Biden aims to raise solar energy production from 4 to 45%


Via Flickr

Elizabeth Miglin | September 8, 2021

The Biden administration announced plans to produce half of the nation’s electricity through solar power by 2050, on Wednesday. 

Last year, solar energy provided less than 4 percent of the country’s electricity, now the administration aims to raise production to 45 percent. A new report by the Department of Energy argues the U.S. must quadruple annual solar installations by 2025 in order to reach the administrations’ goal of decarbonizing the power sector. 

Pressure to expedite the transition off of fossil fuels has increased due to recent natural disasters across the country, including Hurricane Ida in New Jeresy and New York, which have highlighted weaknesses in the current energy system. 

With the cost of solar panels dropping over the last decade, solar has become one of the cheapest sources of energy for much of the U.S. The reduced costs has boosted the solar and wind energy market where growth has exceeded government and independent analysts predictions. In culmination, a U.S. Energy Information Administration report projects renewable energy sources will share 42% of the U.S. electricity mix by 2050 at our current growth rate. 

Additionally, the administration hopes to reduce net emission from the power sector to zero by 2035, add hundreds of offshore wind turbines and ensure half of all new cars sold are electric by 2030. 

UI Engineer awarded NASA funding for wildfire research


Via flickr

Elizabeth Miglin | Sep 1, 2021

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) awarded a University of Iowa professor $1.3 million in funding to study atmospheric and climate impacts of wildfires.

Jun Wang, UI Professor of Biochemical and Chemical Engineering, will lead the three-year $540,000 study with co-investor Fangqun Yu, a researcher and professor at the University of Albany. The study will focus on the aerosol composition and temperature in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere (UTLS) using measurements from a sensor aboard the International Space Station called the Stratospheric Aerosole and Gas Experiment III or SAGE III.

Severe wildfires throughout 2021 have set annual records for land burned, especially in the western United States and Australia. The huge plumes of black carbon aerosols into the UTLS, concentrating approximately six to 18 miles into the atmosphere. Concerns have arisen of the warming effect that could arise from the fires. 

Alongside the SAGE III project, Wang will lead another NASA funded four-year study to develop the first map of fire combustion efficiency from space. The study was granted $800,000 and will be in collaboration with Arlindo da Silva, a research meteorologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. 

UIowa Professor Earns Distinguished Environmental Research and Teaching Award


Via The University of Iowa

Elizabeth Miglin | August 25, 2021

University of Iowa Professor Jerry Schnoor was designated as the 2021 Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP) Fellow for his environmental research and teaching. 

AEESP is a private nonprofit organization made up of professors in academic programs around the world who aim to encourage education in the sciences and technologies of environmental protection. Fellow designation is one of the highest awards given to members.

Schnoor is a professor in civil and environmental engineering whose research focuses on water quality, phytoremediation and climate change. Previously, Schnoor has been internationally recognized for water-quality modeling, environmental health and risk/exposure assessments and climate change. 

The recent release of the UN report on climate change should be especially concerning to Iowa, says Schnoor. “Truly we are witnessing a climate crisis, and it requires much faster action toward renewable energy now. Climate action creates jobs, pristine air quality, better health, and a stable system for future generations.”

Schnoor received the award at the organization’s virtual annual meeting on July 14. 

July was Earth’s Hottest Month Ever Recorded


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Elizabeth Miglin | August 18, 2021

In the latest report to sound the alarm about the climate crisis, July 2021 was the hottest month ever recorded, according to new data released by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. 

The data found combined land and ocean-surface temperature was 1.67 degrees F above the 20th-century average of 60.4 degrees F, making it the hottest July since records began in 1879. “July is typically the world’s warmest month of the year, but July 2021 outdid itself as the hottest July and month ever recorded,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. The previous record was set in July 2016, which was tied in 2019 and 2020. 

Regionally, Asia experienced its hottest July since the record was set in 2010; Europe had its second-hottest July – tying with July 2010; and North America, South America, Africa and Oceania all facing a top-10 warmest July. It is very likely 2021 will rank among the world’s 10 warmest years on record, according to the NCEI’s Global Annual Temperature Rankings Outlook

The report comes less than three months prior to “COP26,” a major climate summit held in Glasgow. Most members of the Paris Agreement will be at the summit and are expected to submit updated pledges as well as to set tougher targets for emission reductions by 2030. 

The Senate passes a major infrastructure bill, turning focus to anti-poverty and climate plans


Elizabeth Miglin | August 11, 2021

The U.S. Senate, on Tuesday, passed a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill which would provide funding for climate related infrastructure resiliency if passed by the House.  

After previous weeks of intense debate over one of the largest federal investments into the nation’s outdated public works system, the Senate voted 69 in favor with 30 opposed to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The legislation has the possibility of impacting nearly every aspect of the American economy with projects ensuring rural access to broadband and clean drinking water, modernizing roadways and environmental sustainability projects, according to the New York Times. Regarding the climate, the bill focuses on investmenting in clean energy, environmental clean-up projects and making infrastructure more resilient, according to The White House

Alongside the infrastructure bill, Senate Democrats agreed to an outline of an $3.5 trillion antipoverty and climate plan, on Monday. The climate legislation aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, fund research focused on climate change’s effect on agriculture, create a Civilian Climate Corps to enact climate-based public works projects and improve the durability of coastlines. Funding for both the antipoverty and the climate plan are expected to come from tax increases on wealthy individuals and corporations.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is expected to be debate by the House at the end of August, with the antipoverty and climate plan expected to be passed by the Senate by the end of this week.

UN climate change report is “code red for humanity”


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Elizabeth Miglin | August 10, 2021

A top United Nations panel on climate change warns the key 1.5C temperature limit will be surpassed in a decade if a significant reduction of carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) is not sustained, according to a new report released on Monday. 

In the newest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s governments are blasted as having been too slow to cut emissions. Atmospheric levels of CO2 are now the highest they have been in at least 2 million years, with the past decade being the hottest in 125,000 years. The assessment bluntly notes the burning of oil, gas and coal; deforestation; and industrial agriculture practices are the main contributors to climate change. Many of climate changes’ already visible impacts, such as the rising sea levels and global surface temperature, are irreversible for centuries. 

Since 1988, the IPCC has released six reports assessing contemporary scientific findings related to climate change. Made up of internationally recognized scientists, the panel’s findings often shape future UN climate related resolutions and aid international legal efforts to hold fossil fuel companies accountable. 

The report comes less than three months prior to “COP26,” a major climate summit held in Glasgow. Most members of the Paris Agreement will be at the summit and are expected to submit updated pledges as well as to set tougher targets for emission reductions by 2030. 

Maine to ban “forever chemicals” by 2030


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Elizabeth Miglin | August 4, 2021

Maine is the first state in the nation to ban around 9,000 compounds known as “forever chemicals” by 2030.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl or PFAS are often used to make products water and stain resistant. The highly effective substances are used across dozens of industries and added to a range of products such as cosmetics, cookware, food packaging and floss. However, PFAS are unable to fully break down and instead accumulate in the environment and humans. Increasingly, studies have shown the chemicals are toxic to humans, even at low exposure levels, and are linked to a range of health problems such as cancer and liver disease. 

The new law requires manufacturers who intentionally add PFAS to products sold in Maine report their use beginning in 2023. The new law additionally provides a caveat of instances where PFAS usage is “currently unavoidable” such as items in medical devices according to The Guardian

Supporters hope other states follow suit in order pressure industries to stop using PFAS and encourage the federal government to enact a similar law. The European Union is also advancing its own plan to phase out the substances in all products by 2030,however it has yet to be adopted as binding. 

Drake Professor calls Iowa’s approach to water quality “magical thinking”


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Elizabeth Miglin | August 3, 2021

Iowa’s voluntary program to improve water quality and reduce farm runoff is called “magical thinking” designed to prevent farmers “from having to do something” by a Drake University law professor, on Thursday. 

Drake law professor and former director of the Drake Agricultural Law Center, Neil Hamilton recently spoke on the failures of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy to the Iowa Farmers Union, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch. Hamilton highlighted how the lack of hard targets and requirements for state officials makes the strategy designed to “deny and defer any potential action.”

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a series of environmental goals adopted in 2013 aimed at reducing the number of nutrients found in Iowa’s waters. The document provides ideas for actions farmers may voluntarily take as well as add a few requirements for sewage treatment plants. Regarding farm conservation and fertilizer regulations, however, “it doesn’t ask for or expect anyone to do anything” as they are suggestions, said Hamilton. 

Among the issues with the strategy, consistent funding has become a major point of contention for environmental groups and farmers. The original goals recommended $89.3 million to $1.4 billion a year when adjusted for inflation be directed towards sustainability costs. However, the Iowa Environmental Council reported findings that of $500 million spent in Iowa on federal conservation programs in years past, only $17 million was focused directly on the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. 

Millions in damages from 2020 Derecho coming out of farmers’ pockets


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 28, 2021

The derecho and drought last year destroyed $802 million in corn, soybeans and pastures with farmers absorbing nearly one-third of the losses, according to a new report.

The American Farm Bureau Federation is lobbying congress for additional disaster aid for US growers due to insurance being unable to total cover the cost of damages. Federal crop insurance covered $560 million in losses leaving $243 million in damages farmers were responsible to pay for out of pocket. 

Across the country, damages caused by natural disasters totaled $6.5 billion last year. Federal crop insurance is only able to cover around $2.9 billion in losses with $3.6 left to farmers. Farm Bureau crop damage estimates do not include other ag losses such as loss of livestock or additional equipment costs farmers experienced. Regardless, it was the fourth-most expensive year of natural disasters since 1980, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The derecho’s powerful winds reached 140 mph on August 10 as it traveled 770 miles across eight states. While most of the damages to homes, businesses and farmers centered in Iowa and Illinois, total damage reached $11.5 billion. 

U.S. Representatives Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, and Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, voted in favor of an $8.5 billion disaster bill to provide coverage for the derecho and other high wind events which the House agriculture committee approved Tuesday according to the Des Moines Register. The bill would provide assistance to farmers and ranchers seeking natural disaster assistance for last year and 2021. 

Iowa climate scientists predicted extreme summer heat, extreme rainfall expected


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 27, 2021

In 1991, scientists accurately predicted climate change would lead to a warmer and wetter Midwest in the spring and summer. Now, 5-day heat wave temperatures in Iowa are anticipated to increase around 7° F in an average year and 13° F once per decade, in comparison to the late 20th century. 

The impact of these findings go beyond weather patterns, degraded public infrastructure is one major ways everyday life will be altered by the new climate. In 2018, a group of climate scientists and researchers from across the state focused the Iowa Climate Statement on infrastructure to emphasize their concerns. In the statement, they explain how daily total rainfall is expected to double in intensity by 2025. 

Flooding along Iowa’s eastern and western borders in 2019 alone resulted in $1.6 billion in damages, according to the Des Moines Register. “…This type of flooding in this region is expected to become even more likely in the future if we do not take immediate actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions,” said University of Iowa Researcher Wei Zhang

Scientists recommend buildings be designed to withstand heavier rain by integrating rain screens, large gutters and downspouts. For the hot summer greater insulation, improved ventilation, planting of shade trees and more are needed.

Since 2011, the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research has co-produced an annual Iowa Climate Statement to explain the impact of climate change on Iowa. Released in early October early, nearly every Iowa college and university has agreed to the statement.