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.

UNI event focuses on ethics of energy production


The Campanile is a major landmark on the University of Northern Iowa campus. (Madmaxmarchh/WikiMedia Commons)

Nick Fetty | April 17, 2015

An event hosted by the University of Northern Iowa on Wednesday focused on ethical implications in the production of energy.

The event – “Ethics of Energy Production” – examined “economic effects, environmental impacts, legal aspects, agricultural viewpoints and employment prospects” in regard to how energy is produced in Iowa and abroad. Speakers addressed a handful of issues including: Concerns about how Iowa and the U.S. will meet future energy needs, the proposed Dakota Access oil pipeline and Rock Island Clean Line projects, the approval process for proposed energy production projects, and how to have your voice heard in the discussion.

Attorney Justin LaVan discussed concerns Iowans have about the proposed Rock Island Clean Line which would pass through 16 counties in the state. According to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, LaVan – who represents an alliance of landowners opposed to the proposed pipeline – pointed out that the project has received easement approval from 176 landowners. The project needs approval from 1,540 total landowners in order to pass. A February poll by the Des Moines Register found that the majority of Iowans support the pipeline but are against using eminent domain to accomplish the project.

David Osterberg – a clinical professor in Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Iowa – served as a panelist at the event and discussed the impact that energy production has on climate change.

“[T]his particular industry is the bane of our existence in Iowa, because it hurt everything else, not only wind but also ethanol. They’re bad guys. Don’t give them a pipeline,” Osterberg said.

UNI business professor Craig Van Sandt was an organizer of the event and he focused on the impact that current energy production practices will have on future generations.

“They are going to affect our children, our grandchildren — and depending on your leanings — they affect animals in the environment as well,” he said.

Event: Johnson County Climate Forum


UI engineering professor and CGRER co-director Dr. Jerry Schnoor will deliver a keynote speech at the Johnson County Climate forum on April 18. (Michael Gallagher/Iowa Environmental Focus)

Nick Fetty | April 14, 2015

The Iowa United Nations Association (UNA) is hosting its inaugural forum to address climate change on an international scale.

The first of the eight-part community forum series will kick off in Iowa City on Saturday April 18. The event will take place at the University Athletic Club (1360 Melrose Ave, Iowa City) and is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Cost of attendance is $10 which includes lunch. Those interested in attending must register before the event.

The event will include keynote speeches from UI engineering professor and CGRER co-director Jerry Schnoor as well as CGRER member Peter Thorne who also serves as a professor in the College of Public Health. There will also be panel discussions of student activism on climate change, the impact of climate change worldwide, and opportunities for citizen action. This series will serve as a preface for the UN’s conference to curb global greenhouse gas emissions scheduled to take place in Paris this December.

For more information about Saturday’s event, email Iowa UNA Exectuve Director Matthew Wolf: matthew[AT]unaiowa.org.

Monetary sponsors for this event include: UI Office of Sustainability, National Education Association Peace and Justice Iowa Caucus, Hills Bank and Trust Company, Rotary Club of Iowa City – Noon, John Fraser, Dorothy Paul. Other partners include: Johnson County UNA, UI Environmental Health Sciences Research Center, UI Center for Human Rights, UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sierra Club, ECO IC.

On the Radio: Smoke linked to tornado intensity, UI study finds


Damage to the roof of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Iowa City from a 2006 tornado. (Laura Crossett / Flickr)
Damage to the roof of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Iowa City from a 2006 tornado. (Laura Crossett / Flickr)
April 13, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a recent study by University of Iowa researchers who found a link between smoke from fires and tornado intensity. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

**Please feel free to download the audio file for this On the Radio segment and distribute to friends, colleagues or media. To download the mp3 file, right click this link and choose “Save Link As…”

Transcript: Tornadoes

A recent University of Iowa study has found that smoke from fires can contribute to the intensity of tornadoes.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The study was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters earlier this year. The researchers examined how smoke affected a system of severe weather events which occurred on April 27, 2011. This system produced 122 tornadoes and caused 313 deaths across the southeastern United States. The study found that smoke particles in the atmosphere lowered the base of the clouds and affected the speed of the winds which increased the intensity of the tornadoes. The research was conducted using computer simulations.

CGRER co-director Greg Carmichael and CGRER postdoctoral fellow Pablo Saide were co-authors of the study, along with researchers from other University of Iowa departments, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and NASA.

For more information about tornadoes and for a link to the study visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org

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

http://now.uiowa.edu/2015/02/ui-researchers-link-smoke-fires-tornado-intensity

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2014GL062826/abstract

Event: Iowa Climate Festival 2015


(American Chemical Society)

Nick Fetty | April 10, 2015

This 2015 Iowa Climate Festival will take place on the University of Iowa campus Saturday.

The event will kickoff with a two-part symposium in the morning. The first part will focus on the climate effects of greenhouse gases and particles in the air. Featured speakers include Betsy Stone (UI Department of Chemistry), Vicki Grassian (UI Department of Chemistry), and Scott Spak (UI Public Policy Center). The second part will focus on the effects that climate change has on public health and Iowa’s agriculture. Speakers include Gene Takle (Iowa State University, Atmospheric Science), Peter Thorne (UI Public Health), and Wanda Reiter-Kintz (State Hygienic Laboratory). Attendees will have an opportunity to ask questions at the end of each session.

The Climate Science Fair is scheduled for the afternoon. Attendees can partake in hands-on experiments to learn about the composition of greenhouse gases, how clouds are formed, how particles in the air cool the earth, why oceans are becoming more acidic, how albedo affects climate change, and more.

Coinciding with the event will be the Iowa City Recycling Logo Competition. The City of Iowa City is accepting entries from local students and the winning design will used on the side of Iowa City recycling trucks. All entires must be displayed at the museum and juding will end at 3 p.m.

This event is free and open to the public. For more information and for a full schedule of events visit the American Chemical Society’s website.

Sponsors for this year’s event include: the Iowa section of the American Chemical Society, University of Iowa Department of Chemistry, Museum of Natural History, Office of Sustainability, State Hygienic Laboratory, National Science Foundation, Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment (CAICE), Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER), and the City of Iowa City.

On the Radio: UI study finds floods increasing in severity


A flooded field during the flood of 2008 ( Joe Germuska / Flickr)
A flooded field during the flood of 2008 (Joe Germuska / Flickr)
April 6, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a recent University of Iowa study which found that flooding events in the Midwest have increased in severity in the past half century compared to previous years. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

A recent University of Iowa study has found that flooding events in the Midwest have increased in severity in the past half century compared to previous years.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus

The report was recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change by CGRER member Gabriele Villarini. It examined 774 stream sensors in fourteen states from North Dakota to West Virginia. The researchers found that 34 percent of the sensors detected an increase in flooding events between 1962 and 2013. Nine percent of the sensors showed a decrease in floods during that same period. The region that experienced the highest frequency of floods included Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, and North Dakota.

Serious floods have hit the Midwest repeatedly since 2008. FEMA data show that the nationwide flooding events caused more than $260 billion in damages between 1980 and 2013.

For more information about this study, visit IowaEnvironmentalResearch.org.

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