Adaptive architecture provides much-needed safety

Flooding and fires are still huge problems in many parts of the world (/img)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | January 9th 2019

In the midst of turbulent climate change, efforts to reduce harmful emissions from fossil fuels and replace traditional coal energy with green sources are long-term solutions that will help the planet in the long run–and these are solutions that are gaining more and more attention as leaders worldwide recognize the benefits of using green energy.

However, our environment, in the meantime,  is changing and shifting, and dangerously inclement weather patterns call for adaptive architecture and infrastructure to protect our most vulnerable populations from flooding and other natural disasters.

Reinforced houses built to potentially withstand hurricanes and ember-resistant structures are just a few examples of the kinds of safety guards many architects are now considering. Many cities in the Midwest that are especially prone to flooding have already begun changing their infrastructure by introducing flood walls, better drainage systems, and more greenery to buffer rising waters.

This renewed interest in adaptive architecture comes after an announcement by the World Bank Group to donate $200 billion over the next five years towards climate resistance and climate change. The money is set to be evenly split between these two solutions; it’s a recognition that while we’re aiming to reduce negative environmental changes altogether, many countries have already entered a dangerous point and need all the adaptive structures they can get.

Iowa increased biodiesel production in 2018

About 296 gallons of soy biodiesel were produced in Iowa last year (flickr).

Julia Poska | January 4, 2019

Iowa produced about 80 million more gallons of biodiesel in 2018 than 2017, bringing the total up to about 365 million gallons. The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association estimates that Iowa generated about one fifth of total biodiesel produced in the U.S. last year.

Monte Shaw, the director of the IRFA, attributed the increase in production to reduced foreign imports of biodiesel. Last spring, the United States International Trade Commission determined that Argentina and Indonesia were selling biodiesel in the U.S. at unfairly low rates, harming the domestic industry. Subsequent tariffs increased demand for U.S.-produced biodiesel.

Much of the demand was met with soybean oil, which totaled about 81 percent of the market share, up from 2017. Corn oil comprised 10 percent, while animal fat dropped to 5 percent, and used cooking oil contributed about 4 percent of the share.

Shaw believes Iowa could produce even more biodiesel, up to 400 million gallons in its 12 facilities, if nationwide Renewable Fuel Standard levels were higher. These levels determine the minimum quantity of biofuel that U.S. transportation fuels must contain and are administered by the Environmental Protection Agency. Levels increase each year. In 2019, 2.1 billion gallons of biodiesel should be mixed into U.S. diesel. By 2020, the amount should increase to 2.43 billion gallons.


Iowa reacts to proposed EPA Clean Water Rule rollback

Regulation over streams on farmland is in dispute (flickr).

Julia Poska | January 3rd, 2019

The Trump administration’s proposed rollback of the 2015 Clean Water Rule would reduce federal jurisdiction over wetlands, streams and other small water bodies on Iowa farmland. Some Iowans see the proposal, officially made in mid-December, as a win for farmers, while others see it as a hit to much needed water quality regulation in the state.

Since the start of his term, Pres. Trump has wanted to limit Obama’s 2015 Clean Water Rule, which more clearly defined “Waters of the United States” within the Clean Water Act of 1972. This increased the protected area by about 3 percent (according to an op-ed from Bloomberg News) by adding more streams and neighboring wetlands, ponds and impoundments into federal jurisdiction and reducing those waterbodies that could once be given/denied protection on a “case-by-case” basis.

The current administration proposes removing wetlands without clear surface connection to larger bodies of water from protection, as well as “ephemeral” streams that only flow with rainfall or snowmelt, about 18 percent of the country’s total streams. The proposal is now undergoing 60 days of public comment.

In November, Iowa already allowed Iowa to halt enforcement of the rule until disagreement over it was settled in court. The most farmers seem to want that allowance made permanent by the Clean Water Rule rollback. The Iowa Farm Bureau shared a statement of support in December after the EPA announced the proposed rollback, and called the Obama Era rule an “overreach.”

As Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst told reporters, “Iowa’s farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and small businesses can now breathe a sigh of relief knowing that going forward a tire track that collects rain water won’t be regulated by the federal government.”

Iowa has serious water quality issues, however, caused for the most part by runoff from farm fields containing harmful nutrients like nitrate and phosphorus. The state recognizes the importance of on-farm streams and wetlands in managing soil and water quality, and encourages the construction of buffers between crops and waterways to minimize runoff into streams or wetlands.

Curt Zingula, a Linn County farmer who uses a saturated buffer on his farm to protect a creek, told the Sioux City Journal he is proactive about water quality management, but thinks the Clean Water Rule “cast a shadow” over a landowner’s entire farm.

Others believe the rule was necessary, however, and think the proposed rollback will worsen Iowa’s water problem. A staff editorial in the Gazette called Ernst’s statements “hyperbole” and pushed for more focus on the water itself in the discussions surrounding the proposed rule change.

“If the Trump administration can’t explain how its definition will lead to cleaner water, and all of its related benefits, it should go back to the drawing board,” it reads. “Otherwise, it’s simply replaced Obama’s ‘overreach’ with a dereliction of duty to protect the nation’s waters for future generations.”

A look back at Iowa’s energy story


Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | January 2nd, 2019

The United States changed its source, use, and attitude on energy drastically between 2001 and and 2017. Each star progressed in its own way, having different resources and laws and goals. Here’s a summary of Iowa’s energy story.

Wind power increased in Iowa exponentially in these past 16 years. From 2001 to 2017, the use of wind power in Iowa’s overall energy increased from 1% to 37%. Despite these increases in clean energy, Iowa still produces over 40% of its energy from coal.

Iowa is one of the windiest states in the country and is the third largest producer of wind energy, thanks to its largely flat landscape.  Iowa was also the first state to pass legislationin 1983 requiring some energy to come from a clean source, though an update to these terms would help set us on the path to a cleaner, greener future.

Fighting deforestation in 2019


Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | January 1st, 2019

Forest fires, green energy, and air and water pollution made constant headlines in 2018. But the new year brings new efforts, and now a different environmental concern is coming to the forefront: deforestation.

United Nations Environment has launched an aggressive plan to end deforestation by 2020. The UK, France, and Germany have all called on the EU to follow the steps of the proposed initiative. It’s thought that this plan is being pushed forward partially in reaction to the Brazilian presidential hopeful Jair Bolsonaro and his pledges to build a highway through the Amazon and withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

Most deforestation–80% globally, in fact–is caused by agribusiness. While it’s understood that space is needed for certain types of crops and livestock, organizations like the High Carbon Stock Initiative would help determine the minimum amount of land that could be safely used for agriculture and which forest areas should be preserved for biodiversity.

Looking towards the future, it’s hard to say how Brazil’s election will effect deforestation in the Amazon, or the resistance and backlash this movement might incite. Regardless of the risks, the UN and EU are determined to end this practice within the next few years.


On The Radio- Climate change and crop production


This weeks segment looks at how increased temperature and precipitation will affect crop production in the Midwest. 


Increasing temperatures and precipitation will affect crop yields in the Midwest.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Midwest, often referred to as the breadbasket of America, is a major producer of corn, soybeans, and wheat. Rising temperatures and greater precipitation threaten farmer’s livelihoods.  

According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, Midwestern states are expected to warm up more than any other region in the U.S. Currently, the Iowa average annual 5-day maximum temperature during a heat wave is in the range of ninty to ninty-five degrees Fahrenheit. 

Now U.S. climate scientists are projecting that by mid-century, five-day heat wave temperatures in Iowa will increase by about seven degrees Fahrenheit for the average year and by thirteen degrees Fahrenheit once per decade compared to heat waves in the late twentieth century.  

Higher average temperatures increase the rate of evaporation from soil and plant leaves, leaving the land dry and arid and potentially damaging crop yields. Longer spells of high heat pave the way for droughts. The newly dryer land is then unable to properly soak up water from heavy rainfall, creating more flooding scenarios.

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

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

DNR reports 3% increase in Iowa greenhouse gas emissions

2017 pie chart.png
This pie chart shows 2017 greenhouse emissions in Iowa by sector (from the 2017 Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report). 

Julia Poska | December 28th, 2018

Greenhouse gas emissions in Iowa rose 3 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to a new report from the state Department of Natural Resources.  The report accounted for 131 million metric tons of emissions released throughout the state in various sectors including energy, agriculture and solid waste.

The largest sources of increase were waste and industrial processes. Emissions from waste rose 28.62 percent due to increased decomposition of older waste in landfills. Emissions from industrial processes rose 31.73 percent percent, largely due to increased production of ammonia, up over 180 percent from 2016. The only sector to see decrease was natural gas production and distribution, which decreased about 10 percent and accounts for only 1 percent of total emissions.

Agriculture contributes about 30 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions,  mainly methane and nitrous oxide, which are respectively about 25 and 298 times more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. These emissions largely come from animal waste and soil management.

Despite this increase, total emissions are down 6 percent from 2008.  The DNR projects that emissions will continue rising through at least 2020, and drop a bit more by 2030.