Rural Life Conference looks at climate change


The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff hosted the 57th annual Rural Life Conference on Friday morning at the Pine Bluff Convention Center with the theme ‘Climate Change and Its Effects on Water Resources in Arkansas.’

The half-day event brought farmers and ranchers from throughout the region together with government officials and academics to discuss the latest ideas in agriculture and agribusiness featuring prominent speakers and panel discussions.

Waste Management

Calvin E. Booker Sr., corporate vice president of public affairs for the Southern Group of Waste Management Inc., and president of the UAPB/AM&N National Alumni Association, spoke at the conference luncheon.

“Before God made man he made a garden for us,” Booker said to open his remarks. “We thank you farmers for our food, clothing and shelter that you have provided to us as an extension of our Creator. The Rural Life Conference has been special in my life because my father, who will be 90 in September, I believe attended the first one.”

Booker joked that he was a bit puzzled at being asked to speak at the conference.

“I’ve had some trouble figuring out why I am here today,” Booker said. “I mean I’m a garbage man, so what does that have to do with agriculture? Was I asked because I am president of the Alumni Association? If so how does that fit in with agriculture? Was I asked because of my father?

“Well, just to prove that I was asked to be here, this is the letter I received from [interim UAPB Chancellor] Dr. [Calvin] Johnson,” Booker said as he held up the document.

“But seriously, as garbage men we are very involved in the environment,” Booker said. “Waste Management is very concerned about the environment. We took an inventory of our greenhouse gas emissions in 2009 and found that our carbon footprint was 23,664,677 metric tons. Waste Management is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and we have already reached our first goal.”

Booker said Waste Management is working to increase the efficiency of its fleet of trucks.

“We have been able to increase efficiency by 15 percent just by changing the routing of our trucks,” Booker said. “We also are using alternative fuels and even looking at the way that we design our trucks.”

Booker said Waste Management is the largest waste company in the world and has used that status to turn methane gas from its landfills into electricity to power 1.1 million homes.

“Our goal is to double that by 2020,” Booker said. “We have a plant in San Antonio and we are building another one in Philadelphia that mixes garbage with plastic waste to create pellets to burn for fuel in place of coal. We manage over 10 million tons of recyclables every year.”

Booker said climate change plays a part in determining where to locate a landfill in that the assessment must include a site’s flooding history.

A challenge

Booker challenged the audience to speak with young people about the benefits of receiving a degree in agriculture.

“So many of our young people don’t have a clue about what getting a degree in agriculture can do for them and for the environment,” Booker said. “I was passing through the airport in Atlanta recently and I heard somebody call my name. He was also a UAPB graduate and he introduced me to a young lady who is the top Department of Homeland Security agricultural inspector at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. And you know what? She also graduated from UAPB with a degree in agriculture.”

Booker said it is critical that as many young people as possible in the area be educated about the career possibilities that are opened up by an agriculture degree.

“Go back to your communities, to your churches and be an ambassador for us,” Booker said.

“Why do I do what I do for this institution?” Booker asked rhetorically. “I guess it’s because I am my father’s son.”

Climate change in Arkansas

The conference included a panel discussion entitled “Possible Effects of Climate Change on Arkansas Water and Fisheries Resources.”

James C. Petersen, with the United States Geological Service Arkansas Water Science Center in Little Rock, provided an overview of possible climate change outcomes and the effect on local ecosystems.

“The consensus among scientists on climate change is that there is a great deal of uncertainty as to what will happen and that there will be surprises along the way,” Petersen said. “We have already seen that over the past 30 years there has been a three- to five-day decrease around Arkansas in the annual number of freezing days.”

Petersen provided a PowerPoint presentation of scientific computer models that as a whole show that over the next 100 years in Arkansas average temperatures will go up and average rainfall, especially in the spring and summer months, will go down.

Future hydrological effects in Arkansas include higher overall water temperatures, a decrease in the recharging rate of groundwater supplies, and a decrease in the rate of the discharge of groundwater to surface water, according to Petersen.

“There will be less stream flow, warmer water, less reaereation [replenishment of oxygen] of water, less capacity for assimilation of organic material and a low amount of dissolved oxygen, all of which will have a negative effect on aquatic life in Arkansas waterways,” Petersen said.

Michael Eggleton, associate professor and undergraduate coordinator for the UAPB Aquaculture and Fisheries Center, presented a case study on the effects of climate change on largemouth bass in Arkansas.

“Largemouth bass are more likely to be affected by climate change,” Eggleton said. “This is important in Arkansas because f40 percent of the fishing in the state is for black bass, which includes largemouth bass and smallmouth bass. It has a $350 million impact on the Arkansas economy.”

Eggleton said that results of research conducted by his team in the years 2004, 2005 and 2010, show the largemouth bass taking longer to mature in the latest testing year.

“Between 2004/2005 and 2010 it took the largemouth bass another year to reach legal maturity, which is a big deal when you know that 95 percent of these fish only live to the age of six,” Eggleton said.