DNR reports 3% increase in Iowa greenhouse gas emissions


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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.

This week at COP24: U.S. climate carelessness more apparent than ever


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The U.S. promoted coal at the COP24 summit on Monday (flickr).

Julia Poska | December 13, 2018

Of the 58 largest greenhouse gas emitters globally, the United States ranks second to last for its efforts to combat climate change in a new report published Monday at the COP24 Climate Summit in Katowice, Poland.

The 2019 Climate Change Performance Index evaluates countries’ advancements in energy production, use and policy to put pressure on those falling behind. The only country with a worse score than the U.S. is Saudi Arabia.

According to the report, the U.S.’s greatest failures are at a national level, thanks to President Trump’s denial of man-made climate change and his intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. U.S. policy still favors fossil fuels, though individual states and cities have made some progress in spite of that position.

The nation brought its pro-fossil fuel attitude along to the summit, and hosted an event called “US innovative technologies spur economic dynamism,”there Monday to promote supposedly “clean” uses of coal, oil and natural gas . Australia, ranked just four spots above the U.S. in the index, was the only nation to support the event, but the Australian climate change policy advisor disagreed and called the event a “slap in the face” to neighboring Pacific Islands that are desperately threatened by the rising sea level, according to the Guardian.

The top countries in the index, Sweden and Morocco, have made greater progress in reducing emissions, but are still not quite on target to keep warming under 1.5°C, as the International panel on Climate Change has deemed necessary to protect the planet’s inhabitants and resources. These nations rank “High”, so as of now the top three spots on the index, marked as “Very High,” remain empty.

 

World and industry leaders talk climate at COP24


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The opening plenary at COP24 in Katowice, Poland (flickr via UNclimatechange). 

Julia Poska| December 7th, 2018

Diplomats and industry leaders from over 200 countries gathered in Katowice, Poland this week for COP24,  a global summit on climate change and carbon reductions that will continue through next week.

The Katowice summit is meant to build on the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement, signed by most of the world’s countries at COP21 three years ago. The attendees hope to now agree on standards for reporting carbon cuts and emissions and to push agreed-upon reductions even further in light of recent scientific reports that climate change is moving faster than anticipated.

Most of these targets are still up in the air and will continue to be negotiated in coming days between exhibitions, presentations, workshops and more. Non-governmental bodies have made some declarations already, though, including one signed by over 40 global corporations and environmental groups urging delegates to make firm, clear guidelines for reporting and stating their commitment to supporting carbon reduction measures.

Another non-governmental figure, acclaimed naturalist David Attenborough, narrator and writer of BBC docu-series Life and Blue Planet, is holding the new “people’s seat” to represent the general public at the talks. He spoke Monday on the urgency of tackling climate change, calling it our “greatest threat in thousands of years.”

 

 

Bloomberg visits Iowa for politics, protests and the planet


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Michael Bloomberg in 2008 (Flickr). 

Julia Poska| December 6th, 2018

On a tour to premiere a new film on climate change, multi-billionaire and presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg made three stops this week: New York, London, and Iowa.

The film, titled “Paris to Pittsburg,” is a response to President Trump’s plans to pull out of the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement. It features the efforts of individuals who have taken it upon themselves to fight climate change in the absence of government urgency. Iowans Dan and Faith Lutat of the Iowa Lakes Community College are featured as faces of the college’s wind turbine and energy technology program.

Bloomberg chose to visit Des Moines Tuesday in part to recognize the state’s efforts in renewable energy. He wrote in a Des Moines Register Guest column, “Iowans understand what too many leaders in Washington don’t: Fighting climate change is good for our health and our economy. ” According to him, if every state installed as much wind power as Iowa, the offset carbon emissions would almost bring the U.S. to its Paris Agreement goals for 2025.

He also visited the swing-state to test the waters for a potential run for presidency in 2020. Throughout the day he visited different parts of the state to talk renewable energy and gun control. Well aware of Bloomberg’s political motive, Left-wing protestors joined the screening audience to question the environmentalist’s stance on social issues such as stop-and-frisk  policing and his own billionaire status.

Bloomberg Philanthropies produced the film in partnership with award-winning company Radical Media, and National Geographic will officially broadcast it Dec. 12.

Climate change and soil: sink or source?


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Peatlands, or bogs, are wetlands where partially decomposed vegetation accumulates saturated in water. The soil is very rich and productive and contains huge amounts of carbon (flickr). 

Julia Poska| November 29, 2018

The world’s soils hold massive amounts of carbon from decomposed plants and animals. In this way the soil acts as a sink, storing carbon that could otherwise end up in the atmosphere, but soil is a source of carbon emissions.

Two studies published this month highlight just how helpful and harmful the the soil’s carbon storage capacity might be in the face of climate change.

The first, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesexamined the changing role of peatlands, also known as bogs or mires, in the carbon cycle. According to author Qianlai Zhuang of Purdue University, peatlands cover about 3 percent of the Earth’s surface but contain 30 percent of soil carbon. This major sink, though, has begun to release large amounts of carbon, too.

When peatlands are drained for human uses like agriculture or mining, they release some of that carbon into the air. The rate of carbon loss is predicted to increase with climate change, even for untouched peatlands.

Northern-hemisphere peatlands in Canada, Siberia and Southeast Asia have already begun releasing significant amounts of carbon, but Zhuang and PhD candidate Sirui Wang found that Amazonian peatlands may soon follow suit, according to a Purdue University media release. The researchers estimate that by the end of the century, peatlands in that area could release an amount of carbon equal to 5 percent of current annual emissions worldwide.

The second study, published in Nature Climate Change, found increased capacity for carbon storage deep within the soil. Much of the soils carbon is stored in a dissolved form; the carbon leaches downwards in the water and attaches to minerals over 6-feet underground.

Little is known about this method of storage, but Washington State University researcher Marc Kramer and Oliver Chadwick from the University of California Santa Barbara have looked at it closely and believe humanity could take advantage of the process to bury more atmospheric carbon deep inside the earth. Unfortunately, they believe climate change will limit this capacity in tropical rainforests, currently the best locations for dissolved carbon storage.

Check out our 2018 Iowa Climate Statement to learn more about the impacts of climate change right here at home.

Social inequality and coping with climate change


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Coastal communities are among the most vulnerable as climate change alters global conditions (flickr)

Julia Poska| November 1, 2018

As climate changes around the world, certain areas will become inhospitable to human life; coasts will flood, city water supplies will face crises, and islands will disappear. Unfortunately, people living in such areas cannot always cope with the change, according to a new study published in Annual Review of Environment and Resources. 

“Many of the people most at risk from environmental changes have the fewest freedoms and therefore the least ability to adapt in the face of such difficulties,” said lead author Jon Barnett in a media release.

Worldwide evidence compiled by Barnett and other researchers from the Universities of Melbourne and Exeter suggests that protecting human rights and freedoms is key  to reducing the impacts of climate change for the vulnerable. Freedom of movement is especially important, as it  provides those facing environmental threats the option to leave.

The Australian researchers highlighted the perils threatening Pacific Islanders in their report. The tiniest islands of Micronesia and Melanesia could be underwater in a matter of decades as sea levels rise. Policies in Australia and New Zealand that welcome islanders to move to mainland create security for those people, who typically have minimal economic and political resources.

 

 

Iowa Pulitzer winner says ‘Welcome to climate change, Iowa-style’


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Cullen details the consequences of climate-fueled floods and heatwaves for Iowa farms (flickr).

Julia Poska | October 26, 2018

“Welcome to climate change, Iowa-style” -Art Cullen

Over the course the current midterm election campaigns, Iowan farm fields have faced high heatwaves, record-breaking rainfall, flooding and unseasonable cold. Experts say such extreme events are fueled by climate change.

Pulitzer Prize winner Art Cullen, editor of Storm Lake, Iowa’s Storm Lake Times, published a new editorial on The Guardian last week to share his thoughts on the matter.

“Few politicians in the five states around here are talking about regulating agriculture in an era of warmer and wetter nights and long droughts,” he wrote. “Yet farmers are paying attention.”

Cullen based his argument in the findings of regional climate researchers. An Iowa State scientist predicted Iowa’s recent floods 20 years ago. Someone at the University of Minnesota predicts Iowa’s corn yield will halve by 2070. An agronomist, also from Iowa State, said soil erosion is making corn starchier and less valuable.

To combat the change, farmers have historically increased drainage tile. Cullen cited the environmental consequences of that adaption, mainly low oxygen due to excess nutrients in the Gulf of Mexico, and water quality issues within the state.

As the situation has gotten worse and awareness has risen, farmers have started making positive changes, too, Cullen said.  They’re looking at sustainability reports, cover cropping to reduce erosion, and rotating diverse crops and livestock.

Cullen calls for policy makers to “catch up” and provide more financial aid to help farmers implement sustainable practices and even retire land.