Waste not: Saving the environment by saving food


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Food waste has become a major problem in the US. (istockphoto)
Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | December 14,  2017

As the holidays draw near, most consumers are preoccupied with gift-buying and family preparations. Solid waste specialist Noelle Bowman, however, wants people to be mindful of their food waste as well.

Food waste is an enormous problem in the United States. Around 125 billion pounds of food scraps are discarded in the US per year, accounting for roughly 40% of all food waste worldwide.  Equally surprising, around 1 in 7 US citizens are food insecure.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has a “Food Recovery Hierarchy”; a pyramid chart illustrating the different tiers of important steps to take in order to reduce overall food waste. Source reduction is the first and primary goal; a large amount of food waste starts at the harvest and at mishandled inventory.

A study on food waste increase in Singapore gave tips to consumers looking to reduce food waste by buying only what they will use, storing or freezing food for later use, and composting any unusable ingredients they can.

A rise in Bitcoin’s value could lead to an energy crisis


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m00n (John Smith/ flickr)
Kasey Dresser | December 13,  2017

Bitcoin is a type of digital currency or “digital wallet.” It is used like regular money to transfer funds and generate currency but without a central bank. Over the last week, Bitcoin’s value has gone from less than $1,000 to $17,000. 1 Bitcoin is currently equal to 17,793 U.S. dollars. The money was originally viewed as “dirty,” being used for black market items. However this recent surge has sparked interest from mainline investors and bitcoin is looking to be worth millions more in the next month.

Bitcoin is run through data mines which are essentially large rooms of computers running an algorithm to code each transaction. The problem is the 32 terawatts of energy bitcoin will use every year. That much energy has the ability to power 3 million U.S. households; compared to Visa transactions, that only uses enough energy to power 50,000 American homes. According to the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, bitcoin could use enough energy to power all of the U.S. by 2019.

More than half of the Bitcoin “mining pools” are run out of China. Most the energy produced in China comes from coal firepower plants which has the potential to increase smog and pollution in the near by areas. 

On The Radio – United Nations Environment Programme seeks to tackle air pollution


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The United Nations warned of the many human health impacts pollution poses. (United Nations/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 11, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how the United Nations released an anthology with suggested methods for reducing pollution worldwide. 

Transcript: As global pollution increases, action is needed now more than ever. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

United Nations Environment Programme recently released The Executive Director’s Report: Towards A Pollution-Free Planet, an anthology that pulls environmental data from every continent and suggests general methods for reducing pollution globally. 

The report suggests that nobody is free from the effects of global pollution. Around one in four deaths globally are caused by environmental degradation, and governments must take action to reduce pollution in all its forms if they want to reduce the negative side effects of a damaged environment. 

Every aspect of global environmental damage must be examined and monitored, from waste disposal to the burning of fossil fuels. The people most effected by pollution are working class laborers in cities, since around 80% of big cities internationally do not meet the UN standards for clean air. 

Children, elderly and other vulnerable populations are disproportionately affected by air pollution. 

The statistics are sobering, but the report suggests that with better government control and a serious approach to pollution, we can all work together to better the environment and our health. 

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org. 

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

Gov. Brown declares state of emergency in California


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Wildfire (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/ Flickr)
Kasey Dresser | December 8,  2017

While it is continuing to get colder in Iowa, California is having the exact opposite problem. On December 5th, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Southern California. Fires are currently burning in Los Angeles, Ventura, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. More than 200,000 residents from Los Angeles and Venture counties are currently being evacuated from their homes. So far this fire season over 400 homes have been damaged. The fires are approximated to be about 20% contained as of a report from 5pm yesterday. Firefighters and police are working hard but out of state help is still being called in.

The biggest concern is the wind, known by locals as the Santa Anas. The wind is fast, dry, and making it nearly impossible to control the fires. It can blow anywhere from 50 to 110mph. Chief Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said, “Stopping a fire when wind is 50, 60, 70 miles per hour is almost not possible. These fires burn into anything that’s in their path. A wind-driven fire is like a freight train, and stopping a freight train on a dime doesn’t happen.”

Red Cross: https://www.redcross.org/donate/donation?donprodid=prod60003

Salvation Army: http://www.salvationarmy-socal.org

Thomas Fire Fund: http://vcunitedway.org

The debate about the environmental friendliness of Christmas trees continues


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Consumers debate about the environmental safety of real and fake trees. (istockphoto)
Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | December 7, 2017

Here’s a dilemma that’s common among Christmas-observing households around the holidays: Real tree or artificial tree?

The question goes a little further than skin-deep. There has long been a debate about the safety and eco-friendliness of the real tree versus the artificial tree, with parties on both sides presenting evidence for their claims. The goal, overall, is to figure out which one leaves a smaller carbon footprint–is it the fake tree, the one that you buy once and haul out of your closet every year for a decade, thus saving on transportation costs for the real tree? Or is it the real thing, a true Christmas pine tree, an all-natural, biodegradable organism that won’t be left in a landfill?

The numbers are tricky because they’re variable. A lot of the measurements depend on how the real tree was transported to a store or warehouse, how much fuel that took, how eco-friendly the harvesting process for real trees is. Fake tree fans usually make an interesting point: with a fake tree, you save literally a decade’s worth of production.

Real tree enthusiasts have their own retort: artificial trees are plastic. PVC plastic, actually. They are definitely reusable, but once they’re discarded, they end up in landfills and in the ecosystem with other bits of equally dangerous trash that will take years and years to break down properly. Most artificial trees are imported from China, but a consumer can more easily pick local businesses when searching for a real tree.

There is a general consensus that both options have their advantages and disadvantages. Whatever decision a consumer makes, researching before a purchase is one of the best ways to give back to the Earth this holiday season.

 

 

Record highs in Iowa track with global highs


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Yesterday’s record-setting hourly temperatures are highlighted in red. (Iowa Mesonet)
Jenna Ladd | December 6, 2017

Temperatures reached an all-time high of 69 degrees Fahrenheit in Des Moines on Monday.

Iowa Mesonet found that temperatures at 8 AM and 12 PM on Monday also reached an all-time hourly high for the state on the 131 year record. A cold front swept across the state Monday night, causing temperature highs to drop to 40 degrees Fahrenheit in Des Moines on Tuesday.

There are a couple of months left in 2017, but the year is expected to be the second or third warmest year on record. The World Meteorological Organization announced on November 3rd at the United Nations climate change conference that average temperatures from January through September 2017 were 1.98 degrees Fahrenheit higher than preindustrial levels. In fact, the five year period from 2013 through 2017 is expected to be the warmest five year period on WMO’s record.

Record high temperatures have come with an uptick of catastrophic weather events worldwide. WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in the statement, “We have witnessed extraordinary weather, including temperatures topping 50 degrees Celsius [122 degrees F] in Asia, record-breaking hurricanes in rapid succession in the Caribbean and Atlantic reaching as far as Ireland, devastating monsoon flooding affecting many millions of people and a relentless drought in East Africa.”

Temperatures in December and January will determine whether 2017 is the second or third warmest year on record.

November 2017 brought drought to Iowa


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A portion of the dried up East Indian Creek southeast of Nevada during the 2012 drought. (Carl Wycoff/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 5, 2017

Last month was the driest month since 2007 according to state climatologist Harry Hillaker.

Hillaker spoke with Radio Iowa this week and said, “Overall a state average of .43 of an inch of moisture for the month, which is about 20 percent of what is usual. And actually the driest of any calendar month going back to November of 2007.”

Conditions were abnormally dry at all monitoring stations, especially in northwestern Iowa, where some areas of Ida county and Cherokee county received zero precipitation last month. The whole state only saw a minuscule amount of snow for the eighth time in Iowa’s 131-year weather record.  Hillaker said, “The statewide average was just a trace of snow and typically we’d get three to four inches of snow during the month of November.”

While there were some colder days in the beginning of November, warmer than average temperatures during the second half of the month made snowfall even less likely. The climatologist pointed out that there was virtually no precipitation in the state after the 18th of November.

November wraps up the fall season of September, October and November. Although November 2016 brought record-high temperatures, Iowa Environmental Mesonet reports that temperatures for last month were near average.