3rd annual Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum

Photos by KC McGinnis

Nick Fetty | October 9, 2015

More than thirty scientists, students, and educators attended the third annual Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum at Des Moines University on Friday.

Iowa State University agronomy professor Brian Hornbuckle was the first to present, discussing ways to teach about the effects of greenhouse gas.

“The greenhouse effect is such an essential part of climate change [and] we need to make sure we teach about it correctly,” said Hornbuckle.

Hornbuckle teaches Introduction to Weather and Climate at Iowa State, a roughly 300-student lecture consisting mostly of freshmen. He said his focus is to dispel incorrect notions that his students may have about the greenhouse effect.

“The greenhouse effect is both a good and a bad thing,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able to live here if we didn’t have the greenhouse effect and I think it’s surprising for students to hear that. It’s a good thing and it’s essential for life but too much of a good thing can be bad.”

One of Horkbuckle’s teaching techniques is through the use of song. He changed the lyrics of Journey’s “Wheel in the Sky” to “The radiators in the sky keep on burning” as a catchy way to get through to his students.

David Courard-Hauri, an associate professor of environmental science and policy, discussed his Science and Policy of Climate course at Drake University. The course focuses on the intersection of science, social, and political issues in regard to climate.

“The question is how do we teach scale and feasibility?” asked Courard-Hauri.

One component of the course is a role-playing exercise in which students take on the role of a different country or interest group and how they would approach climate-related policy. Students use quantitative data to come up with policy suggestions which helps them to identify the scale of certain measures as well as the potential costs and costs savings of such measures.

“The idea is to encourage them to look for win-win scenarios,” said Courard-Hauri. “I feel they get a better sense of just doing a little good isn’t enough to get us where we want to go and that’s the main idea I try to get across.”

Grinnell College political science professor Wayne Moyer discussed his Applied Policy Analysis Climate Change course, which is composed of about 20 undergraduates. Students are required to read two books: Why We Disagree About Climate Change by Mike Hulme and Global Warming Gridlock by David G. Victor. The courses focuses on the intersection of science, economics, and politics. Moyer emphasized that scientific research is crucial for policy change.

“When you don’t know things exactly that creates policy problems,” he said.

The course also focuses on obstacles for implementing policies to address climate change, such as reasons for why people disagree about the issue usually involving their values, beliefs, and fears. One assignment requires students to persuade a skeptic that climate change is real. Moyer said that one of his students, who now serves on a republican congressional staff in Washington D.C., was the lone skeptic in his class and that this student brought an interesting perspective to the course.

“He listened to people on the other side and contributed lot. It was real asset,” said Moyer.

The morning part of the forum was rounded out with a series of shorter presentations. University of Iowa chemical engineering professor Charlie Stainer discussed his upper-level undergrad course, Green Chemical and Energy Technologies. University of Dubuque environmental chemistry professor Adam Hoffman discussed carbon dioxide and ocean acidification and effective techniques for teaching these concepts to students. The morning session concluded with a presentation from DMACC representatives who discussed ways in which their campuses have taken measures to reduce their carbon footprint.

Representatives from eight different Iowa colleges and universities attended the event including University of Iowa, Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa, Drake University, University of Dubuque, Grinnell College, Des Moines Area Community College, and Southwest Community College.

Iowa Energy Plan seeking applicants for Working Groups

Iowa leads the nation in percentage of electricity generated by wind energy at 28.5 percent. (Tom Corser/Wikimedia)
Iowa leads the nation in percentage of electricity generated by wind energy at 28.5 percent. (Tom Corser/Wikimedia)
KC McGinnis | October 8, 2015

The Iowa Energy Plan, an initiative to assess current and future energy demand in the state, is now taking applications for Working Groups that can help review data and provide input on Iowa’s energy future.

The Iowa Energy Plan was kicked off earlier this week Iowa Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds and Pella Corp. CEO Pat Meyer. The plan will help set state priorities in areas like biofuels, renewable energy, and energy policy using data collected by two consultants announced at the kickoff meeting, Inova Energy Group and Batelle Memorial Institute. As of 2014, Iowa was one of only 12 states to not have a state energy plan.

State energy plans collect data to create a state energy profile while analyzing market trends and predicting future challenges and opportunities. Working Groups are a way for these plans to collect input from people with energy expertise who are willing to participate in monthly working group calls and provide input on energy goals. To apply to be part of a Working Group, click here. Applications are due November 13, 2015.

The Iowa Energy Plan will also include a series of public forums, locations to be announced at a later date.

Initiative brings local food to Casey’s stores in Iowa

Soybeans grow on a farm in northwest Iowa. (TumblingRun/Flickr)
Soybeans grow on a farm in northwest Iowa. (TumblingRun/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | October 7, 2015

Casey’s General Store’s renowned breakfast pizza could be tasting a little fresher thanks to a new local initiative.

The Iowa Food & Family Project (Iowa FFP) has announced it will work with Iowa farmers to supply locally-grown meat, eggs, and cheese to Casey’s General Stores across the state as part of a program known as “Homegrown Food, Homegrown Values.” The initiative aims to not only benefit local economies but also have a positive environmental impact.

“The Iowa Food and Family Project is all about letting consumers know where our food comes from and what farmers do to grow and raise it,” said Iowa FFP Coordinator Lindsey Foss. “We’ve been cultivating these conversations since 2011 about what farmers do to produce safe, quality food and what they do for the environment, and giving back to their communities. And that all embodies their hometown values which is the background on this campaign.”

Casey’s – an Ankeny, Iowa-based company – is the country’s fifth-largest chain of pizza kitchens with nearly 2,000 stores in 14 states, including more than 500 in Iowa.

In addition to Homegrown Food, Homegrown Values, the Iowa FFP also sponsors the Iowa Games as well as Live Healthy Iowa. Iowa FFP also works closely with organizations such as the Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Iowa Soybean Association, and the Iowa Egg Council.

Fish kills reported across the state

An example of a large fish kill in California (Bruce Evans / Flickr)
An example of a large fish kill in California (Bruce Evans / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | October 6, 2015

Fish kills stretched across more than 20 miles of Iowa waterways last week.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources first reported on September 28 that a massive fish kill was spotted in Stoney Creek northwest of Spencer. After finding elevated ammonia levels in the creek, the DNR later concluded that egg washing liquid from Sunrise Farms near May City had been dumped into a corn field that flowed into Stoney Creek, leading to an 18.2 mile spill that killed more than 160,000 fish.

Another spill along Buchanan County Creek was traced to a hog confinement where below-building manure pits had overflowed, leading to a two mile fish kill. Spilled grease from a food processor led to another small spill west of Osceola in Clarke County.

DNR officials said fish can be at greater risk this time of year as manure pits begin filling up. DNR environmental specialist Sue Miller reminded farmers to check their manure levels frequently to avoid additional spills.

The string of fish kills affected mostly minnows and chubs, with those lost in Stoney Creek valued at more than $28,000.

On The Radio – Young scholars key to future success of CGRER

Dr. Peter Thorne joined the University of Iowa faculty in 1988 and has served as a member of CGRER since its founding in 1990. (University of Iowa)
October 5, 2015

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at veteran CGRER member Dr. Peter Thorne and how he thinks recruiting young scholars will be key to the future success of the center.

Transcript: CGRER 25th Anniversary Member Profile: Peter Thorne

The University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research – or CGRER – celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. One veteran member thinks that recruiting young scholars will be crucial to the center’s success in the future.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Peter Thorne serves as head of the Occupational and Environmental Health Department in the UI’s College of Public Health. Professor Thorne joined the UI faculty in 1988 and much of his research has involved toxicology ways that environmental pollution affects public health, particularly children.

Professor Thorne has been a member of CGRER since it was founded in 1990. As a veteran member, he thinks that intelligent, young researchers will be key to the continued success of CGRER.

THORNE: “A number of us who have been involved the whole time are getting a little grayer and not getting any younger so transitioning to the next leadership is going to be important. There’s no shortage of talent it’s just a matter of developing the talent and seeing that they’re nurtured and can take on these roles.”

Professor Thorne also serves as the chair of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board.

For more information about Professor Thorne and his work, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

CGRER 25th Anniversary Profiles: Dick Baker

KC McGinnis | October 2, 2015

Dr. Dick Baker thanks CGRER for giving him a chance to “cross-pollinate” with other researchers.

When CGRER was formed Dr. Baker, professor emeritus of Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of Iowa, was already working with a wide variety of scientists from geology, ecology and paleoecology, but with little structure. Dr. Baker looks at fossils of plants from the distant past – tens of thousands of years ago – to understand how humans’ current carbon dioxide output corresponds to those time periods. But for similar carbon dioxide levels, you have to go back even further in time: millions of years.

“Back to when palms were growing in the arctic.”

“There was no real gathering of these groups into one center,” he said. “So when CGRER formed I jumped in.”

Dr. Baker’s CGRER involvement allowed him to make contacts he could use in further research, something he found lacking at other institutions.

“So often you get people working in their own little fields, and there’s not any cross-pollination.”

Dr. Baker especially noted his collaborations with UI biologist Diana Horton, who ran the herbarium at the UI.

Dr. Baker said he’s “not too optimistic, but not too pessimistic” about the current debate on climate change, but he’s happy to see research centers like CGRER providing ways to group together multiple disciplines.

“I think this is maybe the widest group that I know of,” he said of CGRER.

Older school buses now eligible for replacement

(dhendrix73 / Flickr)
(dhendrix73 / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | October 1, 2015

New funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should lead to cleaner school buses.

The EPA today announced the availability of about $7 million in funds for school bus fleet owners to replace or retrofit older buses. Owners can apply to have up to 10 buses replaced and 10 retrofitted, with larger operations having the option to submit multiple applications.

The funding comes as a result of the Diesel Emission Reduction Act, now in its third iteration. It’s an effort to restore or replace older, diesel-powered engines, which emit larger quantities of pollution and toxins than newer buses. The focus on school buses will hopefully lead to a reduction in children’s exposure to toxins from diesel emissions. Buses dated 2006 or older are eligible for replacement under the program.