Study: Conversion of forests to cropland linked to reduction in greenhouse gas emissions


Nick Fetty | September 12, 2014
A Yale University study suggests that converting forests into cropland is having a net cooling effect on the earth's atmosphere. (/Flickr)
Farmland near the Loess Hills in western Iowa. (CroDigTap/Flickr)

A study from Yale University suggests that the conversion of forests into cropland over a 150-year period has caused “a net cooling effect on global temperatures.

The report, published in the journal Nature Climate Change by Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies professor Nadine Unger, found a reduction in the quantity of biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs) released into the earth’s atmosphere. These compounds “control the atmospheric distribution of many short-lived climate pollutants, such as tropospheric ozone, methane, and aerosol particles.”

Unger used computer modeling to calculate a 30 percent decline in BVOC emissions between 1850 and 2000 – much of which was attributed to the conversion of forested areas into crop land – and a .18 degree Fahrenheit (.1 degree Celsius) reduction in global temperatures. During roughly this same period the amount of land worldwide being used for crops increased from 14 percent to 37 percent.

This reduction in global temperatures is dwarfed by the 1.08 degree Fahrenheit (.6 degree Celsius) increase caused by carbon emissions. Also, Unger was sure to point out “that the findings do not suggest that increased forest loss provides climate change benefits, but rather underscore the complexity of climate change and the multitude of factors involved.”

According to the Iowa Data Center, there were approximately 30,800,000 acres of farmland in Iowa in 2013.

Dubuque and other communities improve infrastructure for future natural disasters


Nick Fetty | September 8, 2014
Following the Flood of 1965 (pictured) the city erected a floodwall. (Wikimedia)
Following the Flood of 1965 (pictured) the city of Dubuque erected a floodwall. (Wikimedia)

Heavy rains and flash flooding has caused Dubuque to be declared a presidential disaster area on six different occasions in the last 16 years and climate change is expected to continue contributing to these problems. Dubuque and other cities across the country are attempting to be better prepared for future disastrous events through more efficient infrastructure, however local governments have been struggling to fund these projects.

Dubuque’s Bee Branch Watershed Flood Mitigation Project aims to protect part of the “city’s most developed areas where over 50% of Dubuque residents either live or work.” The $179 million project is divided into 12 phases and is expected to begin as early as fall 2015 and be completed by 2016.  The Iowa Flood Mitigation Board awarded the city of Dubuque $98.5 million for the project in December 2013. The money was awarded in the form of state sales tax increment financing which will be spread across 20 years. The City has raised an additional $30 million but still needs nearly $50 million more to cover the entire cost of the project.

The project will both reduce the volume and slow the rate of stormwater in the upper watershed, provide safer conveyance of stormwater in flood-conducive areas, and protect the City’s wastewater treatment plant from stormwater. Additionally, the project will expand upon the area’s trail system and connect Dubuque with East Dubuque on the Wisconsin side.

Aspects of climate change have contributed to natural disasters from California to Florida to New York. Along with Dubuque, local governments in Norfolk (Virginia), Miami Beach (Florida), and New York City have also built infrastructure designed to withstand natural disasters in those regions.

On the Radio: Climate change puts corn yields at higher risk


Ears of corn ready to be eaten. ( Michael Dorausch/Flickr)
Corn, the United States’ biggest cash crop, is facing threats from multiple fronts. (Michael Dorausch/Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a new study which highlights the risks facing Iowa’s corn crops caused by changing environmental conditions. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

 

Transcript: Corn risk

The effects of climate change and unsustainable agricultural practices on corn production spell disaster for more than just farmers.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Corn is the United States’ biggest cash crop, essential to products including meat, cereal, soda and ethanol.
This is why sustainable business consortium Ceres suggests that corn’s entire supply chain should be taking action to address changing environmental conditions.

Ceres recently released a report that provides guidelines for farmers, companies and investors seeking to preserve resources and increase long-term yields.

The study cites pollution from agricultural runoff, along with recent droughts and water shortages across the country that are predicted to increase. Ceres contends that these factors are combining to form a sizeable threat to the corn industry.

For more information about the Ceres study, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://www.npr.org/2014/06/12/321218265/study-climate-change-is-a-growing-threat-to-corn-production
http://www.ceres.org/issues/water/agriculture/the-cost-of-corn
http://www.ceres.org/about-us/who-we-are

Climate change could lead to increased mosquito, tick populations in Iowa


Nick Fetty | August 21, 2014
Environmental advocates warm that mosquito and tick populations in Iowa could increase because of climate change. (naturegirl 78/Flickr)
Environmental advocates warn that mosquito and tick populations in Iowa could increase because of climate change. (naturegirl 78/Flickr)

A report by the National Wildlife Federation released earlier this week finds that climate change could lead to an increase in mosquito and tick populations as well as stronger strains of poison ivy and more green algae blooms.

These effects will likely have a direct impact on the Hawkeye State. Iowa has seen increased amounts of rainfall precipitation and higher humidity levels in recent years, much of which can be attributed to climate change. Cases of West Nile Virus – the mosquito-borne illness that can lead to fevers and even death – have also been on the rise in Iowa in recent years. There were nine cases of West Nile Virus in Iowa in 2011 and by 2013 that number had increased to 44.

Higher temperatures and greater levels of precipitation will also affect other blood-sucking pests such as deer ticks, an insect that can withstand mild winters. More than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported each year in the U.S.

These climate changes will not only affect insect populations but also plants. Increased carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels is expected to cause poison ivy to spread more easily and also be more potent. Green algae blooms have also been problematic in Iowa and this too is expected to worsen.

To combat these issues, the report calls for a reduction in carbon pollution through more efficient utilization of renewable energy sources as well as the implantation of certain safeguards for wildlife and wildlife habitat.

Great March for Climate Action reaches Iowa


Ed Fallon speaking at a political event prior to embarking on the Great March. Photo by Mike Hiatt; Flickr
Ed Fallon speaking at a political event prior to embarking on the Great March. Photo by Mike Hiatt; Flickr

 A former Iowa state representative and a group of dedicated citizens are marching through Iowa this week on a cross-country trek to raise awareness about climate change.

Ed Fallon’s Great March for Climate Action began on March 1st in Los Angeles, and will conclude in Washington D.C. before the midterm elections. By this time, Fallon and five other marchers will have walked approximately 3,000 miles. This core group has been joined by many others along the way who walk as far as they are able.

The aim of the March is to inspire the general public as well as lawmakers to take action on climate issues. The marchers are holding rallies and events along the route, attempting to reach the largest possible audience.

The marchers will walk through Iowa City this Wednesday, with a rally at 11:30 AM in the Ped Mall and a discussion of the EPA’s Clean Power Plant Rule at 7:00 PM at the Iowa City Public Library.

New analysis spells out risks of climate change on Midwest business


A page from the Risky Business Report's section on the Midwest, which highlights the effects of warming temperatures on the region.
A page from the Risky Business Report‘s section on the Midwest, which highlights the effects of warming temperatures on the region.

An extensive risk analysis report released Tuesday outlines what a warmer climate could mean for U.S. private and public sectors, with significant shifts in store for the Midwest.

The report was released by the Risky Business Project, an effort to apply risk assessment principles to climate change in the U.S. The project’s new report looks at the risks associated with rising temperatures and sea levels on business, infrastructure and agriculture in various regions of the country up to the year 2100.

For the Midwest, the report focuses on the region’s role as an important agricultural resource for the rest of the country. It assesses what rising temperatures could mean for the region’s commodity crops if the country continues at current carbon emission rates. Farmers would adapt, the report says, but agriculture would move north into Minnesota and Canada. Iowa would see a 10% decrease in crop yields over the next twenty years and a stunning 66% decrease by 2100.

The bipartisan project aims to convince corporations and businesses to view climate change as another business threat like any other, without going into detailed, highly-politicized solutions. Its Risk Committee includes former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Cargill CEO Gregory Page, three former U.S. Secretaries of the Treasury and various public and private officials.

For the compete report and for statements from the co-chairs of the project, visit riskybusiness.org.

Canadian university reduces emissions while levels rise for City


Nick Fetty | June 24, 2014
Ontario Hall (left) and Grant Hall (right) on the Queen's University campus in Kingston, Ontario. Photo by Aidan Wakely-Mulroney; Flickr
Ontario Hall (left) and Grant Hall (center) on the Queen’s University campus in Kingston, Ontario.
Photo by Aidan Wakely-Mulroney; Flickr

Greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 10 percent (compared to 2010 levels) at Queen’s University while emissions for the City of Kingston – home to Queen’s University – have risen.

The 2011-2012 Queen’s University Greenhouse Gas Inventory analyzes greenhouse gas emissions from 2008 to 2012. The report shows that emission levels have decreased by more than 20 percent since 2008 when data was first collected. Aaron Ball – Sustainability Coordinator at Queen’s University – noted out that “the decrease in emissions from 2010 to 2011 is largely due to a cleaner electricity supply in Ontario, while the uptick in 2012 is attributable to the weather.”

The City of Kingston drafted a Climate Action Plan in 2014 which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 350,000 tons by the year 2030. The City has implemented several carbon-reducing measures including: facility retrofits, adopting a green building plan, constructing five LEED facilities, and installing 11 solar projects.

Queen’s University is a public research institute with just over 23,000 students located in Kingston, Ontario, about 100 miles north of Syracuse, New York. Kingston has a population of 123,363 according to the 2011 Census.