Firefighters Battle Record Breaking Fires in Arizona


Image from NASA’s ASTER instrument. Vegetation is shown in red while the burned areas appear as dark gray.

Maxwell Bernstein | July 3, 2020

Extreme weather in Arizona has contributed to record breaking wildfires, according to The Guardian

Firefighters have recently contained 58% of the Bighorn Fire, the eighth largest fire in the state’s history, where it has burned 118,710 acres. The fire started on June 5th by a lightning strike in the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado national forest which sits outside of Tucson, Arizona.   

The Bush fire in the Tonto national forest is now 98% contained and is the fifth largest fire in the state’s history, where it has burned about 193,000 acres.  

Arizona has been seeing regular daily temperatures of 105-110°F for the month of June, which has contributed to the severity of the fires. A potentially historic heatwave is expected to hit the U.S. in the first few weeks of July, raising concerns about the fires, according to CNBC.

These warm temperatures coincide with rising temperatures across the planet that stem from climate change. Warmer temperatures will increase the frequency of extreme fires, according to NASA.

Minnesota Sues Oil Industry for Misinforming the Public on Climate Change


Image of Minnesota State Capitol from Flickr

Maxwell Bernstein | June 26, 2020

The state of Minnesota filed a lawsuit against the American Petroleum Institute (API), Koch Industries, and Exxon Mobil Corp. on Wednesday, according to the Office of the Minnesota Attorney General. The lawsuit targets the oil industry for actively misinforming the public on the effects of climate change, despite knowing the how their products directly warm the planet. 

“Previously unknown internal documents were recently discovered that confirm that Defendants well understood the devastating effects that their products would cause to the climate, including Minnesota, dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. But Defendants did not ever disclose to the public—or to Minnesotans—their actual knowledge that would confirm the very science they sought to undermine,” the state of Minnesota said in the lawsuit.

This is the first state to name the API, the United State’s main oil and natural gas lobbying group, as a defendant in a lawsuit. This lawsuit comes in a series of lawsuits from citizen groups, cities, and state governments which include New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, according to Reuters.

The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States comes from the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation, according to the EPA.

Iowa Experts Discuss How Current Global Crises Intersect With Climate Change


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | June 17, 2020

On yesterday’s episode of Iowa Public Radio’s River to River, experts in environmental health and sustainability discussed the intersection of the COVID-19 pandemic, police brutality and the ongoing issue of climate change.

Eric Tate, associate professor of geographical and sustainability science at the University of Iowa, spoke on how health and climate crises can highlight disparities already impacting the country’s most vulnerable populations. Peter Thorne, another professor at UI and head of the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, compared COVID-19 to climate change by speaking on how early action can cave lives and minimize harm. Finally, Ulrike Passe, associate professor of architecture and director of the Iowa State University Center for Building Energy Research, spoke on the importance of considering both climate and social factors when designing and constructing buildings.

Click here to listen to this episode of River to River.

Advances in Carbon Capture and Storage are on Track to Meet Global Warming Mitigation Targets


Photo by Ramsey Martin from Pexels

Nicole Welle | May 25, 2020

Researchers at Imperial College London found that the current growth of carbon capture and storage (CCS) is on track to meet climate change mitigation goals set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The study shows that a maximum of 2,700 Gigatonnes of carbon dioxide would need to be captured and stored to keep global warming to less than 2˚C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. The IPCC recognized that CCS will be crucial in achieving this goal when implemented alongside efforts to increase clean energy use, according to a ScienceDaily article.

CCS is a process that involves capturing CO2 emissions at their source and storing it underground to prevent it from entering the atmosphere. Researchers combined data collected over the last 20 years on the growth of CCS, information on historic growth rates in energy infrastructure, and current models that monitor the depletion of natural resources to determine the maximum storage space required.

Past estimates revealed that there is actually more that 10,000 GT of potential carbon storage space available across the globe, a number that far exceeds the amount needed to meet the goals defined in the analysis. The current rate of growth in available storage space is on track to meet demands, but it is crucial that research and efforts to maintain this growth continue.

The Imperial College research team took into consideration the possibility of multiple climate change mitigation scenarios that might occur in the future, and they determined that even the most ambitious of scenarios would require no more that 2,700 GT of CCS. However, that number could increase over time if future deployment of CCS is delayed.

A New Report Reveals a 24% Increase in the Number of Companies Asking Suppliers for Environmental Transparency


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | May 21, 2020

CDP, an environmental non-profit organization, recently announced a 24% increase in the number of companies asking for environmental data reports from their suppliers this year.

CDP helps investors, companies, cities, states and regions manage their environmental impacts by providing them with a global disclosure system that measures and interprets environmental data, according to the CDP website. 30 new purchasing systems began working with CDP to help manage their supply chains more sustainably, and over 15,000 environmental transparency requests were sent to suppliers this year, according to an Environment + Energy Leader article.

Companies are asking suppliers to disclose information regarding their impacts on deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, water safety and climate change. Organizations that utilize CDP resources can use the information collected to make more sustainable, informed decisions when working with suppliers.

CDP is a global organization, but their biggest spike in participants this year came from North America. Nike, Nordstrom and The Clorox Company were three of the 17 North American companies that joined this year, adding to CPD’s list of members which already includes companies like Walmart, Microsoft and Stanley Black and Decker.

Earth Day in the time of COVID-19: A Message from Co-Director Jerry Schnoor


Jerry Schnoor at Eawag
CGRER Co-Director Jerry Schnoor shares his reflections on the 50th annual Earth Day (contributed photo). 

Jerry Schnoor | April 22, 2020

April 22, 2020, is not just another Earth Day.  It is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day – the one that changed my life forever.  Naive and over my head as student body president at Iowa State-1970, my world was on fire with righteous indignation against a compulsory draft for an unjust War in Vietnam.  At times I actually thought that it would tear the country apart.

The first Earth Day strangely diverted my immediate attention, and the diversion would last a lifetime.  Brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson and organized by Denis Hayes as a national Teach-In, Earth Da

 

y spawned immense bipartisan gatherings of 20 million people in the streets for one unifying goal – a healthy Planet Earth.  Earth Day ignited in me a realization that my chemical engineering education from ISU could morph into something green and more fascinating, that is, trying to understand water quality, biodiversity, and the biogeochemistry of Earth’s processes.  Discerning remedies for the massive disruptions that 7.7 billion people and an $80 trillion GWP can inflict on the earth has proven even more challenging.

This year we celebrate Earth Day with digital gatherings due to coronavirus.  It’s not the same, but perhaps the pandemic can teach us some valuable lessons.  Some people were slow to accept the dismal science of a spreading pandemic – they lacked trust in health professionals’ recommendations for social distancing, staying home, and closing businesses, sporting events, churches and social gatherings.  But the flattening curves of Wuhan, South Korea, Singapore, and even Italy, Spain, and New York bear testament to the wisdom of their call.

Our national plan for the pandemic Covid-19 was non-existent, like the Emperor’s new clothes, plain for all to see.  Pandemics are “global disease outbreaks” and they require national plans and concerted global action.  As recently as 2003-2004, WHO mitigated much more rapidly a similar virus, SARS, by careful messaging and international cooperation of 11 labs in 9 different countries.  U.S. and Chinese scientists together developed a vaccine within a year.  Far too little cooperation exists today, both at home and abroad.  Politics and hyper partisanship are disastrous in a time of global need.  We can do better.

Analogies between climate change and our pandemic response are obvious.  We have no national plan for either.  As a young egg-head professor at the University of Iowa, I published my first modeling paper on climate change and its consequences in 1994, many years after others had done so.  It projected (surprisingly accurately) the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today with business-as-usual.  That’s exactly what happened – business as usual.  If you had told me that the U.S. would still not have comprehensive climate change and energy legislation in 2020, I would have told you, “you’re crazy”.

But it’s in the history books.  We have failed to listen to the science and failed to reduce our gargantuan greenhouse gas emissions — the planet cannot take it anymore.  Now it really is a Climate Emergency.  What’s more, we are threatening to extinct 1 million species in the next generation as well – the Biodiversity Crisis.

Coronavirus humbles us all.  How can one not be moved by the sight of doctors, nurses, custodians, and admissions clerks risking their lives for the rest of us?  How can one not weep to see the miles of cars lined-up at food banks because families have nowhere else to turn?  Playing out in the richest country in the world gives great pause.

Yes, we need science-based decision making on coronavirus and on climate change, but we need compassion and understanding as well.  Noted columnist Sarah Van Gelder writes, “Changing hearts and opening minds begins when we listen”.  Imagine the world we want, where everyone is safe and healthy, where the air is clean and the water is pure. Then, let us celebrate the 50th Anniversary of that spontaneous, bipartisan, original Earth Day by speaking from the heart and listening to each other.

Jerry Schnoor is professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Research at the University of Iowa.

 

How climate change has caused a national shortage of Christmas trees


Photo by Washington State Department of Agriculture, from Flickr

Tyler Chalfant | December 24th, 2019

The U.S. has seen a shortage of Christmas trees in recent years, driving up prices and limiting options for holiday consumers. This scarcity can be attributed in part to the lingering effects of the 2008 recession, which forced many growers out of business. As Christmas trees take between 6 to 12 years to mature, it takes time for the industry to respond to shifting consumer preferences and demands.

However, the scarcity has been augmented by the effects of climate change. Drought conditions killed large amounts of trees in Oregon, the nation’s leading producer of Christmas trees, last year. This year’s floods have added to droughts as another weather condition harming newly planted saplings. Warmer temperatures in the summer and winter are worsening pressure from disease and pests, making trees less resilient. In Canada, spring frost and heavy snows have killed saplings as well.

These extreme weather patterns are likely to become more frequent and severe as a result of climate change, producing conditions that are more unpredictable and risky for farmers, including those growing Christmas trees.

Ag industry making progress on climate


17137465566_79b581ab03_c.jpg
Photo via Flickr

Julia Poska| December 13, 2019

Politico report from last week offered insight into a confidential meeting on fighting climate change with agriculture six months prior. The meeting, hosted by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance in Maryland, “represented a change” from farmers’ historic attitudes on climate, according to reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich.

The article explained that farmers have been long-resistant to discuss or adapt to climate change for several reasons, including the left-wing association of the issue (American rural communities are largely Conservative) and that farmers are often blamed for a number of environmental issues. But severe flooding and unyielding wet conditions this growing season, however, left a record number of American farmland unplanted in 2019, leading to huge financial losses for farmers. The article suggests that unfavorable weather in recent seasons may be raising farmers’ alarm.

At the June meeting, government, business and non-profit leaders in ag spoke and listened, brainstorming and sharing solutions. The host organization premiered a 5-minute video on the topic, released on Youtubein August, titled “30 Harvests” to represent the amount of time remaining to make transformative change in the industry.

The article referenced a number of farm industry climate action examples from around the country, including a climate-smart agriculture meeting at Iowa State University last month. Bottemiller Evich interviewed several Iowa farmers as well, including Ray Gaesser of Corning, who advocates for both his conservative political beliefs and sequestering carbon through row crop farming.

“Everybody I talk to, including farmers, they say ‘yeah we need to talk about this,” Gaesser told Politico. “We need to find ways to adapt to what’s going on. We’re seeing things we’re not used to seeing.”

U.N. report illuminates global ’emissions gap’


Screen Shot 2019-11-28 at 12.07.01 PM.png
Top greenhouse gas emitters, excluding land-use change emissions due to lack of reliable country-level data, Figure 2.3 a+b — The top emitters of greenhouse gases, excluding land-use change emissions due to lack of reliable on an absolute basis (left) and per capita basis (right) [via executive summary]. 
Julia Poska | November 29, 2019

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released its 10th Emissions Gap Report Tuesday. Though more countries pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions every year, the report revealed that collectively, the “gap” between where emissions are and where they should be to minimize atmospheric warming is huge.

Some  findings from the report include:

  1. Global GHG emissions have risen about 1.5% annually in the last 10 years. The U.S. leads in per capita emissions, while China’s overall emissions are nearly double those of the U.S., the second highest emitter. Trends do not indicate a “peak” in global emissions occurring anytime soon.
  2. G20 Summit members account for 78% of global emissions, and while as a whole the group of 20 countries and the E.U. is on track to exceed its 2020 emission reduction goals, several countries (including the U.S.) are actually behind on their goals.
  3. If projections hold true, global emissions in 2030 will be 60 GtCO2e. To meet a 2 degree warming goal, emissions would need to be 41 GtCO2e. For a 1.5 degree goal, 25 GtCO2e.
  4. We must triple or even quintuple reduction cuts to meet goals. The executive summary  reads, “Had serious climate action begun in 2010, the cuts required per year to meet the projected emissions levels for 2°C and 1.5°C would only have been 0.7 per cent and 3.3 per cent per year on average. However, since this did not happen, the required cuts in emissions are now 2.7 per cent per year from 2020 for the 2°C goal and 7.6 per cent per year on average for the 1.5°C goal. “

The report suggests a number of potential “entry points” for transformational change required to implement solutions, as well as a discussion about the “potential for energy transition” and energy efficiency. Read more here.

 

Iowa Climate Statement 2019 released today with sobering extreme heat warnings


 

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Julia Poska | September 18, 2019

Today top Iowa climate scientists released the Iowa Climate Statement 2019: Dangerous Heat Event Will Become More Frequent and Severe, warning Iowans and Midwesterners of the serious heat-related dangers the climate crisis is creating in our region.

Read the full statement here. Watch the press conference here.

The report has been backed by 216 faculty and researchers from 38 Iowa colleges and universities. Based on the most up‐to‐date scientific sources, the statement makes clear the urgency of preparing for dangerously hot summers in coming decades.

Highlights from the statement 

  • By midcentury, temperatures in Iowa will exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit 67 days per year, compared to a 23‐day average in recent decades.
  • By midcentury, the average daily high temperature for each year’s hottest five‐day period will be 98 degrees, compared to 92 degrees in recent decades.
  •  Once per decade, five‐day average high temperature will be 105 degrees.
  • Extreme heat is the leading weather‐related cause of death in the U.S.. Low‐income neighborhoods, the elderly, outdoor workers (especially construction and farm labor) and domestic animals are especially vulnerable.
  •  Confined livestock are at increased risk for death and widespread productivity loses. Producers will need to adjust their operations to deal with extreme heat events.
  • Adaptations to increasing heat waves will require expanded disaster preparedness, increased energy use and curtailment of outdoor work and recreation during times of extreme heat.

The UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research has released annual climate statements since 2011. These statements, vetted by Iowa’s top experts, place pivotal climate change research into an Iowa‐specific context, encouraging preparedness and resilience in the face of a climate crisis.

Read the full statement here. Watch the press conference here.