Growing Returns

To address climate change, U.S. makes historic investment in rural America

The U.S. is on the brink of making a historic investment in farmers, ranchers and rural communities, helping them cut emissions, prepare for climate impacts that are already here, and create good jobs along the way. The Inflation Reduction Act — which passed the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and which President Biden is expected to sign into law in the coming days — will direct about $20 billion toward agricultural conservation programs and nearly $14 billion toward clean energy for rural America.

To stabilize the climate and maintain a safe, vibrant planet, we need to transition to climate-smart agriculture and clean energy. This bill will expedite efforts already underway and jumpstart new ones.  

Here are the most impactful climate investments in rural America.  Read More »

Posted in sustainable agriculture / Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Scientists agree: Soil health matters but climate mitigation potential still uncertain

To keep global temperature increases below 1.5o Celsius — the threshold for avoiding the worst consequences of climate change — the world needs both rapid reductions of new climate pollution and removal of existing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Increasing the amount of carbon stored in cropland soils is one pathway for carbon dioxide removal, and it has gained traction over the past several years in voluntary agricultural carbon markets and U.S. climate policy discussions. The idea is that farming practices, such as using cover crops, will add carbon to agricultural soils, and thus help slow climate change.

Scientists agree that agricultural soils can be part of the climate solution, but their estimates about when and how much carbon agricultural soils can store — and thus the magnitude of climate mitigation that soils could deliver — vary widely. Read More »

Posted in Carbon Market, sustainable agriculture / Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Iowa’s Watershed Approach provides a model for tackling big challenges on the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi River Basin is massive – it covers 40% of the contiguous U.S. and approximately two thirds of that area is farmland. Flooding and water quality are persistent issues across the basin, and experts predict they will only worsen with climate change and increasing intensity of agricultural production.

Iowa, a state in the basin, recently celebrated five years of its Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA) – a visionary program that has successfully demonstrated a collaborative strategy to reduce flood risk and improve water quality. With a $97 million dollar award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, local and state leaders have installed more than 800 natural infrastructure projects across the state in the past few years. These projects are the result of collaboration among city officials, upstream farmers and state agencies.

I had the opportunity to travel to Iowa to join a bus tour of watershed projects that reduce flooding and improve water quality. Three elements have made the IWA a success and can help scale this approach to other watersheds across the basin: natural infrastructure, watershed approaches and shared science. Read More »

Posted in Coasts / Tagged , , , , , , | Comments are closed

Taking a big leap to solve California water problems: How uncommon partners are finding common ground on the water

This blog is co-authored by Joshua Viers, Professor and Program Director, Secure Water Future, University of California, Merced

There we were, 19 of us on the stony shore of the Tuolumne River, feeling a bit stranded like the crew of Gilligan’s Island.

Our “Finding Common Water” rafting excursion was planned around “no water Wednesday,” when river releases are held back for water conservation and infrastructure maintenance. The trip’s goal: Get off our desk chairs and onto rafts, out of the ordinary and into an extraordinary setting — a hot, highly regulated, wild and scenic river —  to push us out of our comfort zone and get to work on addressing real water problems.

Working with All-Outdoors whitewater expeditions, EDF and UC Merced teamed up to create the trip. Our premise was that paddling a raft together — and yanking each other back into the boats by our life vests — can build camaraderie and help find areas of agreement in ways that Zoom meetings just can’t.

Read More »

Posted in sustainable agriculture, western water / Tagged , , , , , , | Comments are closed

A conservation win and groundwater loss: Arizona ends 2022 session with mixed water record

The Verde River, one of the last free-flowing rivers in the Southwest, remains unprotected after another year of in action to address rural groundwater pumping in Arizona.

After months of negotiations, the Arizona Legislature passed a major water spending plan last month with funding for new conservation efforts to address deteriorating water supplies. However, for the fourth year in a row, state leaders failed to pass legislation to address unlimited groundwater pumping, missing an opportunity to enable a water secure future for 1.5 million rural residents and the state as a whole.

Read More »

Posted in Climate Resilience, ecosystems, sustainable agriculture, western water / Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

New research shows how to improve the voluntary carbon market to accelerate investment in nature

The explosion of net-zero emissions commitments over the past few years from major companies and municipalities shows that institutions are ready to tackle climate change. While reducing industrial emissions of greenhouse gases is a clear and primary priority, achieving global net zero will hinge on investing in nature.

Natural climate solutions (NCS) have the potential to deliver at least 20% of the emissions reductions we need to reach net zero by the end of this decade. Plus, they can deliver other benefits like clean air and water, increased biodiversity, economic opportunities for local communities and enhanced protection against storms and flooding.

Despite their value, natural climate solutions receive less than 3% of public finance, and shortcomings in the voluntary carbon market have limited private investment.

New research in Science Magazine explores three pathways for improving the carbon market to help unlock private investment and nature’s ability to help us.

Read More »

Posted in Carbon Market, ecosystems / Tagged , , , , , | Comments are closed

California’s new Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program is already oversubscribed. Here are 3 features of successful applications.

Last month, the state of California reached an important milestone in its effort to proactively address water scarcity and the changing agricultural landscape: The Department of Conservation awarded over $40 million to regional organizations to strategically repurpose previously irrigated farmland in ways that create new public benefits while reducing groundwater use.

The highly competitive Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program (MLRP) received 12 applications requesting over $110 million  — more than twice the funding available during the program’s inaugural year. The four successful proposals, which received $10 million each, came from critically overdrafted groundwater subbasins in the San Joaquin and Salinas valleys. Here are three common features that gave the successful applications a competitive edge.

Read More »

Posted in western water / Tagged , , , , , , | Comments are closed

Activating social science for flood risk and resilience planning in Louisiana and beyond.

Climate change is increasingly threatening the homes, health, livelihoods and cultural heritage of communities across Louisiana’s coast. The Bayou State is experiencing the fastest rate of coastal land loss in the country and has already lost nearly 2,000 square miles of land since the 1930s. Louisiana is taking important steps to address this risk, implementing the most comprehensive coastal planning in the nation with massive infrastructure investments for restoration and resilience.  

While the state’s Coastal Master Plan incorporates the most advanced technologies and engineering, it should also include an understanding of individual and community behavior and what motivates people to act in response to climate risk – a critical component of resilience. Many factors can influence the actions people are willing to take, whether switching jobs, voting for climate policies, flood-proofing a home or business, or even choosing to relocate. That’s why we need an understanding of the unique motivations that spur individual and community action in order to equitably allocate resources. 

To fill this information gap, we need scientific analysis of how people and their social networks in coastal Louisiana perceive, respond and adapt to extreme ecological changes and climate impacts. Working with partners at Cornell University, we set out to do just that.  

Read More »

Posted in Coasts / Tagged , , | Comments are closed

Virginia’s Legislature made progress on flood resilience in 2022, but significant work remains.

Last month, a Nor’easter left parts of Hampton Roads flooded for days, disrupting transit and damaging property. This situation is a reality for a growing number of Virginians who are experiencing more intense and frequent flooding due to rising sea levels and heavier precipitation.

Without action, coastal flood damages are expected to cost Virginia $5.1 billion annually by 2080, which is why its leaders must use every tool in the toolbox to match the scale of challenges facing people across the Commonwealth.

While Virginia’s General Assembly concluded its 2022 legislative session with several successes, more work is needed – particularly in securing long-term funding for flood resilience, to protect people and natural resources from flood threats now and in the future.

Here are three key takeaways from Virginia’s legislative session relating to flood resilience. Read More »

Posted in Coasts / Tagged , , , , | Comments are closed

Six reasons why wetlands are vital every month of the year.

The Environmental Protection Agency has designated May as American Wetlands Month, a “time to celebrate the vital importance of wetlands to our Nation’s ecological, economic, and social health.”

Scientists and coastal planners increasingly recognize the important role wetlands play in everything from flood protection to water quality to wildlife habitat to economic impact. At the same time, climate change and other stressors threaten wetlands, and in turn, the people and wildlife that rely on them.

As we close out American Wetlands Month, here are six reasons why one of nature’s richest ecosystems provide value to our lives every month of the year. Read More »

Posted in Coasts / Tagged , , , | Comments are closed