Iowa DNR dissolves Bureau of Forestry and other programs


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The State Forest Nursery and urban foresters program will stay in tact amid multiple program eliminations. (Joshua Mayer/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | July 7, 2017

Iowa legislators approved a $1.2 million cut to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) this year, resulting in the elimination of the Bureau of Forestry and several other positions.

The department announced on Wednesday that it terminated the Forest Bureau Chief Paul Tauke. All other foresters were reassigned to other divisions within the DNR. Alex Murphy is a spokesperson for the department. In an interview with Iowa Public Radio, he said, “We’ve moved these employees under different areas and actually eliminated the bureau itself, although all the functions of the bureau exist, just in different bureaus or divisions.” The changes saved the department around $277,000.

The DNR Trail Crew program was abolished along with two full-time program DNR employees. The Trail Crew team was comprised of 15 Americorps members that traveled around the state with DNR employees to develop and improve Iowa’s 500 miles of nature trails. Other Americorps programs within the department were eliminated as well.

State Geologist Bob Libra also lost his job. The state plans to contract UI geologists to take over geological research projects. Among the other positions eliminated are the department safety officer, animal feeding operations coordinator and art director for the DNR’s magazine.

UI environmental science program graduate Megan Henry warned that the elimination of positions in environmental sciences may drive more young people out of Iowa. Her letter to the editor in the Des Moines Register reads,

“Now the university will likely also equip natural science students in geology with even more hands-on experience, because “without a state geologist, the DNR will contract with the University of Iowa for geological research and technical assistance.” The only problem: How do you attract students to this vital work, if the jobs only exist while they are paying tuition?”

UI professor works to make Iowa roads safer for cyclists


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Despite Iowa’s unique and treasured tradition of cycling across the state each summer during RAGBRAI, deaths of everyday cyclists are on the rise. (Channone Arif/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | May 26, 2017

Bicyclist deaths in the state of Iowa have risen by 260 percent in the last four years, and Dr. Cara Hamann of the University of Iowa is working to do something about it.

Hamann, an associate professor of Epidemiology in the College of Public Health, has done extensive research on bicycle safety. Now she aims to bring her work to the attention of lawmakers.

“I am working to close the gap between research and policy,” she said in an interview with the Big Ten Network. Hamann and her research team have explored the relationship between motor vehicle driving behavior and bicycle crashes in both simulated and naturalistic settings. She explained, “We have conducted studies of how drivers interact with bicyclists using the National Advanced Driving Simulator (located here on the UI campus) and have also conducted real-world naturalistic bicycling studies, using GPS and video to capture first-hand data on bicyclist trips.”

National trends match those observed in Iowa. In 2015, 3,477 people were killed in bicycle crashes according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Most fatal bike crashes, Hamann explained, happen when cars strike bicyclists. To explain motor vehicles’ particular lethality, some researchers point to the fact that an estimated 660,000 U.S. drivers use their cell phones while driving during daylight hours.

Hamann said, “We have also found that bicycle-specific infrastructure (e.g., bicycle lanes) have protective effects, which supports the need for more appropriations and implementation of those types of roadway treatments to reduce crashes and related injuries.”

Over its lifespan, the average motor vehicle emits 1.3 billion cubic yards of polluted air, including earth-warming greenhouse gases. In contrast, bicycles do not produce any emissions during use. Additionally, when more people are on bikes, traffic congestion is reduced and cars spend less time idling. Bike friendly communities are also generally healthier than those that center entirely around motor vehicles.

Hamann said, “Reduced bicycle crashes and associated injuries can have huge benefits to communities—the same things that are associated with increased biking and walking, in general—better overall health of the community due to increased physical activity, less traffic congestion, and environmental benefits, to name a few.”

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.”

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.

 

Feeding the World symposium takes place tomorrow


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A special symposium on food sustainability and water quality will take place in Iowa City this week.

“Feeding the World: Challenges for Water Quality and Quantity,” a day-long series hosted by the UI Public Policy Center, will be held at Old Brick Church & Community Center on Thursday, April 9.

Agricultural practices, water conservation and climate change have strong impacts on food security in Iowa and around the world. The upcoming symposium will take a past-present-future approach to addressing these issues, starting with historical perspectives on agriculture and assessing Iowa’s food future based on current practice.

The symposium will feature more than a dozen experts and scholars in public health, engineering and conservation from around the state. It will open with a roundtable of University of Iowa researchers talking about water sustainability, followed by a keynote address by Des Moines Water Works CEO Bill Stowe. The symposium will then move to agricultural concerns, with panelists from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, Drake University and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship addressing historical perspectives on agriculture and how present farming practices affect our water resources. The day will conclude with a panel looking at the future of food production in Iowa and a Q&A session.

Early registration for the event is closed, but guests may still register at the door. For more information, visit the Iowa Public Policy Center.