Update: This is more about America’s heritage landscapes - grasslands - and less about particular crops. Grasslands provide important habitat for countless species. President Theodore Roosevelt protected millions of acres of grasslands by including them in several National Parks. Converting them to crops destroys habitat for animals, changes and poisons the soil, pollutes rivers, devalues people’s properties, among numerous other environmental harms. Destroying nature for a quick buck is not the right direction for America’s future. The situation is worse when climate change is factored in.
And, the US Forest Service has an excellent overview of how grasslands are threatened by agriculture and climate change.
Pretty harsh article on the state of rural and farm communities. Rural communities are getting older, having fewer kids. I know a few farmers out here in western Mass., and they’re focused on local niches. Most are just barely paying the bills. There’s little time to focus on long-term growth, and frankly becoming a farmer isn’t very interesting to a lot of young folks. Ayuh. Times, theyah changin’…
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack delivered a dire warning to the 51 million farmers, ranchers and other residents inhabiting rural America before a farm group in Washington last month. His message: Rural Americans are becoming less relevant in the country’s increasingly urban landscape, and unless they find a way to reverse the trend, their voice will continue to fall on deaf ears in Washington and around the world.
“Unless we respond and react, the capacity of rural America and its power and its reach will continue to decline,” Vilsack said. “Rural America, with a shrinking population, is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country, and we better recognize that, and we had better begin to reverse it.” In the past four years, he said, more than 50 percent of rural counties have seen their populations decline.
Vilsack pointed to rural America’s diminishing impact as a reason Congress was unable to pass a farm bill in 2012 during an election year. More than 80 percent of lawmakers are not representing rural areas, making it an uphill battle for those outside of urban areas to be heard in Washington.
Today, 150 brave climate scientists and researchers in Iowa released this open letter, calling for Iowans to lead on fighting climate change. Mark my words, I think this is one more indication that the climate denialists have lost. That researchers are no longer afraid to speak up. And that science is in fact prevailing over darkness and ignorance.
Iowa’s farming community was hit hard by this year’s drought. Crops yields were down, rivers and aquifers used to water farms dried up, and the economy and jobs took a big hit. Of course, I argue they’d need more focus on adapting their crops and economies to a new reality rather than trying to prevent the inevitable. Here’s the letter:
As science faculty and research staff at Iowa universities and colleges, we have confidence in recent findings that climate change is real and having an impact on the economy and natural resources of Iowa. We feel that it is important for citizens of Iowa to understand its implications. Iowans are living with climate change now and it is costing us money already. The drought that we are currently experiencing is consistent with an observed warmer climate, although science cannot say with certainty that the drought of 2012 was caused directly by human activities. The following observations support the case that more droughts and floods are likely in the future.
1. Globally over the past 30 years, there is clear statistical evidence that extreme high temperatures are occurring disproportionately more than extreme low temperatures. The climate likely will continue to warm due to increasing global emissions and accumulation of greenhouse gases.
2. In a warmer climate, wet years get wetter and dry years get dryer. And dry years get hotter ‐ that is precisely what happened in Iowa this year. We can expect Iowa to experience higher temperatures when dry weather patterns predominate. The latest science, based on overwhelming lines of physical evidence, indicates we can expect dry periods to be more frequent as soon as the 2020s.
3. Iowa also has experienced an increasing frequency of intense rains over the past 50 years (Iowa Climate Change Impacts 2010, www.dnr.gov), likely due to a higher surface evaporation in a warmer world. Because of these extremes in precipitation (drought and flood), Iowans will increasingly need infrastructure investments to adapt to climate fluctuations while developing and implementing mitigation.
As global citizens, Iowans should be a part of the solution. We can prosper, create jobs, and provide an engine for economic growth in the process (Iowa Climate Change Advisory Committee 2008 report, www.iaclimatechange.us). Iowa should lead innovation in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improve resilience in agriculture and communities, and move towards greater energy efficiency and increased use of renewable energy.
Read it, here.
"Last year’s hurricanes and flooding not only engulfed homes and carried away roads and bridges in hard-hit areas of the country, it dispersed aggressive invasive species as well.
In Vermont, the floodwaters from Tropical Storm Irene and work afterward to dredge rivers and remove debris spread fragments of Japanese knotweed, a plant that threatens to take over flood plains wiped clean by the August storm.
The overflowing Missouri and Mississippi rivers last year launched Asian carp into lakes and oxbows where the fish had not been seen before, from Iowa to the Iowa Great Lakes. Flooding also increased the population along the Missouri River of purple loosestrife, a plant that suppresses native plants and alters wetlands.
"It’s quite an extensive problem around the country and it’s spreading," said Linda Nelson, aquatic invasive species expert with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The agency’s budget for controlling invasive aquatic plants has grown from $124 million in 2008 to $135 million for fiscal year 2012."
More from Lisa Rathke at HuffPo
"With the Iowa caucus now exactly seven weeks away, more than 30 Iowa scientists are asking political candidates to acknowledge the threats posed by ongoing climate change, particularly to Iowa’s farmers.”
Climate Science and Public Policy in Iowa
The productive soils and favorable climate of Iowa underpin the economy of our State. Over the last half-century our farmers have adapted to changing conditions to keep Iowa ranked as one of the leading agriculture states in the US. We take well-earned pride in our contributions to national and global food security.
Changes in rainfall patterns and other climate indicators have emerged as the latest and potentially the most serious challenge to Iowans’ lives and livelihoods. Subtle changes in climate can have large effects on agriculture, making it a sensitive indicator of climate change. Statewide data show changes in temperature, precipitation, and humidity over the last forty years affecting Iowa’s producers. In recent decades a longer growing season, more precipitation, and lack of extreme high daytime temperatures have contributed to improved crop yields in our State. But the accompanying increase in extreme rainfall events, higher humidity, and higher nighttime temperatures have required costly adaptations.
Like its farmers, Iowa’s cities and rural communities, which provide our infrastructure, educational opportunities, and cultural amenities, also have felt the effects of a changing climate. Over the last 40 years intense rainfall has occurred about five times more often than in our previous history. As a result our communities have faced enormous expense to recover from repeated “500-year” floods. Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Iowa City, and Ames all have suffered multi-million dollar losses from floods since 1993. In 2008 alone, 85 of Iowa’s 99 counties were declared federal disaster areas.
These changes in Iowa’s climate have clear connections to changes in global climate and to changes in how we use the land. As the global climate continues to evolve, our farmers and city planners will face new challenges to maintain the prosperity of our state and its role in national and global food security. All major scientific societies and the US National Academy of Science have affirmed that the recent rise in greenhouse gases in the global atmosphere has contributed to changes in our climate. We urge all candidates for public office at national, state, and local levels to acknowledge the overwhelming balance of evidence for the underpinning causes of climate change, to develop appropriate policy responses, and to develop local and statewide strategies to adapt to near-term changes in climate.
Chris Anderson, Climate Science Program, Iowa State University
Ray Arritt, Climate Science Program, Iowa State University
Bill Gutowski, Climate Science Program, Iowa State University
Gene Takle, Climate Science Program, Iowa State University
Mark Aronson, Department of Biology, Scott Community College
Neil Bernstein, Chair, Department of Natural and Applied Sciences, Mount Mercy University
Aaron Bunker, Department of Biology, Morningside College
David Campbell, Henry R. Luce Professor in Nations & the Global Environment and Professor of Biology, Grinnell College
David Courard-Hauri, Environmental Science and Policy Program, Drake University
Richard Cruse, Director, Iowa Water Center, Department of Agronomy, Iowa State University
Gary Donnermeyer, Math/Science Department, Kirkwood Community College
Robert de Haan, Environmental Studies Department, Dordt College
Rhawn Denniston, Chair, Department of Geology, Cornell College
Jack Gittinger, Department of Education, Simpson College
Brian Hazlett, Director, Environmental Science Program, Briar Cliff University
Laura Jackson, Professor of Biology, University of Northern Iowa
M. Patrick McAdams, Division of Health and Life Science, William Penn University
David McCullough, Professor of Biology, Coordinator, Environmental Studies, Wartburg College
Gilbert Nebgen, Associate Professor of Science and Math, Indian Hills Community College
Laura Peterson, Department of Chemistry, Environmental Studies Program, Luther College
Gary Phillips, Environmental Studies Department, Iowa Lakes Community College
Thomas Rosburg, Professor of Biology, Drake University
Melanie Hansen Sadeghpour, Chair, Environmental Science Program, Des Moines Area Community College
Paula Sanchini, Professor of Biology, Coe College
Jerald Schnoor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Co-Director, Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, University of Iowa
Keith Summerville, Environmental Science and Policy, Drake University
Kathryn Szramek, Environmental Science and Policy, Drake University
Martin St. Clair, Professor of Chemistry, Coe College
Tracy Todd, Associate Professor of Biology, Northwestern College
Paul Weihe, Biology & Environmental Science, Central College
Danielle Wirth, Environmental Science Department, Des Moines Area Community College
Despite the headlines, things are happening at the local level. Excellent quote in the below article from Brandstand, “Twenty percent of the energy in Iowa is now being generated by wind,” said Gov. Terry Branstad.
Franklin county wind L.L.C. and Alliant Energy are starting construction on a 60 turbine wind farm capable of producing enough clean energy to power about 25,000 homes.
Gov. Terry Branstad and other elected leaders are kicking off construction in Franklin County.
The new $235 million wind farm will be built in addition to the current Whispering Willow East project already in operation. Together the two projects represent about $700 million invested by Alliant.