President Trump discusses wind energy, Paris agreement in Cedar Rapids


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President Trump and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt after the administration announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. (Associated Press/Andrew Harnik)
Jenna Ladd | June 23, 2017

President Trump hosted a campaign-like rally at the U.S. Cellar Center in Cedar Rapids Wednesday night and made false claims related to renewable energy and climate policy.

With roughly 5,000 of his supporters in the audience, the president used his 70-minute speech to discuss his hatred for the media, the Republicans’ new health care plan, Georgia’s recent special election and more. President Trump is not known for his consistency, but he made two specific false statements related to renewable energy and climate policy which were later set straight by the Washington Post’s Energy 202.

First, the president mocked the use of wind energy in the state of Iowa. He said, “I don’t want to just hope the wind blows to light up your house and your factory as the birds fall to the ground.” This statement aligns with pre-election comments referring to wind turbines as “ugly” and claiming that they kill all the birds.

Energy 202 notes that according to the National Audubon Society, wind turbines are responsible for less than 0.01 percent of all human-related bird deaths. Far more birds are killed each year by vehicles and tall buildings. Second, the Hawkeye state generated 30 percent of its total energy from wind last year. The industry is also expected to provide 7,000 additional jobs and $9 billion in economic activity over the next three years.

Trump also mentioned his administration’s recent decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. He said, “They all say it’s non-binding. Like hell it’s non-binding.”

The problem here, Energy 202 points out, is that the agreement is non-binding. The accord called on each country to set their own goals for limiting greenhouse gases, which is likely the reason President Obama was able to get nearly all of the Earth’s nations to sign on.

Iowa teachers lead development of Next Generation Science curriculum


Teachers work in small groups to develop curriculum plans that align with Iowa’s new science standards. (Left to right: Taylor Schlicher, Southeast Junior High; Zach Miller, University of Iowa MAT Science Education; Susanna Ziemer, University of Iowa MAT Science Education; Ted Neal, Clinical Instructor, University of Iowa; Courtney Van Wyk, Pella Christian Grade School; Stacey DeCoster; Grinnell Middle School)

Jenna Ladd| June 22, 2017

Science teachers gathered at the University of Iowa’s Lindquist Center on Tuesday to develop new curriculum for eighth grade students.

The working group was hosted by the UI College of Education and the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) as a part of the Iowa K-12 Climate Science Education Initiative. The joint initiative seeks to make the transition to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which were approved by the Iowa Board of Education in 2015, easier for Iowa teachers. Clinical instructor Ted Neal along with education graduate students Susanna Herder, Andrea Malek and Zachary Miller have begun developing curriculum bundles for 8th grade science classes that meet the NGSS standards.

Many of the NGSS standards require students to explore how the Earth’s climate system works. For its part, CGRER plans to make some of its members’ climate science data available to Iowa educators. Using an open inquiry approach, students can answer their own questions about topics such as land use or weather patterns in their local environment.

During the day’s opening remarks Ted Neal said, “The research is very clear that if we do open inquiry with kids, the learning is off the charts.”

Neal and his team of graduate students presented an eighth grade science course plan that included six curriculum bundles, with each bundle meeting certain NGSS benchmarks. Bundles five and six have already been developed by the College of Education team and CGRER member Dr. Scott Spak. Tuesday’s goal, Neal explained, was for the seven teachers in attendance to take the lead on the development of the four additional curriculum bundles.

Bundle five provides students access to aerial maps of their communities from throughout history. Students are free to observe how land use in Iowa has changed over time and what effects that may have on natural systems. Chelsie Slaba teaches science at Dike-New Hartford High School and tried the map lesson with her students last year. Slaba said, “I was surprised. I heard it here and thought, ‘I don’t know if that will really work.’ I tried and who knew maps could be so interesting to them?” She continued, “They looked at their own family farms, because a lot of my kids live on farms or their grandparents’ [farms] or a special place to them to hone in on.”

Slaba used only NGSS with her ninth grade students last year and plans to implement the standards with her physics students next year. She added, “It was really empowering as a teacher.”

The Iowa K-12 Climate Science Education Initiative plans to begin developing curriculum bundles for grades five and six in the fall. Ultimately, Neal explained, the group aims to host a free online database where all curriculum and related scientific data are available free of charge to Iowa educators.

The morning session concluded with teachers broken up into smaller groups brainstorming ideas for bundles one through four. The educators rattled off phenomena related to the standards that still resonate with eighth-graders: cell phones to explore energy use, tennis shoes to explain resource extraction, driving cars to investigate physics.

Slaba said that some teachers are afraid to allow for more student-led lessons due to the pressure they feel for their students to perform well on standardized tests. However, her experience thus far may assuage their worries. She said, “Over the three years, my Iowa assessment scores have just gone up by a few percent each time.”

With May data in, 2017 is on its way to becoming the hottest year ever


May 2017 was the third hottest May on record. (Lima Andruška/flickr)

Katelyn Weisbrod | June 20, 2017

May 2017 ranked among the hottest months on record, new data shows.

This May was the third-hottest May ever, coming in behind May 2016 and May 2015, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Global oceanic temperatures were also third highest on record for any month of May.

The month also ranked No. 18 for warmest months ever, based on deviation from average temperatures, among all months in the NASA database.

The high spring temperatures were not felt so strongly in Iowa. High temperatures throughout the month averaged 69 degrees Fahrenheit in Des Moines — more than 3 degrees lower than the average high for the month of May in the capital city, according to data from AccuWeather.

2017 is well on its way to being the hottest year on record — a title currently held by 2016, and previously held by 2015 and 2014. January, February, and March of this year all took top 10 positions for the warmest months ever, and April is currently tied with May for No. 18.

Rising global temperatures can have grave environmental effects, such as rising sea levels and more intense natural disasters, like forest fires, hurricanes, and droughts, according to NASA. Closer to home, effects on the Midwest include more flooding events of greater magnitude, and other disturbances that can lead to crop failures and reduced yields, according to the National Climate Assessment.

New climate science standards require Iowa students to engage in scientific process


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Ted Neal (right) and Kris Kilibarda (left) explain the Next Generation Science Standards at the 2016 Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd| June 16, 2017

Iowa educators will soon adopt new science education standards, with help from the University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) and College of Education.

The Iowa K-12 Climate Science Education Initiative, an effort of CGRER and the College of Education, aims to ease the transition for teachers to the Next Generation Science Standards. Rather than require educators to teach that human-induced climate change is occurring, the standards provide an opportunity for students to reach that conclusion independently.

The Iowa Board of Education approved the new standards in August 2015. They include four primary domains: physical science, life science, earth and space science, and engineering. Of the dozens of standards, thirty-six require students to explore the climate system.

According to University of Iowa clinical science instructor Ted Neal, students will be given relevant data and asked to formulate their own research questions. In an interview with Iowa Watch, Neal said, “They will look at facts relevant to those questions and draw conclusions that answer their questions.”

In short, students will be challenged to engage in the scientific process. Kris Kilibarda is the science consultant for the Iowa Department of Education. She said, “We’re saying here’s evidence, here’s how you determine if the evidence is valid, and here’s how you develop a scientific argument. You determine what the argument would be. We would never say there’s only one way it can be, but we will say here’s the scientific evidence.”

A fall 2016 survey revealed that teachers felt they needed access to observations and data, help aligning lesson plans and materials with climate science education and the Next Generation Science Standards in order to most effectively transition to using the new science standards. The Iowa K-12 Climate Science Education Initiative is tackling all of these requests.

Currently the group is working to develop tools for 8th grade teachers. The group recently introduced a four to eight week pilot lesson called “How Iowans Use Their Land.” The curriculum hits on nine of the 25 total 8th grade science standards including one that requires students to “develop a model to describe the cycling of water through the earth’s systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity.” Next, the initiative plans to work with sixth and seventh grade teachers before eventually moving onto high school curriculum.

The standards will not be mandatory for another few years, but many Iowa teachers are ahead of the game. On an NGSS EnvIowa podcast episode, Neal said, “One of the nice things about Iowa and Iowa teachers is that they care so much they’re trying to get ahead the game. They’re not looking at this with apprehension.”

Iowa City and Johnson County stick by Paris Agreement


Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton reaffirmed the city’s commitment to climate action by signing two letters backing the Paris agreement. (flickr/Steve Shupe)

Katelyn Weisbrod | June 13, 2017

Local governments continue to stand up against President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Iowa City mayor Jim Throgmorton recently signed two letters stating the city’s intention to uphold the principles of the Paris Accord — one from the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, and the other by the Climate Mayors, which was signed by 292 other mayors in the U.S. The Johnson County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution stating a similar objective at their meeting last week.

“We hope other counties will sign on as well,” Mike Carberry, vice chair of the supervisors, said to The Daily Iowan. “Since the president and the country aren’t going to show leadership, then local governments have to do it — cities, counties, maybe even states.”

Earlier this month, Trump announced his intent to ditch the agreement between 195 countries to reduce emissions to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

Both Iowa City and Johnson County have a reputation of being particularly progressive, especially in terms of environmental action. Johnson County has built several Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified buildings, increased its dependence on solar power, and implemented recycling and waste reduction practices. Iowa City set a goal to reduce its greenhouse gas output by 80 percent by 2050, established a committee aimed at climate action, and improved access to recycling and composting.

“In terms of the U.S. as a whole does, does it matter what Iowa City does?” Throgmorton said to The Daily Iowan. “No, I don’t think it matters, but if you combine all these cities in the United States … that adds up. It feels very powerful to me to know that what we’re doing is being done in affiliation with so many cities and mayors around the world … It gives me a sense of working for the common good together with millions of people.”

The mayors of Des Moines and Dubuque signed similar statements earlier this month.

On The Radio – Pace of sea level rise tripled since 1990


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A new study found that sea levels are rising nearly three times faster than in previous centuries. (Chris Dodd/flickr)
Jenna Ladd| June 12, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses a recent study that found sea levels are rising at a significantly faster rate than in the past. 

Transcript: Scientists, in a new study, have found that the Earth’s oceans are rising nearly three times as quickly as they were throughout most of the 20th century.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

This new finding is one of the strongest indications yet that a much-feared trend of not just sea level rise, but its acceleration, is now underway.

Their paper, published in May’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, isn’t the first to find that the rate of rising seas is itself increasing — but it finds a bigger rate of increase than in past studies.

The new paper concludes that before 1990, oceans were rising at about almost a half an inch per decade. From 1993 through 2012, though, it finds they rose by almost one and a quarter inches per decade.

To learn more about the study, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

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

Two Iowa mayors join 1,200 U.S. leaders committed to the Paris Climate Agreement


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Dubuque Mayor Roy D. Buol is one of 1,200 signatories on a recent climate action statement titled “We Are Still In.” (flickr/S.D. Dirk)
Jenna Ladd | June 6, 2017

More than 1,200 United States governors, mayors, businesses, investors, and colleges and universities released a statement yesterday titled “We Are Still In,” declaring their continued support of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The climate declaration serves as a response to President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord last week. The declaration reads, The Trump administration’s announcement undermines a key pillar in the fight against climate change out of step with what is happening in the United States.”

The businesses and investors speaking out for climate action include 20 Fortune 500 companies that generate $1.4 trillion in revenue annually. Participating city and state leaders collectively represent 120 million Americans ranging from New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio to Palo Alto Mayor Greg Scarff.

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie and Dubuque Mayor Roy D. Buol are among the signatories. Cownie said in a written statement, “The recent action by the White House to withdraw from the Paris Agreement does not stop Des Moines’ efforts in advancing our own efforts on climate change. Cities like Des Moines will continue to work to make our communities more sustainable places to live.” Other statement endorsers from Iowa include state Attorney General Tom Miller; J. Bruce Harreld, president of the University of Iowa; Raynard Kington, president of Grinnell College; Paula Carlson, president of Luther College.

The City of Des Moines adopted a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050 in 2016 as a part of the City Energy Project (CEP). CEP is a coalition of cities working to reduce energy use and curb emissions from buildings in urban areas. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department has been phasing in hybrid vehicles and utilizing alternative fuels like biodiesel to power its fleet as well. In an  interview with the Des Moines Register, Cownie said, “We’re trying to look at every part of our operation, including the work we do with business partners and neighborhood where they can afford it.”

Cownie is in good company. Since the White House withdrew from the Paris Agreement, 17 governors have released statements in support of the accord, 13 governors formed the U.S. Climate Alliance and 211 mayors have independently taken on the climate action goals outlined in the Paris Agreement for their communities.

The “We Are Still In” press release concludes, “Today’s statement embraces this rapidly growing movement of subnational and civil society leaders, by announcing that not only are these leaders stepping forward, they are stepping forward together.”

Below, CGRER co-director Jerry Scnhoor interviews Mayor Cownie at COP21 in 2015.