Central College recognized for efficiency efforts

Earlier this month Central College was presented with a check from Alliant Energy. From left: Bill Northup, vice president for advancement; Peggy Fitch, vice president of student development, Mark Putnam, Central College president; David Vollmar, Alliant Energy key account manager; Janine Fontana, operations manager and Mike Lubberden, Central College director of facilities planning and management. (Central College News)
Earlier this month Central College was presented with a check from Alliant Energy for energy efficiency effort on campus. From left: Bill Northup, vice president for advancement; Peggy Fitch, vice president of student development, Mark Putnam, Central College president; David Vollmar, Alliant Energy key account manager; Janine Fontana, operations manager and Mike Lubberden, Central College director of facilities planning and management. (Central College News)

Nick Fetty | December 26, 2014

Earlier this month Iowa’s Central College received a $18,969 rebate from Alliant Energy for energy efficiency projects on campus.

The college recently installed new insulation in Gaass residence hall as well as an energy-efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system in the Maytag Student Center. Both of these projects were financed with assistance from Alliant Energy’s custom rebate and new construction energy programs.

These efforts are expected to save the college nearly 25,000 therms of natural gas annually. Additionally, these efforts will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 132 metric tons each year, the equivalent of removing about 28 percent of passenger vehicles from Iowa roadways.

In 2003, Central’s Vermeer Science Center was the first building on an Iowa campus to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification after then president David Roe signed the Talloires Declaration on sustainability . The college is also working toward eventually powering its entire vehicle fleet using photovoltaics. Earlier this year Central became the fourth school in Iowa to join the Alliance for Resilient Campuses which aims to adapt to the challenges of climate change and promote sustainability.

Central College is a private liberal arts college with 1,386 students located in Pella, Iowa.

Study: Climate change expected to hamper wheat yields

A wheat field in Southern Saskatchewan, Canada. (Evan Leeson/Flickr)
A wheat field in Southern Saskatchewan, Canada. (Evan Leeson/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | December 23, 2014

Rising global temperatures caused by climate change is expected to reduce wheat yields according to a recent report.

The report “Rising temperatures reduce global wheat production” was published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change. The study’s lead author is Senthold Asseng, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Florida.

The researchers found that wheat yields are expected to be reduced by 6 percent for every 1 degree Celsius the temperature rises. Estimates show that global temperatures are expected to rise between 2 and 5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. This temperature change and its affect on wheat harvesting is expected to have a significant impact on food demand as the world population may be as high as 12 billion by 2050.

Wheat is used to produce a wide range of goods from bread to beer and is grown in nearly every state in the country. Roughly 70 percent of wheat grown in the U.S. is used for food products, 22 percent is used for animal feed and residuals, and the remaining eight percent is used for seed.

Kansas leads the country in wheat production followed closely by North Dakota. Iowa produced 1,092,000 bushels of wheat in 2013 which amounted to less than one percent of wheat production nationwide. Wheat was the primary crop planted by early settlers in Iowa and the Hawkeye State ranked second nationwide in wheat production prior to 1870.

New app helps find sustainable groceries

Items from a typical produce aisle ( katiescrapbooklady / Flickr)
Items from a typical produce aisle ( katiescrapbooklady / Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a new app that looks to help consumers identify healthy and sustainable foods in the grocery aisle. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

A new mobile app aims to help consumers find the healthiest and most sustainably-grown foods at the grocery store.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

In October, the Environmental Working Group – a non-profit that advocates for environmental and public health issues – launched “Food Scores,” a food ratings database and mobile app. The database has rated more than 80,000 products using three criteria: nutrition such as caloric and fat content, ingredient concerns like hormones and antibiotics, and processing which includes the amount of artificial ingredients a product contains.

With the most emphasis placed on the food’s nutritional content and the least on processing, the app compiles these factors, then gives each product a rating between 1 and 10, with 1 being the healthiest and 10 the least nutritional foods.

The Environmental Working Group is headquartered in Washington D.C. and has a regional office in Ames, Iowa.

For more information about the mobile app and a link to the database, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerrry Schnoor.

sources: http://iowapublicradio.org/post/apps-aim-guide-you-sustainable-food-whatever-means; http://www.ewg.org/foodscores/content/user-guide

UI students report on Canadian tar sands for final projects

Students in the UI's Environmental Justice course created a blog for their final project which focused on the Canadian tar sands (Iowa Tar Sands Project)
The header for the Iowa Tar Sands Project blog (Iowa Tar Sands Project)

Nick Fetty | December 19, 2014

Students in the University of Iowa’s Environmental Justice course have created a blog so they can publicly share their final papers about the Canadian tar sands.

The blog – Iowa Tar Sands Project – features nearly two dozen reports on various aspects of the tar sands industry ranging from environmental impacts to social issues. One student (yours truly) produced a video documentary focusing on energy alternatives including efforts being taken in Iowa and specifically on the University of Iowa campus.

Kyle Vint – a PhD student in Communication Studies – examined how donations to public universities affect research, with specific focus on the tar sands. He highlighted a $6 million donation that the University of Louisville is expected to receive from the the Charles Koch Foundation and Papa John’s CEO,  John Schnatter. Charles Koch and his brother David have also made massive donations to George Mason University ($23 million) and Florida State University ($2.8 million) which some have criticized, citing that it jeopardizes the integrity of objective research and unfairly impacts administrative decisions. Vint points out that the Koch brothers are “are the largest foreign lease holder of lands slated for tar sands development in Canada” and that “[they] are financially invested in the outcomes of major policy decisions concerning tar sands development.”

The Environmental Justice course is taught by visiting professor Dr. Nicholas A. Brown and is offered by the UI’s Department of Geographical and Sustainable Sciences.

Iowa’s biodiesel and wind energy sectors expected to benefit from recently passed tax breaks

Iowa generated 27 percent of its electricity from wind energy last year which ranked highest in the country. (Samir Luther/Flickr)
Iowa generated 27 percent of its electricity from wind energy last year which ranked highest in the country. (Samir Luther/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | December 18, 2014

A $41-billion package of tax breaks passed by the U.S. Senate earlier this week is expected to benefit Iowa’s biodiesel and wind energy industries.

The House passed the legislation (378 to 46) earlier this month with bipartisan support and after the Senate’s approval (76 to 16) it now awaits President Obama’s signature. Congress was unable to agree upon a two-year deal so the Tax Increase Prevention Act will extend 55 different tax credits and extensions through 2015.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) – who also serves as chairman for Senate Finance Committee – was critical of Congress for not passing the legislation sooner citing it does not provide “nearly enough time for the important provisions in this package to catalyze growth among businesses or to support families in a meaningful way. It’s not enough time to put a dent in veterans’ unemployment, to start a clean energy project and hire new workers, or to help a student who’s on the fence about whether to enroll in college next semester.”

Both of Iowa’s senator’s – Chuck Grassley (R) and the retiring Tom Harkin (D) – signed the legislation though Grassley also expressed disapproval with its “last minute approach.” With Republicans taking control of the senate for the upcoming session, Grassley said “My only hope is that in the new Congress we can make strides toward putting some certainty back in the tax code.”

President Obama is expected to sign the legislation later this week.

UI reminds students to “Power Down” over break

A flyer for the University of Iowa’s Power Down campaign. Download here.
KC McGinnis | December 17, 2014

With thousands of students and faculty finishing up the Fall semester, the University of Iowa is reminding the UI community to “Power Down and Unplug Over Break.”

The UI Office of Sustainability has forwarded a checklist to remind students, faculty and staff what electrical items need to be unplugged over winter break in order to reduce the university’s carbon footprint. Appliances like microwaves, LCD screens, printers and small refrigerators can use up substantial energy even when turned off, adding unnecessary expenses and increasing carbon emissions from power plants. The UI recommends these appliances and devices be unplugged, rather than turned off, whenever possible.

The UI also recommends turning down the heat over break, listing tips for cutting down on energy use, like opening south-facing blinds during the day. Doors and windows should remain closed whenever possible, and fume hood sashes in labs should be closed as well. Even power strips should be unplugged, since they can draw energy even when turned off or with nothing plugged into them.

Those who complete the UI’s power down checklist will be entered in a drawing to win LED flashlights.

For a helpful table showing how much energy various appliances use in power save mode, click here.

Report finds majority of UI students support action to address climate change

Students from three different courses at the University of Iowa participated in a survey to gauge their understanding of climate change. (Wikimedia)
Students from three different courses at the University of Iowa participated in a survey to gauge their perception of climate change. (Wikimedia)

Nick Fetty | December 16, 2014

A report by a University of Iowa professor found that 94 percent of students surveyed responded “yes” when asked if they believe the science on climate change is strong enough to take action.

Maureen McCue – an adjunct assistant professor with the UI International Programs and coordinator of Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility – surveyed 65 students in three courses: Promoting Health Globally (PHG) [31], Environmental Justice (EJ) [17], and Education in the Third World (ETW) [14] as well as three students from the health physiology lab. Issues regarding climate change were addressed in PHG and EJ while “no specific orientation to climate” was expected for students in ETW and the health physiology lab.

Forty-two students responded that they had been affected by climate change. Many cited similar reasons for how they had been affected: storms/floods/droughts experienced by friend or family [14], indirect experiences (higher priced foods, poorer air quality, observing wild weather fluxes) [8], and awareness about effects of climate change and feeling of being overwhelmed [14].

Respondents were also asked what they feel is an effective way to halt climate change based on six categories: lifestyle (11.8%), more education (27.1%), positive interventions and support (16%), political/legal remedies (16%), social/community action (10%), and nothing (>1%). Students also provided responses such as “we need new sources of energy,” “attitudes need to change”, and “energy providers need to change.”

Dr. McCue concluded that “[w]hile the numbers are small and subject to all the problems of small studies, there were some interesting outcomes,” particularly the overwhelming support that climate change is an issue that must be addressed. However she also noted that there were fewer trends evident among the grad students who responded to the survey.

For more information or to provide comments or critiques about the survey contact Dr. McCue at maureen-mccue@uiowa.edu.

Survey Demographics

  • Females: 43
  • Males: 22


  • Undergrad: 57
  • Grad Student: 8


  • Iowans: 35
  • Not from Iowa: 30 (International: 9)