ISU research complicates cover crops


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Cover crops hold onto soil and carbon during the off-season (via Creative Commons).

Julia Poska| November 13, 2019

Though cover cropping has proven advantageous for soil and water conservation in Iowa, the practice’s benefits to atmospheric quality may be negligible, new research from Iowa State University found.

When farm fields are left bare during the winter and spring, wind and water transport soil and nutrients off the land and into streams and rivers, degrading both the field and water quality. Exposed soil typically releases carbon into the atmosphere at increased rates compared to planted areas, contributing significantly to climate change.

Cover cropping involves planting alternative crops like rye or clover to cover and nourish the land throughout the off-season. The conservation practice holds soil in place, pulls atmospheric carbon into plant material and adds carbon back into soil upon decomposition. Sequestering carbon in plants and soil is key to combatting climate change.

That carbon may not remain in the soil for long, however. The new study, published in Global Change Biology Bioenergy,  found that the added soil carbon stimulates microbes in the soil that emit carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere as they digest the organic matter.

The research — conducted by ISU assistant professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology Steven Hall and grad student Chenglong Ye —  highlights the need for a variety of solutions for the planet’s numerous natural resource problems. While cover crops are a proven protectors against water pollution, we will need to implement other strategies to make farming carbon neutral, too.

U.S. formally withdrawals from Paris Agreement, but 26 Iowan parties are still in


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The Paris Agreement aims to limit harmful emissions (via flickr)

Julia Poska | November 6, 2019

The United States has officially notified the United Nations of its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.

President Trump announced his intent to withdraw on the campaign trail and again in January 2017. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted Monday that the administration had begun the formal, one-year withdrawal process that day. U.N. rules declared Nov. 4 the first day formal withdrawal was possible, according to the BBC. 

If a new president is elected in 2020, he or she may choose to reenter the agreement, which intends to minimize global temperature increase by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in participation nations.

In the meantime, over 3,000 U.S. cities, counties, states, businesses, tribes and institutions have declared intent to cut emissions in line with the agreement via the “We Are Still In”  declaration. In Iowa, 26 parties have signed on including…

  • The cities of Des Moines, Iowa City, Dubuque and Fairfield
  • Johnson and Linn Counties
  • Coe College, Grinnell College, Kirkwood Community College, Luther College, Iowa State University and the University of Iowa

 

 

Transportation pollution is one of the leading air pollutants


By Julia Shanahan | October 25th, 2019

According to an Oct. 10 report from the New York Times, greenhouse emissions in the Des Moines metro area have increased 85 percent since 1990 and 20 percent per capita.

In 2017, transportation was the largest source of greenhouse emissions, topping industry and agriculture. Passenger vehicles made up a large majority of the emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions have increased in almost every metropolitan area nationwide, with New York a leading city, the report says.

Iowa is often scrutinized for its role in contributing to climate change due to Iowa farmers’ farming practices. Jerry Schnoor, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa, told the Des Moines Register that along with Des Moines’ growing population, greenhouse gas emissions can also be attributed to surrounding suburbs expanding into what was once rural farmland, therefore increasing Iowa’s carbon footprint. He also called for regulations on large freight vehicles, saying there should be improved average fleet-mile efficiency.

In 2018, the total number of licensed drivers in Polk County was 347,472, an approximate 100,000-person increase since 2008. In Iowa, 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions comes from transportation pollution, with agriculture accounting for a majority of Iowa air pollution with 30 percent.

2019 Iowa Climate Statement released this Wednesday!


Kasey Dresser| September 16, 2019

Just weeks after July 2019 became the hottest month on record, 212 faculty and researchers from 38 Iowa colleges and universities endorsed the 2019 Iowa Climate Statement: Dangerous Heat Events to Become More Frequent and Severe

The statement released this Wednesday, September 18th, warns Iowans and Midwesterners of formidable extreme heat projections for the region. Tune in for the release of this year’s statement on The UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research Facebook Page at 2pm. 

The UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research has released annual climate statements since 2011. These statements, vetted by hundreds of Iowa’s top experts, place pivotal climate change research into an Iowa-specific context, encouraging preparedness and resilience in the face of the climate crisis.

 

The world’s protein companies still failing to address their environmental impact


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(Mike Myers/flickr)

Kasey Dresser| September 9, 2019

The Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index, in its second active year, just released their report analyzing the environmental, social, and governance risks of meat, dairy, and farmed fish producers. One large take away from this year’s study was the lack of attention given to environmental and animal welfare by some of the world’s largest protein producers.

The FAIRR Index looked at 60 different companies and found evidence of lacking sustainability efforts for greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, food waste, conditions for workers, antibiotic use, and animal welfare. Only 30% of the analyzed companies were able to give the researchers specific environmental strategy plans which focused only on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. One-quarter of the companies refused to even disclose their use of antibiotics on their animals.

As more research regarding climate change emerges, this isn’t just a problem for consumers. The conversation is shifting toward some of the financial consequences of severe weather for these large companies.

“What we’re seeing is that companies in the sector are contributing to many of the risks we discuss in the report, but they’re also deeply vulnerable…to the impacts of climate change,” says FAIRR’s Head of Research, Aarti Ramachandran. In an interview with Forbes, Ramachandran gave an example of an Australian Agricultural Company that lost over $100 million in damages due to extreme flooding.

Ramachandran does leave the report on a positive note acknowledging the increased investments in plant-based proteins by meat and dairy companies. He stated, “we think that, overall, there should be a rebalancing of protein so that animal protein consumption doesn’t continue to grow at the same trajectory, and so that there is a sustainable balance between plant-based and animal-based food.”

Invasive pests contributing to climate change


Image from mali maeder on Pexels.com

By Julia Shanahan | September 6th, 2019

A study from Purdue University says 15 different kinds of invasive bugs and insects kill so many trees each year, it’s equivalent to 5 million car emissions. 

The report said that while not all dead trees immediately release carbon, part of the dead biomass will eventually make its way into the atmosphere. It says that the large amount of dying trees suppresses the hope of those forests taking enough carbon out of the atmosphere to combat climate change.

Purdue professors and members of the U.S. Forest Service found that of the 15 invasive pests, “nine are pathogens, four are sap-feeders, one is a wood-borer and one is a foliage-feeder.”

The annual loss of biomass from invasive species is 0.04 percent, but the authors of the report warn that number has potential to grow. The report also says that the researchers did not account for losses in urban areas, so the percentage is likely higher.

It said that mitigating future invasions will also affect the changing climate, because currently, the invasive species are significantly contributing to the increase in greenhouse emissions. 

The Amazon is on fire, again


Image from Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

By Julia Shanahan | August 23rd, 2019

The Amazon rainforest is on fire. There have been over 74,000 fires in the Brazilian Amazon since January, according to a report from the Washington Post, making for an 85 percent increase in fires since last year.

Researchers at Brazil’s space center, INPE, told Reuters that there is nothing abnormal about climate or the amount of rainfall this year in the Amazon. A majority of the fires were started by farmers in the region preparing farmland for planting season, as natural fires in the Amazon are rare. There were hundreds of recorded fires set by farmers on Aug. 10 in an attempt to clear land and further development, much of which is illegal according to the Washington Post. Farmers often use the land for cattle and soybeans.

The Amazon, sometimes referred to as the Earth’s “lungs,” has an extremely role in releasing oxygen and storing carbon dioxide. The Amazon lost 1,330 square miles of forest cover during the first half of 2019, according to The New York Times. The report says that while climate change did not start these fires, a changing climate can make human-caused fires worse. Fires burn more quickly in dry conditions.

According to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, the fires have caused a spike in carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions — a serious threat to public health and to global warming.