Energy District lunch and learn event talks climate change in Elkader, Midwest

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By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

A recent virtual lunch and learn event organized by the Clayton County Energy District featured a discussion with Howard County Energy District Director and Cresco City Councilperson Amy Bouska on weather patterns and climate change locally and in the Midwest in general. The event was meant to educate attendees on the impact climate change is currently having and the future ramifications if left unchecked. 

One of the first things Bouska mentioned was rainfall, which she said is a sign of climate change. In Elkader, data shows that, over the last century, during the months of October, November and December, the amount of snowfall has decreased, while the amount of rain has increased. In fact, every December since 2008, there have been at least two days of rain with no snowfall, a climate event that hasn’t happened before in data that goes back to the 1900s. 

This is not good news, according to Bouska, because getting more rain at the wrong time creates bigger weather events and “rain on frozen ground is useless to crops.” 

This extra rain creates greater evaporation, which leads to what’s been termed “corn sweat” in the Midwest region, which, contrary to the rest of the country, is actually cooling the region rather than warming it. 

In Elkader, it is actually cooling, and the amount of days that are 95 degrees or higher have gone down. This phenomenon is a result of the amount of corn being planted, which is purportedly direct evidence that humans’ actions can influence climate. 

“The corn has made it cooler,” Bouska said. 

Simply put, the growing amount of corn being planted makes it more humid, and the water vapor in the air keeps the atmosphere cool. Essentially, the Midwest region of the country is cooling due to corn production. 

In the larger picture, according to Bouska’s research, “carbon dioxide (CO2) is increasing at a historic rate.” 

Agreeing with this assessment is senior science writer for, Rebecca Lindsey, in the article “Climate Change: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide,” which states “CO2 levels today are higher than at any point in at least the past 800,000 years.” 

According to the article and Bouska, increased levels of CO2 are “responsible for about two-thirds of the total energy imbalance that is causing Earth’s temperature to rise” and, since the 1900s, there is a general consensus that the temperature has risen one degree. 

Such a consensus comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which states that “the global average temperature has warmed 0.87 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times [and] if we want to limit total warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we only have about 0.63 C to go ...that’s why people are feeling so much urgency.” 

Consulting other models, Bouska suggested that, if nothing is done, “global temperatures will rise by four degrees Celsius.” 

Bouska indicated this is problematic for a variety of reasons, including shifting planting zones, which could see the corn belt move to Canada and “disrupt routines and require human adjustment;” rising sea levels resulting in “managed retreat” away from flood zones; the re-emergence of diseases such as Lyme disease, dengue fever, Zika and West Nile; increased water usage resulting in droughts and overuse; and hotter temperatures that will lead to suffering. 

“Heat is one of the biggest killers,” Bouska said. 

There is also an economic, human health and equality issue that arises from climate change, because not everyone can afford to combat higher temperatures.  

What would change need to look like to prevent the catastrophic from happening? First, according to Bouska, emissions need to be cut by 2030. People also need to transition to electric vehicles, make dietary changes and move away from more meat based meals such as beef, shift toward greener energy solutions and away from fossil fuels, and create policies and establish fees that are not optional and steer people in the right direction. 

What if the models are wrong or if the calamity is being overstated? According to the same article cited by Bouska and written by Lindsey, CO2 levels, sea levels and temperatures have reached current levels previously: “The atmospheric CO2 amounts were this high…3 million years ago, when temperature was 2 to 3 degrees higher than during the pre-industrial era, and sea level was 15 to 25 meters higher than today.”

For Bouska, the question of right and wrong is irrelevant because, “even if the models are wrong, it’s still an overall benefit to society,” she said. 

There are also real economic costs to this shift toward greener energy, such as job loss, a problem for which Bouska “sees no way around.” 

“We need to help [people] make that change. People who made buggy whips lost their jobs too. We’ll just make new jobs. I think that’s called capitalism…There is hope, but we have to act on it,” Bouska said.

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