Gender disparities extend to climate resiliency

Background Coverage: Mali
Women are often responsible for gathering fuel and water for domestic purposes, task that is much more difficult and time consuming as the climate continues to change. (Flickr/United Nations Ian Steele)
Jenna Ladd | March 9, 2017

Yesterday’s International Women’s Day inspired record-setting strikes, calls for equal pay and representation as well as conversations about how climate change disproportionally affects women and girls.

A recent photo essay from the United Nation’s titled, “Climate Change is a Women’s Issue” depicts the ways climate disasters and gradually shifting weather patterns exacerbate the social inequities faced by women. Its figures state that 80 percent of the people that have been displaced by climate change worldwide are women. Increasingly frequent periods of drought mean that women and girls also spend much more time walking to retrieve water and much less time working or in school.

The United Nationa’s environment gender expert, Victor Tsang, and communication officer, Shari Nijman, wrote recently,“While environmental changes affect everyone, due to existing gender inequalities, women often bear the bulk of the burden. In patriarchal societies, cultural, legal and political restrictions often undermine women’s adaptability and resilience to climate change.” The authors later suggest that providing equal access to land, agricultural extension services, financial inclusion and education for women is key to curbing and coping with climate change.

For the first time ever, the U.N. climate talks incorporated a Gender Action Plan this year at the COP23 conference in Bonn, Germany. The plan “seeks to advance women’s full, equal and meaningful participation and promote gender-responsive climate policy and the mainstreaming of a gender perspective in the implementation of the Convention and the work of Parties.”

Georgetown’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security argued in a 2015 report that inclusion of women in high-levels of climate decision-making like the U.N. conference of the parties is necessary, but not sufficient. Among many recommendations, they ask that national governments develop disaster plans that specifically aim to lessen impacts on women and that private sector stakeholders invest in job opportunities for women that also combat the effects of climate change. Researchers point out that these steps not only lessen the burden of a warming planet for women but also recognize them as a powerful part of the solution.

As former Finnish president H.E. Tarja Halonen once said, “[Women] are powerful agents whose knowledge, skills and innovative ideas support the efforts to combat climate change.”

German court gives cities authority to ban diesel vehicles

Munich is one of the German cities that routinely exceeds European Union NOx emission limits. (Vladimer Shioshvili/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 1, 2017

Germany’s federal court ruled on Tuesday that cities can ban diesel vehicles in order to lower air pollution.

Environmental Action Germany has been filing lawsuits against cities for years to encourage municipalities to implement policies that curb air pollution. German government statistics reveal that some 6,000 people die each year from nitrogen oxide pollution, 60 percent of which comes from vehicles on the road. Diesel engines in particular spew more NOx than gasoline engines and are more popular in Europe.

The ruling does not require communities to ban diesel driving, rather it grants them the legal authority to do so if air pollution in their city remains above the European Union limit for NOx in the air. Seventy German cities surpassed that threshold at least once last year.

Banning diesel vehicles would have negative implications for the country’s automotive industry. Since the ruling, the German government has proposed some measures to decrease pollution and avoid the ban, which include providing free public transportation and refitting existing diesel vehicles to meet clean air standards. However, it is unclear how the government would pay for such measures.

Germany is merely the latest country making a move away from diesel engines. Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have policies in place to ban diesel vehicles from city centers before 2025.

On The Radio- Graphene Film

Clean water (Jay Blackmore/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | February 26, 2018

This week’s segment looks at research from Australia that’s working toward making clean water accessible to everyone. 


A new invention from Australian scientists could filter even the most polluted water in just one pass.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Australian researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, or CSIRO, have found a way to engineer graphene film to filter water.

Graphene is an ultra-strong, carbon-based material that is hydrophobic— meaning it repels water. But graphene is expensive and difficult to produce. The researchers at CSIRO have found a way to use hydrophobic properties to help filter polluted water while finding a way to reduce the cost of the filter.

The scientist hope this new use of graphene will slowly become easier and cheaper to produce, potentially saving millions of people that die from contaminated water globally.

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

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

Report outlines economic benefits of clean water in Iowa

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.

Scientists set off for discoveries in Antarctica


New ecosystems in Antarctica can provide valuable evidence for climate change research (stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | February 20th 2018

A group of British scientists are due to set off soon to explore one of the largest icebergs discovered yet in Antarctica.

Led by the British Antarctic Survey and marine biologist Dr. Katrin Linse, the exploration will take researchers and field workers to the Larson C ice shelf on the Antarctic peninsula–and the findings might uncover vital new information about how the ecosystem of that region responds to climate change.

The team is racing to reach the newly formed iceberg before light changes the ecosystem underneath.

Melting ice from the Arctic and Antarctic regions are vastly speeding up the already rising sea levels. Researching the Antarctic is difficult, but when ice sheets split to form smaller icebergs, as with Larson C, biologists and other scientists are presented with a unique opportunity to explore the waters underneath the ice.

The group hopes their findings will provide more valuable information about climate change and its effects globally.

Plea for Iowa to join U.S. Climate Alliance

An Iowa wind farm extends as far as the eye can see. (News/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 16, 2018

President Trump decided to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Accord in September, and since then numerous U.S. governors have expressed their desire to stay in the treaty through the U.S. Climate Alliance.

The bi-partisan Climate Alliance is “committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.” Its members represent 40 percent of the total U.S. population and at least $7.4 trillion dollars in U.S. gross domestic product. Sixteen governors are members of the alliance currently, and a democrat in the Iowa House of Representatives is hoping to add Governor Reynolds to that list. Representative Charles Isenhart of Dubuque presented a letter to the Iowa Energy Center on Monday, asking that Iowa join the alliance. Isenhart also proposed a bill in the House of Representatives that would require Iowa’s membership in the U.S. Climate Alliance.

Isenhart said to The Register,“We’ve already done a lot and are doing a lot and have some of the mechanisms in place to do more. We should be joining if for no other reason than to take credit for what we’ve already done.” The state of Iowa leads the nation in wind energy production, and is expected to generate more than forty percent of its energy from the wind by 2020.

Julie Cerqueira is executive director of the U.S. Climate Alliance. She said in a letter,

“As I read the Iowa Energy Plan, it is clear that many of the state’s energy priorities align with the priorities of the Alliance — a focus on innovation, workforce development, modernizing our electrical grids and promoting the expansion of electric vehicles. Furthermore, Iowa’s long history of leadership in clean energy, in particular the successful deployment of wind power at scale, makes its membership in the U.S. Climate Alliance both logical and valuable.”

A spokesperson for Governor Reynolds says that the governor has not yet considered joining the U.S. Climate Alliance.



Almost 10% of the US still struggles for safe drinking water

Low-income communities are often forced to buy expensive bottled water (files)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | February 13th, 2018

A recent study found that around 10% of towns, neighborhoods, and residences in the United States has consistently sub-par drinking water. Most of these numbers are concentrated in the deep south, where extreme poverty can make re-rigging water pipes and plants difficult.

When particularly small communities are impoverished, aging infrastructure and a general lack of access to new techniques can make cleaning water a nearly impossible task. The concern over clean drinking water gathered speed exponentially after Flint, when the U.S. was faced with the plight of a small town suffering the compounding health effects of unsanitary water.

Being a low-income community, Flint’s residents struggled to keep up with the added extra charge of buying a constant stream of bottled water that they were forced to drink and use, and menial tasks such as showering became difficult and dangerous when residents noted the negative effects that the water had on their skin. If nothing is done to help other, similarly low-income areas, the drinking water health crises will continue to grow.

While some states are proposing programs to financially aid smaller water plants, it’s only a matter of time before the problems faced in Flint are brought to light again.