DES MOINES, IOWA – JANUARY 08: Heavy snow falls as a man walks along the Skywalk system that connects buildings in downtown on January 08, 2024 in Des Moines, Iowa. Wintery weather forced Republican presidential candidates Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy to cancel campaign events in Iowa one week before the caucuses, the first Republican Party primary contest of the 2024 presidential election. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The No. 1 argument climate-change deniers use to “prove” that global warming is not happening is the fact that there have numerous examples of historically low winter temperatures in the United States in recent years. How can our planet be warming if the winter temperatures are falling? Read on.

This past January, the lows at Okoboji included –17 on Jan. 13 and 14; then — 21 a week later. The windchills were stunning. Unfortunately, the numbers do not appear to have been preserved in a readily accessible way.

In Des Moines, however, the windchill hit -36 on the night of the Iowa caucuses. It was the coldest weather ever recorded for a caucus night by a wide margin.

Across the Upper Midwest, it was one of the coldest weeks ever recorded with temperatures not suited for human exposure.

Mary Skopec, the executive director of the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory and one of the state’s leading environmental scientists, said these temperatures actually prove the reverse of what climate deniers contend. They support the fact that our planet is getting warmer.

Huh?

The reason we are having temperatures like this, Skopec said, is because the polar ice caps are melting and are no longer able to contain the arctic weather within the Arctic Circle. The cold is spreading south into places like Iowa.

“It’s 50 below zero or something crazy like that, and [people] are like, well, that’s evidence that climate change isn’t happening,” she said. “Actually, the reverse is true.”

“If you go back 100 years, the polar ice and temperature around that polar ice was well contained. As the globe warms, what happens is that it becomes unstable and you get these outbreaks of polar air that plunge further down” from the polar ice cap, Skopec said. The cold “can’t all be contained at the poles because the poles are warming.”

An unstable atmosphere translates to more extreme weather events, including stronger tornados, heavier rains, and more severe blizzards.

There have been times in recent years when Okoboji has been colder than Fairbanks, Alaska or even places further north, she said.

Other unseen factors account for certain weather changes.

One is the El Niño that set up in the Pacific Ocean this past winter. “People often forget that the circulation of the oceans is very instrumental in what is happening with our climate and weather,” Skopec said.

Basically, the oceans drive our atmosphere, and as the oceans continue to warm, there is a concern among environmental scientists that we may see ocean circulation slow or even stop, she said.

What happens then?

“Uncharted territory,” she said. No one knows for sure.

But the discussion could begin with this fact: The only reason the temperatures in Europe are warm enough to grow crops is because of ocean circulation. The Gulf Stream takes warm water from Florida all the way up to Europe. “If that stops, Europe is no longer able to grow crops,” she said.

The population of Europe is about 750 million.

Think about it.

Uncharted territory also could mean that temperatures around the world would be more even rather than having extreme cold at the polar cap with warmer weather as you move toward the equator.

“The things we’ve depended on won’t be dependable anymore,” she said.

Preventing all of this comes down to just one thing: Bringing down the level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. “We need to stop pumping so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” she said.

But that, as the saying goes, is easier said than done.

“Everybody has got to get into the canoe and row in the same direction” to make this happen, she said. “Everybody” means that the U. S. and Russia and China and India and everybody else has to go along with the plan. “We need to get serious about reductions in carbon dioxide emissions,” Skopec said.

She also warned that we may have to more broadly accept some of the imperfect solutions that have been created — such things as wind turbines, solar energy, and electric vehicles. There is a lot of pushback on electric vehicles, she said, and using coal-fired plants to build them or to generate electricity does not help. We need to build sources of electricity that are not coal-fired – otherwise, she said, we are just moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic.

We cannot wait, however, until our solutions are perfect. We have to think of them as bridges to get to solutions that will be even better, Skopec said.

A special opportunity for Iowa

One promising carbon solution involves the soil and provides an excellent opportunity for Iowa.

The opportunity is to plant as much of the state’s cropland as possible with certain perennial cover crops after the main crop is harvested. That will pull carbon out of the atmosphere and put it back in the soil, which has suffered from carbon depletion resulting from conventional farming practices.

Cover crops used for this purpose have deep roots, which help the soil store more carbon. Examples of such crops include clover, alfalfa, beans, peas, and oats. There are dozens more.

The process also allows farmers to do less tilling, another plus for the atmosphere because tilling releases a lot of stored carbon into the atmosphere.

Finally, cover crops can reduce fertilizer runoff into waterways because they improve the health of the soil and prevent erosion.

Soil-based carbon storage and sequestration, thus, is a three-way win: Better soil, better atmosphere, better water quality in rivers and lakes.

It is an amazing combination.

Cropland, however, accounts for only 10 percent of the land on planet earth. Iowa’s place in this equation thus could be substantial.

——

Arnold Garson worked as a journalist and media executive

for newspapers for 47 years.



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