The Amazon is on fire, again


Image from Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

By Julia Shanahan | August 23rd, 2019

The Amazon rainforest is on fire. There have been over 74,000 fires in the Brazilian Amazon since January, according to a report from the Washington Post, making for an 85 percent increase in fires since last year.

Researchers at Brazil’s space center, INPE, told Reuters that there is nothing abnormal about climate or the amount of rainfall this year in the Amazon. A majority of the fires were started by farmers in the region preparing farmland for planting season, as natural fires in the Amazon are rare. There were hundreds of recorded fires set by farmers on Aug. 10 in an attempt to clear land and further development, much of which is illegal according to the Washington Post. Farmers often use the land for cattle and soybeans.

The Amazon, sometimes referred to as the Earth’s “lungs,” has an extremely role in releasing oxygen and storing carbon dioxide. The Amazon lost 1,330 square miles of forest cover during the first half of 2019, according to The New York Times. The report says that while climate change did not start these fires, a changing climate can make human-caused fires worse. Fires burn more quickly in dry conditions.

According to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, the fires have caused a spike in carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions — a serious threat to public health and to global warming.

FDA did not find contamination in Yuma romaine lettuce, PMA calls for investigation into environmental causes


Image from Pexels.com

By Julia Shanahan | August 16th, 2019

The Food and Drug Administration announced this week that it did not find any contamination in romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona, area. Five sometimes deadly outbreaks have been tied to Yuma since 2012, the FDA said this week.

The FDA tested 118 lettuce samples for shiga toxin-producing E.coli and salmonella. One test came back positive for STEC, but the agency determined it was not pathogenic. According to a report from Politico, the Produce Marketing Association said it’s not taking the results as a sign that everything is fine.

Bob Whitaker, Chief Science and Technology Officer at PMA, said, according to Politico, that due to the limited scope of the sampling, the FDA should not be encouraged to slow down investigations into food-borne pathogenic outbreaks. He added that the industry needs to dig into the role of the changing environment on food and contamination, according to the report.

The World Health Organization reported in 2018 that climate change is likely to have a big impact on food contamination, putting public health at risk. With increasing rainfall, temperatures, and extreme weather, bacteria, parasites, and harmful algae will persist, along with their patterns of corresponding food-borne diseases. Chemical residues of pesticides will be affected by the changes in pest pressure, and the risk of food contamination from organic pollutants and metals in crop soil will be affected as well.

The WHO study also said the risk for food contamination will not be even across the board. While some countries will see an increase in food production, other countries, particularly those that are lesser developed, will see negative impacts from climate change on food security. Climate sensitive illnesses will be one of the largest contributors to global food-related diseases and mortality, WHO reported.

It is currently unknown if climate change had any significant impact on contamination tied to the Yuma region.

Microplastics found in Arctic snow


Image from Pixabay on Pexels.com

By Julia Shanahan | August 15th, 2019

Pieces of microplastic were found in arctic snow just weeks after World Meteorological Organization and Copernicus Climate Change program announced July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded, period.

Microplastics are falling from the sky via atmospheric transfer and are landing in remote places in the Arctic in substantial amounts, according to a study from Science Advances published on August 14. Scientists studied ice floes in Fram Strait, an unpopulated expanse of ocean near Greenland, and compared it to populated European sites. The study showed that the populated areas had a higher concentration of microplastics, but that the amount in remote areas was still high.

According to a report from National Geographic, scientists from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research and the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research said the amount of microplastics in the atmosphere could potentially pose a risk to public health.  Temperature fluctuation among other things can cause plastics to break down into smaller fragments, which then produces the microplastics.

These institutes have been studying microplastics in the Arctic region since 2002 and have noticed drastic increases over the years. In the Arctic water column they found 6,000 microplastic particles in every 2.2 pounds of mud. In every 34 ounces of melted sea ice, they found 12,000 particles.

The report from Science Advances projects annual waste production to reach 3.4 billion MT in the next 30 years. Additionally, mismanaged plastic waste could reach 265 million MT by 2060. The report also highlights the fact that microplastics are ubiquitous in almost all ecosystems – freshwater, urban areas, terrestrial areas – because plastic is designed to be durable.

Farmers could be key allies in climate crisis


By Julia Shanahan | August 9th, 2019

According to a report from CNN, farmers could potentially practice farming in a way that would remove carbon from the air and put in into the ground.

From soybeans to corn to pine trees, plants already move carbon out of the air. The report suggests that with enough financial motivation and innovation, farmers could continue growing food while also practicing carbon management. Substances like biochar, charcoal and other organic material that is almost pure carbon, can be sprinkled over soil to keep carbon in the ground for thousands of years, and it doesn’t go back into the atmosphere.

The 2018 IPCC Lands Report says that nearly a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions come out of the agriculture sector, pointing to diesel fuel and synthetic fertilizer.  Gene Tackle, a co-author of the National Climate Assessment, said in the CNN report that farmers could be key allies in helping to reduce, and even eliminate, global greenhouse gas emissions. 

The National Climate Assessment projects that the amount of days that exceed 90 degrees in  Des Moines could increase from 17 days to 70 by mid-century. Additionally, the latest IPCC report finds that growing food around the world will only become more difficult as the weather becomes more unpredictable.

Farmers in Iowa were burdened this past year with extremely heavy rainfall and flooding, as well as an ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China that has made it hard for some farmers to sell goods. There are currently no mandatory conservation practices that farmers must practice in Iowa – extra conservation practices are done on a voluntary basis across the state. 

Experts encourage towns to invest in composting


Photo by Plan for Opportunity, Flickr.

By Julia Shanahan | August 2nd, 2019

Composting all organic waste could eliminate one-third of materials sent to landfills and trash incinerators, according to a study from Composting in America, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research, and Policy Center and Frontier Group.

The reports says that each year the U.S. disposes of enough organic material  to fill 18-wheelers stretching from New York to Los Angeles ten times over. Only 326 U.S. towns nationwide provide curbside food pickup, leaving people no option but to throw food scraps in the trash.

The report says that increasing composting would help replenish soil and prevent erosion, reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, and help combat climate change. Composting excess organic material would help pull carbon out of the atmosphere and return nutrients to the soil. 

In Iowa, some small compost facilities are exempt from solid-waste permits, but must adhere to a list of requirements: facilities must be greater than 500 feet away from any inhabited residence, outside of wetlands, 200 feet away from any public well, and runoff from the composting operation must be correctly managed – according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

The national report lists several things that would make composting more accessible and user-friendly, saying that towns should offer curbside pickup for organic waste, make composting programs affordable, require commercial organic-waste producers to compost excess materials, and to encourage local markets to buy back compost materials to distribute to public projects or community projects.

Iowa’s electric-car expansion


Photo by wd wilson, Flickr

By Julia Shanahan | August 1st, 2019

MidAmerican Energy will build 15 new charging stations across Iowa to encourage Iowans to by electric cars, according to a report from the Des Moines Register.

The company will invest $3.75 million to build the stations along U.S. Highway 20 from Sioux City to Waterloo. The Des Moines-based company said their studies show that people like the environmentally-friendly vehicles, but worry about costs and availability of chargers. The new charging stations would charge vehicles in 20 to 45 minutes.

The amount of battery-electric vehicle registrations more than doubled between 2008 and 2016, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. From April of 2017 to September of 2018, battery-electric vehicles increased from 400 to nearly 800 vehicles. The combined total of battery-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles in 2018 was 3,000 cars.

According to a 2019 report from the European Environment Agency, contrary to some skeptics, electric cars are better in terms of air quality and reducing the effects of climate change. The report also says that as renewable fuel becomes more prevalent in everyday use, the benefits of electric cars will increase.  

However, no car can be 100 percent clean, especially if the electric energy is not coming from a renewable source. The European Union, U.S., and China, are the biggest players in electric vehicles globally.

Japanese beetles invading gardens and vineyards


Photo by Mike Bird on Pexels.com

By Julia Shanahan | July 26th, 2019

Japanese beetles are invading vineyards in Iowa in unexpected numbers, according to a report from The Des Moines Register.

The report said that about 50 to 60 percent of Iowa vineyards are spraying pesticides to prevent or combat Japanese beetles. The beetles like to chew on vines, grapes, and fruit trees, but are damaging flower beds in gardens and eating the foliage from trees and shrubs. 

The beetles lay their eggs underground, where the larvae can cause grass to wilt and turn brown. They are among one of the major pests in the Midwest, and cause great damage to crops each year. The bugs feed mostly on corn and soybean crops – two major crops in Iowa.

The beetle first arrived to the United States in the early 1900s. According to the Des Moines Register report, the Japanese beetle colony experienced a collapse in the winter of 2013-14, but have since been able to rebuild.

These beetles like to attack plants in groups, making damage more severe even though their life cycle is only 40 days. Spraying insecticides and being mindful of what you plant and where you plant it are some ways to prevent these beetles from eating up your garden. You can look at this list of the best and worst plants for Japanese beetles.