Many rural Nebraskans appear to be ready for the state to develop an action plan on climate change, according to a University of Nebraska-Lincoln poll released Monday, and a university initiative getting underway this week will be tapped by a state legislator to draft one.
The Nebraska Rural Poll, an annual survey, found that 61 percent of those responding agreed or strongly agreed that the state should develop a plan to adapt to the effects of climate change. Seventeen percent disagreed.
The poll, conducted by the UNL Department of Agricultural Economics and the NU Rural Futures Institute, didn’t probe whether people believe humans are responsible for climate change, said Becky Vogt, survey research manager.
“(Most) people believe there needs to be a plan to adapt to climate change,” Vogt said.
The survey was done by mail and netted 1,191 responses, a 32 percent response rate, she said.
This week, UNL will begin a series of eight workshops to gather ideas on how the state can adapt to increasingly extreme weather. The workshops are by invitation, but four will be preceded by public forums. Areas being examined include agriculture, energy, public health, wildfire, communities and nature.
“It is important … to prepare,” said Don Wilhite, the UNL climatologist helping to organize the workshops. “These roundtables will be the first step in mobilizing … to work collaboratively.”
While UNL doesn’t get involved with legislative policies, Nebraska legislators can expect to see the results of the workshops in the coming session. Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm said he will propose a state plan in January and will draw from the UNL discussions.
Haar said acceptance of climate change is increasing, “and with that I believe the realization we have to do something.”
A UNL analysis of the impact of climate change on Nebraska found that winter is shrinking, the frost-free season is expanding, and nights are warming faster than days — a hidden stressor on livestock, crops and ecosystems.
Precipitation changes in Nebraska aren’t as obvious as they are just to the east, in Iowa, where gully-washing rains have compounded problems with flooding and field work.
“The magnitude and rapidity of projected changes in the climate is unprecedented,” the UNL analysis stated.
In Iowa, one of the nation’s foremost experts on global warming’s impact on agriculture said a state plan can soften the blows ahead, especially in protecting soil.
Jerry Hatfield, laboratory director at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in Ames, said people don’t comprehend the vulnerability of soil — the foundation of productive fields — to climate change.
Heavier rains accelerate erosion; strengthening springtime winds sweep away soil; and changes in the timing and nature of rainfall depress yields.
“Ag states need to be much more aggressive … about managing our soils,” he said.
UNL’s workshop series this week kicks off with an examination of the implications of climate change on Nebraska’s faith community. A public forum on the topic will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at Sheridan Lutheran Church, 6955 Old Cheney Road in Lincoln.
Religious leaders concerned about climate change have organized a weekend prayer service in Omaha in advance of Pope Francis’ address to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 24. Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy will be among those participating in the Gathering for the Planet on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at First United Methodist Church, 7020 Cass St.