Climate Change: Rising to the Challenge
A conversation with state climatologists
PLEASE NOTE: Audio starts at 00:00:10. This is an unedited transcript. This was a public event, all panelists are on the record and reporters are free to quote from them. Please refer to the audio (above) to confirm exact quotes. Some name spellings are phonetic, indicated with (ph).
DR. KATHLEEN RICHARDSON: Good evening. My name is Kathleen Richardson, and I am the dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Drake University. Welcome, both to the members of our audience here at the Science Center of Iowa in Des Moines and to those of us - those of you who are joining us by livestream. This year we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of journalism education at Drake. And from the beginning, in 1919, our program has been characterized by a close relationship with our profession and by service to our community. So we are very proud to continue that tradition by co-hosting the conversation tonight about climate change with experts who are on the frontlines of this pressing public issue. This event is brought to you through a collaboration between Drake University and SciLine.
SciLine is a philanthropically funded free service for journalists, based at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C. SciLine connects reporters to scientists in order to promote more credible, accurate, research-based news stories. In fact, we're just wrapping up a 2.5-day boot camp at Drake, in which political journalists from around the country received briefings from experts on science issues that will be prominent in the presidential campaign. The program was supported by the Schmidt Family Foundation. I'd like to acknowledge and thank Drake University's academic leader, Provost Sue Mattison, in the front row, who is herself a scientist; also, SciLine director and former Washington Post science reporter Rick Weiss; and the entire SciLine team of scientists and science communicators, who have worked so hard to organize this entire event.
Finally, I want to remind folks both here in the hall and those watching remotely that they are welcome to ask questions and join the conversation via Twitter, using the hashtag #UnitedStatesOfClimate. And for those here in the hall, please turn off any ringers on your phones, and please do not use flash photography. And with that, I'm very pleased to introduce tonight's moderator, veteran science reporter Miles O'Brien. Miles is an independent journalist who covers science, technology and aerospace. He is a science correspondent for "PBS NewsHour," a producer, director and writer for PBS's "NOVA" series, an aviation analyst for CNN and a correspondent for the National Science Foundation's Science Nation series. Please join me in welcoming Miles to the stage.
MILES O'BRIEN: Thank you, Kathleen. Good to be here. Thank you so much. It's great to see you all here. I'm going to have our panelists get seated while I'm talking. And just - it's good to be back in Des Moines. I was just reminded - my first trip to Des Moines was in 1988, following Michael Dukakis around, and that was my first taste of deep-fried butter.
Still remember it. I can actually conjure up the whatever that was that happened after the deep-fried butter. As you may recall, it didn't go so well for Michael Dukakis. He was at the fair and was suggesting to corn farmers that they plant more endive. And Massachusetts, they just don't get it.
Interestingly, I was looking - a state climatologist - how many of you are familiar with the job of state climatologist, by a raise of hands? I'd say it's probably about half, maybe. There are two states in the nation that do not have a state climatologist - Tennessee and Massachusetts. Massachusetts. Boston. Boston is almost under water now, for gosh sakes. We ought to get these guys on the stick here. So we have three all-star state climatologists here, and we're going to ask them a little bit about what they do, what they hear and what the evidence that they're seeing really from the frontlines. You know, a lot of people think about climate change as this giant, monolithic single problem, but it's a million little problems, and it's all fought in a very local-specific way. Sure, there are big things we can go after, but there's a lot of little things we can do. And these guys are right in the trenches, you know, dealing with the little things and addressing the concerns of their neighbors. And ultimately, the people that I listen to the most are the people that are closest to the potential denialists and skeptics or the people who just don't know what to do about it. So down on the end is Martha Shulski. She's - she drove three hours from Nebraska to be here. We don't know what her carbon footprint was for that drive. We'll do the math later on it.
But we think it was worth it. It was - all right, listen. I flew, so I'm screwed on that front.
MILES O’BRIEN:So - and then, in between is our hometown favorite Justin Glisan, who is the state climatologist for Iowa. And right beside me here is Kathie Dello, who is now from North Carolina but recently was in Oregon, which is an interesting switch, I suppose. But...
KATHIE DELLO: Yeah, big move, both of us, so.
MILES O’BRIEN:Yeah, big move. But, yeah, there are probably some similarities on the two states - coastal.
KATHIE DELLO: Just flipped around.
MILES O’BRIEN:Yeah, yeah. All that stuff. You - just a mirror image, right?
KATHIE DELLO: Yeah.
MILES O’BRIEN:All right. So just without going too deep into the bureaucratic machinations of what a state climatologist does, let's just run through it. It's kind of like being the help desk for people in state government and businesses. It's a little bit of an arbiter of good science, that kind of thing. I'm just kind of curious, you know, who you consider your clients to be. Why don't you start?
KATHIE DELLO: Yeah, so climate touches everything and everyone. So I found a job where I get to meddle in everybody's affairs, which is perfect for me because I'm so interested in learning about so many things. So you really become an expert quickly in things that you never thought you would think about or things that you didn't go to school for. So...
MILES O’BRIEN:I'm a history major, so I understand how this works, yeah.
KATHIE DELLO: I work with a lot of what I call decision makers, so somebody who is making a decision that climate is going to be a factor in it - a lot of water managers, a lot of farmers and people in the public who just want to know what's going on.
MILES O’BRIEN:All right, good. Anything more you want to add to that. Is that pretty much it from your perspective?
JUSTIN GLISAN: Well, being from Iowa - or being the state climatologist of Iowa - my clientele are stakeholders, AG stakeholders, farmers. I talk to farmers every day. Farmers are very intuitive. They've been on their lands forever. So talking with them, they see what's happening. They see changes in the climate. They see changes in the weather, and it affects their crop yields. It affects what they do on a day-to-day basis. So having the information for them - climate data, weather data - letting them know that oh, well, there's a 40% chance that next month will be above average temperature-wise or precipitation-wise, just to give them some sort of guidance moving forward because it's somewhat reassuring being in a very variable state weather-wise.
MILES O’BRIEN:And would you add any more to that, Martha?
MARTHA SHULSKI: Ditto what Justin said. Move 400 miles to the west, and that's what I deal with in Nebraska. You never know who is going to call when you pick up the phone. You know, in one day, I talked - I showed a group of second graders at one - to one of our weather stations. And then that afternoon, I gave an interview to Fuji Television about the flood of 2019 in Nebraska. So that gives you an idea of the range of people that we communicate with on this very complex topic of climate and climate change.
MILES O’BRIEN:So I want to talk about that flood in a moment and the wild weather and how that's impacting what you're hearing and who you're hearing from. But just want to note, it's kind of interesting to me that the two ladies on the panel are actually academics inside academic institutions with all the protections that we associate with that for them to say whatever they want to say, whatever the government - despite whatever the governor may think. This gentleman in the middle, he's a state employee, so you're a little more vulnerable, I guess, right? So I guess let's just - well, first of all, when it comes to not denialism, the governor of Nebraska problems, right? So is there much pressure that is brought to bear on you to say one thing or another? Or can you just do your job?
MARTHA SHULSKI: So far, I can just do my job. Maybe until tonight, but...
MILES O’BRIEN:I just ruined that. Was just one of the things I wasn't supposed to ask about? Is that right? Oh, gosh darn it, geez. It's the deep-fried butter. It confused me, yeah.
MARTHA SHULSKI: No, I find that people care at all levels. Whether it's farmers and ranchers, whether it's cities across the state of Nebraska, whether it's natural resource districts that manage groundwater resources in Nebraska, everybody is talking about it and cares about it and wants to know what's going to happen and what are the solutions. So I find that in my role, I don't feel any sort of pressure from above to speak a certain way.
MILES O’BRIEN:Good. So let it rip, will you? So Justin, you're a state employee, and your boss, the governor, is very much into renewables, but not so much into believing that climate change is - has a human component to it. Does that affect in any way how you do your business?
JUSTIN GLISAN: No. I'm the weather archivist for the state. I have 147 years of observations going back into the 1800's. They're fact-based observations. I give those observations...
MILES O’BRIEN:Not alternative facts.
JUSTIN GLISAN: Show the trends.
MILES O’BRIEN:These are real facts, right?
JUSTIN GLISAN: These are real facts and trends to our stakeholders, legislators, any level of the government. And I don't feel impeded in my position.
MILES O’BRIEN:Good. I'm glad to hear that. Now Kathie has the benefit of a governor who is actually in the forefront of suggesting drastic action to fight climate change. What's that been like for you?
KATHIE DELLO: Well, it's been four weeks, but...
MILES O’BRIEN:It's been a great four weeks. The honeymoon has been awesome, huh?
KATHIE DELLO: One of the reasons I took the job in North Carolina - I mean, we had great things going on in Oregon - was I was so encouraged by what was happening in this state, that the state obviously is taking climate change seriously. We have the Outer Banks. We have sea level rise. We have coastal flooding, huge hurricanes. It's undeniable. So being able to be a part of that was really exciting for me.
MILES O’BRIEN:Was that a big part of the lure for you?
KATHIE DELLO: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, personally, this is the biggest problem of my generation and a bigger problem for the generation behind me, but also professionally, asking some really tough questions and trying to come up with some solutions.
MILES O’BRIEN:All right, so as long as we're on the dangerous political shoals here, let's keep going, shall we? With the complete lack of leadership from Washington that we have right now and going in the opposite direction, does that put more pressure, more responsibility on the states, on the localities to do something, and is there evidence that that's happening? Go ahead.
MARTHA SHULSKI: Yeah, I think it does. And I think the best - some of the best solutions are the local solutions because you know what's going on in your area, therefore you know the best way to solve it. And so I'm just finishing up a project where we worked with 11 cities across the four-state region, including three in Nebraska, where they're incorporating climate projections into their planning documents - so hazard mitigation plans, emergency operating plans. They're looking at what's our water going to look like, what are the temperatures going to look like, do we need cooling shelters, snow removal equipment, all of these things that a city cares about going out into the future. They're looking at climate change and incorporating that.
MILES O’BRIEN:Is that optional? Is that their decision, or is that something they're forced to do for some reason?
MARTHA SHULSKI: No, these were cities that chose to join this project and work with us kind of hand-in-hand to develop localized climate reports and tools for them going forward and enhance their decision-making.
MILES O’BRIEN:So when I saw what was happening at the EPA soon after the Trump administration came in, I was trying to be optimistic about it. I thought, well, maybe the grassroots will be better in a sense because to the extent that there is an absence of leadership in Washington, it might mobilize people at the local level to do more. And I thought maybe I was being Pollyanna, but maybe that's true. Justin, would you say?
JUSTIN GLISAN: Well, it's corn roots here, but no.
MILES O’BRIEN:That's pretty corny.
JUSTIN GLISAN: Yeah, I know. Iowa farmers are resilient individuals. They don't rely on anybody but themselves, so being told what to do is not something that goes over. Giving discussions to various groups across the state - farmers, elementary school kids - each has a different unique idea or view on what's going on. Farmers, again, I talk to them often. They know. They know what to do, the solutions that the Department of Agriculture puts out, cover crops, working for carbon sequestration. These are the solutions that we can do on the state level that will start to impact moving forward and up.
MILES O’BRIEN:But it has to be pretty pragmatic when you're talking to a farmer, right? It can't be stuff way down the road. It has to be something that's going to help them in the relative near term, and that might be a bit of a problem for a climatologist who's thinking in much longer term, right?
JUSTIN GLISAN: Sure. We talk about weather a lot, which is short-term variations in the atmosphere. Farmers are very seasonally based because that's their livelihood. During the growing season, they want to get planted, and they want to harvest. So looking forward seasonally gives them an idea of what they can expect yield-wise, for example. Moving out further on to a seasonal and yearly and then multi-year gives them an idea of solutions that they can start putting in place now that will benefit them moving forward.
MILES O’BRIEN:So, Kathie, what about you? Do you - I mean, I think it's Rahm Emanuel who said never waste a good crisis. We have a crisis of leadership in Washington on climate change. Is that an opportunity in a sense to do something meaningful at the state level, and in particular in North Carolina? After four weeks, what have you done? You don't have it solved yet?
KATHIE DELLO: I mean, even when the federal government is moving, it's not our most nimble institution.
MILES O’BRIEN:Good point.
KATHIE DELLO: And when you think about large social issues, it's the states that start flipping, and then we move as a country toward the direction of addressing the issue. And with greenhouse gas mitigation, absolutely the states have a role to play here in showing leadership, standing up. California has certainly been out in the lead, but other states are trying as well. On the adaptation side of the house, preparing for the impacts of climate change are becoming a little bit more resilient. Local and state solutions are absolutely the ones that are going to stick because it's the people in the communities who need to come to the table.
MILES O’BRIEN:So, Martha, you mentioned briefly the 2019 floods. Let's talk about how - whether it's the floods or we could be talking about, you know, the fire that devastated Paradise, or we could talk about a hurricane, whatever it is - to what extent is the strong evidence that the weather is changing impacting the kinds of questions and who you're hearing for, and for that matter, the reception you get when you talk to the public, is it changing out there? My sense of it is that it is somehow.
MARTHA SHULSKI: Right, yeah. So I think one thing that you can do with weather events - well, first of all, you can use that as a tool to explain the difference between weather and climate. And just because climate is going...
MILES O’BRIEN:How do you explain it, by the way? What do you say?
MARTHA SHULSKI: So I say - depending on the audience, I'll say weather is your at-bat, and climate is your batting average. Weather is your mood. Climate's your personality.
MILES O’BRIEN:See, I've heard that one. That's a good one, yeah. All right, go ahead. I'm sorry.
MARTHA SHULSKI: So you use that as a tool, as kind of your gateway to talk to folks about climate change. And so you start with...
MILES O’BRIEN:So the flood is a gateway drug for climate, essentially, right?
MARTHA SHULSKI: Yes.
MILES O’BRIEN:All right.
MARTHA SHULSKI: It's what grabs people's attention.
MILES O’BRIEN:Whatever you need, right?
MARTHA SHULSKI: And, you know, we were talking earlier that I've met a climate denier, but I've never met a weather denier. It's real, local impacts that you can't question. So you - so for the flood, for example, we talk about the events leading up to it, the setup, which was a big factor in what - in the flood that did happen. It wasn't just the storm. It was what happened leading up to that. So you talk about how springs have gotten wetter overall, how that's going to continue in a warmer world. And so that's kind of your tie into climate change.
MILES O’BRIEN:OK, so the problem I have discovered in covering this for about 25 years is there is a - the scientific method and scientists, well, they don't talk like the rest of us, right? And they're constrained by little things like peer review and evidence and all that kind of stuff. And so what it does at times is it - they historically have been extremely reluctant to connect all those dots to say that this tornado - tornadoes aren't particularly difficult, but a hurricane or whatever it might be - has a climate link has been very hard to get out of a lot of scientists. Is that changing? Does anybody - you want to take that, Justin?
JUSTIN GLISAN: So we were affected by the flood in 2019 also. Iowa had the second wettest year on record, 1993 being the wettest. We were 3 inches short of breaking that record - third-wettest fall, third-wettest spring - our seventh-wettest spring, third wettest-winter. So all of that goes in to the large-scale circumstances that leads to historic flooding. And in Iowa, we've had 2008, 2011, 2019 - these three floods in 10 years. Yeah.
MILES O’BRIEN:Pretty soon... You've got a stack of evidence that's pretty hard to counter at that point, right?
JUSTIN GLISAN: Right. Sure.
MILES O’BRIEN:I mean, would you go along with that, Kathie? Has it gotten to that point where - are scientists less - are they a little bit unencumbered by some of the constraints they felt in the past to make these links?
KATHIE DELLO: Yeah. So attribution science, which is seeing the fingerprints of climate change on events, has really moved along in the past few years. And just last week, our colleagues put out a paper on the European heat wave and saying climate change absolutely made this more likely. I think back to 10 years ago when a reporter would call up, and we'd say, well, you know, we can't tie just one event to climate change. I think we're past that point. And we're seeing these heat waves, these droughts, these big fires out West, where I came from, and saying climate change is here, and it's in our face.
MILES O’BRIEN:Yeah. You know, it's just the opposite of journalism, right? We go for the sexy lead, right? And you do all the disclaimers. And then at the bottom, you say, by the way, we're screwed, you know, something like that.
MILES O’BRIEN:That's kind of how it goes in a scientific paper. But if you just flip that around, that might be good. I'm just saying.
MILES O’BRIEN:So all right. So when you pick up the phone - state climatologist, how can I help you? - what are they asking?
KATHIE DELLO: So there are people who call and ask about their daughter's wedding six months from now.
MILES O’BRIEN:Of course. I hope you charge them extra.
KATHIE DELLO: Depends on my mood.
KATHIE DELLO: But a lot of people - I find a lot of people just want to talk about it. They want somebody to talk to. And I'm on the other end of the line. And they're either worried - they're concerned. They're looking to buy a house in Oregon or North Carolina. Or if it's somebody who actually is making a decision, they want to sit down and get to know each other. And they want me to listen to what they're working on and figure out if there's a climate angle to that.
MILES O’BRIEN:So there's a counseling component to this, isn't there, right?
KATHIE DELLO: A little bit.
MILES O’BRIEN:Yeah. Would you go along with that, Justin?
JUSTIN GLISAN: Well, sure. That's a big mental health issue with farmers...
MILES O’BRIEN:Yeah, I bet.
JUSTIN GLISAN: ...In the Midwest. Given the variability that we've seen in conditions, just going from last year to this year - D1 - D3 drought in southeastern Iowa. Now we're moving into dryness. But in between, we had record wetness. So farmers - they call. And yes, I do a lot of event planning.
But they want some reassurance that, hell, my crop's going to come out all right. Or they just need somebody to talk to. And that's - you know, it weighs on you, but you're there as a service. You're there trying to make things better with giving them the proper information.
MILES O’BRIEN:So, Martha, weddings and bar mitzvahs for you, too? Is that...
MARTHA SHULSKI: Those, yes. And we had - so the two primary climate questions we get are, what's the forecast for the upcoming season? So seasonal scale climate outlook.
MILES O’BRIEN:Presumably, these would be agriculturally...
MARTHA SHULSKI: Primarily agricultural.
MILES O’BRIEN:...Interested people, right?
MARTHA SHULSKI: Yes, yes. Are we going to be...
MILES O’BRIEN:It's not the baseball season we're talking about, right?
MARTHA SHULSKI: Right, yeah.
MILES O’BRIEN:OK, got it.
MARTHA SHULSKI: Are we going to be wetter or dryer, warmer or colder overall? And timing of precip events, for example. And the other question, increasingly, is climate change. What will it mean for Nebraska? What can we grow in Nebraska? What will it mean for fisheries and wildlife? What will it mean for the cities? People want to know, how will it impact me? What can I do about it? So they want to know solutions.
MILES O’BRIEN:That's a long phone call, isn't it...
MARTHA SHULSKI: Which...
MILES O’BRIEN:...When you get a question like that, right?
MARTHA SHULSKI: Yeah. It's not a simple answer.
MARTHA SHULSKI: And, you know, climate impacts - they're very intricate, and there's a lot of interconnections. And you really have to get to know, what are the concerns? What are those interconnections? How does climate look for a particular area? And yeah, it's not an easy answer. And it takes time and building a relationship and kind of working with somebody hand-in-hand.
MILES O’BRIEN:Is it hard to take something that - you know, a global problem, the ultimate macro problem - and make it micro, make it fit for some guy in one county in Nebraska?
MARTHA SHULSKI: Yeah. Well, when it comes to people kind of caring about climate change - and you don't show them the polar bear on the ice floe if they live...
MILES O’BRIEN:They really don't care so much.
MARTHA SHULSKI: ...In Grand Island, Neb. No. MILES O’BRIEN:Yeah, yeah.
MARTHA SHULSKI: So you talk about crops and changes in precipitation and talk about things that are local because climate change - it's here. It's affecting all of us. The sooner we act, the less risky it is. So you talk about localized things, localized solutions.
MILES O’BRIEN:So, Justin, to the extent that people are affected now, you know, you sort of have their attention. You know, the concern is, OK, now it's getting really late in the game here. We got to really move things along here. Do you feel that people are listening in a different way than they were when it was the polar bear on the ice cube?
JUSTIN GLISAN: Sure. And we're - the amount of evidence that we have and the amount of extreme nature of events that we've had recently in the United States and across the globe - we're starting to put together a container of evidence that is irrefutable. Yes. So but again, when you're talking as a state climatologist, people are worried about their land. People are worried about their county first and foremost, in general. And then you get into other groups, interest groups. Again, elementary school kids - they ask the greatest questions. And even in their short lives, they've seen, you know, like, this is how a rain gauge works. But we've seen 5 inches of rainfall in three hours, like we had in Ankeny in the June 30 event last year. So we are seeing - showing people graphical ways of showing extreme events is a way of getting that information to them.
MILES O’BRIEN:Kathie, Justin's hitting on an important point, I think, here. There's a real generational component to this, isn't there?
KATHIE DELLO: Absolutely. And I think back - I'm not that old, but I was in elementary school at the time where it was give a hoot, don't pollute. And we were taught about recycling, and we were taught about being good stewards of the Earth, but that wasn't enough. And we're seeing this youth uprising now, which I think is very encouraging. And they absolutely have a right to be completely pissed off about the Earth that we've left them. And they're the most effective communicators because they're the ones who have to deal with the problem that we caused.
MILES O’BRIEN:I've heard a lot of people my age say, well, you know what? They'll solve it 'cause they're smart. Talk about a bad cop-out. But, I mean, we owe them a little more than that, don't we?
KATHIE DELLO: Yeah, I mean, passing the buck has never worked. And it didn't work for my generation, and it's not going to work for passing it to them. And we're all in this together. I hope to have a few more decades on this planet. And I have to wake up every day and feel optimistic about going to work and being a good steward of the planet, for the people of North Carolina and also for my friends and family.
MILES O’BRIEN:What is - let's walk through each of your states just kind of in a thumbnail sketch. What are the top-line climate change impacts that are going on right now? I'll to start with you, Martha.
MARTHA SHULSKI: Yeah, so I would say a lot deals with water. I mean, in Nebraska, we've got - we get twice the amount of precipitation in the east as you do in the west. We've got vast groundwater resources, but a lot of it has to do with water and the timing of precipitation and how effective that precipitation. I think that's really - that's something that's changing, and that's on people's minds. You know, another thing is the warming and, looking forward into the future, just the rate of warming that we - if we don't do anything to mitigate future climate change, that future rate of warming is something that I'm particularly concerned about.
MILES O’BRIEN:How about you, Justin? What's going on here that is kind of at the top of people's minds and concerns?
JUSTIN GLISAN: Again, precipitation. Precipitation is...
MILES O’BRIEN:So the variability and the...
JUSTIN GLISAN: Absolutely.
MILES O’BRIEN:...Unpredictability and that sort of thing.
JUSTIN GLISAN: ...And intensity. We're also seeing a seasonal shift in the Midwest - Iowa - where we're getting more rainfall when we're starting fieldwork. And then we shift into summertime, where it's starting to dwindle our rainfalls right when a crop is maturing, right when they need it the most, right now. And then we move into harvest time. We're getting more rainfall during harvest - September, October - and this really impedes field work. And field work is Iowa. And so that - and then you get into the intensity of these events. They're increasing. We've seen a shift from gentle rainfall events to these two- and three-inch rainfall events over two or three hours. That water cannot soak in. It runs off. You get into flash flooding.
MILES O’BRIEN:So when you talk to these farmers, do they connect the dots...
JUSTIN GLISAN: Oh, absolutely.
MILES O’BRIEN:...To climate change? Or are they like my taxi driver this afternoon, who thinks it's magnetic forces that are causing climate change?
JUSTIN GLISAN: Well, our farmers - again, they realize that something is going on. So we've started installing these solutions, agricultural solutions. We can be agricultural leaders and solutions in mitigating these things that we're seeing.
MILES O’BRIEN:So there are not a lot of denialists on the farm?
JUSTIN GLISAN: No, and sometimes, we don't get into it. They see what's happening, and we go from there.
MILES O’BRIEN:Best left unsaid sometimes.
JUSTIN GLISAN: Sure. Sure.
MILES O’BRIEN:So Kathie, here's - oh, you wanted to go through North Carolina's top issues first.
KATHIE DELLO: We had a big hurricane last year.
MILES O’BRIEN:Yeah, I saw that. (Laughter) I have heard a little something about that. And here's a question for you - I think this is a good one - from rainpanda. I don't think that's the real name of the person, just for the - this is a Twitter question. I was born and raised in Iowa. My question is regarding the alarming Greenland and other Arctic ice melt happening decades before predictions estimated. When will this hit the coastal United States? Will ocean water backflow into our major or minor river outlets? And will it damage freshwater ecosystems?
KATHIE DELLO: So this is certainly an issue of concern in North Carolina. We saw this with Hurricane Florence where you have these storms that are pushing the ocean water up these really large river systems, and then you have water coming down the rivers. We had a really wet year last year. And what you get is this compound flooding. And this is really the intersection of risk and vulnerability because you have these low-income communities in some of these areas that just get devastated. And when you start to think about groundwater in some of these coastal ecosystems, saltwater intrusion is a big concern. So yes, the ice will play into the whole sea level rise problem, and it certainly has local impacts for people in North Carolina. I don't know if it'll make it all the way to Iowa, but...
MILES O’BRIEN:What about...
KATHIE DELLO: ...TBA.
MILES O’BRIEN:We're probably safe here, I think. Yeah. What about this idea that the science has been so conservative that it may not be - it may be happening much faster than the peer-reviewed body of knowledge would suggest? What do you guys say about that? Do you - I mean, you're scientists, so you probably don't want to get to outside your lane here, but there is a tremendous amount of concern that we just haven't had the capability to really come up with good data for the models on this particular issue. You want to take that, Martha?
MARTHA SHULSKI: Yeah, well, I think, you know, people should think of science as something that - it's constantly evolving and changing and, we hope, improving. I mean, that's really our goal. And - but there are examples where we underestimated the trend. And Arctic sea ice is a great example of that. That's been retreating, melting at a faster rate than what the models did predict. And so that - but that tells us something. It says we don't get the physics quite right. We're not understanding something in the model. So we can learn from that and improve on that. But yeah, I mean, I think it is something that we think about. You know, some people say, well, what if you're wrong about climate change? What if it's not happening? I say, well, what if we're wrong in the other direction...
MILES O’BRIEN:That's what I always say.
MARTHA SHULSKI: ...That it's going to be much worse than what we think?
MILES O’BRIEN:Yeah, yeah, exactly.
MARTHA SHULSKI: And with models, you'll get kind of a - you know, you'll run an ensemble, and you'll get, like, a spread. So you'll get kind of a high-and-low scenario. And you can kind of take the average, and that's your best guess. But, you know, all we're doing is kind of giving people this (unintelligible) to work with. And that's as best as we can do at the moment. But we hope to constantly improve.
MILES O’BRIEN:Here's another Twitter question. Cassidy Walter has this. And it's apropos what we were just talking about. Science tells us that there are certain climate cycles that happen naturally. How is science going to differentiate between what weather events are manmade and could have been avoided and what is not? Want to take that? Either one.
KATHIE DELLO: So this, I mean, goes to the attribution science that I was talking about. You can take climate models, and you can run them without greenhouse gases, without the human forcing and see if it'll reproduce these events. And that's something that we're seeing show up in the literature. And this has been reported in the media for the past few years, as well. So we're able to do that. We're able to play devil's advocate. And we're able to look at these events and say, yes, climate change made these more likely.
JUSTIN GLISAN: And we're also able - called Milankovitch processes. These are natural cycles that we know - the ellipse - the way that the Earth goes around the sun, the tilt of the Earth. We know these are a naturally occurring cycle. So we can remove those from our GCM solutions. And we get a good idea of what these projections show us.
MILES O’BRIEN:So I get the sense you three are mostly involved in talking to people who recognize there's a problem. And you're trying to sort through what to do about it. Do you spend a lot of time going through the old - you know, like, the taxi cab driver - the magnetic fields and that kind of stuff? Do you - or do you not waste your time at this point 'cause there's work to be done?
KATHIE DELLO: So I'm thinking about Yale's six Americas on climate change. And on the very far end are the dismissives, and I don't deal with them. They're mean. They're probably on the Twitter feed right now.
KATHIE DELLO: They're not going to change their minds. But there are these people in the middle. And I like to say, you know, I'm paid to think about climate change. This is something I think about day in and day out. But they're not. They're worrying about getting Jimmy to the doctor and paying their bills and their day-in-and-day-out and what they do in their jobs. And can I meet them in the middle? Can I answer questions that may sound kind of off but are really respectful, and they're really just asking for more information? So I will spend time with those folks.
MILES O’BRIEN:How about you guys?
JUSTIN GLISAN: Absolutely.
MILES O’BRIEN:So you - the hardcore denialists - you know, you're not going to convince people that, you know, the Earth isn't flat, that kind of thing. So you just move on from there. But there are - there is a set of people who are kind of in the middle here who are - recognize there's a problem, not entirely certain, wondering if they can do anything about it anyway. Is that the group that needs to be addressed the most?
JUSTIN GLISAN: Sure. And you show them the impacts that we're seeing. We had a flood in 2019. We also had a flood 2008 and 2011. We are seeing a set of facts evolve that show us we're moving in one direction. And if you can show them personally or how it will impact them moving forward or how it'll impact their kids moving forward, then you start to make a connection. But again, it's these relationships that you build over time.
MARTHA SHULSKI: Yeah. I would say the same thing. You know, I regularly get asked the question, you don't believe in climate change, do you? And I say, well, it's not a belief system. It's looking at data and facts. And then I get them to talk. And so I say, well, you know, where do you live? And have you noticed any changes in your area? Or are your farming practices any different than what they were 10 years ago? What about the drought of 2012 in the Midwest? How did that impact your operations? And so I just get them to start talking and gauge where they are. What do they care about? And then you start from there, and then you connect the dots to climate.
MILES O’BRIEN:That's a good way of approaching it. All right. Here's a question. We have three state climatologists who know a little something about agriculture. Rose Hoban - I apologize, Rose, if I mispronounced it. Can any of you talk about the effects of climate change on insects, both for agriculture and for public health? Certainly, ticks, mosquitoes are huge - mosquitoes the - you know, we have Shark Week. We should have Mosquito Week 'cause that's the animal that kills most of us, right? So what about insects and climate? That's a big subject, but are there a few things you can share with us? Go ahead.
JUSTIN GLISAN: We are seeing more invasive species move further poleward or further north because of the warming nature of the mid latitudes and the high latitudes. So we see the Japanese beetles. We see the stink bugs. We - are projections are showing that, yes, more invasive species are moving into agricultural parts of the United States and across the United States.
KATHIE DELLO: Yeah. And I think from the public health angle, especially in the Southeast, this is a huge concern with some of these insect-borne disease vectors showing up in major Southeast cities. And I just moved to North Carolina. And it has been Mosquito Week for me.
MILES O’BRIEN:Yeah. This is kind of a good follow-up to that. Brittani Howell from Twitter says, what are some health-related concerns related to climate change, particularly in the Midwest? Go.
MARTHA SHULSKI: Yeah, I would say risk to heat waves and heat events, and not even necessarily high temperatures but a high minimum temperature, so your nighttime lows are not getting down - we're not able to cool off, whether that's humans or animals.
MARTHA SHULSKI: You know, say, for cattle production. So heat events would be one thing - flood and then water quality impacts that come with that - vector-borne diseases and insects and mosquitoes and those kinds of things as well.
MILES O’BRIEN:Gets kind of grim pretty quickly. All right, we're ready to take some questions for the audience. Do we have any out there? Let's bring up the lights a little bit so we can see who is interested in joining the conversation. I think I see a couple of hands up, so why don't we head out into the audience, Phil Donahue style. That's kind of like a carbon-dating thing. Does anybody know who Phil Donahue was back in the '70s? Yeah?
MILES O’BRIEN:The old man's going to crawl over here with his walker like Phil Donahue. I guess today it would be - what? - Dr. Phil or something. Yeah, maybe Dr. Phil. OK, just say your name and offer up - I got to do it this way because I think the camera's over there. What's your name and what's your question?
DAVID SHERIDAN (ph): David Sheridan. And this is an elementary school student's question. I hope that means it's...
MILES O’BRIEN:You look a little old for that.
DAVID SHERIDAN: Global temperatures - what's the protocol for determining the global temperature? Who decides the protocol? Who collects the data? And who evaluates it?
MILES O’BRIEN:Who wants it?
KATHIE DELLO: So I can start, and they can help me fill in. So both NOAA and NASA have global temperature data sets. And it's done through a number of station observations' satellites brought together. We can't have station observations in the middle of the ocean. And they both adhere to pretty similar protocols. And the numbers will be off usually by a decimal or something, but they're usually pretty close. We know that July, this July, was the warmest month ever on record, and both outlets are saying that.
JUSTIN GLISAN: True, yeah. And, I mean, there are quality control processes that we use for temperature and precipitation data. If the low temperature is higher than the high temperature, we know that's - there's something wrong there. So it flags it, and then we correct it. So there are procedures in place that produce a robust temperature data set. Yes.
MILES O’BRIEN:I have a suggestion for lowering temperatures. If we just switch to Celsius, it'll go down - pretty much right away. Just right there.
MILES O’BRIEN:All right, I have a question - this gentleman. Go ahead - say your name and question.
KEVIN PICORNI (ph): Kevin Picorni. I heard a lot about what the three of you said, that these are the issues we're faced with; I didn't hear a whole lot about, so how do we begin to kind of mitigate some of this? And what I - so the question is about, so what are one or two things that you would offer to say, here's how we could begin to mitigate some of that climate change, locally? And then second - I'm going to be devil's advocate - I'm going to say, who gives a damn because weather is not local. What we do here - I mean, weather is the big globe, right? So even though we may make some change here, how's that going to affect anything that happens in Russia or in Asia or in South America? Because that affects what we do, too. Can you speak to that?
MILES O’BRIEN:The question...
KEVIN PICORNI: Local and the big picture.
MILES O’BRIEN:Local and the big picture - good question.
KATHIE DELLO: Yep. I have a big mountain here.
MILES O’BRIEN:Don't all go at once.
KATHIE DELLO: So what we can do about it - and this goes back to what states can do about it - is we can take a leadership role in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, as a country and as states. When you look at the countries that are most affected by climate change, they're the ones who aren't contributing as much to the problem; we certainly are. So when we start pitching in to this huge problem that we created, I think we absolutely have the moral obligation to do that. Yes, all of us not driving today isn't going to change anything in Russia, but small change leads to big change, and we need big systemic change. What can you do about it? Vote. And I'm not just talking about the candidates who will flood you in two days when the fair starts. But local elections really, really matter. Your city council, your mayor - we overlook some of these. These people can really affect real change in the community.
MILES O’BRIEN:Yeah, somebody told me the other day that the biggest thing we should be focusing on - which is not a sexy subject - is building codes. It's a huge, huge issue, just how we build our buildings.
KATHIE DELLO: Absolutely.
MILES O’BRIEN:Anyway, I think there's another question down here. All right, sir. Go ahead.
RICK SMITH (ph): Rick Smith. My question is about a reluctance to talk about climate change on the part of weathermen. Iowa's had tremendous coverage about the floods and the infrastructure damage. You mentioned the June 30 flood last year; 6,000 homes had damage. Never did I hear a weatherman who was covering all this talk about climate change. Why is that?
MILES O’BRIEN:This is a pet peeve of mine. Go ahead. Martha, you want to try that a little bit? This is changing, by the way, I think, a little bit. I can expand on this a little bit, too. But go ahead.
MARTHA SHULSKI: Yeah, I think so. I've - you know, a few decades ago, on-camera meteorologists were not so accepting, I guess, of the science in general and really not willing to talk about it and kind of denying the science of climate change. But that - I see that is shifting. And it's really not necessarily the weatherperson who's on camera, but it's, you know, the television station - what do they think is valuable to talk about? But in Nebraska, I certainly see that changing. I get a lot of - media is one of our top-three groups that we engage with. Agriculture and education are the other two. But I see that as not such a huge issue in Nebraska, but it would be good if we could get more stories out there about climate change. And the local TV person is kind of the trusted source, and a lot of people tune in just for the weather, so it would be great if added on to that were a little climate piece.
MILES O’BRIEN:Yeah. I think for most people, their contact with anybody who might be considered a scientist or even close to it would probably be their local weatherperson. And for years, they had this opportunity, I think, to make those connections and didn't. A lot of it was, frankly - there's a long story relating to John Coleman and The Weather Channel which I could go on and on about. But the other thing is that when you learned - got your meteorological degree, they didn't teach climate simultaneously. So there was kind of a fundamental misunderstanding, and they were applying weather principles that they learned to the climate, and thus, there was a lot of confusion. I think that's changing.
I know Penn State now, for example, is teaching climate along with meteorology. So - and I think also, you know, going back to that generational component, I think the younger weatherpeople are more likely to make those connections. I think it's really important, though, because that's who people listen to more so than somebody like me. All right. So another - hands. Let's see what you got. Anybody - I'm going to stay in this zone for a minute, and then I'll work my way down. All right. Go ahead.
MARY ANN VEALEY (ph): I'm Mary Ann Vealey. I have been seeing stuff about climate change since I was in, like, fifth grade. Why, in your opinion, do you think this is just becoming an issue now?
JUSTIN GLISAN: I think it's always been an issue. It's just a matter of - generational. And again, when I started college - 2001 - we were talking about mitigation and attribution. We had climate also along with our meteorology - have two meteorology degrees. That wasn't as widespread as it is now. We're starting to, again, develop a lot more evidence, and again, it's pointing in one direction. So it's always been in the background. When you talk to climatologists or you talk to atmospheric scientists, it's been in the foreground.
MILES O’BRIEN:Well, and it's - you know, for a long time, it was something that was distant and in the future. It was in the Arctic Circle, and it involved a polar bear, and it might happen in 20 or 30 years. Now it's happening all around us now, so I think people are paying attention. So I guess that would be the silver lining. We're paying attention. The dark side of that, of course, is that hopefully, it's not too late. All right - more questions from the audience. I'm going to just move over in this direction here. All right. Here we go.
*CASSIDY WALTER: Hi. I'm Cassidy Walter. Thanks for answering my Twitter question. So you guys...
MILES O’BRIEN:Hey. Wait a minute. You're disqualified for this.
MILES O’BRIEN:You can't have two.
CASSIDY WALTER: I think you'll like this one, so the common consumer, the common voter, you know, who wants to understand these issues - I think that climate gets very politicized. And so, you know, that's kind of what SciLine's all about - is finding the credible sources. And you guys say you work with the media. How do you advise just the average citizen who wants to learn more about this to cipher all the things you read online and all the things you see in the media to get to true facts?
MILES O’BRIEN:The Internet is a scary place, people. What do you tell them to do...
KATHIE DELLO: So I'm going...
MILES O’BRIEN:...Aside from calling you up all day, Kathie?
KATHIE DELLO: Well, I was going to say...
MILES O’BRIEN:They could do that, right?
KATHIE DELLO: I have a staff. They answer the phone, too. Definitely start with your state climatologist. Start with local university folks. And then there are a bazillion reports online - the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Climate Assessment. They're getting better at taking their summaries and making them actually readable. I study this, and sometimes, it's a lot to take in. But there is a lot of bad information on the Internet about a lot of things, and just - I would say, find your person, if it is your state climatologist or your local TV weatherperson, and start there.
MILES O’BRIEN:There are a few really good aggregators of content on this, you know, so there's still kind of an editorial process in the middle. Environmental Health News comes to mind, where they sift through all of this stuff out there. And, you know, you can get a daily email or weekly email from them, which kind of has gone through a little more vetting than the random stuff you see on the Web. Other questions from the audience? All right. I'm going to start going over this way now. I'm going deep. I'm going deep. How am I going to get there, though? I don't want to step on anybody's toes. As I said earlier, it's better than Fenway Park, and I don't have any beer in my hand, so - all right. Here we go. Go ahead.
SHARON JOHNSON (ph): I'm Sharon Johnson, and I know Kathie mentioned about the East Coast, and you're very familiar with the hurricanes. So I expect that the cities along the East Coast have prepared some safety measures, some preventative measures, and I'm wondering what they are. If you could, talk about that a little bit and then when you expect the big impact to hit the Florida coast and specifically Mar-a-Lago.
MILES O’BRIEN:Which, by the way, sits on limestone, which is a sieve, so there's really nothing to do for Mar-a-Lago. I will tell you that. All right, so go ahead.
KATHIE DELLO: So there is a Florida state climatologist, and I urge you to reach out to him for - specific to Mar-a-Lago. But yes, cities on the East Coast are thinking about hurricanes. We had Sandy and we had Florence, the two that I'm thinking of in particular. And just a few days ago, North Carolina found out it's getting all sorts of money to actually put resilience measures into place, post Florence - so taking money and actually putting action on the ground. The thing is, though, we are good at talking about planning for climate change. We write all sorts of reports. Implementing it has always been a challenge. You need somebody with regulatory authority. You need political will. You need social capital. You need actual capital. I have none of that.
KATHIE DELLO: So I'm just a piece of this puzzle. But the more that these things continue to happen, the more obvious it is that we need these plans in place.
MILES O’BRIEN:Well, but to what extent, though, can you develop a little bit of a bully pulpit from your position, just based on, you know, compiling the evidence and throwing the evidence in their face? Is that enough to do it? I mean, obviously, if people aren't reporting to you, it's a little hard to get them to do things. You can't order them around, can you?
KATHIE DELLO: Science isn't enough, and if it were, we would've fixed this problem by now. And I think that recognizing that as a scientist is important because a lot of what we do is travel around our states and try to embed ourselves in the communities and work with them to come up with solutions because they are the people who can implement them. They are the people who will be making the decisions, and they're not driving back to Raleigh later that night. So I think understanding our role in this is important, but it's not the only piece.
MILES O’BRIEN:All right. We have another question here.
CHARLES HERSHMAN (ph): Charles Hershman. Much of the discussion is about relatively small matters - providing information and education and how adjustments might be made. But some of these solutions are not easy. Should people be living near the coastline and the flood-prone areas in the middle of forests, where it's going to be impossible to protect them? Should much of contemporary agriculture let the prairie come back? In other words, there's some very deep-seated economic interests that are going to have to change before this problem is addressed. And I'm just wondering, how are we going to get to that point?
MILES O’BRIEN:And I'll just throw one more thing in there. When you get into this discussion, there's a component of environmental justice here as well. The rich people can build the walls; what about the people at the other - where the wall ends who can't afford it? So why don't you all three take this one because it's a big one. Go ahead, Martha.
MARTHA SHULSKI: It's a big one, yeah. So I think what we can provide is a local, trusted source of information, both historical and projected. And so we can make it relevant and local and tangible to people and provide the science-based evidence that they need to base their decisions off of. We can help foster relationships and start dialogue or continue dialogue and kind of bring - help bring people to the table, at least I see that as my role. And, you know, Kathie brought up a good point of implementation - you know, plans are great, but implementing them, getting people to have a vested interest in them, that's really difficult. And that's personally where I love to work with social scientists because a lot of what we're talking about is behavior change, and I'm a climatologist; I'm not a social scientist. So - and that's what I say to, you know, young people - if you're interested in this topic, get into social science and work with people like us and to institute this behavior change because that's the way that this is going to be solved.
JUSTIN GLISAN: Sure. And that's a good point. When I was at Iowa State, we started bringing in sociologists and psychologists so they could translate what we do to stakeholders, people that could do something about it. I'm from St. Charles, Mo. - '93 flood, 500-year flood plain three miles from my house. We didn't flood, the flood plain did. Go look at that flood plain now, it's built up - restaurants, infrastructure there. We like to build berms around things to mitigate flood impacts, but we're still building on flood plains, and that's something that climatologists can't answer.
MILES O’BRIEN:Kathie, the idea of buying people out is not an easy one. I know - I did a story in the Netherlands a few years ago, where they literally went through the flood plains and rivers and bought people out and put them on high ground and set them back up. Different culture, different system, but they all did it. I don't see that happening here.
KATHIE DELLO: Yeah, and this is such a tough conversation because it takes the person out of the place. So a lot of these people have generations of families who have lived in this certain town, in this house. And it's not as easy as saying, hey, Joe, you can't live in New Orleans anymore. That's - I think when we remove the human component from it, then we're not going to solve anything. But like you said, this is a huge problem. It's not easy. Nothing worth doing is easy. And I think that, to Miles' point earlier, that it is a bunch of very small problems that we can start to knock off to start to get at the bigger problem. But we have a huge task in front of us, and we really need everybody on board. And if it's having the tough conversations about buyouts and retreat - having them but remembering that there is a - just a human component to that.
MILES O’BRIEN:More questions here. Watch your toes here, people. Watch your toes here. All right. All right, go ahead.
CAROLYN EULENHACH-WALKER (ph): Hi, I'm Carolyn Eulenhach-Walker. Many cities across the United States are working on or have adopted climate action plans. Des Moines is working on one - slow process but is working on one. My question is, as a state employee, are you involved in recommending, encouraging our state politicians to create state climate action plans? Because we have to go beyond the city ones to the state level. And I just wondered of your influence there with mitigation and adaptation with climate action plans at the state level.
MILES O’BRIEN:Good question. Justin, that's for you.
JUSTIN GLISAN: This has to be a multi-agency public-private partnership. One agency can't do it. We - Iowa did have a plan back in 2011, I believe, from the Legislature. It was mandated in the Legislature, and then it expired. So there was a starting point in Iowa, and we've noticed that smaller cities - Des Moines, Iowa City, Iowa Flood Center - and our universities - they have the pieces there. Now, getting those pieces together is why we need a larger collaboration. Yes.
MILES O’BRIEN:All right. We have another question over here.
DR. KLAUS BARTSCHAT: My name is Klaus Bartschat. I teach at Drake, and I can see that, indeed, the younger generation is getting slowly but surely - it's not that fast - to it. My question is, really, how bad do you think things have to get before those who actually make decisions wake up? And then the question is, is that beyond the tipping point? Do you think, at that point, that we really can still do it?
KATHIE DELLO: So the train hasn't left the station. And we in the climate community bicker about timelines, but every day that goes by is a chance for us to take action, and there really is no end. Things will get bad. Things are bad. India is unlivable at certain times of the year. What will it take for the people making decisions to wake up? New people in their place. You know, I...
MILES O’BRIEN:But what about if we got the fossil fuel industry out of the political realm here a little bit?
KATHIE DELLO: Yeah, and I think about when people point fingers - you know, you flew here. Yes, absolutely, I flew here. I didn't drive. You know, holding certain groups accountable is going to be more effective than me and Martha saying, well, she drove and I flew, so she's better than me.
MILES O’BRIEN:Well, Justin walked.
JUSTIN GLISAN: I walked.
MILES O’BRIEN:So Justin wins.
MILES O’BRIEN:...I'm afraid. Did you see Greta Thunberg? Did you see how she's going to be arriving in New York? Have you heard this story? The 16-year-old Swedish climate activist is coming across in a sailing yacht. It's going to be a two-week, miserable ride. It's going to - it's a racing yacht with no galley and no refrigeration, and then she's going to sail over. It's zero-impact. And God bless her, you know? So listen. She's a 16-year-old who's changed the world, so give her credit for that. All right. Speaking of young people, what's your name, young man?
JACK LILLEY (ph): Jack Lilley.
MILES O’BRIEN:Jack Lilley. How old are you, Jack?
JACK LILLEY: Ten.
MILES O’BRIEN:OK. Go ahead.
JACK LILLEY: What would happen if we didn't change our current problem in time? Dot dot dot...
MARTHA SHULSKI: Hopefully, that won't happen, Jack.
MARTHA SHULSKI: See; it's really tough to - that's a great question. It's one that's difficult to answer. But coming from a 10-year-old, I mean, that's really hard to deny and to negate, so it's really tough to argue. So thank you for your question. I don't have a great answer for you. I mean, all I say is, you know, the sooner we act, the better. You know, like Kathie said, every day that goes by, you know, we're losing our chance.
MILES O’BRIEN:This is one of those parental moments when you're trying to figure out how much honesty to give the kid, right?
MILES O’BRIEN:It's - we're counting on you, Jack. You're going to fix this for us, right? Please? Where was - the question was here. Go ahead.
TYLER GRANGER (ph): Tyler Granger. How do you advocate for wildlife protection in an era of urban sprawl? How do you kind of talk to the stakeholders of why we should protect wildlife?
MARTHA SHULSKI: Yeah, good question. You know, a lot of Nebraska is privately owned, so we don't have a ton of public lands here. But I'm increasingly working with official wildlife professionals at the local and federal scale, looking at plans for managing wildlife in a changing climate. You know, how will species shift and so forth? So I know they're - it's something that they are increasingly looking at. I know the - I'm in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska, and we have a lot of those folks who are tackling this issue.
JUSTIN GLISAN: You know, and I work here in Iowa with the Department of Natural Resources. I provide them observational records, trends, and then they use that data for their needs. And there actually was a legislative action just last session about game hunting, for example.
MILES O’BRIEN:Another question here.
GREG BROWARD (ph): Hi. Greg Broward. So you talk about voting as a very important part of this, which I would agree with, but you also mention, like, small changes. And I'm just not seeing - so what are those small changes? Is voting the only thing we can do? I mean, it's effective, you know, but what can we all do tomorrow or next week? Or is it just not even worth it; we just wait for the election?
KATHIE DELLO: No, that's a great question. So you could work with the woman who's putting together the climate action plan for Des Moines. I would say get involved in your community, whatever effort is going on in terms of climate, and, I think, mobilizing others to do the same.
JUSTIN GLISAN: So agricultural state - we have agricultural solutions here. We have renewable fuels, E15. We have - 40% of our power generation is from wind turbines. Looking at the agricultural scape, cover crops - since we're getting into a regime in which we're getting more intense rainfall events, these cover crops act to lock in soil, they act to lock in carbon, and they prevent runoff into our streams. So just since the last agricultural census - 2012-2017, five years - we've had a 256% increase in cover crops across the state of Iowa. Now, that is going to make an impact, especially in runoff and water quality. All right. So those are the small solutions that we can talk about.
MILES O’BRIEN: What about solutions, Martha? You have any good ones?
MARTHA SHULSKI: Yeah, I think serving as an informed citizen and kind of an agent of change. And, you know, I've heard kind of a famous climatologist say that the best thing we can do about climate change is talk about it and have dialogue and have meaningful communication and not just kind of battling each other, but talking about it in a real and local sense. You know, partnering with your local state climatologist or action plans that are going on, as Kathie mentioned - there's - yeah. I think there's all kinds of ways that we can keep this conversation moving forward in a good direction.
MILES O’BRIEN: All right, question here.
MARGARET VERNON (ph): I'm Margaret Vernon. Along these lines, I was thinking you're such wonderful resources. It would be nice if there were ways to get your voices heard more publicly, like on the news. And has any of that been going on?
JUSTIN GLISAN: I give about two or three presentations a week on average to various groups, so yes - lots of questions in the media also.
MILES O’BRIEN: Would you say your media inquiries are on the rise?
JUSTIN GLISAN: Yes.
KATHIE DELLO: Yeah.
MILES O’BRIEN: That's good news right there. Yes, sir?
MATT RUSSELL: So I'm Matt Russell. I lead Iowa Interfaith Power and Light. We're talking with farmers, connecting with the presidential candidates and other elected leaders and, in the last 10 days, two weeks, have engaged with probably half a dozen media folks. And the first question is, how can we talk to people about the climate - you know, the extreme weather that's happening? And is that changing people's minds? And that is such a last-year question because that assumes that we have to convince people that it's happening. And they say, oh, we have to - you know, how can we talk to farmers? Is the extreme weather changing their minds?
Well, nobody's creating the space for farmers to actually talk about it. So how do we not just try to convince people, recognize that people have moved faster because of the youth, have moved faster than the media thinks, the politicians think? How do we create the space so that we can just honest - like, this has been such a pregnant conversation tonight. Like, nobody wants to talk, and I understand why we can't, but we have to get past that.
MILES O’BRIEN: Good. Any of you want to amplify that at all?
KATHIE DELLO: I think that gets to my point that science is a piece of this. So people will say to us, well, why aren't things happening faster? Why aren't you doing enough? We're a piece of it. We need to recognize that and bring these people into the conversation. Can we create platforms for the people who need to be there the most? And this is something that I grapple with. The people who are most affected by climate change are rarely at the table for these conversations, so making sure that at least I recognize that and can bring it up - but I'm not a community organizer? And there are people who are much more skilled in that than I am, so working with those folks, I think, would be more productive.
MILES O’BRIEN: Question.
STEVE SHIVVERS: Steve Shivvers with Citizens' Climate Lobby, but my question is technical here. It seems to me that there's been more - a increase in intense straight-line wind events in Iowa. And would you agree with that? And if you do, do you think that's going to continue to be more and more aggressive?
JUSTIN GLISAN: Actually, we've had studies that show severe weather is decreasing across Iowa. And, in fact, with the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, we're actually getting more vegetation at the surface, more trees, and this is slowing down wind speeds by 10% in one study. I haven't seen anything in the data that suggests more straight-line wind events. This gets into talking about tornadoes back in the 1800s. Maybe they're just getting reported more. But otherwise, I haven't seen any hard evidence - which doesn't mean it's not out there - of increased wind speed events. Yeah.
MILES O’BRIEN: I think tornadoes are one of the hardest things to connect the dots on - right? - I mean, because tornadoes are devilishly difficult to study. I saw the movie. It was really hard, you know?
MILES O’BRIEN: Right? Remember? Cow, cow, right? Which one of - who was it? Oh, it was you. OK, go ahead.
JOHN PHOENIX (ph): Yeah. John Phoenix. I read an article that talked about modern agriculture and how the corn crops are getting closer together and they're getting bigger and they're putting more water into the atmosphere and almost creating a condition like a rainforest and everything. What I want to know is, is modern agriculture a positive or a negative on our climate change? And what other things can be done in agriculture that would improve our climate footprint and everything that we need to change our trajectory on climate change?
MILES O’BRIEN: Just to clarify, when you talk about modern agriculture, are you talking about livestock and the consumption of meat as well?
JOHN PHOENIX: Well, that figures in it, too, but I'm right now wanting to know about row crops and stuff because of the effect it has on larger amounts of water being put into the air.
MILES O’BRIEN:So taking the meat addiction aside, where does agriculture come in in climate?
JUSTIN GLISAN: So we do - with row crops, Iowa is built for row crops. Transpiration of corn produces more low-level humidity, and we've seen in the trends more humidity across effectively the Midwest. Now, with this humidity in the atmosphere, we're getting overnight convection. That's how we get a lot of our rainfall during the summer months. So it's tied in with the way the crop transpires and the physiological effects that it puts on the atmosphere. So yes, there is a hand - a partnership between agriculture and the way that precipitation is falling across the state. Now, those are more micro-scale impacts, but yes.
Again, I spoke about cover crops and these other - we're putting in watersheds and wetland projects across the state, which are able to take runoff and make water available to farmers in drier parts of the season. So I mean, sure, there's probably something in agriculture. The methane from livestock - we're also sequestering that on these larger dairy farms across the state, and they're using that methane to power those operations. So we're using agriculture, since we are an agricultural state, as a solution - smaller solutions. But these smaller solutions do add up, so I do think we can be an agricultural leader in terms of climate change.
MILES O’BRIEN:Agriculture pushes technology quite a bit...
JUSTIN GLISAN: Sure.
MILES O’BRIEN:...Anyway, right?
JUSTIN GLISAN: I mean, hybridization of crop, for example.
MILES O’BRIEN:So I'm like you guys. I think about climate a lot - probably not quite as much as you. Most every story I do has some link to it, and we talk a lot in the office about kind of the burden of dark knowledge that comes along with that. And it is a burden, but I'm curious. You guys are is enmeshed in this as anybody here, obviously. And these will be the final points. Are you at all optimistic? Start with you, Martha.
MARTHA SHULSKI: Yeah. I mean, I think you have to be. There's really not a choice. I mean, it's my job to, you know, not talk about doom and gloom but to - and all the questions that I get whenever I talk about climate change is solutions. And, you know, we've had several here. People want to know, what can I do tomorrow? What - you know, how can I be involved in this? And so people are eager to help and - which makes me optimistic. I teach an undergraduate course on climate change, and I had 50 students this past semester. And there was a climate action plan bill going through the Nebraska Legislature, and it didn't pass, but I had a freshman first-generation college student go and testify in front of the committee. And it's things like that that make me hopeful. I mean, we're not going as quickly as what I think we need to and what would be good, but I stay hopeful.
JUSTIN GLISAN: Sure - effectively the same question. You know, when you're given a problem, the natural, human side of you wants you to find a solution. You know, thinking about - I wake up every morning, especially in the summertime, and I look at radar for the driest parts of our state to see if any rain fell overnight. That's how invested I am in our state and our farmers. So it's hard not to, at some times, be sorrowful and crestfallen about where we are, but again, we have solutions. We have groups across the state. We have groups across the United States that want to do something. And we have - I do think we have solutions.
KATHIE DELLO: Yeah, I am optimistic. I am a few other things. I'm angry that we've known about this problem and we haven't solved it. And I... I grapple with these places that I've called home. I grew up in New York. I lived in Oregon for a decade. These are both very special places to me. I hope North Carolina will also become special. But I want people to experience the places that I did - the magic of Oregon, being up in the mountains with a huge wildfire breaking out. But also just our - we have to do this. This is hurting people in a real way, and it's not going to hurt rich people. It's hurting people in low-lying countries that just don't have the power to deal with what's happening to them, and that weighs on me. It certainly - it's difficult at times, and I've had to learn how to unplug sometimes just to save my energy and a little bit of my sanity.
MILES O’BRIEN:So have people been watching the - oh, who hasn't been watching the Apollo 50 stuff - you know? - 50 years since the Apollo 11 moon landing. And it's just a reminder of what this great country can do when it sets its mind to something. Or think about the mobilization during World War II and how, you know, suddenly, Ford plants that were, you know, knocking out cars were spitting out bombers just as quickly. We could do this, and frankly, I don't think there's a single thing that needs to be invented. It's all - the technology is all on the shelf. It's just a matter of political will and some economic incentives, and those obviously go hand-in-hand. But I just want to - I'm so impressed with this audience. Thank you so much for your great questions. I have no idea how such smart people came up with deep-fried butter. How did that... Was that just, like, a bad day you had? I mean...
MILES O’BRIEN:Thank you for your great questions, and thank you to our panelists. I think they did a great job. Martha Shulski, Justin Glisan, Kathie Dello - all-star state climatologists. Thank you for your time. We enjoyed it.
WHAT: A free, public conversation with audience Q&A, followed by an informal reception
WHEN: Tuesday, August 6, 2019 - Program began 6:30pm CT.
Science Center of Iowa Planetarium
401 West Martin Luther King Junior Parkway
Des Moines, IA 50309
Dr. Kathie Dello, North Carolina state climatologist (previously deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service)
Dr. Justin Glisan, state climatologist of Iowa
Dr. Martha Shulski, Nebraska state climatologist
with PBS NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien.
Torrential rain and flooding in the Midwest and South. Wildfires and record-breaking heat in Alaska. Tropical storm surges in the Gulf. For these weather-related extremes—and for other emerging threats, including rising seas, ocean acidification, and the spread of disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks—the evidence is growing that human-caused climate change is playing a role. State climatologists have the responsibility to track these climate-related hazards, predict how they’ll change, and work with communities to devise practical, affordable strategies to minimize impacts.
The event included a candid conversation with three state climatologists whose professional experience spans four U.S. states—moderated by PBS science correspondent Miles O’Brien. Discussion covered what in their jobs keeps these experts up at night and how they are working to protect residents, farms, businesses, and infrastructure from rapidly changing climate-related risks.
Hosted jointly by SciLine—a philanthropically funded free service for journalists and scientists, based at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, DC—and the Drake University School of Journalism and Mass Communication, with support from the Schmidt Family Foundation.
QUESTIONS? CONTACT US AT SCILINE@AAAS.ORG.