Report outlines economic benefits of clean water in Iowa


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Trees are reflected in a clear Iowa pond. (Richard Hermann/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | February 21, 2018

A recent report from Iowa State University argues that removing nutrient pollution from Iowa’s water would provide economic benefits for the state.

Economists with ISU’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) first summarize the cost of nutrient pollution in Iowa’s waterways. They write that forty-nine public water systems treat water for nitrate pollution either by using nitrate removal equipment or blending the water; these systems serve more than 10 percent of Iowa citizens. The report estimates that Iowa’s public water systems have paid $1.8 million to treat nitrate in the water since 2000.

Smaller communities and rural areas are disproportionately affected by the economic consequences of polluted water. Many small town public water systems do not have the resources to purchase costly nitrate removal equipment and as a result, may not be able to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s water quality regulations. Private wells go largely unregulated, so consumers are responsible for picking up the water treatment costs. Findings suggest that as many as a quarter of Iowa’s wells have unsafe nitrate levels in them.

The report also comments on the lost revenue from water recreation income for the state. The number of beaches and waterways under advisory or closed each summer because of harmful algae blooms, which are fed by nitrate, continues to grow. Economists estimate that improving water quality in Iowa’s lakes by meeting Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals would increase recreational benefits for all Iowans by $30 million per year.

Iowa Legislators recently passed a bill that will allocate $282 million to water quality improvement projects in the state over the next 12 years. Critics recognize, however, that scientists with the Nutrient Reduction Strategy have estimated that it will cost billions of dollars to adequately remove nutrient runoff from waterways in Iowa.

To read CARD’s full report, click here.

Link between climate change and conflict questioned


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The relationship between climate change and conflict has been studied in Kenya more than many other nations. (Viktor Dobai/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 15, 2018

It has been accepted in many scientific communities that climate change can lead to civil unrest and violence, but a recent editorial in the Journal Nature tells readers not to be so sure.

The editorial’s authors did a literature review of 124 studies which assessed the link between climate change and war or civil unrest. They claim to have found three kinds of sampling biases among the studies. First, researchers overwhelmingly looked at regions where violence was already happening or had happened recently. Second, they noted that the studies primarily included countries in Africa and left out other nations that have been severely impacted by climate change. Finally, the mostly-white, Western researchers usually chose to study countries that were easily accessible to them and where the locals spoke English; think countries like Kenya.

Tobias Ide studies peace and war at the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research and is one of the paper’s authors. He said to The Atlantic, “If we only look at places where violence is, can we learn anything about peaceful adaptation to climate change? And if we only look at those places where there is violence, do we tend to see a link because we are only focusing on the places where there is violence in the first place?”

Solomon Hsiang has been openly critical of the paper’s claims. Hsiang’s 2013 findings showed that for every standard deviation change in precipitation or temperature, the likelihood that an area will experience civil unrest rises by 14 percent. The University of California Berkeley economist and public policy professor said in an email to The Atlantic, “Studying conflict-prone regions isn’t a problem, it’s what you would expect. Nobody is studying Ebola outbreaks by studying why Ebola is not breaking out in cafés in Sydney today, we study what happened in West Africa when there was an actual event.”

Either way, the paper draws attention to the myriad opportunities for study of climate change and conflict in countries outside of Africa and the Middle East. Ide said, “I was a bit surprised that even within American studies, there’s not really a focus on Latin America, basically. You can be concerned about Iraq, Syria, or India because of geopolitical relevance—but why not look for [climate-related conflict] in Mexico, or Honduras, or Brazil? Because that would have much sharper consequences for the United States.”

On The Radio- Waste Free Living


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Jars (LuAnn Snawder Photography/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | February 5, 2018

This week’s segment looks at a company in New York that focuses on making waste free living accessible to everyone. 

Transcript:

A recent waste free living trend has emerged and 2 NYU graduates are aiming to make the lifestyle accessible to everyone.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Lauren Singer and Daniel Silverstein started an online company to make waste-free living easier and more accessible. The average American throws away 4.4 pounds of trash everyday. Singer and Silverstein believe that given an easy alternative everybody would be in favor of reducing their own waste.

Singer has kept all of her trash from the last 4 years in a 16 oz mason jar. She started by making her own vegan, and organic laundry detergent and runs a blog called Trash is for Tossers. Silverstein uses scraps from other companies and is the creator his own line of recycled clothing. Together, their company, PackageFree, sells environmentally friendly home, bathroom, clothing, and beauty products.

To start waste reduction in your own life, they recommend 5 simple steps: The first is replacing your plastic grocery bags with reusable shopping totes. Next use reusable stainless steel water bottles and reusable silverware that you take on the go. When ordering a drink at a restaurant, ask for it without a plastic straw. And finally use biodegradable toothbrushes instead of plastic ones.

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

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

A rise in Bitcoin’s value could lead to an energy crisis


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m00n (John Smith/ flickr)
Kasey Dresser | December 13,  2017

Bitcoin is a type of digital currency or “digital wallet.” It is used like regular money to transfer funds and generate currency but without a central bank. Over the last week, Bitcoin’s value has gone from less than $1,000 to $17,000. 1 Bitcoin is currently equal to 17,793 U.S. dollars. The money was originally viewed as “dirty,” being used for black market items. However this recent surge has sparked interest from mainline investors and bitcoin is looking to be worth millions more in the next month.

Bitcoin is run through data mines which are essentially large rooms of computers running an algorithm to code each transaction. The problem is the 32 terawatts of energy bitcoin will use every year. That much energy has the ability to power 3 million U.S. households; compared to Visa transactions, that only uses enough energy to power 50,000 American homes. According to the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, bitcoin could use enough energy to power all of the U.S. by 2019.

More than half of the Bitcoin “mining pools” are run out of China. Most the energy produced in China comes from coal firepower plants which has the potential to increase smog and pollution in the near by areas.