Posts tagged environment

Getting back to Earth

To some of us who grew up gardening, the process comes naturally. How can you not know how deep to plant a radish seed or realize you have to wait until the danger of frost has passed to plant your tomatoes? Actually, I’ve heard from people who grew up gardening and despise it now. That includes a couple editors here at The Gazette, who prefer to stay as far away as possible from watering cans, trowels, or anything else that reminds them of the back-breaking labor of their youth. 

   But, as mentioned in  today’s (4/19/09) Gazette article: http://www.gazetteonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090419/NEWS/704199992/1002/NEWS

more and more people are moving toward gardening, as a way to help the Earth and save money on food budgets in these tough economic times. To that end, Iowa State University Extension has come up with a great beginner’s guide to home gardening, especially tailored for Iowa.

 

Even experienced gardeners will find helpful hints on beets, potatoes, squash and numerous other veggies, along with everyone’s favorite: weed control.

 

You can find the guide here: http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/hortnews/2009/4-8/introduction.html

 

 

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Legal rights for Mother Nature

The following came out today from the University of Iowa:

Law professor leads initiative to protect environment for future generations

A University of Iowa law professor is spearheading an effort to make environmental rights as much a part of the legal vocabulary as economic or property rights so future generations can enjoy a safe environment.

“Our growing climate crisis demands that our laws take seriously the legal rights of children and future generations to inherit a clean, healthy and sustainable environment,” says Burns Weston, professor emeritus in the UI College of Law, senior scholar of the UI Center for Human Rights and project director of the Climate Legacy Initiative (CLI). “In turn, the present generation must take legal responsibility for the ecological legacy we leave behind. It is a rank injustice to our heirs if our behavior does not change.”

The CLI, a joint project of the UI Center for Human Rights and the Environmental Law Center of Vermont Law School, seeks to broaden and deepen the legal means for protecting the earth’s environment for future generations. This week, it is releasing a major policy paper titled “Recalibrating the Law of Humans with the Laws of Nature: Climate Change, Human Rights, and Intergenerational Justice,” authored by Weston and Tracy Bach, CLI associate director and a researcher and professor at Vermont Law School.

“The Climate Legacy Initiative’s work is intended to spark public and professional discussion about how our laws can adapt to and confront the climate crisis,” Weston said. “We seek a fundamental rethinking of how the law, both nationally and internationally, can be made a better steward of the environment, especially in the face of unprecedented climate change.”

The CLI legal and legislative strategy will be unveiled at meetings next Thursday, April 23 of the University of Iowa Center for Human Right and the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council. The ICFRC meets at noon at the Congregational Church, 30 N. Clinton St. in Iowa City. Admission is $7.50 for members, $8.50 for nonmembers.

The UI Center for Human Rights presentation begins at 8 p.m. in 1505 Seaman Center for Engineering. Admission is free.

He said a legal approach is just one tool in confronting this huge challenge, but it is critical.

However, Weston said this not a task for the law alone. “Law underwrites all we do and how we go about doing it,” he said. “In a democratic society, this makes law’s relation to the environment everyone’s problem and everyone’s responsibility, and it cannot wait. Events may overturn intention unless we are expeditious.”

The CLI policy paper lays out a legal framework for constructing intergenerational rights and duties, and for assessing the strengths and weaknesses of existing law. It also offers 16 recommendations that governing bodies from local to global can implement to safeguard the environment.

The CLI engaged more than 40 legal and public policy experts from across the country to help with the policy paper, including Jonathan Carlson, a professor in the UI College of Law; Jerald Schnoor, a professor in the UI College of Engineering; Maureen McCue, an adjunct professor in the UI Global Health Studies Program and coordinator of the Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility; and Sharon Benzoni, formerly a research associate at the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, currently executive director of the Council for International Visitors to Iowa Cities and the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council.

“The CLI’s ultimate goal is a fundamental change in the way legal systems think about the environment,” said Weston. “We hope it leads to a paradigm shift in the way the law — and everyone and everything else — relates to the environment.”

Weston said that the obligation to do right by our children and grandchildren carries great moral weight, but that this has not been reflected in our legal systems to a degree sufficient to meet such environmental challenges as climate change. The concept of the common good, he said, is not only to establish a civil society for the current generation, but to make sure a functioning society can be handed to our heirs and their descendants.

In an environmental sense, he said, this means that current generations must act to ensure future generations’ rights to, for instance, biological diversity, environmental quality, and access to resources.

“Leaving the earth better than we found it is not merely a nice idea,” Weston said. “It is our responsibility to our children, grandchildren, and generations beyond.”

However, Weston said that for this to happen the legal system must be reformed. As it is now, he said environmental rights and especially those of future generations are only peripherally considered by the legal and political system, if they’re considered at all. Most of the time, they’re trumped by such values as property rights and economic development.

“We must align the laws of humans with the laws of nature,” he says.

Among the CLI’s 16 legislative, regulatory and judicial proposals:

–Urging states to adopt constitutional amendments implementing environmental rights for future generations and to pass state laws to enforce them.

–Enacting a National Environmental Legacy Act that would require defining in concrete terms the environmental legacy that should be left to future generations and providing a mechanism to ensure it.

–Creating “Environmental Stakeholder Trusts” such as “sky trusts” to safeguard and make clear the shared ownership of our environmental commons.

–Instituting cap and trade regulatory strategies.

–Asking governments to establish offices of “legal guardians” to act on behalf of the ecological rights and interest of future generations.

–Urging the United Nations General Assembly to adopt a declaration formally recognizing the atmosphere as a global “commons” shared by present and future generations.

Weston said the CLI will spend the coming months discussing their policy proposals with public policy organizations, think tanks, citizens groups, scholars, political and government leaders, faith-based organizations and others.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

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Database of waste

This just in from the University of Iowa:

Students help Cedar Rapids economic development group with database of waste

Business students at the University of Iowa are helping to chronicle the biodegradable waste and by-products produced by some of Cedar Rapids’ manufacturers in the hope of finding other businesses that can re-use the material.

The program could help companies save money, encourage sustainability by diverting waste from landfills, create new products, and attract new businesses to the region.

The program is overseen and funded by Priority One, the economic development division of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

“Instead of throwing this material away, we can use it to attract other companies that will convert it into something useful, and in the process, build a new plant and employ people,” said Frank Rydzewski, a lecturer in marketing in the Henry B. Tippie College of Business who coordinated the students’ efforts in a marketing field studies class. He is also former CEO of American Profol, a Cedar Rapids manufacturer of polypropylene films.

The raw-material-from-waste model of sustainability is already being used in a partnership between the city’s Quaker Oats plant and the University of Iowa. The university burns Quaker’s oat hulls in its power plant to create energy, keeping the hulls out of the waste stream, and providing cost effective alternate fuel for the university.

For the class, Rydzewski had 14 students accountable for recording the materials they found in the waste streams of 23 participating companies. They also researched potential applications for the material.

In some cases, the students determined the composition of the material by reviewing paperwork supplied by the company and visiting the facilities. In others, the students gathered samples and brought them to the University of Iowa’s Center for Biocatalysis and Bioprocessing on the Oakdale campus, which used chemical analysis to break down and identify the compounds in the waste.

The list — which includes such potentially recyclable material as carbon dioxide gas, ethanol, oat hulls and diatomaceous earth — is now being compiled. It will be used to show other firms the kinds of raw materials readily available in Cedar Rapids, said Mark Seckman, president of Priority One.

“The students did a great job and laid a foundation for the next step of this effort,” Seckman said. “This would not have gotten done without their work, and the process they set up will allow us to identify companies that could use the material.”

One possible industry sector the students identified was pet food, which could use some of the waste produced by the area’s food processing plants to make dog and cat food. They developed a marketing plan for Priority One including potential candidates to pursue.

Students participating in the class said they liked helping with economic development and increasing manufacturing efficiency in a way that also promotes environmental sustainability.

“It’s a great way to turn a waste material into a raw material in a way that makes things better for everyone,” said Jenny Matkovich, a senior in the class.

They said it also unwittingly improved their understanding of science, as they viewed the processes used by the UI’s Center for Biocatalysis and Bioprocessing and visited manufacturing facilities in the region.

“One of the big challenges for me was understanding the terms and concepts because I don’t have a biology or chemistry background, so that was helpful,” said Hilary Cochrane, also a senior.

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Pelosi on public lands

I’ll have more Thursday on Cedar Rapids farmers markets. For now, this just came in from Nancy Pelosi’s office on protecting public lands for future generations:

Washington, D. C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi released the following statement following passage of H.R. 146, the Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009, by a vote of 285 to 140. The bill was passed by the Senate last week and now goes to President Obama for his signature into law:

 

“Today, the House passed a landmark bill to conserve public lands for future generations of Americans.  This bipartisan legislation creates more than 2 million new acres of wilderness, and provides the greatest expansion of wilderness areas in 15 years, including more than 700,000 acres in my own state of California. 

 

“The public lands bill protects a thousand miles of rivers—a 50 percent increase in the wild and scenic river system.  It establishes new national trails, national parks, national conservation areas, and a new national monument.  It provides the protection of law to the National Landscape Conservation System, which was created administratively in 2000 to manage the ‘crown jewels’ of the Bureau of Land Management, containing some of the most spectacular landscapes in the West.

 

“In this challenging time of drought in the West, the lands act also includes numerous water-related provisions that will help manage the drought, improve aging infrastructure, recharge groundwater supplies, and promote the reuse and recycling of water.  The bill also contains a historic settlement to restore the San Joaquin River in the Central Valley of California. 

 

“The provisions in this bill were developed in communities across America by local supporters, working together with their elected representatives.  As a result, the bill enjoys broad support from wildlife, conservation, hunting and fishing, and outdoor business groups across the country.  This is a day of celebration for all who treasure and enjoy our natural and cultural heritage.”

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Black & Gold going green

This just came out today – the University of Iowa will begin offering a new Certificate in Sustainability in Fall 2009:

Gone are the days when the environment was solely the purview of biologists, climatologists and engineers. If tomorrow’s world is truly going to be greener, teachers, dental assistants, grassroots advocates, government leaders and even artists must be prepared to contribute to sustainable systems and practices.

To help put students on a path toward becoming effective leaders and agents of change for sustainability in whatever professional setting they choose, the University of Iowa will begin offering a new Certificate in Sustainability in fall 2009. The program will allow students to augment their majors and minors with a certificate that promotes an integrated understanding of human and environmental systems and the complex interactions between them.

To meet the certificate’s requirements, students must complete 24 semester hours of course work that includes three introductory core courses, four electives from a designated list and one project course. Courses already required as part of a student’s major or minor fields of study may count toward the certificate. Students must also maintain at least a 2.00 grade point average.

“The need for sustainable practices, awareness and ingenuity is going to grow exponentially in the coming years as the world manages diminishing resources and humanity learns how to better live within its means,” UI President Sally Mason said. “Energy, society, culture, economics, construction and public policy all will be impacted. That’s why I’m thrilled that the University of Iowa has taken this important step toward providing our students with the tools and academic framework to couple sustainability with whatever fields of study they choose.”

The required courses include “Introduction to Sustainability,” “Introduction to Environmental Science” and “Contemporary Environmental Issues.” For their electives students may select from a wide array of courses offered across the disciplines, from “Glacial and Pleistocene Geology” and “Wetlands: Function, Geography and Management” to “History and Environment in Africa” and “Planning Livable Cities.”

The required projects will address advanced problems in design, sustainability and education, multimedia writing on the topic of a green economy and other relevant issues. One option, for example, is a course offered through the UI College of Engineering’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department that provides students the opportunity to work in interdisciplinary teams to propose solutions to problems faced by people in the developing world. Students study and develop the appropriate technologies required to improve water and sanitation, energy, housing, and health. 

Barbara Eckstein, an associate provost and professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, chaired a task force of faculty and staff from eight colleges that developed the certificate, which she said is accessible to any undergraduate student.

“Whatever students’ career goals, understanding the ties that bind economic development, environmental protection, and equity is key to their future,” Eckstein said.

An interdisciplinary advisory board will oversee the certificate’s implementation. The board members are Jim Throgmorton, a professor in Urban and Regional Planning; Laura Rigal, an associate professor in the Department of English with a joint appointment in American Studies; Mark Reagan, a professor of igneous petrology and geochemistry in the CLAS Department of Geoscience; Christy Moroye, an assistant professor in the College of Education’s Department of Teaching and Learning; and Craig Just, adjunct assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, associate research scientist at IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering and coordinator of sustainability programs in the UI College of Engineering.

The certificate is just one of many ways in which the university is strengthening its commitment to sustainability as outlined by Mason in an Earth Day address last year. Despite the flood of 2008 and the ongoing recovery, as well as the significant budget challenges presented by the downturn in the national economy, the university has made important strides toward developing a greener campus and curriculum.

Soon after her address, Mason established a Sustainability Steering Committee and in November appointed Liz Christiansen the university’s first director of sustainability. Already, the UI diverts about 30 percent of its general waste stream through recycling practices. And the UI is ahead of schedule in its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent by 2010, as required by its membership in the Chicago Climate Exchange, of which the UI was an early member.

In January, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lauded the UI for reducing carbon emissions at its power plant by using one system to generate both heat and energy, saving the equivalent amount of carbon stored by 11,232 acres of pine forests for one year or the emissions from 8,046 passenger vehicles. The plant burns oat hulls to reduce its reliance on coal by 20 percent and may serve as a model for a new power plant under consideration that could eventually provide 100 percent renewable energy at the Oakdale campus.

UI faculty and students are getting in on the act, too. In February, student leaders and the UI Environmental Coalition presented a series of sustainability panels as part of the National Teach-In on Global Warming 2009. And student members of the UI College of Engineering’s chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World, working with faculty advisor Craig Just, recently won a first-place award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for designing a $5, hand-held device to sanitize water and potentially save lives in developing countries.

Greg Carmichael, professor of chemical and biochemical engineering in the UI College of Engineering, is using a $750,000 NASA grant to examine the atmosphere above the Arctic — a natural receptor of smoke and forest fire pollution from northern Europe, Asia and North America that creates a visible arctic haze. And Larry Weber, director of the UI’s world renowned IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering research unit, is using the flood of 2008 as an opportunity to develop better ways to predict future flooding, and help communities live more sustainably near volatile waterways.

Even economic development should benefit from the UI’s commitment to sustainability. The UI College of Engineering is involved with the newly launched Iowa Alliance for Wind Innovation and Novel Development (IAWIND), a partnership among the regents universities, community colleges, industry, and the Iowa Department of Economic Development, designed to support the state’s efforts to attract and nurture wind energy and related industries in order to become the nation’s leader in alternate energy technologies.

For more information on the plan and other UI energy conservation efforts visit http://energy.uiowa.edu/

 

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Study says better to leave land unfarmed than plow to grow corn for ethanol

This study, critiquing corn-for-ethanol’s carbon footprint, came to me today from Duke University Office of News & Communications in North Carolina. Perhaps some Iowans would like to weigh in on the topic.

DURHAM, N.C. —  To avoid creating greenhouse gases, it makes more sense using  today’s technology to leave land unfarmed in conservation reserves than to plow it up for corn to make biofuel, according to a comprehensive Duke University-led study.

“Converting set-asides to corn-ethanol production is an inefficient and expensive greenhouse gas mitigation policy that should not be encouraged until ethanol-production technologies improve,” the study’s authors reported in the March edition of the research journal Ecological Applications.

Nevertheless, farmers and producers are already receiving federal subsidies to grow more corn for ethanol under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

“One of our take-home messages is that conservation programs are currently a cheaper and more efficient greenhouse gas policy for taxpayers than corn-ethanol production,” said biologist Robert Jackson, the Nicholas Professor of Global Environmental Change at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, who led the study.

Making ethanol from corn reduces atmospheric releases of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide because the CO2 emitted when the ethanol burns is “canceled out” by the carbon dioxide taken in by the next crop of growing plants, which use it in photosynthesis. That means equivalent amounts of carbon dioxide are removed from the atmosphere and “fixed” into plant tissues.

But the study notes that some CO2 not counterbalanced by plant carbon uptake gets released when corn is grown and processed for ethanol. Furthermore, ethanol contains only about 70 percent of gasoline’s energy.

“So we actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions only 20 percent when we substitute one liter of ethanol for one liter of gasoline,” said Gervasio Piñeiro, the study’s first author, who is a Buenos Aires, Argentina-based scientist and postdoctoral research associate in Jackson’s Duke laboratory.

Also, by the researchers’ accounting, the carbon benefits of using ethanol only begin to show up years after corn growing begins. “Depending on prior land use” they wrote in their report, “our analysis shows that carbon releases from the soil after planting corn for ethanol may in some cases completely offset carbon gains attributed to biofuel generation for at least 50 years.”

The report said that “cellulosic” species — such as switchgrass — are a better option for curbing emissions than corn because they don’t require annual replowing and planting. In contrast, a single planting of cellulosic species will continue growing and producing for years while trapping more carbon in the soil.

“Until cellulosic ethanol production is feasible, or corn-ethanol technology improves, corn-ethanol subsidies are a poor investment economically and environmentally,” Jackson added.

However, the report noted that a cost-effective technology to convert cellulosics to ethanol may be years away. So the Duke team contrasted today’s production practices for corn-based ethanol with what will be possible after the year 2023 for cellulosic-based ethanol.

By analyzing 142 different soil studies, the researchers found that conventional corn farming can remove 30 to 50 percent of the carbon stored in the soil.  In contrast, cellulosic ethanol production entails mowing plants as they grow — often on land that is already in conservation reserve. That, their analysis found, can ultimately increase soil carbon levels between 30 to 50 percent instead of reducing them.

“It’s like hay baling,” Piñeiro said. “You plant it once and it stays there for 20 years. And it takes much less energy and carbon dioxide emissions to produce that than to produce corn.”

As part of its analysis, the Duke team calculated how corn-for-ethanol and cellulosic-for-ethanol production — both now and in the future — would compare with agricultural set-asides. Those comparisons were expressed in economic terms with a standard financial accounting tool called “net present value.”

For now, setting aside acreage and letting it return to native vegetation was rated the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, outweighing the results of corn-ethanol production over the first 48 years. However, “once commercially available, cellulosic ethanol produced in set-aside grasslands should provide the most efficient tool for greenhouse gas reduction of any scenario we examined,” the report added.

The worst strategy for reducing carbon dioxide emissions is to plant corn-for-ethanol on land that was previously designated as set aside — a practice included in current federal efforts to ramp up biofuel production, the study found. “You will lose a lot of soil carbon, which will escape into the atmosphere as CO2,” said Piñeiro.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Center for Global Change at Duke University and by the Agencia Nacional de Promoción Científica y Tecnologíca of Argentina.
 
Other researchers in the study included Brian Murray, the director for economic analysis at Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and a Nicholas School research professor; Justin Baker, a researcher with Murray and Jackson; and Esteban Jobbagy, a professor at the University of San Luis in Argentina who received his Ph.D. at Duke.

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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Environmental New Year

   Prairiewoods is starting a monthly Environmental Lunch Group open to anyone who has a passion about environmental issues or the curiosity to learn more.

   Presentations will be facilitated while participants eat lunch.

   A different topic will be presented each month. Lunch is served at noon. The presentation begins at 12:15, with discussion ending by 1 p.m. The first three lunches are:

   Friday, Jan. 9 – The real truth about eating locally

   Thursday, Feb. 12 – Green alternative household cleaners

   Tuesday, March 17 – The hazards of plastic and green solutions.

Preregistration is required for a lunch count by 5 p.m. the day before the event. Fee is $8 for lunch, or bring your own lunch at no cost.

   Prairiewoods is at 120 E. Boyson Rd., Hiawatha, Iowa. To contact Prairiewoods, call Mary Ellen Dunford at (319) 395-6700.

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