Coastal homes are threatened by sea level rise


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Beautiful sea front property is being threatened by sea level rise. (flickr/sdobie)

Eden DeWald | June 20th, 2018

Coastal homes all the way from Maine to Florida are feeling the threat of sea level rise. Approximately 300,000 homes along the East and West Coast of the United States are at risk for reoccurring flooding due to sea level rise. According to National Geographic, the global mean sea level has risen four to eight inches over the past century. However, the rate at which sea level is rising has been twice as fast for the last 20 years when compared to the first 80 years of the last century.

Sea level rise is caused by three main factors, all of which are consequences of climate change. Thermal expansion, the melting of ice over Antarctica and Greenland, and the melting of polar ice caps and glaciers, all contribute to the measurable rise that researchers have observed over the past century. In 2012, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that sea level could rise up to 38 inches by 2100.

Sea level rise has serious consequences for homeowners. By 2045, the slowly creeping disaster of chronic flooding could pose great threats to coastal housing markets. The Union of Concerned Scientists conducted a study on the effect that sea level will have on the East Coast and the Gulf area. Kirsten Dahl, an author of the study, stated that the loss of tax revenue from affected homes could cut the tax base of small towns by as much as 70 percent. Coastal homes are highly sought after real estate, but buying a beach house may not be the luxury it once was.

 

On the Radio- The reduced carbon impact of electric buses


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An English electric bus service makes a stop (Paul R/flickr)

Eden DeWald | June 11, 2018

This week’s segment discusses the findings of a new study about the reduced carbon impact of electric buses.

Transcript:

A new study describes the health and economic benefits of electric school buses.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Environment America Research and Policy Center recently released a study that describes the advantages of swapping America’s school buses for cleaner electric ones. The center estimates that the switch could reduce pollutants by about 5.3 million tons annually, which is the equivalent of taking one million cars off of the road.

Ninety-five percent of school buses run on diesel fuel. Inhaling diesel exhaust can cause respiratory diseases and worsen existing conditions such as asthma. School children that ride on school buses are especially vulnerable to inhaling in high concentrations of toxic diesel fumes.  

While replacing 480,000 school buses nationwide is a daunting task, the move would actually save states and local school districts money, as each electric bus costs roughly $6,400 less per year to operate.

The study outlines possible financial resources for states to use for the transition, including federal grants and utility investments.

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

From the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

How clean cryptocurrency can help reduce pollution


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Cryptocurrency is the future, but many are concerned about the resources needed to create it. (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | May 29th, 2018

If energy farms used to power blockchain projects–an essential format for distributing cryptocurrency–switch to renewable resources, the impact on the environment would be significant.

“Blockchain” refers to a revolutionary form of technology that was pioneered by the person (or group of people) operating under the name Satoshi Nakamoto. It essentially allows information to be distributed, but prevents it from being copied, making it a perfect vehicle for digital currencies like Bitcoin and essentially acting as a way to prevent counterfeit.

“Mining” for cryptocurrency involves centers with a lot of computers processing tons of  data. These mining centers use a lot of electricity, and most are powered by fossil-fuel resources.

This is where organizations like GEAR step in to fix the problem. GEAR describes itself as “the world’s first closed loop Green Energy and Renewables-focused network.” The group’s vice-president, Vik Panthak, explains that the organization’s main goal is to take a traditionally dirty industry (such as data-mining or blockchaining) and find ways to power these practices with green energy, in the hope that this new model reduces the damage of constant fossil fuels.

As the future of digital currency draws near, Vik hopes that GEAR will pave the way for other digital currency companies and encourage them to go green, before it’s to late.

On The Radio – Energy consumption at Google


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Google

Kasey Dresser | May 21, 2018

This weeks segment looks at how Google was able to reuse more than 100% of the energy they consumed in 2017. 

Transcript:

Google has become one of the biggest corporate buyers of renewable energy.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The massive company planned to get 100% of their energy from renewable sources in 2017. At the end of the year, they exceeded that goal.

Google currently holds contracts to buy 3 gigawatts of renewable energy from a wind farm specifically built to power the corporation’s offices and satellite locations globally. The purchase is the largest investment in renewable energy by a corporation to date, making Google a top customer of green energy.

For 2017, the company ended up investing in and generating more green energy than it consumed, a cycle that keeps a steady supply of energy on hand. Google’s Senior Vice President Urs Holzle explained that they were working on over 25 green energy projects around the globe.

Other large companies are following in Google’s footsteps by investing in renewable sources.

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

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone

On The Radio- Solar Energy


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Solar energy harnesses the natural energy of the sun to produce electricity. (Georgia Business/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | May 7, 2018

This weeks segment looks at activity in the solar energy industry during the first quarter of the year.

Transcript:

The worldwide solar energy industry is booming in 2018.   

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Renewable solar energy is a growing market with a 2.9 trillion dollar increase since 2004. Clean Technica, a solar energy company, recently released a report of all major changes in the solar energy industry in the first quarter of 2018. Here are some of the highlights:

India has had the biggest increase in spending. They officially broke ground on the largest solar park in the world and announced one billion dollars in assistance to solar powered projects in Africa. 

Recently, President Trump placed tariffs on Chinese solar panels. China currently has the largest solar market investing 86.5 billion dollars last year.

New York was approved for a large scale community solar plant. Community solar power creates electricity for entire neighborhoods and is currently the fast growing solar portion in the US.

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

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

 

Important factors in preserving biodiversity on coffee plantations


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Black coffee beans begin as red cherry-like fruits on a tree. (Coffee Management Services/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | April 19, 2018

As final exams loom closer, many students may find themselves relying a little too heavily on coffee to get them by. But what is the relationship between the black midnight oil and biodiversity?

There are two distinct coffee plants that produce the stuff that fills students’ mugs: coffee arabica and coffee robusta. Arabica plants provide fuel for the coffee connoisseur as its flavor is know for being smoother, richer and more nuanced than coffee robusta. The two plants require different growing conditions, too. Arabica does well in areas that are partly shaded by surrounding canopy while robusta grows better in cleared out areas with more sun.

Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society, Princeton University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison sought to determine whether there was a difference in impacts on biodiversity between the two plants. They collected bird species biodiversity data from coffee plantations in Western Gnats, India between 2013 and 2015. Some of the plantations grew arabica coffee while others grew robusta. Those areas producing arabica had roughly 95 percent canopy tree cover, and those areas growing robusta had 80 percent canopy tree cover. Shockingly, however, this had little effect on bird biodiversity. The difference between the number of species each of the areas supported was not significant.

“An encouraging result of the study is that coffee production in the Western Ghats, a global biodiversity hotspot, can be a win-win for birds and farmer,” said lead author Charlotte Chang to SIERRA magazine.

The story is not the same on a global scale, however. It has become increasingly popular for coffee farmers in South America and other parts of Asia to clear-cut forests around coffee plantations to make harvesting easier and increase plant productivity.

Researchers suggest that coffee consumers take more time to consider in what conditions their cup of joe was grown. If coffee is labeled Rainforest Alliance Certified or Bird Friendly, it is likely have had less of a negative impact on land use and biodiversity.

EPA cuts back fuel efficiency standards


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Despite claims from the EPA that sales of electric vehicles have gone down since 2013, research shows that sales of plug-in hybrid, battery electric and fuel-cell vehicles have increased since that year. (Roadside pictures/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | April 4, 2018

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday that it is rolling back Obama-era automobile fuel efficiency standards.

The previously instated greenhouse gas emission standards required that passenger vehicles get 54 miles per gallon by 2025. Automobiles have surpassed energy plants and become the U.S.’s leading source of greenhouse gases.

The EPA’s announcement cited automobile industry arguments against the standards like significantly more expensive vehicles and driver safety. These claims were supported by industry-funded research. The EPA cited one study, for example, which estimated that the price of each vehicle would increase by $6,000 if the current regulations stayed in place. However, many other research groups found the study to be flawed and maintain that increased fuel efficiency standards will actually raise the cost of automobiles by about $2,000.

Dave Cooke, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote a blogpost in response. He said,

“Rather than pointing to the fact that these standards are cost-effective for consumers, that we have the technology to meet and exceed these standards by 2025, and that these standards have tremendous positive impacts on the economy, the ideologues currently at the EPA have decided to ignore this evidence and misconstrue how the standards work.”

According to its press announcement, the EPA has begun working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to lower corporate average fuel economy (CAFE). Scientists suggest that the slashed regulation would have been akin to closing down 140 coal plants for a year, offsetting 570 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.