Climate change deniers considered for EPA science advisory board


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EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is charged with making the final decision on new Science Advisory Board members. (Gage Skidmore/flickr)
Jenna Ladd| September 19, 2017

Climate change skeptics are among those listed as possible candidates for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board.

The board’s objective is “to provide independent advice and peer review on the scientific and technical aspects of environmental issues to the EPA’s Administrator.” At present, 47 members sit on the board, but service terms will end for 15 members in September. The EPA has published a list of 132 possible candidates to fill these positions, about a dozen of whom have openly rejected widely accepted climate science. One candidate published a report in 2013 outlining the “monetary benefits of rising atmospheric CO2.”

Anyone can nominate anyone else as a candidate for the Science Advisory Board, and the list of nominees has not yet been thinned down by the agency. Staff members at the EPA are responsible fo eliminating a number of the nominees, while ensuring that the remaining candidates have expertise in a wide range of areas (i.e. hydrology, geology, statistics, biology, etc.). However, the final selection of new advisory board members is up to Administrator Scott Pruitt, according to anonymous EPA official.

In a 2016 piece for the National Review, Pruitt wrote that the debate on climate change was “far from settled,” despite more than 97 percent of active scientists agreeing that Earth’s climate is warming due to human activity.

The public is welcome to comment on the list of EPA Science Advisory Board nominees through September 28.

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.”

Nordic nations demand Trump’s acknowledgement of climate change in Arctic circle


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An arctic beach off of the Norwegian sea. (Tony Armstrong/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | May 11, 2017

Representatives from eight Arctic nations will gather in Fairbanks, Alaska today for the 10th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting.

At the meeting, the end of the United States two-year chairmanship of the council will be marked with a final statement summarizing U.S. accomplishments as chair. Officials from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden have not yet signed off on the statement because they say that the Trump administration deemphasizes climate change and the Paris climate accord in the document. The language of the document must be approved by all parties prior to its presentation for signing.

The other member countries say that President Trump has reversed the commitment that President Obama made to climate issues when the U.S. became chair in 2015. Along with Russia, the current administration has suggested opening up the Arctic to more drilling. The White House is also considering pulling out of the Paris climate pact, which was signed by over 200 nations in 2015.

Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden recently made a joint statement pledging to take the lead on climate change and energy policy and firmly backing the Paris accord. At the ministerial meeting’s end, Finland will become head of council.

Although the current administration has taken decisive steps to dismantle climate change policy, David Balton, the State Department’s assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, said, “The U.S. will remain engaged in the work the Arctic Council does on climate change throughout. I am very confident there will be no change in that regard.”

People’s Climate March set for this Saturday


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Demonstrators gather at the first People’s Climate March on September 21, 2014 in New York City. (Doug Turetsky, flickr)
Jenna Ladd | April 28, 2017

The People’s Climate March will take place this Saturday, on President Trump’s 100th day in office.

The National Park Service has approved a permit for 50,000 to 100,000 to gather on Washington D.C.’s National Mall to advocate for action on climate change. This march comes exactly one week after the March for Science, but Thanu Yakupitiyage, national communications manager for 350.org said this demonstration has a different focus. In an interview with the Washington Post, she said, “The March for Science was really the response of scientists who felt that there was really an assault on rationality and science. This is really more of a community response.”

The first People’s Climate March was held in September of 2014 when over 400,000 people marched through New York City on the day before the UN Climate Summit. Ever year since then, the People’s Climate Movement has organized multiple demonstrations that “Prioritize leadership of front-line communities, communities of color, low-income communities, workers and others impacted by climate, economic and racial inequity.”

While the main event will take place in the nation’s capital, hundreds of other demonstrations are expected to take place around the U.S. Iowa City will host its march titled, “Unifying to Protect Life on Earth” on Saturday, April 29 from 1:30 pm to 3:00 pm. Protesters will meet on the North side of the Sheraton Hotel in the pedestrian mall to “march together for rational military spending, social justice, a living wage, and an ecosystem that flourishes,” according to the event’s webpage.

Another march will be held at the Iowa State Capitol on Saturday from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm. The Des Moines event is sponsored by a diverse group of organizations including the Sierra Club, Indigenous Iowa, the League of United Latin American Citizens, Interfaith Green Coalition and the Citizens Climate Lobby, among others.

The massive climate-action demonstration will take place just three days after President Trump issued an executive order to reevaluate the status of nationally protected lands, possibly freeing them up to drilling for fossil fuels and other types of resource extraction.

Iowa leads midwest in clean energy momentum


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The recently released top ten list ranks states not only by current performance but also potential for clean energy development in the future. (Union of Concerned Scientists)
Jenna Ladd | April 21, 2017

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently published its list of top ten states demonstrating “clean energy momentum,” and Iowa led the Midwest.

States were ranked using twelve metrics that fit into three general categories: technical progress; direct, visible effects on our daily lives; and policies to build momentum for the future. Their publication pointed out that despite recent federal rollbacks of Obama-era climate policy, great strides have been made in renewable energy development. They note that wind farms nationwide produce enough electricity to power 20 million U.S. households. Additionally, they write, enough solar electric panels were added in 2016 to power another two million houses.

The usual suspects led the pack with California at the top of the list. The Golden State is among the top performing states in eight of the metrics and is in the number one position for electric vehicle adoption. Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Oregon, Maine, Washington, New York and Iowa complete the top ten list. Iowa is the first midwestern state to appear on the list, followed by Minnesota.

Wind energy has played a fundamental role in Iowa’ development as a clean energy leader. The Hawkeye state was the first to generate more than 30 percent of its energy from wind. Iowa has already seen $11.8 billion in wind project investment alongside the creation of 8,000 new jobs. Moving forward, Iowa is expected to generate 40 percent of its energy from wind by 2020.

“While the federal government can play important roles in making efficiency, renewable energy, and vehicle electrification a national priority, states can be a consistent, powerful, positive force as well,” the report read.

More information about the rankings and the full report can be found here.

Out of desperation, scientists consider manual climate engineering


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One geoengineering method is to release particulate matter into the air that reflects the sun’s rays and cools the Earth. (Flickr/Chris Harrison)
Jenna Ladd | March 30, 2017

In light of the Trump administration’s recent rollback of President Obama’s climate change policies, some scientists are exploring controversial ways to artificially cool Earth’s climate.

The process, known as geoengineering, can include manually sucking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or spraying particles up into the air that reflect the sun’s rays and cool the planet. The National Academy of Sciences called for more research on geoengineering back in 2015. Many reputable climate scientists are now searching for funding to conduct small, low-risk experiments to assess potential adverse effects of the intervention.

As Earth’s temperatures reach historic highs, some climate scientists view geoengineering as the best of many bad options, while others say artificially cooling the climate may discourage countries from reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

During the Obama administration, some researchers were hoping to receive government money for geoengineering research. Ted Parsons, an environmental law specialist at UCLA, said that the same researchers are weary of accepting money from Trump’s white house.

Parsons said, “To the extent you’re in a political setting where misinformation about climate change is being spread, efforts to cut emissions are being undermined or threatened, then that suggests the possibility that the risks of pursuing research of this kind might actually outweigh the benefits.”

Scientists gathered at the Forum on U.S. Solar Geoengineering Research last week in Washington D.C. Rose Cairns of the University of Sussex voiced her opposition to the practice. She said, “The very existence of significant research programs, whatever their impact on the physical environment, will fundamentally alter in unpredictable ways the social and political context in which climate governance of the future will be conducted.”

More plainly, Cairns said that she was concerned some countries may use geoengineering technology to set a “global temperature” that mets their needs and not the needs of other countries. She also questioned how the international community could ever decide on one “global temperature,” according to report from NPR.

Many of the researchers present expressed reluctance about the practice. Ted Halstead of the Climate Leadership Council said, “It’s with great reluctance that a lot of us are here.” But climate engineering must be discussed, he said, because “we live in a world where we’re heading towards 4 degrees of warming.”

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.