An increasing number of Iowa Farmers have begun growing cover crops as part of an effort to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change.
Carbon farming involves growing cover crops, like cereal rye, in alternating rows with crops like soybeans and refraining from tilling fields. These practices increase the level of nutrients in the soil, help prevent erosion, and can help sequester more carbon in the ground.
While carbon farming is not hugely profitable now, many farmers are getting paid to participate in these initiatives. It can help farmers who are currently struggling with low corn and soybean prices reach profitability, and it leaves them with healthier soil and a more sustainable way to farm, according to a Hawk Eye article.
Sequestering carbon in the soil also comes with a number of environmental benefits. The stored carbon in the ground is cut off from contact with the atmosphere where it would combine with oxygen to create carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. By reducing erosion, it also improves the health of Iowa’s rivers, lakes, streams and wildlife.
The study shows that a maximum of 2,700 Gigatonnes of carbon dioxide would need to be captured and stored to keep global warming to less than 2˚C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. The IPCC recognized that CCS will be crucial in achieving this goal when implemented alongside efforts to increase clean energy use, according to a ScienceDaily article.
CCS is a process that involves capturing CO2 emissions at their source and storing it underground to prevent it from entering the atmosphere. Researchers combined data collected over the last 20 years on the growth of CCS, information on historic growth rates in energy infrastructure, and current models that monitor the depletion of natural resources to determine the maximum storage space required.
Past estimates revealed that there is actually more that 10,000 GT of potential carbon storage space available across the globe, a number that far exceeds the amount needed to meet the goals defined in the analysis. The current rate of growth in available storage space is on track to meet demands, but it is crucial that research and efforts to maintain this growth continue.
The Imperial College research team took into consideration the possibility of multiple climate change mitigation scenarios that might occur in the future, and they determined that even the most ambitious of scenarios would require no more that 2,700 GT of CCS. However, that number could increase over time if future deployment of CCS is delayed.
CDP, an environmental non-profit organization, recently announced a 24% increase in the number of companies asking for environmental data reports from their suppliers this year.
CDP helps investors, companies, cities, states and regions manage their environmental impacts by providing them with a global disclosure system that measures and interprets environmental data, according to the CDP website. 30 new purchasing systems began working with CDP to help manage their supply chains more sustainably, and over 15,000 environmental transparency requests were sent to suppliers this year, according to an Environment + Energy Leader article.
Companies are asking suppliers to disclose information regarding their impacts on deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, water safety and climate change. Organizations that utilize CDP resources can use the information collected to make more sustainable, informed decisions when working with suppliers.
CDP is a global organization, but their biggest spike in participants this year came from North America. Nike, Nordstrom and The Clorox Company were three of the 17 North American companies that joined this year, adding to CPD’s list of members which already includes companies like Walmart, Microsoft and Stanley Black and Decker.
April 22, 2020, is not just another Earth Day. It is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day – the one that changed my life forever. Naive and over my head as student body president at Iowa State-1970, my world was on fire with righteous indignation against a compulsory draft for an unjust War in Vietnam. At times I actually thought that it would tear the country apart.
The first Earth Day strangely diverted my immediate attention, and the diversion would last a lifetime. Brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson and organized by Denis Hayes as a national Teach-In, Earth Da
y spawned immense bipartisan gatherings of 20 million people in the streets for one unifying goal – a healthy Planet Earth. Earth Day ignited in me a realization that my chemical engineering education from ISU could morph into something green and more fascinating, that is, trying to understand water quality, biodiversity, and the biogeochemistry of Earth’s processes. Discerning remedies for the massive disruptions that 7.7 billion people and an $80 trillion GWP can inflict on the earth has proven even more challenging.
This year we celebrate Earth Day with digital gatherings due to coronavirus. It’s not the same, but perhaps the pandemic can teach us some valuable lessons. Some people were slow to accept the dismal science of a spreading pandemic – they lacked trust in health professionals’ recommendations for social distancing, staying home, and closing businesses, sporting events, churches and social gatherings. But the flattening curves of Wuhan, South Korea, Singapore, and even Italy, Spain, and New York bear testament to the wisdom of their call.
Our national plan for the pandemic Covid-19 was non-existent, like the Emperor’s new clothes, plain for all to see. Pandemics are “global disease outbreaks” and they require national plans and concerted global action. As recently as 2003-2004, WHO mitigated much more rapidly a similar virus, SARS, by careful messaging and international cooperation of 11 labs in 9 different countries. U.S. and Chinese scientists together developed a vaccine within a year. Far too little cooperation exists today, both at home and abroad. Politics and hyper partisanship are disastrous in a time of global need. We can do better.
Analogies between climate change and our pandemic response are obvious. We have no national plan for either. As a young egg-head professor at the University of Iowa, I published my first modeling paper on climate change and its consequences in 1994, many years after others had done so. It projected (surprisingly accurately) the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today with business-as-usual. That’s exactly what happened – business as usual. If you had told me that the U.S. would still not have comprehensive climate change and energy legislation in 2020, I would have told you, “you’re crazy”.
But it’s in the history books. We have failed to listen to the science and failed to reduce our gargantuan greenhouse gas emissions — the planet cannot take it anymore. Now it really is a Climate Emergency. What’s more, we are threatening to extinct 1 million species in the next generation as well – the Biodiversity Crisis.
Coronavirus humbles us all. How can one not be moved by the sight of doctors, nurses, custodians, and admissions clerks risking their lives for the rest of us? How can one not weep to see the miles of cars lined-up at food banks because families have nowhere else to turn? Playing out in the richest country in the world gives great pause.
Yes, we need science-based decision making on coronavirus and on climate change, but we need compassion and understanding as well. Noted columnist Sarah Van Gelder writes, “Changing hearts and opening minds begins when we listen”. Imagine the world we want, where everyone is safe and healthy, where the air is clean and the water is pure. Then, let us celebrate the 50th Anniversary of that spontaneous, bipartisan, original Earth Day by speaking from the heart and listening to each other.
Jerry Schnoor is professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Research at the University of Iowa.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved Iowa’s hemp production plan last week. The move opens the door for Iowa farmers to begin growing the crop, often praised for its environmental advantages.
Hemp is a strain of the cannabis plant that contains very low levels of the psychoactive compound THC, which is more highly concentrated in marijuana.
Proponents of hemp often promote the crop based on its environmental footprint. Hemp grows well nearly everywhere with relatively low water, pesticide and fertilizer demands in comparison to other cash crops.
The national rise in hemp growing has been largely fueled by demand for CBD, a compound increasingly used in foods and personal care products for its alleged calming properties. The various parts of the hemp plant can produce a wide range of other products, as well, however.
Hemp seeds and milk provide plant-based protein. Hemp resin can produce petroleum-free plastic. Hemp fiber can make paper with a smaller environmental footprint than wood paper and textiles with a smaller footprint than cotton.
Industrial hemp cultivation and products are not legal everywhere however, posing regulatory challenges for those wishing to trade the crop.
The new Iowa law should become official Wednesday, when it’s scheduled to be published on the Iowa Administrative Bulletin, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch. The USDA indicated that Iowa farmers would be allowed to grow 40 acres of hemp, with THC levels below 0.3 percent.
Over the last several weeks, people everywhere–including Iowa–have been increasingly encouraged or ordered to stay home in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Below are three ways to keep caring for Mother Nature while you care for yourself and your community during these unprecedented times.
1. No paper towels? No worries
With mass panic-buying wiping store shelves clean in recent weeks and non-essential excursions strongly discouraged, some households may worry about fulfilling their regular demand for paper products.
While disposable paper towels are great for the messiest of messes, consider using reusable cloths and rags are a more eco-friendly option for household cleaning.
2. No need for bottled water
While stocking up on bottled water might be tempting, there is no reason to believe the pandemic will impact household tap water. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources released a statement encouraging Iowans to continue using tap water as much as they can.
3. Grow your own microgreens
Doing some indoor home gardening will not only keep you busy, but create a hyper-local produce supply you don’t have to venture to the store for. Growing microgreens –seedlings of edible plants– is among the easiest ways to get started.
Spread potting soil in a shallow tray (consider reusing packaging from a container of berries or salad mix) sprinkle a layer of seeds on top and cover with a very thin layer of soil. Kept in a sunny spot and sprayed with water to keep the soil damp, you can yield a microgreen crop every two weeks or so.
Sunflower, sweet pea and radish seeds (available online) are great options for getting started. The seedlings take on the flavor of the mature fruit or vegetable, making a great salad base or addition to other dishes. Get creative!
MidAmerican Energy has proposed its first-ever solar energy project: a public-private partnership with the City of Iowa City.
The city would lease nearly 19 unused acres at Waterworks Prairie Park to MidAmerican for 30 years, installing 10,000 solar panels, according to The Gazette.The energy generated would be able to power 580 average Iowa homes, a MidAmerican representative said in the article.
The Iowa City City Council will hold a hearing on the proposal later this month. If the city approves the plan, it will receive annual payment for the land.
The project would not impact the park’s walking trail. The Gazette reported that the land in question is currently planted with prairie, which would be replaced with “low-growth pollinators and perennials.”
A bill proposed this month in the Iowa House of Representatives would increase transparency around energy efficiency and utility costs in rental units.
The bill, HSB 635, states that landlords of properties containing at least 12 units would need to disclose average utility costs in writing to prospective tenants, prior to issuing a lease.
Properties with low rent are often older and may have structural issues–like leaky windows or dripping pipes— which can lead to wasted resources and higher utility bills for tenants. The Iowa Environmental Council is encouraging support of the bill, saying it would create incentives for more efficient rental properties.
The UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research is excited to announce the revival and reimagination of our EnvIowa podcast. This weekly podcast will feature 10- to 20-minute interviews with Iowa environmental experts, mainly our own member scientists.
While these researchers are certainly well versed in the complicated jargon of their disciplines, our interviews aim to make their ideas accessible to a general audience. Questions focus not only on the research itself, but how the experts believe it can be applied to solve environmental challenges.
Today’s installment features an interview recorded January 28 with Dr. Silvia Secchi, an interdisciplinary economist and geographer at the University of Iowa. Listen to learn more about Dr. Secchi’s fascinating research on human/environmental interactions in the Mississippi River watershed and how agriculture in particular plays a role within the larger system.
Last week, a study by the Environmental Working Group, found PFAS in more than 40 locations in 31 states. One of those places being the Iowa Quad Cities. PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they never biodegrade. They are a man-made substance, used in products like nonstick cookware and other food packaging. Nearly 5,000 different chemicals are associated with the PFAS family but only a few have been studied. Researchers do not know the health effects of drinking water with contamination but they have been linked to certain cancers, liver damage, and low birth weight according to Reuters.
“We want our customers to know that we are doing our job for them and that we are meeting all federal, us, EPA and state standards related to water quality. So they can be confident when they take that tap water and give it to a child or a family member that it is safe,” Lisa Raisen, External Affairs Manager for Iowa American Water, said to KWQC staff.