Our Fall 2014 Frontiers in the Environment event series kicked off last week with a lively discussion about new ways to boost food safety. Here are five things we learned from the presentation by Matteo Convertino, IonE resident fellow and assistant professor, School of Public Health; and Craig Hedberg, Professor, School of Public Health:
- Roughly 1 in 5,000 meals results in a foodborne illness. What does this tell us? We may have come a long way in research, but there is still a lot that we don’t know. Foodborne diseases are the result of dynamic interactions between the environment, agents and hosts, and this complexity provides many challenges in studying food safety.
- Computer modeling is useful for predicting outbreak sources. Traditional work on foodborne diseases focuses on surveillance, with an attempt to identify a problem and act when possible. Computer modeling may help predict threats earlier and provide a more efficient way to approach threats to food safety.
- There may another reason to eat local. Computer modeling has shown that longer supply chains make food more vulnerable to diseases. That means local foods, which rely on shorter supply chains, may be less susceptible to foodborne illness. However, consumer preferences have made changing to a more localized supply chain difficult.
- Uncertainty is good. Contrary to popular belief, uncertainty in modeling and research can be beneficial because it allows a critical exploration of the system. Fluctuations in the environment and supply chains show natural system variability. Learning from this variability will allow for better prediction, detection and attribution over time.
- Enough is not enough. As global population grows, a looming global concern is finding enough food to feed everyone. While this is critically important, it is equally essential to ensure that the food people have access to is safe from disease.
Like to learn more? Watch a video of the presentation.
Plastic is everywhere. It’s in the clothes we wear and the cars we drive. It holds and protects the food we eat and beverages we drink. We can’t get through a day without using plastic in some way, shape or form. And its ubiquity is part of the problem.
“Many plastics are found in single use items, and there are disposal issues,” says IonE resident fellow Marc Hillmyer, director of the Center for Sustainable Polymers and Distinguished McKnight University Professor in the College of Science & Engineering. Most plastics do not easily degrade and thus “can’t be discharged safely into the environment. Moreover, most plastic is not recycled, and there is serious concern about how much plastic ends up in our oceans,” he says. Continue reading
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing regulations that build on actions being taken across the country to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. Nationwide by 2030, the Clean Power Plan will help cut carbon emissions from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels. The proposal also would cut pollution that leads to the formation of soot and smog by over 25 percent in 2030, according to the EPA website.
In Minnesota, power plants are responsible for 33 percent of the carbon pollution that is endangering our health and driving climate change. Although the nation has set responsible limits on mercury, arsenic and soot pollution, there are no limits on carbon pollution from existing coal-fired power plants.
Dr. Susan Hedman, EPA Region 5 administrator and Great Lakes national program manager, will discuss a series of executive actions designed to reduce carbon pollution, prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change and lead international efforts to address global climate change.
Where: R-380 Learning & Environmental Sciences
When: Friday, Sept. 26, 10-11 am.
See calendar for more IonE-sponsored events.
Banner photo: Minnesota’s Elk River Power Plant on a very cold morning, by AI (Flickr/Creative Commons)
If you’re wondering whether Americans care about climate change, wonder no more. The People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday drew more than 400,000 people from across the country and around the world, becoming the largest climate action in history. The event was organized under the slogan, “To Change Everything, We Need Everyone,” a call to action aimed at world leaders who were convening for the United Nations Climate Summit, which began today.
Several people affiliated with the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment took part in the march, including IonE resident fellow Peter Reich and his son, Alex. Alex Reich, a graduate research assistant with IonE’s Global Landscapes Initiative, describes the scene: “It was an overcast and muggy day, with people stretched as far as we could see north and south along Central Park West. People of all sorts and stripes gathered, brought together by a collective vision that freed them to be more open and easygoing with others than they might be in another circumstance. The energy pulsed in waves from silence to raucous cheers that traveled south along the avenue. Seemingly endless streams of people emerged from the subways and side streets, joining the throngs ahead of us and keeping our group at a standstill for two hours after the front of the march had started moving.” Continue reading
How much do trees vary in the way they suck carbon dioxide from the air and use it to make roots, trunks, branches and leaves? The answer to that question is an important one because it has a huge impact on our ability to predict how destroying or creating forests influences climate change. And the correct answer is a surprising one, according to two related studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week by University of Minnesota forest ecologist Peter Reich and colleagues in Minnesota, Arizona, Australia, China, Poland and Germany.
Conventional models used to assess the impact of forests on greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere assume that the way trees use carbon to build roots, leaves and trunks is fairly constant across a range of conditions — that is, that trees everywhere devote the same fraction of new growth to each component and that components have the same durability everywhere. However, analyzing massive amounts of data gathered from around the globe, Reich and colleagues documented predictable differences in key properties of forests across north-south climate gradients. Continue reading
Pollinators have a direct impact on human nutrition, especially in the developing world where malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are prevalent, according to new research published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The Natural Capital Project study — a collaboration of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and Stanford Woods Institute on the Environment — overlapped data of 115 common food crops with data on pollination dependence and micronutrient content and found that, in places like Southeast Asia and Latin America, almost 50 percent of plant-derived vitamin A requires pollination. Read more
Banner photo @iStockphoto.com/hkratky
A 2014 Acara Challenge winner is using his award to pilot his start-up in Uganda. Brice Aarrestad, a student in the College of Design, won the Acara Challenge International Bronze Award for his venture, Help Desk, which aims to address three major issues Aarrestad saw in Uganda: inadequately furnished schools, high unemployment and deforestation. By exporting high-quality, artisan-made furniture to America, he hopes to provide job training and stable employment, support sustainably sourced materials, and provide resources to schools in need.
The Acara Challenge is a competition held each year by IonE’s Acara program to spur start-ups with creative, sustainable solutions that can have impact in the world.
Read more about Help Desk’s work in Uganda.
Banner photo: Help Desk’s Strap Bench prototype on the bank of the River Nile in Jinja, Uganda, by Brice Aarrestad.
University of Minnesota ecologist and IonE resident fellow David Tilman has received a 2014 Balzan Prize in recognition of his outstanding scholarly contributions in ecology. The international award comes with an $800,000 prize, half of which is to support young researchers working with Tilman.
According to a release by the International Balzan Prize Foundation, Tilman received the distinction for his “huge contributions to theoretical and experimental plant ecology, work that underpins much of our current understanding of how plant communities are structured and interact with their environment.”
The Balzan Prize recognizes achievements in the humanities and natural sciences, as well as in advancing peace among humanity. The foundation varies the fields it recognizes each year with an eye to uplifting innovative research across disciplinary boundaries. Tilman was one of four scholars from around the world to receive the prize this year. Past recipients of the award include Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The Boreas Leadership Program is gearing up for its fall programming. Boreas is a co-curricular leadership development opportunity at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. We invite all U of M graduate and professional students to participate in Boreas programming, which helps students catalyze environmental solutions. The program is idealistic in its aim of helping emerging leaders at the U develop into the world-changers they want to be and world-changers society needs.
The program is also pragmatic in its approach; leadership skills workshops are a core part of the programming. A schedule of workshops is offered each semester in four areas: communications and media, public skills, integrative leadership, and systems thinking and tools. Continue reading
It’s a Saturday morning at the Midtown Farmers Market. Arranged across tables, in crates and under awnings are this season’s colorful bounty of tomatoes and green beans, sunflowers and . . . scientists? Wearing purple shirts imprinted with the slogan, “I’m a scientist … ask me what I do,” several University of Minnesota graduate students are at the market to engage kids and their parents in science experiments and activities aimed at bridging the divide between science and the public. To accomplish this task, the team is facilitating hands-on activities to get market goers talking about gardens and the natural processes that sustain them.
The students were concerned by a study that showed that Minnesota’s racial minorities and women are falling behind in math and science and chose the Midtown market at Lake Street East and 22nd Avenue South in Minneapolis for its diverse ethnic population. They wanted to bring science down from the proverbial ivory tower and make it available to the public. Five Market Science days were planned on alternating Saturdays, each with a different theme, with activities and experiments based on the theme. To fund supplies for the activities, they applied for and won a Mini Grant from the Institute on the Environment.
Build it and people will follow — that’s the nature of roads. In many parts of the world, that fact is having an impact on ecosystems, with increased human access leading to habitat and wilderness loss, fragmentation, wildfires, overhunting and other environmental degradation. With a 60 percent increase in global road expansion predicted by 2050, careful planning of road building is crucial.
In a report published this week in the journal Nature, researchers have offered a “global road map” to steer road expansion into areas that would have maximum human economic and social benefits while protecting areas with high environmental values such as biodiversity, ecosystem services and carbon storage. Continue reading
The Institute on the Environment’s mission is to discover solutions to Earth’s most pressing environmental challenges. Kate Brauman, lead scientist of the Global Water Initiative at IonE, is helping bring this mission to life. Her recent research looking at global irrigation patterns is now being used by Bonsucro, an organization working to use less water in the production of sugarcane around the world. IonE communications director Todd Reubold recently sat down with Brauman to hear the story.
How did you get started in this field?
Agriculture is heavily managed and most of the focus is on the food products that are grown. But at the end of the day crops are still just plants that need water. So when I was working with IonE’s Global Landscapes Initiative team and the data it produces around crop yield, I started asking, “How big a food bang are people getting for their water buck?” In other words, what is the “crop per drop?” Continue reading
This fall, the Institute on the Environment is refreshing our popular Frontiers in the Environment series. We’ll ask some Big Questions and host solutions-focused conversations about the next wave of research and discovery.
Each week, we’ll ask a pressing question such as, “Can we build a more resilient food distribution system?” Researchers and other experts from IonE and the greater University and Twin Cities’ communities will dive into the topic, sharing cutting-edge insights to move us closer to the answer. Continue reading
Who would think a visit to a plant that harvests energy from burning trash and features a smokestack so tall “it seemed to curve in the air” would rank among the highlights of a summer study abroad trip to Europe? A dozen University of Minnesota students, that’s who.
In May and June, I led a group of University students from a variety of majors – art, political science, accounting and architecture, to name a few – on a three-week sustainability tour of Denmark. We spent a some precious days on a small agricultural island in the North Sea, a place of sleepy villages, fishing piers and miles of beachfront that draw Danish tourists. We marveled at the island of Samso, which draws visitors from as far away as South Africa, Japan and Australia who come to learn how an isolated community of 5,000 transitioned to using only renewable energy for electricity and heat. Continue reading
Meeting the growing demand for food and other agricultural products is one of the most daunting challenges we face today. At the same time, clearing forests and grasslands for farming releases carbon into the atmosphere, fueling climate change, a similarly alarming and expensive problem.
A study published today by University of Minnesota researchers in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that limiting agricultural expansion to several key global regions could meet the predicted need to double food production by 2050 while preserving nearly 6 billion metric tons more carbon than would be safeguarded with unguided expansion. Preserving this much carbon is worth approximately $1 trillion in terms of climate change mitigation. Continue reading
Sustainability. It has become such a common word, we take it for granted that everyone knows what it is and how to practice it. But what is it, really?
Sustainability is the concept that humans use natural resources to meet current physical, social and economic needs while maintaining adequate resources for future generations.
In our homes, schools, communities and businesses we incorporate sustainability into our day-to-day lives. Some things are so ingrained we hardly think about them anymore: flipping off the lights when we leave the room; tossing bottles into the recycling bin; taking shorter showers. University of Minnesota Twin Cities undergrads from any major who want to do even more can make sustainability part of their academic program — and eventually, their career — through the sustainability studies minor.
Located halfway between the St. Paul and East Bank campuses of the University of Minnesota, Como neighborhood is home to hundreds of students. And where there are students, there are bikes.
To accommodate all the two-wheeled traffic, the Southeast Como Neighborhood Improvement Association, in partnership with the U’s urban studies program and with support from an IonE Mini Grant, installed two bike tune-up stations in the neighborhood this spring. Continue reading
The Office of the President of the United States announced a significant expansion of the White House Climate Data Initiative yesterday in Washington, D.C. Through a partnership with the Kellogg Company, the Institute on the Environment’s Global Landscapes Initiative will support this effort by providing maps and data showing the potential impacts of climate change on global agriculture.
“Through his Climate Data Initiative, President Obama is calling for all hands on deck to unleash data and technology in ways that will make businesses and communities more resilient to climate change,” said John P. Holdren, President Obama’s Science Advisor, in a press release. “The commitments being announced today answer that call by empowering the U.S. and global agricultural sectors with the tools and information needed to keep food systems strong and secure in a changing climate.”
This summer, the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment is hosting visiting scholar Tuck Fatt Siew, a postdoctoral researcher at Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany, who is exploring ways to integrate ecosystem services valuation into watershed management in China.
Visiting scholars bring fresh perspectives, “positive disruption” to the day-to-day way of seeing and doing, says Lewis Gilbert, IonE’s managing director. Visiting scholars are not paid by the University or IonE but are given desk space and the use of office equipment. Continue reading