High stakes in Iowa rising with humidity

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Mold would really appreciate it if we’d ignore climate change.

“Some molds are very moisture loving,” said Betsy Stone, associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at the University of Iowa. For fungal spores, climate change is downright fun. Ditto for dust mites.

“Humidity (in Iowa) is certainly on the rise,” Stone told me this week. “This is just another example of convincing evidence our climate is changing.”

That’s the thrust of this year’s Iowa Climate Statement, authored by Stone along with Gene Takle, director of Iowa State University’s Climate Science Program, and signed by 190 researchers and science faculty at 39 Iowa colleges and universities. Iowa, the statement argues, is becoming more humid and climate change, intensified by greenhouse gas emissions, is the culprit. Humidity levels across Iowa have increased anywhere from 8 to 23 percent over the last 47 years.

“By climate standards, that’s a pretty large rise,” said Takle, who points out humidity is increasing at all times of year, not just during Iowa’s famously sticky summers.

Basically, warmer air sucks up more moisture. And in the spring and summer, Takle contends climate change has intensified factors controlling the climatic conveyor belt that brings moisture from the Gulf of Mexico to Iowa.

He argues more moisture has fueled an increase in the number of extreme precipitation events in Iowa over the last several decades. The risk of what was once considered a 100-year flood, or a 1 percent chance of flooding, has quadrupled.

In Cedar Rapids, a 100-year flood is pretty close to what we saw in September of last year. That flood did $25 million damage and the city’s response cost $7 million.

Higher humidity is particularly bad for Iowa agriculture. It’s the stuff of heavier rainfall, soggier fields and better conditions for disease, pests and pathogens. Harvest is hampered, grain stays wetter and costs a lot more to dry.

So the stakes, and costs, are higher than the muggiest heat index.

And yet, reddish Iowa went bigly for President Hoax. Climate change remains political fighting words, particularly in rural areas. Takle insists that’s gradually changing.

“Farmers will address challenges as they come along,” Takle said. “If it’s insects, they spray for insects. If it’s fungus, they spray for fungus. If it’s grain drying problems, they deal with those. More and more farmers are putting the pieces together.”

Maybe powerful groups representing farmers will do the same. Instead of using their clout to attack fictitious environmental issues, such as EPA puddle regulations, they might turn their attention to the real thing. Pushing for biofuels isn’t enough. Republicans who claim to cherish rural America should join the fight instead of denying the problem exists.

Stone and Takle are optimistic their statement will help Iowans understand consequences of climate change are occurring now. Persistence, and evidence, eventually can win.

Because I swim daily in our political cesspool, I’m not optimistic. I sense great days ahead for mold.

l Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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