Fast food chains experiment with meatless patties


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By Julia Shanahan | September 27th, 2019

Fast food chains across North America are experimenting with meatless patties amid a growing concern about environmental repercussions imposed by the meat industry.

McDonald’s will begin selling plant-based patties at select locations in Canada next week, a plant, lettuce, and tomato patty known as Beyond Meat. Tim Hortons, KFC, and Dunkin Brands have also experimented with Beyond Meat patties. According to a report from Reuters, since Beyond Meat was listed on the stock market in May, its shares have roughly tripled in value.

McDonald’s announcement comes after Burger King rolled out its own version of a plant-based burger, coined the Impossible Whopper.

A recent UN report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change outlined the meat industry’s effects on the changing climate. According to the report, 4 percent of the food sold by weight in the U.S. is beef, which accounts for 36 percent of food-related emissions. The report adds that cattle is the leading source in livestock emissions, amounting to an estimate of 65-77 percent.

The report warned that if nothing is reformed in industrial agriculture, emissions from this production could increase 30-40 percent by 2050. In an analysis from Greenpeace, 23 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are a result of agriculture and land use.


Iowa remains the country’s leading producers of pork and large hog operations continue to rapidly increase. Waste management and water quality has been an ongoing issue for the farm state as a result of large farm operations.

UI professor and researcher calls on economic reform to address the changing climate


By Julia Shanahan | September 20th, 2019

Jerry Schnoor, University of Iowa civil and environmental engineering professor and co-director of the Center for Global and Environmental research, wrote an op-ed in the Des Moines Register, calling for economic reform to reduce global carbon emissions.

Schnoor listed several economic changes that would help to reduce carbon emissions by 45 percent in the next ten years:

  • Install solar panels and build large solar power plants
  • Improve battery storage
  • Massive reforestation
  • Implement regenerative agriculture to keep carbon in the ground
  • Expand electrical vehicle usability

Schnoor pointed to extreme weather events like the spring flooding from the Missouri river, category five hurricanes, wildfires, drought, and failed crops. This op-ed comes ahead of the Sept. 20 global climate strikes, where people of all ages from all over the world are rallying for environmental reform. 

Schnoor says in the piece that “time is running out” to address the changing climate, writing,  “Without a drastic reduction in burning of fossil fuels now — a reduction of 45% in the next 10 years — we commit ourselves to increasing climate catastrophes at great economic cost.”


In Iowa, where agriculture is a leading industry, many have called on farmers across the midwest to begin more sustainable farming methods, like planting cover crops, leaving organic materials in the fields after harvest, and adding additional crops to a soybean-corn rotation.

Invasive pests contributing to climate change


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By Julia Shanahan | September 6th, 2019

A study from Purdue University says 15 different kinds of invasive bugs and insects kill so many trees each year, it’s equivalent to 5 million car emissions. 

The report said that while not all dead trees immediately release carbon, part of the dead biomass will eventually make its way into the atmosphere. It says that the large amount of dying trees suppresses the hope of those forests taking enough carbon out of the atmosphere to combat climate change.

Purdue professors and members of the U.S. Forest Service found that of the 15 invasive pests, “nine are pathogens, four are sap-feeders, one is a wood-borer and one is a foliage-feeder.”

The annual loss of biomass from invasive species is 0.04 percent, but the authors of the report warn that number has potential to grow. The report also says that the researchers did not account for losses in urban areas, so the percentage is likely higher.

It said that mitigating future invasions will also affect the changing climate, because currently, the invasive species are significantly contributing to the increase in greenhouse emissions. 

The Amazon is on fire due to the world’s high demand for beef


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By Julia Shanahan | August 30th, 2019

The ongoing fire in the Amazon rainforest can be attributed to the world’s high demand for beef.

Brazil is one of the world’s leading exporters of beef and cattle, and with an increasing demand for meat, farmers are pushed to set fire to the rainforest in order to clear land. That land is also used to grow soy to feed chickens and pigs. While this practice is illegal, it is rarely enforced, according to a report from the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

In the report, it says beef exports make up 2.33 percent of Brazil’s economy, and the country exports 20 percent of the beef it produces, using the remaining 80 percent to feed the country of 200 million people. The demand for beef in Brazil increases by ten percent every year, along with the need for more farmland. There are 232 million heads of cattle in Brazil — one per each Brazilian resident.

While the need for agriculture expansion caused the fire, beef production comes with its own environmental risks as well. In the CU report, it says one pound of beef requires about 298 square feet of land and 800 liters of water, and an average cow produces about 400 pounds of meat. So, one cow requires 84,000 jugs of water and about two football fields worth of farmland. Additionally, one-third of all freshwater on earth is used for livestock.

The report says that an immediate solution to threat in the Amazon is to reduce the demand for meat, naming China and the EU as some of Brazil’s top customers. The report encouraged those countries to import some of their beef from other countries to lessen the impact on Brazil. Local beef consumption in Brazil needs to be curbed as well.

The Amazon is on fire, again


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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


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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


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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.