Researchers to explore Des Moines-area sustainability potential on NSF grant


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Downtown Des Moines and the surrounding six-county area are the subjects of a new research project on urban sustainability (via Creative Commons).

Julia Poska | January 24, 2020

The National Science Foundation granted a group of mostly Iowa-based interdisciplinary researchers $2.5 million to explore potential scenarios for making greater Des Moines more sustainable.

The Sustainable Cities Research Team –12 researchers from Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa and University of Texas at Arlington– received the grant this week. The group’s engineers, environmental scientists, psychologists and others will holistically study food, energy and water systems within a six-county area to develop and analyze “scenarios” for improved sustainability.

An ISU press release said the approach would include analysis of potential for increased local and urban food production as well as building and transportation energy efficiency. The researchers will survey and collaborate with local residents and stakeholders, including farmers and community leaders.

The research effort could inform not only the future of the Des Moines area, but planning and policy in other Midwestern cities, too.

Weber pushes natural resource funding in letter


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The Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund would help protect Iowa’s natural resources (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | January 3, 2020

Iowa Flood Center co-creator and research engineer Larry Weber began the new year with a letter to the editor in the Cedar Rapids Gazette urging Iowans to permanently fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund in 2020.

In 2010, Iowans voted to create the fund, officially amending the state constitution to create a source of permanent funding for protecting and improving the state’s natural resources and their associated benefits . The proposed 3/8 sales tax increase to create revenue for the fund, though, has still not been implemented.

“This funding would allow us to accelerate our conservation efforts to make meaningful improvements to address flooding and improve water quality,” wrote Weber, who has dedicated his career to Iowa’s water quality and quantity challenges.

“Together, we can maintain a strong agricultural economy while protecting our water and natural resources, and at the same time creating an environment where people are drawn to live, work, and recreate,” he concluded.

 

 

 

UI enters final year for 2020 sustainability goals


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UI EV vehicle charging station (via a 2018 Office of Sustainability Report. )

Julia Poska | January 1, 2020

In 2010, former University of Iowa President Sally Mason announced the 2020 Vision: The University of Iowa’s Sustainability Targets. It laid out out sustainability goals to reach within the next decade, which began today. 

The goals were as follows:

1. Become a Net‐negative Energy Consumer

This goal indicated that the university should consume less energy in 2020 than it did in 2010, despite projected growth. Building energy consumption reports from The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) indicate energy energy consumption growth from 2005 to 2013 and 2013 to 2018. A 2018 presentation to the campus faculty council, though, provided data indicated that energy consumption was below the baseline, if baseline included projected consumption for new buildings.

2. Green Our Energy Portfolio

The document indicated that the University would consume 40% renewable energy in 2020. Since 2010, the university has increased production of energy through renewable biomass sources like oat hulls and miscanthus grass in the on-campus power plant. A 2018 presentation to the campus faculty council reported 17% renewable energy in 2017.

3. Decrease Our Production of Waste

This goal indicated that the university would “divert” (meaning recycle or compost” 60% of waste by 2020. The Office of Sustainability has since implemented a “tiny trash” program to encourage recycling and a dorm room composting program. The most recent data, for 2017, indicates a 38% diversion rate.

4. Reduce the Carbon Impact of Transportation

The university aimed to reduce per-capita fossil fuel emissions from campus transportation methods by 10%. A 2018 report to the university’s staff council reported a 14% reduction in per-capita transportation emissions, due in part to the campus’s fleet of electric vehicles and solar charging station.

 

5. Increase Student Opportunities to Learn and Practice Principles of Sustainability

6. Support and Grow Interdisciplinary Research in Sustainability‐focused and Related Areas

7. Develop Partnerships to Advance Collaborative Initiatives, both Academic and Operational

The last three goals provided qualitative measures, more difficult to measure and assess directly. The university undoubtedly provides  sustainability opportunities for students, in both practice and research, and has fostered numerous collaborative initiatives.

Stay tuned over the next 364 days to see whether these goals are fully met.

 

 

2019 Iowa Climate Statement Video


Kasey Dresser| December 16, 2019

The Iowa Climate Statement video has officially been uploaded to our website. You can watch the video again here, or access it at any time under the Iowa Climate Statement tab.

The statement, released on September 18, warns Iowans and Midwesterners of sobering extreme heat projections for the region. Based on the most up‐to‐date scientific sources, the statement makes clear the urgency of preparing for dangerously hot summers in the coming decades.

Betsy Stone, Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Iowa, reads this year’s statement in the video above. Access the full written statement here.

Iowa Energy Districts bring local leadership to renewables


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Energy Districts encourage home solar projects like this one (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska| November 22, 2019

Though the state of Iowa as a whole has focused on shifting to renewable forms of energy–wind in particular–for years, some localities feel the transition has not been speedy enough. A handful of “Energy Districts” have formed in recent years with intent to push their communities forward in the renewable energy adoption.

These districts are independent and non-partisan entities led by a small staff and a local board of directors, according to the Winneshiek Energy District website. Winneshiek’s was the first such district to form (in 2010) and has since has encouraged and aided others. A recent Energy News Network article said Iowa now has eight districts active or in planning, including two in Iowa City and Des Moines.

The Energy Districts are modeled after Soil and Water Conservation Districts, local authorities formed after the 1930s Dust Bowl to encourage local solutions to resource conservation. With the goal of empowering locals to transition to renewables on their own terms, Energy Districts provide services such as:

  • Energy auditing and planning assistance to homes, farms, businesses and institutions (often in partnership with Green Iowa AmeriCorps).
  • Educational opportunities
  • Advocacy for improved renewable energy policy
  • Guidance to other localities hoping to establish Energy Districts

A fact sheet provided by the Winneshiek County Energy District says the entity has helped create a $14 million investment in renewable energy, over 100 energy jobs and a 100,000 ton reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in Winneshiek County alone.

Complications with selective breeding in dogs


 

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(rudyeleazardubon/flickr)

Kasey Dresser| November 4, 2019

 

A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found evidence that artificial dog breeding has affected the animal’s brain.

Artificial dog breeding has been around for centuries, even notably performed by George Washington and the crossbreed of the American foxhound. Selective breeding is done to achieve desired behavioral and physical characteristics. A study at Harvard University set out to find out if the practice has affected their physical characteristics in ways we can’t see. 

Dr. Erin Hecht, the leader of the study, focused on brain structure unrelated to body size or head shape. 62 male and female dogs of 33 different dog species were given MIRS. After the areas of the brains were analyzed, the team created six separate brain network models, each related to a different behavior specialization like hunting, guarding, companionship, etc. An analyzation of the data revealed that brain anatomy has significant variation among the different dog species, likely related to human-applied selection for behavior. 

This study is one of the first related to the complications of selective breeding and Dr. Hecht, and their team, look forward to continuing their research. 

Midwest agriculture sector hit by climate change


By Julia Shanahan | October 18th, 2019

The FED central bank released a report this week reviewing the economic strength of various sectors and regions and concluded the agriculture industry is still not doing well economically — a lot of which can be attributed to climate change.

The report said that adverse weather effects has impacted farming conditions, market prices, and has disrupted trade. The Midwest has been hit particularly hard, and the FED reported that midwest sources have concerns about the outcome of this year’s harvest. Iowa experienced heavy flooding in the spring, which damaged grain and farmland. Because Iowa also experienced a period of dry weather over the summer months, some farmers were able to bounce back.

This summer, economic experts at the USDA issued a report that said increasing crop losses will drive up the prices of crop insurance, with climate change being a leading factor in crop loss. There are several government cost-share programs that work to mitigate risk in agriculture, and the average annual cost of these programs amounts to $12 billion using data from the last decade. As severe weather becomes more frequent, the amount of federal dollars is expected to increase.

The report says that all anticipated climate scenarios are expected to lower yields of corn, soybeans, and wheat — but yield volatility is not always impacted by severe weather. In a scenario that greenhouse gas emissions increase at a high rate, the cost of today’s Federal Crop Insurance Program is expected to increase 22 percent.