This weeks segment looks at how deforestation is affecting coffee production.
Deforestation and climate change may wipe out coffee worldwide.
This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.
Aaron Davis, a British botanist, has spent the last 30 years traveling across the world recording the patterns of coffee forests and farms. Sixty percent of coffee species are at risk for extinction due to the effects of climate change and deforestation. Coffee plantations are expected to vanish from the three major coffee producing continents.
Part of Dr. Davis’ research is the development of a barometer to test the biodiversity of forests and risks posed to coffee plants. The most popular coffee bean, arabica, comes from Ethiopia and has been shown to be extremely vulnerable to climate change effects. He reports that the ecosystems are becoming less diverse which mean less food and less shelter for species.
While there are 124 coffee species, a majority are wild and inaccessible. Dr. Davis and the rest of his team continue their research to find rare coffee plants and new places to farm them. His travels have been directed toward cooler areas. On the teams’ most recent expedition, they found a hillside in Liberia covered in stenophylla, a flowering coffee plant that they are currently testing.
More research will hopefully ensure coffee is available long into the future.
This weeks segment looks at The Green New Deal, a bill for clean transportation.
The newly proposed Green New Deal gives some framework for a future of clean transportation.
This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.
The Green New Deal, proposed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, may not end up passing, but the deal serves as a blueprint for potential environmental policies to follow. Some interesting broad goals for the future include high-speed rail and zero-emission public transportation.
The Green New deal also brings up concerns with transportation access. Many low-income communities of color suffer disproportionately from poor transportation infrastructure and vehicle-related pollution.
The deal focuses on public policy, but will likely need private investors backing it to meet its many lofty goals.
Even if the deal does not come to pass, it’s sparked a conversation in Washington and the country about the desperate need for clean, affordable, and accessible transportation.
In their relatively short residence on Earth, humans have survived several dramatic climate change events, albeit with more natural causes than at present. They have endured man-made environmental challenges, like deforestation, as well.
So could the key to modern climate adaptation lie in the triumphs and mistakes of ancient civilizations? Matthew Hill, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Iowa, sees potential.
“I think that you can use the past—carefully—to see patterns, see how certain strategies were attempted to deal with these environmental changes and see whether they have failed or succeeded,” Hill said. “I see it as one helpful guidepost to how people have responded to similar changes.”
Anthropology, broadly, is the study of human cultures. Hill primarily focuses on human interactions with the environment. As an archaeologist, he spends a lot of time studying ancient peoples and their technologies—specifically, how indigenous hunters interacted with animal populations in North America.
Hill describes his research on ancient North American peoples and animals.
One of his earliest studies involved North American bison. They sustained native populations in the Great Plains for tens of thousands of years but declined rapidly once Europeans joined the hunt. Hill sought to understand the differences in strategy and mindset that led to dramatically different outcomes for bison before and after colonization.
About half of Hill’s recent research focuses on modern humans, too. With an interdisciplinary team of Iowa researchers, he is studying the social and environmental positions of wood-burning stove users in rural India.
“We’re trying to understand how these women are coping and adapting to a changing environment, one in which there’s deforestation and one in which governments and international organizations are targeting their way of life for change,” he said.
Hill discusses his research on biomass burning in rural India.
Adaptation is the common thread throughout Hill’s projects. In both past and present peoples, he has examined a number of successful and failed strategies for dealing with all sorts of environmental problems.
As he sees it, innovation is not an issue. He said people have always been clever and able to develop new technologies and approaches. The bigger problem seems to be motivating political and economic elites to work towards positive change.
“Even if there’s goodwill, there’s not a single direction that a country or large group moves toward,” Hill said. “It’s often contradictory forces.”
Hear Hill’s thoughts on the political reality of environmental action.
The masses often have more incentive –they are harmed by environmental isues far more than elites – but the poor and disenfranchised typically lack adequate resources to be a “positive push forward,” he said. It is up to leaders to be proactive and implement solutions that work for everyone.
But still, successful adaptation is possible. Hill pointed to North American big game hunters as evidence. At the end of the paleolithic Ice Age they faced mass extinction of food sources like mammoths and mastodons.
Amazingly, they managed to “not just survive but thrive,” he said. He attributes thoughtful resource management and long-term planning to their success.
“We can only hope that American society can point to these kinds of behaviors,” Hill said. “Not just thinking about next quarter or the next year, but thinking about the next generations, we too can not just survive change, but flourish in the face of change.”
***This post is part of “CGRER Looks Forward,” a new blog series running every other Friday. We aim to introduce readers to some of our members working across a wide breadth of disciplines, to share what the planet’s future looks like from their perspective and the implications of environmental research in their fields. ***
Urgent environmental challenges like climate change have made it increasingly vital for the public to know the facts. General audiences get information largely through news media, but distilling complicated science accurately is not always easy for writers. Friendly collaboration between scientists and journalists is crucial, for the sake of accuracy and public good.
An Environmental Journalism Summit in Grinnell, Iowa brought students and professionals in both fields together Tuesday to share thoughts on improving environmental science communication.
The University of Iowa’s Environmental Health Sciences Research Center organized the summit and presented on three “hot topics” in environmental news. Peter Thorne, head of the UI Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, spoke about his experiences advising the EPA under changing administration. Dr. Robert Blount discussed his medical research on air pollution and tuberculosis. Darrin Thompson, associate director of the UI Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC), shared his knowledge and research on neonicotinoids, a controversial class of pesticides.
Two expert panels shared their knowledge and answered questions from moderators and audience members. The “Science and Media” panel featured Iowa Public Radio’s Amy Mayer, journalism professor Daniel Lathrop, Iowa Watch executive director Lyle Muller and engineer Craig Just, who discussed the complexities of communicating science. They stressed the importance of fact checking, including people in storytelling and maintaining responsibility to the audience.
Another panel focused on nitrates and water quality, featuring IIHR research engineer Chris Jones, CHEEC director David Cwiertny and Kajsa Dalrymple, who researches media effects on agricultural practices. They discussed gaps in coverage of the issue, the magnitude of the problem and the complex system that created it.
Researchers also participated in more journalistic activities, like generating story ideas on hog manure. The summit ended with a showcase on Cedar Fall High School’s news team, which has published award-winning investigations on pesticide drift, climate change education and drinking water nitrates through Iowa Watch.
This weeks segment looks at how GMO crops could help African farmers.
A new study from Iowa State University says genetically modified crops are far more helpful than harmful
This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.
GMO crops have been studied extensively. Iowa State agronomy researchers recently examined dozens of previous studies to assess the overall safety of genetic modification in plants.
They determined that GMO crops are not only safe, but that delaying their adoption poses risks for humans and the environment in the developing world. Insect resistant crops could help African farmers battle an emerging invasive pest, the fall armyworm, which has been devastating corn crops in Africa since 2016. But fear has kept insect resistant corn commercially unavailable in all but one African country.
Study co-author Walter Suza directs the Plant Breeding E-Learning in Africa Program, which develops digital learning materials for African universities. He hopes the study will help African policymakers embrace GMOs.
Forty-four years since the fall of Saigon, chemical weapons still exist in Vietnamese ecosystems. A new study from the University of Illinois and Iowa State University assessed the environmental impacts of one especially persistent chemical byproduct.
“Agent Orange,” banned in the U.S. since 1971, was a combination of two herbicides sprayed from U.S. aircraft to thin out the jungle and destroy crops. Individually, the herbicides would have disappeared in just days, but together they produced “TCDD,” a highly toxic dioxin can last over 100 years in the right conditions.
Illinois’ Ken Olson, professor emeritus of environmental science, and Iowa State professor of sociology Lois Wright Morton sorted through previous research and humanitarian reports on contaminated Vietnam air bases. They were able to determine TCDD’s paths through the environment, as well as “hotspots” where it still enters the human food supply.
They found that TCDD destroyed Vietnam’s mangroves and mature forests, which may not return to their previous condition for centuries and are now plagued with invasive species. In sprayed areas, runoff, soil erosion and landslides degrade soil, change topography and spread TCDD even further.
Researchers believe that TCDD persists longest in river and sea sediment. TCDD at the bottom of waterbodies is still eaten by bottom-feeding fish and stored in their fatty tissues. The toxin bioaccumulates and biomagnifies in the fatty tissues of their predators when the fish are eaten by humans or other animals.
According to the World Health Institute, the health effects of consuming dioxins like TCDD include skin lesions, altered liver function, and impairment of the immune, nervous, endocrine and reproductive systems.
Olson and Wright Morton advise that the only way to destroy TCDD is to incinerate contaminated soils and sediments.
This weeks segment looks at new methods of creating dog food with less of an environmental impact.
A potential new insect based dog food could help the planet.
This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.
Meat production has been linked to increasing emissions of CO2 and methane into the atmosphere. This is the reason many environmental activists choose a vegetarian or vegan diet but humans aren’t the only mammals reliant on meat.
Pets are estimated to eat twenty percent of the meat produced world wide. A pet food manufacturer in the United Kingdom, Yora,has introduced black solider flies as a protein substitute. Along with less emissions into the atmosphere, the black solider fly based dog food is cheaper to produce and requires less land and water.
At the Royal Veterinary College, pet diet expert Aarti Kathrani confirmed that soldier flies could meet a canine’s nutritional needs. She told the BBC,“insects can be a very useful source of protein. More studies are needed to show how much of these nutrients can actually be absorbed by a dog’s body- but some studies suggest that insects can provide nutrients for dogs.”
Yora is not the only pet food manufacturer to use flies in their recipe but other manufacturers typically use only a small amount. Yora is currently planning to transition forty percent of their products to majority fly protein.