Sierra Club sues Iowa DNR over proposed cattle feedlot


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 24, 2021

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is being sued by the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The lawsuit regards the 11,600-head cattle feedlot that was approved by the department. The building is set to be built in Clayton County. Prior to its approval, the feedlot received harsh criticism from various environmental groups. According to The Des Moines Register, the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club is arguing that the feedlot used a skewed nutrient management plan to receive approval from the Iowa DNR. The plan, they allege, uses incorrect information.

Supreme Beef LCC, the group behind the project, received approval on the 11,600 cattle-lot feedlot in April 2021. The lawsuit alleges that the company underestimated how much nitrogen and phosphorus that is needed by the facility would need annually.

The Sierra Club alongside other environmental groups opposed the project since its initial proposal in 2020 due to the land being an environmentally sensitive area. The project also initially included plans to hire developers to generate a plan to capture the methane from the plant. Those plans were scrapped.

Biden doubles down on climate change aid promises


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 22, 2021

U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to double aid aimed at helping lower income countries address climate change at a United Nations General Assembly meeting on Tuesday.

Previously, Biden pledged $5.7 billion to these countries. This pledged funding, and any additional money, will have to receive congressional approval, according to The New York Times. This new pledge would ask congress to approve more than $11 million.

Smaller countries have recently pointed out that countries with bigger economies have not delivered the billions in aid they’re promised through the United Nation and its agreements. In 2015, when the Paris climate accord was initially signed, more than $100 billion in annual aid was promised to less developed countries. Most of this aid has not been given by larger countries, including the U.S.

If the funding is passed, it would make the U.S. one of the largest climate donors in the world. Some environmental advocacy groups, however, don’t think Biden’s vow is enough funding.

Climate change is one of the most important subjects at the 2021 General Assembly meeting, garnering attention from several UN members. Biden’s initial pledge was made in April. Both funding goals have a deadline of 2024.

Iowa City Roots for Trees program looks to plant more trees


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 17, 2021

After a successful first year, the Iowa City Parks and Recreation department’s Root for Trees program opened this week with the goal of planting more trees than ever before.

The Root for Trees Discount Program started as a part of the City’s Climate Action Plan. The project started with the goal to expand the Iowa City’s tree canopy and diversity. The program broke records last year by planting 400 trees.

The program began again on September 15 and runs until May 2022. To participate, Iowa City residents can redeem vouchers to use at a local tree nursery at a reduced cost. The vouchers work on 19 different types of trees. Once the tree is planted on the voucher user’s property, they are responsible for the care and maintenance of the tree. The voucher cuts the cost of purchasing a tree significantly. Since the voucher is based on income, residents will receive from 50 to 90 percent off at $250 tree.

According to The Daily Iowan, 360 vouchers were redeemed last year. Program facilitators are looking to have even more success in 2021. Applications to obtain a voucher are currently open to residents currently. The City of Iowa City’s Parks and Recreation department also has a guide where voucher users can learn what type of tree is best for their property prior to purchasing and planting.

Reconciliation bill focuses on enhancing research, fighting climate change in agriculture section


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 14, 2021

The U.S. House Agriculture Committee is planning to use a section of the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill to fund investments in urban agriculture and boosting the department’s programs to address climate change.

The bill sets aside $66 billion for agricultural measures, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. This funding also plans to provide funding for historically Black land grant colleges. The focus on climate change prevention intends to look at threats in farming and continue to work on decreasing environmental harms from agricultural practices.

$7 billion was set aside by the committee to fund general research and education programs regarding the advancement of agricultural and food systems in the United States.

Outside of agriculture funding, the package could provide $40 billion to help combat forest fires on public and private land if passed. Currently, wildfires in California are raging on and threatening various species in the state’s forests.

U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, who represents Iowa’s 3rd district, also worked on inserting a provision in the reconciliation package to focus on biofuel expansions. The current investment is $1 billion.

Cryptocurrencies found to use more electricity than individual states, countries


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 10, 2021

The cryptocurrency Bitcoin currently uses more energy than countries like Finland, which has a population of 5.5 million.

Bitcoin was invented back in 2009, and 12 years later, one would need a room full of specialized machines to mine a single Bitcoin. The process of mining one takes up 9 years’ worth of a typical U.S. household’s electricity bill. According to a New York Times article, this currency’s network uses the same amount of electricity as the state of Washington. The state has 7.6 million residents. In comparison to the search engine Google, Bitcoin uses seven times as much electricity. Google has several locations across the globe.

While all cryptocurrencies are strictly digital and exist only electronically, Bitcoin is adding to the climate crisis by using power grids and fossil fuels and contributing to harmful emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that nearly all pieces of an electricity system can affect the environment through greenhouse gas emissions and using up water resources to cool down systems and produce steam.

Since cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are inefficient in transactions, they are also inefficient when it comes to the use of electricity. Bitcoin’s energy consumption fluctuates frequently, as its price ebbs and flows. Regardless of the cost of the currency, Bitcoin continues to contribute to excessive energy usage.

Biden aims to raise solar energy production from 4 to 45%


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Elizabeth Miglin | September 8, 2021

The Biden administration announced plans to produce half of the nation’s electricity through solar power by 2050, on Wednesday. 

Last year, solar energy provided less than 4 percent of the country’s electricity, now the administration aims to raise production to 45 percent. A new report by the Department of Energy argues the U.S. must quadruple annual solar installations by 2025 in order to reach the administrations’ goal of decarbonizing the power sector. 

Pressure to expedite the transition off of fossil fuels has increased due to recent natural disasters across the country, including Hurricane Ida in New Jeresy and New York, which have highlighted weaknesses in the current energy system. 

With the cost of solar panels dropping over the last decade, solar has become one of the cheapest sources of energy for much of the U.S. The reduced costs has boosted the solar and wind energy market where growth has exceeded government and independent analysts predictions. In culmination, a U.S. Energy Information Administration report projects renewable energy sources will share 42% of the U.S. electricity mix by 2050 at our current growth rate. 

Additionally, the administration hopes to reduce net emission from the power sector to zero by 2035, add hundreds of offshore wind turbines and ensure half of all new cars sold are electric by 2030. 

Air quality, climate bulletin highlights quality patterns, shifts


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 7, 2021

The World Meteorological Organization published its first Air Quality and Climate Bulletin on Sept. 3, discussing where air patterns are improving and deteriorating across the globe.

The report discusses the strong connection air quality and climate change have because of the chemical species that impact both. One of the similarities is the affect the combustion of fossil fuels has on air’s breathability and on global warming. A large problem when it comes to air quality is wildfires, according to the bulletin. The report said the fire seasons expose people to “varying levels of pollutants” alongside putting millions of people at high or very high health risks as a result of being downwind from wildfires.

Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research co-director Greg Carmichael assisted in the creation of the organization’s bulletin. He serves on the editorial board for the bulletin and chairs the Environmental Pollution and Atmospheric Chemistry Scientific Steering Committee of the World Meteorological Organization, the group that inspired the report.

Iowa saw poor air quality this summer because of the wildfires in Western states. In late June, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources issued air quality alerts due to winds from the West Coast changing the air quality in some Midwestern states. The alert specifically focused on warning sensitive groups to limit their outdoor exertion within the state. According to the Des Moines Register, these alerts also signaled several towns in the state having “unhealthy” air based on the Air Quality Index. Poor air quality returned later in the summer to Iowa, as residents saw more alerts in August.

The bulletin by the World Meteorological Organization included a section on how COVID-19 and air quality have impacted one another — something that has worried some health officials in Iowa. During various lockdowns of differing degrees, international emissions of air pollutants fell drastically, improving air quality across the world. The report showed nitrogen dioxide emissions dropped nearly 70 percent as a result of COVID-19.

The World Meteorological Organization intends to continue putting out bulletins with more air quality information in the future.

Hurricane Ida hits east coast


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 3, 2021

Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, and New Jersey are recovering from significant damage left by Hurricane Ida.

Hurricane Ida, currently a Category 2 hurricane, made landfall this week, 16 years after Hurricane Katrina slammed the Southeastern coast. When Ida hit Louisiana, it was a Category 4 hurricane. Flooding from the storm has killed dozens of people up and down the eastern United States.

In one hour on Thursday, New York City saw more than three inches of rain. The flooding impacted various public transportation routes, with water in the subways and public buses flooding in the streets. Most subway lines continued to see disruptions Friday morning, according to The New York Times. The excessive rain caught officials off guard in New York City. The Northeast saw more deaths than the Southeast, where Ida hit first. The two regions saw similar amounts of damage and flooding.

Hurricanes are worsening due to climate change, Yale Climate Connections reports. Wind speeds are strengthening in new storms alongside more rain and worse storm surges as a result of the global temperature increasing. The storms are said to be even costlier as they worsen, regardless of their location. The changes could lead to Americans seeing more category 4 or 5 storms.

UI Engineer awarded NASA funding for wildfire research


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Elizabeth Miglin | Sep 1, 2021

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) awarded a University of Iowa professor $1.3 million in funding to study atmospheric and climate impacts of wildfires.

Jun Wang, UI Professor of Biochemical and Chemical Engineering, will lead the three-year $540,000 study with co-investor Fangqun Yu, a researcher and professor at the University of Albany. The study will focus on the aerosol composition and temperature in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere (UTLS) using measurements from a sensor aboard the International Space Station called the Stratospheric Aerosole and Gas Experiment III or SAGE III.

Severe wildfires throughout 2021 have set annual records for land burned, especially in the western United States and Australia. The huge plumes of black carbon aerosols into the UTLS, concentrating approximately six to 18 miles into the atmosphere. Concerns have arisen of the warming effect that could arise from the fires. 

Alongside the SAGE III project, Wang will lead another NASA funded four-year study to develop the first map of fire combustion efficiency from space. The study was granted $800,000 and will be in collaboration with Arlindo da Silva, a research meteorologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. 

Idaho grazing lease sold to environmental group who outbid rancher


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | August 31, 2021

The Western Watersheds Project outbid a rancher to purchase a grazing lease in central Idaho in its effort to end all public-land grazing.

The group bid over $8,000 for 620 acres of land. The project will also pay an additional annual fee of $800 for the number of sheep and cattle that are authorized to be on the land. The lease is for 20 years and the land is situated in Idaho’s Sawtooth Valley, according to the Associated Press. This might not be the only grazing lease that goes to environmental groups instead of ranchers. The Idaho Cattle Association said it’s possible that more leases will be sought after by groups like the Western Watersheds Project.

The new owners of the land plan to convert the grazing lease into a conservation lease, which will allow the environmental group to invest in wildlife on the 620 acres. The grazing lease joins more than 1,100 managed by the Idaho Department of Lands, covering thousands of square miles of land in the state.

Erik Molvar, the executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, said the purchase was an expensive way to achieve the group’s goals of conserving land in Idaho. He called the Sawtooth Valley “one of the crown jewels of Idaho” that is valuable and an area rich with diverse wildlife.