Update: This transcript has been updated to reflect our current AP Stylebook guidelines.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: You’re listening to “KZUM News” on 89.3 KZUM Lincoln and KZUM HD.
[Fades in on the “KZUM News” program music, an original production of Jack Rodenburg. The music fades out.]
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Good afternoon and welcome to today’s edition of “KZUM News,” an hour dedicated to learning more about what is going on in Lincoln and the surrounding areas. I am the News Director, and your host, Amantha Dickman.
Grant Ferrell, News Intern: And I’m your co-host, Grant Ferrell.
This morning, we have some relatively breaking news for you. Starting out on February 14, the Lincoln City Council approved the Fairness Ordinance brought forward by Sandra Washington.
The ordinance would’ve changed Title 11 of the city code. The changes would’ve included the addition of anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, and military or veteran status. It addresses equal opportunity for individuals in housing, employment, and public accommodations.
After the ordinance passed many local voices stepped forward with concerns. Leading the opposition was the Nebraska Family Alliance. In a February 25 statement posted to the Nebraska Family Alliance blog, the organization addressed their concerns regarding the ordinance. Now, this post is a bit long, so we’re going to just share the opening statement, which summarizes the entire post.
“The broad definition of sex, public accommodations, and sexual harassment means that activists can target businesses, organizations, churches, private schools, and individuals for virtually any real or perceived threat to the agenda of the radical LGBT activists in any public setting.”
Now you just heard the opening statement from the February 25 blog post on the Nebraska Family Alliance’s blog.
The post, which was in response to the Fairness Ordinance, can be found on the Nebraska Family Alliance’s website under their blog. In light of these concerns, the Nebraska Family Alliance filed a referendum petition to repeal the ordinance or put it to a vote of the people. The campaign called “Let Us Vote” gathered 18,501 signatures in just 15 days due to the petition’s success.
The city council rescinded the Fairness Ordinance on June 14. The Lincoln City Council voted four-three. Tom Beckius, James Michael Bowers, and Benny Schobe all voted to rescind the ordinance, while Sandra Washington, Jane Raybould, and Tammy Ward voted against rescinding [it].
And yesterday morning, the Supreme Court announced the final decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, in a six-three vote.
The Supreme Court ruled that abortion is not a protected right under federal law, consequently, overturning its former decision of Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood. While abortions do remain legal in Nebraska for the time being, in his May 15 interview with CNN, Governor Pete Ricketts announced plans to call for an emergency session this fall to vote on banning abortion statewide.
To learn more about this, you can listen to last week’s show at kzum.org under our program archives.
Moving on, we have two primary focuses this morning. Our first piece is about the upcoming special election. And to end, we’ll jump back into the Humanities Nebraska event “Weathering Uncertainty: Conversations about Climate in Nebraska.”
Amantha Dickman, News Director: On March 24, 2020, former Representative Jeff Fortenberry was found guilty of lying to the FBI about legal campaign donations. Fortenberry was convicted of three felony counts. Shortly after, he opted to resign from his position as Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District Representative. This resignation ended his 17 years [of] serving in the position.
Now, the special election to find Fortenberry’s replacement is coming up on June 28.
Of course, we had hoped to sit down with both congressional candidates, but, unfortunately, Republican nominee Mike Flood couldn’t join us today. Now, if you’re searching for more information about his campaign, his website does outline the issues his platform is currently prioritizing. You can visit mikefloodfornebraska.com for more information.
And while you peruse that website, you can also listen to our interview here with Democratic nominee, Patty Pansing-Brooks, to learn more about her campaign.
Hi, how are you?
Patty Pansing-Brooks, Congressional Candidate for the 1st Congressional District: I’m good! How are you doing?
Amantha Dickman, News Director: I’m wonderful, thank you. Are you excited?
Patty Pansing-Brooks, Congressional Candidate for the 1st Congressional District: Yeah, I am. I feel really positive. We feel like we’ve done everything we can to this point. And no matter what happens, I’m just very grateful. So, we have no… no one knows what will happen in a special election. We hope it’s positive and that people understand some of the things that are at risk right now in our country.
And so, and I’ve been really trying to work across the aisle and to get Independents and moderate Republicans to understand that our country, you know, is broken and we don’t need to be standing in the corners, pointing accusatory fingers at one another and throwing grenades at each other. What we need to do is come together, build consensus, find common ground and work for Americans and Nebraskans.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Can you tell us a little bit about the primary issues that you’re running your congressional campaign on?
Patty Pansing-Brooks, Congressional Candidate for the 1st Congressional District: Yeah. Well, the primary issues right now are the inflation. There’s no question. As I call people and I’m calling moderate Republicans, Independents, and Democrats.
And I always ask, “What are your key concerns? What are your key issues?”
And there’s no question that inflation is one of the top concerns for people. So, you know, I’m really trying to focus on the fact that we’ve got a lot of issues. People are having trouble affording gas and groceries.
And it was interesting though, because when the Supreme Court came out and – we’re not sure what final ultimate opinion will look like – but when that came out, a huge proportion of my calls changed their emphasis and said, “we’re very concerned about a woman’s bodily autonomy.” You know the government doesn’t deserve a seat at our daughter’s exam table.
So that’s one thing that changed. And then, after Uvalde, people were very upset with what’s happening and say there should be reasonable gun reform. There’s been a new Supreme Court case that’s released today that may change a lot of that. So, you know, we’re going to have to just figure it all out.
But those are key issues, really.
Obviously, people are worried about Ukraine. I think it’s wonderful because the efforts that America is expanding, what’s been happening in Ukraine, is all part of a bipartisan agreement. So, the money – that’s been about $400 billion – that’s a bipartisan agreement to help keep our world safer, to have a stronghold against Russia, to be able to provide, you know, economic sanctions. And so that’s all good. And I just, you know, we have to work together because no one side, you know, has an ability to determine what’s best for the country.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then your website listed a host of other issues that you are advocating for. Can you tell us a little bit about plans for accessible healthcare and that public infrastructure?
Patty Pansing-Brooks, Congressional Candidate for the 1st Congressional District: First off, part of helping on inflation is to lower prescription drug costs and the premiums under the Affordable Care Act.
We’ve got to do a better job of that, as people are struggling to pay for everything right now. And then we have to be able to find some common-sense measures. Really. I think most Americans agree that the prescription drug costs and the inability of people to negotiate with those companies…It doesn’t make sense. It’s not part of a capitalist system in any way. So that’s one thing as far as the infrastructure, that’s a huge thing.
That last… I think it was in January or maybe December, Congress passed the Infrastructure Act. The former Congressman voted against it. Fortunately, Senator Sasse and Congressman Bacon voted for it. And it all deals with roads and bridges and ports and airports and broadband and getting people back to work. It is one of the most important pieces of legislation that I think has been passed. And to say that, that we aren’t in favor of it? You know, it just, to me, this is how we can help Nebraska thrive, how we can help Nebraska businesses thrive by making sure that, you know, the ports and the airports and the roads and the bridges are strong and good, that commerce can flow quickly and efficiently. Part of the supply chain problem connects to our infrastructure and our ability to get goods quickly off of the ships that are waiting in line at our ports.
And so there’s a lot we can do. It’s so important for our bridges in Nebraska and our roads to be safe and robust. And also our broadband; the work on broadband that is part of that infrastructure act… It’s really the key to helping Nebraskans thrive as well. If we cannot get our communities to be connected to the rest of the world, because they don’t have a robust enough system of broadband, then we’re cutting off our nose to spite our face.
And that’s gotta be a number one priority, nationally as well as state-wide.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Now we’ve talked about a lot of the issues that your platform is focused on. But there are one or two that you haven’t mentioned that Mike Flood is currently focusing on. And the first of those is voter ID. Do you have any thoughts on how you would handle any proposed legislation on voter IDs in Nebraska?
Patty Pansing-Brooks, Congressional Candidate for the 1st Congressional District: I think that the concerns about voter ID are actually a solution without a problem.
Our secretary of state here in Nebraska has said there was no problem in the last election. We know that voter ID laws are most onerous on elderly people, people of color, and people with special needs. So we know that’s a really difficult issue for a number of people.
My mom lived with us [for] the last 10 years of her life and she quit driving at one point. So, her license was no longer valid. We were able to get her another ID and get her down. But there are elderly people that do not have that, you know, that really don’t have those resources to get them to that point.
So we know votes matter. We know that you know, to discriminate against certain groups because there’s supposedly some problem, to discriminate against the elderly, is just… it doesn’t even make any sense. And I believe the rule of law must be upheld. Voting is one of our main constitutional rights. It’s the right upon which our democracy was founded. And, if you look back at the concerns from the previous election where some people think that all the votes weren’t counted or that there were incorrect votes or whatever the crazy claims are, we know former Republican Vice President Mike Pence certified the election. We also know Republican Attorney General William Barr also said that there was no election fraud. So, again, it wasn’t a problem.
Because, as Ben Franklin said when asked what form of government they had created, they said “we have a Republic, if we can keep it.” And part of keeping it is making sure that each person has a right to vote and that it’s easy and accessible. And yeah, if there’s some big problem with election fraud, we have to look at it. But no election has been more deeply scrutinized than 2020, and they just didn’t find it.
So again, it’s a solution without a problem.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Then one of those other subjects that Mike Flood is discussing for his campaign is expanding Customs and Border protections and looking at increasing budgets for ICE. What is your stance?
Patty Pansing-Brooks, Congressional Candidate for the 1st Congressional District: Well, I know we need protection down across the border. It should not be an open border. Nobody thinks that it should be an open border.
Meanwhile, you know, we have to have a pathway to citizenship for people. And if ICE needs funding, then we gotta fund ICE. There’s no question. It’s part of our security, but we have to support the dreamers. Our number one issue for the state chamber is workforce development and we need the immigrants.
They are… the immigrants are 22% of our production workforce. 22%. And we know that all over the state we don’t have enough workers. So, to act as if we can somehow be picking and choosing… There are ways to bring people in where it’s safe, where they could have work permits. The immigrants pay taxes. They help us grow our United States and especially Nebraska. We know that. And there is success story after success story. And if people wanna just choose and pick out the one terrible case where somebody had a mental health issue, or somebody went crazy and did something wrong, that’s fine. But that’s not reasonable. It’s not sensible and it’s not good for our economy.
So, you know, I think that we need to work hard to support the dreamers. We paid to educate them. We want to make sure that they have appropriate opportunities to get jobs. They were born here. And, again, the people coming across the border, we need to check into them, make sure that, you know, we just can’t have an open border where people are coming across.
But the characterization of the people coming across the border as criminals is not only unethical: it’s untrue. And we’ve got to do a better job of making sure that our country remains to be the gleaming country or city on the hill. And we’ve got to make sure that we are creating a path of citizenship that works for the country that allows us to bring in workers and that treats people who are especially… those who are in harm’s way in their country to make sure that we provide help as humanity would expect. So, there are reasonable solutions to all this and just saying “close the board” or “build the wall” to me is unreasonable. It’s the easiest answer. But it’s also not the brightest answer, in my opinion.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Now we are quickly running out of time and I know that you have to get going. We do have one more question. I believe it is going into that Roe v. Wade leaked opinion piece.
Now we’ve already talked a little bit about it, but can you describe the steps that your campaign is taking in advocating for or against abortion and what your plans are for limiting or increasing state funding for the subject?
Patty Pansing-Brooks, Congressional Candidate for the 1st Congressional District: Yes. Well, first off, you know, abortion, in my opinion, should be safe, legal, and rare. People talk about indiscriminate abortions as if people are just having a… completing an intimate act and then going immediately and having a surgical procedure. That is just ridiculous.
We’re talking about the life of a woman and we’re talking about a living human being having to go to such extreme and draconian methods to live her life in a way that is appropriate for her circumstances.
No one is pro-abortion. No. And to characterize somebody as pro-abortion is twisted. And it’s just rhetoric. I believe firmly that we have to allow people to make their own decisions too. The government and politicians do not deserve a seat at my daughter’s exam table. This is an ongoing issue that makes no sense right now.
And we’re definitely going backward into taking women and putting women back into the dark ages. So, my opponent supports no abortion; even in the cases of a child who is raped or a child who’s a victim of incest. To me, that is cruel. I don’t agree with it. I don’t understand it. But if a family decides to keep the child, that’s fine, that’s their decision. It is not the government’s right to decide this and to burden a young child or somebody who’s been raped to say, “Oh no, you must carry that fetus and go to term” is unreasonable. And, most Americans, the majority of Americans, and the majority of Nebraskans know that that’s unreasonable and it doesn’t make sense.
And, you know, I will work to combat this. Again, I’m not pro-abortion. No one is. But we have got to make sure that women have appropriate access to healthcare, any kind of healthcare that they need.
And the fact is that this case is being determined on the 14th amendment, under the right to privacy. And, so, under that right to privacy… once we start whittling away at the right to privacy, what’s going to happen is that… access to birth control pills was all decided under the right to privacy, the ability to have in vitro fertilization. So, a young couple will not be able to start a family through IVF, which I think is criminal. Also ectopic pregnancies. We will not be able to work to save the life of the mother if a fetus dies in the womb, DNCs will not be allowed.
We just had a friend who has a fetus that died in the womb and, in Texas, they are not allowed to get a DNC. So now they’re going to another state because they could get a septic infection from that fetus remaining in the womb. That makes no sense.
Those are not reasonable laws or reasonable healthcare measures. And I know, you know, I understand if people decide they don’t want to have an abortion and that’s perfectly within their realm and they should decide that. And I don’t think I would’ve ever had an abortion. But I cannot place myself in every situation. If I’d been raped, it would be very difficult to say, “Oh, I’m just gonna move forward” and keep and go through all I spent on our first child. I was in bed for 10 weeks on my left side because he had tried to come early.
So what is a… who’s going to pay for that?
I was able to live at my mom’s house. My husband was working. What if it’s a single mom with another child who will pay for that? When we’re forcing someone to go to term who will pay for all of that… So, we have got to look at this.
And [it] will also chipping away at the right to privacy also deals with same-sex marriage. It deals with interracial marriage. All of those were decided under the right to privacy. So, these are draconian efforts to limit the ability of people to live their lives and not have the shackles placed on them by the government.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Well, thank you again so much for sitting down with us, Patty.
Patty Pansing-Brooks, Congressional Candidate for the 1st Congressional District: Thank you. Bye. Take care of you guys. Good to meet you, Grant.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And that was Patty Pansing-Brooks, [a] congressional candidate meeting with us to discuss her platform for the upcoming special election.
Now, as we mentioned earlier, unfortunately, congressional candidate Mike Flood could not meet with us due to scheduling conflicts. However, if you would like to learn more about his platform, you can still visit mikefloodfornebraska.com to learn a little bit more about what his stances on these same issues are.
And as we wrap up today, I just want to remind you that voting for this special election will happen at your usual assigned polling place. Doors open at 8:00 a.m. and close at 8:00 p.m., just like normal. And, if you have any questions about that special election or want to check your voting status, you can do so at www.nebraska.gov/featured/elections-voting.
And we’re gonna go ahead and start switching gears. Now, last week we began sharing our Humanities Nebraska series, where we broadcast their event, “Weathering Uncertainty: Conversations about Climate in Nebraska.” We’ll be jumping right back into it after this quick break. So, stick with us to learn a little more.
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Amantha Dickman, News Director: And welcome back to “KZUM News”.
Now, last week we started listening to that Humanities Nebraska event, “Weathering Uncertainty: Conversations about Climate in Nebraska.”
Now, obviously, climate change has been a huge discussion topic [for] the last couple [of] years. And instead of me chattering at you incessantly for an hour, I’m going to let some professionals do the talking.
And a recap of that panel lineup. Joining Martha Schulski – the Nebraska state climatologist who is acting as the moderator for this lineup – we’ve got Hannah Birge, director of agriculture for the Nature Conservancy Nebraska. Following Birge is Jesse Bell, the director of water, climate and health programs at UNMC, and Josh Moening, mayor of Norfork. And, lastly, we have Mark McHargue, the president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau. Now enjoy today’s segment and we will follow up with you afterward.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: So we thought we would kick it off in terms of what concerns do we have about our changing climate and I’ve thought there was going to be some answers on the screen here that you all would fill in, in terms of the audience. Thinking about what concerns you most about extreme weather events and our changing climate.
So extreme weather, that’s got 41% of you. That’s a typical response that I’ve heard. Food security is up there. Climate justice, economic well-being, and public health.
So extreme weather tends to be high up on the list here. So, I’d just kind of like to go through each of you and if you just want to articulate, maybe it could be either personally or within the role that you serve, what concerns you most about climate change and maybe I’ll start with you, Mark.
Mark McHargue, President of the Nebraska Farm Bureau: Well, thank you, Martha.
Yeah. First of all, I really want to thank everyone for coming tonight. I’ve been looking forward to this discussion for quite a while because I think it really is a very important topic, that actually is probably more top of mind than we might think.
But, in agriculture – so both for myself as a fourth-generation farmer, my son as a fifth-generation farmer, and then representing agriculture across Nebraska and [the] United States as I sit on the national board – the thing that concerns me most within my operation and with those that I represent is, as we have the conversations about climate change, we in agriculture deal with it every day.
I mean, we wake up thinking about the weather. We go to bed thinking about the weather. And we’ve actually had to adjust to climate changes both warm and cold since we’ve been farming. And, so, it’s almost a daily occurrence that we have to, or certainly seasonal, that we have to make adjustments.
But the thing that concerns us, concerns me, is how we develop policy around this topic. And so I think it’s pretty easy for those that maybe aren’t in the business of producing food every day to have some really strong opinions. But when it comes to actually having to change practices on our farm to adjust, and we want to make sure that that is voluntary-based and incentive-based as we move forward, and farmers are very willing to make those adjustments. We’ve been adapting and mitigating for really a long time.
But I was out on the field the last several days, trying to keep track of weeds, the wind, and then the hail and rain. And it’s a real deal. It’s a real topic that we need to have a conversation about.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yeah. Good. Thanks, Mark.
Hannah Birge, Director of Agriculture for The Nature Conservancy-Nebraska: Hi everyone. It’s so wonderful to be with you all here tonight.
I actually have a somewhat similar answer for both people and ecosystems. When I think about climate change, I think about it as a threat multiplier and a capacity reducer. So, if I think about an ecosystem that’s already probably suffering from something like nitrogen deposition, that’s altering the flow of resources through that system, biodiversity loss, fragmentation: climate change is amplifying all of those threats. And, so, it’s not something we can look at separately from those drivers. It’s something that really is sort of part and parcel of them.
And I think about a farmer. I work with a lot of farmers and I think that it’s almost something similar. Farmers need options. They need capacity. They need the resources to be able to adjust and improve when extreme weather strikes and climate change narrows those options because they have less capacity to operate. And, so, it’s really, really similar in my mind. When I think about humans, when I think about natural systems, I think about making sure we have climate control. The capacity to adjust, to adapt, and to have options.
And what worries me about climate change is those options are being narrowed.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yes. Yeah. Kind of brings up the idea of planning for different scenarios. And so what’s… how does your scenario defined, Jesse?
Jesse Bell, Director of the Water, Climate, and Health Program at UNMC: I think that’s a great question. You know, when looking at it from my lens, and I’m one of the lenses up there with the public health side, I’m definitely concerned about the societal issues that are associated with climate change. You know?
As you’re very well aware of, we are in a changed climate. The climate that we live in today is different than the climate that we would’ve lived in 50 years ago. And our climate is continuing to change over the next 50, 100-plus-years. And those changes are having impacts on us today. And they’re gonna continue to have impacts on us in the future.
And one of those impacts is human and that’s a major concern. Cause I think a lot of times when we’ve talked about climate change in the past, we’ve framed it in that context of an environmental issue. And it is an environmental issue, but it’s a societal issue. And those societal impacts do relate back to our health in some capacity. And that’s where I’m concerned. And that’s some of the work that I focus on, is trying to address some of those issues, understand where our at-risk populations are, understand what are our vulnerabilities. And then making sure that we put things in place to reduce those risks and vulnerabilities so that we can save lives as we move forward.
And we see that extreme weather was the first one that came up and with extreme weather events, that is the most easy way to see the impacts on us. And we’ve seen the changes in extreme weather events. We have more frequent and intense extreme weather events now than we would’ve had in the past.
And we’re seeing those changes continue over time. And each time you have one of those extreme weather events, if it hits your community, there is an oppor-… or there is a possibility for a potential human health outcome. And there are impacts on our society, whether it’s, you know, the most severe – which is death, mortality – but there’s also all these indirect and delayed health impacts that are associated with this.
And we need to better understand that. We need to make sure that our communities understand that as well, so we can reduce those health impacts in the future.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yeah. Yeah. So that’s a good segue. So, you mentioned communities and we’ve got the mayor of kind of a regional hub in Northeast Nebraska.
Josh Moenning, Mayor of Norfolk: Sure. So, I appreciate the opportunity to be here.
Yeah. I said beforehand, we should have brought ferns up on stage. This seems like a good between two ferns, climate change edition.
But, yes. I would say what concerns me most is preparedness and adaptation. Preparedness for extreme weather events.
I look back over the last 10 years and we’ve experienced in that time, in my area, two 100-year floods, historic drought, [and] a couple of polar vortex thrown in there. So we’re living in the reality of this uncertainty and that puts a lot of stress on local governments. Norfork is in the position of having had to learn the hard way, having settled on the banks of the north fork of the Elkhorn river.
We face flooding through from the communities founding in the 1860s. It took a hundred years for the community to come together to say, “Okay, we need to invest in a flood control diversion channel that saves our community millions and millions of dollars and lost lives.” And it has over recent decades but, with the frequency of these events now, that reinvestment and that investment for communities that are not prepared for the impacts of these extreme weather events will increasingly become important to discuss and then come to solutions on. And then adaptation; how do we become part of the solution?
I think we’ll talk about that a little bit later. In my view, there are opportunities in Nebraska through clean energy development, reducing our carbon, and, with that, undertaking activities that contribute to the new economy.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yeah. Yeah. So I’m just curious. So extreme weather, it ranks up really high here. And when you talk about climate change in your area, do you find that extreme weather is a good segue? Is that a good way to reach people in terms of their understanding and talking about climate change?
Josh Moenning, Mayor of Norfolk: Yeah. I think a lot of this is about communicating it the right way. Talking about the realities of what we live in today. And people intuitively sense that we’ve seen [an] increased frequency of these extreme events and we just have to adapt, adapt.
It’s not about politics. It’s about adaptation.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Right, right. Yeah. And yeah, maybe I’d ask that same question to Mark. Is that something that, you know, you sit around the table or the coffee shop… is extreme weather? Does that rank pretty high for you or…
Mark McHargue, President of the Nebraska Farm Bureau: You know, it is interesting. I saw a study just this week that segment of consumers were polled and asked about climate change and how high that was on their worry list. And about 75% actually said that they’re worried or very worried about climate change. But it was interesting that when you drilled into that, the Midwest had actually a little bit lower score on their worry. And I think that’s interesting. And I think that would probably hold true, and probably certainly within the sector that I work with, to a degree because, again, we deal with it every day and we’re watching it.
But I think that… what the bigger conversation that we’re starting to have is how do we become the solution? How can we be a part of the solution?
And certainly, within agriculture, when you start talking about carbon and how we sequester carbon and how that can be part of the solution, there’s really some pretty incredible stories that how ag can really be a significant player in this conversation.
As we grow crops, we sequester carbon. We are part of the biofuels and ethanol and green energy. I think you put that all together. And I think the Midwest, even though may be slightly less concerned, can be one of the big drivers in tackling this conversation.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yeah. Yeah.
So some of you have mentioned vulnerabilities. I know you did, Jesse. Kind of from your perspective and what you’ve worked on, what do you see as some of the greatest vulnerabilities that we face in Nebraska?
So we’re… I’m kind of starting with the concerns and the problems, and then kind of transitioning later to what are these solutions. But, in terms of vulnerabilities, where do you think we…
Jesse Bell, Director of the Water, Climate, and Health Program at UNMC: Yeah, that’s a great point. And there’s multiple different aspects there, you know. We’re all vulnerable to the health impacts associated [with] climate change. We’re all vulnerable to climate change just in general. But certain populations, certain areas, are more at risk than others. And, from a grander standpoint, you know, when we talk about vulnerable or at-risk communities, we’re typically talking about low-income communities. We’re talking about children, [the] elderly, communities of people of color. And that’s a lot of times, the big focus area. And there’s obviously a number of reasons for that. And we’ve seen that for, you know, with the pandemic that sometimes those are the populations that are most impacted by some of these types of events.
But there’s another community that I think gets left out of that conversation a lot. And that’s rural communities and there’s a variety of different reasons for that.
When I’m looking at it from a health perspective, rural communities, you know, the access to care is a big issue. And, so, getting to a hospital and getting to a clinic or whatever is a lot more difficult in rural Nebraska than it is if you live in Omaha. And if you have something like the 2019 floods that happen – where you saw major destruction throughout the state, you saw a loss of infrastructure, you saw roads being out for a long period of time… what took me what was usually about a three- hour drive to get up to my parents in Bloomfield, all of a sudden became like a five-hour drive. And when we’re talking about health impacts, that matters… between being able to get there quickly or getting there slowly. And you can talk about it from the concept of getting to dialysis centers and other issues that people potentially have.
And, so, I think that’s one of the big issues is, you know, we need to make sure that we frame that and have people understand that rural communities are affected by this in a variety of different ways. And so that’s one of those levels of vulnerability. And we face those issues all across the state, whether it’s the rural communities that potentially get impacted.
You know, one of the stories I always tell is when that 2019 flooding happened. And it was in March of 2019. I remember the floods were taking place and communities were responding and we were doing things at UNMC to help with communities and also help with messaging. But then, all of a sudden, about a week later – maybe not quite a week, but close to a week or so later – some of my colleagues from around the country started contacting me and they’re like, “I heard about this flooding. I hope you’re okay.” And I was like, “well, if I wasn’t, that would’ve been a week ago.” Like we’re already in the middle of this.
And I think that’s one of the issues that we have here in the central part of the United States. Sometimes we’re overlooked when it comes to some of these impacts. That was the costliest inland flooding event in U.S. history.
And it was just kind of more of a blip on the national radar, as far as what it actually meant to this state. And we see those types of events one after another, you know. Whether it’s extreme heat events – we just were in the middle of one you know – flooding, drought, which we have out in the Western part of Nebraska.
All of these things have direct impacts on us regularly. But we just… sometimes we don’t always get the attention that some of the coastal areas get. And I think that’s one of the issues as well. And we have a number of different issues across the state. We have one of the highest asthma-related mortality rates in the United States. And so, you know, that’s for one example.
And we know that things like the growing season for ragweed pollen is increasing. Which… that can potentially exacerbate asthma-related issues. And these are just like, you know, there’s a number of different health issues.
I’m sure we can talk about it more as we move forward. I could sit up here and talk for quite a while about this. And I won’t capitalize, but yeah. We have a number of vulnerabilities, a number of at-risk issues within the state. And we need to make sure that we’re trying to understand those so that we can help prepare and better our communities for the future as well.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yeah. Yeah. You know. So I’m thinking back to the comment that you made earlier about climate change being a threatened multiplier. And I’m just curious, like from the Nature Conservancy perspective, are there vulnerability assessments that are done with the group or how is vulnerability measured or tracked?
Hannah Birge, Director of Agriculture for The Nature Conservancy-Nebraska: One thing that we’ve been working on is called our resilient and connected landscapes. And when you look at an ecosystem and you look at the species there, they have certain envelopes of climate that they like to live in, where they’re gonna thrive. And as it gets a little bit too hot for them, some of their options are to go north to migrate. Or to go up a mountainside in Nebraska. You probably have to go north [unintelligible] all options. And when you see that sort of northward shift at times, they bump up against barriers. And that could be a physical barrier, like a road. It could be a river, depending on what type of species you are. And, so, we really try to look at where in the United States, we need to actually build better ecological connectivity.
And one great example is the Sandhills in Nebraska. If you look at a United States map of where we really need to focus our efforts on building that connectivity, the Sandhills lights up. And the beautiful thing is the Sandhills is, for the most part, an intact grassland. It is facing threats. We have things like Eastern Red Cedar, which is a native tree but it’s highly invasive if there’s not enough fire on the landscapes, We’re seeing more Eastern Red Cedar’s sort of create those barriers and really start to, you know, curtail the ability of those species to migrate.
We also have things like increasing roads and development. You see some, you know, in the Eastern and the flanks of the Sandhills. You’ll sometimes see sort of lands, flipping back and forth between cropland and grassland. And that can create sort of barriers that are there one year and not the next. So, a lot of our work is focused on how do we work with landowners in the Sandhills to manage their lands, both for agricultural production but also that ecological connectivity. Because the good news is, in a lot of cases, those are one and the same.
So that’s really sort of a, you know, national scale perspective. But then also how it’s really touching down in Nebraska and how we’re working as the Nature Conservancy with landowners.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yeah. Yeah. Interesting. So, mentioning the Sandhills and the influx of Red Cedar, and I think about [the] aforestation of the landscape.
And, so, thinking 30 years into the future, you know, what does the Sandhills of Nebraska look like? It’s gonna be hotter. It’s going to be… our precipitation is gonna shift toward wetter in the winter and drier in the summer. And there’ll be more evaporation. And I don’t know if you can, you know, could speak to that or just kind of, from your perspective, what does that ecosystem look like?
Hannah Birge, Director of Agriculture for The Nature Conservancy-Nebraska: So, grasslands to persist as grasslands need fire; fire and grazing and grassland management to keep grass; grass and Eastern Red Cedars will slowly start coming in. And when they’re about knee high and you burn that grassland full of little Cedars, it’s not very scary. I’ve been there. Like you could outwalk it, even if you were a very slow walker.
But at some threshold, those Cedars get big enough and densely packed enough that if there is a fire, it is dangerous. It can get out of control really, really quickly.
In 2012, during our droughts, our Sandhills flagship preserve – called the Niobrara Valley Preserve – a significant portion of it burns because of that. And it was a true-blue emergency wildfire. And lots of buildings were lost. Lots of property was damaged. And, so, we’re seeing sort of this strange shift from grassland fires that are manageable, that maintain the ecosystem, that maintain the grass for ranchers to produce more cattle, shifting towards these systems that don’t really provide those ecosystem services and present a pretty significant fire risk.
And, with climate change, we’re expecting to see more years like 2012. And, so, the combination of sort of those larger growth Cedar forests that we’re seeing, in filling the grasslands with increasingly hot and intense summer events, really could start making Nebraska feel a little bit more like the west when it comes to wildfire threat. Which also, in addition to sort of the ecological damage that can be incurred, has significant health impacts as well.
And I guess the last sort of happy note of this anecdote is that when you have Cedars that are sort of that knee-high or shorter and you burn, it does go back to grass. When we have those mature, dense, closed-canopy Cedar forests, you burn them. And what you have left are Cedar skeletons, and it’s not clear that we’re actually gonna be able to reverse to grasslands.
And so that’s another reason why we have a team at the Nature Conservancy that works… that goes from private land to private land and actually provides the service of controlled burns to manage those Cedars. So, we are working and that program is growing. It’s really exciting to see. We’ve seen a pretty significant culture shift in the Sandhills from ‘burning is maybe something I do on my own land, I’m not quite sure, I’m a little skeptical of it.” to “I… maybe I’ll manage my Cedars elsewhere too.” This is about collective action. We need to link arms and we’re gonna team up with rural fire departments, [and] other landowners in the Nature Conservancy to get that done.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yeah. Yeah. So, I wanted to go back to the municipal perspective and, just in terms of vulnerabilities, is that something that is assessed systematically? Or… yeah, I know you’ve got some background in clean energy. And, so, is that kind of a way that you’re tackling that?
Josh Moenning, Mayor of Norfolk: I take it from more of a general policy perspective.
I think being slow to act and to react as a vulnerability in itself. I think, at the state level, we’re among a minority of states that does not have a climate action plan. And that’s not an end-all in itself. Right. But it is an important policy framework to start a discussion and start the process of… engaging state officials with local government leaders in the conversation about how do we better plan for this uncertainty when it comes to our weather events.
I think we kind of get in a habit here because we’re not part of a coastal area. Because there’s not necessarily the media attention you were talking to on some of these bigger weather events to say, “well, it’s not something we need to deal with immediately here.” But I think it is.
And I think it needs to be elevated in terms of its importance among policymakers, both at the state and local levels. And that’s not to say there’s a vacuum in that discussion right now. Cities are required to have certain plans in place for emergency preparedness. But it doesn’t really reach into this discussion of the higher frequency of extreme weather events that we’re seeing right now.
And, so, I think a little more proactive engagement in the planning process would be helpful both at the state and local levels.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a good point. So Nebraska does not have a climate action plan. So you bring up a good point of kind of local governance. How much comes from the top down and how much comes from the bottom up? It just… in terms of either adaptation or mitigation and kind of from a city perspective, [what] do you feel that the most successful and longest-lasting efforts would be?
Josh Moenning, Mayor of Norfolk: Bottom-up, I think from the local level. Yes.
But I think it has to be a partnership. And I think there has to be an avenue of support created because we’re talking about, you know, cities of a certain size are gonna be able to accommodate and be a little more flexible in reaction to some of these things than smaller towns and certainly villages.
And, so, there does need to be an attitude of ‘we’re in this together’ and we need to have the discussion together on how we help bring about the resources that we’re going to need to be prepared.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yeah. Yeah. Good point. Yeah. So I’m curious, kind of from an agriculture perspective and from a long-time operator, and kind of that thinking about what is at the federal level versus what is done at the on-farm level and incentivizing action, you know, toward mitigation and adaptation at what’s kind of your feel? And how much would you like to see a top-down versus kind of producer-led transition to different practices? Maybe?
Mark McHargue, President of the Nebraska Farm Bureau: Yeah, I think it’s really important that, again, as I said, the actions are voluntary and incentive-based. Because I think, in general, if you’re trying to get people to do things… I think there has to be some sort of compensation to get people to try new things, to try to get them maybe outta their comfort zone.
And, in Nebraska, where we’re pretty unique in that 97% of our ground is privately owned. And [the] majority of it is actually ag-based. So, if you take off from here and drive to Colorado, or from Kansas to South Dakota, aside from a couple of minutes, if you look out to the right and to the left, you’ll see agriculture. And, so, when we’re talking about such a significant sector and part of our land base, it becomes really important that when we do deal with policies that we’re making them from a scientific base, from solid information, and then that it’s voluntary incentive-based.
And, so, I think one area that I have experience in is that I think there’s a sediment out there that, from a climate standpoint, going to a more organic system of farming would actually be more beneficial to the climate. Now I’ve been organic farming on about half of our acres for seven or eight years. And my experience has been that it has a much higher carbon footprint. It mainly is because it takes almost four times the amount of fuel because now we are mechanically tilling the ground. You have to till the ground to keep track the weeds. One of the things that, when we start talking about carbon sequestration, is that you actually reduce tillage well in organic. You actually go the opposite direction.
And, so, when you have people making policy that maybe don’t really understand modern farming practices and that we have actually cut our emissions dramatically per pound of greenhouse gases… I’m in pork production since [the] early 1990s. We’ve increased pork production almost 77%. The amount of pork that we produce while at the same time reducing on our greenhouse gas emissions by almost 23%.
So, we’ve grown dramatically [in] production, we’ve reduced dramatically our greenhouse gas emissions. It’s the same in our corn and our soybeans and in our beef, that we’re doing a great job of actually producing.
I think one of our vulnerabilities is food insecurity. We’re actually providing the world with food at the same time, a dramatic reducing [of] our environmental footprint. And I think that’s the kind of message that policymakers have to understand as they’re actually making policy that kind of trickles down to the farm.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yeah. So I wanna get back to kind of these health risks. So, Jesse, what are some specific steps that we could take to reduce our… make sure we have positive health outcomes and reduce our risk?
Jesse Bell, Director of the Water, Climate, and Health Program at UNMC: That… yeah. A lot of things And one, going back to it, climate action plan and having leadership saying that this is an issue and that strategically we can tackle this issue from multiple different sectors and multiple different perspectives.
And, you know, there is the mitigation piece that everybody talks about, like reducing carbon emissions for the future. And I 100% agree with that. But there’s also that adaptation piece. And, because we’re in a changed climate, we need to make sure that we’re doing things that are actually having [a] benefit to improving the lives and improving the livelihood of the individuals that are in the middle of this changing climate.
Because if we’re not addressing those issues now and as they continue to get worse in the future, they’re… those impacts are only gonna be more apparent. And they’re already fairly apparent right now.
And, so, one of the ways that we can do this is making sure that our public health officials throughout the state are engaged in the conversation and making sure that public health and healthcare is at the table when we’re talking about climate change. Because they have a vested stake in this.
I mean, you look at what UNMC Nebraska medicine is doing. We’ve been working on education for our healthcare professionals and also for our public health professionals that are graduating from our school to make sure that they understand that climate change is an issue because climate change is one of the great challenges when it comes to human health moving forward.
And, so, making sure we have them engaged in the conversation, making sure that we have climate action plans, and we have opportunities to look for improving our communities around us.
There’s a lot of communities out there that have done a lot of investment. And things like extreme heat… extreme heat likely kills more people in the United States than any other climate or weather related. And that’s because we have extreme heat events here. We probably have multiple that we’re gonna have. They’re extreme heat events all across the United States. And, so, some communities are already actively engaging around this and they’re trying to understand, and they’re having plans put in place to try to reduce health impacts.
And, so, making sure that like… outdoor workers are getting water and taking breaks at the appropriate time, looking at the populations that are most at risk in their cities and in their communities, and making sure resources are available for them. For example, cooling centers.
And this is where people can go to get away from the heat, especially if you don’t have air conditioning or if you’re a low-income individual. Like… that’s a resource that’s available. But if those cooling centers aren’t in the right place, that’s just not a good fit, right? And there’s a potential for human health impact. And there’s a way of reducing that.
And then there’s other things. They make sure that there’s shade over bus stops for people that are using public transportation. Little things like that can have a huge impact. But we need to make sure that we’re seeing this from a broader perspective and from an institutional perspective. Because once government officials and once other individuals are taking this seriously, then we can look at all these potential risk factors for all of our different populations that we have in our state and making sure that we’re protecting those populations now and doing the things that we can to mitigate and reduce health impacts. You know, whether it’s the flooding, drought, or heat waves… each one of those has impacts on our health. And there are things that we can do to reduce those health impacts.
So if we can start doing that now, we’re setting ourself up for fewer impacts in the future or reducing the impacts in the future.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yeah. Yeah. So you listed off some some specific things that we can do and there are… so with climate change and increasing our resilience to extreme events.
There’s so many different solutions. There’s not just one solution. There’s many, many different solutions.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And that’s all we have for today, but we’re gonna keep learning from those climate change professionals, so, check back next week for that next segment on the Humanities Nebraska event “Weathering Uncertainty: Conversations about Climate in Nebraska.
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