Methane in atmosphere hits new high, rising at fastest rate recorded


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Simone Garza | April 11, 2022

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported the amount of methane is rapidly increasing. This is an air pollutant and greenhouse gas resulting in 1 million premature deaths yearly. 

Methane is a colorless and odorless flammable gas. While it is an important element of natural gas, methane emissions are responsible for 30 percent of climate change. Methane emission is associated with raising livestock and organic matter decaying.

Greenhouse gasses ,like carbon dioxide, are more potent and a secondary contributor to global warming, but break down faster and are temporary. The greenhouse gasses absorb infrared heat in the form of heat. Greenhouse gasses can also be released into the atmosphere when oil, coal, and natural gas are mined and transferred. 

On April 7, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the atmospheric methane levels for 2021 have spiked 17 parts per billion. 2021 has the biggest recorded annual increase since the development of systematic measurements in 1983.

The Earth System Science Data journal found human activities made up about 60 percent of global methane emissions last year alone. In 2019, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported about 18 percent  were responsible for all greenhouse gas emissions. 

Jae Edmonds, a chief scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Joint Global Change Research Institute and contributor to the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, said methane symbolizes both a barrier and advantage for smoother progress to maintaining climate change. 

“It’s both good news and bad news. Its human-related sources are quite varied, many of which are relatively straightforward to tackle,” Edmonds said in an interview about the newest IPCC findings.

Over 40% of Americans Experienced Climate Related Disasters in 2021


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Josie Taylor | January 6, 2022

2021 was a year of disasters for many Americans. Wildfires, extreme heat, drought, flooding, hurricanes and more hit so many. There is little doubt that the future will see even more disasters, and the disasters will be catastrophic. 

More than 40% of Americans live in a county that was hit by climate-related extreme weather last year, according to the Washington Post. More than 80 percent experienced a heat wave. This is not surprising to scientists because the US has generated more greenhouse gases than any other nation in history. 

At least 656 people died due to these disasters, media reports and government records show. The cost of the destruction hit $104 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This number is probably higher because officials have not calculated final tolls of wildfires, drought and heat waves in the West.

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency identified fewer climate-related disasters in individual counties last year, it declared eight of these emergencies statewide, the most since 1998, affecting 135 million people overall.

For the track the US is on now, it is unlikely that 2022 will be much different. In order to see changes we will have to massively cut down on greenhouse gas and carbon emissions.

Greenhouse Gas Levels Reached a New Record


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Josie Taylor | October 27, 2020

Heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record last year, with the annual rate of increase above the 2011-2020 average. That trend has continued in 2021, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Greenhouse Gas Bulletin

As long as emissions continue, global temperature will continue to rise. CO2 has a long life, therefore the temperature level already observed will persist for several decades even if emissions are rapidly reduced to net zero. Rising temperatures is not the only thing that these emissions will cause. This also means more weather extremes like intense heat and rainfall, ice melt, sea-level rise and ocean acidification. All of these extremes also have socioeconomic impacts.

Roughly half of the CO2 emitted by human activities today remains in the atmosphere. The other half is taken up by oceans and land ecosystems. The Bulletin flagged concern that the ability of land ecosystems and oceans to act as “sinks” may become less effective in future. This means that more of the CO2 will go into the atmosphere and temperatures will increase at an even higher rate. 

Carbon dioxide is the most important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, accounting for approximately ⅔ of climate change effects, mainly because of fossil fuel combustion and cement production.

Alaska Judge Blocks Oil Project


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Josie Taylor | August 19, 2021

On Wednesday, an Alaskan federal judge blocked construction permits for an oil drilling project that was supposed to produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years. Judge Sharon L. Gleason cited climate dangers in her opinion for why the project should exist.

This massive oil drilling plan was proposed under the Trump administration and legally backed by the Biden administration. Environmental groups, such as Earthjustice sued, saying both the Trump and Biden administration had failed to take into account the effects that drilling would have on wildlife and climate change. Judge Gleason took their side.

The main reason why Judge Gleason sided with the environmental groups was because of the greenhouse gas emissions that would be released with the drilling. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, which then warms Earth

Many places in the United States and the world are experiencing climate crises. Jeremy Lieb, lawyer with Earthjustice, stated that the federal government should recognize we are in a climate emergency. Lieb believes blocking this oil drilling project would be a good start. 

Biden pushes to expand electric vehicles market


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | August 6, 2021

President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Thursday that aims to make half of all new vehicles sold in 2030 electric.

The administration has been looking at ways to decrease the United States greenhouse gas emissions since her entered office in January. The executive order is part of the administration’s goals to fight climate change. Alongside increasing the amount of electric vehicles on the road, Biden announced a proposal for new vehicle emission standards with increased stringency beginning in the 2023 model year.

While the executive order’s target is not legally binding, Reuters reported that Chrysler parent Stellantis NV, Ford Motors, and General Motors are planning to achieve 40 or 50% sales on electric vehicles by 2030.

Other brands intend to move to only electric vehicles by the 2030 deadline, like Volvo. According to CNBC, other companies, like General Motors, are aspiring to similar goals in the next 20 years.

During the Obama administration, a previous goal was set regarding the number of electric vehicles to be sold by 2015. The goal of 1 million vehicles fell short with only 400,000 sold.

Some elected officials from Iowa are asking Biden to consider prioritizing biofuels instead of electric vehicles. Senator Joni Ernst tweeted that corn ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 50%. The Biden administration has not responded to any biofuels inquiries since the executive order’s announcement.

New Research Shows Electric Vehicles Really Do Produce Fewer Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions Than Fossil Fuel Powered Vehicles


Maxwell Bernstein | March 27, 2020

Myths based around the “greenness” of the production and use of electric vehicles have been debunked. New research shows that a push for electric vehicles will produce less total heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions than the production and use of fossil fuel-powered vehicles.

Skeptics of electric vehicles thought that the overall production and implementation of electric vehicles would create more greenhouse gas emissions than our current system. 

Researchers in University of Exeter, England; Cambridge University, England; and Nijmegen University, Netherlands recently found that the production and use of electric vehicles produce 30% less greenhouse gas emissions in the U.K. than those of gas powered cars. 

Their findings also showed electric vehicles produced 70% less greenhouse gas emissions in France and Sweden because their renewable-centric electric grids reduce greenhouse gas emissions that result from the charging of electric vehicles. 

The research found that electric cars are more environmentally friendly than fossil fuel powered vehicles in most countries except for some exceptions, like Poland, who’s power grid consists of 80% coal. 

Cars and trucks that run on gas account for one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Researchers from several universities in England found that using electric vehicles can reduce greenhouse gas emissions without a change in lifestyle, making widespread use of electric vehicles more promising and likely to reducetotal greenhouse gas emissions. 

U.N. report illuminates global ’emissions gap’


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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.

 

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.

Analysis of Iowa air quality reveals positive and negative trends


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Industrial greenhouse gas emissions from utilities and manufacturers contribute to climate change (flickr). 

Julia Poska | October 4, 2018

A new analysis of federal air quality data reveals mixed trends in Iowa’s air quality. On one hand, Iowa cut industrial greenhouse gas emissions 11 percent from 2010 to 2014. On the other, Iowa ranks among the top 20 U.S. states for industrial greenhouse gas and toxic air emissions.

Analysts from the Center for Public Integrity studied EPA data from 2010 to 2014.  The Iowa Department of Natural Resources told the Des Moines Register that since 2014 emissions have trended downwards, according to data from their own monitoring stations and facilities.

The Center for Public Integrity found that Iowa’s industrial greenhouse gas emissions dropped  11 percent, from over 60 million metric tons in 2014 to about 54.7 metric tons in 2014. This cut is over five times greater than the 2 percent national average, according to the Register.

Iowa still ranks 19th for industrial emissions, however. Ten Iowa utility or manufacturing companies were among the nation’s top 500 sources of greenhouse gases in 2014.  Four of those were MidAmerican coal plants.  Since 2014, Iowa utilities have made major investments in renewable energy, particularly wind.

Iowa ranks even higher for toxic air emissions: 17th in the U.S.. From 2010 to 2014, toxic air emissions in Iowa actually increased. The Register found that Climax Molybdenum, a chemical plant in Fort Madison, and four others were responsible for half of Iowa’s toxic emissions in 2014. The paper said Climax Molybdenum was the 10th largest emitter of ammonia in the nation that year.

 

 

 

Carbon dioxide makes food less nutritious


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Less nutritious crops could pose health problems for many people worldwide who rely heavily on rice as their main food source. (Rob Bertholf/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | April 5, 2018

The changing climate is forcing farmers to adapt, but how do rising greenhouse gas levels impact the food on our dinner plates?

A Harvard School of Public Health study looked at how more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere affects nutrient levels in six primary food crops: wheat, rice, field peas, soybeans, corn and sorghum. The researchers split plants of the same crop up between two groups. The first group was cultivated in an environment with between 363 and 386 parts per million carbon dioxide (CO2). This was the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere at the time of the study, in 2014. The second group of plants grew up in an environment with between 546 to 586 parts per million of the greenhouse gas in the air. This is roughly the concentration of CO2 expected to be in Earth’s atmosphere within fifty years.

When it was time, the scientists harvested the crops and measured levels of key nutrients in them. They looked specifically at zinc, protein and iron. The study found that plants grown in environments with higher concentrations of CO2 were less nutritious than their counterparts. Wheat, rice and soybeans were all found to have lower levels of zinc, protein and iron in the higher CO2 conditions.

Animal products are the primary source of protein for most people in the U.S., but people in other parts of the world rely heavily on rice and wheat as their main protein providers. These foods are naturally low in protein and further deficiency could be devastating. One study in the Journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that these projected impacts could cause an additional 150 million people worldwide to be protein deficient by 2050. Protein deficiency can cause low birth weight and other health problems that stunt growth and development.