CEDAR RAPIDS — More than 200 scientists from 38 Iowa colleges and universities have signed on to a climate change statement that warns of “sobering extreme heat projections” for the Midwest that will put people, livestock and pets at risk.
The fourth annual statement released Wednesday says the World Meteorological Association identified July as the hottest month in more than 140 years of record-keeping.
The scientists say the atmosphere and earth’s surface are warming at an unprecedented rate and by mid-century temperatures in Iowa will exceed 90 degrees for 67 days per year, compared to the average of 23 days in recent decades. Models predict a once-in-a-decade likelihood of temperatures reaching 105 degrees.
Time is of the essence if the worst effects of climate change are to be avoided, scientists said.
“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 still are increasing, by 45 percent, he said.
To do that, Iowans must adopt more solar and wind energy, 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 Cedar Rapids Public Library.
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, director of the University of Iowa 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.
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In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 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. Schnoor and Thorne speculated a program to cool homes would become as necessary as the current assistance program that helps with winter heating costs.
In addition to the elderly and those without air conditioning, outdoor workers will be at risk of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps or heat stroke, Thorne said.
Animals will not escape, either.
“Confined livestock will be at increased risk for death and widespread productivity losses,” Thorne said.
Public investment in infrastructure improvements needs to increase, Schnoor and Thorne said. Investments in wind, solar and other strategies will create jobs, wealth and security, they added.
There are positive signs in Iowa, Thorne said. More than one-third of the state’s electricity 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.