On The Radio- Preparing for flood season


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Photo from the 2008 June floods (christina rutz/flickr)

Kasey Dresser| April 29, 2019

This weeks segment looks at how towns along the Mississippi are preparing for flood season. 

Transcript: 

As flood season begins, mayors of towns along the Mississippi prepare for potential disaster. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

It’s not easy maintaining a city or town along the Mississippi. The river—one of the largest in the world—is especially susceptible to floods during spring, when rain and melting snow cause the water levels to rise significantly.

The Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative is a collection of 88 mayors spanning 10 states that work together to find solutions for flooding. They’ve been setting safety measures in place for this coming flood season, one that’s predicted to be especially disastrous.  

In late March, the group talked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to figure out some preventative measures. Previously, they gathered in Washington DC to work out a nearly eight billion dollar deal to help reinforce existing infrastructure. Midwestern states have sustained billions in flood damages just this year, and supposedly once-in-a-lifetime floods have hit St. Louis on three different occasions since 2011.

These previously rare weather events have been happening more and more frequently, and the coalition is amping up their defenses to beat back the oncoming waves. 

For more information, visit Iowa Environmental Focus dot org. 

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

The good and the bad of the UN’s GEO


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Natalia Welzenbach-Marcus | April 17th, 2019

The UN recently released their Global Environmental Outlook report, and the news is a mixed bag. There are some negatives, but a few, if small, positive points.

The Global Environmental Outlook report is one of the most thorough environmental assessments, taking data from almost 200 global experts who compiled their research over the course of 18 months to bring to light a better picture of our climate.

The GEO paints something of a grim picture of our globe’s health, but it also offers up solutions and some definitive proof that reducing the use of fossil fuels greatly improves the health of different populations.

The bad news is that many of our climate issues have already reached some considerable extremes. Air pollution affects 6 to 7 million people’s lifespans, causing premature deaths, and the most common forms of agriculture are unsustainable at best and actively harmful at worst. Through these in depth reports and assessments, we get a better picture of our planet’s health and wellbeing. We also get a warning, a sign that we need to further improve our environment through the tools we’re given.

On The Radio- BP Oil


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Photo taken on April 3rd 2013 in Mauritania near Tiguent Parc-National-Diawling (jbdodane/flickr)

Kasey Dresser| April 8, 2019

This weeks segment looks at BP’s place in the coming decades with rising demands for renewable energy.

Transcript:

BP Oil and Gas has made energy demand predictions about the future—but are they accurate?

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

After the massive oil spill along the Gulf Coast in 2010, BP became known globally in a decidedly negative light.

Almost a decade later, and with settlement payments still being paid out, the energy company has thrown its weight behind renewable energy. BP outlines in its annual energy outlook that the planet could run on mostly renewable sources by 2040.

There is a small detail that some environmentalists find troubling, however; the BP report also lists an estimated rising global demand for energy well into the 2040s, while other scientific reports estimate that global demand will taper off and even out by the 2030s.

A rising global demand for energy is a given, as underdeveloped countries begin working on their infrastructure and making improvements for their citizens. But overestimating how much energy will be needed globally in the future could allow oil companies to continue selling more fossil fuels, even as renewable energy use grows.

For more information, visit Iowa environmental focus dot org.

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

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.

 

Biofuel: a battleground


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Biofuel has its issues as well as its benefits | Photo by SplitShire on Pexels.com

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | April 3rd, 2019

A surprisingly high amount of biofuel is produced in Iowa, but the products that fall under this category and the ways in which they are produced spark frequent controversy and debate.

To begin, let’s break down what “biofuels” actually are. Defined by National Geographic as “plant-based solutions to the Earth’s growing energy problems“, biofuels are sourced from plant matter instead of petroleum. Gasoline and diesel are technically also biofuels, being made from decomposed and fossilized plants, but they emit massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere–causing a number of dangerous effects that heavily contribute towards climate change. Biofuels are more specifically made from living plant matter.

Ethanol is an example of a common biofuel produced worldwide, and Iowa is a top producer. Ethanol can be made through fermentation and a breakdown of sugars and starches, making corn an ideal component. An increase in biofuel use, theoretically, should reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

There is some debate about the effectiveness of biofuels when taking into account everything required to harvest and process the crops needed for this form of energy, however, with many pointing out that despite its benefits, the production of ethanol leaves a large carbon footprint anyway. With Iowa being a major producer of ethanol, these arguments tend to converge on our cropland, and farmers are split on the issue, as biofuels provide some significant advantages over fossil fuels.

Setting debates aside, a common ground most debaters find themselves on is the desire to figure out a way to reduce our overall carbon footprint, and this is a journey that we will likely be on for a long, long while.

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.

The fight to limit nutrient pollution in Iowa’s lakes


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Iowa lakes serve as staple recreational sites, but they may soon disappear | Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | February 26th, 2019

Most Iowan families have spent a summer afternoon or two with packed lunches and swimsuits at the lake. It’s as much a warm-weather tradition as grilling out or going to the county fair. Iowa has a lot of lakes, many of them recreational. Visits to Iowa lakes generate a lot of money for the state, and keeping these environments clean is important, both environmentally and economically.

Unfortunately, harmful algae blooms are driving these lakes under, so to speak. Beaches often have to be closed for cleanup because of these blooms, and the levels of nitrogen and phosphorous from these blooms are significantly contributing to the dead zone of the Gulf of Mexico.

Sources of the pollution include pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals used in agriculture and livestock management. City wastewater treatments can contribute to the blooms as well.

In an attempt to combat these increasing levels of pollution, the Iowa Environmental Council and the Environmental law and Policy Center filed a petition back in November to limit the amount of nutrient pollutants used in agriculture and in other water-oriented activities, with the end goal to reduce these pollutants in Iowa’s lakes and prevent further damage.

On Tuesday, the proposal was rejected.

These groups are still fighting to establish a more regulated way to handle pollutants, fearing the consequences if they don’t–the possibility of our recreational lakes slowly disappearing under a layer of algae blooms.