UN helps launch an environmental effort for youth in China


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The UN is hoping to help China in its efforts to improve its environment (/source

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | April 24th, 2018

UN Environment has recently teamed up with Weibo–one of the largest social media platforms in China–to launch its new initiative, “Young Champions of Earth, China.” The program aims to encourage innovative thinking related to the environment by accepting proposals on solutions for environmental issues and screening through to find five or six to financially support. The winners will be sent to a ceremony in Beijing, where a ingle winner will be selected to represent China at the Global Ceremony in September of 2018, joined by other global winners.

China has showed some of the most exponential growth in its attempts to improve its own environment, launching a three-year plan in March to continue reducing air pollution and reliance on coal and fossil fuels. The country even unveiled an experimental air-purifying tower on the outskirts of Xian to help reduce PM2 (airborne pollutant) particles. Still, the country is one of the most polluted in the world, and a continued effort to fight for a cleaner, safer environment is vital.

UN Environment works to set “a global environmental agenda“, launching programs and spearheading campaigns to creativity get others involved with their efforts.

 

 

On The Radio- Nitrogen oxide and agriculture


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Fields (Ivan Albrecht/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | April 23, 2018

This weeks segment looks at how agriculture affects nitrogen oxide emissions in California. 

Transcript: 

Agriculture is a large emitter of nitrogen oxide gases in California.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Over the last few years California has been working to reduce the amount of nitrogen oxide gases released in the air. Policy makers began by focusing on reducing the use of cars, trucks, and buses which are currently believed to be the largest source of nitrogen oxide emissions. New research has also shown that fertilizers with nitrogen can be a large factor. 

Excess amounts of nitrogen oxide can produce toxic smog and acid rain. Ecologist Maya Almaraz and her team at University of California, Davis used a plane attached with a chemiluminescence analyzer to detect the nitrogen oxide in the air. They flew over the entire state of California collecting data. The area with the most nitrogen oxide pollution was the Central Valley’s agricultural region.

According to this test and several others, croplands contribute anywhere from 20- 51 percent of the nitrogen oxide levels in the air. Almaraz warns that increasing temperatures will only increase nitrogen oxide emissions unless there are steps to reduce nitrogen fertilizer use. 

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

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

 

WorldCanvass event to focus on climate solutions


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Jenna Ladd | April 20, 2018

It’s obvious to anyone that follows climate news that climate change is longer a far-off possibility, it is happening now. Dr. Jerry Schnoor, professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa, illustrated this point in a recent guest opinion piece for the Press Citizen.

Dr. Schnoor pointed out several ways in which climate change has already taken hold in Iowa. More intense storms are eroding soil into waterways, humidity is on the rise, and floods are likely to be separated by periods of drought. If greenhouse gas emissions are not cut dramatically, all of these effects will become more severe. So, what can Iowans actually do to reverse course? Dr. Schnoor had several recommendations.

He urged individuals to consider limiting their own carbon emissions. At the state level, he stated that Iowa should join the sixteen other states in The Climate Alliance, which is a “proposition that climate and energy leadership promotes good jobs and economic growth.” Iowa is a national leader in wind energy and biofuel usage; the professor argued that joining the alliance obviously aligns with the state’s clean energy accomplishments.

Private sector and industry groups can be a part of the climate solution, too, he said. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development provides innovative ideas for companies looking to curb their emissions. Just recently, international martime shipping companies agreed to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent before 2050.

Climate change policy recommendations must be based in research. Dr. Schnoor invited Iowans to attend a WorldCanvass program on April 25th to hear about the latest scientific research related to climate change and climate-smart policy from several CGRER members. Part of a series of nine recorded discussions focused on topics of international interest, the event is free and open to the public.

What: WorldCanvass Climate Science and the Environment—What’s Next?

When: Wednesday, April 25th from 5:30-7:00 pm

Where: MERGE, 136 South Dubuque Street, Iowa City, Iowa

A catered reception will take place from 5:00-5:30 pm. Dr. Schnoor’s full piece in the Press Citizen can be found here.

Important factors in preserving biodiversity on coffee plantations


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Black coffee beans begin as red cherry-like fruits on a tree. (Coffee Management Services/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | April 19, 2018

As final exams loom closer, many students may find themselves relying a little too heavily on coffee to get them by. But what is the relationship between the black midnight oil and biodiversity?

There are two distinct coffee plants that produce the stuff that fills students’ mugs: coffee arabica and coffee robusta. Arabica plants provide fuel for the coffee connoisseur as its flavor is know for being smoother, richer and more nuanced than coffee robusta. The two plants require different growing conditions, too. Arabica does well in areas that are partly shaded by surrounding canopy while robusta grows better in cleared out areas with more sun.

Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society, Princeton University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison sought to determine whether there was a difference in impacts on biodiversity between the two plants. They collected bird species biodiversity data from coffee plantations in Western Gnats, India between 2013 and 2015. Some of the plantations grew arabica coffee while others grew robusta. Those areas producing arabica had roughly 95 percent canopy tree cover, and those areas growing robusta had 80 percent canopy tree cover. Shockingly, however, this had little effect on bird biodiversity. The difference between the number of species each of the areas supported was not significant.

“An encouraging result of the study is that coffee production in the Western Ghats, a global biodiversity hotspot, can be a win-win for birds and farmer,” said lead author Charlotte Chang to SIERRA magazine.

The story is not the same on a global scale, however. It has become increasingly popular for coffee farmers in South America and other parts of Asia to clear-cut forests around coffee plantations to make harvesting easier and increase plant productivity.

Researchers suggest that coffee consumers take more time to consider in what conditions their cup of joe was grown. If coffee is labeled Rainforest Alliance Certified or Bird Friendly, it is likely have had less of a negative impact on land use and biodiversity.

Climate change and wild spring weather


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The Greenland block is a high pressure atmospheric block that hangs above Greenland and affects weather moving down to lower latitudes. (flickr/Stig Nygaard)

Jenna Ladd | April 18, 2018

By-in-large, spring weather has been arriving earlier each year in the United States. For instance, the frost-free season was 10 days longer between 1991 and 2011 than it was from 1901 to 1960.

This may come as a shock to Midwesterners, who saw several inches of snow fall this Sunday, April 15th. So what’s going on?

Among some other factors, the Greenland Block has a lot to do with the snowy spring of 2018, according to Dr. David Mechem of the University of Kansas. Mechem, a professor of geography and atmospheric science, explained that there is a persistent atmospheric area of high pressure above Greenland which funnels cold air from the poles straight into the mid-latitudes of North America. He told KCUR that the block was in place throughout February and March and is finally starting to break down, which would bring long-awaited warmer temperatures to the midwest.

Further research is needed to establish exactly what kind of effect climate change has on spring weather, but scientists are noticing some changes. Winter storms (even if they happen in April) have increased in frequency and intensity in the Northern hemisphere since 1950 according to the National Climate Assessment. Nor’easter winter storms plague the eastern U.S. and are caused by the the cold air from the Arctic and warm air from the Atlantic interplaying. This year, that region of the U.S. saw several Nor’easters in very quick succession, which is unusual. A recent study in the journal Nature Communications found that as the Arctic’s climate continues to warm at an alarming rate, winter storms becoming more likely in the eastern U.S.

The good news is that as the Greenland block continues to break down, residents of the mid-latitudes can expect spring to finally arrive. The bad news is that unpredictable spring weather can be expected to continue coming years as the climate continues to change.

A brief look at the life of David Buckel


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Buckel stands outside of one of his compost sites (/source)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | April 17th, 2018

**The following article discusses suicide. If you are feeling depressed or suicidal, or if you or someone you know needs help, please call the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the local Johnson County crises line at (319) 351-0140**

The nation was rocked on the morning of April 14th after learning about the death of activist and lawyer David Buckel, who committed suicide in Prospect Park, New York via self-immolation. He was 60 years old.

Self-immolation, or sacrificial suicide, is often a death of protest, as it has been historically used as an act of self-sacrifice. This type of death was famously utilized by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức in 1963.

Buckel was an accomplished lawyer and an LGBT activist who worked some very prominent cases as a marriage project director at Lambda Legal, an LGBT activism group. He was working for Lambda when the group filed a lawsuit against Iowa on behalf of same-sex couples in 2009, in a case that eventually lead to the legalization of gay marriage in Iowa. He had recently begun focusing on environmental issues, and what could be done to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

In his journey to make a dent in the planet’s fossil fuel problem, he helped establish the New York City Compost Center as the Senior Organics Recovery Coordinator.

His coworkers regarded him as a man of passion and heart–“He put his heart and soul into everything he did in life. He obviously decided to put his heart and soul in the way he died. I think it’s tragic. I wish he hadn’t done it,” said Adam Aronson of the death.

Aronson was a friend of Buckel’s who worked alongside him for five years at Lambda Legal. Buckel was known to put all of his energy in everything he did, and frequently lived his truth, making small contributions to his environmental cause in his private life by walking to work and refusing to use machines at his composting sites.

At the site of his death, Buckel left a long note explaining his actions, clarifying that he wanted his death to be viewed as a final act of protest:

“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing in-habitability via air, soil, water and weather […] most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result …”

Buckel is survived by his husband, Terry Kaelber, and their daughter, Hannah.

On The Radio- 2,500 chemicals sites at risk for floods


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Sites at risk for high and moderate flooding 

Kasey Dresser | April 16, 2018

This weeks segment looks at chemical sites across the U.S. that are located in flood risk areas.

 

Transcript:

Twenty five hundred toxic chemical sites in the U.S. are located in areas with high risk for flooding. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

Last year the Climate Science Special report predicted a higher flood risk going into 2018. The heightened risk is from heavy rainfall and rising sea levels that lead to coastal floods and potential hurricanes. As of now, fourteen hundred toxic chemical sites are at high risk and eleven hundred are at moderate risk of flooding. 

Last year, Hurricane Harvey released hazardous pollutants at more than 40 sites. In 2012 Tropical Storm Debby destroyed a chemical plant in White Springs, Florida that produced phosphates to be used in fertilizer. Flooding from the tropical storm overflowed the Suwanee River destroying the algae and duckweed growth and caused the oxygen levels in the lakes and rivers to plummet. Record-breaking rains in May of last year overflowed storage ponds of sodium hydroxide sending the contaminant into the Alabama River.

Currently federal law and most state governments do not require a flood risk plan for toxic chemical sites. More needs to be done to protect our waterways from natural disasters.

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

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