The University of Iowa Outlines 2030 Sustainability Goals


Maxwell Bernstein | May 8, 2020

The University of Iowa has outlined six new goals to focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing sustainability literacy, and education by 2030 according to a Iowa Now. These goals are a collaboration between the 2030 UI Sustainability Task Force which includes: faculty, staff, and students. 

As provided in the press release the goals framework include:

  1. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% and to pursue a renewable energy supply strategy through energy conservation and a comprehensive decarbonization plan.
  2. Embed sustainability into campus culture. 
  3. Expand sustainability research, scholarships, and create opportunities for researchers to find solutions. 
  4. Use campus as a “living laboratory” for sustainability education and exploration by increasing opportunities for students and researchers to use sustainability as a means for education. 
  5. Provide students with skills and knowledge to be sustainable in a 21st century society.
  6. Facilitate knowledge exchange among the campus community, the state of Iowa, the country, and the world by creating partnerships. 

Some achievements that the university has made since 2010, according to Iowa Now, include:

  • Total energy usage is slightly lower regardless of 15 new buildings and additional campus changes.
  • 40% of UI energy consumption comes from renewable energy sources. 
  • 75% reduction in annual coal consumption.
  • 50% of UI’s purchased power comes from wind energy. 

UI enters final year for 2020 sustainability goals


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UI EV vehicle charging station (via a 2018 Office of Sustainability Report. )

Julia Poska | January 1, 2020

In 2010, former University of Iowa President Sally Mason announced the 2020 Vision: The University of Iowa’s Sustainability Targets. It laid out out sustainability goals to reach within the next decade, which began today. 

The goals were as follows:

1. Become a Net‐negative Energy Consumer

This goal indicated that the university should consume less energy in 2020 than it did in 2010, despite projected growth. Building energy consumption reports from The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) indicate energy energy consumption growth from 2005 to 2013 and 2013 to 2018. A 2018 presentation to the campus faculty council, though, provided data indicated that energy consumption was below the baseline, if baseline included projected consumption for new buildings.

2. Green Our Energy Portfolio

The document indicated that the University would consume 40% renewable energy in 2020. Since 2010, the university has increased production of energy through renewable biomass sources like oat hulls and miscanthus grass in the on-campus power plant. A 2018 presentation to the campus faculty council reported 17% renewable energy in 2017.

3. Decrease Our Production of Waste

This goal indicated that the university would “divert” (meaning recycle or compost” 60% of waste by 2020. The Office of Sustainability has since implemented a “tiny trash” program to encourage recycling and a dorm room composting program. The most recent data, for 2017, indicates a 38% diversion rate.

4. Reduce the Carbon Impact of Transportation

The university aimed to reduce per-capita fossil fuel emissions from campus transportation methods by 10%. A 2018 report to the university’s staff council reported a 14% reduction in per-capita transportation emissions, due in part to the campus’s fleet of electric vehicles and solar charging station.

 

5. Increase Student Opportunities to Learn and Practice Principles of Sustainability

6. Support and Grow Interdisciplinary Research in Sustainability‐focused and Related Areas

7. Develop Partnerships to Advance Collaborative Initiatives, both Academic and Operational

The last three goals provided qualitative measures, more difficult to measure and assess directly. The university undoubtedly provides  sustainability opportunities for students, in both practice and research, and has fostered numerous collaborative initiatives.

Stay tuned over the next 364 days to see whether these goals are fully met.

 

 

New UI research could help fight pollution with microorganisms


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Concrete and other surfaces are often covered in a thin film of pollution and pollution fighting bacteria and fungi (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | December 20, 2019

As pollutants like particulates, PCB and pesticides filter out of the air, they often accumulate on surfaces like asphalt or building exteriors. When it rains, the pollutants can run off into water sources.

University of Iowa researchers recently published findings in Earth and Space Chemistry, revealing that a variety of bacteria and fungi live within the film of pollution on such surfaces. Some of those microorganisms are able to digest and break down the pollutants.

Researchers Scott Shaw (chemistry) and Timothy Mattes (civil and environmental engineering) intend to sequence the DNA of these organisms in the future. They will then be able to determine which could potentially be cultivated for fighting pollution in other areas, according to Iowa Now.

CGRER, the UI Center of Health Effects of Environmental Contamination,  the U.S. Department of Defense Army Research Office and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission funded this research.

Rise in natural gas drives increase in global carbon emissions


Tyler Chalfant | December 10th, 2019

As representatives from nearly 200 countries meet to discuss limiting greenhouse gas emissions, a study released last week shows that global fossil emissions have risen for a third year in a row. This rise is largely due to an increase in the use of natural gas that has outpaced the decline of other fossil fuels, including coal.

The growth in emissions largely comes from China and India. While emissions in North American and European countries are gradually declining, these countries still consume 5 to 20 times as much oil per capita as China and India. Therefore, as car ownership and air travel in Asia increase, global oil consumption is expected to rise.

This prediction is part of a larger trend. Natural gas, often viewed as a cleaner “bridge fuel” used to replace coal and other fossil fuels, as well as renewables, are being used to provide new energy to new consumers, not just replacing other fossil fuels. Natural gas is the fastest-growing fossil fuel globally, but has been presented by energy companies as a long-term solution. 

As coal has declined in recent years, the U.S is projected to see a 3.5% rise in natural gas use in 2019. The University of Iowa has increased natural gas use, rising 61% between 2014 and 2018, as the primary means of displacing coal in its power plant. When University President Bruce Harreld declared a climate crisis on Monday, he said that the university wants to substitute natural gas as well and move towards biomass.

Because of these trends in oil and natural gas use make it likely that we will see another increase in carbon emissions in 2020. One major obstacle to meeting the goal of a 2 degrees Celsius increase limit, set in the Paris Climate Agreement, is establishing international carbon markets, an issue that could be decided in Madrid this week. 

University of Iowa administrators discuss sustainability goals, ending coal in power plant


University of Iowa power plant, by Dave Smith, flickr

Tyler Chalfant | October 31st, 2019

University of Iowa administrators met Thursday to discuss the school’s sustainability goals. This meeting followed months of protests from Iowa City students and community members, including a visit from international climate activist Greta Thunberg. The strikers have called on the university to create a Town-Gown Climate Accord with the city and to end coal burning at the university’s power plant. 

None of the strikers were invited to participate in Thursday’s meeting. Stratis Giannakouros, the director of the UI Office of Sustainability and the Environment, said that this sort of meeting addressing the university’s climate goals is fairly routine. 

The university has committed to ending the burning of coal by 2025, although the strikers are demanding that this change happen much sooner than that, and that the power plant transitions to 100% renewable sources by 2030. 

The university plans on entering into a public-private partnership, or P3, to operate its utilities system. University President Bruce Harreld has stated that the partnership will not alter the plan to stop burning coal by 2025, although some bidders are interested in stopping even earlier, by 2023. 

Senior Vice President of UI Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz told the Daily Iowan that he thought that deadline was realistic, and that many of the finalists for the P3 were drawn to the university specifically because of the desire to get rid of coal. “All of them have said that the first thing they want to do is explore our plans for 2025, and how we can expedite that,” Lehnertz said.

Crowd of 3,000 heard Greta Thunberg speak in Iowa City


Photo by Joe Bolkcom

Tyler Chalfant | October 8th, 2019

Iowa City high school and middle school students were joined by thousands of Iowans at a climate strike on Friday, along with Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. 

The students, who were inspired by Thunberg, have been striking since March to demand that governmental leaders at all levels take action to address climate change. Some of the strikers led the crowd in chants calling out specific leaders and listing their goals, including that the University of Iowa power plant “end coal now.”

The University of Iowa currently aims to fully transition from coal by 2025, with 40% of campus energy coming from renewable sources by 2020. Although the power plant has reduced its use of coal considerably since 2008, it released the equivalent of more than 50,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in greenhouse gases last year from the burning of coal alone. 

The power plant has replaced coal in part through the increased burning of biomass, it has also increased its use of natural gas by 61% since 2014. Natural gas is cleaner than coal, and releases significantly fewer greenhouse gases than other fossil fuels, but still contributes to global warming through the release of carbon dioxide as well as methane leaks occurring during its extraction and transportation. 

Attendants of the rally spoke of the need for larger, structural changes, in addition to individual action, to address climate change. “Obviously there are things that individuals can do,” Melina Hegelheimer, a first year student studying Ethics and Public Policy at the university said, “but the biggest things that can contribute are coal, farming, and more ethical and more environmentally friendly practices for those types of things.”

A UI senior studying Geographical and Environmental Sustainability Cayla Baldus added that Thunberg’s speech inspired her as a climate activist and geographer. “You don’t fail and stop,” she said, paraphrasing Thunberg, “You fail and you keep going, and that’s kind of what I needed to hear in this political climate.”

Iowa City students and residents join global climate strike


Tyler Chalfant | September 23rd, 2019

Reporting by Julia Poska

Four million students and activists around the world protested for action on climate change last Friday. Student-organizers from Iowa City schools led hundreds of strikers in demanding that the City and the University of Iowa create a Town-Gown Climate Accord to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2030 and to end coal burning at the university’s power plant.

Students at Tate High marched out of class at 11 a.m., chanting “save the earth.” Later in the afternoon, the Iowa City Climate Strikers were joined by the groups 100 Grannies, the Sunrise Movement, the Sierra Club, and Young Democratic Socialists of America, along with students from the University of Iowa and the Iowa City Community. Together, they marched from City Hall to the University Pentacrest.

Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton said that it was “easily the biggest and most enthusiastic crowd” he’d ever seen in front of City Hall. Last month, Iowa City became the first city in the state to declare a climate crisis, and set carbon emissions targets in line with those set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “There’s many more actions that have to take place for us to accomplish the goals we’ve set for ourselves,” said Throgmorton. “We need public support for those actions.”

Students at the strike spoke of the urgency of the climate situation. “This is super important because basically if we don’t stop it, it’s the end of the world,” said Massimo Biggers, a high school freshman. “The world is basically burning right now, and we only have eleven years to save it.” Protesters emphasized the eleven year timeline when they staged a “die-in,” laying in silence on the Pentacrest, for eleven minutes.

Morgan Lenss, a junior at the University of Iowa, said that she joined the protest because she believes the environment should come before anything else. “We can’t wait anymore for major changes,” she said. “These need to be big changes, and they need to happen fast.” 

While many young people led the protest, some older community members showed up to support younger generations. Molly Stroh, a member of the group 100 Grannies for a Livable Future, commented, “We don’t want our grandkids to look at us and say ‘Where were you?’”

Iowa Flood Center celebrates its 10th anniversary


C. Maxwell Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory | Iowa City, Iowa| Iowa Flood Center

Sthefany Nóbriga | June 12, 2019

The Iowa Flood Center will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Thursday, June 13 at the C. Maxwell Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory from 8:30 am to 4 pm. The Iowa Flood Center invites friends, partners, and the public to take part in a day-long celebration to celebrate this ten year milestone. The day’s events include; presentations, tours, hands-on activities and more.

Social Hour and Flood Panel Discussion at the Big Grove Brewery

A social hour and flood panel discussion will take place starting at 4:30 pm at the Big Grove Brewery. The flood panel will be moderated by Erin Jordan, a Cedar Rapids Gazette investigative reporter.

The event panelists include:

•    Wiltold Krajewski: One of the world’s most respected experts in rainfall monitoring and forecasting using radar and satellite remote sensing. He is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa College of Engineering and faculty research engineer at IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering. 

•    Larry Weber:Co-founder of the Iowa Flood Center and former director of IIHR. He is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa.

•    Lora Friest:Executive director of the Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) in Postville, Iowa. A regional nonprofit organization that specializes in system change related to economic development and natural resources. 

•    Rob Hogg:State senator from Cedar Rapids, Iowa that represents portions of southwest, southeast and northeast Cedar Rapids. Senator Hogg has worked alongside legislators to pass legislation to assist Iowans with flood recovery and investing in flood protection, as well as helping establish the Iowa Flood Center.

•    Rick Wulfekuhle:  Buchanan County emergency management coordinator since 1997. Wulfekuhle has coordinated 14 Presidential Disaster Declarations and is passionate about bringing awareness to flood safety and procedures.

The panelist will gather to talk and share their knowledge and ideas about the recent floods affecting the Midwest and how the Iowa Food Center is helping the communities become better prepared for more flooding.   

For more information, visit the Iowa Flood Center.

Why is Iowa experiencing record flooding this year?


Extreme weather has pummered the Midwest for weeks| Photo by Jo Naylor on Flickr.

Sthefany Nóbriga | June 6th, 2019

The ongoing flooding tormenting the Midwest and nearby states, has its origins in a series of unusual and recording setting weather events impacting Iowa and the Midwest.

University of Iowa assistant research engineer, Antonio Arenas with the help of his colleagues at IIHR Hydroscience & Engineering and the Iowa Flood Center created an easy to use digital timeline that describes extreme weather events that have occurred in the Midwest over the last year and their impact on Iowa. 

The timeline starts with the months of June and July 2018 as being months with above-average rainfall. Arena also documents record Iowa rainfall in the fall of 2018, as well as the heavy snowfall in the Midwest this past winter and how it all has contributed to record flooding in Iowa this spring.

Antonio Arenas states that these weather events are noteworthy and for some, are record setting. However, he also believes it is equally important to note that all of these weather fluctuations had all occurred within a 12-month window. 

The digital timeline offers information on the past 12 months of extreme weather events such as the Polar Vortex, extreme precipitation, a rare bomb cyclone, ice dams, heavy snowfall, frozen ground, and more.

Arena invites people to click through the animated slides, videos, maps, satellite images, and brief descriptions to see how these recent extreme weather events have impacted Iowa and the Midwest.

University of Iowa flood Recovery


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University of Iowa campus flooded (flickr.)

Ayotoluwafunmi Ogunwusi | May 17th, 2019

Flash back to the 2008 flood that caused so much damage to the University of Iowa, here we are almost 11 years later and it looks like global warming is forcing us to get prepared for whatever may come our way.

Back in 1905, the university had been warned by landscape architects, not to build so close to the water, as it could cause problems, but the university was struggling to find land. Due to the flooding, over 20 building were affected on the university of Iowa campus. The flood made costly calls for change, causing the university to spend millions for the damages.

The flood of 2008 may not be the worst we have seen just yet, around the United States, floods, wild fires, hurricanes and other natural disasters have gradually become worse and caused mass devastation in different areas.

University of Iowa’s Don Guckert has been keeping the university safe and travelling the country to inform or educate other institutions about the disasters that occurred at the University of Iowa and how to be prepare for a natural disaster. He has gotten busier over the last five years as global warming has become a bigger issue as time passes.

We all know that its not easy to avoid but preparing for it can help save countless lives and heavy costs. University of Iowa is still rebuilding from the flooding that occurred.