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.

Farmers could be key allies in climate crisis


By Julia Shanahan | August 9th, 2019

According to a report from CNN, farmers could potentially practice farming in a way that would remove carbon from the air and put in into the ground.

From soybeans to corn to pine trees, plants already move carbon out of the air. The report suggests that with enough financial motivation and innovation, farmers could continue growing food while also practicing carbon management. Substances like biochar, charcoal and other organic material that is almost pure carbon, can be sprinkled over soil to keep carbon in the ground for thousands of years, and it doesn’t go back into the atmosphere.

The 2018 IPCC Lands Report says that nearly a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions come out of the agriculture sector, pointing to diesel fuel and synthetic fertilizer.  Gene Tackle, a co-author of the National Climate Assessment, said in the CNN report that farmers could be key allies in helping to reduce, and even eliminate, global greenhouse gas emissions. 

The National Climate Assessment projects that the amount of days that exceed 90 degrees in  Des Moines could increase from 17 days to 70 by mid-century. Additionally, the latest IPCC report finds that growing food around the world will only become more difficult as the weather becomes more unpredictable.

Farmers in Iowa were burdened this past year with extremely heavy rainfall and flooding, as well as an ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China that has made it hard for some farmers to sell goods. There are currently no mandatory conservation practices that farmers must practice in Iowa – extra conservation practices are done on a voluntary basis across the state. 

Iowa’s electric-car expansion


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By Julia Shanahan | August 1st, 2019

MidAmerican Energy will build 15 new charging stations across Iowa to encourage Iowans to by electric cars, according to a report from the Des Moines Register.

The company will invest $3.75 million to build the stations along U.S. Highway 20 from Sioux City to Waterloo. The Des Moines-based company said their studies show that people like the environmentally-friendly vehicles, but worry about costs and availability of chargers. The new charging stations would charge vehicles in 20 to 45 minutes.

The amount of battery-electric vehicle registrations more than doubled between 2008 and 2016, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. From April of 2017 to September of 2018, battery-electric vehicles increased from 400 to nearly 800 vehicles. The combined total of battery-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles in 2018 was 3,000 cars.

According to a 2019 report from the European Environment Agency, contrary to some skeptics, electric cars are better in terms of air quality and reducing the effects of climate change. The report also says that as renewable fuel becomes more prevalent in everyday use, the benefits of electric cars will increase.  

However, no car can be 100 percent clean, especially if the electric energy is not coming from a renewable source. The European Union, U.S., and China, are the biggest players in electric vehicles globally.

On The Radio- Microplastics are everywhere


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(flickr/ Slyde Handboards)

Kasey Dresser| July 29, 2019

This weeks segment looks at increasing microplastic pollution worldwide. 

Transcript: 

Plastic is in the air we breathe, the food we eat and even the water we drink. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus 

Plastic pollution is a worldwide problem that is exponentially increasing due to consumerism and an increase in the amount of plastic used daily. 

Most of our plastic will likely end up in the ocean, where when exposed to light will break down into microscopic particles called “microplastics.” These very small plastic bits can be harmful to our environment and health.

A new study by the University of Newcastle in Australia, discovered that an average person could be ingesting approximately 5 grams or about a credit cards worth of plastic every week. Everyday food and beverage consumption could add up to 52,000 microplastics pieces each year. 

The study also suggests that an average person could consume an approximate 1,769 particles of microplastics a week, just from tap or bottled water—which makes drinking water the largest source of human plastic intake.

For more information, visit Iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org. 

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

On The Radio- Glass skyscrapers


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(flickr/Duane Schermerhorn)

Kasey Dresser| July 22, 2019

This weeks segment looks at how glass skyscrapers are negatively impacting the environment. 

Transcript:

Glass skyscrapers are having negative impacts on our environment.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Architects have known for a long time about the difficulties of keeping glass buildings from overheating. When glass office structures became popular choices for new developments in Chicago during the 1880s, practical ventilation methods were used to reduce the heat inside of these structures, but this was only somewhat effective. Modern conveniences, like central air conditioning and central heating, make temperature regulation much easier.

High-rise, glass-paneled buildings are visually striking, but the designs and materials of these buildings make them inefficient energy users. Temperatures are hard to regulate in glass structures, and taller buildings use significantly more energy than shorter ones. Buildings that reach over 20 stories use about twice as much electricity per square meter than buildings under 6 stories.

Environmentalist have been working to restrict the number of glass high-rise developments in the cities across the country. While there are some benefits to glass—like natural lighting—architects are still working on ways to make high-rises more environmentally friendly.

For more information, visit Iowa Environmental Focus dot org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E Mason.