On The Radio – Cumulative CO2 levels reach record high


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Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels, like coal, are combusted. (Kym Farnik/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 20, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how carbon dioxide levels soared to record highs in 2016. 

Transcript: Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels rose to a record-high during 2016 according to the World Meteorological Organization.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The organization measures carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases at 51 sites around the globe. Average accumulated CO2 levels in Earth’s atmosphere reached 403.3 parts per million last year due to human activity and an El Niño weather event, which brought drought to much of the world’s CO2-capturing vegetation. Last year’s increase of CO2 was 50 percent higher than average year-to-year increases over the last ten years.

Scientists say that Earth has not had the same concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere since about three to five million years ago, when temperatures were two to three degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels were several dozen feet higher.

World Meteorological Organization scientists warn that greenhouse gas emissions should be cut drastically and immediately to avoid “dangerous temperature increases” by the end of the century.

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

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

UN Environment calls for action regarding mining pollution


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Pollution (eltpics/ flickr)
Kasey Dresser | November 17, 2017

On November 5th 2015, Germano mine, an iron-ore mine in southeast Brazil, collapsed killing 19 people and destroying 650 kilometers of fertile valley before spilling into the ocean. More than 33 cubic meters of tailing was released. This disaster was detrimental to the economy as the local fishing community was practically eliminated; meaning no fish for food and tourists became scarce as the water was no longer swimmable.

Joca Thome, a local resident who works for Brazil’s Chico Mendes Institute of Biodiversity Conservation, describes how these kind of incidences are too physically and psychologically severe for the victims. They need to be eliminated.  “As well as monitoring the impact in the estuary and the ocean, I am trying to help the community and the fishermen to understand what has happened to them,” Thomé says. “They are getting compensation from the mining company to keep them going. But thousands of people have had their lives upended and they do not know what their future will be.”

Mine tailing is a sludgy- mud like material leftover from mining facilities. There have been 40 tailing failures in the last decade alone. There is no exact statistic for the number of tailing dams in the world or the volume of each but there are 30,000 industrial mines worldwide. More mining failings could lead to long-term damage to the environment while destroying the surrounding cities.

The new Rapid Response Assessment was released a few days ago by UN Environment and GRID-Arenal. It calls for international action and a “safety-first” methodin regards to management and on the ground procedure. The report states, “safety attributes should be evaluated separately from economic considerations, and cost should not be the determining factor.”  This could create a mining database to develop the best technical methods for stopping failure completely. If regulations expand this might create an independent monitoring system of waste dams that could result in financial or criminal punishment for non-compliance. The report also mentions developing cleaner processes with new technology and re-using materials to reduce waste.

December 4-6, the UN Environmental Assembly will meet to discuss more effects of pollution on the environment. The report also recommends a specific stakeholder forum to put international policy in place to regulate mining tailings dams.

 

 

Even The Deep Sea Isn’t Free From Plastic


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Garbage and debris is choking the ocean’s ecosystem
Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | November 16, 2017

Recent studies have unearthed the unsettling fact that at this point in time even deep, supposedly remote areas of Earth are polluted with plastic.

Academics in Newcastle University studied a variety of deep-sea crustaceans from the Pacific Ocean and found traces of plastic fiber in their stomachs. The samples were gathered not just from the Mariana Trench, but from a wide swath of trenches off the coast of South Africa and East Asia. The deepest area sampled was the Mariana Trench’s Challenger Deep–roughly 10,890 meters below the surface of the ocean, making these samples the deepest ever found. 100% of the crustaceans from the Mariana Trench were contaminated with plastic.

The study raises concerns about the pervasiveness of pollution. Two months prior to this case, a study conducted by Orb Media gathered drinking water samples from dozens of countries. The findings revealed that around 83% of our drinking water is contaminated by small plastic particles.

Scientists at Newcastle worry that no ecosystem has been left untouched by pollution and man made waste, and the complexity of deep-sea biology makes solving this problem even more difficult. Plastics are not biodegradable; there is o current way to make the petroleum product completely harmless. Efforts to conserve the ocean with organized cleanups and an increased focus on recycling and re-purposing the harmful material are some of the first steps forward towards a cleaner environment.

Germany, Britain pledge $153 million to Amazon anti-deforestation program


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Much of the Amazon rainforest is located in Brazil. (Junaidrao/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 15, 2017

Germany and Great Britain have significantly increased their financial support to curb deforestation and expand environmental protection programs in Brazil.

Germany and Great Britain announced their pledges of $81 million and $72 million, respectively, to fight deforestation, much of it illegal, in the Amazon rainforest. The rainforest is recognized as a vital region for carbon absorption and a biodiversity hotspot.

Much of the Amazon rainforest is located in Brazil. Some $88 million of the new funds will go to provide financial incentives for landowners in two Brazilian states to maintain forest cover. The new program will also include the state of Mato Grosso, in an effort to curb ramped deforestation making way for the region’s busy soybean and livestock industries, according to a report from Reuters.

Although deforestation of the Amazon in Brazil decreased by 16 percent in the last year, it has not slowed to rates that would allow the country to meet the goals it set as a part of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The two European countries announced their plans to increase financial support on Tuesday at the United Nations climate change summit taking place in Bonn, Germany.

Climate change endangers World Heritage Sites


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Elephant populations at one Ivory Coast Natural Heritage Site have been replenished. (Guillaume Mignot/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 14, 2017

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced this week at the 23rd Conference of the Parties in Bonn, Germany that climate change now threatens one in four natural heritage sites.

There are a total of 206 Natural World Heritage properties, or sites elected by UNESCO to have “outstanding universal value.” Sixty-two of these sites are now considered to be at risk due to climate change by the organization, up from 35 in 2014.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) director general Inger Andersen said in a statement, “Climate change acts fast and is not sparing the finest treasures of our planet. The scale and pace at which it (climate change) is damaging our natural heritage underline the need for urgent and ambitious national commitments and actions to implement the Paris Agreement.”

Coral reefs, wetlands, deltas and glaciated areas are among the most threatened ecosystems. Rising sea temperatures have killed off colorful algae that used to adorn the Aldabra Atoll Reef in the Indian Ocean, the Belize Barrier Reef in the Atlantic, and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, resulting in a “devastating” bleaching effect. The Everglades are also threatened by climate change as sea level rise brings salt water into the wetland ecosystem.

Although countries are responsible for protecting and managing natural heritage sites within their boarders, the report noted that natural heritage site management has decreased since 2014, mostly due to decreased funding.

Proper management can reduce risk for some threatened sites. The report tells of replenished elephant and chimpanzee populations in Ivory Coast’s Comoé national park due to improved management and international support.

On The Radio – Cedar Rapids power plant retires coal burning unit


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A view of industrial Cedar Rapids in 2013. (Arlen Breiholz/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 13, 2017

This On The Radio segment discusses how Alliant Energy recently added Cedar Rapids to its list of Iowa cities moving away from coal and toward natural gas.

Transcript: Alliant Energy began burning natural gas instead of coal in one of its largest energy units in Cedar Rapids last month.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Crews converted one of four coal-burning units at Prairie Creek Generation Station so that it could operate using natural gas last month. Upgrades to the more than 100 megawatt unit are expected to reduce the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent and sulfur dioxide, mercury, and particulate matter pollution by 50 percent.

Alliant Energy has also recently transitioned from coal to natural gas at plants in Marshalltown, Dubuque, Council Bluffs, Bettendorf and Clinton. Prairie Creek Generation Station is expected to be coal free by 2025.

While coal still provides 47 percent of Iowa’s energy, that number has decreased significantly in recent years. Wind energy provides the second largest percentage of Iowa’s electricity, making up 36.6 percent of the total energy picture.

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

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

Coffee grounds to carbon-neutral fuels


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Coffee by Rudolf Vlček
Kasey Dresser | November 10, 2017

In the U.S, 1.5 million tons of coffee grounds are wasted each year. Bio-Bean is a company founded in 2013 by Arthur Kay, a London based entrepreneur. His idea takes excess coffee grounds and turns it into clean fuel to power buildings, vehicles, appliances and more. Coffee grounds are not only carbon neutral but they burn hotter and slower than wood.

To begin the process, bags of coffee ground waste are gathered from businesses, transportation stations, factories, stores, etc. The bags are shredded and separated. Next they’re dried to extract the water and put under a high pressure system to create “Coffee Logs.” Right now, “Coffee logs” are the most popular for hearth fires and stove top cooking. The company already recycles thousands of tons of coffee grounds annually and plans to keep going. According to National Geographic research every ton of coffee grounds Bio-beans keeps out of landfills, saves 200 trees. Not only is this an effective environmental protection plan but it saves coffee shops and instant coffee factories a lot of money that would have gone to disposing of the excess waste.