U.K. environment secretary launches a “clean air plan”

Clean air is becoming a priority for UK officials (/source)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | May 22nd, 2018

UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove launched his new clean air plan this morning in an attempt to reduce air pollution.

The plan outlines steps to take to reduce the presence of particle matter in the air, including legislating for clean fuel whenever possible and pressuring politicians in the country to properly budget for renewable resources. Currently, air pollution poses the fourth largest threat to public health in the EU, ranking in after cancer, obesity and heart disease. 

Gove hopes that his plan, now out for consultation and review, will help raise awareness about air pollution and the dire consequences of unclean air. A study conducted in the UK showed that roughly 1 in 5 of the respondents aren’t fully aware of how serious air pollution can be.

Gove is hoping that, by pushing pollution education and advocating for an air quality notification system to be implemented on a national level, he can change the public’s awareness of their own air quality and environment.



Fairfax moves ahead with a new school bus plan

Multiple school counties are debating about replacing diesel buses with electric ones (/image)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | May 5th, 2018

In Fairfax County, Virginia, schoolbuses are getting revamped.

The distinctive yellow buses all mostly run on diesel, but with some redoubled efforts, that may soon change.

Schoolbuses are actually far better for the environment than driving cars–the amount of CO2 emitted from a schoolbuses is significantly lower than the CO2 emitted from cars driving kids to school individually. Still, many people, concerned about the negative health effects of diesel, are urging school counties to replace their diesel buses with electric or natural gas varieties. Diesel exhaust, according to OSHA, can be extremely hazardous when inhaled over a long period of time–especially for children, whose lungs are typically still developing.

The assistant superintendent for Fairfax County Public Schools Transportation and Facilities, Jeff Platenberg, has long been considering purchasing electric schoolbuses for the next replacement fleet. Electric buses are more expensive up front, but recent models have been getting cheaper.

A report on this topic from the United States Public Research Group suggests multiple sources of alternative funding to help with the initial purchase, including allocating funds from the Volkswagon’s “Dieselgate” settlement.

Still, the change will be slow, as school counties search for the funding necessary to change over to this new form of transportation.

A visit with Dr. James Hansen about his work

Kasey Dresser | May 2, 2018

The University of Iowa was very lucky to receive a visit from scientist, researcher, and adjunct professor Dr. James Hansen. He was gracious enough to sit down with us and interview about his work, education, and relationship with Dr. James Van Allen.

Hansen was trained in astronomy and physics under Dr. Van Allen at the University of Iowa, graduating with the highest distinction in 1963; he then published his dissertation on Venus and helped launch the Pioneer Venus project in May of 1978. Hansen was the head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York from 1981 to 2013. Today, he continues his work on climate change as the director of the Program on Climate Science at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and gave a TED talk on climate change in 2012.

This video, discussing his work, will be the first of a 3 part video series. Tomorrow, Dr. Hansen will speak directly to students and the following day will focus on his relationship with Dr. Van Allen.

UN helps launch an environmental effort for youth in China

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.



A brief look at the life of David Buckel

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.

China continues to take the lead in clean energy

Beijing has shown some of the biggest improvements with pollution reduction (/source)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu  | April 10th, 2018

China has slowly made its way to the top in its quest to push the use of renewable energy. Solar power saw a huge increase in use during 2017, making up roughly a third of new energy added globally.

Last year, China invested roughly $126.6 billion in renewable energy, cementing them as one of the leaders in clean sources. Four years prior, in 2014, the global superpower effectively declared war on pollution, setting goals for its major cities to reduce the output of fine particles from factories and construction sites. In 2018, China is very clearly winning this battle: the country has reduced its overall urban pollution by an average of 32%.

Lots of methods were employed to meet this goal. Cars were restricted by license number; every citizen with a car has, by now, a ritual of figuring out which day of the week their vehicle is prohibited and using public transport to travel on that particular day. new coal-burning plants were prohibited in the most polluted areas and existing ones had to reduce their emissions. Although China’s overall pollution still far exceeds that of other nations, its overall pollution reduction is incredibly promising.


Antarctic ice is shrinking at a concerning rate

The Antarctic is in greater danger than scientists previously thought (/coolantarctica)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | April 3rd, 2018

Underwater ice melt from the Antarctic is one of the largest contributors to rising sea levels.

Viewed from above, the Antarctic seems stable and safe, with the ice cap changing little in the past few years. Down near the ocean floor, however, the change is a lot more drastic. Small increases in temperature have melted away the bottom of the ice, sometimes as much as around five meters per year.

Between 2010 and 2016 specifically, around 1,463 km2 of the ice along the ocean floor has melted.

The stability of glaciers and ice formations are often measured with grounding lines–a valuable resource for scientists researching sea-level rise. Grounding lines, in short, indicate where glaciers transition from being grounded in the ocean floor to the levels at which glaciers start to free-float in the water.

The grounding line is more accurately described as a zone, and changes in the grounding line are intrinsically linked with changes in sea levels. As ocean temperatures rise, grounding lines specifically are often melted away, a change that makes icebergs increasingly unstable and susceptible to thinning and calving (when sections of ice break away from the larger mass). All of these changes contribute to sea-level rise and put the ocean and the humans living by it in further danger.