Trump signs executive order dismantling Obama-era climate policies


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Planned emission reductions per state by 2030 under the Clean Power Plan (EPA)
Jake Slobe | March 29, 2017

President Trump has signed an executive order that will look to roll back many climate-change policies put in place by the Obama administration.

The order’s main target is former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which required states to slash carbon emissions from power plants – a key factor in the United States’ ability to meet its commitments under a climate change accord reached by nearly 200 countries in Paris in 2015.

Beyond rolling back Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the order takes aim at a several other significant Obama-era climate and environmental policies, including lifting a short-term ban on new coal mining on public lands. This means that older coal plants that had been marked for closing would probably stay open for a few years longer, extending the demand for coal.

The executive order is part of a much broader assault on Obama-era climate policies. Earlier this month, Trump announced the EPA would review and possibly weaken the Obama’s fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks in the post-2022 period. And the White House is crafting a budget proposal that requests sharp cuts to a variety of climate programs at the EPA, Department of Energy, NASA, NOAA, among others.

The executive order does not address the United States’ participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the landmark accord that committed nearly every country to take steps to reduce climate-altering pollution. But experts say that if the newly announced Trump program is enacted, it will all but ensure that the United States cannot meet its global warming commitments under the accord.

The aim of the Paris deal is to reduce emissions enough to stave off a warming of the planet by more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the level at which, experts say, the Earth will be irrevocably locked into a future of extreme droughts, flooding and shortages of food and water.

Legal experts say it could take years for the Trump administration to unwind the Clean Power Plan, which has not yet been carried out because it has been temporarily frozen by a Supreme Court order. Those regulations sought to cut planet-warming carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants. If enacted, they would have shut down hundreds of those plants, frozen construction of future plants and replaced them with wind and solar farms and other renewable energy sources. Many are worried that this executive order sends a signal to other countries that they might not have to meet their commitments, meaning world would fail to stay out of the climate danger zone.

CLE4R project continues to educate Iowans, improve air quality


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In an effort to educate Iowans about particulate air pollution, CLE4R has made Air Beam air quality monitors available for check out at the Dubuque Public Library, Dubuque Community School Districts and at the University of Iowa. (Taking Space)
Jenna Ladd | March 28, 2017

Clean Air in the River Valley, also known as CLE4R, is a collaborative effort to improve air quality in the city of Dubuque and nearby communities.

The project is a partnership between University of Iowa IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering the city of Dubuque, and surrounding Upper Mississippi River Valley communities. Founded in October of 2015, CLE4R’s four pillars are environmental education, technology, partnerships, and planning.

Most parts of eastern Iowa and western Illinois experience air pollution that makes the air unhealthy for residents during at least some part of the year. CLE4R aims to reduce particulate matter in the air that is smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5). This type of air pollution is particularly common in Iowa’s Upper Mississippi River Valley communities.

Dr. Charles Stanier, University of Iowa associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering, is director of the program. He said, “We have reached over 1,000 Iowans with high quality information about air quality and the health benefits of clean air. We have done this through our in person events, our website, media coverage, and social media.”

CLE4R has also worked to offer Iowans the practical experience of measuring air pollution in their communities independently. Stanier explained, “CLE4R has introduced all the stakeholders in the project: city staff, teachers, environmental groups, and local businesses, to the AirBeam hand held particulate [matter] monitors that are available for checkout from the City of Dubuque, the University of Iowa, and the Dubuque School District. ”

The project is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Education Program and is set to end this July. Representatives from CLE4R will be present at the Dubuque’s Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) festival on April 22nd and at Iowa City’s Science Technology Engineering Art and Math (STEAM) festival on April 23rd.

On The Radio – New study looks at freshwater flood risk from hurricanes


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On October 4, 2016, Hurricane Matthew made landfall on southwestern Haiti as a category-4 storm—the strongest storm to hit the Caribbean nation in more than 50 years. Just hours after landfall, NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this image. (NASA)
Jake Slobe | March 27, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses a new study showing that hurricanes can often cause more damage to land further inland than previously thought.

Transcript: A study including researchers from the University of Iowa has found that hurricanes often do more damage in the form of freshwater flooding, sometimes thousands of miles inland, than they do on the coasts.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The study looked at freshwater flood risk from North Atlantic tropical hurricanes as part of a groundbreaking study linking hurricanes to flood insurance claims. The authors were the first to analyze future flood impacts due to climate change and urbanization.

The study found that the number of insured residential losses from freshwater flooding is twice as high as that from coastal flooding.

The study’s findings, published in Scientific Reports, could influence the way policy makers think about risk management, emergency services, flood insurance, and urban development.

Until now, research into freshwater flood risk due to hurricanes has been limited. They analyzed all significant flood events associated with U.S.  hurricanes that reached land from 2001 to 2014.

The researchers found that just one-third of total residential flood insurance claims were related to storm surge and that the impact of freshwater flooding from hurricanes was much more significant.

To learn more about the study, visit iowaenvironmentfocus.org

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

Scientists construct massive fake sun to develop new renewable energy source


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“Synlight,” the world’s largest artificial sun, was created by scientists to develop new ways to create hydrogen fuel. (Bruno Amaru/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 24, 2017

Scientists in Germany have constructed the world’s largest artificial sun in order research how to produce a developing renewable energy source.

Hydrogen is regarded as the renewable fuel of the future, mostly because it does not produce greenhouse gas emissions when burned. However, the gas isn’t found alone in the nature so scientists must split the molecules that make up water (H2O) in order to harness its power. Separating H20 molecules requires a great deal of energy; the German scientists hope to learn how to get that energy from sunlight.

The artificial sun, called “Synlight,” is comprised of 149 high-powered film projector spotlights and is able to generate 350 kilowatts. Bernard Hoffschmidt is research director at the German Aerospace Center, Synlight’s home. Hoffschmidt told the Guardian, “If you went in the room when it was switched on, you’d burn directly.”

The researchers will point all of the artificial sun’s energy at a single 8 by 8 inch spot where it will emit 10,000 times the amount of light that reaches Earth naturally from the sun. Using these strong rays, the scientists will be able to experiment with new ways of creating hydrogen fuel using energy from the sun.

In the short term, Synlight uses an incredible amount of energy: four hours of operation is equivalent to how much electricity a family of four would use in a year. Long term, the researchers anticipate it could help them learn how to use naturally occurring sunlight to produce hydrogen fuel without the use of any fossil fuels.

Hoffschmidt said, “We’d need billions of tons of hydrogen if we wanted to drive airplanes and cars on CO2-free fuel. Climate change is speeding up so we need to speed up innovation.”

Extreme weather reaches ‘uncharted territory’


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Hurricane Matthew is just one example of the climate change-related extreme weather events that have taken place in 2017. (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 23, 2017

Last year was a record-breaking year for climate change and not in a good way. Global temperatures set record highs for the third consecutive year and sea ice coverage worldwide shrunk by 4,000,000 square kilometers, that’s about the size of the European Union.

These extraordinary climate conditions led to extreme weather events all around the world. Among them, Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean, the first category four storm to reach land since in 1963 and severe droughts in southern and eastern Africa. A recent report from the United Nations World Meteorological Organization found that extreme weather has carried over into 2017.

So far this winter, severe storms in the Atlantic Ocean have caused Arctic “heat waves” so that while ice cover in the region should be refreezing, many days it was close to melting. North Africa and the Arabian peninsula have seen colder than usual winter temperatures while parts of Canada and the U.S. have been much warmer than is typical.

David Carlson is the World Climate Research program director. He said, “Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system.”

In the month of February alone, nearly 12,000 warm temperature records were broken in the U.S.

Carlson added, “We are now in truly uncharted territory.”

UI to hold Media Workshop and Forum on post-truth culture this Friday


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Jake Slobe | March 22, 2017

Friday, March 24, 2017
11:30am – 2:00pm
UI Main Library
TILE Classroom 1140

This Friday, POROI (Project on the Rhetoric of Inquiry) will host “A Moment of (Post) Truth: a Media Workshop and Forum.” The event will focus on new challenges that audiences and journalists are facing in a moment when the legitimacy of the press, science and facts themselves are vigorously  opposed. The forum will open up a dynamic space for students, researchers, journalists, faculty, scientists and politicians to reflect together on the stakes of post-factualism in a democracy, along with issues of dissent, authority and authoritarianism.

During the event will be a panel with three speakers from the University of Iowa. First, will be Jiyeon Kang’s speech titled, “Desires Gone Viral: Reading Fake News, Rumors and Internet Bubbles as Political Symptoms.”  Second John S. Nelson will give a presentation titled, “Truth as Common Sense and Fervent Feeling in American Populism, Left and Right.” Lastly will be a presentation by Jerry Schnoor titled, “Climate Change: The Truth and Post-Truth from the Trump Administration, and How the Press Should Report It.”

The event is free and open to the public. Click here to register for the event.

Participants

  • Jeff Charis-Carlson, reporter, Iowa City Press-Citizen
  • Jiyeon Kang, Assistant Professor, Communication Studies, University of Iowa
  • Frank Durham, Associate Professor of Journalism and Director, Masters Program in Strategic Communication, University of Iowa
  • Meenakshi Gigi Durham, Professor of Journalism and Associate Dean of CLAS, University of Iowa
  • John S. Nelson, Professor of Political Science and founder of POROI, University of Iowa
  • Jerald Schnoor, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Iowa

SCHEDULE

11:30 – Interactive Media Workshop
12:15 – Drinks & snacks
12:20 – Panel: Truth & Consequences
1:10 – snacks & drinks
1:15 – Roundtable & Group Discussion
1:50 – Collective Reflections

Study finds majority of Americans want action on climate change


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Part of a recent Yale University study, this map indicates the percentage of Americans that support regulating carbon dioxide emissions. (Climate Change Communication/Yale University)
Jenna Ladd | March 21, 2017

Researchers at Yale University have provided the most comprehensive look yet at U.S. public opinion and beliefs on climate change.

The study revealed that 70 percent of Americans agree that climate change is happening. Interestingly, while it is widely accepted in the scientific community that humans have caused climate change, only 53 percent of Americans believe this to be true, although 71 percent of the same individuals studied said that they trust what climate scientists say about climate change.

An overwhelming 82 percent of U.S. adults support the funding of renewable energy research projects. Despite this desire, former head of the Trump Department of Energy transition team, Mike McKenna, has publicly stated that the president’s administration is likely to cut funding for renewable energy and redirect funds to fossil fuel development.

Additionally, the Trump administration plans to eliminate President Obama’s plan to reduce carbon emission from the nation’s power plants by 30 percent before 2030. Meanwhile, the majority of citizens in every congressional district- that’s about 70 percent nationwide- support setting strict limits for carbon dioxide emission from power plants.

So why aren’t more Americans taking direct action on climate policy? Some say this has to do with the way humans prioritize risk. A report in the New York Times pointed out that we are only programmed to respond to threats that trigger our flight or fight response, that is, immediate threats. The safety risks and health effects of climate change often occur slowly over time, so we pay them less attention. For example, more than half of the study’s respondents believe that climate change is currently harming people in the U.S. In contrast, only 40 percent of citizens believe that climate change will ever harm them personally.

For more information and to access the interactive public opinion maps, click here.