Understanding and Assessing Climate Change, Implications for Nebraska, UNL
The science behind understanding climate change is almost 200 years old and will not change
Days before Neligh, Neb. natives and unlikely activists Art and Helen Tanterups invited 8,000 people to their 100-year-old family farm, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln issued the most damning and comprehensive look at climate change’s impact in Nebraska yet. The report was presented to a group of 300 at a lecture on the Nebraska Innovation Campus in Lincoln.
The larger group went to hear Neil Young, Willie Nelson and other artists perform. They joined Bold Nebraska, the Cowboy and Indian Alliance and the Indigenous Environmental Network, who represent tribes from Texas to Canada, in protest of Transcanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. The proposed pipeline would bring tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast to be refined.
The smaller group heard the contents of the report, Understanding and Assessing Climate Change, Implications for Nebraska, created by almost 30 UNL professors and local experts. UNL’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources began the study after a Unicameral-sponsored climate examination that would exclude human impacts was scrapped after scientists refused to participate.
The report lays bare the devastation starting and predicted to accelerate due to climate change. These predictions are based on the data reported and summarized by the International Panel on Climate Change, a scientific body of United Nations that has 195 member nations and includes the work of thousands of scientists, and the National Climate Assessment, a federal effort that includes the work of hundreds of U.S. experts.The report leaves no doubt: climate change represents a clear danger to the state, not just the planet, and local steps are vital to prevent damage.
“Moving to tar sands, one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet, is a step in exactly the opposite direction, indicating either that governments don't understand the situation or that they just don't give a damn,” native son and NASA climatologist James Hansen has said. "People who care should draw the line."
Click here to see video from the concert that includes nurses speaking out about public health issues, ranchers standing against transnational oil corporations and artists’ statements of support. Check elsewhere to see how a Lakota rapper stole the show, especially when he brought his mom on stage and the deep bass overcame the microphone.
Lifelong Republican and State Climatologist Al Dutcher pointed out that the Nebraska’s future in the coming decades looks a lot like the recent past. “The drought of 2012 exposed limitations of water supplies and the impacts that continuous irrigation had on rural water supplies and energy distribution. Irrigators were forced to apply water on a continuous basis for more than two months, resulting in rolling blackouts due to insufficient infrastructure to meet power demands. Nearly 200 communities were impacted as localized aquifer levels decreased to the levels where community wells were drawing air.”
While the study’s authors and contributors are sure to cringe, below are the “Cliff’s Notes” from their 88–page report and lengthy lecture. This bare-bones outline of the report is particularly important as it did not receive in-depth mainstream media coverage and few have time to read the full report.
From their own words, we created the “10 Most Important Things You Need to Know.” If that’s not enough, take a look at the related article, “5 Things You Might Need to Say to Someone Who Denies It.” Page numbers from the report are noted in parentheses.
Unless noted otherwise, excerpts are from the main report and its four main PhD professor/authors: Deborah J. Bathke, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences; Robert J. Oglesby, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and the School of Natural Resources ; Clinton M. Rowe, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences; and Donald A. Wilhite, School of Natural Resources.
10 Things You Need to Know About Climate Change
1. The Only Question is What We’re Going to Do About It
We do not need climate models to tell us that climate change is real and happening rapidly all around us. The evidence is overwhelming in the atmosphere, in the ocean, on land, and where there is still ice (at least for now) … Indeed, by far the largest source of uncertainty is in the greenhouse gas emission scenario that will unfold in coming decades. This in turn has nothing to do with climate models, and everything to do with human behavior. In other words, are we as individuals, nations, and the world as a whole willing or not to do something about global warming? (61) See “5 Things You Might Need to Say to Someone Who Denies It.”
2. The Two Biggest Factors are Carbon Emissions and Changes in Land Use, Both Due to Humans
Because the climate is a complex system, scientists cannot say exactly how the climate will look in response to these increasing emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. However, scientists do know that by continuing to push greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, heat that would otherwise escape to space is retained, increasing the amount of energy in the earth system. Energy drives the weather, so the more greenhouse gases, the more weather and climate are affected. (23)
Humans have been changing land surfaces for centuries through activities such as deforestation, afforestation, farming, reservoir creation, urbanization and wetland destruction. These alterations are also major drivers of climate change because they affect the flux of carbon, heat and moisture between the surface and atmosphere . . . Estimates suggest that 42-68% of the earth’s surface was changed by human activities between 1700 and 2000, and that land use changes represent 15-46% of total annual CO2 emissions since the beginning of the industrial era. (18)
3. It Will Be Warmer, But Not When We Might Notice
Winter and spring show the greatest warming of 2.0°F and 1.8°F, respectively, while summer has a 1°F warming and fall has no discernible trend in temperature. These trends are consistent with the changes experienced across the Plains states, which show a general warming that is highest in winter and spring and a greater warming for the nighttime lows than the daytime highs. (15)
4. Expect When It Gets Hot, It Will Get Really Hot and Dry
Consistency among modeling studies and scenarios leads scientists to conclude that it is virtually certain that the climate near the end of the twenty-first century will have more frequent hot temperature extremes over most land areas on daily and seasonal timescales. It is also very likely that heat waves will increase in frequency and intensity. (27)
The projected number of high temperature stress days over 100°F is expected to increase substantially. For Nebraska specifically, the projected changes are for high temperature stress days to increase to 13-16 additional days that exceeded 100°F ranged from 10-21 days in eastern Nebraska to 21-37 days in western and southwestern Nebraska. In other words, temperatures during the summer by mid-century would, on average, be comparable to those experienced during the summer of 2012. The effect of these higher temperatures on evaporative demand and human health would be significant. (31)
The number of consecutive dry days for Nebraska, based on the average during the period of record, is projected to increase by 1-3 days. (32)
5. When It Rains, It Will Be Harder and in Shorter Bursts
Scientists predict that it is likely that heavy precipitation events will increase in frequency, intensity, and amount in response to warmer temperatures. (27)
A 16% increase in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events (defined as the heaviest 1% of all daily events) from 1958 to 2012 has been calculated for the Great Plains region. (33) There may be a small increase in heavy precipitation events. (34)
6. Groundwater Will Be A Big Issue, and that’s HUGE for Nebraska
A major concern for Nebraska and other central Great Plains states is the large projected reduction in snowpack in the central and northern Rocky Mountains. This is due to both a reduction in overall precipitation and warmer conditions, meaning more rain and less snow, even in winter. Flow in the Platte and Missouri rivers during the summer months critically depends on the slow release of water as the snowpack melts. Such flow could be greatly reduced in coming years. (32)
More than 80% of Nebraska’s public water supply and nearly 100% of its private water supply depend on groundwater. Groundwater irrigation accounts for about 95% of all groundwater withdrawals, and Nebraska leads the nation in irrigated acres, the vast majority of which is sourced from groundwater. Nebraska is among the top four states for groundwater usage. (Mark E. Burbach, Environmental Scientist, Aaron R. Young, Survey Geologist, Jesse T. Korus, Survey Geologist, Conservation and Survey Division, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska–Lincoln)
7. Expect More Droughts, or “Recurring Hydrometeorological Extreme Events”
Food and biofuel production in the NGP [Northern Great Plains] will be compromised by recurring hydrometeorological extreme events. On one hand, projected flood events due to an early snowmelt and increasing intensity of winter and spring precipitation events may affect the success of winter crops and jeopardize summer crops. The increased recurrence of drought will necessitate an increase in irrigation to reduce the economic risks of winter and summer dryland crop production by utilizing the increased floodwater storage from the spring and winter water surplus. (Francisco Munoz-Arriola, Assistant Professor, Derrel Martin, Professor, Dean Eisenhauer, Professor, Department of Biological Systems Engineering, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, p. 41)
What little moisture might be gained during the winter months in a warming environment would be lost to increased evapotranspiration from vegetation that breaks dormancy earlier in the year. (Al Dutcher, State Climatologist, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 45)
8. The Growing Season Will Be Longer, But That Doesn’t Mean Things Will Grow
By the year 2100, the National Climate Assessment report indicates that the frost-free season will increase by 30 to 40 days for Nebraska. A shift to earlier planting dates will only be effective if the spread of the distribution curve remains consistent. Vulnerability to freeze damage would increase if the mean freeze date shifts earlier into the year, but the distribution does not shift by an equal proportion. This is a critical issue for producers, as the 2012, 2013, and 2014 growing seasons produced hard freeze conditions during the first half of May, even as favorable soil temperatures are occurring two weeks earlier when compared to the early 1980s.
If precipitation amounts remain steady or decrease by the year 2100, evapotranspiration demand will result in less moisture available to growing crops during their critical reproductive periods that occur in May (wheat), July (corn), and August (sorghum, soybean). During 2012, native vegetation broke dormancy a month earlier than normal and soil moisture reserves were depleted across most of the U.S. Corn Belt well before the critical pollination period was reached. (Al Dutcher, State Climatologist, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 45)
8. Livestock, Especially Beef and Dairy Cattle, Will Suffer
Animals managed in unsheltered and/or less buffered environments, such as goats, sheep, beef cattle, and dairy cattle, are particularly vulnerable. Furthermore, climate change will likely have far-reaching consequences for dairy, meat, and wool production systems that rely on grass and range lands to meet some or most of their nutritional requirements. Of particular concern are changes in vegetation that could cause a reduction in forage yield and nutritive value or a shift to less desirable plant species. (Dr. Terry L. Mader, Professor Emeritus, Department of Animal Science, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, 46)
9. Public Health Will Worsen
Dry air, dust, allergens (such as ragweed), and ground- level ozone will increase as the climate changes. Variously and in combination, these factors increase allergies, asthma, bronchitis, and other lung and circulatory problems. Wildfires, high winds, and dust storms will spread toxic chemicals and particulates, both current (as from wildfires) and historical (as from previously employed agricultural chemicals). Existing methods of power production, especially coal plants, are drivers of both climate change and important air pollutants.
Since much of the Nebraskan diet is imported from such states as California and Arizona, drought in exporting regions will likely reduce Nebraskans’ access to fruit and vegetables. Food safety is likely also to decrease: heat-stressed corn crops are likely to display increased growth of the carcinogen aflatoxin. Agricultural products will likely be grown in increasingly contaminated water. (Andrew Jameton, Professor Emeritus University of Nebraska Medical Center, 50)
10. Expect Local Extinction Events, Especially in the Water
As the world warmed following the last ice age, species moved to higher latitudes, or upslope in mountainous areas, following a climate to which they were adapted. We are seeing the same pattern under the current climate change.
As our climate continues to change, Nebraska will lose species whose southern limit of their range is here, while we will gain species from states to the south of us. Some of these new arrivals will no doubt be invasive species, pests, and pathogens.Species with limited ability to move, such as many plants and invertebrates, will simply not be able to keep up as the climate to which they are adapted moves on.
Those species that cannot move to more suitable locations or otherwise adapt to changing conditions will likely face local extinction.
Numerous studies have documented recent shifts in the timing of events such as migration, insect emergence, flowering, and leaf out—all driven by the earlier arrival of spring. Species are not expected to respond uniformly to climate change. For example, the timing of emergence of an insect pollinator may shift and become out of sync with the flowering time of its host plant. Disruption of species relationships may lead to local extinction and have significant impacts on ecosystem structure and function.
If Nebraskan's can face up to facts, we could be a very important part of the solution. See One Obvious Market Solution Where Nebraska Plays A Big Role in Fighting Climate Change.