Natural disasters of 2022, a short recap

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Grace Smith | December 29, 2022

Extreme weather and natural disasters have caused negative economic impacts and destruction around the world, costing billions of dollars in damage. The effect of climate change has been noticeable in 2022 through numerous natural disasters across the globe. 

The summer of 2022 was one of the hottest summers on record around the world and in the U.S. Houston, Texas experienced the hottest month of July on record with one day reaching over 103 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, 100 million Americans were under a heat advisory or warning in July. 

In addition to the U.S., Europe also encountered extreme heat and wildfires during the hot summer months. In just one week in July, wildfires swept across Greece, Spain, and Portugal. From January to November 2022, 1.9 million acres burned through Europe. Between July 10-19, Spain recorded 1,047 deaths linked to the record-breaking heat. 

In June, thousand-year floods closed Yellowstone National Park after intense rainfall caused mudslides and flooding throughout the park. The landslides caused bridges to collapse and damaged roads. Conditions were so bad that the park had to close for the first time since 1988. 

This year’s monsoon season heavily impacted Pakistan with heavy downpours that impacted the infrastructure and strained emergency services. Flooding washed away roads and bridges, making it nearly impossible for emergency personnel to travel to help people. As of October, millions of Pakistan citizens were displaced, two million homes were displaced, and 1,500 people reportedly died. 

Many activists and lawmakers are thinking about these natural disasters and others and considering the repair costs that come with the new normal in the world because of climate change.

World Cup in Qatar takes a toll on the environment

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Grace Smith | December 8, 2022

With thousands of international flights, numerous lighting illuminating the field, and an air-conditioned outdoor stadium, critics say the Qatar Soccer World Cup is environmentally harmful. Several environmentally-cautious professional players wrote an open letter to FIFA, urging FIFA to stop claiming that Qatar 2022 is carbon neutral. 

“The tournament has been labeled as the first ‘fully carbon neutral FIFA World Cup tournament,’ meaning its overall impact on the planet should be zero,” the letter said. “But that’s not true… In reality, FIFA’s sustainability strategy for the Qatar World Cup rests on flawed carbon calculations, questionable offsetting practices, and shifting the responsibility onto fans rather than shouldering it themselves.”

FIFA said the total number of greenhouse gas emissions in the Qatar World Cup will be 5.4 million tons of carbon dioxide, which will be mitigated by “low-carbon solutions” in Qatar and the Gulf region. 

Restaurants and pubs in France, Germany, and Britain pledged to not show the World Cup on their televisions. NBC said a broadcaster and retired soccer player also boycotted the tournament.

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.”

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.

Six months of Russia-Ukraine War takes toll on environment

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Grace Smith | August 26, 2022

About half a year ago, the Russia-Ukraine War started, which also formed a large environmental toll on Ukraine. Ukraine is one of Europe’s most industrial countries with coal mines, chemical plants, etc. The constant shelling over areas where these industries sit is harming nearby rivers and soil, jeopardizing its biodiversity. 

When Russian shelling exploded near certain Ukrainian industrial sites in July, the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Ukraine reported that those shellings caused a fire to release toxic substances that could easily be carried by wind through a vast amount of land. 

In addition to shellings, over 5,000 Moscow military wrecks have occurred over the six months, which the Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group (UNCG) said can continue to leak fuel after the wreck. “Russian tanks can carry between 500 and 1,600 litres of fuel,” UNGC told France 24, a news publication. “These contain lead and other heavy metals, polycyclic arenes found in all fossil fuels and a number of other volatile organic compounds.”

UNCG released a list of native plants, once preserved, that are now disappearing or threatened because of the passage of Russian vehicles on Ukrainian land. In addition, at least 37,867 fires caused by combat have covered over 247,000 acres of land, destroying 82,000 acres of protected land. 

Not only is Ukraine hurting from the war, but India is experiencing an increase in soybean and maize prices. As of March, corn pricing increased 25 percent as of January, challenging the ability to feed livestock like poultry.

Hawaii received final coal shipment before shutting down last coal-powered plant

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Grace Smith | August 8, 2022

Hawaii received its final coal shipment on July 27 before shutting down its last coal-powered power plant, pushing the state closer to its goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2045

180 MW West Oahu Plant, the single largest electricity source in Oahu, is set to shut down in September, when its 30-year purchase agreement expires.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige went to Twitter to express his excitement for this step in history. “This is a huge step forward in Hawaiʻi’s transition to clean energy. In its time, coal was an important resource for Hawaii and I’d like to thank the workers who have run our last remaining coal plant.”

Like Hawaii, other states are pushing for net-zero emissions or 100 percent carbon-free electricity by midcentury, including Rhode Island, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Oregon, as of 2021. 

Common renewable energy sources including wind, solar power, and biogas can generate energy that will eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and other types of air pollution. In addition, the economy will develop, including jobs in manufacturing and installation, like in San Diego, California. As a city dedicated to 100 percent renewable energy, it has formed 56,000 jobs in the industry of clean energy.

Alaska Experiences Extreme Wildfires

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Josie Taylor | July 25, 2022

In Alaska, wildfires are burning in ways that are rarely seen. Areas that are usually fireproof, or mostly fireproof, are burning.

More than 530 wildfires have burned an area the size of Connecticut, and the usual worst of the fire season is still later in the summer. While little property has burned, some residents have been forced to evacuate.

Recent rains have helped but longer-term forecasts are showing a pattern similar to 2004. In 2004, July rains gave way to high-pressure systems, hot days, low humidity and lightning strikes that fueled Alaska’s worst fire year.

The acreage burned by mid-July was about the same as now, but by the time that fire season ended, 10,156 square miles were burned.

Heat waves and droughts are making wildfires more frequent, destructive, and harder to fight in many places. This month, wildfires have torn through Portugal, Spain, France, England and Germany, which have seen record-high temperatures.

Food waste worsens climate change

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Grace Smith | July 21, 2022

An estimate of 30 to 40 percent of food in the U.S. is wasted. When food gets wasted, inputs used to store, process, transport, and prepare the food are also wasted. Not only does food waste impact the inputs, but its use of greenhouse gases is worsening climate change. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a report in 2021 that said, every year, U.S. food loss encompasses 170 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, GHG emissions. The EPA compared it to the annual carbon dioxide emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants. 

The combination of food waste in landfills, which accounts for about 23 percent of total landfilled waste, and methane burped from cows makes up for a significant number of Earth’s total methane emissions. 12 percent of methane emissions come from livestock manure. In addition, agriculture makes up 11 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

To prevent food waste from increasing, Dana Gunders, executive director of ReFED, an organization that examines food waste, said during a committee meeting that standardized food labeling would make a large impact. Right now, different types of food have different labels, including “best by,” “sell by,” and “enjoy by.” Gunders said creating a standard would help stunt climate change.

Climate change created unpredictability in rainfall, impacts crops

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Grace Smith | July 18, 2022

State Climatologist Justin Glisan said storms in Iowa are hitting smaller areas with more intensity and an increase in rainfall with unpredictable patterns. Iowa’s humidity levels have 13 percent more atmospheric moisture than 35 years ago, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. As the climate warms, water vapor in the air will continue to increase, which creates an imbalance in soil moisture for crops.

Although there has been an increase in water vapor with the presence of climate change, July has been extremely dry, and trends show April and October as wetter months this year. This trend and the below-average rainfall during dry months create lessened crop production, which Iowa saw in May when spring planting conditions were not optimal. 

This year, unlike some past dry years, topsoil and subsoil are labeled “adequate” in moisture, to help crops continue to grow during dry months like July.

With the condition of the soil and projected trends, Glisan said the 2060s and 2070s are when precipitation severity catches up to climbing temperatures. So, innovations in agriculture technology and increased rainfall are aiding crops and increasing yields.

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.