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Iowa and Climate Change

Cedar Rapids Flood

Cedar Rapids Flood

What will climate change mean for Iowans? That climate change exists and is happening now is accepted by any Iowan who employs a rational thought process and considers scientific evidence. As the crazy talk from Ames last weekend indicated, not all Iowans are included in such a group.

That climate change is happening is also acknowledged by our government. In 2007, Iowa Code established the Climate Change Advisory Council, which produced a panel of reports about climate change and on how the state could reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The council was disbanded on July 1, 2011, shortly after the election that brought Terry Branstad back into Terrace Hill.

For now, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) maintains a web page that lists climate changes Iowa is already experiencing, and it is worth noting what our government says about the effects of climate change happening now in Iowa. They include:

More Precipitation

  • Increased frequency of precipitation extremes that lead to flooding.
  • Increase of eight percent more precipitation from 1873 to 2008.
  • A larger increase in precipitation in eastern Iowa than in western Iowa.

Higher Temperatures

  • Long-term winter temperatures have increased six times more than summer temperatures.
  • Nighttime temperatures have increased more than daytime temperatures since 1970.
  • Iowa’s humidity has risen substantially, especially in summer, which now has 13 percent more atmospheric moisture than 35 years ago as indicated by a 3 – 5 degree F rise in dew-point temperature. This fuels convective thunderstorms that provide more summer precipitation.

Agricultural Challenges

  • Climate extremes, not averages, have the greater impact on crop and livestock productivity.
  • Increased soil erosion and water runoff.
  • Increased challenges associated with manure applications.
  • Favorable conditions for survival and spread of many unwanted pests and pathogens.

Habitat Changes

  • Plants are leafing out and flowering sooner.
  • Birds are arriving earlier in the spring.
  • Particular animals are now being sighted farther north than in the past.

Public Health Effects

  • Increases in heart and lung problems from increasing air pollutants of ozone and fine particles enhanced by higher temperatures.
  • Increases in infectious diseases transmitted by insects that require a warmer, wetter climate.
  • An increase prevalence of asthma and allergies.

Whether the DNR will continue to maintain this web site is an open question. The influence of agribusiness over Iowa’s government is no secret. Emblematic was the public clash between Iowa board of regents chair Bruce Rastetter, a Branstad campaign contributor and agribusiness leader, and Jerry Schnoor, a University of Iowa professor and former chair of the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council. It is easy to predict that there will be pressure from agribusiness interests to minimize the importance of climate change. As Blog for Iowa reported, the Farm Bureau idea “they think it’s (climate change) always been happening and therefore is unlikely to have much to do with whatever us humans get up to down at ground level,” is ridiculous.

What Iowans can expect is increased politicization of the science of climate change, especially as President Obama’s plan for climate action is implemented.

There is overwhelming evidence that climate change is anthropogenic. Scientists don’t know where the tipping point lies, but the effects of climate change on humans are getting worse, and we can do something about it without changing our way of life or hurting our economy. We should do something about it before it’s too late.

~ This is part of a series of summer posts on climate change.

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