U.S. residents increasingly divided on climate change


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A Gallup graph depicts how opinions about climate change have changed over time in the U.S. (Gallup)

Jenna Ladd | March 29, 2018

A recent poll found that Americans have become even more polarized about climate change in the last year. Gallup completed the poll during the first week of March using a random sample of 1,041 adults in the United States.

While concern about global warming is still at a record high, the difference in opinions between Republicans and Democrats is now more stark. The poll found that 69 percent of Republicans thought that the seriousness of climate change is generally exaggerated in the news, while just four percent of Democrats believed the same thing. Similarly, just over 40 percent of Republicans said that they believe the undisputed fact that nearly all scientists believe that global warming is taking place, while 86 percent on Democrats did.

Gallup hypothesized about the increased polarization in opinion between the parties. They wrote,

“President Donald Trump, who has called global warming a “hoax,” may have contributed to this widening divide by reversing a number of government actions to address the issue. These included the announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord, the removal of climate change from the list of top U.S. national security threats and the elimination of the terms “global warming” and “climate change” from U.S. government websites and lexicons.”

Despite evidence that the number of severe weather-related deaths has risen because of climate change, few members of the Republican party seemed to think that climate change would pose a serious in their lifetime. Just 18 percent said that there was any real risk to them.

This year, Gallup has categorized about 48 percent of U.S. citizens as concerned believers in climate change, which is similar to 2017’s 50 percent figure. About 32 percent have mixed opinions about the existence and cause of climate change, and 19 percent are categorized as climate change skeptics.

Commonwealth nations call for science based policy


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Carbon emissions must be net zero during the second half of the century to meet current climate goals. (Unalienable/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 14, 2017

Leaders from 22 countries representing thousands of scientists released a statement Monday calling on political leaders to more aggressively combat climate change.

Representatives from national scientific academies in the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Indian, Mozambique, Nigeria and many other countries that formerly were a part of the British empire authored and endorsed the document, titled, “Commonwealth Academies of Science Consensus Statement on Climate Change.”

They point out that even if all of the 160 countries that ratified the Paris Climate Accord in 2015 met their greenhouse emission goals, global temperatures will still rise by 3 degree Celsius before 2100. Not only do the scientists call for political action on climate change, but they asked that it be informed by data.

Looking forward to 2030 climate change talks, they write, “The Commonwealth academies of science call upon Commonwealth Heads of Government to use the best possible scientific evidence to guide action on their 2030 commitments under the Paris accord, and to take further action to achieve net-zero greenhouse gases emissions during the second half of the 21st Century.”

The Commonwealth’s message is similar a move in the U.S. for more scientists to run for positions in congress. At least 60 scientists are running at the federal level during this year’s mid-terms. Non-profit organizations like 314-Action are asking more scientists to join the race. 314-Action is “committed to electing more STEM candidates to office, advocating for evidence-based policy solutions to issues like climate change, and fighting the Trump administration’s attacks on science.”

Scientist or career politician, commonwealth representative or U.S. congressperson, policy makers worldwide must find a way to achieve net-zero carbon emissions during the second half of this century in order to meet the Paris Climate Accord goal to keep temperatures 2 degrees Celsius below pre-industrial levels.

 

Report outlines economic benefits of clean water in Iowa


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Trees are reflected in a clear Iowa pond. (Richard Hermann/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | February 21, 2018

A recent report from Iowa State University argues that removing nutrient pollution from Iowa’s water would provide economic benefits for the state.

Economists with ISU’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) first summarize the cost of nutrient pollution in Iowa’s waterways. They write that forty-nine public water systems treat water for nitrate pollution either by using nitrate removal equipment or blending the water; these systems serve more than 10 percent of Iowa citizens. The report estimates that Iowa’s public water systems have paid $1.8 million to treat nitrate in the water since 2000.

Smaller communities and rural areas are disproportionately affected by the economic consequences of polluted water. Many small town public water systems do not have the resources to purchase costly nitrate removal equipment and as a result, may not be able to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s water quality regulations. Private wells go largely unregulated, so consumers are responsible for picking up the water treatment costs. Findings suggest that as many as a quarter of Iowa’s wells have unsafe nitrate levels in them.

The report also comments on the lost revenue from water recreation income for the state. The number of beaches and waterways under advisory or closed each summer because of harmful algae blooms, which are fed by nitrate, continues to grow. Economists estimate that improving water quality in Iowa’s lakes by meeting Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals would increase recreational benefits for all Iowans by $30 million per year.

Iowa Legislators recently passed a bill that will allocate $282 million to water quality improvement projects in the state over the next 12 years. Critics recognize, however, that scientists with the Nutrient Reduction Strategy have estimated that it will cost billions of dollars to adequately remove nutrient runoff from waterways in Iowa.

To read CARD’s full report, click here.

Trump administration works to reverse over 65 environmental policies


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The federal government no longer requires new infrastructure projects to meet flood protection guidelines. (Melissa Galvez/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 7, 2018

Since taking office about a year ago, the Trump administration has moved to eliminate over 65 environmental regulations and policies, according to a report from the New York Times Climate Team.

The report aggregated data from climate deregulation policy trackers from the environmental law programs at Harvard University and Columbia University to come up with a total of 67 environmental regulations that the administration has sought to rollback. Reporters split the policies into three categories: those that have already been overturned, those that are on their way to being overturned and those whose fate is unclear due of court actions.  The largest category of 33 rules are those that have already been reversed.

There are a few among them that are most relevant for Iowans. First, the administration has reversed an Obama-era regulation that required federal buildings and infrastructure projects to be constructed in accordance with higher flood protection standards. Under this rule, new projects in flood plains would have had to be either elevated or flood proofed at a minimum of two feet above the 100-year floodplain. Recent research from the University of Iowa’s Flood Center found that as the climate continues to warm, the risk of flooding in Iowa and the northern U.S. is increasing.

The administration has also opted to reject the Environmental Projection Agency’s research on a particular pesticide and allow for its further use. Following the EPA’s study of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which found to pose a risk for fetal brain and nervous system development, the Obama administration proposed a ban of the pesticide. Trump-appointed EPA administrator Scott Pruitt argued that further study of the chemical is needed prior to a ban.

The list of environmental policies reversed by the administration goes on, and just three have been successfully reinstated after environmental groups sued the Trump administration.

Environmental film festival benefits Indian Creek Nature Center


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The shrinking of the Bears Ears monument in Utah is just one example of the Trump administration rolling back public land protections. (Jeffrey Sullivan/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 26, 2018

A sold out environmental film festival is set to take place at Big Grove Brewery in Iowa City this evening.

The Backcountry Film Festival is hosting a screening in the new brewery as a part of its international tour. Founded by the Winter Wildlands Alliance, the film festival seeks to promote participation in human-powered snow sports on public lands. The festival collaborates with nonprofit organizations worldwide to raise funds for environmental causes. The Indian Creek Nature Center of Cedar Rapids will be the beneficiary of this event.

Lindsey Flannery is the marketing and development manager for Indian Creek Nature Center. She said, “[The festival] directly connects to our mission. This film festival encourages others to be outside, and that’s important to us,” according to the Daily Iowan.

The screening includes eight films featuring people enjoying winter sports on public lands and comes as public land agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service are facing extreme budget cuts.

Keili Bell is the director and producer of the festival. She said, “There has been a lot of national funding cuts to a lot of budgets that actually help a lot local environmental programs. [The festival] has gained a lot of public interest from people all over the world because we can share what is happening to public policy and environmental programs.”

All proceeds from ticket sales and raffle entries will go directly to the Indian Creek Nature Center.

States resist federal move to expand offshore drilling


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A 100 foot flame flares above the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010. (Jim McKinley/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 18, 2018

More states are lining up to be exempt from the Trump administration’s plan to expand offshore oil drilling in the United States.

The administration released a proposal earlier in January to make nearly all U.S. coasts available for drilling over the next five years. Last week, the U.S. Interior Department’s Ryan Zinke granted Florida’s coasts exempt from the deal after a short meeting with Gov. Rick Perry, citing concern for the state’s tourist economy. Shortly after, requests to be excluded from the proposal from other coastal states rolled in. Governors and state officials from Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Delaware have asked for meetings with Zinke to discuss the plan’s threat to tourism industries.

Governor John Carney of Delaware posted a Tweet last week, “Tourism and recreation along the Delaware coastline account for billions in economic activity each year, and support tens of thousands of jobs.”

The only states in support of the plan are Alaska and Maine.

Aside from repelling tourists, offshore drilling has serious implications for ocean life and human health. One drilling platform typically releases 90,000 metric tons of drilling fluids and metal cuttings into the sea. Drilling fluids, or drilling muds, which lubricate wells and cool drill pipes, contain toxic chemicals that harm aquatic life. When oil is pumped, water from underground surfaces along with it. Called “produced water,” it contains anywhere from 30 to 40 parts per million of oil. For example, each year in Alaska’ Cook Inlet, 2 billion gallons of produced water contaminates the area with 70,000 gallons of oil.

This new plans marks another rollback of Obama’s environmental legacy, which prohibited offshore drilling in 94 percent of U.S.’s coastal waters.

On The Radio – Iowa City Climate Action and Adaptation Plan underway


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This timeline depicts the steering committee’s timeline for a citywide climate action plan. (City of Iowa City)
Jenna Ladd | December 4, 2017

This segment discusses what Iowa City’s citizens are doing to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate. 

Transcript: There was standing room only at the Iowa City Climate Action and Adaption community meeting last month.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The community meeting was organized by Iowa City’s Climate Action Steering Committee, which was formed in June 2017 following President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. Since then, city council and the steering committee have committed Iowa City to the same goals outlined by the Paris Climate Accord: community-wide greenhouse gas reduction goals of 26-28 percent by the year 2025 and 80 percent by 2050, where 2005 emissions levels serve as a baseline.

Attendees were invited to vote for climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies for Iowa City in five categories, including energy, waste, transportation, adaptation, and other. The steering committee plans to send a city-wide survey by mail in December to residents that are unable to attend the initiative’s community meetings.

After a final community input meeting on April 26th, the steering committee will present their completed Climate Action and Adaptation Plan to city council in May 2018.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.