Categories
Environment

Rain Came and the NOAA Report

Sunrise before the rain.

We had good rain a couple of days this week with predictable results: garden tomatoes are swelling and cracking, the lawn is turning green, and there are more mosquitoes buzzing around the garden.

The county public health department identified a pool of mosquitoes that tested positive for West Nile virus. They issued this press release:

Mosquito Surveillance Program Reveals West Nile Virus Risk

The Johnson County Public Health Mosquito Surveillance Program, in collaboration with testing from Iowa State University and the University of Iowa Hygienic Lab, have identified a pool of mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile virus (WNV). Mosquito samples from a trap located in Hickory Hill Park recently tested positive, suggesting mosquitoes with the potential to carry West Nile virus are likely present in the community.

This is the first pool of mosquitoes to test positive for West Nile virus in Johnson County, since the surveillance program was re-instituted in 2017. No human cases have been reported this season. “Historically, we are near the peak season for mosquito activity and potential WNV transmission, “said James Lacina, Environmental Health Manager at Johnson County Public Health. “Avoiding mosquito bites is the best way to limit the risk of transmission, along with reducing habitat, such as areas of standing water where mosquitoes may breed.”

People can take simple precautions to protect themselves against mosquito bites.
• Use an effective, EPA-registered insect repellent.
• Wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks when outdoors.
• Limit time outside from dusk to dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.
• Mosquito-proof your home by installing or repairing screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitos outside.
• Eliminate mosquito-breeding areas by disposing of standing water from flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, discarded tires, and birdbaths.

Email from Johnson County Public Health, Aug. 26, 2021

We don’t live near the park where West Nile virus was found yet I forwarded the notice to some friends who do. It is great to have a functioning public health department.

In other Thursday news, the Washington Post reported on release of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report “State of the Climate in 2020.” I haven’t read the 481-page document yet the news is not good, it is bad.

Contrary to some news stories about decreased greenhouse gas emissions during the coronavirus pandemic, an associated drop in carbon emissions was all but undetectable to scientists studying our air.

While humanity grappled with the deadliest pandemic in a century many metrics of the planet’s health showed catastrophic decline in 2020. Average global temperatures rivaled the hottest. Mysterious sources of methane sent atmospheric concentrations of the gas spiking to unprecedented highs. Sea levels were the highest on record; fires ravaged the American West; and locusts swarmed across East Africa.

Many measures of Earth’s health are at worst levels on record, NOAA finds by Sarah Kaplan, Washington Post Aug. 26, 2021.

We live in Biblical times with plague, locusts, drought, hurricanes, floods, rising sea levels and wildfires. The planet is literally burning up. While some hope for the rapture to take us from the problems of a deteriorating environment, the rest of us have to cope with the challenges of a planet whose atmosphere traps too much warmth.

Without consistent, concerted efforts to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels and other human activities, scientists warn, Earth’s condition will continue to deteriorate.

Many measures of Earth’s health are at worst levels on record, NOAA finds by Sarah Kaplan, Washington Post Aug. 26, 2021.

Just read the two-page abstract of the report on page Siii. It is past time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. No single person can make a difference. It will take all of us working toward the same goal.

It’s no consolation the planet will be fine. The people living on it will not. It’s past time to act on climate.

Categories
Environment

IPCC Releases Sixth Assessment Report

Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their sixth assessment report of the global climate. The news is not good.

Human kind must reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and fast, to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis, according to the report. On tomorrow’s one-year anniversary of the derecho, Iowa’s latest extreme weather event, the Hawkeye State should pay attention to what scientists have to say. So should we all.

Climate change is affecting every region on earth, in multiple ways.

What does that mean for Iowans and others in the Midwestern states?

  • Increases in drought with continued increases going forward.
  • Projected increase in extreme precipitation.
  • Projected increase in river and pluvial flooding.
  • Projected increases in winter precipitation.

There is a lot of information in the report and rather than summarize it here, I’ll direct readers to the report itself. There are summaries and a wealth of information. It can be viewed and downloaded at this link: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/

“If we reduce emissions to net zero by 2050, we can keep temperatures close to 1.5C,” wrote Dr Valérie Masson-Delmotte, co-chair of the IPCC. Achieving that would help prevent climate change’s worst effects.

For headlines from the report, click here.

~ IPCC is the international body created in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) for assessing the science related to climate change.

Categories
Environment Sustainability

Now or Never on Climate

Field Corn

Nothing better illustrates what’s at stake in mitigating the worst effects of climate change than the debate between eliminating internal combustion cars, trucks and SUVs, and Iowa’s corn ethanol business which produces automotive fuel. Simply put, we must curtail greenhouse gas emissions to avert the worst effects of global warming. That means reducing, then eliminating, internal combustion engines in automotive transportation.

Last week’s events brought the debate into focus.

On Thursday, Aug. 5, President Biden signed an executive order intended to strengthen America’s leadership in clean cars and trucks. Biden set a goal “that 50 percent of all new passenger cars and light trucks sold in 2030 be zero-emission vehicles, including battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, or fuel cell electric vehicles.” Biden also addressed tightening emissions standards, improving fuel economy, and fuel efficiency and emissions reductions for heavy duty trucks. If acted on, this executive order is a substantial government effort to reduce the number of polluting vehicles on American roads, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. The folks at The Climate Reality Project reflect my view, “Now we are moving in the right direction.”

Not so fast, said Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, whose state devotes significant corn acreage to producing ethanol for automotive use. She apparently heard this executive order was coming and had the following statement ready to go the same afternoon.

President Biden’s short-sighted stance on electric vehicles is undermining Iowa’s renewable fuel industry while simultaneously jeopardizing America’s energy independence. This announcement follows the Biden Administration’s failure to support renewable fuels in the infrastructure package currently being negotiated in Congress. It’s a harmful pattern that must be reversed.

With the policies we see coming out of Washington, it’s never been more important that Iowa fights for renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel while looking for new ways to invest in the high-quality products we produce right here, right now in our state.

Press release from the Office of the Iowa Governor via email, Aug. 5, 2021.

I couldn’t disagree more with Governor Reynolds. 53 percent of Iowa’s corn crop goes to ethanol production, according to Iowa Corn. A third of that makes a livestock feed co-product and the rest into ethanol fuel. One did not need to be a psychic to predict farmers were not going to like it when passenger cars, SUVs and light trucks all go electric, likely in my lifetime. The better action for the governor–than propping up the internal combustion engine in automobiles and light trucks–is determining the future use of those corn acres once ethanol is no longer needed as a fuel.

Either we have the political will to address the climate crisis or we don’t. It seems clear President Biden is willing to take bold action to address global warming, as evidenced by his direction on electrifying cars and light trucks. While some in the environmental movement say he is not bold enough, last week’s executive order would never have been signed by a Republican president. Governor Reynolds’ pushback was predictable and an argument for maintaining a status quo that has not been good for Iowa in terms of soil depletion, air quality, water quality, crop diversity, and economic and environmental sustainability.

As this plays out in coming weeks and months, the dynamic between the White House and Iowa’s Republican governor will be important to watch. What shall we do to address the climate crisis? According to President Biden we can and must do something. Moving toward electric transportation vehicles is a positive step, even though farmers will have to adjust. We have to do more to address the climate crisis.

Despite the debate and inevitable conflict, the country has to adjust to our future needs. The debate between government and farmers is not new. It has never been more important as the future livability of our planet is at stake. It’s now or never on climate.

Categories
Environment

July Prairie Walk

Wildflower patch in Lake Macbride State Park, July 21, 2021.

Each July I walk through the prairie restoration areas of Lake Macbride State Park where a number of acres have been restored. It is always inspiring. Here’s a gallery of some of my shots.

Categories
Environment Sustainability

The False Hope of Biomass

Regeneration of a Montana forest after a fire.

“Earlier this year, the European Union was celebrated in headlines across the world when renewable energy surpassed the use of fossil fuels on the continent for the first time in history,” wrote Majlie de Puy Kamp for CNN.

The European Union pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and approved burning biomass as an alternative to coal, categorizing it as a renewable fuel. They found wood pellets were a suitable, renewable fuel to produce electricity and searched the globe for enough of them.

“The American South emerged as Europe’s primary source of biomass imports,” de Puy Kamp wrote.

Enter companies like Enviva, the world’s largest producer of wood pellets, with four wood pellet manufacturing plants in North Carolina.

The world’s leading authority on climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, explicitly recognizes bioenergy as a renewable energy source that is critical to our low-carbon future. The IPCC also concludes that sustainable forest management is critical to prevent forest conversion to non-forest uses.

We need bioenergy both to replace fossil fuels and to keep forests as forests.

Enviva website.

Not so fast!

The IPCC states in its guidelines “do not automatically consider or assume biomass used for energy as ‘carbon neutral,’ even in cases where the biomass is thought to be produced sustainably.”

As I wrote in 2015, while the carbon cycle of renewable fuels can eliminate putting fossilized carbon into the atmosphere, and reduces emissions of particulate matter, the amount of CO2 released when burning biomass is about the same as with burning coal. What makes burning wood pellets and other biomass “sustainable” is we would leave more fossilized carbon in the ground.

Burning stuff to release energy that is made into electricity remains problematic in terms of emissions. While windmills, solar panels and hydroelectric generators are not without issues, these forms of electricity generation better serve our future energy needs as we work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As we contemplate the EU’s path to reducing reliance on fossil fuels, there is another issue that gets lost. The quest for wood pellets has greater impact on marginalized communities near forests that are being harvested for fuel. Read de Puy Kamp’s article for more information about these climate justice issues.

“I can’t think of anything that harms nature more than cutting down trees and burning them,” said William Moomaw, professor emeritus of international environmental policy at Tufts University.

While the EU may meet an arbitrary goal of reducing its carbon footprint, by using wood pellets to generate electricity the achievement is more paperwork drill than actual reduction of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Do better Europeans!

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Categories
Environment

Replacing Coal with Biomass

Oat Hulls. Photo Credit: Iowa City Press Citizen.

In 2014 and 2015 I worked as a freelance reporter for three area newspapers. I refer to this article published on Oct. 7, 2015 in the Iowa City Press Citizen frequently in my work on the climate crisis and post it here for easy reference.

UI study finds benefits in burning oat hulls for thermal energy

Biofuel use is a well-known contributor to meeting sustainability goals at the University of Iowa. Since 2003, UI has used oat hulls sourced from Quaker Oats in Cedar Rapids to generate electricity, heating and cooling on campus.

Several chemistry department faculty and students recently completed a study of gas and particle emissions from co-firing coal and two types of biomass versus straight coal at UI’s main power plant.

Researchers also found that using oat hulls with coal reduced carbon-dioxide emissions by 40 percent and significantly reduced the release of particulate matter, hazardous substances and heavy metals.

“The UI is working toward meeting a goal of using 40 percent renewable energy by 2020,” said Betsy Stone, an assistant professor in UI’s chemistry department. “Part of their plan to achieving that goal is the use of biofuel, which is a renewable source of energy, instead of fossil fuel, in this case coal.”

The group was interested in understanding how using biomass instead of coal changed emissions released into the atmosphere, Stone said.

“When burning 50 percent oat hulls and 50 percent coal, we saw a big reduction in criteria pollutants compared to burning 100 percent coal,” she said. “When I say ‘criteria pollutants,’ I’m talking about things like fossil carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter.”

Use of the 50/50 mixture reduced the mass of particulate matter by 90 percent, Stone said.

While overall CO2 emissions were constant among the three fuels used in the study — straight coal, 50/50 oat hulls/coal, and 3.8 percent wood chips/96.2 percent coal — the use of plant material makes the process more sustainable, Stone said. Biomass takes CO2 out of the atmosphere and incorporates it into the plant. When it’s burned, CO2 is released.

“It’s considered to be a renewable fuel because we have that carbon cycle going on,” Stone said. “With fossil fuels, we’re releasing fossilized carbon. It goes into the atmosphere and takes millions of years to get back to fossilized form again.”

The major take-home message is there is a significant reduction in fossilized CO2, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, which is beneficial to people living near the power plant, Stone said.

“I thought the study was definitely encouraging and in line with our thoughts that biomass is good for the environment,” said Ben Anderson, UI power plant manager. “Overall, the results are encouraging and provided assurance we are going the right way with the biomass project.”

The biomass project brings the renewable component to the plant, but is also a component of fuel diversity, he said.

“That’s really important for reliable operations,” Anderson said. “Natural gas markets have been known to spike from a cost perspective. If there is a problem with pipeline transport, we can use the biomass and still keep this plant online.”

Maureen McCue, coordinator for Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility, noted important considerations of this study, including locally sourced fuel options and the avoided cost of buying and shipping coal. McCue called UI’s biofuel efforts “a good use of a resource that might otherwise go to waste.”

“The mixture avoids some of the known adverse health effects associated with burning more coal,” McCue said in an email. “There is no health benefit to anyone unless you assume burning coal is obligatory/unavoidable and thus count as benefited the person(s) who would have been impacted by more coal.

“It’s like saying not hitting your head with a hammer is a health benefit,” she added. “No one wants to risk their health breathing coal emissions or headaches by hammer if there are alternatives.”

Categories
Environment

Earthrise Studio is Here

I met Finn Harries at the May 2015 Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He and his identical twin brother Jack had turned their attention, and that of their large YouTube following, to work on the climate crisis.

In July 2020, a group including Finn, Jack and Alice Aedy formed Earthrise Studio to produce work related to mitigating the effects of the climate crisis. It is “a way of combining their shared interests in film making, photography and design,” according to the website. It operates as a full service creative studio with a dedicated team of designers, filmmakers, and writers addressing the climate crisis in their work.

To learn more about Earthrise Studio, Follow them on Instagram or check out their website and its content about addressing the climate crisis at https://www.earthrise.studio.

Categories
Environment

Iowa Senators and Climate Change

2012 Drought Conference

In March I wrote my U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst about the climate crisis as follows:

I hope you will support the efforts of the Biden administration to act to mitigate the effects of our changing climate. Naturally I’m curious about your views on how you might address the effects of climate change while in the U.S. Senate. The approach of the Biden administration regarding mitigation of climate change is such there should be many areas in which to work with them without supporting an overarching environmental bill. I look forward to hearing your policy stances and how you can help address climate change while you are in the Congress. Thank you for your public service.

During a recent conference call with Ernst and a group of environmental activists, she touted her support for the then upcoming vote on the Growing Climate Solutions Act, the first bill to specifically address climate change since Biden was sworn in. Grassley and Ernst joined the 92-8 Senate majority to pass the bill on June 24. (Booker, Hawley, Inhofe, Lee, Markey, Merkley, Sanders and Warren were nays). Storm Lake journalist Art Cullen opined in the Washington Post, “Ignore the chatter. Stuff is getting done. And both parties are helping.

After familiarizing myself with the bill, I can only ask of the legislators, “What else you got?”

Below are the Iowa senators’ unedited responses to my query. Grassley’s is first because he is our senior senator. Ernst replied first. I’m glad to hear from our elected representatives.

April 14, 2021
Dear Mr. Deaton:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me with your concerns about the environment. As your senator, it is important to me that I hear from you.

I appreciate hearing your concerns about climate change. In contacting me, you shared your support for climate-related legislation. While I believe a changing climate is a historical and scientific fact, I also recognize that most scientists say man-made emissions contribute to these changes. With that being said, it is just common sense to promote the development of clean forms of energy. Throughout my tenure in the Senate, I have been a leader in promoting alternative and renewable energy sources as a way of protecting the environment and increasing our energy independence. I’ve been an advocate of various forms, including wind, biomass, agriculture wastes, ethanol and biodiesel.

I’m proud to let you know that Iowa has had much success in renewable fuels and wind energy production. As the number one producer of corn, ethanol, biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol, Iowa has the opportunity to lead our nation’s renewable fuels industry. This cleaner-burning, homegrown energy supports the economy by generating 47,000 jobs and nearly $5 billion of Iowa’s GDP. In 2018, Iowa produced 4.5 billion gallons of ethanol. In regards to environmental benefits, ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 46 percent compared to conventional gasoline.

Iowa’s wind industry ranks second in the nation behind Texas. Wind energy supports over 9,000 jobs in Iowa alone and provides 40 percent of the state’s electricity. As the “father” of the Wind Energy Incentives Act of 1993, I sought to give this alternative energy source the ability to compete against traditional, finite energy sources. Like ethanol and other advanced biofuels, wind energy is renewable and does not obligate the United States to rely on unstable foreign states.

The most effective action Congress can take to address this issue is to advance policies that increase the availability and affordability of alternative and renewable energy sources. If alternative energy sources can become more competitive, market forces will drive a natural, low-cost transition in our energy mix that will be a win-win for American families. I will keep your thoughts in mind as the Senate considers related legislation in the future.

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. I appreciate hearing your concerns and encourage you to keep in touch.
Sincerely,

Chuck Grassley
United States Senate

March 25, 2021
Dear Mr. Deaton,

Thank you for taking the time to contact me about the issue of climate change. It is important for me to hear from folks in Iowa on policy matters such as this.

As you may know, on January 21, 2015, during the Keystone XL Pipeline debate, I voted in support of S.A. 29, an amendment offered by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) that acknowledged the existence of climate change. I do believe that the climate is changing, however, the science surrounding climate change continues to develop, and additional, objective research needs to be done to conclusively identify the root causes. Our climate is experiencing a period of changing temperatures, but it is important to note that not all scientists agree on the cause.

I believe that government can take reasonable and concrete steps to protect and improve the environment. This includes encouraging the utilization of a diverse mix of energy resources and improving energy efficiency. We can also make personal choices that have a positive impact on the environment—I am a committed recycler.

I support an all of the above energy approach that increases America’s energy independence and domestic production. Iowa is a national leader in alternative energy sources. As a result, nearly 40% of electricity generated in our state is by wind. I believe America can responsibly take advantage of our nation’s abundant resources while also emphasizing conservation and efficiency.

We all care about clean water and clean air, but any efforts to reduce pollution must be done in a thoughtful manner that involves the communities, businesses, and families that will be most affected by changes to rules and regulations. Climate change is an international issue, not one limited to the United States. Any policies designed to mitigate the effects of climate change should take into consideration the impact they will have on American consumers and also on our businesses and their ability to compete globally and create jobs.

Please know that I will continue to keep your views in mind as the Senate works on this issue. Feel free to contact my office with any further information, as I always enjoy hearing from Iowans.
Sincerely,

Joni K. Ernst
United States Senator

~ Written for Blog for Iowa.

Categories
Environment

The Climate Crisis is Accelerating – Now What?

Ronne Ice Shelf in Antarctica Nov. 4, 2017. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

What can we do when confronted with the climate crisis? The answer is everything. If climate change is developing faster than human solutions, what then?

During the last few months we have been assaulted with news about the climate crisis getting worse. Lake Mead is at its lowest level since the Hoover Dam was built, threatening downstream communities with loss of needed water. People are dropping dead on the street in the Pacific Northwest which is experiencing record high temperatures. President Biden called a White House meeting with Republican and Democratic Western Governors about the continued heat wave and wild fires it caused. Above the Arctic Circle in Siberia, ground temperatures approach 120 degrees, melting the permafrost. 2020 was the hottest year in recorded history for Antarctica, causing a record 1,600 square mile iceberg to calve off the Ronne ice shelf into the Weddell Sea. Drought continues in Iowa, the worst in 20 years. This is what I mean by being assaulted.

Professor Julia K. Steinberger offers a toolkit for would-be climate activists in info graphic format here. It is pretty cool and accessible. It offers things a person can do to address the climate crisis. It is something, not everything. It is not enough.

The next step in taking effective action to address global climate change is to understand where we are. According to Bill McKibben in the New Yorker, we’re not in a good place.

“The earth won’t simply keel over and die like a human being might, but it is now changing in substantial ways in real time,” McKibben wrote. “If you’re used to thinking that the earth changes in the course of geological epochs, and that fundamental shifts require thousands or millions of years, think again.”

“The speed with which this happens is remarkable,” he said. “And it is dramatically outpacing the speed at which humans—our governments, our economies, our habits, our mind-sets—seem able to adapt.”

In a piece in the New York Times, Farhad Manjoo opined, “Democrats have a year to save the planet.”

We’d better get going.

While we need to do everything possible to avert the worst effects of the climate crisis, the longest, most complicated journey begins with a single step. Click on the links in this post. Read the articles. Discuss them with friends. Figure out how you can contribute to solutions to the climate crisis.

“Become active as a citizen of our democracy, regardless of party,” recommended Al Gore on CNN.

This is about the future of humanity. We all have a stake.

~ First published on Blog for Iowa

Categories
Environment

More Weird Weather

Raindrops on the Driveway

While watering the garden it started to rain. It wasn’t much, a sprinkle really. I turned the sprayer nozzle off, pulled the mobile device out of my pocket, and looked at the weather application. The forecast was rain, maybe three tenths of an inch toward midnight. I decided to wait and went inside to prepare dinner.

We need rain for a lot of reasons, importantly for the farming community. Large farm operations can capitalize the loss of a major drought, spreading the financial loss of a period of years. Small scale farmers, like the vegetable farmers in my community, not so much. Something is afoot in this spring’s weird weather.

Jonas Morgan of Fairfield opined in the Cedar Rapids Gazette that farmers are between a rock and a hard place.

A Des Moines Register poll found that among those who make their living working Iowa’s fertile soil, 81 percent believe our climate is changing but only 18 percent accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that humans are the cause.

Why the disparity? On the one hand, farmers are experiencing firsthand that long-term weather patterns are changing, changes that threaten not only their livelihoods, but the viability of the farms they hope to leave to their children and grandchildren, as well.

On the other hand, like all of us, farmers are under the sway of their political tribe.

Jonas Morgan, Cedar Rapids Gazette, June 21, 2021.

That tells part of the story. The same farmers to which Morgan referred might accuse him of falling under the influence of his own political tribe, noting he lives in Fairfield. I used to pen opinion pieces like this, which while accurate, don’t do much to move the needle toward acceptance of the realities of the climate crisis, much less the potential to do something about it before it’s too late.

A farmer friend wrote about the weird weather in their newsletter to CSA members:

The thing that has stood out to me the most this spring has been the extreme temperature swings, both hot and cold. […]

Extreme temperature swings (either hot or cold) are generally hard on vegetable crops, and the way different crops respond can also be somewhat unpredictable. Since we had two months that included periods of both unseasonable heat and cold, I feel like things were especially unpredictable. Some of the cool season greens have been bolting (sending off shoots to flower) early, which means that we have to harvest them smaller and earlier than we had hoped. The small Napa Cabbage in the share last week is an example of that. On the other hand we have struggled in the past to grow Hakurei turnips in the spring, and they have been mysteriously doing very well with this weather.

Local Harvest CSA Newsletter, June 21, 2021.

There has not been enough rain. Last night’s rainfall is welcome, but not enough to make up for the dry spring. Weird weather is not just in Iowa.

“In Siberia the ground surface temperature is a shocking 118 degrees Fahrenheit (47.8 degrees Celsius),” wrote Eric Mack in Forbes. “That’s bad news for permafrost.”

Laptev Sea ice on the Siberian coast set a new record low this week.

I’ve written about the dry spring in Iowa and in the western United States.

It’s not just farmers between a rock and a hard place. We go on living, aware the climate has changed and is changing. Our political leaders don’t have the will to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis. The good intentions of the Biden administration seem unlikely to become reality given the current political climate in Washington, D.C.

In the meanwhile, we’ll deal with weird weather as best we know how.