Iowa Energy Plan unveiled


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Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds unveiling the statewide Iowa Energy Plan               (iaenvironment.org)
Jake Slobe | January 23, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses the recently released Iowa Energy Plan.

Transcript: A new state plan for Iowa’s energy policies will serve as a framework for current and future state leaders.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

After a year of planning and collaboration with stakeholders from around the state, the Iowa Energy Plan has been unveiled and is available for review.

Chaired by Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, the Iowa Energy Plan was initiated to set state priorities and provide strategic guidance for Iowa’s energy future. The plan assesses current and future energy supply and demand, examines energy policies and programs and identifies emerging challenges and opportunities.

The new energy strategy envisions electric car-charging stations across the state, anaerobic digesters that turn animal waste to energy, and top state and federal researchers finding ways to store wind and solar energy.

The plan details dozens of objectives and strategies, but is overall guided by four categories — economic development, energy efficiency and conservation, energy resources and transportation and infrastructure.

For more information about the Iowa Energy Plan, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

As global temperatures rise, future of agriculture uncertain


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Soybean yields could decrease by as much as 40 percent due to rising temperatures. (United Soybean Board/flickr)

 Jenna Ladd | January 20, 2017

Without further action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, global temperatures are expected to rise as much as 6.1 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial averages, which may meaningfully impact agricultural outputs.

According to a recent study by the the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the University of Chicago, rising temperatures could significantly reduce U.S. grain harvests. Using a set of computer simulations, the researchers found that yield reduction could reach 40 percent for soybeans and almost 50 percent for corn by the end of the century if carbon emissions are not cut drastically. Wheat would fare slightly better, with its yields decreasing by an estimated 20 percent.

The researchers said, “The effects go far beyond the U.S., one of the largest crop exporters. World market crop prices might increase, which is an issue for food security in poor countries.”

A report by the European Union’s Joint Research Centre came to a different conclusion. They found that wheat may actually benefit from higher concentrations of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere, while corn yields would decrease.

Although the global temperature has reached record highs for three consecutive years, U.S. corn and soybean yields were seemingly unaffected. Thanks in part to genetically modified seed, which can have adverse environmental impacts, corn and soybean output was higher than ever in 2016.

However, the extreme drought of 2012 serves as a reminder that agricultural productivity is vulnerable to a changing climate. That year, U.S. corn harvests decreased considerably and caused global corn prices to skyrocket.

2016 marks third consecutive hottest year on record


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Ethiopia, among many other African countries, experienced extreme drought and famine in 2016. (European Comission DG Echo/flickr)

 Jenna Ladd | January 19, 2017

Yet another record was set on Wednesday when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) released its annual Climate Report.

The report announced that 2016 was the hottest year on record for the third consecutive year. Deke Arndt is the chief of the monitoring group at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, N.C.

Arndt said, “[Last year] was the warmest year on record, beating 2015 by a few hundredths of a degree, and together those two years really blow away the rest of our record.” He continued, “And that doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you take that and you average it all the way around the planet, that’s a big number.”

Rising temperatures were not limited to certain regions. Experts said that some part of every major ocean and every major continent experienced record heat. The Arctic, however, saw some of the most extreme warming. During Fall of 2016, temperatures were a full 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average across large parts of the Arctic ocean.

Scientists say the long-term warming caused by climate change was intensified by the El Niño weather phenomenon during 2015 and 2016. Their combined effect caused drought and famine in Zambia, Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, among other countries. Now that El Niño is coming to an end, Arndt said that the annual temperature-recording breaking probably will too, but an overall warming trend will continue.

Arndt said, “The long-term warming is driven almost entirely by greenhouse gases. We’ve seen a warming trend related to greenhouse gases for four, five, six decades now.”

The Climate Report, along with a separate analysis by NASA which duplicated its results, were released on the same day that confirmation hearings began for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has been nominated by President-elect Trump to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt, who staunchly supports the fossil fuel industry, is identified as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” in his official biography.

The complete report and a summary of its findings can be found here.

New research predicts the future of coral reefs


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Extensive stand of severely bleached coral at Lisianski Island in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (NOAA)

 Jake Slobe | January 18, 2017

New climate model projections of the world’s coral reefs reveal which reefs will be hit by annual coral bleaching first.

These projections, based on global climate models, predict when and where annual coral bleaching will occur. The projections show that reefs in Taiwan and around the Turks and Caicos archipelago will be among the world’s first reefs to experience annual bleaching. Other reefs, like those off the coast of Bahrain, in Chile and in French Polynesia, will be hit decades later, according to research recently published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, said about the study:

“These predictions are a treasure trove for those who are fighting to protect one of the world’s most magnificent and important ecosystems from the ravages of climate change. They allow conservationists and governments to prioritize the protection of reefs that may still have time to acclimatize to our warming seas. The projections show us where we still have time to act before it’s too late.”

The dangerous effects of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef have long worried scientists. In April of last year, a team of researchers reported that coral bleaching of the reef in 2016 was the worst that had ever been observed.

If current trends continue, according to the study, 99 percent of all reefs on Earth will experience severe bleaching every year within the next 100 years.

The new study shows that, on average, the world’s reefs will start suffering annual bleaching in 2043. About 5 percent of them will be hit a decade or earlier, while about 11 percent will suffer annual bleaching a decade or later than this date.

If emission reductions meet pledges made by countries under the Paris Agreement, coral reefs would have another 11 years, on average, to adapt to warming seas before they are hit by annual bleaching. If such emissions reductions become reality, many high and low latitude reefs in Australia, the south Pacific, India, Coral Triangle and the Florida Reef Tract will have at least 25 more years before annual bleaching occurs, buying time for conservation efforts. However, reefs near the equator will experience annual bleaching much sooner, even if emissions reductions pledges become reality.

Predicting when and where annual bleaching occurs will help policymakers and conservationists decide which reefs to prioritize. Study leader Dr. Ruben van Hooidonk of NOAA and the University of Miami said:

“Reefs that will suffer annual bleaching later – known as climate “refugia” – are top priorities because they have more time to respond positively to efforts that seek to reduce bleaching vulnerability.”

Some of these efforts include reducing land-based pollution, halting overfishing, and preventing damage from tourism.

Coral reefs, which are already under threat from overfishing and tourism, are especially vulnerable to climate change because they are easily affected by warm water. When sea temperatures rise, the algae that give coral its bright colors leave their host.. The loss of algae, which provide coral with much of its energy, make corals vulnerable to starvation and disease.

Known as the world’s underwater cities, coral reefs provide hundreds of millions of people with food, income and coastal protection. They are home to at least one-quarter of all marine life and they generate an estimated $375 billion per year from fisheries, tourism, and coastal protection.

University of Iowa alumnus receives BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award


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University of Iowa Alumnus, James Hansen (Columbia University)
Jenna Ladd | January 17, 2016

University of Iowa Alumnus James Hansen has been honored with the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Climate Change category.

The BBVA Foundation promotes, finances, and developments research projects in Biomedicine and Health, Environment, Economy and Society, Basic Sciences and Technology, and Arts and Humanities on behalf of the BBVA Group, a multinational banking group headquartered in Bilbao, Spain.

Hansen received the Frontiers of Knowledge Award along with Japanese climatologist Syukuro Manabe. The two men independently developed the first computation models with the ability to simulate climate behavior, and pioneered the “use of these models to understand and project how Earth’s climate responds to changing concentrations of atmospheric CO2,” said the BBVA’s prize jury.

Originally from Denison, Iowa, Hansen earned his Bachelors, Masters, and PhD from the University of Iowa in Physics. He studied under renowned physicist James VanAllen in the space studies program in the late 1960’s. In 1967, Hansen joined NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. While researching planetary atmospheres at the Institute, Hansen was instrumental in establishing that Venus’ extremely hot temperatures were due to a greenhouse gas effect.

As CO2 levels in Earth’s atmosphere continued to rise throughout the 1970’s, Hansen shifted his focus and began to study the effect of CO2 on climate. He developed a computational model independently from Manabe, and his conclusions were published in the Journal of Science in 1981. The BBVA prize jury points out that this research was important because it was the first ever to incorporate global temperature data and to predict how global warming would affect other earth processes such as oceanic circulation and flooding.

Manabe said, “I started working with models earlier, but Hansen was the first to use these models to make predictions.”

Hansen served as Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies from 1981-2013. He is now an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute where he has led the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions program since 2013.

Contaminants found in private wells pose health risks for Iowans


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Those interested in having their well tested for nitrates can do so for free by contacting their county health department. (co.hardin.ia.us)

Jake Slobe | January 16, 2017

This weeks’ On The Radio segment discusses nitrates in Iowa drinking wells and the negative effects they can have on human health.

Transcript: A 2016 special report found that water from many private wells in southwest Iowa contain high levels of contaminants that pose health risks for humans.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

IowaWatch, a nonpartisan, non-profit news organization, tested twenty-eight wells in southwest Iowa as a part of their special report titled, “Crisis In Our Wells.” Eleven of the wells, which were tested in May and June, contained nitrate levels that exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s health standard limit of 10 milligrams per liter. Water from fifteen of the wells tested had unsafe amounts of bacteria, and a few wells contained trace amounts of arsenic and lead.

The report notes that high levels of nitrates in drinking water can increase residents’ risk for some types of cancer, diabetes, thyroid conditions and reproductive problems. Bacteria in drinking water, while not necessarily harmful on its own, can be a sign that the well is susceptible to outside contaminants such as agricultural runoff or septic system leaks.

About 288,000 Iowans rely on private wells for their drinking water. Those that are interested in having their well water tested can do so free-of-charge by contacting their county health department.

For more information about these findings and for a link to the complete IowaWatch special report, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

Fighting climate change could benefit the economy


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The closing ceremony of COP21 in Paris featuring Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second left); Christiana Figueres (left), Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); Laurent Fabius (second right), Minister for Foreign Affairs of France and President of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP21) and François Hollande (right), President of France. (United Nations/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 13, 2016

A statement from the White House on Thursday outlined the relationship between climate change policy and economics.

The authors of the report, Senior Advisor Brian Deese and Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Jason Furman, point out that carbon pollution steadily decreased while the U.S. economy continued to improve from 2008-2015. During those years, carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. dropped by 9.5 percent while the economy grew by 10 percent.

These trends defy an old reality: increased carbon emissions means increased economic output.

Research from the International Energy Agency demonstrate that the same is true on an international scale. For example, although carbon dioxide emissions stayed the same in 2014 and 2015, the global economy grew.

The statement said that the international community took an important step in combating climate change when the Paris Agreement took effect in 2015. However, the report notes, “But Paris alone is not enough to avoid average global surface temperature increases that climate scientists say are very risky — additional policies that reduce CO2 emissions are needed, in the United States and elsewhere, to ensure that these damages are avoided.”

Failure to address climate change with meaningful policy is costly over time. The report expresses the estimated annual economic damages due to climate change as a fraction of the global gross domestic product from 2050 through 2100. “Climate damage cost” can be thought of as what all nations can expect to pay per year in terms of economic output due of the changing climate. These costs include sea level rise, illness and death related to heat, pollution, tropical diseases, and the effects of rising temperatures on agricultural productivity.

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Figure 1. Climate Change is Costly; Serious Climate Policy is a Bargain, The White House

Figure 1 does not include those effects of climate change that are difficult to quantify, such as the increasing  frequency and intensity of extreme weather. The statement said, “Failing to make investments in climate change mitigation could leave the global economy, and the U.S. economy, worse off in the future.”

The report ended with a warning:

“In deciding how much to reduce carbon pollution, and how quickly to act, countries must weigh the costs of policy action against estimates of avoided climate damages. But we should be clear-eyed about the fact that effective action is possible, and that the economic and fiscal costs of inaction are steep.”