is seeking permission to build an underground pipeline that would run from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields to Patoka, Ill., where it would then be connected to distribution systems across the country. The application, filed Tuesday, has set the stage for an ongoing battle between oil companies and Iowa farmers and environmental experts.

Among the concerns over the project is the potential for disastrous spills, like one that leaked 50,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana. Cities like Glendive, Mo., for which the Yellowstone is the primary water supply, have had to have fresh water hauled in on semi trailers since the accident.

In informational meetings held over the month of December, Iowa farmers spoke out against the pipeline, concerned that the project could not only cut yields but also interfere with drainage systems, as Iowans scramble to tackle the state’s growing agricultural runoff problem.

Not least among these concerns is the pipeline’s significance as a fossil fuel system at a time when Iowa is trying to transition to clean energy. The effects of climate change due to the burning of fossil fuels is expected to more heavily impact Iowa’s agriculture industry over the next few decades.

Oil companies working in the Brakken oil fields are trying to find solutions to the railroad congestion problems caused by the oil surge, leading to a backlog in exports like grains, which share the rails with oil.

On the Radio: Iowa ahead of new smog standards

The Des Moines skyline at dusk (Jason Mrachina / Flickr)
The Des Moines skyline at dusk (Jason Mrachina / Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at early assessments of Iowa’s ozone emissions, which suggest that the state is one step ahead of upcoming new emission standards. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Ozone standards

Iowa is one step ahead of new national ozone emission standards.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

In November, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a draft proposal to drastically reduce ozone emissions from power plants and other sources by 2025. All 99 of Iowa’s counties are set to meet the new standards, according to data collected by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee earlier this year recommended ozone levels be reduced to between 65 and 70 parts per billion, down from the current practice of 75 parts per billion.

Iowa already meets the EPA standards, with monitoring stations showing average ozone levels between 61 and 69 parts per billion. The Iowa DNR supplies data to the EPA’s Air Quality Index, which provides air quality conditions in real time.

For a link to the Air Quality Index, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.


Sea levels rising faster than previously expected

These signs indicate how the coast line is expected to move inward at Cottesloe Beach in Perth, Australia. (go_greener_oz/Flickr)
These signs indicate how the coast line is expected to move inward at Cottesloe Beach in Perth, Australia. (go_greener_oz/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | January 16, 2015

A new study by researchers at Harvard University and Rutgers University finds that the earth’s sea levels are currently rising at faster rate than in the past.

The study – published in this week’s edition of the journal Nature – found that between 1900 and 1990 projected sea level increases were overestimated by as much as 30 percent. The original estimates expected sea levels to rise between 1.5 and 1.8 millimeters per year during most of the 20th century while the actual figure was closer to 1.2 millimeters annually. Throughout the entire 20th century sea levels rose by about five inches, an inch less than the previous estimate of six inches. This increase in sea levels during the 20th century amounts to enough water to fill three billion Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The report also points out that previous estimates for sea levels rises after 1990 are now estimated to be higher than previously expected. Since 1990 sea levels have been rising by about 3 millimeters per year much of which can be attributed to the “quickening thaw of ice.”

Prior to the advent of satellite technology, sea levels were monitored using tide gauges which were “unevenly dotted around the coastlines of the world.” Researchers said that this old method did not include measurements from non-coastal parts of the ocean and that this led to the overestimated figures.


New dietary guidelines may take environmental health into account

Grazing cattle (Carl Wycoff / Flickr)
Grazing cattle (Carl Wycoff / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | January 14, 2015

Citing environmental concerns associated with livestock production, the federal government’s newest round of dietary guidelines may be broadening its scope to include sustainably-produced foods.

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, reviews current dietary guidelines every five years, concluding in a list of dietary recommendations which affect federally subsidized school lunches, food labels and the government’s Choose My Plate program, which replaced the food pyramid in 2011.

A draft recommendation at the committee’s December meeting suggested a shift in the amount of red and processed meats Americans consumed, perhaps due to the significant role livestock plays in human-induced greenhouse gas emissions: As much as 14.5% of emissions may come from livestock, with beef making up a large portion of the total. Promoting a more plant-based diet on environmental grounds could lead to reductions in agricultural emissions as well as ensure food security for future generations. More sustainable livestock production practices could also have a significant impact on the country’s water quality.

While the panel’s draft recommendations have already received backlash from livestock groups, the committee maintains there is “compatibility and overlap” between food sustainability and human health.

2014 sees hottest global temperatures on record

(Japan Meteorological Agency)
(Japan Meteorological Agency)

Nick Fetty | January 9, 2015

Global temperatures in 2014 were the hottest on record according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.

The record-setting year in 2014 was the hottest since records began being kept in 1891. Researchers with the Japan Meteorological Agency reported that the average temperature in 2014 was 0.27 degrees Celsius higher than the baseline average between 1981 and 2010.

The ten hottest years on record have all come since 1998 and record-setting years in 1998, 2005, and 2010 can partially be attributed to the weather pattern known as El Niño Southern Oscillation, which can cause rises in air temperature. However El Niño was not a factor in 2014 which makes the record-setting year a bit of an anomaly.

Especially hot areas in 2014 included Australia, California, Europe, and Serbia. There was also a temperature increase seen in the earth’s oceans. World temperatures have been rising at a rate of 0.7 degrees Celsius (or 1.26 degrees Fahrenheit) each century since record keeping began.

Blogger Chris Mooney writes that these increases in global temperatures can be attributed to human-caused carbon emissions as he debunks the notion that climate change slowed down since 1998.

While 2014 marked the hottest year on record for global temperatures, it was only the 34th hottest year on record in the United States. The U.S.-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) is expected to release its 2014 findings next week.

Top 5 Warmest Years on Record

1. 2014 (+0.27°C)

2. 1998 (+0.22°C)

3. 2010 and 2013 (tie) (+0.20°C)

5. 2005 (+0.17°C)