Frontiers in the Environment: Big Questions
Wednesdays, 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m.
IonE Seminar Room R380, Learning & Environmental Sciences Bldg., St. Paul
Free and open to the public; no registration required
Join us online via UMConnect
February 11 — How can individual cities make a global impact on climate change?
Simon Sharpe, Head of Climate Risk, UK Foreign Office; Martin Bigg, Professor, University of West England and Former Chair of Bristol Green Capital Partnership; and Gayle Prest, Sustainability Manager, City of Minneapolis
Tackling climate change is a global effort, requiring action on the local level. Communities around the world are taking charge by implementing sustainability measures that can add up to global impact. For example, light rail and other public transportation modes are expanding in the Twin Cities. Bristol, England, which was recently named a “European Green Capitol,” is piloting a hybrid bus program. In this Frontiers talk, Simon Sharpe, head of climate risk for the U.K. Foreign Office; Martin Bigg, a professor at the University of West England and the former chair of Bristol Green Capital Partnership; and Gayle Prest, sustainability manager for the City of Minneapolis, will present local and global perspectives on addressing our warming planet. Our British guests are in town as part of the Pop-up British Consulate in Minneapolis.
February 18 — How can art and story heal the disconnect between modern humans and the environment?
Jonee Kulman Brigham, IonE Resident Fellow, Sustainable Design Program Faculty Member in the College of Design and Visiting Scholar in the College of Education and Human Development
The conveniences of technology can be a barrier to experiencing our interdependence with natural systems. We no longer fetch water from a stream — it comes through our tap as an industrial commodity. Jonee Kulman Brigham, an IonE resident fellow, architect and artist, will use examples of art-led environmental education projects to address questions such as: Why should we care about experiencing our connection with the natural environment? Is spending time in nature enough to heal the divide? Can technology and human-engineered infrastructure be used as a bridge to nature — to make our everyday lives feel integrated within larger earth systems? Brigham will share inspiration from her current project with an environmental charter high school called “River Journey: Exploring the Value of the Mississippi,” which shows youth how they are interconnected with their local environment.
February 25 — What do sustainability and happiness have in common?
Beth Mercer-Taylor, Sustainability Education Coordinator, Institute on the Environment; Mallory Thomas, College of Biological Sciences; Stephanie Claybrook, College of Liberal Arts
Scandinavia — and Denmark in particular — outranks countries around the world in key measures of both happiness and sustainability. Modern Denmark is known as a collaborative society with a strong social safety net and comparatively even wealth distribution. A team of U of M students will unveil Denmark’s secret through their own eyes with photos and stories from time spent in the country. Beth Mercer Taylor, Sustainability Education coordinator; Mallory Thomas, ecology, an evolution and behavior student in the College of Biological Sciences; and Stephanie Claybrook, an art student in the College of Liberal Arts, will talk about how social responsibility, participation and interdependence operate in a Scandinavian context and underlie the sustainability mindset and the remarkable level of happiness among Danish people.
March 4 — Is drawing down aquifers really so bad?
Kate Brauman, Lead Scientist, Institute on the Environment Global Water Initiative; Steve Polasky, IonE Resident Fellow, Natural Capital Project Lead, and Professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences; Sherry Enzler, General Counsel, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources; and Perry M. Jones, Hydrologist, U.S. Geological Survey
Groundwater is a crucial resource in Minnesota and around the world. You might drink groundwater every day — close to 70 percent of Minnesotans do. And you’re probably eating groundwater as well — groundwater supplies about 40 percent of irrigated agriculture worldwide. But what’s the right way to manage this resource? Dropping water tables in India have been front page news. So has the discovery of giant groundwater reserves in Africa. Kate Brauman, lead scientist for IonE’s Global Water Initiative; Steve Polasky, project lead for the IonE’s Natural Capital Project and IonE resident fellow; Sherry Enzler, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources general counsel; and Perry M. Jones, U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist, will discuss the implications — good and bad — of using, and sometimes using up, the water beneath our feet.
March 11 — Government action on the environment: what does “success” look like?
Eric Lind, Postdoctoral Associate, College of Biological Sciences; Julia Frost Nerbonne, Executive Director, Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light; Kate Knuth, Boreas Leadership Program director and former Minnesota State Representative; Jessica Tritsch, Senior Organizing Representative, Sierra Club Beyond Coal to Clean Energy Campaign
There are many pathways to sustainability but few overall strategies that do not include some action by local, state and national governments. Yet whether reading daily news from D.C. or seeing the failures of large meetings like the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference, government is seen at best as an obstacle and at worst as a meaningless actor. However, given that government involvement is necessary to solve problems like global climate change, are there success stories to share? Eric Lind, postdoctoral associate in the College of Biological Sciences; Julia Frost Nerbonne, executive director of Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light; Kate Knuth, Boreas Leadership Program director and former Minnesota State Representative; and Jessica Tritsch, senior organizing representative for the Sierra Club Beyond Coal to Clean Energy Campaign, examine case studies of successful government action from multiple perspectives inside and outside government, that can serve as models for future efforts.
March 18 — No Frontiers, Spring Break
Please join us next week for the March 25 talk — How do we make advanced heat recovery in buildings commonplace?
March 25 — How do we make advanced heat recovery in buildings commonplace?
Patrick Hamilton, IonE Resident Fellow and Director of the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Global Change Initiatives; Scott Getty, Energy Project Manager, Metropolitan Council Environmental Services; Katie Gulley, Regional Program Manager, BlueGreen Alliance; Peter M. Klein, Vice President of Finance, Saint Paul Port Authority
Large commercial, industrial and institutional buildings consume a lot of electricity which degrades into enormous amounts of heat. The standard approach to managing this heat is to treat it as waste and expel it from buildings instead of using it to perform work. Advanced heat recovery has the potential to deliver a suite of environmental, economic and employment benefits if it was more widely implemented, as demonstrated by the Science Museum of Minnesota’s retrofit case study. Patrick Hamilton, IonE resident fellow and director of the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Global Change Initiatives; Scott Getty, energy project manager for Metropolitan Council Environmental Services; Katie Gulley, regional program manager of BlueGreen Alliance; and Peter M. Klein, vice president of finance for the Saint Paul Port Authority, will evaluate the hurdles and tipping points to the more rapid adoption of advanced heat recovery.
April 1 — Can social media inform the causes and consequences of environmental change?
Spencer Wood, Natural Capital Project Senior Scientist, Stanford University; Brent Hecht, Assistant Professor, U of M College of Science and Engineering
Managing complex social-ecological systems requires information about how humans are affecting the environment and how environmental changes affect human wellbeing. Gathering data on the interactions between people and the environment across space and time is challenging and resource intensive; the years required for data collection and model development cannot often be reconciled with the sense of urgency to inform policy and management decisions. Scientists are starting to explore the potential of “big data” sources, including data from geo-located social media, to address this challenge. Spencer Wood, a senior scientist with the Natural Capital Project at Stanford University, and Brent Hecht, a College of Science and Engineering assistant professor, will describe how using several types of data from social media such as Twitter and Flickr can help researchers understand how people value and benefit from ecosystems. They will examine the potential of social media to improve our understanding of the feedbacks between human behavior and their values and environmental change.
April 8 — Is global wildlife trade a domestic One Health risk?
Dominic Travis, IonE Resident Fellow and Associate Professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine; Shaun Kennedy, Director, Food Systems Institute and Adjunct Professor, CVM
Most conversations about wildlife trade focus on conservation and biodiversity, illegal trafficking and the economic burdens of mitigating or eradicating invasive species. But can wildlife trade affect disease transmission to humans, domestic animals and local wildlife? Dominic Travis, IonE resident fellow and associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and Shaun Kennedy, director of the Food Systems Institute and an adjunct professor in CVM, will discuss a University of Minnesota program that is assessing the pathways by which the trade in wildlife could introduce deadly diseases such as the Ebola virus into the US as well as the challenges of developing a metric for measuring the effects of trade on the animals themselves.
April 15 — How do we manage emerging pandemic threats at home and abroad?
Cheryl Robertson, Associate Professor, School of Nursing; Katey Pelican, Associate Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine; Patsy Stinchfield, Director of Infection Prevention and Control, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota
The Ebola crisis once again focused attention on the challenges of containing an epidemic in today’s world. Cheryl Robertson, a School of Nursing associate professor; Katey Pelican, a College of Veterinary Medicine associate professor and IonE resident fellow; and Patsy Stinchfield, director of infection prevention and control for Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, will discuss the realities on the front lines in hospital settings in Liberia and Minnesota as well as how to develop capacity to manage the convergence of human, animal and environmental health.
April 22 — How can we better anticipate adverse environmental impacts?
Bill Arnold, IonE Resident Fellow and Professor, College of Science and Engineering; Matt Simcik, Associate Professor, School of Public Health; Lowell Anderson, Professor, College of Pharmacy
Many anthropogenic actions have unanticipated consequences. This is especially true of chemical pollution resulting from products we use every day. Recent examples include triclosan — a chemical used in hand sanitizers — forming dioxins in Minnesota lakes; antibiotics’ potential for harboring antibiotic-resistant genes in the environment; algal toxins that form from an overload of nutrients into natural systems. Bill Arnold, IonE resident fellow and professor in the College of Science and Engineering; Matt Simcik, associate professor in the School of Public Health; and Lowell Anderson, professor in the College of Pharmacy, will discuss methods to assess potential risks of chemicals and how chemical structure may indicate important environmental fate processes and reaction products.
April 29 — Can conservation be motivated by real-time visual feedback?
John Petersen, Director, Environmental Studies Program, Oberlin College
A new class of technologies — made possible by developments in hardware, software and networking and informed by social psychology — is enabling the emergence of novel forms of feedback on resource consumption and environmental quality. “Sociotechnical” feedback or “Ecofeedback,” delivered at multiple scales and through multiple modes, has the potential to reconnect humans to nature, stimulate systems thinking, and motivate behaviors that are more attuned to ecological constraints and opportunities. For example, in a pilot implementation of “Environmental Dashboard” in Oberlin, technology has been installed to monitor electricity and water flows through individual buildings and throughout the city. This real-time information is translated into compelling and easily interpretable animations and combined with images and words drawn from community members. John Petersen, environmental studies program director at Oberlin College, will explore the early research indicating that this type of technology enhances systems thinking skills and information retention in the classroom.
May 6 — Do volunteer supply chain sustainability programs really work?
Gary Paoli, Director, Research and Program Development, Daemeter Consulting
Raw materials used in products on today’s supermarket shelves are often sourced from tropical locales with major social and environmental problems such as deforestation, biodiversity loss and child labor. Companies are under immense pressure to exclude these ‘unsustainable’ products from their supply chains. To ensure sustainability, companies are buying certified products and partaking in pubic commitments such as zero-deforestation pledges. Gary Paoli, consulting director of research and program development at Daemeter, will examine the value of voluntary supply chain approaches for reducing the negative environmental impacts of tropical commodity production. He will address questions such as: What are the barriers to implementing supply chain initiatives? How do we measure the impact of voluntary approaches? What improvements are needed to ensure the success of supply chain governance?
The opinions expressed in Frontiers in the Environment are those of the speakers and not necessarily of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.