Iowa City Darwin Day events this weekend


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Jenna Ladd | February 23, 2017

Just after what would have Charles Darwin’s 209th birthday, Iowa City will host its 12th annual Darwin Day celebration this weekend.

Each February, the non-profit Iowa City Darwin Day organization brings scientists from around the country to provide free, public workshops to residents. The organization aims to “recognize and show our appreciation for the enormous benefits that scientific knowledge, acquired through human curiosity and ingenuity, has contributed to the advancement of humanity” through its lectures and social events.

The weekend’s events kick off today at 2 pm in the University of Iowa Biology Building with an art exhibit followed by a presentation from Jacquelyn L. Gill, Assistant Professor at the University of Maine Climate Change Institute, titled “The Past is Not Dead: How the Last 2.5 Million Years of Global Change Can Prepare Us for the Next Century.” In all, Friday will feature presentations from three scientists, including former NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies director and University of Iowa Alumni, Dr. James E. Hansen.

Tomorrow’s programming will run from 9 am to 5:30 pm and be rounded out by a workshop for Iowa teachers. The workshop, titled, “Getting Students to Think, Talk and Write Like Scientists” will be facilitated by Dr. Paul K. Strode. A doctorate in ecology and evolution, Dr. Strode teaches science to high school students in Boulder, Colorado. His efforts are centered around teaching students to distinguish between real science and pseudoscience and engage in inquiry-based learning.

Local teachers also have the option to register for a two-day course and interactive workshop, which is sponsored by the Darwin Day Iowa City organization. Titled “Raising Scientific Literacy in a Time of Climate Change,” the workshop will take place during the other public events and provide participants with 1 semester hour of continuing education credit.

Have a busy weekend and can’t make it to all of this fantastic programming? If nothing else, be sure to attend Darwin’s birthday part on Saturday at 1 pm in MacBride Hall’s Hageboeck Hall of Birds!

More details about Darwin Day Iowa City activities can be found here.

Link between climate change and conflict questioned


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The relationship between climate change and conflict has been studied in Kenya more than many other nations. (Viktor Dobai/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 15, 2018

It has been accepted in many scientific communities that climate change can lead to civil unrest and violence, but a recent editorial in the Journal Nature tells readers not to be so sure.

The editorial’s authors did a literature review of 124 studies which assessed the link between climate change and war or civil unrest. They claim to have found three kinds of sampling biases among the studies. First, researchers overwhelmingly looked at regions where violence was already happening or had happened recently. Second, they noted that the studies primarily included countries in Africa and left out other nations that have been severely impacted by climate change. Finally, the mostly-white, Western researchers usually chose to study countries that were easily accessible to them and where the locals spoke English; think countries like Kenya.

Tobias Ide studies peace and war at the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research and is one of the paper’s authors. He said to The Atlantic, “If we only look at places where violence is, can we learn anything about peaceful adaptation to climate change? And if we only look at those places where there is violence, do we tend to see a link because we are only focusing on the places where there is violence in the first place?”

Solomon Hsiang has been openly critical of the paper’s claims. Hsiang’s 2013 findings showed that for every standard deviation change in precipitation or temperature, the likelihood that an area will experience civil unrest rises by 14 percent. The University of California Berkeley economist and public policy professor said in an email to The Atlantic, “Studying conflict-prone regions isn’t a problem, it’s what you would expect. Nobody is studying Ebola outbreaks by studying why Ebola is not breaking out in cafés in Sydney today, we study what happened in West Africa when there was an actual event.”

Either way, the paper draws attention to the myriad opportunities for study of climate change and conflict in countries outside of Africa and the Middle East. Ide said, “I was a bit surprised that even within American studies, there’s not really a focus on Latin America, basically. You can be concerned about Iraq, Syria, or India because of geopolitical relevance—but why not look for [climate-related conflict] in Mexico, or Honduras, or Brazil? Because that would have much sharper consequences for the United States.”

4th National Climate Assessment public draft released


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St. Paul, Minnesota, like many U.S. cities, has developed its own climate adaptation plan. (U.S. Global Change Research Program)
Jenna Ladd | November 21, 2017

The U.S. Global Change Research Program released the first public draft of the 4th National Climate Assessment this November.

The assessment, which is projected to be complete in late 2018, is required through the Global Change Research Act (GCRA) of 1990 to “analyze the effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems, and biological diversity.”

Findings from the report are separated into several geographic regions of the United States, with Iowa included among the Midwestern states. Scientists say that Iowans and others in the Midwest region can expect longer growing seasons and increasing carbon dioxide levels to bump yields for some crops, but that positive effect will be reversed over time. As the climate continues to change, increased humidity, severity and frequency of heat waves along with poorer water and air quality are expected to endanger agricultural yields.

Gene Takle and Charles Stainer, both CGRER members, were recently interviewed on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River about the program’s findings. Takle said,

“Humidity has been going up for the last 30 years, and it continues to go up. This fields a number of different consequences, heavy rainfall, the 5, 6, or 7 inch rainfall events that we seem to be experiencing every year. We’re also experiencing a rise in both summertime and wintertime temperatures which are going to be bumping up against our crops.”

To drive home the economic impact of a changing climate, Takle added, “In 2013, we were not able to plant 700,000 acres in Northwest Iowa.”

Scientists point out that Midwesterners burn through 20 percent more carbon emissions per capita than the national average. That said, they argue, the region has incredible potential to take actions that reduce those emissions that cause climate change.

The current draft of the 4th National Climate Assessment can be found here.

UI scientists and Iowa teachers work together to create 8th grade curriculum


Kasey Dresser & Jenna Ladd | November 3, 2017

Eighth grade teachers from around the state came to the University of Iowa’s Lindquist Center for a special kind of professional development last weekend.

The twenty-one participants worked with University of Iowa faculty and graduate students to design new eighth-grade science curriculum as a part of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) development. A large step away from traditional rote memorization, NGSS allows students to engage in self-guided inquiry about phenomena occurring in their local environment.

Chelsea Salba is a high school science teacher at Dike-New Hartford. She said, “I love it all because the old way of doing things was ‘know and understand.’ Well, science is not memorizing facts and figures. It never has been. NGSS challenges teachers to make science actually happen in their classrooms. What I mean by that is [the students] are investigating, reading, creating a claim, doing something, getting feedback and then doing it again.”

Ted Neal, clinical associate professor in the College of Education and project lead, explained that eighth grade NGSS curriculum requires education about the natural systems and climate science. During morning and afternoon breakout sessions, teachers were asked to provide feedback about lesson plans related to how and why Iowans have changed the land and how climate change has affected local landscapes. These lesson plans, bundles five and six, are a part of a six bundle curriculum required by NGSS for eighth grade students. CGRER researchers Scott Spak and Charles Stanier developed their content as a part of the College of Education and CGRER’s effort to connect Iowa educators with local climate science in realtime.

Approved by the Iowa Board of Education in 2015, the bulk of the 8th grade NGSS curriculum will be implemented in Iowa schools next semester. The Iowa K-12 Climate Science Education Initiative team has recently developed a free and public online pressbook where Iowa teachers can access course-related climate science data from CGRER researchers, as well as lesson plans and suggestions from other Iowa teachers.

Ted Neal explained, “This whole curriculum is free. Use it how you want, where you want, how you want, we’re just trying to compile this together for school districts in a time when budgeting is so tight.”

The NGSS standards require students of all ages to understand Earth’s systems. Scott Spak, assistant professor of Urban and Regional Planning, said, “Of the dozens of standards, there are 36 that from kindergarten through high school that are required to be able to understand how the climate system works.”

Spak and his fellow CGRER researchers will provide data that is relevant to learners specifically in the Hawkeye State.

Drew Ayrit is high school teacher from Waco that participated in last weekend’s workshop. He said, “I really believe in the standards because it’s very student-centered, students doing real science, students engaging in discussion based on evidence.”

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.

Climate change deniers considered for EPA science advisory board


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EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is charged with making the final decision on new Science Advisory Board members. (Gage Skidmore/flickr)
Jenna Ladd| September 19, 2017

Climate change skeptics are among those listed as possible candidates for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board.

The board’s objective is “to provide independent advice and peer review on the scientific and technical aspects of environmental issues to the EPA’s Administrator.” At present, 47 members sit on the board, but service terms will end for 15 members in September. The EPA has published a list of 132 possible candidates to fill these positions, about a dozen of whom have openly rejected widely accepted climate science. One candidate published a report in 2013 outlining the “monetary benefits of rising atmospheric CO2.”

Anyone can nominate anyone else as a candidate for the Science Advisory Board, and the list of nominees has not yet been thinned down by the agency. Staff members at the EPA are responsible fo eliminating a number of the nominees, while ensuring that the remaining candidates have expertise in a wide range of areas (i.e. hydrology, geology, statistics, biology, etc.). However, the final selection of new advisory board members is up to Administrator Scott Pruitt, according to anonymous EPA official.

In a 2016 piece for the National Review, Pruitt wrote that the debate on climate change was “far from settled,” despite more than 97 percent of active scientists agreeing that Earth’s climate is warming due to human activity.

The public is welcome to comment on the list of EPA Science Advisory Board nominees through September 28.

New climate science standards require Iowa students to engage in scientific process


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Ted Neal (right) and Kris Kilibarda (left) explain the Next Generation Science Standards at the 2016 Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd| June 16, 2017

Iowa educators will soon adopt new science education standards, with help from the University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) and College of Education.

The Iowa K-12 Climate Science Education Initiative, an effort of CGRER and the College of Education, aims to ease the transition for teachers to the Next Generation Science Standards. Rather than require educators to teach that human-induced climate change is occurring, the standards provide an opportunity for students to reach that conclusion independently.

The Iowa Board of Education approved the new standards in August 2015. They include four primary domains: physical science, life science, earth and space science, and engineering. Of the dozens of standards, thirty-six require students to explore the climate system.

According to University of Iowa clinical science instructor Ted Neal, students will be given relevant data and asked to formulate their own research questions. In an interview with Iowa Watch, Neal said, “They will look at facts relevant to those questions and draw conclusions that answer their questions.”

In short, students will be challenged to engage in the scientific process. Kris Kilibarda is the science consultant for the Iowa Department of Education. She said, “We’re saying here’s evidence, here’s how you determine if the evidence is valid, and here’s how you develop a scientific argument. You determine what the argument would be. We would never say there’s only one way it can be, but we will say here’s the scientific evidence.”

A fall 2016 survey revealed that teachers felt they needed access to observations and data, help aligning lesson plans and materials with climate science education and the Next Generation Science Standards in order to most effectively transition to using the new science standards. The Iowa K-12 Climate Science Education Initiative is tackling all of these requests.

Currently the group is working to develop tools for 8th grade teachers. The group recently introduced a four to eight week pilot lesson called “How Iowans Use Their Land.” The curriculum hits on nine of the 25 total 8th grade science standards including one that requires students to “develop a model to describe the cycling of water through the earth’s systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity.” Next, the initiative plans to work with sixth and seventh grade teachers before eventually moving onto high school curriculum.

The standards will not be mandatory for another few years, but many Iowa teachers are ahead of the game. On an NGSS EnvIowa podcast episode, Neal said, “One of the nice things about Iowa and Iowa teachers is that they care so much they’re trying to get ahead the game. They’re not looking at this with apprehension.”