Climate action can help curb hay fever, asthma

Allan Foster/Flickr
Allan Foster/Flickr
KC McGinnis | May 27, 2015

With one in three Americans exposed to worsening allergies and asthma as a result of climate change, sustainable practices could mean fewer hay fevers.

The National Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Sneezing and Wheezing report recently highlighted the United States’ allergy epicenters – areas with both high ragweed content and high levels of ground-level ozone, or smog – revealing that about 109 million Americans live in these areas. The report shows that the changing climate is leading to higher production of allergenic ragweed pollen and favoring the formation of smog in industrial areas. These factors can lead to an extended allergy season across the U.S. and increases in asthma attacks, especially in children.

An estimated 24 million Americans were diagnosed with allergic rhinitis (hay fever) in 2012, with symptoms ranging from runny nose to throat, eye and ear irritation. These illnesses often lead to missed work days – more than 3.8 million, according to the NRDC. More concerning, however, is the increase in asthma among children, a chronic lung disease which can be triggered by allergens.

With air quality closely linked to allergy and asthma severity, decreasing CO2 emissions is expected to lead to improving respiratory conditions, especially in heavily populated and industrial areas. This is especially true with industrial facilities and power plants, which both source ozone-producing chemicals and drive climate change with carbon emissions. Minimizing these emissions could have the double impact of slowing climate change and reducing smog, leading to decreases in hay fever and asthma severity.

Last year’s Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans, further highlighted the importance of decreased emissions. See the full statement here, and the complete list of Iowa Climate Statements, including this year’s, which focuses on a call for presidential candidates to address climate change, here.

Report identifies top clean and sustainable technologies for 2015

No-flush urinals - such as these at a McDonalds in England - are just one of the environmentally-sustainable technologies discussed in the report. (Wikimedia)
No-flush urinals – such as these at a McDonalds in England – are just one of the environmentally-sustainable technologies discussed in the report. (Anna Smith/Wikimedia)

Nick Fetty | May 22, 2015

A recent report identifies 2015’s most promising technologies for addressing climate and other environmental concerns.

The 157-page report – “Top Technologies in Clean & Green Environment – 2015″ was published earlier this month in Research and Markets. The authors examine ways to address environmental concerns such as water scarcity, energy depletion and global warming. Specifically the authors look at the top 10 innovations in the Clean and Green Environment sector: (1) Atmospheric Water Generation, (2) Waste-to-Energy, (3) Waterless Technologies, (4) Water-Energy Efficient Technologies, (5) Solid Waste Upcycling, (6) Indoor Air Purification, (7) Reverse Osmosis, (8) Air Filtration, (9) Membrane Distillation, and (10) Capacitive Deionization.

Water quality and water scarcity issues have forced innovators to develop waterless and water-efficient technologies such as no-flush urinals and waterless printers. In addition to water, the report also examined technologies to protect the land (composting, waste-to-energy), the air (atmospheric CO2 removal, particulate air pollution control), and the general environment (biomass energy with carbon capture storage, non-vapor HVAC compression technology).

The report also identified six key challenges that stand in the way of green technologies: (1) high energy intensity, (2) net environmental impact, (3) lack of funding, (4) lag in supporting technologies, (5) end-user skepticism, and (6) unknown effects.

Iowa Climate Statement 2015 calls for presidential hopefuls to address climate change

Chris Anderson, Assistant Director of the Climate   Science Program at Iowa State University, spoke during the press conference for the 2015 Iowa Climate Statement at the Iowa capitol in Des Moines on Monday May 11, 2015. (Joe Bolkcom/Twitter)
Chris Anderson, Assistant Director of the Climate  
Science Program at Iowa State University, spoke during the press conference for the 2015 Iowa Climate Statement at the Iowa capitol in Des Moines on Monday May 11, 2015. (Joe Bolkcom/Twitter)

Nick Fetty | May 12, 2015

DES MOINES – Authors of the “Iowa Climate Statement 2015: Time for Action” presented their findings and called for presidential hopefuls to address climate change while on the campaign trail during a press conference at the statehouse on Monday.

This year’s statement was signed by 188 scientists and researchers from 39 colleges and universities across the state. Traditionally the climate statement is released in the fall but this year it was a released early as a way to encourage presidential hopefuls visiting the Hawkeye State to address climate change and its affects during their campaigns. The lead authors of the fifth annual statement felt that Iowa’s role as the first in the nation caucus gives the state a unique opportunity to bring these issues into the national spotlight.

“Our goal is to clearly communicate the expected impacts of climate changes on Iowa, to ensure decisions are based upon accurate, current scientific information,” said David Courard‐Hauri, Director of the Environmental Science and
Policy Program at Drake University. “This year with presidential candidates visiting Iowa for the 2016 caucuses, we felt that it makes sense to step back, summarize what we’ve done in the past, and encourage Iowans to find out from politicians how they expect to engage this issue.”

The authors felt that climate change has largely been ignored by presidential candidates from both parties in past years.

“This is unacceptable and we’re calling on voters in the state and members of the press who are interviewing candidates or asking them questions in debates to make sure that anyone who wants to be president has the opportunity to spell out clearly for voters how they will deal with the most critical of issues,” Courard‐Hauri said.

Chris Anderson, Assistant Director of the Climate Science Program at Iowa State University, stated that there are 13,950 peer-reviewed scientific publications that have attributed humans as being the primary causes of climate change. He compared the peer review process to receiving a second medical opinion from a physician and cited that a mere 24 publications (out of 13,974) haven’t connected climate change to human activity.

“In Iowa we are already feeling the affects of climate change,” Anderson said. “What we have seen in Iowa is an increase in frequency of the number of excessively wet springs and an increased frequency in the number of excessively wet days and these are causing substantial damages to our cities and our farmland.”

Anderson added that many of these conditions are expected to worsen in the coming years.

Yogi Shah, Associate Dean  of the Department of Global Health at Des Moines University, focused on the health affects of climate change, many of which were addressed in the Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans. He cited that due to temperature and other weather pattern changes associated with climate change, Iowans are experiencing an additional 19 days of allergies compared to previous years.

Additionally, increased temperatures and carbon levels have led to a greater number of mosquito-borne and other diseases spread by insects.

“[With] every degree rise in temperature, [the] mosquito population grows by eight to tenfold,” he said.

These issues of increased extreme weather events and the associated health complications again come back to the need for policymakers to take action, particularly those seeking to become the next president of the United States.

“Iowans take our role in choosing candidates very seriously and we deserve to have a clear picture of how each candidate plans to guide our country in the face of a changing climate,” Courard‐Hauri said. “Moreover the 188 signers who study and teach about climate speak with one voice in our effort to make extremely clear to Iowans and members of the news media, how important this issue is to cover, to report on, and to ask candidates about.”

Check out the Cedar Rapids Gazette  for additional coverage from Monday’s event.

Faith leaders affirm climate consensus at Vatican Climate Change Conference

Vatican Square (Dennis Jarvis / Flickr)
Vatican Square (Dennis Jarvis / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | April 29, 2015

Religious, scientific and political leaders from around the world gathered to declare the moral obligation to heed the scientific consensus on global warming Tuesday.

“Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity,” read the official statement from the Vatican Climate Change Conference, held in Vatican City and hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

The summit comes ahead of a papal encyclical anticipated to be released by Pope Francis in June of this year. Both Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict have repeatedly emphasized the need to consider the effects global warming has on the world’s poor.

“Political leaders of all U.N. member states have a special responsibility to agree at COP21 to a bold climate agreement that confines global warming to a limit safe for humanity,” reads the statement, referring to a U.N. climate summit to take place in Paris later this year, “while protecting the poor and the vulnerable from ongoing climate change that gravely endangers their lives.”

“The Catholic Church, working with the leadership of other religions, can now take a decisive role by mobilizing public opinion and public funds to meet the energy needs of the poorest 3 billion people, thus allowing them to prepare for the challenges of unavoidable climate and eco-system changes,” a more detailed version of the statement continues.

The Pope was joined at the summit by scientists and world leaders like U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. These leaders insisted that the wealthy countries responsible for most of the world’s carbon emissions have a special responsibility to care for the world’s poor, who are often those worst harmed by rising sea levels and increasing storm severity in impoverished areas. Leaders from the summit warned that we may be nearing our last opportunity to keep human-induced warming below 2-degrees C, and that a transition to low-carbon and renewable energy will be a must in the push toward sustainability.

Coincidentally, the conference followed a recent presentation at Iowa State University by atmospheric scientist and climate change evangelist Katharine Hayhoe, who highlighted the role her faith plays in caring for the environment, allowing her and others “to fulfill the responsibility that’s been given to us to care for every living creature on this planet.”

Vilsack announces new plan for farmers to address climate change

Tom Vilsack has served as the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture since 2009. Prior to that he served two terms as the governor of Iowa from 1999 to 2007. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | April 24, 2015

During an event at Michigan State University on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack unveiled a plan in which the U.S. Department of Agriculture will team up with agricultural producers to address threats associated with climate change.

The new plan builds upon the the Climate Hubs – created by the USDA last year – and aims to “utilize voluntary, incentive-based conservation, forestry, and energy programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon sequestration and expand renewable energy production in the agricultural and forestry sectors.” USDA officials hope this effort will reduce net emissions and enhance carbon sequestration by over 120 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent (MMTCO2e) per year by 2025. This new plan is expected to help the U.S. reach its 2025 goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels, as announced by President Obama last year.

“American farmers and ranchers are leaders when it comes to reducing carbon emissions and improving efficiency in their operations. That’s why U.S. agricultural emissions are lower than the global average,” Vilsack said in a press release. “We can build on this success in a way that combats climate change and strengthens the American agriculture economy. Through incentive-based initiatives, we can partner with producers to significantly reduce carbon emissions while improving yields, increasing farm operation’s energy efficiency, and helping farmers and ranchers earn revenue from clean energy production.”

The ag industry accounts for approximately 9 percent of carbon emissions nationwide. This figure is below the global average but Vilsack says there’s still room for improvement.

Thursday’s event was part of a busy week for the former Iowa governor who was in Beltsville, Maryland on Wednesday to flip the switch and “symbolically activate USDA’s first solar array project in the National Capital Region” in commemoration of Earth Day.



Earth Day marks rally for end of 400-mile pipeline walk

Former state Rep. Ed Fallon near the end of his 400-mile pipeline walk across Iowa.
KC McGinnis | April 22, 2015

Former state Rep. Ed Fallon will conclude his 400-mile hike across Iowa with an Earth Day rally in Des Moines today.

For 39 days, Fallon walked along the path of the proposed Bakken oil pipeline, talking with landowners and activists about their concerns over the environment and property management. Fallon supports an eminent domain bill in the Iowa Legislature that would prevent Energy Transfer Partners from condemning Iowa farmland without consent. He will host an Earth Day Rally to Stop the Pipeline today at the State Capital’s west lawn (People’s Park).

Fallon documented his conversations with Iowans along the pipeline route through a daily blog. He recalled conversations with farmers whose land was repeatedly trespassed by surveyors, residents whose homes would be within a few hundred feet of the pipeline, and town hall meetings where people discussed the issue at length.

In his meetings with Iowans along the pipeline route, Fallon had to counter the sense of inevitability created by pipeline representatives, who frequently met with landowners to inform them that the pipeline construction was unavoidable, and that they should sell their land to the company instead of waiting for it to buy at a lower price through eminent domain. Fallon assured these residents that the company proposing the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, still lacks authority to use eminent domain, and that legislation currently in the House and Senate would prevent them from using it as a ground for construction. While some Iowans have already settled with the oil companies, many are still holding out despite aggressive persuasion.

The rally will take place at 5 p.m., with talks by Fallon, two legislators and two family farmers. There will also be an open mic available for people to share their thoughts.