Wildfire smoke is destroying air quality progress


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Grace Smith | September 23, 2022

Smoke caused by wildfires has been growing worse and worse over the past decade, decreasing policy-driven improvements in Western U.S. air quality progress, according to a study published Thursday. 

The analysis said the number of people in locations experiencing an “extreme smoke day,” which is said to be unhealthy for all age groups, had a 27-fold increase over the past decade. Extreme smoke days affected 25 million people in 2020 alone.

The study also said increased wildfire smoke is being propelled by climate change, which increases the flammability of fuels, creates worse wildfires, and emits more smoke into the air. Exposure to grainy, particulate matter including smoke and its contaminants causes 48,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. 

“People may be less likely to notice days with a modest increase in fine particulate matter from smoke, but those days can still have an impact on people’s health,” a researcher from the study, Marissa Childs, told the New York Times. Childs said the most extreme smoke days were seldom during 2006-2010, but from 2016-2020, over 1.5 million people were frequently exposed to dangerous levels of smoke. 

A solution to stop the decrease in air quality progress would be to reduce the likelihood of wildfires growing and becoming more destructive, whether that be from prescribed fires or other fire management techniques.

Climate change could submerge U.S. land worth billions of dollars, study finds


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Grace Smith | September 22, 2022

Sea level rise from climate change could submerge billions of dollars worth of U.S. land, a study from Climate Central said. The analysis found that by 2050, 650,000 properties of land over four million acres could fall underwater, decreasing its value by $108 billion by the end of the century. 

In the U.S., 30 percent of the population lives in a largely populous area near coastlines, where sea level plays a large role in flooding and erosion. 

“Sea level rise is ultimately going to take land away from people,” said Don Bain, a senior adviser with Climate Central, who wrote the report. “That’s something we haven’t come to grips with.”

The global sea level has risen eight to nine inches since 1980, which is mostly because of melted ice from glaciers and ice sheets as seawater warms. And, in many U.S. coastline locations, sea level rise is greater because of erosion, groundwater pumping, and more. By 2050, Climate Central estimates that In Hudson County, New Jersey, $2.4 billion worth of property will be underwater. In Galveston, Texas, over 4,200 buildings that are currently above sea level will be partially or fully underwater. And, 75 percent of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, will be submerged.

The report lists options for communities to reduce risks to properties:

  • Adjust land development to locations outside of high-risk zones
  • Partake in the National Flood Insurance Program and the Community Rating System incentives to help better financial stability for community members.
  • Use science to create improvements in stormwater systems, raising roadways, building levees, and improving coastal wetlands will for now, protect the tax base.
  • Educate taxpayers so they can adapt to the new economy and rising sea levels.

Iowa DNR to eliminate invasive plant in Iowa Great Lakes


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Grace Smith | September 20, 2022

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources plans to start treating East Okoboji, Upper Gar, Lake Minnewashta, and Lower Gar this week with Sonar A.S., an aquatic herbicide, to eliminate Eurasian watermilfoil, an invasive plant. Eurasian watermilfoil was found in these lakes in early August. The DNR will test the water every two weeks through next Spring, per a release published on Sept. 13. 

The DNR wants to remove the Eurasian watermilfoil because it is an aggressive and invasive plant known to take over the space where native plants would normally be. By eliminating the Eurasian watermilfoil, the DNR will use Sonar A.S., which prevents the plant from producing a pigment needed for photosynthesis. This process would eventually starve the plant over a few weeks. The DNR said the herbicide has no restrictions for swimming, fishing, irrigation, or drinking water at the planned dose. 

An East Okoboji Lakes Improvement Corporation representative told Radio Iowa the plant has been found in fairly abundant amounts in certain spots. To keep the species from spreading, the representative said washing boats and trailers after leaving a lake can help. 

A group of people from Iowa Great Lakes organizations is helping the DNR formulate a plan, and local groups are partnering to donate $335,000 toward the elimination of the invasive plant. 

“Keeping the plant out of the lakes over the past 30 years has allowed time for better tools to be developed for managing this plant,” said Mike Hawkins, district fisheries biologist with the Iowa DNR. “I’m confident we can work together locally to manage it long-term. In the meantime, we plan to take our best shot at eliminating it.”

Patagonia owner donates $3 billion company to fight climate change


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Grace Smith | September 16, 2022

The founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, is giving up ownership of his 50-year-old company. The outdoor clothing brand’s profits of $3 billion will be donated to organizations and projects to fight the climate crisis. 

Chouinard, who gained popularity by alpine climbing in Yosemite National Park, announced his relinquishment Wednesday and released a statement on Patagonia’s website

“Instead of ‘going public,’ you could say we’re ‘going purpose,’” the website letter said.  “Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth for investors, we’ll use the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth.”

Patagonia has been actively fighting climate change for years – using less harmful materials to the environment, becoming B Corp certified by meeting high social and environmental performance standards, and changing the company’s purpose in 2018 to a theme of saving the planet.

Chouinard said Patagonia is now owned by Holdfast Collective, a trust dedicated to protecting nature and fighting the climate crisis. An annual dividend of $100 million will be given to the Holdfast Collective depending on the year’s profits. 

“Despite its immensity, the Earth’s resources are not infinite, and it’s clear we’ve exceeded its limits,” Chouinard’s letter said.  “But it’s also resilient. We can save our planet if we commit to it.”

Northwest Iowa, Nebraska experience ‘exceptional’ drought


The U.S. Drought Monitor is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Map courtesy of NDMC.

Grace Smith | September 15, 2022

A small portion of Iowa – 0.2 percent – is experiencing exceptional drought status per the Sept. 8 U.S. Drought Monitor. The drought that northwest Iowa is in stands as the worst category of dryness by the drought monitor. This is the first time Iowa has received an “exceptional drought” classification since 2013. 2.2 percent of the state sits in an extreme drought. 

In addition to the drought, good crop conditions decreased slightly, per a U.S. Department of Agriculture report Monday. 63 percent of corn and soybeans were rated good or excellent, a three percent decrease from the week before. 

Although Iowa is only seeing an exceptional drought rating in 0.2 percent of the state, 10.5 percent of Nebraska is experiencing the worst drought classification, about a four percent increase from Aug. 30. 27.7 percent of the state is in an extreme drought, about an eight percent increase from last week. 

Lincoln, Nebraska has received less than an inch of rain over the past two months and had its fifth driest August on record. 84 percent of the state has short or very short topsoil moisture, and Omaha officials have requested water restrictions. 

The National Weather Service’s forecast predicts a 20 to 40 percent chance of showers in Nebraska this weekend, which could present some relief.

Climate change could worsen issues with the supply chain


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Grace Smith | September 13, 2022

A record-setting drought across China in August led to many immensely disrupted economic activities by stopping supply chains for automobiles, electronics, and more. This drought-induced interruption in the supply chain likely won’t the be last supply chain issue caused by climate change.

The severe drought in China caused rivers to dry up, negatively affecting hydropower. The lack of water flow is impacting areas in China that rely heavily on water power, including Sichuan, which gets over 80 percent of its energy from hydropower. The drought also forced many companies to halt business operations and stop shipping. 

White House economics said climate change-caused natural disasters like droughts and wildfires becoming more frequent would likely disrupt delivery on a global scale and worsen supply shortages, as seen in examples of U.S. natural disasters in the past few years:

  • Droughts in the western portion of the U.S. has put additional stress on agricultural exports.
  • Wildfires in the western U.S. have harmed the planning and logistics of larger delivery companies like Amazon. 
  • Texas winter storms in February 2021 shut down semiconductor plants, causing a shortage of chips across the world.

“What we just went through with [COVID-19] is a window to what climate could do,” Kyle Meng, associate professor of environmental economics in California told the New York Times.

The National Centers for Environmental Information calculated the number of billion-dollar natural disasters in America has grown to an average of 20 in the past two years. These increased disasters and high temperatures could create competition for food and prompt new policies that stop the exports of food.

Continued global warming will set off five climate ‘tipping points’


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Grace Smith | September 9, 2022

Failure to stop the continuation of global warming will set off five major climate tipping points if warming surpasses 1.5 degrees Celsius, per a new study. Currently, the earth is warming at a level of 1.1 degrees, but if that number hits over 1.5, those disastrous changes will become irreversible.  

The study estimates that 1.5 degrees Celsius warming will trigger extreme ice melt for Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, which could lead to over 30 feet of sea level rise. Coral reef deaths will occur from 1.5 to 2 degrees, and an important current in the North Atlantic will also stop circulating, impacting weather in Europe. The study also found that larger ocean currents will stop circulating above 2 degrees of global warmth and the Amazon Rainforest will die. 

“Since I first assessed tipping points in 2008, the list has grown and our assessment of the risk they pose has increased dramatically,” Tim Lenton told The Guardian. “Our new work provides compelling evidence that the world must radically accelerate decarbonizing the economy.”

To limit warming from 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius – a 2015 Paris agreement policy that the study indicated is crucial to abide by – all countries must complete promises of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, for there is no leeway or flexibility in not following through.

Climate change challenges human ability to properly cool down


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Grace Smith | September 8, 2022

As the Earth warms, scientists realize outdoor humidity is making it challenging for sweat to cool down bodies properly. Normally, the body can cool itself by sweating, but when humidity is at a high level, sweat will not evaporate as fast, threatening human health and life.

“The inability to cool down leaves us more than just uncomfortable. It actually wears on our internal processes,” Dr. Benjamin of Health Partners said in a company blog. “As our core temperature continues to rise, our bodies need to work harder to try and cool us down. This causes us to overheat.”

Professor of Physiology and Kinesiology, Larry Kenney conducts tests in his lab at Penn State. Kenney puts test subjects in a climate-controlled room and has them walk on a treadmill as he increases the room’s humidity. It is harder to get subjects’ core temperatures to cool down with that increase. Kenney told NPR when the temperature gets close to the humidity of sweat on the skin, it can no longer evaporate.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 1,300 deaths per year in the United States are heat-related, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute said that heat-related health issues will continue to rise with an increase in heat.

Drought conditions in Iowa are projected to cut soybean harvest


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Grace Smith | September 6, 2022

Areas in Iowa are experiencing harsh drought conditions with little rain, per the U.S. Drought Monitor on Sept. 1. Iowa’s summer drought conditions spilling into September presents the problem of cutting soybean harvest later in the month. 

The report shows that 40.07 percent of Iowa experiencing a moderate drought, up 1.2 percent from last week. 19.27 of Iowa is dealing with severe drought conditions, and 2.08 percent of the state is in an extreme drought. The estimated population in Iowa undergoing drought is 1,040,243 people.

Along with drought affecting people, the heat is taking a toll on crops. On average, soybean yields are projected to drop to 58 bushels per acre this year, compared to 62 bushels in 2021, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released Aug. 12. Harvest is expected to decrease 4.7 percent from 2021.

Despite the decline, Iowa is still projected to be named the second largest soybean producer by harvesting 592.8 million bushels in the fall; a decrease of 29.1 million from last year.Despite heavy rainfall last week up to four inches in areas across Iowa, portions of the state in the southeast received less than half an inch, and remain dry. Southeast Iowa has about 10 percent of adequate soil moisture for crops. To compare, in northeast Iowa, 90 percent of the soil has adequate water for crops.

33 million affected by climate change-induced intensity of Pakistan monsoon season


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Grace Smith | September 2, 2022

Pakistan is experiencing its worst monsoon season in over a decade. Over 33 million citizens have been impacted and over 1,100 people have been killed by the strong winds and increased rainfall that has submerged one-third of the country underwater. 

Although scientists are still determining how climate change has specifically affected the monsoon season, it is clear that global warming is increasing the likelihood of severe rain in South Asia

From June through September, rain falls and winds normally blow from the southwest, but, with global warming increasing, the warmer atmosphere is holding more moisture, creating a large increase in rainfall. Rainfall in Pakistan this year is three times the nation’s average in the past 30 years.

The monsoon-induced disasters have worsened the risk of diseases and caused 20,000 people in dire need of food and medical support. 

The United Nations established a joint appeal with Pakistan for $160 million. “The Pakistani people are facing a monsoon on steroids — the relentless impact of epochal levels of rain and flooding,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said during the appeal’s launch. “…Let’s stop sleepwalking towards the destruction of our planet by climate change.”