Analysis of Iowa air quality reveals positive and negative trends


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Industrial greenhouse gas emissions from utilities and manufacturers contribute to climate change (flickr). 

Julia Poska | October 4, 2018

A new analysis of federal air quality data reveals mixed trends in Iowa’s air quality. On one hand, Iowa cut industrial greenhouse gas emissions 11 percent from 2010 to 2014. On the other, Iowa ranks among the top 20 U.S. states for industrial greenhouse gas and toxic air emissions.

Analysts from the Center for Public Integrity studied EPA data from 2010 to 2014.  The Iowa Department of Natural Resources told the Des Moines Register that since 2014 emissions have trended downwards, according to data from their own monitoring stations and facilities.

The Center for Public Integrity found that Iowa’s industrial greenhouse gas emissions dropped  11 percent, from over 60 million metric tons in 2014 to about 54.7 metric tons in 2014. This cut is over five times greater than the 2 percent national average, according to the Register.

Iowa still ranks 19th for industrial emissions, however. Ten Iowa utility or manufacturing companies were among the nation’s top 500 sources of greenhouse gases in 2014.  Four of those were MidAmerican coal plants.  Since 2014, Iowa utilities have made major investments in renewable energy, particularly wind.

Iowa ranks even higher for toxic air emissions: 17th in the U.S.. From 2010 to 2014, toxic air emissions in Iowa actually increased. The Register found that Climax Molybdenum, a chemical plant in Fort Madison, and four others were responsible for half of Iowa’s toxic emissions in 2014. The paper said Climax Molybdenum was the 10th largest emitter of ammonia in the nation that year.

 

 

 

An analysis of early farming practices


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Farming (cjuneau/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | September 26, 2018

A study from the University of Wisconsin- Madison theorizes how agriculture would have affected the climate without the Industrial Revolution.

According to the Early Anthropogenic Hypothesis, early farming practices produced mass amounts of carbon dioxide and methane. Without the presence of the industrial revolution ancient agriculture would have trapped enough methane in the atmosphere to create a similar state of climate change.

The Early Anthropogenic Hypothesis was originally developed by William Ruddiman, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Virginia 15 years earlier. The climate reconstructions are based on ice core data. Our current geological time frame is called Holocene and the one before is referred to as MIS19. Both time periods started with similar carbon dioxide and methane concentrations based on evidence from ice core data. MIS19 saw a steady drop in greenhouse gasses. The numbers have since spiked to our current state of emissions. The data currently stops at the start of the Industrial Revolution but people are continuing to develop the hypothesis.

Stephen Vavrus, a senior scientist on the project concludes, “science takes you where it takes you,” and “things are so far out of whack now, the last 2,000 years have been outside the natural bounds. We are so far beyond what is natural.”

The Land Institute Prairie Festival


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Tall Bluestem Praire Grass Against Thunderstorm (L Fischer/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | September 24, 2018

The 2018 Prairie Festival will be held this week, September 28-30. The festival is held in Salina, Kansas. This is a yearly festival put on by the Land Institute, an environmental organization that aims to increase agricultural production without decreasing environmental sustainability.

The festival will host agricultural scholars, scientists, environmental justice advocates, and artists from all over the country. There will be in depth tours and workshops for plant breeding and ecology work.

If you cannot make it down to Kansas, they will also post several video displays online.

This is the link to last year’s videos.

Climate change visible in recent Iowa weather events


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Extreme heat, humidity, and precipitation are some of the effects of climate change seen in Iowa so far this summer. (Bidgee/Wikipedia)

Katelyn Weisbrod | July 13, 2018

Recent weather events in Iowa have followed the expected effects of climate change.

Connie Mutel, a historian at IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering at the University of Iowa, penned an op-ed in The Gazette this week, bringing light to the effects of climate change visible in recent weather events around the state.

Between 1901 and 2016, she wrote, Iowa’s average temperature has increased about 1 degree Fahrenheit. With this, weather events in Iowa have become more extreme and unpredictable.

Among the staggering statistics are increases in:

  • Absolute humidity due to greater evaporation from lakes and rivers (23 percent increase since 1971 in Dubuque)
  • Rainfall due to the higher capacity of air to hold moisture (about 5 more inches per year compared to 100 years ago)
  • Heavy precipitation events, causing soil erosion impacting agriculture (37 percent increase between 1958 and 2012)

If humans continue to emit greenhouse gases at the current rate, the predictions for the future are even more dire:

  • Extreme heat waves (one every 10 years) will be around 13 degrees Fahrenheit hotter by 2050
  • Global average temperature increase of over 7 degrees Fahrenheit from 1900 levels by 2100 — compared to a 1.8 degree increased seen so far

Mutel calls for more action in Iowa and nationwide to switch to renewable energy sources, following in the footsteps of countries like China, Costa Rica, and New Zealand that are on their way toward serious reductions in fossil-fuel based energy production.

“Will we continue to allow current trends to slide us toward a less dependable globe that degrades life’s abundance, beauty, and health?” she asks. “Or will we work for a self-renewing, healthier, more stable planet fueled by the sun, wind, and other renewables? The choice remains ours.”

How clean cryptocurrency can help reduce pollution


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Cryptocurrency is the future, but many are concerned about the resources needed to create it. (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | May 29th, 2018

If energy farms used to power blockchain projects–an essential format for distributing cryptocurrency–switch to renewable resources, the impact on the environment would be significant.

“Blockchain” refers to a revolutionary form of technology that was pioneered by the person (or group of people) operating under the name Satoshi Nakamoto. It essentially allows information to be distributed, but prevents it from being copied, making it a perfect vehicle for digital currencies like Bitcoin and essentially acting as a way to prevent counterfeit.

“Mining” for cryptocurrency involves centers with a lot of computers processing tons of  data. These mining centers use a lot of electricity, and most are powered by fossil-fuel resources.

This is where organizations like GEAR step in to fix the problem. GEAR describes itself as “the world’s first closed loop Green Energy and Renewables-focused network.” The group’s vice-president, Vik Panthak, explains that the organization’s main goal is to take a traditionally dirty industry (such as data-mining or blockchaining) and find ways to power these practices with green energy, in the hope that this new model reduces the damage of constant fossil fuels.

As the future of digital currency draws near, Vik hopes that GEAR will pave the way for other digital currency companies and encourage them to go green, before it’s to late.

On The Radio – Energy consumption at Google


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Google

Kasey Dresser | May 21, 2018

This weeks segment looks at how Google was able to reuse more than 100% of the energy they consumed in 2017. 

Transcript:

Google has become one of the biggest corporate buyers of renewable energy.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The massive company planned to get 100% of their energy from renewable sources in 2017. At the end of the year, they exceeded that goal.

Google currently holds contracts to buy 3 gigawatts of renewable energy from a wind farm specifically built to power the corporation’s offices and satellite locations globally. The purchase is the largest investment in renewable energy by a corporation to date, making Google a top customer of green energy.

For 2017, the company ended up investing in and generating more green energy than it consumed, a cycle that keeps a steady supply of energy on hand. Google’s Senior Vice President Urs Holzle explained that they were working on over 25 green energy projects around the globe.

Other large companies are following in Google’s footsteps by investing in renewable sources.

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

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

Pew research survey reveals U.S. climate change views


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Nearly ninety percent of respondents to a recent survey supported further development of solar energy systems. (Oregon Department of Transportation/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | May 17, 2018

A recent Pew Research Center survey details how U.S. residents perceive both the effects of climate change and the federal government’s response to it.

The national survey, which was administered during March and April 2018 to 2,541 adults, found that six in ten people living in the U.S. say that climate change is affecting their local community. Differences were observed by political leanings, with 76 percent of Democrats saying that climate change is affecting their local community and about 35 percent of Republicans responding in the same way. Political party was not the only differentiating factor, however. Respondents also differed in their perceptions based on distance from the coasts. People that live within 25 miles of a coast were 17 percent more likely than those that live more than 300 miles from the coast to say that climate change was affecting their local community.

Regardless of whether respondents believe that climate change is affecting their community, a majority (67%) of respondents agreed that the federal government is not doing enough to combat climate change.

So, what climate-smart policies were respondents in support of? Seventy-two percent of participants supported efforts to further protect the environment from energy use and development. Similarly, 71 percent said they would like to increase reliance on renewable energy. Solar panels (89%) and wind turbines (85%) received overwhelming support from respondents, regardless of political affiliation.

This survey’s results reflect responses from a similar Pew research survey administered in 2016.