The vital importance of sustainable food

assorted sliced fruits
Photo by Trang Doan on

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | February 19th, 2019

United Nations environment recently released a statement on the current issues with farming practices, and outlines the need for a more sustainable future for food.

Food-related issues continue to be one of the largest threats to our safety and to the safety of our environment. Over 800 million people still struggle to find enough food to survive. Those that have plenty to eat often have unhealthy diets that contribute to heart disease and other health issues that greatly shorten lifespans.

The practices employed by most modern farming businesses only add to the loss of biodiversity and the increase in greenhouse gases that continue affecting the average temperature of our planet. It’s fairly well known by know that one of the biggest contributors to deforestation is, in fact, the meat industry, burning down swaths of trees to clear room for cattle to graze.

The UN suggests, looking forward to a future that’s set to cap our global population at around 10 billion, a number of ways that may help us get a handle on our farming problem: utilize the land we have. Protect biodiversity. Use resources wisely and responsibly. Start leaning on other crops as food staples.

Partnering with Biodiversity International, UN Environment launched Biodiversity for Food and Nutrition–a program to encourage biodiversity in both farming practice and diets globally. With this initiative, and with articles and press releases bringing the issues of unsustainable farming into light, there is perhaps a way for us to continue feeding out ever-growing global population.

University designs solar and sun-powered flags

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Photo by Pixabay on

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | February 13th, 2019

Scientists at the University of Manchester have discovered a way to capture light and wind in a single, flexible panel of technology.

The project uses piezoelectric and photovoltaic cells, strips of material that work to convert movement and sunlight into energy, respectively.

Piezoelectric fibers have been used in other modern advancements in technology. Their ability to sense movement and strain make them perfect for incorporation into clothing, headbands, and other wearable electronics.

Solar and wind power tend to work well together, as the two phenomenons tend to occur strongest when the other is diminished. Gusty storms flare up and cover sources of light, making technology that combines both useful.

Our declining insect population


Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu  | February 12, 2019

With the biomass of insects declining, a crises like this could spell disaster for the environment.

Researcher Francisco Sanchez-Bayo  published a paper through the Biological Conservation Journal estimating a 40% decrease in insects within the century if the population doesn’t stop falling at its current rate of 2.5% per year.

Francisco reminds us that “bugs”–which make up 70% of the animal kingdom–are essential to our ecosystems, helping pollinate plants and regulate other, more harmful species of insects. Insects also serve as food for a large percentage of the bird population, and some horrofic cases of birds eating each other to survive when faced with a lack of insect food have been reported.

A combination of factors, including destruction of habitat and pollution from commercial fertilizers and pesticides are some of the main causes behind insects’ steady decline, though these are not easy problems to fix without good alternatives on hand.

Ultimately, more sustainable agricultural practices will give us a foothold with this problem, and can help us bring out bug population back where it belongs.


Fluorochemicals and our water supply

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Food wrappers, waxy papers, and other products contain fluorochemicals | Photo by Steve Johnson on

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | February 6th, 2019

Fluorochemicals are a rising concern for environmentalists everywhere, as the compounds are being found in rivers, in soil, and in people’s bloodstreams.

A fluorochemical is a compound used to repel water and grease, and it’s used on an astounding number of items: shoes, raincoats, umbrellas, non-stick pans, food wrappers This family of compounds, was created in the 1930s by strengthening carbon chains with fluorine atoms. Because of these incredibly strong bonds, fluorochemicals don’t break down in grease or water–and they don’t biodegrade.

Fluorochemicals have something of a sordid history, as the debate about its adverse effect on health has been present since the 1990s. Manufacturing companies used to use two types of compounds in their products specifically, PFOAs and PFOSs. In the early 2000s, facing mounting evidence that Fluorochemical exposure leads to high chances of cancer and pregnancy risks, companies agreed to phase out its use, opting for a different formula–PFAs, a compound that is being currently used today.

Unfortunately, this compound also uses carbon and flourine, With many manufacturers reluctant to share more information on their chemical compounds, environmental chemists and epidemiologists globally are starting over with their research, trying to figure out if this new brand of chemical is any less–or any more–harmful than its predecessors.



Climate change: views around the United States

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Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | February 5th, 2019

Data recently released by Yale shows a breakdown of the American public’s opinion towards climate change.

The visuals are broken down region by region, created after a team of scientists working through the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication computed available data from local polls (as polling on local levels is time-consuming and costly). Using two data sets and cross-referencing their information constantly, Yale researchers were able to create a fairly accurate model estimating the general national stance on climate change.

Overall, around 70% of those surveyed believed that climate change was a real, tangible phenomenon. There are some naysayers as well, those that stand with their belief that climate change–at least, change as depicted in scientific and general media–is not a current threat.

While the breakdown of information is as recent as Spring of 2018, the researchers warn that no dataset is completely accurate, and there will always be a small margin of error.

You can access the map and dataset here.


Iowa pork producers invest in the environment

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Pork farmers are being encouraged to adopt nitrate-reducing farming methods | Photo by Pixabay on

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | January 30th, 2019

The Iowa Pork Producers Association–the IPPA for short–are trying to help encourage Iowa pig farmers to adopt greener farming methods. They’re partnering with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to help fund farmers who show interest in these new, nutrient-loss reducing technologies and methods.

This new plan will help relax the costs that pig farmers who install bioreactors and saturated buffers bear, with preference given to farmers whose land could benefit from reduced nitrate loss, as the lost nitrate in water used during farming often runs into rivers and streams.

Bioreactors work by converting nitrates in the streams of water that pass through it into di-nitrogen gas. Buffers work in much the same way, removing nitrates from excess water before it can reach larger rivers, lakes, and streams.

The IPPA has pledged $25,000 to this project, adding to its long list of environmental investments, including its support of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.


Iowa’s looming cold snap

blue wallpaper
Photo by Steve Johnson on

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | January 29th, 2019

Iowa is no stranger to cold fronts.

The Midwestern state has experienced its fair share of extreme weather, with Des Moines reaching a documented -19 degrees Fahrenheit in 2009. This week, Iowa City and its surrounding areas are faced with a polar vortex so extreme that it’s forced the University of Iowa to cancel classes for the first time in 10 years. Temperatures are expected to reach up to -45 degrees Fahrenheit with the wind chill.

Cold fronts operate differently from most other fronts. They’re denser, and are often preceded by drops in pressure and approaching, thin lines of nebulous clouds. Cold fronts typically move faster, and are more angled than other fronts, leading to more vertical winds.

Wind is also a concern here. Wind chill increases the speed that air is carried away from the body, and can make cold temperatures feel even colder. Fast-moving currents can also make it more dangerous for people to stay outside in the cold, since body heat is more quickly taken away.

Staying safe in extreme cold is key. Multiple layers are a must if venturing outside, as frostbite and hypothermia can set in fairly quickly. That said, the best solution for surviving the upcoming cold snap is simple–stay inside.