On The Radio – Several Iowans to attend Paris climate conference

The Paris climate conference, also known as COP 21, begins today and continues through December 11. (Robin Tournadre/Flickr)
The Paris climate conference, or COP 21, begins today and continues through December 11. (Robin Tournadre/Flickr)
November 30, 2015

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at Iowans attending the climate conference in Paris which begins today and continues through December 11.

Transcript: Several Iowans to attend Paris climate conference

Several prominent Iowa researchers and policy makers will be at an international climate summit being held in Paris this month.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will be held from November 30 to December 11. There, delegates from 196 nations will seek to reach a legally-binding agreement on a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

Des Moines mayor Frank Cownie, University of Iowa professor of civil and environmental engineering Jerry Schnoor, and Dubuque mayor Roy Buol will be among the Iowans present at the conference. Two dozen Mississippi River mayors have met since September to discuss the impacts of climate change on their river economies and the importance of cleaning up the Mississippi. A group of these mayors including mayor Buol will discuss these issues with delegates from seven of the world’s major river basins.

Dr. Schnoor will be reporting on findings from the conference for the American Chemical Society while the University of Iowa’s Andrea Cohen will be representing the Iowa United Nations Association. CGRER will also be providing continuous updates from the conference.

For more info about the Paris climate talks visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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


Editorial calls for more emphasis on land management to reduce carbon emissions

Corn and hay grow on these rolling hills in Clayton County, Iowa (Todd Ehlers/Flickr)
Corn and hay grow on these rolling hills in Clayton County, Iowa (Todd Ehlers/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | November 25, 2015

An Iowa City writer recently published an editorial in The New York Times outlining ways that Iowa is reducing and will continue to reduce carbon emissions.

Jeff Biggers – a writer-in-residence for the UI’s Office of Sustainability and founder of the Climate Narrative Project – points out efforts Iowa is currently taking to reduce its carbon footprint such as using wind power to generate roughly 30 percent of the state’s electricity needs as well as the WACO school district which soon hopes to generate 90 percent of its electricity from solar.

Biggers also discussed specific ways that an agriculturally-focused state such as Iowa can keep its carbon in the soil and out of the atmosphere. He points out that land misuse accounts for 30 percent of carbon emissions, a potential talking point for world leaders attending the COP 21 conference which begins later this month.

“Far too few climate change negotiators took notice of an important proposal called the Four Per Thousand Initiative, which France’s Ministry of Agriculture, Agrifood and Forestry introduced earlier this year. This proposal simply calls for a voluntary action plan to improve organic matter content and promote soil carbon sequestration in soil though a transition to agro-ecology, agro-forestry, conservation agriculture, and landscape management. According to France’s estimates, a “.4 percent annual growth rate for the soil carbon stock would make it possible to stop the present increase in atmospheric CO2.”

Earlier this week, Biggers appeared on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River to discuss soil carbon sequestration and other environmental issues with fellow author Courtney White who recently published Two Percent Solutions for the Planet.

“We’re looking at soil carbon sequestration efforts through regenerative agriculture, through organic farming, through a whole host of activities that are happening now in the rural areas that really give me a lot of hope in terms of the climate change issue.”

On The Radio – Bakken pipeline looms after Keystone XL

North Dakota's Bakken oil field. (A.G. McQuillian/Flickr)
Pump jacks pull oil from the ground in North Dakota’s Bakken oil field. (A.G. McQuillan/Flickr)
November 23, 2015

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at the pending Bakken oil pipeline project which would stretch from the Bakken oil fields in western North Dakota to oil refineries in southern Illinois. If approved, the project would run through 18 Iowa counties. 

Transcript: Bakken pipeline looms after Keystone XL

President Obama’s historic decision to strike down the Keystone XL pipeline could be undermined by another proposed pipeline running through Iowa.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

A proposed pipeline starting in North Dakota’s Bakken crude oil fields and running through 18 Iowa counties is getting closer to state approval, with Governor Terry Branstad signaling his approval for the use of eminent domain for pipeline projects in November. Activists and landowners have been at odds with Texas-based Dakota Access, the company proposing the pipeline, for months as they try to establish eminent domain for the pipeline on private land. Most of the pipe would be underground, causing major concerns for soil and water quality as topsoil is removed and compacted during installation.

Unlike Keystone XL, the Bakken pipeline doesn’t need executive approval from President Obama because it doesn’t cross an international border. Instead, the pipeline would need approval from the Iowa Utilities Board, which began public hearings on November 12 with a decision coming in December or January. A Des Moines Register poll found 74 percent of Iowans oppose the use of eminent domain for pipelines.

For more information about the Bakken pipeline, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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


Iowa joins 13 other states challenging EPA water rule

The Raccoon River near Walnut Woods States Park in Des Moines, Iowa. (Christine Warner Hawks/Flickr)
The Raccoon River near Walnut Woods State Park in Des Moines, Iowa. (Christine Warner Hawks/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | November 18, 2015

Governor Terry Branstad announced Tuesday that Iowa will join 13 other states in challenging the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule.

The challenge is part of a current court case in the U.S. District Court of North Dakota Southwestern Division against the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. In a press statement, Branstad called the rule “a federal overreach that imposes significant barriers and impairs Iowa’s ability to advance innovative, water quality practices that would actually advance our common goal of water quality.”

Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds said the rule is “an overreach by the federal government that hurts Iowa farmers and small businesses” and applauded efforts by Iowa senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst and other Iowa congressional delegates to combat the rule. She said she hopes the rule is withdrawn so “Iowa can continue to improve water quality through the collaborative and innovate Nutrient Reduction Strategy.”

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said, “The misguided WOTUS rulemaking process has created uncertainty and has threatened to impede our efforts to get conservation and water quality practices on the ground. Joining this lawsuit is the right thing to do and I hope that ultimately the courts will overturn the rule.”

Federal officials say the rule is necessary “to limit pollution in small waterways and wetlands that 117 million Americans depend on for drinking water.”

Other states challenging the rule include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.


On The Radio – 3rd annual Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum combines teaching and research

Drake University’s David Courard-Hauri speaks during the Climate Science Educators Forum at Des Moines University on Friday, October 9, 2015. ©2015 KC McGinnis
November 16, 2015

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at the 3rd annual Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum – held last month at Des Moines University – which gave science educators the opportunity to learn about the most up-to-date climate-related research as well as methods for effectively teaching their students about climate change.

Transcript: 3rd annual Climate Science Educators Forum

Science researchers, professors, and instructors came together last month to discuss effective methods for teaching climate-related issues to college students.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The third annual Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum took place at Des Moines University last month. The event attracted roughly 30 students, instructors, and researchers from nine different academic institutions in Iowa. Presenters from the state’s public universities as well as private and community colleges discussed climate-related courses they taught and provided suggestions for effectively engaging students, many of whom are undergraduates.

In addition to discussing teaching techniques, presenters also discussed current climate-related research and how it can be applied to different courses and lesson plans. Drake University environmental science and policy professor David Courard-Hauri felt that the event was effective at bridging the gap between the big universities where research takes places and the smaller colleges where the focus is more on teaching.

DAVID COURARD HAURI: “As we’ve been learning today there are all kinds of different ways to think about climate education and common problems that we have, common ideas that we want to get across. So we thought it would be fun this time to have two sections: one on teaching climate and climate-related issues and one on active research. And that seems to have been really successful.”

For more information about the Climate Science Educators Forum, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot-org.

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


Study brings together researchers from Iowa and Nepal

A section of the Bagmati River between Lalitpur and Kathmandu. (Sundar1/WikiMedia)
A polluted section of the Bagmati River between Lalitpur and Kathmandu in Nepal. (Sundar1/Wikimedia Commons)

Nick Fetty | November 11, 2015

Researchers at the University of Northern Iowa are working with their counterparts at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, Nepal on a study that will examine the Bagmati River.

The Bagtami River is “the principal river of the Bagmati Basin in central Nepal.” Industrialization and urbanization in Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu (pop. 1,003,000 [2011]) have contributed to ecological and environmental issues in the river. Through the study researchers hope to develop an “effective hydrologic assessment scheme for the polluted body of water.”

The project is led by UNI earth science professor Dr. Mohammad Iqbal.

“Students will learn about global environmental problems, particularly issues that are directly linked to human health,” Dr. Iqbal said in a press release. “This will be a great opportunity for our students to develop respect and understanding for people of a different culture, specifically for those people who are living in adverse environmental conditions.”

The researchers started on the project during May of this year when Dr. Iqbal and two of his students traveled to Nepal. The researchers conducted water and sentiment sampling, analyzed procedures, and implemented policy changes using scientific data. The team is expected to continue working on the project through the end of 2016. Funding for this project was made possible because of a $56,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The Bagmati River study is just one of the international research efforts in which UNI is participating. Last month NSF awarded UNI with nearly $750,000 to study environmental sustainability in the arctic. UNI will work with researchers from in Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden on the project.

List ranks Iowa as America’s 9th cleanest energy state


Nick Fetty | November 4, 2015

Iowa ranks ninth in the nation for renewable energy production, according to a recent article by the website Modernize.

The list points out that between 1960 and 2013 Iowa has generated nearly 80 percent of its energy from renewable sources. The Hawkeye State is the lone representative from the Midwest to crack the top 10.

“Maybe Washington, California, and Oregon come as no surprise – we associate them with environmental concern and the geographical variety to embrace multiple renewable technologies simultaneously. But the rest of the states that top the renewables ranking embody a striking mix of size, population, political preference, and socioeconomic standing. If this ranking indicates anything, it’s that success with renewables is possible in any combination of circumstances.”

Data on the list comes from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) which has been tracking stats since 1960. The article also included lists for other energy-related categories such as Top 10 by Renewable Energy Percentage, Bottom 10 by Renewable Energy Percentage, Top 10 Most-Improved CO2 Emitters Since 1990, and Top 10 CO2 Emitters. The article also points out that efforts to utilize renewable energy have been successful in traditionally industrial states such as Michigan, New York, and Ohio.

While Iowa generates approximately 27 percent of its electricity from wind power, nearly two-thirds of electricity production in the Hawkeye States still comes from coal-fired power plants, according to July 2015 data from the EIA. Nearly 10 percent of Iowa’s electricity comes from nuclear power at the state’s sole nuclear plant in Palo.