Study: Fewer greenhouse emissions for states with more environmental activism

Thomas Dietz is a professor of Sociology and Environmental Science and Policy (ESPP) and assistant vice president for environmental research at Michigan State University. Dietz teamed up with MSU Foundation professor of sociometrics Kenneth Frank on the study. (Photo by Kurt Stepnitz)

Nick Fetty | June 19, 2015

A new study shows that states with the highest rates of environmentalism saw lower rates of greenhouse gas emissions.

The researchers from Michigan State University examined greenhouse gas emissions from all 50 states dating back to 1990 and analyzed how emissions correlated with population, gross state product per capita, employment rate and environmentalism. Environmentalism was calculated using “the environmental voting record of a state’s congressional delegation, as rated by the League of Conservation Voters.” The report concludes that a one percent increase in environmentalism can reduce emissions by more than enough to compensate for the typical annual increase in emissions.

“We’ve used new methods developed over the years and new innovations Ken has developed to add in the politics – and find that politics and environmentalism can mediate some environmental impact,” study co-author Thomas Dietz said in a statement. “Environmentalism seems to influence policies and how well policies that are in place are actually implemented, and it also influences individual behavior and the choices people make.”

Vermont had the greenest voting record and ranked 2nd nationally (behind for Rhode Island) for fewest emissions while states line Texas, Wyoming, and Louisiana had the least green voting records highest rates of emissions.

The study – “Political influences on greenhouse gas emissions from US states” – was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Support for this research was provided by MSU’s AgBioResearch.


Journal features ISU research on agriculture and climate change

This farmer utilizes contour farming and conservation tillage techniques on his Warren County farm in 2011. (Wikimedia)
This farmer utilizes contour farming and conservation tillage techniques on his Warren County farm in 2011. (Wikimedia)

Nick Fetty | December 11, 2014

The most recent issue of the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation includes several articles by Iowa State University researchers focused on ways that climate change is affecting agriculture.

Researchers and graduate students in from Climate and Corn-based Cropping Systems Coordinated Agricultural Project contributed to most of the articles in the recent issue. The project, known simply as the Sustainable Corn Project, is based at Iowa State University and is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Of the 20 reports in the recent journal issue, 14 were authored by researchers with the Sustainable Corn Project.

One of the reports analyzed the effects cover crops have on nitrous oxide emissions, concluding that cover crops increased nitorus oxide levels in 60 percent of published observations. The authors point out that certain variables could have affected the reaction between the cover crops and nitrous oxide emissions including “fertilizer N(itrogen) rate, soil incorporation, and the period of measurement and rainfall.”

The Sustainable Corn Project is a collaboration between 10 Midwestwen land-grant universities: Iowa State University, Lincoln University (MO), Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Purdue University, South Dakota State University, University of Illinois,  University of Minnesota, University of Missouri, and University of Wisconsin. Roughly 160 scientists, engineers, educators, and students work with more than 200 farmers on this project.

Study: Mining can affect fish habitats miles downstream

XXX (Wesley Daniel, Michigan State University)
Mining occurs in all 50 states for natural resources ranging from coal to salt. (Wesley Daniel; Michigan State University)

Nick Fetty | November 25, 2014

A recent study by researchers at Michigan State University finds that mining can have adverse effects on fish habitats many miles downstream from the mine itself.

The study was published in this week’s issue of the journal Ecological Indicators with funding provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. Much of the study’s focus was on heavy mining areas in the United States, such as the Appalachia region, but also included relatively unstudied areas such as Illinois and Iowa.

Mining occurs in every state for wide range of natural resources from coal and precious metals to sand and salt. While larger rivers are able to dilute the damage caused by mining operations, smaller streams are more susceptible to pollution. These smaller streams often feed into larger watersheds which then affects fish habitats and causes other ecological concerns.

The Northern Appalachian (NAP) ecoregion encompasses most of Illinois and Iowa as well as parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. Compared to the Southern Appalachian (SAP) and Temperate Plains (TPL) ecoregions, the NAP ecoregion has the highest density of mines with nearly 40 mines per square kilometer, including 714 mineral mines and 1,041 major coal mines.

The report concluded that “the US has the world’s largest estimated recoverable reserves of coal, and production will increase over the next two decades, suggesting that alteration of stream fish assemblages may intensify in the future.”

Michigan State University researchers have developed transparent solar concentrators

Nick Fetty | August 20, 2014
A transparent luminescent solar concentrator module. (Photo by Yimu Zhao)
A transparent luminescent solar concentrator module. (Photo by Yimu Zhao)

A team of researchers at Michigan State University have developed the technology to harvest the sun’s energy on a transparent surface.

The researchers utilize a technology known as a “transparent luminescent solar concentrator” which can be used on buildings, cell phones, and other devices with a flat, clear surface. These concentrators allow energy from the sun’s rays to be harvested while still being able to see clearly through the glass.

This particular technology is not new but researchers have now found a way to harvest the energy more efficiently. The researchers have also figured out how to do so using a clear surface as opposed to the colored glass that has been used in the past.

Yimu Zhao, a doctoral student in chemical engineering and materials science, and Richard Lunt, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science, work together in a lab. (Photo by G.L. Kohuth)
Yimu Zhao, a doctoral student in chemical engineering and materials science, and Richard Lunt, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science, work together in a lab. (Photo by G.L. Kohuth)

This new technology allows developers and researchers considerable flexibility. Solar concentrators will be able to be used on everything from building and car windows to smart phones and other electronic devices. “Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there,” said Richard Lunt, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at Michigan State.

This research was recently featured on the cover of July’s issue of Advanced Optical Materials.

University of Iowa hosts international conference about environmental contamination

Nick Fetty | August 19, 2014
Water pollution in China. (Bert van Dijk/Flickr)
Water contamination in China. (Bert van Dijk/Flickr)

Beginning today and continuing through Friday, the University of Iowa is hosting a conference to discuss emerging contaminants and their effect on the environment.

EmCon 2014: Fourth International Conference on Occurrence, Fate, Effects & Analysis of Emerging Contaminants in the Environment will feature speakers from all across the world, including a keynote speech from University of Iowa engineering professor and CGRER co-director Jerry Schnoor. Representatives from various Big Ten schools (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Purdue, Wisconsin) as well as Iowa State, Stanford and several other educational and governmental entities are scheduled to give speeches or other presentations. The event “will focus on the most recent developments and findings concerning the source, occurrence, fate, effects, and analysis of emerging contaminants in the environment, providing an ideal venue for exchange of cutting-edge ideas and information in this rapidly evolving research area.”

The first conference, EmCon 2007, was held in York, United Kingdom and brought in more than 100 attendees from all around the world. EmCon 2009 was in Fort Collins, Colorado and EmCon 2011 was in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The National Hydraulic Engineering Conference 2014 is also taking place in Iowa City this week. This event will focus on “sustainability in the design of infrastructure in a rapidly changing environment.”

EmCon 2014 begins at 4 p.m. today and the full schedule of events is available here.

Study: More precise fertilizer application will help combat climate change

Nick Fetty | June 11, 2014
Photo via eutrophication&hypoxia; Flickr
Photo via Lynn Betts; Flickr

Farmers can help to combat climate change by applying more precise amounts of nitrogen fertilizer to fields, according to a recent study by researchers at Michigan State University.

The study – published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – used data from around the world to conclude that emissions from nitrogen oxide – a byproduct of nitrogen fertilizer – contribute to greenhouse gases more than previously expected when application of fertilizer exceeds crop needs. Nitrogen emissions caused by humans has increased significantly in recent years much of what can be attributed to increased nitrogen fertilizer use. Not only will more precise amounts of fertilizer protect the environment but it will also help to save farmers money.

Check out this article about this study published today by R&D.

Also to learn more about the science behind nitrogen fertilizers check out this guide compiled by the Penn State University College of Agricultural Sciences.