EnvIowa Podcast: Talking "forever chemicals" with Dr. David Cwiertny

Dr. David Cwiertny, photo taken by Tyler Chalfant

Tyler Chalfant | February 24th, 2020

Today’s episode features an interview recorded Feb. 19th with Dr. David Cwiertny, an environmental chemist in the College of Engineering at the University of Iowa, and Director of the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC). Cwiertny talks about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, explaining how they can still enter our water years after they’ve been phased out of production, and how even minuscule amounts can pose a risk.

Listen here!

Measuring the carbon footprint of your booze

Photo by Ryan Harvey, flickr

Tyler Chalfant | February 21st, 2020

While heavy drinking is known to harm human health, it’s also hurting the planet. Between farming, production, packaging, and distribution, there are a number of ways in which getting your favorite booze is consuming valuable resources and emitting carbon. A 2008 study conducted by New Belgium Brewing Company found that one six-pack of their beer emits about the same amount of carbon as driving a car eight miles.

According to Tom Cumberlege, Associate Director of corporate carbon measuring company Carbon Trust, a general rule of thumb is: the higher the alcoholic content of a drink, the higher the carbon footprint per liter. However, the larger serving sizes of beer and wine, for instance, can increase their overall footprint to make them less environmentally-friendly than liquor. Packaging alone amounts to 40% of beer’s total carbon footprint, while distribution amounts to 14% and refrigeration for 9%.

The New York Times recently explored ways to reduce the environmental footprint of alcohol consumption. Buying locally, or at least domestically, is one way to reduce transportation costs. Choice of container also matters, as the production of aluminum cans emits less than that of glass bottles, and aluminum is more frequently recycled. Manufacturing the bottle accounts for 33% of a bottle of wine’s emissions, and a 2011 study found that boxes reduce the overall carbon footprint from wine by 40%.

IFP says governor's tax proposal doesn't live up to voter's wishes to fund IWILL

Photo by Joshua Mayer, flickr

Tyler Chalfant | February 18th, 2020

A decade after Iowans approved a constitutional amendment to create the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund (IWILL), Governor Kim Reynolds has proposed a sales tax increase to fund the program. The fund requires three-eighths of a cent from a sales tax increase to be set aside as a permanent and protected source of funding dedicated towards conserving and improving the state’s water quality, farmland, and natural wildlife habitats, and providing opportunities for recreation. Critics say that the governor’s plan provides much less funding than was promised. 

Peter Fisher, Research Director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project say that the new proposal would provide $82 million for environmental conservation and restoration programs, which should be $200 million based on what was passed in 2010. Another criticism is that the sales-tax increase has been paired with an income-tax decrease that favors the wealthy and results in a net loss in state tax revenue.

A report from the Iowa Fiscal Partnership found that the plan also excludes digital goods and services, resulting in a loss of $31 million for the fund. The new formula also transfers existing funds, rather than relying on new funding sources for new programs. It also gets rid of much of the outdoor recreation funding approved in 2010 amendment. You can read the full report here.

1 trillion trees proposal causes controversy

Photo from The White House, on flickr

Tyler Chalfant | February 11th, 2020

Last week’s State of the Union address made history‒ marking the first time a president has proposed a policy to reduce carbon emissions in the annual address to Congress. President Trump, who has previously denied evidence of climate change and rolled back nearly 100 environmental regulations, as well as pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, announced that the U.S. is joining the 1 trillion trees initiative.

The president first voiced support of this proposal, for governments and private businesses to plant 1 trillion trees, at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month. The idea was proposed by Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, who committed his company to planting 100 million trees. 

A study last year showed that planting a trillion new trees could remove as much as a third of all greenhouse gases that humans have released since the industrial revolution, calling ecosystem restoration the most effective solution for mitigating climate change. However, several scientists have critiqued the study’s claims, saying that it greatly overestimates the impact that planting trees could have.

Scientists have also criticized the proposal by arguing, along with climate activist Greta Thunberg, that wealth and resources would be better spent elsewhere. Some have argued that world leaders should focus on the preservation of existing forests in places like Brazil and Australia, where wildfires have devastated ecosystems.

EnvIowa Podcast: Talking nanomaterials in rechargeable batteries with Dr. Sara E. Mason


Tyler Chalfant | February 10th, 2020

The UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research is excited to announce the revival and reimagination of our EnvIowa podcast. This weekly podcast will feature 10- to 20-minute interviews with Iowa environmental experts, mainly our own member scientists.

While these researchers are certainly well versed in the complicated jargon of their disciplines, our interviews aim to make their ideas accessible to a general audience. Questions focus not only on the research itself, but how the experts believe it can be applied to solve environmental challenges.

Today’s installment features an interview recorded February 6th with Dr. Sara E. Mason, a chemist at the University of Iowa. Listen to learn more about her work in computational chemistry and research on how nanomaterials may impact our environment.

Listen here!


Iowa DNR releases annual report of greenhouse gas emissions

iowa, america, farm, landscape, corn, cornfield, agriculture, panorama, nature, outdoors
Image from pxfuel

Tyler Chalfant | February 4th, 2020

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is required to issue a report of estimated greenhouse gas emissions each year, and to forecast trends in emissions going forward. At the end of 2019, they released their 2018 report, measuring emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, perfluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluorides. Combined, the total gross greenhouse gas emissions in Iowa reached 137.49 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent (MMtCO₂e), the highest emissions have been since 2010. 

This number has risen 3.38%, or 4.49 MMtCO₂e, from 2017, and 10.09% from 2016, when emissions were at a recent low. The greatest increases came from power plants generating more electricity from fossil fuels, increased fossil fuel emissions from the residential/commercial/industrial sector, an increase in agricultural emissions, and a rise in the production of ammonia in the industrial processes sector. 

With 30% of the state’s total, agriculture remains the largest source of gross emissions in Iowa. Power plant emissions have fallen over the past ten years, and have not been the leading source of emissions since 2011. However, like the rest of the state’s emissions, use of coal and natural gas in electric generation has risen since 2016, while generation from wind, nuclear, and hydropower have fallen slightly.

The DNR projects that agricultural and overall emissions will continue to rise over the next ten years. Overall emissions for 2018 exceeded the projection by nearly 7 MMtCO₂e, largely due to the rise in power plant emissions.

New rule removes certain bodies of water from federal regulation

Photo by Jason Johnson Iowa NRCS, flickr

Tyler Chalfant | January 28th, 2020

The Trump Administration finalized the replacement of another Obama-era environmental regulation last week. Under the Clean Water Act, the 2015 “Waters of the United States” rule placed limits on polluting chemicals that could be used near streams, wetlands, and other bodies of water. 

The rule, which impacted farmers, rural landowners, and real estate developers, was repealed in September of last year. President Trump has called it “one of the worst examples of federal” overreach, and now has replaced it with the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule.” 

This rule limits federally regulated waters to four categories: the territorial seas and traditional navigable waters; perennial and intermittent tributaries to those waters; certain lakes, ponds, and impoundments; and wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters. It also excludes from federal jurisdiction wetlands, previously converted cropland, and waste treatment systems. 

Spokesmen for the American Farm Bureau Federation and the American Gas Association celebrated the new rule for its limiting of federal power. Environmental groups have warned, however, that the change could put the drinking water of millions of Americans at risk of contamination. A panel of government appointed scientists said earlier this month that the rule “neglects established science” by excluding certain bodies of water.