Summer in a climate-changing Iowa

Crops face a potential decrease with rising temperatures (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | July 10th, 2018

Iowa summers have always been hot and humid, but the summer of 2018 in particular has had unusual temperature spikes early in the season. Brutal waves of heat and humidity have left many to wonder exactly how Iowa got to this point.

On average, between 1901 and 2016, Iowa’s average temperatures rose about one degree. Only one degree–but the temperature increase has profound effects regardless.

Crops are affected by even incremental temperature increases, especially corn, which has long been a staple crop of the Midwest. All it takes, according to Des Moines researcher Michelle Tigchalaar, is an average temperature increase of 2 to 4 degrees Celsius–or between 3.6 and 7.2 Fahrenheit–for overall crop yields across the United States to decrease by a staggering 18%.

Iowa, with its 1 degree increase, is a quarter of the way there already.

Potential solutions include working on adapting corn and other crops to become more resistant to climate and temperature changes and implementing architecture and infrastructure designed to keep ground-level areas cooler and deflect heat, but the climate may change quicker than we can combat it.


Vegetable oils in bio-fuel pose potential environmental hazard

Palm oil is among the most popular choices for biofuel (/source)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu |July 3rd, 2018

In an effort to phase out palm oil–a commodity that has a large negative impact on both the earth and on ethical human labor–the European Union is looking to replace the bio-fuel ingredient. But proposed alternatives could come at an even higher cost.

Palm oil is easy to produce on small amounts of land, unlike other vegetable oils that require far larger plots to cultivate a proper plot. Though palm oil accounts for roughly 35% of all vegetable oil produced globally, the crop takes up only about 10% of all oil-dedicated farmland.

The expansion of palm oil use has faced criticism, as the ever-expanding farmland is a driving force in global deforestation. Despite palm oil being a problem, alternative oils, such as soy, would only serve to further damage forests and climates in new places, like South America, especially Argentina, where it’s already making a negative impact.

With better management of existing plots of land, the Union hopes that further deforestation and damage can be avoided.


A Silent Summer: Why insects are in danger

There is a growing concern over the slow decline of flying insects (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | June 19th, 2018

Insects and bugs are not everyone’s favorite creatures. They are, however, essential to a healthy and balanced ecosystem. And some of them may be in danger of declining.

The decline in the number of flying bugs was spotted first in Britain, where casual observers started noting a lack of bug debris on their windshields. Known as the “windscreen phenomenon“, citizens started writing letters to The Telegraph, noting the strange lack of insect bodies on their windshields as they drove through the countryside.

Where have all my insects gone?” one citizen wrote.

This strange insect silence has been attributed to everything from pesticides to climate change, but the answers are still unclear. The absence of these flying bugs is eerily reminiscent of the honey bee decline that struck the United States back in 2007, when Colony Collapse Disorder was threatening to severely impact the honey bee population.

While anecdotes about the sudden lack of insects on car windows are frequent, proving definitively that these insects are declining is a bit more difficult. A State of Nature 2016 report released in the UK details the decline of flora and fauna, and the volunteer-run data collection site suggests that insects in the UK have declined roughly 59% since 1970.

State of Nature and other similar nature and environment report sites rely on volunteers most of the time to data-gather, and the hope is that this collection of data can help trace the causes of animal and plant declines.


University of Iowa, for All Of Us

The National Institutes of Health is dedicated to uniting healthcare fronts for physical and environmental safety (/source)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | June 12th, 2018

The University of Iowa has decided to join the National Institutes of Health in its mission to educate the American public on pressing health issues. The mission plan, called the “All Of Us Research Program“, aims to fund and gather data from various studies on the health and behavioral habits of Americans in the hopes of building a database to reference for medical, sociological, and environmental purposes.

All Of Us is a voluntary initiative, and members of the research team request information from potential candidates via email and online outlets. Candidates are asked to provide anything from blood samples, family health and history, diet and exercise habits and a range of other things.

The aim is to reach underrepresented populations and help them, through data-building. Impoverished and undocumented demographics are especially at a significantly high risk health-wise, as many people in these groups face major barriers when seeking out healthcare. The environments they live in can often be detrimental as well, with many undocumented families settling for dangerously polluted areas as cleaner environments are often inaccessible. The University hopes that, by joining this movement, they can help the National Institutes of Health eventually eradicate environmental poverty and health risks.

Iowa’s fading–but fighting–prairies

Prairies are a constantly fading commodity in the Midwest (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | June 5th, 2018

Prairies are a common sight in the Midwest, but no state knows the way of prairie restoration like Iowa. Multiple organizations, many affiliated with Universities, exist solely to help preserve and restore some of Iowa’s former prairieland, as the state used to be absolutely covered with prairies. Currently, less than 0.1% percent of  Iowa’s original prairie is left.

Several local citizens dedicate their time and resources on a daily basis to help restore prairie life. Dr. Daryl Smith at the University of Northern Iowa started the Native Roadside Vegetation Center (now the Tallgrass Prairie Center), one of the largest prairie restoration centers in the country. The center focuses on scientific research, and its staff members find better ways to cultivate prairie plant growth. Further inkand, Cathy Irvine, a “citizen scientist” from Dysart, works with volunteers and students to revive a stretch of 77-acre land outside of her small town into its original prairie state.

Many of these restoration organizations have expressed their dissatisfaction with the education system and the lack of education about the most prominent feature of the Midwestern landscape. This lack of education, coupled with the challenges of a chronic lack of manpower and the high risk of wildfires that prairies often contend with, make restoring and maintaining prairie life a challenge–but it’s one that people like Dr. Smith and Cathy Irvine are more than willing to do.

How clean cryptocurrency can help reduce pollution

Cryptocurrency is the future, but many are concerned about the resources needed to create it. (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | May 29th, 2018

If energy farms used to power blockchain projects–an essential format for distributing cryptocurrency–switch to renewable resources, the impact on the environment would be significant.

“Blockchain” refers to a revolutionary form of technology that was pioneered by the person (or group of people) operating under the name Satoshi Nakamoto. It essentially allows information to be distributed, but prevents it from being copied, making it a perfect vehicle for digital currencies like Bitcoin and essentially acting as a way to prevent counterfeit.

“Mining” for cryptocurrency involves centers with a lot of computers processing tons of  data. These mining centers use a lot of electricity, and most are powered by fossil-fuel resources.

This is where organizations like GEAR step in to fix the problem. GEAR describes itself as “the world’s first closed loop Green Energy and Renewables-focused network.” The group’s vice-president, Vik Panthak, explains that the organization’s main goal is to take a traditionally dirty industry (such as data-mining or blockchaining) and find ways to power these practices with green energy, in the hope that this new model reduces the damage of constant fossil fuels.

As the future of digital currency draws near, Vik hopes that GEAR will pave the way for other digital currency companies and encourage them to go green, before it’s to late.

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.