Climate change front and center in festival


Ting Xuan Tan

An attendee asks about a molecular formation during the Iowa Climate Festival at the Museum of Natural History in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct 15, 2016. There were hands-on experiments at the Climate Science Fair for attendees to interact and learn with. (The Daily Iowan/Ting Xuan Tan)

By Charles Peckman

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The University of Iowa Museum of Natural History was packed full with professors, students, and Iowa City residents on the afternoon of Oct. 15 for the Iowa Climate Festival.

Elizabeth Stone, an associate professor of analytical chemistry, said, “As the leaves on the trees change this fall, it is obvious to see that the season is changing.” What is less apparent, she said, are the hidden changes the environment experiences.

Stone, who was instrumental in organizing the event, posed a question to the audience: “The last three decades have been the warmest in history. So where do we go from here?”

Professor Jerald Schnoor, who holds the Allen S. Henry Chair in Engineering, spoke about the Paris Climate Agreement — a December 2015 summit in which 195 countries met to create a plan to mitigate climate change.

“There was a sense of emergency about the meeting,” he said. “We’re the last generation with the capacity to help the environment.”

Schnoor said he received one of the 3,000 media slots to the event, which gave him “backstage access” to meetings conducted by heads of state from around the world.

He said he spent many late nights with Marcelo Mena-Carrasco, a UI graduate and the head of the Chilean delegation for the Paris Agreement, where most of their conversations involved being “at the 11th hour” to address the problem of climate change.

To Schnoor, the agreement represents “the start of a new era in international environmental policy.”

Schnoor said for the United States in particular, the agreement is incredibly positive. Countries create their own plans, and the terms of the agreement are ratified by the United Nations, as opposed to, in the U.S., the Senate, in which changes in policy can be occur free from governmental intervention.

The United States, along with other major countries, will give $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries affected by climate change. Although affluent countries will contribute substantial funds, Schnoor said “rich and developing countries alike will have to make a plan and cut down their emissions.”

In addition to Schnoor, Chris Anderson, an owner of SkyDoc LLC, noted the effect of the Paris Agreement on the reduction of climate change in Iowa.

Anderson started off by drawing a distinction about climate change he finds extraordinarily important.

“Climate change is an observation, not a belief,” he said.

The first sign of climate change in the Midwest was increased rainfall in the area, he said. He plans on implementing projection models to show a range projection for environmental change in Iowa.

“What we want is to cut back our uncertainty by about 90 percent,” he said.

Anderson said, for example, if Iowans want to put a limit to the number of floods they have, they first need to respond to the changes the Paris Agreement asks for.

“How we react next is totally by our beliefs,” he said.

Although Anderson said climate change is an observation, if people believe they have the capacity to reverse the effects of global warming, anything can be accomplished.

He believes Iowans are culturally ready to reverse the effects of global warming and noted that younger generations will play a key role in this.

“Their involvement will definitely help lessen the rate of environmental change,” he said.

Brenda Nations, the Iowa City sustainability coordinator, said that although the climate-change conversation can sometimes seem bleak, Iowa City in particular is ready to do something about environmental change.

“Cities have been a fortunate leader in the area of climate change,” she said.

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