Social inequality and coping with climate change


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Coastal communities are among the most vulnerable as climate change alters global conditions (flickr)

Julia Poska| November 1, 2018

As climate changes around the world, certain areas will become inhospitable to human life; coasts will flood, city water supplies will face crises, and islands will disappear. Unfortunately, people living in such areas cannot always cope with the change, according to a new study published in Annual Review of Environment and Resources. 

“Many of the people most at risk from environmental changes have the fewest freedoms and therefore the least ability to adapt in the face of such difficulties,” said lead author Jon Barnett in a media release.

Worldwide evidence compiled by Barnett and other researchers from the Universities of Melbourne and Exeter suggests that protecting human rights and freedoms is key  to reducing the impacts of climate change for the vulnerable. Freedom of movement is especially important, as it  provides those facing environmental threats the option to leave.

The Australian researchers highlighted the perils threatening Pacific Islanders in their report. The tiniest islands of Micronesia and Melanesia could be underwater in a matter of decades as sea levels rise. Policies in Australia and New Zealand that welcome islanders to move to mainland create security for those people, who typically have minimal economic and political resources.

 

 

Iowa Pulitzer winner says ‘Welcome to climate change, Iowa-style’


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Cullen details the consequences of climate-fueled floods and heatwaves for Iowa farms (flickr).

Julia Poska | October 26, 2018

“Welcome to climate change, Iowa-style” -Art Cullen

Over the course the current midterm election campaigns, Iowan farm fields have faced high heatwaves, record-breaking rainfall, flooding and unseasonable cold. Experts say such extreme events are fueled by climate change.

Pulitzer Prize winner Art Cullen, editor of Storm Lake, Iowa’s Storm Lake Times, published a new editorial on The Guardian last week to share his thoughts on the matter.

“Few politicians in the five states around here are talking about regulating agriculture in an era of warmer and wetter nights and long droughts,” he wrote. “Yet farmers are paying attention.”

Cullen based his argument in the findings of regional climate researchers. An Iowa State scientist predicted Iowa’s recent floods 20 years ago. Someone at the University of Minnesota predicts Iowa’s corn yield will halve by 2070. An agronomist, also from Iowa State, said soil erosion is making corn starchier and less valuable.

To combat the change, farmers have historically increased drainage tile. Cullen cited the environmental consequences of that adaption, mainly low oxygen due to excess nutrients in the Gulf of Mexico, and water quality issues within the state.

As the situation has gotten worse and awareness has risen, farmers have started making positive changes, too, Cullen said.  They’re looking at sustainability reports, cover cropping to reduce erosion, and rotating diverse crops and livestock.

Cullen calls for policy makers to “catch up” and provide more financial aid to help farmers implement sustainable practices and even retire land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Climate change: heat, rain, and less beer?


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These glasses could look 17 percent less full during future extreme climate events (flickr). 

Julia Poska | October 18, 2018

Last week, the 2018 Iowa Climate Statement warned of worsening extreme heat and rain events statewide as climate change progresses. A new study published this week has predicted what, for some, might be an even scarier outlook: global beer shortages.

International researchers studied how recent extreme climate events, like drought and heatwaves, have impacted barley yields and beer prices around the world. They used their findings to model potential future impacts in more extreme events.

They predict that during severe events global barley production will fall by 3 to 17 percent, leading to a 16 percent global decline in beer consumption. It would be as if the United States stopped drinking beer altogether.

Different regions of the world would feel the drop unequally; countries that already drink less beer would face greater scarcity. Argentina would consume about 32 percent less beer, the study said.

The United States would see a reduction of 1.08 to 3.48 billion liters,  about 4 to 14 percent of the quantity consumed nationally in 2017, as reported by the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

In such a shortage,  researchers said beer prices would about double in most places.

Lead UK author Dabo Guan from the University of East Anglia said more studies on climate change economics focus on availability of staple crops like corn and wheat, in a press release about the study.

“If adaptation efforts prioritise necessities, climate change may undermine the availability, stability and access to ‘luxury’ goods to a greater extent than staple foods,” he said. “People’s diet security is equally important to food security in many aspects of society.”

 

 

 

 

Analysis of Iowa air quality reveals positive and negative trends


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Industrial greenhouse gas emissions from utilities and manufacturers contribute to climate change (flickr). 

Julia Poska | October 4, 2018

A new analysis of federal air quality data reveals mixed trends in Iowa’s air quality. On one hand, Iowa cut industrial greenhouse gas emissions 11 percent from 2010 to 2014. On the other, Iowa ranks among the top 20 U.S. states for industrial greenhouse gas and toxic air emissions.

Analysts from the Center for Public Integrity studied EPA data from 2010 to 2014.  The Iowa Department of Natural Resources told the Des Moines Register that since 2014 emissions have trended downwards, according to data from their own monitoring stations and facilities.

The Center for Public Integrity found that Iowa’s industrial greenhouse gas emissions dropped  11 percent, from over 60 million metric tons in 2014 to about 54.7 metric tons in 2014. This cut is over five times greater than the 2 percent national average, according to the Register.

Iowa still ranks 19th for industrial emissions, however. Ten Iowa utility or manufacturing companies were among the nation’s top 500 sources of greenhouse gases in 2014.  Four of those were MidAmerican coal plants.  Since 2014, Iowa utilities have made major investments in renewable energy, particularly wind.

Iowa ranks even higher for toxic air emissions: 17th in the U.S.. From 2010 to 2014, toxic air emissions in Iowa actually increased. The Register found that Climax Molybdenum, a chemical plant in Fort Madison, and four others were responsible for half of Iowa’s toxic emissions in 2014. The paper said Climax Molybdenum was the 10th largest emitter of ammonia in the nation that year.

 

 

 

How to curb Iowa flooding according to an agricultural engineer


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Sandbags like these are not an adequate solution to Iowa’s flood problem, Kamyar Enshayan warned (flickr).

Julia Poska| September 21, 2018

In an effort to call Iowa to action, Kamyar Enshayan, director of the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy and Environmental Education, called on his expertise as an environmentalist and agricultural engineer for a Des Moines Register OpEd earlier this week.

Enshayan warned Iowans that flooding will only get worse as the climate changes and gave those upstream three pieces of advice to protect their downstream statesmen.

First, he said we should hand floodplains back to nature. He called for an end to construction and development along riverbanks, arguing that the ecosystem services floodplains provide are more valuable than riverside property.

Natural floodplains improve water quality, provide great wildlife habitat, offer natural flood protection and reduce flood disaster and recovery costs according to the Nature Conservancy. 

Second, we need to make Iowa more “spongy” with sustainable cropping and biodiversity solutions. Enshayan suggested increasing crop diversity in longer rotations to promote healthy soil. Deep-rooted native prairie plants and natural wetland ecosystems will also help contain water.

Finally, he said we must get to the root of the problem and reduce carbon emissions to mitigate climate change. He pointed to methane-emitting landfills and Iowa’s continued dependence on coal as areas for potential improvement.

Enshayan addressed policy makers at the end of the piece, saying they should listen to scientists and engineers like himself to proactively protect people and resources.

“Sand bagging is not enough, not a lasting solution, and does not address upstream problems,” he said.  “Let’s work on lasting solutions.”

 

Soil could hold key to climate adaptation


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A plant begins and ends its life in the soil, which could be the key to climate adaptation (Flickr). 

Julia Poska| September 20, 2018

Climate change models predict decreased crop yields as temperatures rise, but new research from Michigan State University says our soil can save us.

If yields go down, the amount of carbon returned to the soil will too, creating a feedback loop that would only accelerate crop loss.  The study, published in Agriculture and Environmental Letters, found that certain soil management and conservation practices can compensate for crop loss by keeping carbon in the soil.

Practices like cover cropping and conservation tillage, encouraged by the researchers, benefit the environment in other ways as well. Especially in Corn Belt states along the Mississippi River, these practices are encouraged to keep soil nutrients out of the water.

Lead scientist Bruno Basso said soil may be our most important resource for adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change in an MSU media release about the study. “The soil that we’ll deal with in 2050 is surely to be different than it is now, so recognizing how to manage it today -along with adaptation strategies for tomorrow — is critical,” he said.

 

Could climate change be behind Hurricane Florence?


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The National Hurricane Center shows the “cone of uncertainty” predicting where Hurricane Florence’s eye might travel.

Julia Poska| September 14th, 2018

North and South Carolina have both issued evacuation warnings in anticipation of a very destructive weekend. The eye of Hurricane Florence is made landfall this afternoon, though her rain bands touched land late Thursday.

As of Thursday morning, Florence’s strongest sustained winds of 105 mph put her in Category 2 classification for wind. As of Friday afternoon, she has downgraded to Category 1.  Forecasters say her storm surge, the swell of water pushed onshore by hurricane winds, will be a Category 4. The National Hurricane Center predicts floods over 9 feet above ground in some areas.

States as far inland as Indiana may receive the tail end of the hurricane, which will most likely have weakened to a less windy but still wet tropical storm or depression by then.

Experts debate whether climate change will increase the frequency and severity of tropical storms and hurricanes in coming years, and whether it already has. It is difficult to separate natural variability from human-induced effects when examining any specific storm, but many of the conditions needed to spawn hurricanes are certainly undergoing change.

To many experts, it seems to many that rising sea levels exacerbate storm surge, that rising sea surface temperatures could add more fuel to storms, and that a warmer, wetter atmosphere increases rainfall.  Just look to 2017’s especially devastating season for evidence that these storms are getting nastier.

Other experts say that climate change will increase wind shear, friction between upper and lower level winds moving in different directions, which could actually stop more hurricanes from forming. Only time will tell which factors

As climate change is variable over the Earth’s surface, models show both increase and decrease of all those different factors in different locations. While climate change will almost certainly impact hurricanes, only time will tell the nature of that impact.