Nebraska planning ahead for climate change

Feb 15, 2017

Credit N.A.S.A.

Average annual temperatures in Nebraska are expected to increase by 8 or 9 degrees by 2075, according to one of the lead authors of a University of Nebraska-Lincoln report on climate change impacts in Nebraska.

As Net Nebraska reports, the Nebraska Legislature passed a bill in 2013 to study the impacts of climate change in Nebraska and in 2014, UNL published the report, which found that the increase of 8 to 9 degrees in average annual temperatures will mean more days over 100 degrees.

Lead author Don Wilhite said that means warmer nights, which will cause stress on plants, animals and humans.

“Nebraska represents a very fragile ecosystem, so even slight changes in the climate of the state are going to have tremendous impacts,” Wilhite said.

Warmer days and nights will also mean a longer growing season, but less soil moisture, which combined with hotter days, means more demand for surface irrigation and groundwater.

Wilhite said work of the National Drought Mitigation Center, which he founded at UNL, can help states and countries prepare for climate change, much like it helps prepare states and countries for drought.

“Projections for the future are really dramatic, so it's important that we get ahead of the curve by doing adequate planning and preparation for the kinds of changes that we expect to see,” Wilhite said.

The Nebraska Legislature formed a committee in 2016 to look at creating a state climate action plan and held numerous hearings and roundtables around the state.

State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, a member of the committee, said afterward, it was decided that the state needed a plan. She has introduced LB646, which would create an “evidence-based, data-driven strategic action plan” related to extreme weather and climate change impacts in Nebraska.

Pansing Brooks said such a plan is not controversial in a state as weather-dependent as Nebraska.

“This is not a partisan issue. This is a state of Nebraska economic welfare issue,” she said.

A 2015 Nebraska Rural poll found that 61 percent support the development of a state climate plan to help agriculture and rural communities adapt to ever-increasing temperatures.

The final legislative committee report states that climate change will impact nearly every major sector of Nebraska’s economy, including agriculture, water supply, energy, infrastructure, communities and public health.

Pansing Brooks said she deliberately kept the bill’s language broad – addressing pests, drought, floods and extreme weather, as well as climate change.

“So let’s get past some of the verbiage that makes people not want to communicate about it and deal with the issues that are important to our state, make a plan, bring in the experts, bring in farmers who know the repercussions to their property and their crops,” she said.

State Sen. Tyson Larson, who co-chaired the special committee, agrees with Pansing Brooks on looking out for Nebraska’s economy.

“Anybody can say they do or don’t believe in climate change but one thing that Nebraskans believe in is bringing more jobs and creating economic development in rural Nebraska. And the fact that it can help reduce the state’s carbon footprint means we’re doing even better things,” Larson said.

Larson has introduced several bills to give Nebraska’s counties more tools to support energy efficiency investments and wind and solar development, NET reports