China continues to take the lead in clean energy


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Beijing has shown some of the biggest improvements with pollution reduction (/source)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu  | April 10th, 2018

China has slowly made its way to the top in its quest to push the use of renewable energy. Solar power saw a huge increase in use during 2017, making up roughly a third of new energy added globally.

Last year, China invested roughly $126.6 billion in renewable energy, cementing them as one of the leaders in clean sources. Four years prior, in 2014, the global superpower effectively declared war on pollution, setting goals for its major cities to reduce the output of fine particles from factories and construction sites. In 2018, China is very clearly winning this battle: the country has reduced its overall urban pollution by an average of 32%.

Lots of methods were employed to meet this goal. Cars were restricted by license number; every citizen with a car has, by now, a ritual of figuring out which day of the week their vehicle is prohibited and using public transport to travel on that particular day. new coal-burning plants were prohibited in the most polluted areas and existing ones had to reduce their emissions. Although China’s overall pollution still far exceeds that of other nations, its overall pollution reduction is incredibly promising.

 

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.

On The Radio- Harnessing the ocean for renewable energy


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Ocean tides are the rising and falling of ocean levels caused by the sun and moon’s gravitational pull and the earth’s rotation. (Rita Jo/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | March 19, 2018

This week’s segment looks at a Canadian company that is trying to use ocean tides to create renewable energy. 

Transcript: 

A Canadian company is looking to harness the tidal pull of the ocean for energy.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Cape Sharp Tidal is a company located in Nova Scotia by Canada’s Bay of Fundy. The Bay of Fundy is known to have some of the highest tides in the world. The differences in water levels between high and low tide are sometimes as large as 50 feet.

Christian Richard, the company director, was inspired by the way wind turbines collect energy by using air currents to turn the turbine blades. Using the tides for energy would work in much the same way, with the sensors being placed underwater and using the changes in the pull of the tide to generate energy.

The technology is still in the early stages of testing. The development team must work on everything from the design, to the efficiency, to proving that the invention won’t harm marine life.

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

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

Commonwealth nations call for science based policy


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Carbon emissions must be net zero during the second half of the century to meet current climate goals. (Unalienable/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 14, 2017

Leaders from 22 countries representing thousands of scientists released a statement Monday calling on political leaders to more aggressively combat climate change.

Representatives from national scientific academies in the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Indian, Mozambique, Nigeria and many other countries that formerly were a part of the British empire authored and endorsed the document, titled, “Commonwealth Academies of Science Consensus Statement on Climate Change.”

They point out that even if all of the 160 countries that ratified the Paris Climate Accord in 2015 met their greenhouse emission goals, global temperatures will still rise by 3 degree Celsius before 2100. Not only do the scientists call for political action on climate change, but they asked that it be informed by data.

Looking forward to 2030 climate change talks, they write, “The Commonwealth academies of science call upon Commonwealth Heads of Government to use the best possible scientific evidence to guide action on their 2030 commitments under the Paris accord, and to take further action to achieve net-zero greenhouse gases emissions during the second half of the 21st Century.”

The Commonwealth’s message is similar a move in the U.S. for more scientists to run for positions in congress. At least 60 scientists are running at the federal level during this year’s mid-terms. Non-profit organizations like 314-Action are asking more scientists to join the race. 314-Action is “committed to electing more STEM candidates to office, advocating for evidence-based policy solutions to issues like climate change, and fighting the Trump administration’s attacks on science.”

Scientist or career politician, commonwealth representative or U.S. congressperson, policy makers worldwide must find a way to achieve net-zero carbon emissions during the second half of this century in order to meet the Paris Climate Accord goal to keep temperatures 2 degrees Celsius below pre-industrial levels.

 

Record high winter temperatures in Arctic, again


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The Rink Glacier in Greenland captured melting into the sea during the summer of 2012. (NASA/Flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 8, 2017

The data is in, and winter temperatures in the Arctic reached record highs again this year.

U.S. weather data shows that average temperatures during December, January, and February this year were 8.8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than usual. There are fifteen weather monitoring stations throughout the Arctic, many of them in Alaska and Greenland. Winter temperatures in some regions soared higher than the average. Barrow, Alaska, for example, sizzled with average winter temperatures a full 14 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

Even the weather monitoring station that is located closest to the top of the world in northern Greenland recorded 60 hours of above freezing temperatures this winter. Prior to this winter, scientists say, the station had only experienced above-freezing temperatures during February a few times in history.

The rising temperatures caused sea ice to vanish in the North Pole again this year. North Pole sea ice coverage hit a record low in February 2017 and decreased again this year by a full 62,000 square miles, which is about the size of the state of Georgia.

Ruth Mottram is a climate scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute. She said to the Associated Press, “The extended warmth really has kind of staggered all of us.”

Some scientists have pointed to melting sea ice as an explanation for the extreme and strange winter weather that has plagued the eastern United States this year. Simply put, less sea ice means that there is less of an atmospheric pressure difference between the Arctic and areas further south, which weakens the jet stream. A weak jet stream causes  storms to linger over regions in the eastern U.S. and Europe before moving along, often making them more destructive.

Simple way to recycle methane discovered


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Methane flaring from a hydraulic fracking well in Pennsylvania. (WCN/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 9, 2018

Scientists have recently discovered a way to simply convert excess methane into the building blocks for plastics, agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals.

A study funded by the Department of Energy by researchers at the University of Southern California has identified a one-step chemical process to change methane into basic chemicals ethylene and propylene. Methane is known to be 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide, especially in terms of short-term greenhouse gas effects. The gas’ sources include hydraulic fracking wells, organic matter breaking down in landfills or large livestock operations.

The U.S. produces more methane than almost any other country, but the new research presents an opportunity to trap and use the gas. Currently, methane must be shipped via large pipelines from release points to processing areas in order to be converted into anything useful. The study’s authors point out that this practice is cost-prohibitive for many producers, but their research offers a solution. The one-step process means that methane can be captured on-site and transformed into ethylene and propylene without costly transportation.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who sued the agency several times before becoming its leader, has spoken about the potency of methane as a greenhouse gas in recent public addresses. He claims the agency will work to address the issue, but government spending plans say otherwise. A 2019 federal budget plan proposes a 72 percent funding cut for the Department of Energy renewable energy and energy efficiency program, the very same program that funded this study.

Women more likely to be affected by and act on climate change


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Women and children are most susceptible to heat-related illnesses that are becoming more common due to climate change. (Janet Mailbag/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 8, 2018

During a recent speech at Georgetown University, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pointed out that women are disproportionately affected by climate change worldwide.

Research from several sources back up this claim. Discussing global desertification due to drought and intense heat waves, Clinton said, “I would say that particularly for women…they will bear the brunt of looking for the food, looking for the firewood, looking for the place to migrate to when all of the grass is finally gone.”

The gendered effects of climate change extend beyond communities in developing nations, however. Researchers from the Natural Resources Defense Fund point out that two-thirds of those jobs lost after Hurricane Katerina in New Orleans were lost by women. Job creation during the rebuilding periods following natural disasters are primarily in the construction industry and go almost exclusively to men. As a result, 83 percent of single mothers were not able to return to New Orleans following the hurricane.

The changing climate poses unique risks to women’s health as well. Increasingly frequent and intense heat waves can cause low birth weights among pregnant women. Women are also fourteen times more likely to die during a natural disaster than men. Researchers link this to insufficient access to information and warnings as well as a difference in women’s ability to cope with such events.

As Clinton put it, women “bear the brunt” of a changing climate. Perhaps that’s why women in political positions of power are more likely than their male counterparts to sign off on treaties that combat climate change.

Perrin Ireland is a science reporter for the Natural Resources Defense Fund. She said, “Women play critical roles in our communities, and our voices must be heard for climate action. In order to have a resilient future, for the thriving of our communities, women must have a seat at the table.”