Researchers call for "peak meat" to limit emissions by 2030

Tyler Chalfant | December 12th, 2019

A group of scientists has called on governments to “declare a timeframe for peak livestock,” expressing the need for global meat production to stabilize or decline by 2030 in order to reduce global carbon emissions. Raising livestock accounts for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, as well as 80% of agricultural land use while only making up 18% of food calories.

Production of meat, milk, and eggs have continued to grow along with the world population since the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was published in 1990. If current trends were to continue, livestock would account for almost half of the global emissions goals set for 2030. 

In addition to reducing the methane produced by cattle and other large livestock, the researchers also say that cutting back on meat and dairy in diets would free up land to restore forests, which are the best option for naturally removing carbon from the atmosphere.

The letter to the Lancet Planetary Health journal focuses its recommendations on wealthier nations, acknowledging that priorities must be different in developing countries where undernourishment is prevalent. For the United States, and especially Iowa, one of the country’s leading livestock producers, peak livestock will likely mean balancing economic incentives against environmental concerns.

Rise in natural gas drives increase in global carbon emissions

Tyler Chalfant | December 10th, 2019

As representatives from nearly 200 countries meet to discuss limiting greenhouse gas emissions, a study released last week shows that global fossil emissions have risen for a third year in a row. This rise is largely due to an increase in the use of natural gas that has outpaced the decline of other fossil fuels, including coal.

The growth in emissions largely comes from China and India. While emissions in North American and European countries are gradually declining, these countries still consume 5 to 20 times as much oil per capita as China and India. Therefore, as car ownership and air travel in Asia increase, global oil consumption is expected to rise.

This prediction is part of a larger trend. Natural gas, often viewed as a cleaner “bridge fuel” used to replace coal and other fossil fuels, as well as renewables, are being used to provide new energy to new consumers, not just replacing other fossil fuels. Natural gas is the fastest-growing fossil fuel globally, but has been presented by energy companies as a long-term solution. 

As coal has declined in recent years, the U.S is projected to see a 3.5% rise in natural gas use in 2019. The University of Iowa has increased natural gas use, rising 61% between 2014 and 2018, as the primary means of displacing coal in its power plant. When University President Bruce Harreld declared a climate crisis on Monday, he said that the university wants to substitute natural gas as well and move towards biomass.

Because of these trends in oil and natural gas use make it likely that we will see another increase in carbon emissions in 2020. One major obstacle to meeting the goal of a 2 degrees Celsius increase limit, set in the Paris Climate Agreement, is establishing international carbon markets, an issue that could be decided in Madrid this week. 

Federal judge blocks enforcement of Iowa "ag gag" law

Photo by Jonathan Padish

Tyler Chalfant | December 5th, 2019

A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on Monday blocking enforcement of an Iowa law that would prevent whistleblowers or undercover activists or journalists from investigating livestock facilities, puppy mills, or meatpacking plants. The law makes it a trespassing crime to get into an agricultural facility under false pretenses with the intent of causing financial or physical damage.

Critics refer to it as an “ag gag” law, and claim that any news coverage of “bad practices” will inevitably damage a business’s reputation and cause financial harm. Governor Kim Reynolds argued that the law helps “further the safety and security of our farmers” by preventing unapproved items or people from entering farms.

Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said that the law threatens “animals, food safety, workers’ rights, and the environment.” The Animal Legal Defense Fund was one of several groups that joined the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa in challenging the law.

The law was passed in March after a similar law was struck down by a federal judge as unconstitutional on first amendment grounds. The state is currently appealing that decision. 

The new law is also similar to an Idaho law that partially survived a constitutional challenge last year. The court ruled that audio and visual recording of agricultural operations could not be banned, but upheld two provisions against using misrepresentation to obtain records or employment with the goal of causing harm.

Every two seconds, someone loses their home due to climate change

Photo from NASA

Tyler Chalfant | December 3rd, 2019

Over the past decade, 20 million people ‒ the equivalent of one person every two seconds ‒ have been forced from their homes due to climate change, according to a new report from Oxfam. This figure makes climate change the number one driver of internal displacement over this time. 

People living in developing countries are also the most affected, and within countries, the poorest communities, and particularly women, are the most at risk. About 80% of those displaced live in Asia, which is home to a third of the world’s impoverished. 

People in low and low-middle income countries such as Somalia and India are over four times as likely to be displaced as those living in high-income countries, which have historically contributed the most to global carbon emissions. 

Small island developing states face the greatest risk. In countries like Cuba, Dominica, and Tuvalu, nearly 5% of the population has been displaced annually due to extreme weather events.

The number of climate-related disasters per year that resulted in displacement has risen dramatically over the past ten years, with over 1,500 in 2018, compared with roughly 200 in 2008. 

The report was released on Monday as representatives from over 200 countries met in Madrid for the COP25 UN climate conference. The group will evaluate emission reduction targets and attempt to set rules for international emissions trading. Ahead of the conference, UN Secretary General António Guterres said, “climate change is no longer a long-term problem,” as we have reached “the point of no return.”

Decade-old conservation amendment may finally receive funding

Photo from Max Pixel

Tyler Chalfant | November 26th, 2019

In a 2010 referendum, Iowans approved a constitutional amendment to create the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, 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. Nearly a decade later, that fund still remains empty

The fund requires a state sales tax increase of 3/8th of a cent, something the legislature never approved. Recent polling has found that 69% of Iowans support this increase, up from 63% who voted for the amendment in the first place. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver says that the funding would have to be a part of a net decrease in Iowans’ tax burden, while some Democrats are concerned that the tax is regressive, as it disproportionately places the burden of fixing environmental problems on those with low to moderate incomes who did not cause them.

Still, Governor Kim Reynolds has said she’s working on a plan to fill the fund which could be voted on during the legislative session starting in January. A one-cent increase in Iowa’s sales tax would generate an additional $547 million, $170 million of which would be directed to the Trust Fund. The constitutionally protected funding would primarily be committed to natural resources, soil, water, and watershed conservation, as well as the resource enhancement and protection program known as REAP and local conservation partnerships.

Tropical Storm Sebastien predicted to become 7th hurricane this year

Map of storms during the 2019 hurricane season, from Wikimedia Commons

Tyler Chalfant | November 21st, 2019

Tropical Storm Sebastien is the 18th named storm to form in the Atlantic this year, and is expected to develop into a hurricane late Thursday and into Friday. Hurricanes this late in the season are rare, and there have only been seven since satellites began monitoring them in 1966. 2019 has seen a relatively calm hurricane season compared to recent years, but this is the first season since 2012 to have 18 storms. 

Sebastien is headed further out into the ocean and poses no threat to land. Late season storms have been devastating in the past, including when Hurricane Otto became the latest-in-season hurricane on record to make landfall from the Atlantic on November 26th, 2016. Other major November hurricanes have reached the Caribbean and Central America in recent years, though one of the worst hit Cuba back in 1932, leaving over 3,000 dead. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects that the effects of climate change will increase the frequency and severity of hurricanes, with higher rainfall rates and more storms developing into Category 4 or 5 hurricanes. The number of tropical storms per season increased on average from 2000 to 2013, and out of the past ten seasons, seven have been considered above average by NOAA, including this year’s.

Iowa City releases new report on Climate Action Acceleration

Tyler Chalfant | November 19th, 2019

Photo from Alan Light, flickr

In August, Iowa City, motivated by student climate strikers, became the first city in Iowa to declare a climate crisis. The resolution updated the emissions goals set by the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan passed in 2018, and directed the City Manager’s Office to develop a report recommending ways to meet these new targets within 100 days. 

Last Friday, City Council released that report, which contains 64 initiatives to reduce carbon emissions in buildings, transportation, and waste, as well as to adapt to more volatile weather, and promote sustainable lifestyles. The greatest number of these initiatives are focused on increasing energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy in buildings, which account for approximately 82% of emissions. 

The new targets set in August were based on a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which claimed that human-caused emissions would net to be reduced by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and to reach net zero by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In Iowa City, that would require a minimum annual decrease of about 22,000 metric tonnes of carbon emissions. 

The report also includes recommendations of tax increases to fund incentive programs and public projects and education, as well as a partnership with MidAmerican Energy to install utility-scale solar panels. City Sustainability Coordinator Brenda Nations said that, while these goals are feasible, “the challenging thing is we need a lot of people on board to do it.” City Council will review the report and its recommendations at Tuesday evening’s work session.