90 percent of U.S. counties have experienced a natural disaster since 2011


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Grace Smith | November 17, 2022

90 percent of counties in the U.S. have experienced a wildfire, a hurricane, a flood, or another form of natural disaster, from 2011 to the end of 2021, per a report released on Nov. 16. The report also said that over 700 counties in the U.S. have encountered over five natural disasters. Five states have suffered 20 natural disasters since 2011. 

From 2011-2021, California had 25 federal disasters, the highest number in the country, which included numerous wildfires, a large number of earthquakes, and more. 58 counties in the state have had recent disasters, and Butte County received the most post-disaster financial assistance — over $183 million. The lowest number of federal disasters occurred in Nevada with three. 

Iowa had 21 total disasters, the fourth-highest number of natural disasters in the nation. Every county in the state experienced a natural disaster from 2011-2021. Iowa has received $717 million in post-disaster assistance and is still receiving aid for a storm in 1977.

These natural disasters have caused states and counties large amounts of money. Louisiana had the highest per capita support at $1,736 for each person. In addition, the median payout for all states in the U.S. was $97 per capita. In total, $91 billion had to be put toward post-disaster aid and assistance for states from 2011-2021. The states who needed the most financial support included New York, Texas, and Florida.

Greece ran on 100 percent renewable energy for the first time


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Grace Smith | October 18, 2022

The Greek electrical system ran on 100 percent clean renewable energy for the first time on Oct. 7.  That day, renewable energy sources ran Greece’s electrical system for five hours and reached a new record of 3,106 megawatt hours of electricity. 

The Independent Power Transmission Operator, which owns Greece’s electrical system and connecting power plants, said the success from Oct. 7 will bring about more success and hope for a greener country in the coming years. Greece hopes to use 30 million euros to elevate its electricity grid to double green energy capacity for at least 70 percent of the green energy mix by 2030. 

As of August 2022, natural gas and renewable sources like wind and solar power made up most of its power. In 2019, Greece’s energy consumption was ranked 52nd in the world and used a third of the amount of energy as the U.S. Greece used 108 million BTU and the U.S. used 304.41 million BTU. 

The U.S. is making progress since 2019 in using more renewable energy sources. The California Independent System Operator uses about 80 percent of the state. In addition to California, the U.S. exceeded coal and nuclear energy with wind power in 2022. 

California to ban the sale of gas-powered vehicles by 2035


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Grace Smith | September 1, 2022

California, the nation’s most populous state with the largest auto market, is banning the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035. The ban, issued by the California Air Resources Board on Aug. 25, aims to impact the fight against climate change. Transportation is California’s largest source of emissions, accounting for 40 percent of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions. 

“Our state is on the frontlines of extreme weather, and we’re taking aggressive steps to protect Californians from the costs of climate change – transitioning away from the big polluters fueling this crisis and towards clean energy,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a press release in May.

The ban requires 35 percent of cars and light trucks to be zero-emission, plug-in hybrid, or hydrogen-powered models by 2026. Right now, that number sits at 16 percent. By 2030, the number rises to 60 percent. And, by 2035, 100 percent of new vehicles will be zero-emission models.

The new rule introduces zero-emission vehicles, but still allows for gas-powered vehicle owners to utilize and sell their current cars.

With this new ban issued in California, 15 states are supporting the rule. States including Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts, and New York may follow in California’s footsteps. Through trigger laws, new bills, and more, the states are also looking to transition to zero-emission vehicles by 2035.

Climate change increases intensity of likely California megaflood


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Grace Smith | August 15, 2022

California hasn’t experienced a megaflood since 1862, but research published on Aug. 12 shows that the nation’s most populous state with over 39 million people is due for another, and climate change could intensify it. California can normally be observed as a water scarcity state with recurring droughts and wildfires, but research in Science Advances said climate change has already doubled the likelihood of disastrous flooding, and this is likely to increase with continuous warming. 

The Great Flood of 1862 is considered the biggest flood in modern history. The megastorm 160 years ago destroyed one-third of the state’s property, killed 4,000 people, and caused over 200,000 cows to starve or drown. The flood started with a snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada in Dec. 1861 with 15 feet of snow that fell over California’s eastern mountains. After the snowstorm and for the next 40 days, warm rain and high winds poured in and destroyed homes and streets. Sacramento to the San Joaquin Valley, which is 300 miles long by 20 miles wide, was completely underwater. 

Although no one knows exactly when the new megaflood will occur, when it does, atmospheric currents from tropical air near the equator will push water vapor, which will be hundreds of miles wide and thousands of miles long, to the West Coast. This will cause countless weeks of rain and snow, with a predicted two inches of rain per hour in Los Angeles. 

Daniel Swain, one of the authors of the study, told the Washington Post that some areas in the state are likely to see 70 to 80 inches of rain, with a few places reaching 100 inches in just 30 days. 

Forecasters say there is a 0.5 to 1 percent chance of the flood occurring in any given year but are confident that it will happen. For now, Swain and his work are pushing officials to notice the likelihood and prepare for the disaster.

New study shows air pollution across U.S. reflects racist policies


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | March 23, 2022

New data shows discriminatory housing practices in the 1930s led to disparities in the health of residents as a result of air pollution in various California neighborhoods in 2022.

The study, entitled “Historical redlining is associated with present-day air pollution disparities in U.S. cities,” analyzed California and the impacts housing policies from the 1930s had on air pollution. It focused on 202 cities and their exposure to nitrogen dioxide, a gas associated with vehicle exhaust and industrial facilities, and microscopic particles known as PM 2.5. When looking at Berkeley and Oakland, the two communities were redlined and saw higher levels of nitrogen dioxide that were twice as high as was safe in the 1930s. According to The New York Times, the two neighborhoods are lower-lying land that are closer to industrial businesses and major highways, increasing pollution.

Redlining is racial discrimination in any kind of housing, specifically regarding governmental maps that outline areas where Black residents lived in communities, deeming those areas as risky investments. The cities analyzed in the study were listed as “D” neighborhoods in the 1930s, designating them as the least desirable places to live because of air pollution exposure. The result of redlining in Oakland and Berkeley included many children having asthma related to the traffic and industrial pollution.

The study overall found well-documented health disparities between redlined and better-rated districts in terms of air pollution. It furthers a 2019 study that found there were twice as many residents visiting emergency rooms for asthma in eight California redlined cities. The study was partially funded by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Unhealthy Levels of Pollution Spread Across Western U.S. as California Wildfires Burn On


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Nicole Welle | August 24, 2020

More than 600 individual fires and some of the largest wildfire complexes in California’s history are still burning after thousands of lightning strikes triggered them last week.

Unhealthy levels of pollution have been reported across the state in the last few days. The large number of individual fires and the size of the fire complexes has caused an unusually high amount of of smoke to enter the atmosphere, and the smoke has spread across parts of the western United States and the Pacific Ocean. Atmospheric testing showed that Northern California had the worst air quality in the world on August 19.

Extremely hot and dry conditions in California could cause the smoke to stay in the air longer. The black carbon particulates in the air will cause health problems for humans and animals as they enter the lungs and bloodstream, and they play a role in global warming, according to an article published by NASA. The National Weather Service issued a poor air quality alert for California’s Central Valley until the fires are extinguished.

More mudslides possible for southern California


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Rescue workers wade through debris and sediment following last week’s mudslide in Santa Barbara county, California. (Associated Press/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Jenna Ladd | January 17, 2018

Meteorologists warn that rainfall during the fourth week of January could trigger another mudslide in southern California, where residents of Santa Barbara county are still reeling from last week’s massive landslide. Between two and five inches fell in the county between January 8th and 9th, sending boulders and thick sediment raining down on Montecito, California. A recent wildfire in the area left mountain slopes without vegetation to slow down the runoff and played into the destruction of 115 homes and the death of at least 20 people.

Jonathan Godt of the U.S. Geological Survey told the New York Times, “It was pretty rare, in essence a worse-case scenario from that standpoint. The same rainfall that falls on a burned landscape can cause a lot more damage than it would before a fire.”

AccuWeather officials have predicted that a shift in the jet stream will bring more moisture from the Pacific Ocean into southern California’s atmosphere by January 23rd and 24th. They caution that the weather pattern presents the risk for “locally heavy rainfall, flash flooding and a significant risk of mudslides.” Their report states that areas surrounding Point Conception, California are most likely to be affected.

February and March are heavy precipitation months for Santa Barbara county, and following California’s record-setting year for wildfires, conditions are right for faster-moving and more destructive landslides.

AccuWeather meteorologist Evan Duffey said, “People need to leave the area by evacuation deadlines as they are given. Once a mudslide begins, there may only be minutes to seconds before a neighborhood is wiped out.”

On The Radio – California lists glyphosate as a carcinogen


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Glyphosate is an active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. (Mike Mozart/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | December 18, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how some farm groups are suing California for considering glyphosate a cancer causing chemical. 

Transcript: Iowa and a dozen other state farm groups are suing California for listing glyphosate as a cancer causing chemical.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

California’s Proposition 65 law from 1986 requires the state to protect drinking water from chemicals that can cause cancer or reproductive harm. And businesses must warn their users about potential chemical danger.

Glyphosate is a herbicide used in 250 crops and a key ingredient in Monsanto’s top selling weed killer, RoundUp. Back in 2016 Monsanto sued California to block the glyphosate listing but in July of this year, California made the decision to list glyphosate as a carcinogen.

This decision will cost Iowa farmers around 5 billion dollars. Crops with glyphosate will have to be separated, meaning extra time and labor costs not to mention a drastic drop in sales. Products with even trace amounts of glyphosate will be required to be labeled by 2018 in the state of California.

Glyphosate is believed to be one of the safer herbicides. It was approved by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the 1970s and is frequently re-tested. However, the International Agency for Research on Cancer determined glyphosate as a potential cancer causing substance in 2015.

The debate about glyphosate and its effects on human health will likely continue following California’s actions.

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

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

On The Radio – California fires bring toxic ash


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Ash coats destroyed vehicles near Santa Rosa, California near the end of October. (California National Guard/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | November 6, 2017

This On The Radio segment discusses how ash left from California’s recent wildfires may threaten area residents. 

Transcript: The wildfires raging throughout Northern California have finally calmed down, but the fight isn’t over.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Northern Californians have suffered greatly in the wake of the October’s wildfires that left 42 dead and around 100,000 people displaced. Over 8,000 homes and buildings were destroyed.

Residents of a neighborhood in Santa Rosa are already seeing the effects of the ash, as it has started to cover every available surface. A state of emergency for multiple counties throughout California was issued last month by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Toxic ash could contain any number of hazardous materials, including trace amounts of arsenic and lead, according to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control. Many places effected by the ash have already issued health warnings to residents.

Efforts by the state of California have been made to clean up the toxic material and debris before the rainy season commences and washes toxins into local waterways.

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

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

Scientists use solar energy to make salt water drinkable


The sun sets in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. Oceans cover approximately 70 percent of the earth’s surface. (Mike/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | April 28, 2015

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered a way to make salt water drinkable using solar panels.

This innovation recently won first place for the U.S. Agency for International Development‘s  2015 Desal Prize because of its potential to provide clean drinking water for millions around the world. MIT and Jain Irrigation Systems came up with a photovoltaic-powered electrodialysis reversal (EDR) system which can desalinate water by “using electricity to pull charged particles out of the water.” Ultraviolet rays are then used to disinfect the water. The system functions using relatively low energy consumption in areas that may be off the grid.

The research team was awarded with $140,000 to continue their research. To be eligible for the prize money, designs had to be cost-effective, environmentally sustainable, and energy efficient. The system is capable of removing salt from 2,100 gallons of water within 24 hours. It is also capable of converting 90 percent of salt water into drinking water, compared to reserve-osmosis systems which purify 40 to 60 percent of water.

The researchers have been developing this technology across India since 2014. This filtration system is expected to alleviate water shortage issues in California and other drought-stricken parts of the developed world while improving living conditions in India and other underdeveloped parts of the world where clean water can be scarce.

“The water scarcity challenges facing India in the near future cannot be overstated. India has a huge population living on top of brackish water sources in regions that are water-scarce or about to become water-scarce,” said Susan Amrose, a civil and environmental engineering lecture at the University of California-Berkeley. “A solution with the potential to double recoverable water in an environment where water is becoming more precious by the day could have a huge impact.”