• Dr. Lee Anne Willson

The Vulnerability Report

How will climate change affect Ames?


The consultants who prepared the Greenhouse Gas Inventory for Ames also prepared a vulnerability assessment. (The three reports that they prepared are available through the City’s sustainability web page - https://www.cityofames.org/living/sustainability-in-ames - scroll down to find the download links.) The Vulnerability report provides a fascinating, detailed look at our community – who lives in Ames (for example, by age) and where in Ames do they live; what fraction of the population is vulnerable (for example, to respiratory distress); and also maps of tree cover, road use, and building types. The effects of climate change around the world include floods, droughts, fires and other impacts on air quality, more intense storms, power outages, and increases in vector-borne diseases (like Lyme disease). In the Vulnerability report, the relative importance of these for Ames is assessed by looking at the likelihood of an event times the vulnerability of the population should such an event occur. The event with the highest risk for people (likelihood x vulnerability) is flooding – that will not be a big surprise for anyone who has lived here a while. After that, the two biggest risks to people are extreme heat and air quality impacts. When I first saw this report the air quality item surprised me, but after spending most of a month this past summer hiding from the (migraine-inducing) smoke from Canadian fires I can see where this one comes from. In addition to a chart listing risks to humans there is a chart listing risks to infrastructure and institutions: risks are very high for transport, roads, and land use planning, and high also for buildings, energy, and agriculture. The IPCC report (https://www.ipcc.ch/) shows the predictions of a range of models that assume different degrees of reduction in carbon emissions and, in some cases, also some level of removing carbon from the atmosphere. Only in the most aggressive models is the net temperature increase kept below 1.5°C, the value needed to prevent the biggest impacts (such as complete melting of the arctic ice cap). In order to keep warming below 1.5°C, net CO2 emission needs to reach zero by 2050, worldwide. This may be achieved entirely by a rapid reduction in fossil fuel use combined with the well-established technologies that sequester carbon through Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) – planting trees, cover crops, and so on. Or, if the rapid reduction does not happen, then it may still be managed but will require the (probably more expensive) use of various techniques (many still under development) for capturing atmospheric carbon and sequestering it underground. (BECCS is BioEnergy with Carbon Capture and Sequestration.)


In addition to mitigation (reducing the amount of change), there is also adaptation to be considered – making roads, bridges and building more resistant to flooding, storm damage, and periods of extreme heat; making sure medical facilities can handle the human impact of adverse weather events; and making sure that housing is adequate to protect people when bad weather comes. Ames will be joining cities around the world that have developed a Climate Action Plan, and it also has the potential to lead the pack, for several reasons. We are in Iowa where we have access to ample wind power – Iowa is the first state to get the majority of its power from wind. Ames has invested in developing a community solar farm, the SunSmart project. We have a healthy public transportation system with CyRide and HRTA. Iowa is an agricultural state, so the potential is here for using AFOLU to sequester carbon. Iowa has established a carbon sequestration task force (https://www.iowaeda.com/carbon-sequestration/) to look into the economic advantages of initiatives for sequestering carbon. Ames is home to Iowa State University, with considerable expertise in a number of the facets of climate change and mitigation; it has several relevant programs and projects, including C-Change (https://cchange.research.iastate.edu/). All of these give us a head start on taking action for a better future.