EPA, states continue to combat climate change despite SCOTUS ruling

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Grace Smith | July 15, 2022

The U.S. Supreme Court curbed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to restrict pollution coming from greenhouse gases. But, not all its power was stripped. The EPA and the Biden Administration have new plans in place to reach President Biden’s goal of cutting emissions in half by 2030. 

Joseph Goffman, Biden’s nominee for EPA’s air chief, told the New York Times the ruling against the EPA didn’t alter any current plans that the agency has. Next year, the agency plans to implement more restraints on greenhouse gas emissions from coal-powered plants. The EPA also plans to propose a regulation that cuts emissions from new gas-powered plants.

Now that the Supreme Court created a setback for action against climate change, the role of state and local level efforts increases. Colorado has passed about 50 climate laws over the last four years and is working to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2030, as well as New York. 

Although the state of Iowa doesn’t have a statewide climate plan, an Iowa City plan, which has about 35 actions, includes decreasing greenhouse gases in the community by 80 percent by 2050. In addition, Cedar Rapids’ plan to combat climate change seeks zero net carbon emissions by 2050.

Climate change as potential cause of Yosemite wildfire

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Grace Smith | July 11, 2022

Yosemite National Park in California is experiencing a wildfire that began to grow over the weekend and had grown 2.5 square miles since Sunday morning, with zero containment. The wildfire in the park, which is affecting century-old sequoia trees, may be caused by climate change.

The fire swept through the Mariposa Grove, the largest grove in the park, which contains some of the tallest and oldest sequoia trees. Over 5,000 sequoias were threatened during the fire, but Yosemite fire information spokesperson Nancy Phillipe told the New York Times that there is no estimate on damage as of Sunday. 

Although the case of the fire is under investigation, experts say wildfires, in general, are increasing in size and impact because of climate change. Through research on past Sierra Nevada wildfires from 2001 to 2020, projections show the number of fires in the area could increase 20 percent by 2040 and the area of burning could increase 25 percent. 

According to the National Park Service, from 2015 to 2021, more than 85 percent of sequoia groves burned in wildfires. In the previous century, that percentage was 25 percent. The trees, which were once impenetrable to flames, are becoming more vulnerable to climate change-induced violent and intense fires.

July 5 derecho intensity linked to climate change

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Grace Smith | July 7, 2022

A derecho swept through parts of Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota on July 5. South Dakota experienced fallen power lines and trees from wind gusts higher than 90 mph. Huron and Miner, states in South Dakota, had wind gusts higher than 95 mph. The derecho that swept intense wind through the Midwest may be linked to climate change. 

The derecho on July 5 is a progressive derecho, a summertime-occurring derecho fueled by an area that is hot, dry, and contains strong winds. A similar occurrence happened in August of 2020 when a derecho with extremely high winds hit over 700 miles in 14 hours across the Midwest destroying crops, homes, trees, and more. Meteorology professor at the University of Northern Iowa Alan Czarnetzki said, after the 2020 derecho, human-induced warming of the planet’s surface can increase the likelihood of stronger derechos

After the derecho on July 5, scientists also say climate change can increase the intensity of storms like derechos. According to NASA, as the air continues to warm from climate change, other storms including hurricanes may also be affected, creating heavier rainfall and stronger wind. 

In 2021, the world’s surface temperature was 1.51 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 20th century average of 57 degrees Fahrenheit.

Supreme Court narrows EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions

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Grace Smith | July 1, 2022

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) does not have the authority to administer expansive regulations on pollution from power plants. The ruling in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency puts a strain on President Joe Biden’s efforts to manage climate change. 

The Clean Air Act of 1970, a plan put in place to govern greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, was brought up in the case. But, because of lawsuits and other issues, the program stalled in 2016. So, the Biden Administration attempted to dismiss the case because there were no plans in place from the E.P.A. that would govern the power plant, but the argument didn’t work. 

The U.S. is the second world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter as of 2021, accounting for around 11 percent of the world’s total emissions. In 2020, the electricity sector, or the energy industry, was the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 25%, in the U.S., behind transportation. 

The E.P.A. doesn’t have the power it would have held, but not all their leadership is stripped. The E.P.A. can still regulate power plants, but it can’t do the necessary amount of cutting and shutting down to reduce the critical amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

Because of the new ruling, Biden’s promise to the world that the U.S. would cut greenhouse gas emissions in half from 2005 levels by 2030 has become a more challenging goal to achieve. Coral Davenport, a New York Times energy and environmental policy reporter, said for Biden to achieve this, new legislation and stricter regulations on all sectors of pollution need to be put in place.

Lake Mead may become a dead pool because of intense drought

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Grace Smith | June 30, 2022

Lake Mead, a lake on the border of Arizona and Nevada, experienced an extremely low water level on Thursday at 1,043.8 feet: the lowest level since 1930 when the lake was filled. Over 25 million people rely on water from the lake, which is also the nation’s largest reservoir. 

As of January 2022, Lake Mead is now at only 34 percent of its capacity. If the water level reaches below 895 feet, it will be classified as a dead pool. This means the lake will be too low to flow downstream or over the Hoover Dam, the lake’s lowest water outlet.

At the end of April, one of the water intake valves, which has been used since 1971, became exposed to air. This is the first valve to be above water in the lake and can no longer be in service.

The decrease in water comes from a drought occurring in the western United States that is described as the West’s worst drought in 1,200 years. In a Nature Climate Change study published in February 2022, authors estimated that 42 percent of the soil moisture depletion in the West from 2000-2021 was caused by human-provoked climate change. The drought, which started in 2000, will likely continue until at least 2030.

Study finds heat waves seven times more likely to occur today than 40 years ago

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Grace Smith | June 27, 2022

Heat waves, or high temperatures reoccurring for multiple days, pose a major threat to many aspects of everyday life: human health, ecosystems, food-producing regions, and crop growth. A study, published in January 2022, found that heat waves are seven times more likely to occur today than 40 years ago, affecting a larger area with hotter waves. 

In addition to the increase in hotter, larger heat waves, the study also compared the 1980s to the 2010s’ number of waves. The number of heat waves has doubled from May to Sept. in the Northern Hemisphere, or north of the equator. In the 1980s, about 73 waves occurred, and in the 2010s, there were 152. Other data included the number of days with two or more heat waves, which grew seven times higher from 20 in the 1980s to 143 in the 2010s.

The most significant heat waves struck North America, Europe, and Asia. India and Pakistan have experienced the hottest march in 122 years, with 64 percent less rainfall than normal in Pakistan and 71 percent in India. The heat waves in India and Pakistan have caused 90 deaths, floods, forest fires, and a wheat crop yield decrease. And the heat waves are unlikely to subside as climate change continues. If temperatures continue to rise, heat waves may become 2-20 times more likely than occurrences this year, and 0.5-1.5 degrees hotter.

Dust storms, high winds, droughts may impact Midwest agriculture long term

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Grace Smith | June 24, 2022

Wind gusts up to 70+ mph, dry cropland, and a thunderstorm with high winds created a haboob, or a large and intense dust storm, in Northwest Iowa on May 13. The haboob was a part of a larger aggregate of thunderstorms traveling through Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, and both North and South Dakota. This haboob and other windy conditions in the Midwest cause major problems for soil. 

Wind traveling through dry cropland unearths crops and soil in and on the ground. During a study by Texas-based erosion specialist Chris Coreil at the beginning of May, high winds and droughts caused farmers to lose soil anywhere between three to 29 tons per acre in South Dakota. The haboob erosion estimates were similar, with estimates of up to 12 tons of lost soil per acre in South Dakota. 

And the extreme temperature doesn’t appear to be ending soon. Climate change is causing an increase in precipitation and an increase in droughts, which will harm soil and agricultural practices. 

One way to combat these high winds and drought conditions is with a crop cover, which right now, only 3-5 percent in most states own a cover. The U.S. Department of Agriculture released an announcement in January expanding services and opportunities for “climate smart agriculture,” and has a goal of crop covers protecting 30 million acres of corn and soybean land in the U.S. by 2030.

Extreme heat, flooding affects agriculture significantly

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Grace Smith | June 23, 2022

Agriculture, which is one of the most important aspects of Iowa and surrounding economies, is experiencing many challenges because of climate change and extreme temperatures including a negative impact on livestock and crops, as well as a decrease in revenue

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said that climate extremes have a large negative impact on yield and livestock productivity in Iowa. In addition, the 2019 Iowa Climate Statement said confined livestock stuck in severe heat conditions are at a greater risk of death. Not only does this present itself as a problem in Iowa, but also in Kansas. On June 15, the heat killed over 2,000 cattle in Kansas, a portion of the Great Plains, which remains in a drought because of extremely high temperatures. Parts of Kansas hit up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit last week, which assisted in the deaths of the cattle. 

The heat is not the only thing affecting agricultural practices in Iowa. Flooding has caused issues including a loss in revenue for farmers. An IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering study from the University of Iowa, which was published April 26, 2022, found that in a 2-year return period, or a span of time when an occurrence is likely to surface, cropland has a 50 percent chance of flooding in a given year. The study also said that annually, Iowa loses $230 million in seed crops because of farming in areas that are likely to flood. 

Members of the industry have adapted in many ways. Seed providers have altered hybrid corn and made it more tolerable to drought and heat. In addition, farmers have reacted to an increase in precipitation by utilizing quicker planters that can move across a field faster. But, without technological changes to combat climate change in the Midwest, productivity could decrease significantly.

Iowa Climate Statement 2021 Read by Presenters

Since 2011, researchers and educators at nearly every college and university in Iowa have produced annual statements to communicate in plain language the state of climate science and the impacts of climate change on Iowans. 

The video above shows the 2021 Climate Statement read aloud by those who worked on it. They warn about extreme temperatures, floods, droughts and extreme storms.

The presenters also share what can be done to help prevent some climate disasters. This includes changing infrastructure to accommodate for extreme weather patterns.

2019 Iowa Climate Statement projects high temperatures in Iowa

Via CGRER 2019 Iowa Heat Wave Graphics

Grace Smith | June 20, 2022

The 2019 Iowa Climate Statement released on Sept. 18, which was backed by 216 Iowa science faculty and researchers from 38 Iowa colleges, projected dangerous heat to be more frequent and severe. The statement and graphics explain the need for preparedness in the coming decades. Weather reports and projections say above-average temperatures in Iowa are likely to occur in the next few months.

Between 1976 and 2005, the number of days in a year with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit was 23. The Climate Statement predicts that between the years 2036-2065, the average days with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit will be up to 57 days in a low emission scenario, or 68 in a high emission situation. 

July 2019 was recorded as the hottest month in Iowa for 140 years. But, nationally, in July 2021, the combined land and ocean surface temperature was 1.67 degrees Fahrenheit above the average in the 20th century, which normally sat at 60.4 degrees. This increase set a record for the hottest July, nationally, in 142 years. 

And temperatures will continue to increase. The National Weather Service and the Farmer’s Almanac, which has formulated annual weather predictions for over 200 years, said Iowa’s summer will be drier and hotter than normal, including above-average temperatures. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Association released a 2022 Aug., Sept., Oct., forecast prediction on June 16 and said there is up to a 40% change increase in average monthly temperatures. Almost the rest of the U.S. is also likely to increase in temperature, with no predictions of decreasing. 

Iowa City will experience hot days this week up to 96 degrees Monday and 99 degrees Tuesday.