Posts Tagged ‘water quality’

Climate Changes Us

October 6th, 2015

UCAR-Homepage-slide-planet2By now you’ve heard much in the media about climate change.  National and global leaders are talking about the importance of our actions on the earth ecosystems and resources.  In case you are wondering about the science behind it and what this really means to us in the Midwest, I’ve pulled a few highlights from the 2014 The National Climate Assessment.

Key Message: Impacts to Agriculture

In the next few decades, longer growing seasons and rising carbon dioxide levels will increase yields of some crops, though those benefits will be progressively offset by extreme weather events. Though adaptation options can reduce some of the detrimental effects, in the long term, the combined stresses associated with climate change are expected to decrease agricultural productivity.

Key Message: Forest Composition

The composition of the region’s forests is expected to change as rising temperatures drive habitats for many tree species northward. The role of the region’s forests as a net absorber of carbon is at risk from disruptions to forest ecosystems, in part due to climate change.

Key Message: Public Health Risks

Increased heat wave intensity and frequency, increased humidity, degraded air quality, and reduced water quality will increase public health risks.

Key Message: Fossil-Fuel Dependent Electricity System

The Midwest has a highly energy-intensive economy with per capita emissions of greenhouse gases more than 20% higher than the national average. The region also has a large and increasingly utilized potential to reduce emissions that cause climate change.

Key Message: Increased Rainfall and Flooding

Extreme rainfall events and flooding have increased during the last century, and these trends are expected to continue, causing erosion, declining water quality, and negative impacts on transportation, agriculture, human health, and infrastructure.

Key Message: Increased Risks to the Great Lakes

Climate change will exacerbate a range of risks to the Great Lakes, including changes in the range and distribution of certain fish species, increased invasive species and harmful blooms of algae, and declining beach health. Ice cover declines will lengthen the commercial navigation season.


So what does this mean to you and me? I’m finding ways to reduce emissions by reducing my fossil fuel consumption, managing storm water at my home, and planting food bearing perennial plants and trees. Practice usually precedes policy. It’s time for public policy decisions to be made as well.

What are you doing?


Connection with Nature, Energy, Environment, Food, Health, Public policy, Water quality & conservation , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Public Policy

September 29th, 2015

Three_Branches_GovtIf you are like me, you follow legislation that affects our collective impact on air and water quality, soil, energy, human and ecological health.

As consumers, every thing we use has an ecological price tag. Each of us has an individual responsibility to develop our awareness of the impact of our actions. I’m talking about things like choosing locally grown unprocessed food, using reusable shopping bags, driving less, weatherizing your house, etc. Readers of this blog and the Eco Family Facebook page are avidly looking for and changing habits to simplify their living to reduce their environmental impact.  I am encouraged every time you share your ideas, thoughts and actions.  This year, I invite you to take the next step and share your values beyond your household and into the larger community.

As citizens, we have a responsibility to the larger good of our country and its natural resources.  If you are on a school or church board,  a neighborhood association or non-profit advisory committee, take time this year to understand how the policies and practices of the organization impact water quality, soil health, access to local food, energy utilization and waste management. You can learn like young people in 4-H study citizenship, leadership and the environment.

As a citizen, know your elected officials. Find out who is on your cooperative extension council, city council, planning and zoning board, or county board of supervisors. Get the contact information of YOUR state representatives and senators, and meet their staffers in the office closest to you.  As a citizen, ask questions about where your water comes from, how its treated, what policies are in place and which are not. You don’t have to know everything about the issue, however, do your best to educate yourself.  The University of Iowa Public Policy Center has several intitiatives that can inform you on these issues.  Also, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has data to help you educate yourself on environmental issues.  Offer your ideas to your elected officials.   Remember, your concerns can never be addressed if your elected officials don’t hear from you. They need to hear from us year round, not just during legislative session.

As a citizen, you can get involved in advocacy groups that help communicate environmental issues to those that make decisions for the larger good of our nation and natural resources.

As citizens of a global society, we also have responsibility to govern our actions to care for people, care for the earth and share resources. US citizens are 5% of the world population and consume 24% of the world’s energy resources. Consuming less is one strategy. Diversifying our energy sources toward climate neutrality can make a big impact on global health.

I invite you to take the next step this year and share your values for the environment.  An Iowa legislator encourages constituents to tell elected officials what they are doing toward efficiency (conserving water and energy, reducing waste) as well as sufficiency (growing food, collecting rainwater, sharing goods and services).

I posted my personal views on a clean energy economy on my legislator’s Facebook page.

What’s your next step?


Connection with Nature, Energy, Environment, Food, Health, Public policy, Waste Prevention, Water quality & conservation , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

House Rules

June 4th, 2015

whiteacorns (6)“Large streams from little fountains flow, Tall oaks from little acorns grow.” from an essay by D. Everett in The Columbian Orator, 1797 reminds me that no matter how small an action seems, great things can happen as a result.

I have written 16+ drafts of this post on public policy.  My struggle has been to be objective, informative and educational.  Every attempt to write about the public policy process came out as boring as my high school government class.  I will not lobby for a particular political position in these blog posts. However, I do hope to remind and inspire YOU, a citizen, to be involved in public policy discussions. And even to provide leadership for those conversations in your community.

I am concerned that regular people avoid talking to elected officials about any issues including environmental issues because of the polarization and nastiness we see on social media and broadcast media. You have a responsibility, as a citizen, to be informed, to inform your elected officials and take action in your sphere of influence around care for the environment. They have a responsibility to listen to and take into consideration the concerns of their constituents when creating policy. Conceptually, our democracy was intended to be a cooperative relationship.

The research is clear that human actions are changing the environment in such a way that it is becoming unhealthy for humans and other life forms. We didn’t mean to destroy the ecological balance , but now that we know, let’s do something about it.  It’s a little like when I taught my kids to help with household chores, clean their room and pick up after themselves. I said “We all live in this house together and we need to honor the space to keep it safe and healthy for all of us.” We set house rules together so we could focus on the common good of our housemates.

I feel the same about the earth and the environment.  Public policy is our ‘house rules’ to preserve the common good. Our governments are comprised of people we have elected to make those decisions on our behalf.  They cannot do it well without your input.  I reminded my kids that our last name (Cooper) is the root for cooperation – one of our house rules. Let’s work together. Let’s live by it.

I’m asking citizens to be respectful and assertive in conversations about the concerns that are closest to their heart. How we treat each other is reflective of how we treat our environment.

I have been overwhelmed more than not about how to live more lightly on this planet.  I know many of you have as well. Here’s my adage today: Plant a seed.

Pick one environmental topic and educate yourself  – water treatment systems, watersheds, storm water management, solid waste management, solar and wind energy strategies, shared economies or local food systems.

Then go beyond your home – into your community, at state, national or even international levels to find out what’s happening around environmental policies and procedures. Ask elected officials, business and faith community leaders about air quality, zoning, habitat, health or conservation practices and policies. Or join a group of others who are also learning and acting to benefit the common good and this earth ‘house’ we live on.

I’m not going to apologize for being passionate about all things environmental. My only house rule is to be respectful and cooperative.  What are you inspired to do next?

Kristi Cooper

Connection with Nature, Energy, Environment, Food, Health, Public policy, Waste Prevention, Water quality & conservation , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Polystyrene cups

December 22nd, 2014

styrofoam cupsUA_Recycle-Cup-524x210Some days I forget to bring my thermos of tea to work with me.  When I buy beverages-to-go, I occasionally get a cup that is made of polystyrene – you know it as Styrofoam.  This always surprises me because I forget that not everyone is obsessed with compostable disposable dinnerware like I am.

I understand the use of polystyrene- it is lightweight, keeps your coffee hot and the your fingers not. However, polystyrene is a non-renewal material, does not break down and contaminates air, water and soil when manufactured as well as when it is discarded. Polystyrene containers are designed to keep contents at the same temperature over a period of time. That’s why it is used in portable coolers that are used many times.  A cup of coffee is usually consumed within 20 minutes as long as the liquid has a chance to cool enough to drink. I think the properties of polystyrene are wasted for this particular use.  A paper cup with a cardboard sleeve will keep your hot beverage at drinkable temperature and can be recycled or composted when you are done with it.

A check on solid waste statistics reveals that 25-30% landfills are polystyrene and plastics. Polystyrene is lightweight, floats in water and is considered the main component of trash in the ocean. Also, the chemicals that make up polystyrene are incredibly harmful.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the US Department of Health and Human Services , added styrene — the chemical used in the manufacture of Styrofoam cups and food containers — to its list of substances “reasonably anticipated” to cause cancer. Styrene has also been linked to nerve damage and hormonal disruption.

There are some businesses like airlines that are exploring better materials for their disposable containers. Plant based foam-composite materials are beginning to show up in place of the polystyrene containers.

This holiday season, pay attention to the disposable containers you use for gatherings.  Choose compostable or recyclable and make arrangements to dispose of them properly instead of tossing them in the trash. Get ideas for green holiday entertaining at Reclaim Your Holidays.

If you buy beverages in disposable containers, please educate your local beverage retailer about polystyrene and ask them to replace their beverage containers with compostable or recyclable materials.

Oh, and remember your travel mug.  Happy Holidays!


Energy, Environment, Food, Health, Public policy, Waste Prevention, Water quality & conservation , , , , , ,

Don’t flush!

December 18th, 2014

medications hazardous waste If you are doing some deep cleaning before the holidays or plan to do some while on break, think about disposal of those items you no longer need.  I tend to do fall ‘spring’ cleaning and my recent purge resulted in a moderate pile of expired medications and supplements, 2 boxes of items to donate and a tote full of rarely used or toxic household cleaners. The donated items were the easiest to deal with.  The medications and household cleaners are a bit more complicated.

First rule – DON’T flush these items.  Because I didn’t want these to find their way into the water supply, I discovered there are ways to dispose of both safely. Medications should not be shared with another person. Most medications can be taken to your local pharmacy and they can dispose of them properly. If it is a controlled substance (your pharmacist can tell you which are) those medications must to taken to you local law enforcement center.

Toxic cleaners can be taken to your local landfill or other hazardous waste disposal site. You can find out which items are considered hazardous at this Environmental Protection Agency website. In Iowa, there are free collection sites to dispose of your household hazardous waste. Some communities host a hazardous waste disposal day, too. Check with your local city or county government to see if there is one scheduled near you.

Keep our water clean! Where is YOUR hazardous waste disposal center?



Energy, Environment, Health, Public policy, Waste Prevention, Water quality & conservation , , , , , , , ,

Doggy doo, diapers, water quality

April 18th, 2012

Do you ever find yourself in the middle of strange conversations? I was in a group of grandmothers debating the virtues of cloth versus disposable diapers.  Presumably one of the grandmothers’  friends was sewing diaper covers for a baby-to-be and asked me about what is in the diaper liners.  “Beats me,” I said, and that question sent me on a goose chase of information about human waste and landfills. I was intrigued by this article written by an environmnental professor at Dartmouth  My perception is that although both disposable and cloth diapers are energy intensive in diffferent ways, the use of cloth diapers puts the waste back into the water treatment system (municipal or septic), not in the landfill to potentially seep into our water supply. That seems more environmentally friendly to me. I mean what are we going to do, make the baby stop? It also points to the benefit of early potty training! However, that is another subject entirely!

Then the lunch conversation changed to pet poo – yes it was lunch – sorry. I hadn’t thought deeply about this issue before either. If we were in a public area, we used to collect Poochy’s treasures in a plastic bag, and deposit it in the nearest garbage can after the walk. It went to the landfill, probably seeped into the water supply along with the myriad unsavory things I can’t mention here. Well, maybe I could, I AM talking about excrement . . . anyway.  I actually thought that leaving it on the ground was better because the soil & plants could use it, until I learned that stormwater washes it off of our mowed landscapes and directly into the streams and rivers, bypassing any filtration possibilities. I paused long enough to wonder if flushing was a better place to deposit the doggy doo, too, since that goes into treatment. I wonder if there is water quality testing near dog parks? What do they do to prevent contaminated runoff?

I made my contribution to the landfills in two different counties when my children were of diaper ages. Sorry, future grandchildren, I didn’t know the diapers would still be there when you were born!  It is these strange conversations that help me stay conscious of how my everyday decisions impact the earth as well as my human and creature companions. 

If we think of waste as a resource, then what are the possiblities? Bet you hadn’t thought of THAT before!

Kristi Cooper

Energy, Environment, Health, Public policy, Waste Prevention, Water quality & conservation , ,

What is a Watershed?

November 16th, 2011

You HAVE to get the latest  Learning Farm DVD from your local Cooperative Extension office!  It is called ‘Out to the Lakes’.  It has great scenes of West Okoboji, beautiful music and interesting interviews.  It is accompanied by a new book, “Water Quality Matters To Us All”, that examines water quality from diffferent perspectives. It summarizes the listening sessions conducted 2008-2010 by the Iowa Learning Farms staff in a study funded by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Heartland Regional Water Coordination Initiative, as USDA/NIFA project.

 The first question they ask people is “What is a Watershed?”   How would you answer that question?

Kristi Cooper

Connection with Nature, Environment, Public policy, Water quality & conservation , ,