Calculate your food’s impact this Thanksgiving


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Thanksgiving dinner (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska| November 27, 2019

As Thanksgiving is a holiday both reflectance AND eating a ton, Americans who are grateful for both the food on their plate and the planet that provided it might be interested in the BBC’s “Climate Change Food Calculator,” published in August.

The food calculator provides estimates of annual greenhouse gas emissions, water use and land use for one person’s consumption different food items based on how frequently the user says they eat those foods. Results are based on global averages.

The food calculator does not have information on turkey specifically, but below are results for daily consumption of other foods often shared on Thanksgiving:

  • Potatoes: 16kg greenhouse gases
  • Wine: 114kg greenhouse gases, 5,026 liters of water
  • Bread: 21kg greenhouse gases, 8,995 liters of water
  • Chicken: 497kg greenhouse gases, 33,294 litres of water, 616m² land
  • Beans: 36kg greenhouse gases, 8,888 liters of water
  • Pork: 656kg greenhouse gases, 95,756 liters of water, 926m² land

So enjoy your feast tomorrow, if you are having one, but remember to thank the Earth for the resources it took to get your meal on your plate, too.

Lyme disease on the rise


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Deer ticks are the most common vectors of lyme disease. (John Flannery/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | April 27, 2018

Incidents of lyme disease are on the rise thanks to climate change and land use change.

There are about 30,000 cases of lyme disease reported to the Center for Disease Control every year in the U.S., which is up from approximately 10,000 annual reports in the 1990s.

Deer ticks or black-legged ticks that carry lyme disease require a certain number of frost-free days to complete their life cycle. As the climate warms, these ticks are plaguing parts of North America that have not previously been home to them. In recent years, deer ticks have been found as far north as Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Manitoba, Canada. Cases of lyme disease in Canada rose from 144 cases annually in 2009 to 917 cases annually in 2015.

Land use change is also increasing the prevalence of lyme disease. As urban developments sprawl out into previously forested land, humans live in closer quarters with the lyme disease vectors.

Early symptoms of lyme disease include fever, chills, and a “bulls eye” rash around the tick bite. If the disease is caught early enough, it can be treated with antibiotics. However, as many as 30 percent of people do not develop the bulls eye rash and often mistake the other symptoms for another illness. If left untreated, lyme disease can cause heart palpitations, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord and facial palsy, among other symptoms.

The Center for Disease Control is working to educate health care professionals about how to recognize lyme disease in patients and the most effective treatments for it. Scientists from Bard College and Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies have also enrolled 1,000 households in Duchess County, New York in a study testing some new deer tick control methods. The five year study is using bait boxes that apply a small amount of fipronil (found in products like Frontline) to tick-carrying mammals like squirrels and chipmunks and a fungal spray that kills ticks to determine whether the methods are effective in keeping tick populations down.

Tick-borne illnesses are the most likely harmful human health effect for Iowans as a result of  climate change according to the Medical Society Consortium.

Biodiversity declining worldwide


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The sun sets over one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world, the Amazon Rainforest. (Anna & Michael/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | March 30, 2018

Biodiversity, or the overall variety of life forms on Earth, is decreasing substantially in every region of the world due to land use change and climate change.

A compilation of four new United Nations scientific studies, which were recently approved by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), details the loss. Over three years, researchers assessed biodiversity and ecosystem services in the Americas, Asia, the Pacific, Africa and Europe. They found that biodiversity and nature’s ability to provide for humans’ basic needs has declined in every region due to habitat loss overexploitation and unsustainable use of natural resources, pollution, increasing numbers of invasive species and climate change.

In the Americas, the studies found that species richness is about thirty percent less than it was when Europeans first arrived on the continent, and the rate of biodiversity loss in that region seems to be speeding up. They report that under “business as usual” circumstances, 40 percent of the region’s biodiversity will be lost by 2050. While land use and population growth plays a larger role in other regions of the world, climate change is the primary driver behind species loss in the Americas. Given that the natural world provides an estimated $24 trillion per year in ecosystem services to humans in the Americas alone, biodiversity loss is not a concern reserved only for environmentalists.

Protection of key biodiversity areas in the Americas increased by 17 percent between 1970 and 2010. However, the authors point out that these efforts fall short as less than 20 percent of crucial biodiversity areas in the Americas are currently protected.

Sir Robert Watson is the chair of IPBES, he said,

“Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people sound, to many people, academic and far removed from our daily lives. Nothing could be further from the truth – they are the bedrock of our food, clean water and energy. They are at the heart not only of our survival, but of our cultures, identities and enjoyment of life. The best available evidence, gathered by the world’s leading experts, points us now to a single conclusion: we must act to halt and reverse the unsustainable use of nature – or risk not only the future we want, but even the lives we currently lead. Fortunately, the evidence also shows that we know how to protect and partially restore our vital natural assets.”

To read more about the types of biodiversity loss in other areas of the world, click here.

Clayton county rezones 746 acres for frack sand mining


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Great Plains Sand of Jordan, Minnesota mines and processes silica sand in a process that will mirror those in Clayton County. (MPCA Photos/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 17, 2016

The Clayton County Zoning Board of Adjustment voted unanimously Tuesday night to rezone 746 acres to allow for the underground mining of silica sand used in the hydraulic fracking process.

The zoning adjustment, requested by Pattison Sand Company, marks the end of a yearlong effort by the company to change the land from agricultural use to heavy industrial use. Citizens of Clayton County spoke up in favor and against the expansion of Pattison’s underground mining effort. Several of Pattison’s employees commended the company for its fair wages and good benefits. The workers also pointed out that the company and its employees help to stimulate the local economy.

Residents who live nearby voiced concern that the zoning change document does not mention the protection of human health, the local environment, or the aesthetic qualities of the bluffs that line the Mississippi River. According to a report by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), breathing in silica found in silica sands can cause a lung disease characterized by inflammation and scarring of the lungs, reducing their ability to intake oxygen. The report also said that silica can cause lung cancer and has been linked to other diseases, such as tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney and autoimmune disease. Workers who breathe in the silica sands every day are at the highest risk.

In contrast, University of Iowa professor Patrick O’Shaughnessy, presented research at the meeting which found little air quality risks associated with frack sand mining. O’Shaughnessy’s team of researchers did, however, recommend 16 zoning restrictions concerning air and water quality, noise pollution, and scenic preservation. None of these restrictions were adopted by the zoning board. Many speakers urged the board to table discussions or to adopt the researchers’ zoning restrictions, but restrictions were rejected and the board passed the zoning change 4-0.

Iowa DNR works to establish 10,000 acre bird conservation area


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The wood thrush, a cinnamon-colored song bird, is one of the species that would benefit from a proposed bird conservation area in Jones County. (Kelly Colgan Azar/Flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 10, 2016

Iowa Department of Natural Resources will host a public meeting next week to discuss a proposed bird conservation area in Jones County.

The proposed area, which will include Indian Bluffs State Preserve and Pictured Rocks Wildlife Management Area, would be Iowa’s 23rd bird conservation area (BCA). According to a 2007 watchlist, about 25 percent of all bird species in the United States are experiencing sharp population declines. Bruce Ehresman is the Wildlife Diversity Program biologist for Iowa DNR. He said, “Creating bird conservation areas is a high priority for the Iowa DNR. The proposed Indian Bluffs-Pictured Rocks BCA is a very unique area containing woodland, grassland and wetland habitats that provide homes to at least 111 nesting bird species, many of which are declining at an alarming rate.”

The conservation area, like others in Iowa, will operate at a large-landscape level in order to accommodate birds of all sizes. Ehresman indentified the area’s potential beneficiaries, he said, “Birds of large forests, like the broad-winged hawk and wood thrush, savanna species such as the red-headed woodpecker and Baltimore oriole, to declining grassland birds like the eastern meadowlark and bobolink will benefit.”

Each BCA is made up of about 10,000 acres, and therefore requires a collaborative effort between conservation organizations, public agencies, and private landowners. This reserve, like the others, would have one or more areas of permanently protected bird habitat bordered by privately owned lands that provide additional habitat. Private land consultants and wildlife biologists say that they are willing to offer guidance to any landowner willing to make their land a more suitable place for birds. The BCA program is completely voluntary for landowners and poses no restrictions or regulations for participants.

Curt Kemmerer is DNR wildlife biologist for the Jones County area. He said, “Establishing a bird conservation area helps draw attention to the needs of birds that are in trouble, while allowing the local community and concerned citizens an opportunity to help these birds.”

The public meeting will be held Wednesday, November 16th at the Jones County Conservation Central Park Nature Center. More information can be found here.