Government

Iowa scientists, educators warn time running out to combat climate change

Good things are happening, 'but not fast enough,' researcher says

Peter Thorne (left) and Jerald Schnoor discuss the Iowa Climate Statement 2019 at a news conference Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in Cedar Rapids. The report predicts dangerous heat events will become more frequent and severe in Iowa. Thorne, professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of Iowa, and Schnoor, co-director of the university’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, outlined strategies at the news conference that state and federal governments need to take to deal with the threats posed by climate change. (James Q. Lynch/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)
Peter Thorne (left) and Jerald Schnoor discuss the Iowa Climate Statement 2019 at a news conference Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in Cedar Rapids. The report predicts dangerous heat events will become more frequent and severe in Iowa. Thorne, professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of Iowa, and Schnoor, co-director of the university’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, outlined strategies at the news conference that state and federal governments need to take to deal with the threats posed by climate change. (James Q. Lynch/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)

CEDAR RAPIDS — There’s still time to address the climate change that is predicted to lead to more severe weather, more stress on human health and possibly the need to air-condition hog barns.

In preparing the Iowa Climate Statement 2019, models used by the science faculty, researchers and educators at 38 Iowa colleges and universities indicate Iowa will see the annual number of days above 90 degrees increase from 23 to 67 by 2050, with a once-in-a-decade likelihood of temperatures reaching 105 degrees.

“Time is running out,” Jerald Schnoor, of the University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Research, said Wednesday.

“Many good things are happening — solar panels, wind farms and so on — but they’re not happening fast enough,” he said. “We’re going to have big increases in severe weather if we don’t get off the dime.”

A key to addressing climate change will be decreasing emissions, which are increasing, by 45 percent, he said.

To lower emissions, more solar panels are needed on homes, as well as more solar farms, more wind turbines, more energy efficiency, better battery storage, carbon sequestration in soil, regenerative agriculture and reforestation.

“All of these things take time. It takes time to change our infrastructure,” Schnoor said at a news conference at the downtown Cedar Rapids Public Library.

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Action is necessary in the next 16 months to plan for implementing those changes in the next 10 years, he said.

The threat of more frequent and extreme heat is real, said Peter Thorne of the UI Environmental Health Sciences Research Center. A heat wave in Europe this summer was responsible for 1,435 deaths in France where southern France recorded a temperature of 114 degrees. Hardest hit were the elderly and outdoor workers.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that heat is the leading cause of weather related deaths — about 600 people a year.

Government at all levels will need to invest in infrastructure to prevent weather-related deaths. For example, Schnoor and Thorne speculated that a program to cool homes would become as necessary as the Low-income Home Energy Assistance Program that helps with winter heating costs.

In addition to the elderly and those without air conditioning, outdoor workers, such as building and road construction workers, military personnel and agricultural workers, would be at risk of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps or heat stroke, Thorne said.

Iowa’s livestock production will not escape the heat.

“Confined livestock will be at increased risk for death and widespread productivity losses,” Thorne said.

Conversion of feed into weight gains will be impaired. Producers will need to adjust operations, including cooling livestock buildings or leaving facilities vacant during the hottest months of the year, he said.

Public investment in infrastructure improvements will need to increase, Schnoor and Thorne said. Those investments in wind, solar and other strategies will create jobs, wealth and security, they added.

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There are positive signs in Iowa, Thorne said. About one-third of the state’s electricity needs is generated from wind.

By comparison, though, Denmark last Sunday generated 133 percent of its electricity needs from wind.

Thorne said he hopes it won’t take a cataclysmic event to jolt the nation into action.

“That’s why we’re here. We see the writing on the wall, and we want to prevent that,” Thorne said. “We’re trying to sound the alarm now.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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