CSS3Pie trigger
Menu  University of Minnesota

Notables

The latest ideas and inspiration from around the world
Post thumbnail  

Millennials have been labeled the Me Generation, the Facebook Generation and the Peter Pan Generation. But a recent survey funded by the Rockefeller Foundation suggests a new name may be fitting: the Public Transportation Generation.

The survey, supported by Transportation for America, sampled 18- to 34-year-olds across 10 U.S. cities with public transportation systems in varying stages of development: mature (e.g., New York City), growing (e.g., Minneapolis–St. Paul) and aspiring (e.g., Indianapolis). Researchers found that public transportation access is among the top three criteria for 66 percent of Millennials when choosing where to live. Furthermore, 86 percent of Millennials felt it was important for their city to offer low-cost, affordable public transportation.

The prioritization of public transportation access was accompanied by a desire for less automobile dependence. Nearly two-thirds of Millennials (64 percent) said they want to be less reliant on a car primarily because of the cost involved, and a majority of those surveyed in all cities thought opportunities to live and work in their city without relying on a car was important.

“These findings confirm what we have heard from the business and elected leaders we work with across the country,” James Corless, director of Transportation for America, said in a statement issued by the Rockefeller Foundation. “The talented young workforce that every region is trying to recruit expects to live in places where they can find walkable neighborhoods with convenient access to public transportation. Providing those travel and living options will be the key to future economic success.” Article by John Sisser. Photo by Sakeeb Sabakka (Flickr | Creative Commons)

Post thumbnail  

What has a top speed of 270 kilometers per hour (167 mph) and doesn’t use a single drop of gasoline or diesel? The new Spark-Renault SRT_01E race car. The supercharged, zero emissions electric vehicle was designed specifically for the inaugural Formula E race series. Launching this fall, Formula E will feature races through the streets of some of the world’s most iconic cities, including London, Buenos Aires and Los Angeles.

Speaking at the recent Fortune Brainstorm Green conference in Laguna Niguel, Calif., Formula E Holdings CEO Alejandro Agag said the series has several goals, including connecting race fans with environmental issues through sport and serving as a test bed for emerging electric vehicle technologies.

To overcome the fact that the cars can only run about 25 minutes on a single charge, Formula E races will include multiple drivers and cars on the same team. When asked what the cars sound like, Agag responded that the high-intensity buzzing from the pod race scene in “Star Wars: Episode I” is a good approximation.

The series kicks off Sept. 13, 2014, in Beijing. Photo courtesy of Formula E

Post thumbnail  

Clean drinking water is a basic necessity, and figuring out more efficient ways to purify water will be more important than ever as we move into a more crowded and less predictable future. At Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., chemical and biomolecular engineering professor Selma Mededovic Thagard is using a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant to scale up a water purification method that avoids chemicals, such as chlorine, common in other treatment methods. Instead, “we are pretty much using water to treat water,” Thagard says, “when we apply very high voltage and we create plasma, we create lightning inside of the water” to purify it. Watch the video below for a full explanation from Thagard.

Post thumbnail  

The winners of the inaugural Resonate Awards were announced today at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference in Laguna Niguel, Calif. Sponsored by the California Institute of Technology’s Resnick Sustainability Institute, the awards recognize innovative and potentially game-changing solutions to some of Earth’s most pressing energy and environmental challenges.

The five recipients of this year’s award represent a diverse array of disciplines. Thomas Francisco Jaramillo of Stanford University has developed catalysts that drive chemical reactions needed for renewable energy production and storage. Shinichi Komaba from Tokyo University of Science and Kyoto University has created safer lithium-ion batteries for energy storage. Javad Lavaei of Columbia University has advanced sophisticated mathematics for optimizing the electric smart grid. Sarah Kearney, founder and director of PRIME Coalition, has started a new investment model to fund innovative ventures focused on global social problems. And Jay Whitacre, associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University and founder and CTO of Aquion Energy, is commercializing an energy storage solution for intermittent renewable energy sources.

“Our goal is to bring hope for the planet by shining a light on unheralded innovators who are on the cusp of big, important ideas,” said Harry Atwater, director of the Resnick Sustainability Institute and Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics at Caltech, in a press release announcing the awards. “While many computer and health innovations get honored, those in sustainability are often overlooked because they are hard to explain, and their impact has a very long time horizon. But without these, the future is at risk.”

Post thumbnail  

There is a long-standing sense that organic farms are better for biodiversity than are conventional farms. But how much better? The answer to that is important when weighing the trade-offs between focusing on boosting biodiversity on farmed land  (“land sharing”) versus using less land more intensively with higher-yielding conventional farming (“land sparing”).

A study just published in the Journal of Applied Ecology provides strong evidence that the benefits are indeed bountiful. Gathering results of 94 previous studies of farmland biodiversity into one giant meta-analysis, researchers from the U.K., Sweden and Switzerland looked at both species richness (the number of different taxonomic groups represented) and functional diversity (the types of ecological functions performed). They found that across all study sites, biodiversity was an average of 34 percent higher on organic farms than on conventional farms.

The biggest beneficiaries? From a species standpoint, plants showed the greatest biodiversity boost, with insects, birds and microorganisms also substantially higher on organic farms. Functionally, pollinators appeared to benefit most from organic farming, with decomposers showing little difference.

“This analysis affirms that organic farming usually has large positive effects on average species richness compared with conventional farming,” the researchers concluded. “Given the large areas of land currently under agricultural production, organic methods could undoubtedly play a major role in halting the continued loss of diversity from industrialized nations.” Photo courtesy of Sally (Creative Commons | Flickr), and a hat tip to Science for Environment Policy for sharing the story.

Post thumbnail  

Earlier this week in an op-ed for this magazine, Cara Pike, founder and director of the Social Capital Project, welcomed the shift in the climate conversation from debate about science to emphasis on impacts, but said that a further step is needed: More focus on solutions to show that change is possible. “This is not about putting on rose-colored glasses and minimizing the very real threat we face — it’s about shifting attention to what we have to be hopeful for when we move to low-carbon innovations,” Pike wrote in “There’s Hope at the End of the World as We Know It.”

Now, two projects doing just that have come to our attention. The first, Momentum for Change, is an annual initiative from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat. Through an application process, the UN secretariat selects entries that show concrete examples of people, industries, cities and countries already applying successful responses to climate change. This year Momentum for Change is looking for applications that show climate action positively affecting the urban poor and the important role women play in responding to climate change, among other areas. Check out the video below for more information, and apply here.

The second project is from Nuin-Tara Key and Tom Miller. Key, a research and policy consultant in climate change and urban development, and Miller, a filmmaker, are setting out on a project that will take them from the Caribbean to Finland in the late summer and fall of 2014. Dubbed Our Place on Earth, the duo’s project will be made up of three components: 1) a documentary about community-based responses to climate change already having an impact, 2) a tool kit with ways to replicate local solutions in other places around the world, and 3) video workshops for communities to help them learn how to share their stories about successfully responding to climate change. Photo from Momentum for Change video.

Momentum for Change – Change for Good from Momentum for Change on Vimeo.

Post thumbnail  

How many hectares of forest have been destroyed worldwide this year? How many bicycles have been built? How many days until the world runs out of oil? You can find (literally) up-to-the-minute estimates for these and dozens of other environment, health and related statistics at Worldometers.info. The site’s researchers, developers and volunteers gather data from sources such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization, apply a projection algorithm to approximate actual current numbers, then display the results in a rolling counter format. Users can view the latest statistics on the website for free, or license counters for embedding on a Web page or exhibiting at an event. Photo courtesy of mollycakes (Flickr | Creative Commons)

Post thumbnail  

Researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have developed a revolutionary new alternative to petrochemical-based plastics. Using chitosan — the same material found in the shells of shrimp and other crustaceans — the team has developed a process for creating a fully degradable bioplastic. The discovery has the potential to make large-scale manufacturing of a wide range of everyday objects — from toothbrushes to televisions — more sustainable. “There is an urgent need in many industries for sustainable materials that can be mass produced,” said Don Ingber, founding director of the Wyss Institute and a lead researcher on the project. “Our scalable manufacturing method shows that chitosan, which is readily available and inexpensive, can serve as a viable bioplastic that could potentially be used instead of conventional plastics for numerous industrial applications.” Photo courtesy of Phu Thinh Co (Flickr | Creative Commons)

Post thumbnail  

Conservation has been at a crossroads for awhile now, with new approaches being tried that sometime clash with established ones. Writer Hillary Rosner covered this issue last year in Ensia in “Is Conservation Extinct?” “As the world shrinks, effective conservation policy will need to set the course instead of simply steering the ship around obstacles,” Rosner wrote. “Fortunately, choosing that course may be less contentious than it seems, particularly since there’s broad consensus that we need new maps. It’s as good a starting point as any for the long voyage ahead.”

Now The New Yorker has gotten into the discussion with a lengthy profile of The Nature Conservancy and its president and CEO, Mark Tercek, and chief scientist, Peter Kareiva, in which writer D.T. Max addresses some of the conflicts the organization has had with “traditional” environmentalists. And Tercek and Kareiva have replied with their own defense of the work they’re doing.

“[T]hose of us who do and who support conservation don’t have the time to get caught up in debates over ‘traditional’ vs. ‘new,’” they write. “We have to focus on what works — discovering it, testing it, replicating it and amplifying it.” Instead of getting caught up in such debates, Tercek and Kareiva write, “It’s time to get back to work.”

Check out the New Yorker article and TNC’s response about this interesting and important debate shaping the future of conservation. Photo by Ian Shive from TNC blog post.

Post thumbnail  

Is there a link between hot, muggy weather and asthma? Will more or fewer people suffer fall-related sprains as cold-season climate warms? It would be (relatively) easy to answer questions like these if the huge masses of data that have been collected worldwide on  environment, climate, weather and health could easily be linked. But differences in scale, scope and data collection methodology have made such linkages virtually impossible — until now.

Joining a growing number of efforts to bring big data to bear on solving human problems, the University of Exeter and partners have launched the Medical and Environmental Data Mashup Infrastructure project, a three-year initiative to bring together databases for climate, environment and human health; build compatibility among them; and make them accessible through a single Web portal. With the help of sophisticated statistics and geographic information system technology, MEDMI will provide data resources that allow researchers, public health practitioners and others to, for instance, explore correlations between climate and infectious disease or issue health alerts based on weather forecasts.

“We’re imagining a world where a regional cold snap can be associated with flu cases and hospital admissions as it happens,” writes Lora Fleming, director of the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at Exeter, in a post at The Conversation. “We’re hoping that long-term predictions about climate and human health hot spots can help us to plan our cities so that they are more resilient.” Photo courtesy of Iko (Flickr | Creative Commons)

Post thumbnail  

Twelve straightforward strategies could slash food-related greenhouse gas emissions 50 to 90 percent, says a report just released by Climate Focus and California Environmental Associates.

According to the report, which was commissioned by the Climate and Land Use Alliance, actions such as eating less beef, reducing food waste and better managing nutrients on farms could reduce global emissions by up to 5 billion metric tons per year by 2030 — equivalent to the emissions of the entire world’s fleet of cars — while boosting production and food system resilience. Specific recommendations range from improving catering portion control in China to changing the feed regimen for beef cows in Brazil. The report calls out China, the European Union, India, the United States, Southeast Asia, Brazil and sub-Saharan Africa as having the greatest opportunity to reduce agriculture’s climate footprint. Learn more at Strategies for Mitigating Climate Change in Agriculture. Photo by Vilseskogen (Flickr | Creative Commons).

 

Post thumbnail  

Imagine going from sea level to the top of Mount Everest in just a few seconds. That’s the type of pressure change most fish feel when they travel through the turbulent waters near hydropower dams.

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory reported recently in the journal Fisheries that modifying turbines to minimize dramatic shifts in pressure could help protect fish from the phenomenon known as barotrauma — a sudden expansion of the fish’s swim bladder that often leads to injury or death.

To reduce incidence of barotrauma, the researchers recommend considering the species of fish in question and depth of the water where they usually reside when siting new facilities. Once this is known, factors such as the amount of water flowing through a turbine and turbine design can be modified to reduce fish kills. According to the researchers, the most fish-friendly dams are ones that maintain a minimum higher pressure around the turbines.

Working with colleagues from around the world, the researchers are applying lessons learned in three countries — Australia, Brazil and Laos — where hydropower is booming. In Brazil alone, several dozen dams are planned that could impact more than 5,000 species of fish.

“Hydropower is a tremendous resource, often available in areas far from other sources of power and critical to the future of many people around the globe,” said Richard Brown, senior research scientist at PNNL and the lead author of the paper, in a recent news release. “We want to help minimize the risk to fish while making it possible to bring power to schools, hospitals and areas that desperately need it.” Photo by Margaret Killjoy (Flickr | Creative Commons).

Post thumbnail  

Can spending less on renewable energy be a good thing? It can if the reason is that renewables are becoming more affordable.

The United Nations Environment Programme, Frankfurt School–UNEP Collaboration Centre for Climate and Sustainable Energy Finance, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance recently released a report showing that renewable energy investments are dropping, but renewables are generating more power around the world than ever before. While investment in wind, solar, biomiass, geothermal and marine energy sources dropped 14 percent, the researchers attribute this to the improved efficiency and cost-effectiveness of renewables, particularly solar.

According to the Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2014 report, renewables accounted for nearly 44 percent of newly installed generating capacity and saved 1.2 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere in 2013. Read the report’s key findings here.

“While some may point to the fact that overall investment in renewables fell in 2013, the drop masks the many positive signals of a dynamic market that is fast evolving and maturing,” said UNEP executive director Achim Steiner. Article by John Sisser. Photo by Kevin T. Houle (Flickr | Creative Commons).

Post thumbnail  

You wouldn’t expect an MP3 player to play 8-track tapes, or the operating system from your first computer to run today’s software. Then why would anyone expect an old business model predicated on unsustainable assumptions (such as natural capital being endlessly available, free of charge) to successfully support sustainable enterprise? Yet many companies do just that — resulting in situations such as large, integrated utilities being unable to take advantage of the benefits of decentralized, smaller scale approaches to providing energy.

To help companies think outside the business-as-usual box, the sustainable enterprise think tank SustainAbility identified 87 innovative business models, dissected and analyzed them to see what makes them tick, then organized them into 20 types others can use as inspiration for their own reinvention. Specific types include:

  • physical to virtual — switching from tangible infrastructure to virtual services
  • inclusive sourcing — supporting the product source in producing the product
  • product as a service — selling the service a product provides rather than the product itself
  • freemium — offering a product or service at no cost, but charging for extras or upgrades.

Learn more — and find inspiration for your own enterprise — by downloading SustainAbility’s report, Model Behavior: 20Business Model Innovations for SustainabilityPhoto by Yoel Ben-Avraham (Flickr | Creative Commons)

Post thumbnail  

Last June, University of Minnesota geography student Daniel Crawford starred in the video for “A Song of Our Warming Planet” — a composition that expressed 130 years of global temperature records as notes on the cello. Since then the video has received over 140,000 views in nearly every corner of the world.

Now Crawford has produced a version of the composition for guitar in tablature format that’s available for download here. He’s also added a new note to signify the Earth’s average annual temperature for the year 2013.

The latest data from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies showed 2013 was tied for the seventh warmest year since 1880. Following Dan’s scheme to convert temperature data to a musical score, 2013’s temperature of 0.6 degrees warmer than the mid-20th century baseline works out to an A sharp.

Post thumbnail  

The impacts of climate change are being felt around the world, but have you ever wondered how they might affect your neck of the woods? If so, the U.S. Geological Survey has a resource for you. The agency, in collaboration with Oregon State University, utilized data sets NASA created from climate models in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report to create maps of the U.S. showing climate history and predictions down to the county level. NASA’s data set is known as the NASA Earth Exchange Downscaled Climate Projections, or NEX-DCP30. The USGS’s tool, aptly named the NEX-DCP30 Viewer, averages NASA’s temperature and precipitation data into 25-year increments to create one user-friendly package. Users can compare monthly high temperatures, low temperatures and rainfall predictions for their county through the end of the century. Interested in seeing what summer might feel like in 85 years where you live? Visit the NEX-DCP30 Viewer to find out.

Article by John Sisser.

Post thumbnail  

Inventors and others who want to factor in environment and health as they formulate new chemicals or make policy or procurement decisions have a welcome helper in GreenScreen. Created by the nonprofit Clean Production Action, GreenScreen offers a three-step process for comparing chemicals in order to choose the best options:

  1. Assess and classify hazards to people and the environment.
  2. Apply GreenScreen benchmarks to produce an overall score.
  3. Use information gathered to make informed choices.

Users to date include Nike, Hewlett-Packard, the states of Maine and Washington, and the University of California, Davis.

Photo by Carolina Biological Supply (Flickr|Creative Commons)

Post thumbnail  

As part of a recent panel of environmental journalists convened at the Wilson Center, Coral Davenport of The New York Times said that President Obama “sees climate change as his legacy. He wants to get as much done as he possibly can before he leaves because he doesn’t know what the next administration is going to do.” This effort has taken shape in, among other ways, new CAFE standards, in Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent call for U.S. ambassadors to prioritize climate change, and in last year’s Executive Order 13653 — Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change. Executive orders can be a mouthful, though, and hard to understand, so the Sustainable Facilities Tool of the U.S. General Services Administration has created a useful annotated version of EO 13653 with explanations for and links to many things mentioned, including government organizations, previous executive orders, definitions of climate change-related terms and best practices. Though the executive order itself is meant to be of use to Federal agencies, the annotations from the Sustainable Facilities Tool make EO 13653 a useful document for anyone considering climate resilience strategies.

Post thumbnail  

Contaminated water sickens or kills millions of people each year, mostly in developing countries where people lack access to the high-tech water filtration systems most Westerners take for granted. But is high-tech the only option? Maybe not. A new study shows that Mother Nature can do the same thing — for free.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently reported that sapwood can filter out more than 99 percent of E. coli bacteria from water. By pouring water with red dye through white pine filters, the team discovered that xylem — porous plant tissue — can eliminate particles as small as 70 nanometers. While the team plans to test different tree species for even higher filtration potential, the results of the first study are promising, particularly for places with limited access to clean drinking water. “Ideally, a filter would be a thin slice of wood you could use for a few days, then throw it away and replace at almost no cost,” co-author Rohit Karnik told MIT News. “It’s orders of magnitude cheaper than the high-end membranes on the market today.”

Article by John Sisser. Photo by Mark Turnauckas (Creative Commons | Flickr)

Post thumbnail  

Indonesia recently established the world’s largest manta ray sanctuary. Nearly 6 million square kilometers of ocean surrounding the island nation will now serve as a protected area for both oceanic and reef manta rays. Recent research shows the tourism value of mantas globally is nearly $140 million per year. Mantas are currently being targeted by fisherman for their gill plates — a purported medicinal tonic in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia’s decision is a step in the right direction, says Sarah Lewis, Indonesian Manta Project leader with the Manta Trust. “Coming from one of the world’s largest manta fishing nations, this news marks a milestone for manta conservation and awareness not just nationally but on a global scale.”

Photo by NOAA National Ocean Service (Creative Commons | Flickr)

Post thumbnail  

Do you have an idea that could change the world but you aren’t sure how to get the ball rolling? The Buckminster Fuller Institute might just be able to help out. The Brooklyn-based institute is now accepting proposals for the 2014 Fuller Challenge for socially responsible design. Started in 2007, the challenge encourages designers, architects, entrepreneurs and others to submit holistic solutions to some of the world’s most complex problems, then awards $100,000 to the winning entry to help move it from idea to reality. Past winners include design programs like the Living Building Challengeinnovative biomaterials packaging and a new sustainable economic model for Appalachia. If you think you’re up to the challenge, send in your application by Friday, April 11.

Article by John Sisser. Photo by PNNL (Creative Commons | Flickr)

Post thumbnail  

Speaking at the 2014 Science Online Together conference today, Mónica Feliú-Mójer, manager of outreach programs in the department of biostatistics at the University of Washington, argued that science is rarely contextualized for lay audiences — meaning that there’s nothing making it relate to their own lives. When those audiences are underserved and underrepresented, it’s contextualized even less. As one way to engage those audiences, the nonprofit Ciencia Puerto Rico produces stories and podcasts from scientists for lay audiences that positions those scientists as role models. Though Ciencia Puerto Rico is specific to communicating scientific ideas to Puerto Ricans, Feliú-Mójer, who is also the vice director of the organization, says other organizations can replicate the model by helping scientists make their messages relevant and relatable to underserved communities. Specific examples include producing content in more than one language, providing context for scientific ideas and choosing storytellers that will resonate with diverse communities.

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik (Creative Commons | Flickr)

Post thumbnail  

Some 126,000 described species rely on freshwater habitats, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. How can we target conservation efforts to best protect them? Identifying freshwater biodiversity hotspots is crucial, particularly in developing countries with limited resources. So experts with the European Union–funded BioFresh Platform created the Global Freshwater Biodiversity Atlas, bringing together data from a wide range of sources to create a global map of freshwater-dependent amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, reptiles and more. The online tool can be customized to create maps focusing on specific locations and biodiversity categories, and includes options for exploring the effects of climate change and invasive species. New contributions are encouraged in order to make the atlas an even more robust tool for conserving freshwater biodiversity.

Article by John Sisser. Photo by NOAA/NASA GOES Project (Creative Commons | Flickr)

Post thumbnail  

If you’re in the market for a new place with a natural setting surrounded by lush vegetation and trees, you’re probably not looking at high-rise apartment buildings in urban centers. But catch a glimpse of some new plans released by architecture firm Milroy Perera Associates and you may want to reconsider. The company teamed up with Mäga Engineering to design the Clearpoint Residencies, a 46-story apartment complex that, when completed in 2015, will be the world’s largest residential vertical garden. Located 10 kilometers from the center of Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city, the structure incorporates trees and vegetation along all four sides to create a ground floor experience on every level. As noted in Inhabitat, the greenery not only gives the building a unique appearance, but also serves as a heat and sound buffer helping reduce cooling costs and noise. And that’s not the skyscraper’s only green feature: The building also includes a high-efficiency drip irrigation system, rainwater collection, gray water recycling and solar panels to power elevators, lobby lighting and more.

Article by John Sisser; photo courtesy of Clearpoint Residencies.

Post thumbnail  

More than 1.8 billion phones were sold around the world in 2013, according to the research firm Gartner — a 3.4 percent increase over the previous year. Along with all those phones comes an abundance of toxic e-waste that’s often shipped to developing countries and ends up harming both people and the environment. Which is why the Basel Action Network’s e-Stewards Initiative might be more important now than ever. An accredited third-party certification program, e-Stewards allows both electronics producers and consumers to identify recyclers that abide by a strict set of guidelines, such as keeping hazardous e-waste out of landfills and restricting the use of child labor or sweatshops. A complete list of companies and recyclers participating in the program can be found on the e-Stewards website.

Photo by JonJon2k8 (Creative Commons | Flickr)

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

You care about environmental issues. So do we!

Sign up now to get the latest stories about your environment delivered to your inbox once a week.

You’re in! Watch your email for weekly links to environmental stories that expand your mind — and change your world.