Presidential hopefuls discuss sustainable ag at last weekend’s Heartland Forum


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Photo by Julia Poska, 2019. 

Julia Poska | April 4, 2019

Last weekend, four 2020 presidential candidates and one likely contender gathered in Storm Lake, Iowa to discuss their visions for struggling rural America at the Heartland Forum. Here’s what each said about sustainability and agriculture:

Julián Castro: The former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Obama was asked a question about promoting eco-friendly family food farmers for economic, social and environmental resiliency.

“Our family farms help feed America—and the world, really—so we need to make sure that they can succeed, and also that people in these rural areas and rural communities can have clean air and water. Number one, I would appoint people to the EPA who actually believe in environmental protection,” he said. He specifically discussed boosting funds to enforce the Clean Air and Water Acts.

Rep. John Delaney (D-MD): Delaney’s “Heartland Fair Deal,” which he discussed at the forum, lays out plans for investing in negative emissions technology and focusing on climate resiliency and flooding.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN): Klobuchar said she would re-enter the Paris Climate Agreement on her first day in the White House. She also discussed her experience on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“What we’ve learned over time, is that [if] we’re going to get [the Farm Bill] passed… we need to have a coalition of people who care about nutrition, people who care about farming and people who care about conservation,” she said.

She said she wants to keep Farm Bill conservation programs strong.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH): Hailing from the industrial “Rust Belt,” Ryan has little experience with rural areas, but he said he believes the two regions face many of the same issues and should come together politically. He spoke to opportunity in the clean energy and electric vehicle industries, which he would like to see driven into “distressed rural areas” to replace lost manufacturing jobs.

He also spoke about Farm Bill conservation programs; “These are the kind of programs we need to ‘beef up,’ no pun intended,” he said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA): Senator Warren did not speak about sustainability directly. Her platform mainly focused on addressing monopolies in agribusiness to support small, family farmers. One of her proposals is to break up the Bayer’s acquisition of Monsanto, a merger that was heavily criticized by environmentalists. 

The Heartland Forum was moderated by Pulitzer prize-winner Art Cullen, editor of the Storm Lake Times, and two reporters from HuffPost. Those news organizations organized the event alongside Open Markets Institute and the Iowa Farmers Union.

 

Iowa City Youth Climate Strike


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Kasey Dresser| March 19, 2019

On March 15th across the nation, youths gathered to raise awareness for climate change and its effect on our world. In the Ped Mall in Iowa City, over 50 students from Southeast Jr. High gathered to speak to the community about their concerns.

The students came prepared with a bullhorn and took turns sharing their opinions for two hours. They were holding hand made signs and handing out a sheet of climate change facts. While young, the passionate students created quite an audience stating, “the bigger the fuss we make, the more politicians will listen.” Congressman Dave Loesback was present and talked with the students in his office following the event.

From the climate change fact handout:

  • 408 parts per million. The concentration of carbon dioxide (C02) in our atmosphere, as of 2018, is the highest it has been in 3 million years.
  • 800 million people or 11% of the world’s population is currently vulnerable to climate change impacts such as droughts, floods, heat waves, extreme weather events, and sea-level rise.
  • Thermometer records kept over the past century and a half show Earth’s average temperature has risen more than 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius), and about twice that in parts of the Arctic.
  • We have 11 years to reverse the effects of climate change. We must act now.

Fixing the renewable energy storage problem


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Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | March 13th, 2019

Electricity may seem like an intangible force, but, like other resources, it is stored when not in use.

There are currently many different methods of storing unused energy, but renewable sources of energy are more difficult to store than their fossil fuel conterparts. There are ways to store energy generated from the sun, for example, but the thermal method is still a costly one.

Many solar plants use large on-site batteries to store excess energy, but the energy from these batteries generally only provide a few extra hours of electricity for the plant’s respective grid.

Two different research teams–one lead by Sossina Haile at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and one by Ryan O’Hayre in Colorodo School of Mines–have developed lab versions of a more effective fuel cell that could store significantly more energy.

So much renewable energy is going to waste when it’s not stored to its full capacity. That’s why the development of a smaller, more cost-efficient fuel cell is exciting.

The teams warn that their improved fuel cells have only been tested on a small scale in labs, and that more work needs to be done before they can be used. If developed on a larger scale, the cell could make renewable energy cheaper overall.

 

 

On The Radio- The Green New Deal


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Foggy Atmosphere in Seattle, Washington (flickr/Danny Seidman)

 

Kasey Dresser| March 11, 2019

This weeks segment looks at The Green New Deal, a bill for clean transportation.  

Transcript:

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.

For more information, visit Iowa environmental focus dot org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

Climate change: views around the United States


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Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | February 5th, 2019

Data recently released by Yale shows a breakdown of the American public’s opinion towards climate change.

The visuals are broken down region by region, created after a team of scientists working through the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication computed available data from local polls (as polling on local levels is time-consuming and costly). Using two data sets and cross-referencing their information constantly, Yale researchers were able to create a fairly accurate model estimating the general national stance on climate change.

Overall, around 70% of those surveyed believed that climate change was a real, tangible phenomenon. There are some naysayers as well, those that stand with their belief that climate change–at least, change as depicted in scientific and general media–is not a current threat.

While the breakdown of information is as recent as Spring of 2018, the researchers warn that no dataset is completely accurate, and there will always be a small margin of error.

You can access the map and dataset here.

 

A database of every tree in Iowa City


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Tree found in Willow Creek Park (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Kasey Dresser| January 28, 2019

This month Iowa City published a data base of the 49,863 trees it maintains. On the interactive website, the trees are assessed on location, size, species and environmental benefit. Residents can engage with the website and search specific neighborhoods to find trees in your area.

Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department, Director Juli Seydell Johnson said, “The main benefit for residents is they can see the information that we have. For us, it’s about planning. We want to have diverse tree canopy in the city.”

A data base of the trees also tracks the environmental impact. Right now, Iowa City trees save $455,600 in energy and $221,000 in air quality. The trees also avoid more than 10 million pounds of carbon pollution and 55 million gallons of stormwater runoff.

If you’re interested to learn about the trees in your neighborhood, the data base can be found here.

On The Radio- The impacts of climate change on the Midwest


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A midwest sunset (Sue Varga/flickr)

Kasey Dresser| January 14, 2019

This weeks segment looks at the affects of climate change on the Midwest covered in the Fourth National Climate Assessment. 

Transcript: 

Increased heat and rain will strike Midwest agriculture from multiple directions. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, released in November, details the impacts of climate change for the Midwest. Productivity in the agriculture sector is a top concern.

The Midwest has long sustained an ideal climate for growing crops, but projections forecast rising temperatures and more intense rainfall in the region, far from optimal for the healthy growth of corn and soy.  

Warmer winters will also encourage survival of pests season to season, and rising temperature and humidity in spring may increase disease outbreaks in crops. 

More intense rainfall will also increase soil runoff, already a major issue in the region. When soil washes off of fields and into waterways, there are fewer nutrients for plants in the field and more in the water, which can fuel harmful algae blooms. 

Scientists project a 5 to 25 percent drop in corn productivity throughout the Midwest by mid-century. Soy yields may fall about 25 percent in the southern Midwest, but could increase in northern states. 

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

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.