Climate Change is now Inevitable


Image from EPA

Maxwell Bernstein | September 23, 2020

Climate change is inevitable and natural disasters that are similar to those currently affecting the Gulf and West Coast will be twice as bad as they are now, if not worse, according to The New York Times

Proper actions are needed to mitigate some of the effects of climate change such as planning for the effects of natural disasters and rising sea levels, along with reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

The succession of storms in the Gulf Coast and the record-breaking fires in the West Coast are all exacerbated by the changing climate, which stems from human-produced CO2 emission’s ability to trap heat. The frequency and severity of natural disasters will increase over time.

The Environmental Protection Agency said in August, “The global average atmospheric carbon dioxide in 2019 was 409.8 parts per million (ppm for short), with a range of uncertainty of plus or minus 0.1 ppm. Carbon dioxide levels today are higher than at any point in at least the past 800,000 years.”

As of Saturday, the Metronome, a large public art installation in Union Square in New York City now displays the Climate Clock, a time limit, “to curb greenhouse gas emissions enough to give the Earth a two-thirds chance of staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, as compared to pre-industrial times,” according to CBS news. 

As of now, the clock gives 7 years and 99 days to reach this goal. 

Wildfires Burn Through West Coast


Screenshot from USDA that shows perimeters of wildfires.

Maxwell Bernstein | September 11, 2020

The August Complex, a chain of wildfires in Washington, Oregon, and California has killed 7 people and destroyed 471,000 acres of property making this the largest wildfire in California’s history, according to The New York Times

The fires which started last month have burned through neighborhoods and forced evacuations. Kate Brown, the Governor of Oregon said this “could be the greatest loss of human life and property” due to wildfires, according to the BBC.

The warming climate is creating drier conditions and higher temperatures, which increase the severity and frequency of wildfires in the west coast, according to The New York Times

For more information on the current wildfires, check out this fire information website from the United States Department of Agriculture

Connie Mutel Releases Article Comparing Climate Change to the COVID-19 Pandemic


Via Flickr

Author Connie Mutel released “COVID-19: Dress Rehearsal for a Climate in Crisis,” earlier this month.

Connie Mutel is a retired UI Senior Science Writer and climate change activist who recently began to research the parallels between responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. In the beginning of her article, she discusses the slow response administrations in the United States had to the early warning signs of both crises. She then goes on to explain the importance of taking direct measures to combat the issues sooner rather than later and the ways COVID-19 could help solve Climate Change.

“COVID has shown us what a runaway crisis looks like and feels like. It reveals a lack of predictability,” Mutel said in a Zoom conference Tuesday.

The talk revolved around the intersection of the two issues and potential paths forward. Mutel believes the crises are heavily intertwined and COVID-19 is providing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fast track efforts to combat climate change.

“One crisis magnifies the other. COVID is expressed more in areas with more air pollution.” Mutel said. “Like with COVID, we need global solidarity and collective action to solve climate change.”

Click here to read “COVID-19:Dress Rehearsal for a Climate in Crisis.”

New Study Shows that Rising Water Temperatures Could Reduce Fish Populations Worldwide


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | July 6, 2020

A new study conducted by researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research shows that rising water temperatures caused by climate change will negatively affect many fish species’ ability to breed.

Researchers found that fish are at a much higher risk than previously assumed. The study, which included 694 species of fish, showed that both embryos and adult fish that are ready to mate have a much lower tolerance for heat that adults outside the mating season and that that rising water temperatures could impact the reproduction of up to 60 percent of all freshwater and saltwater fish species, according to a Science Daily article.

Like many organisms, fish need to take in oxygen to produce energy, and their energy needs depend on the temperature of their surroundings. When the water is warmer, their need for energy rises and they need to take in more oxygen. Fish embryos do not have the ability to take in more oxygen as temperatures rise since they don’t have gills. Additionally, adults ready to mate produce egg and sperm cells and have an increased body mass, so their cardiovascular systems are already strained and struggle to handle any increased need for oxygen. This means that both of these groups cannot survive in warmer temperatures that require them to produce more energy.

If climate change continues unchecked, many species of fish will be forced to leave their traditional spawning areas. This could be disastrous for fish that do not have the ability to find cooler areas to reproduce due to the geographical restrictions of their habitat, and many fish populations are likely to decline.

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.