Saturday, June 9, 2012
Experts Gather at Missouri University to Talk Climate Change
Adapting to climate change will take more than just declaring it does not exist, scientists attending a three-day conference at the University of Missouri said during a discussion of how to make the public aware of the issue.
In the Midwest, climate change has meant more big storms and longer growing seasons, experts say. Those verified effects can mean more soil erosion, less time to plant in soggy fields and the opportunity to grow crops where they could not survive in the past.
The answer, they said, is not to adopt the North Carolina strategy of passing laws banning the science that shows an accelerating change in the climate. In that state, lawmakers are considering a bill that would bar the state's coastal commission from using a climate model that projects a 39-inch rise in sea levels over the next century.
Most scientists agree the climate is warming, causing changes that must be addressed, said Don Day of University Extension.
"If I took a child to a number of doctors, and 80 to 90 percent of them said the child had a disease, I would treat that disease," Day said.
Titled "Adapting to Climate Change: Claiming the Advantage," the conference brought researchers from Iowa, Virginia, Ukraine and elsewhere to the MU campus. Over three days of sessions, the need for public education that focuses on the local consequences of climate change became clear, Day said.
During a session yesterday called "Taking it to the People," the discussion focused on the facts that show climate change is real and there's a need to get unbiased information to the public. Climate change has become a divisive, partisan issue, in part because of the advocacy role former Vice President Al Gore assumed, said Peter Scharf of Agricultural Extension.
"There is still a lot of resistance to the idea of climate change among the farming community," he said.
But when clear evidence such as the recently revised plant hardiness maps or the news that soybeans are being grown successfully in North Dakota is presented, people can be convinced, he said.
"We are not hearing the right stuff from the right people in a format people will accept," Scharf said.
In a keynote address this morning, climate scientist Christopher Anderson of Iowa State University said the frequency of extremely wet springs in the Midwest has increased from an average of once every 20 years in the 100 years before 1970 to once every five years.
The number of flooding rains, producing 4 inches or more within 24 hours, has increased by 50 percent in the past 40 years, he said.
"We may have a wetter spring, but we may not be able to get out in the fields to plant," he said.
Anderson also attributes wetter summers to climate change. Droughts that limited crop yields were regular occurrences from 1870 to 1976, he said. Since 1976, there has not been a dry summer comparable to the ones in the previous century, he said.
And wet summers are wetter, he said, causing crop-destroying floods that affect markets worldwide. When major flooding hit Iowa in summer 2010, he said, the price of corn jumped from about $4.50 a bushel to $6.50 a bushel.
The trend will only continue, Anderson said. Out of 120 climate models projecting precipitation in the Midwest for the next 100 years, all but five predict that the Midwest will get significantly wetter. Iowa farmers are putting in more drainage structure and buying bigger equipment to speed fieldwork when it is dry.