Smog-producing air pollution declining more slowly


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Catalytic converters have decreased the amount of carbon monoxide emitted by cars dramatically since they were first introduced in the 1970s. (Chris Keating/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | May 1, 2018

A new study found that levels of two primary pollutants in the U.S. atmosphere have not been declining as rapidly during recent years as they once were.

Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) studied satellite data and ground level measurements of two smog-forming pollutants: nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. Levels of these air pollutants decreased dramatically following the implementation of the Clean Air Act in the 1970s. Requirements of that act pushed automakers and energy-producers to develop new technology which curbed the emissions of these two pollutants.

The study found that concentration of these two pollutants in the atmosphere decreased by seven percent each year between 2005 and 2009. However, from 2011 through 2015, the pollutants’ levels only shrunk by 1.7 percent annually.

Helen Worden is a scientist at NCAR and one of the study’s authors. She said to Phys Org, “Although our air is healthier than it used to be in the 80s and 90s, air quality in the U.S. is not progressing as quickly as we thought. The gains are starting to slow down.”

The study noted that the slower decrease in carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides was especially severe in the eastern part of the U.S. This finding dispels notions that the slower pace can be attributed to traveling air pollution from countries like China. The positive news is that the slower decline in carbon monoxide, which is primarily emitted by vehicles, is likely due to the fact that major strides have already been made to reduce vehicle emissions. In short, clean air technology related to cars may have reached a kind of plateau.

This study was funded by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the National Science Foundation. The full journal article can be found in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Carbon emissions on the rise after years of stagnation


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Carbon emissions increased in 2017 for the first time in years. (Sunny Vhaii/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 22, 2018

Global carbon emissions were higher than ever in 2017 according to Global Energy and CO2 Status Report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) based in Paris.

Carbon emissions reached a record 32.5 giggatons last year after remaining stable for the three previous years. This figure can be thought of as putting 170 million additional cars on the road. The spike in carbon emissions has been attributed to two factors. First, global energy demand increased by 2.1 percent last year. This is double the average 0.9 percent increase over the previous five years. About seventy percent of this demand was met by emission producing fossil fuels like oil, natural gas and coal. Second, energy efficiency improvements slowed down during 2017.

“The significant growth in global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 tells us that current efforts to combat climate change are far from sufficient,” Fatih Birol, IEA’s executive director, said to Reuters. He continued, “For example, there has been a dramatic slowdown in the rate of improvement in global energy efficiency as policy makers have put less focus in this area.”

Scientists say the carbon emissions need to peak soon and then decrease dramatically by 2020 in order to meet the international climate goal of keep average global temperature rise lower than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Although carbon emissions increased most places, the United States, United Kingdom, Mexico and Japan all saw reductions in carbon emissions. Surprisingly, U.S. carbon emissions fell by 0.5 percent, more than any other country.

On The Radio – Cumulative CO2 levels reach record high


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Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels, like coal, are combusted. (Kym Farnik/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 20, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how carbon dioxide levels soared to record highs in 2016. 

Transcript: Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels rose to a record-high during 2016 according to the World Meteorological Organization.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The organization measures carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases at 51 sites around the globe. Average accumulated CO2 levels in Earth’s atmosphere reached 403.3 parts per million last year due to human activity and an El Niño weather event, which brought drought to much of the world’s CO2-capturing vegetation. Last year’s increase of CO2 was 50 percent higher than average year-to-year increases over the last ten years.

Scientists say that Earth has not had the same concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere since about three to five million years ago, when temperatures were two to three degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels were several dozen feet higher.

World Meteorological Organization scientists warn that greenhouse gas emissions should be cut drastically and immediately to avoid “dangerous temperature increases” by the end of the century.

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

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

Carbon dioxide concentration reaches record-high


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Human activity and El Niño drove carbon dioxide levels up significantly last year. (Zappys Technology Solutions/flickr)
Jenna Ladd |November 1, 2017

Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels rose to a record-high during 2016 according to the World Meteorological Organization.

The average accumulated CO2 level in Earth’s atmosphere reached 403.3 parts per million last year, thanks to human activity and an El Niño weather event which brought drought to much of the world’s CO2-capturing vegetation. Last year’s increase of CO2 levels was 50 percent higher than average year-to-year increases over the last ten years.

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas measurements were taken by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) at 51 sites around the globe. Dr. Oksana Tarasova, head of WMO’s global atmosphere watch program, told the BBC, “It is the largest increase we have ever seen in the 30 years we have had this network.”

Tarasova also pointed out that while humans have slowed their greenhouse gas emissions, the cumulative excess CO2 already in the atmosphere will remain problematic for centuries to come.

Scientists say that Earth has not had the same concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere since about three to five million years ago, when temperatures were two to three degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels were several dozen feet higher.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said that urgent and drastic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions should be made to avoid “dangerous temperature increases” by 2100.

Taalas added, “With levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere consistently breaking new records, the influence of human activities on the climate system has become more and more evident.”

EPA moves to repeal Clean Power Plan


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The Sutton coal plant in Wilmington, North Carolina closed its doors in 2013. Despite the Trump administration’s pro-coal policy, coal plants are shutting down around the U.S. (Duke Energy/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | October 11, 2017

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head administrator Scott Pruitt announced on Monday that the Trump administration would begin the process of rescinding the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

President Obama’s 2015 Clean Power Plan was designed to reduce the power industry’s carbon dioxide pollution levels by 32 percent below 2005 levels before 2030. The plan was a part of a larger effort to meet the U.S. commitment to the Paris Climate Accord, from which President Trump decided to withdraw shortly after taking office.

Gina McCarthy served as EPA administrator during Obama’s second term in office. She said in a statement, “They’re adding more pollution into our air and threatening public health at a time when the threats of climate change are growing and the costs are growing immeasurably higher on our children and their future.”

Pruitt is said to have filed his proposal to rescind the climate policy on Tuesday, but the proposal is subject to public comment for months before it is finalized. Attorneys general in New York and Massachusetts have said they will sue the administration after the repeal goes through. California and New York state have both adopted their own climate smart polices, which include emission-cutting regulations that exceed those outlined by the Clean Power Plan.

On The Radio – 2016 State of the Climate report brings bad news


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Alpine glaciers retreated worldwide for the 37th year in a row during 2016. (Dru/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | September 25, 2017

Transcript: Earth’s climate has reached some troubling milestones, according to the 2016 State of the Climate Report that was published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society last month.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The report, which is produced by top editors from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information, described how levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record high. The increase from 2015 to 2016 of 3.5 parts per million was the largest jump in one year on modern record.

Rising temperatures brought drought conditions to many parts of the globe. During every month of the year, at least twelve percent of the global area was experiencing drought conditions. More than half of the land south of equator experienced drought conditions during some part of 2016.

2016 also marked the 37th year in a row during which alpine glaciers retreated worldwide.

To read the full State of the Climate Report and for more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

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

Tesla introduces subtle solar roof option for homeowners


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Tesla’s solar roof in slate glass. (Tesla)
Jenna Ladd | May 23, 2017

The solar energy market experienced a 97 percent growth in 2016. In total, the U.S. has more than 42 gigawatts of solar energy capacity; that’s enough to power 8.3 million homes.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is working to win over some U.S. homeowners who may be hesitant to install solar panels because of their bulky appearance. The company is introducing solar cell roof tiles to the market this summer that look just like conventional roofing options. The tiles are made of tempered glass, allowing the sun’s rays to reach solar cells tucked away within them. With four styles available: textured, smooth, tuscan and slate, the tiles are made to please the style-conscious homeowner.

As with many of Tesla’s products, the tiles will be cost-prohibitive for many when they first hit the market. The company estimates they will cost about $22 per square foot if a mixture of solar cell tiles and regular tiles are used and $42 dollars per square foot if only solar cell tiles are used. The company’s website reminds prospective buyers of the 30 percent Solar Investment Tax Credit, which allows consumers to deduct 30 percent of the total cost of installing solar panels from their federal income taxes.

The glass tiles come with a lifetime warranty and can allegedly handle hailstones traveling at 100 miles per hour with ease. Tesla compared this to conventional roof tiles, which shattered under the same conditions. Each tile’s solar cell is guaranteed to last 30 years.

The company started taking preorders in early May. It will begin installing roofs in California this June and complete installations throughout the country in the months that follow.