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January 2011 Archives

A Matter of Time

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How do quality of life, income, available time, environmental impact, and purchasing choices interact? Researchers with the Institute on the Environment's NorthStar Initiative are hoping to find out. They're exploring how alternate work schedules could provide an opportunity to reduce workers' environmental footprint as well as strengthen their quality of life by having shortened workweeks.

The first phase of the project, known as "A Matter of Time," consisted of a literature review and a mapping exercise to show the complex relationship between time, income and the environmental effect of spending. The second phase of the project, to be carried out this spring, will consist of a survey of state agency workers from various parts of the country who have experienced furlough days or shortened workweeks. The survey will examine whether and how household spending choices and quality of life measures have changed under different time and income limitations.

A Matter of Time will provide information on the current role of time availability in household spending patterns. Results could help explain how environmental policies or programs that aim to completely change spending patterns can form an organized view of workplace and household spending, and also consider how time is used.

$4 Million Available for Renewable Energy Projects

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solar_panel.jpgIf you're involved in renewable energy research or technology development in the University of Minnesota system, this announcement is for you! The Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment, a signature program of the Institute on the Environment, just released an RFP offering $4 million in funding for innovative projects that create the potential for technology breakthroughs in renewable energy while maximizing benefits to the environment. Funding is available to U of M researchers for three types of grants:
  • Large Grants - integrated, multi-disciplinary projects; up to three years and $750,000 each
  • Early Career Grants - integrated, multi-disciplinary projects; up to three years and $150,000 each led by tenure-track faculty members with a hire date not more than six years before submission of the grant application
  • Seed Grants - pilot projects that explore the potential for high-risk, high-potential ideas in the initial stages of development; one to two years, up to $70,000 each
Eligible for funding: basic research, applied research and technology demonstrations in the areas of bioenergy, biofuels and bioproducts; solar; wind; renewable hydrogen; hydroelectric; geothermal; conservation and efficient energy utilization; and policy, economics and ecosystems

Proposals will be accepted until 11 p.m. CST March 29, 2011. Funding decisions will be made in mid-May, with projects beginning July 1.

Want to learn more? http://environment.umn.edu/iree/iree_funding.html

Frontiers in the Environment seminars start up again February 2

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frontiers_wordmark.jpgJoin us for another semester of great environmental seminars, starting February 2 in the Learning & Environmental Sciences Building (formerly the VoTech Bldg).

We're kicking off the series the right way, with an article in the Minnesota Daily ("Fresh Faces in 'Frontiers' Lecture Series") and a number of great speakers from the Twin Cities environmental community and the University of Minnesota. 

The first seminar, at noon on February 2, will be presented by Terje Mikalsen, chief executive officer of Tysvar, Corp.  As always, the seminars will be broadcast live online via UMConnect and archived on the Frontiers webpage for future viewing.

Frontiers in the Environment
Wednesdays, 12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.
IonE Seminar Room R380, VoTech Bldg., St. Paul campus (map)
Free and open to the public; no registration required

Visit the IonE Events page for all upcoming events, including the Momentum 2011 event series - tickets now on sale! 

Feeding the World Within Planetary Boundaries

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Question for the day: How can you feed 9 billion people while staying within the Earth's planetary boundaries?

A few representatives from IonE and scientists from across the globe are at the Stockholm Resilience Centre this week attempting to answer this very question. Human civilization has flourished during the stable environment of the Holocene epoch, in which modern agriculture developed. Now, perhaps more than any other sector of human enterprise, agriculture is pushing up against the boundaries of a Holocene-like "safe operating space" for humanity. But, of course, nothing is more critical for human survival than agriculture.

Planetary boundaries - our "safe operating space" - are defined by the inner green circle in this figure. Agriculture has heavily influenced the three boundaries that have already been exceeded.

So how do we get to an agricultural system for 9 billion people that is within planetary boundaries? What levers do we have in the system? First, we could attempt to address the issue by affecting demand - meat consumption, biofuels, and food waste all have a big impact on how much cropland is needed to support each person on the globe. Second, we could attempt to boost production through responsible intensification of the world's cropland. Intelligent nutrient use and precision agriculture, rainwater management, and efficient irrigation systems may all have a role to play.

What do you think? What's the best way to feed the world within planetary boundaries?

Green Chemistry 101

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What is green chemistry? Why should we care? And how can we make it happen?

Several hundred people had an opportunity learn the answers to these questions and more from green chemistry founding father John Warner at an IonE-hosted forum in Minneapolis earlier this month. Check out Warner's talk to learn, among other things, the importance of learning what molecules want, how chemistry education has to change, and why Minnesota is superbly positioned to take a lead in this emerging and important field.

Balancing Our Loves of Earth and Stuff

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By Brandon M. Breen


In a recent Momentum article I trumpet love of Earth as a powerful and underutilized conservation tool. I even go on to suggest, as Aldo Leopold and others have done before me, that a dramatic increase in humanity's fondness for nature may be critical to long-term conservation success.

My friend Patrick read the article, and then posed this interesting question: "How do you get people to love Earth more than they love the stuff that destroys the Earth?"

Getting people to love Earth is the easier part; you just introduce them. Few people can observe a moonrise from a remote camp, or spend a quiet morning at streamside, and not feel something stir inside. The second part of Patrick's question is much harder. It touches upon one of the grand engines of the conservation problem, our love of the stuff that destroys the Earth: the personal vehicles, big homes, etc.

There are at least two significant hurdles to getting people to love their stuff a little less. First, many people do not see the connection between their consumption and the often hidden environmental degradation such consumption entails. Second, the advertising industry and American culture - in short, the messages we receive every day - glorify extravagance.

Luckily, these hurdles can be overcome. More and more of us, armed with knowledge of how American lifestyles are unsustainable, are beginning to recognize a need to reduce our impact. Additionally, science is showing that happiness - which Aristotle considered the supreme good - depends more on our pursuit of goals and relationships with others than on material wealth; Consider that Americans are twice as rich as they were 50 years ago, but no happier.

To answer Patrick's question, people can love Earth more than the stuff that destroys the Earth by (1) reconnecting with nature (e.g., watching the joyful chickadees to see what the little guys are up to), and (2) replacing the pursuit of material gain with the pursuit of the true and non-consumptive wellsprings of happiness (better relationships with loved ones, personal goals).

The hardest part will be resisting the cultural and advertising messages we are blitzed with every day that tell us, erroneously, that everything is OK, and will likely be even better once we consume even more.

For Sale: Brighter Future


Good ideas are just ideas unless they get implemented. Then they can become solutions.  

Students from seven universities became part of the solution last semester as they competed in the "Sales for Social Impact" program, sponsored by 3M Foundation and spearheaded by Acara, a program of the Institute on the Environment. 

Their task: To develop a winning marketing plan for a food grinder made by Compatible Technology International, a nonprofit organization that alleviates hunger and poverty in the developing world by designing and distributing simple, life-changing food and water technologies.

Participating schools included DePaul University, University of Houston (shown above holding 2nd place trophy), North Carolina A&T, St. Catherine University, Baylor, Southern, and Indiana University.

DePaul won the competition - part of a semester-long inter-institutional class offered by Acara - with a plan for marketing the grinder in Uganda for grains, cassava and other crops.  Currently food in the target market is processed by mortar and pestle, which is inefficient and wastes grain.

Next stop? CTI will implement the best ideas from the students' plans as it works to provide the grinders in markets in need. And students will move on to careers equipped with on-the-ground experience in how to apply sales savvy to making the world a more just and sustainable place.

As one student said after the class: "I thought sales was just about making money, but now I realize it's about helping people."

Clean Energy Crystal Ball

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There's nothing like a new year to get a person thinking about what the future might hold. And nothing like a sub-zero but sun-drenched day in January to get a person thinking about energy of the renewable sort.

What does the future of clean energy look like?  Speaking at the E3 2010 energy, economic and environmental conference in St. Paul recently, Peter Ekberg, co-chair of emerging companies practice with Faegre & Benson, called clean energy "a driving force for economic recovery" and noted that U.S. venture capital stands solidly behind clean tech. He listed these five trends in clean energy markets for 2011 and beyond:

1. Carbon as a "Feedstock." We will increasingly tap carbon as a raw material for producing everything from algae-based biofuels to asphalt and plastics.

 2. Redefinition of the Solar Industry. Solar energy will take on new dimensions as technology advances.

3. Expansion of Biomass. Utilities will increasingly turn to biomass for applications such as district heating.

4. Increase of Project Scale. Clean energy "megaprojects" like Cape Wind and Chinese renewable energy installations will become increasingly common.

5. Growth of High Speed Rail. The greening of transportation will include expanded use of trains traveling 180 mph or faster.

Bottom line: Clean energy will become cheaper and more ubiquitous in years to come - with a predicted increase in clean energy investment globally from $144 billion to $343 billion between 2009 and 2019.

Now there's a heartwarming thought for a cold winter day.


  The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and not necessarily
  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.


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This page is an archive of entries from January 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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