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Paris Climate Talks Could Bolster Alternative Energy Efforts in Iowa

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer
Cover crops, like these in central Iowa, as well as prairie strips and other conservation strategies, could help mitigate climate change.

An international meeting on climate change begins today in Paris and could have reverberations across Iowa and the Midwest.

A University of Iowa engineering professor says negotiators will have to push beyond the promises already made by the United States and other countries.

"All the pledges taken together that have been filed in advance of this meeting still do not even allow us to level off total greenhouse gas emissions for the planet," says Jerry Schnoor, who will attend the talks.  

He says to do that, and curb rising global temperatures, nations will eventually need to wean themselves off coal, oil and natural gas. In the Midwest, that will likely mean even more electricity coming from wind power.

"It's been fortunate for farmers in that they've been able to lease land for use for wind turbines," Schnoor says, "and it has not resulted in great increases in electricity prices for consumers."

Schnoor says the region can now expect more solar power, especially if the United States commits to even greater reductions in traditional energy sources such as coal and oil.

Johnathan Hladik, policy director at the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Nebraska, says this region is already showing innovative ways to further curb greenhouse gases and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. He points to a perennial grass project that Iowa State University and the University of Iowa have developed to use miscanthus as a feedstock for power generation.

"This is a good example because the benefits are three-fold," Hladik says. "First, perennial grasses do a really good job of helping to restore soil and improve water quality, second, using miscanthus to replace coal means less carbon emissions will enter the atmosphere, and finally, miscanthus is known to hold great potential for carbon sequestration."

That means keeping carbon in the soil so it doesn’t end up in the atmosphere.

Hladik says conservation efforts in agriculture could contribute significantly to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Overall, mitigating and adapting to climate change is a big task and everyone will need to do their part," Hladik says, "and in Iowa we're looking to farmers to lead the way."

The Paris talks continue through Dec. 11.