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What's the Institute on the Environment all about? If you have a minute, we have a video that will fill you in.

Maroon & Gold

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Congrats to IonE's communications team for bringing home four 2011 Maroon and Gold awards from the University of Minnesota Communicators Forum annual meeting earlier this month. Here's the short version, with judges' comments:

GOLD: Print award for the Spring 2010 issue of Momentum magazine. Judges' comments - "strong design and a really cool look" and "fresh and compelling."

MAROON: Coordinated social media. Judges' comments - "combinations of platforms worked really well together" and "not only was the content engaging, but also very well-written."

MAROON: Long feature article for Stephanie Xenos' "Second Hand: Art that Speaks to Our Relationship to Stuff. Judges' comments: "Very creative" and "interesting to see the different examples and artists given"

MAROON: Video / DVD for "Water for Mulobere." Judges' comments: "ambitious and very good" and "compelling content that was fun and youthful."

 

Preparing for Climate Change

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carteret_islands.jpgAll around the world, governments, businesses, nonprofits and people are working to minimize global climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases we add to the atmosphere.

But just as a bicycle keeps moving after you start to brake, climate change doesn't halt the instant we act to slow it. That means that even while we reduce greenhouse gas emissions and figure out ways to sequester carbon, we also need to prepare for changes already underway.

How?

One approach is to resist change - as Austrian ski resort owners have attempted to do by laying white plastic over glaciers to slow their melt.

Another is to increase our ability to roll with whatever punches climate change might throw - as engineers did when they designed a bridge between Prince Edward Island and mainland Canada with an extra meter of clearance to allow for rising seas.

Yet a third is to adjust our old activities to new realities, as Inuit hunters are doing by moving their huts in response to thawing ice - and Cateret Island residents are doing by preparing to move from their homeland to higher ground as the ocean rises.

Preparing to cope with climate change is not a substitute for cleaning up our carbon act. But it is an important complement as we both put on the brakes and ready ourselves for a warming world. Learn more about climate change adaptation underway around the world here.

Photo of Carteret Island residents by Pip Starr



Acara Finalists: On to India!

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acara challenge.jpgBY SRI LATHA

The Acara Challenge 2011 results are out! Four teams of student social entrepreneurs have been chosen to receive Acara scholarships of $5,000 and tuition for the Acara Summer Institute in India to advance their business: TextRA, Sewasan, Swach and Ankur Initiative.

Over the last semester, as part of the Acara Challenge, a program of the IonE-affiliated Acara Institute, 21 teams involving about 175 students from 12 participating universities in the U.S., India and Mexico worked to develop business ideas to tackle global challenges of food and water security. For this they received a lot of support from their professors, industry mentors and international university partners. Of these 21 teams, eight were chosen to present at the Acara Challenge Finals yesterday at the Institute on the Environment.

At the Acara Challenge Finals, these eight teams pitched their business idea to a panel of judges composed of domain experts, investors, and business and nonprofit leaders. The judges then selected the teams to receive the Acara scholarships. While all eight teams have great ideas and potential to have a large impact, four teams were selected to receive a grant of $5,000 and tuition for the Acara Summer Institute, a business accelerator to be held in June-July 2011 in Bangalore, India.

Here is a summary of the four teams:

                                                                 TextRA
Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for textra.jpgA partnership of the University of Minnesota and TERI University in Delhi, this team has developed TextRA, a network that will instantly deliver key information on food and water availability at various locations to the hands of malnourished and resource-deprived individuals, saving them precious time and energy.

Sewasan
Sewasan, another UMN-TERI team, is a community-directed cooperative that will create and maintain toilet facilities in urban slums and charge residents to use them, either on a pay-per-use basis or through a monthly subscription fee. The presence of these facilities will decrease the spread of food- and water-borne illnesses, increase quality of life, and provide employment opportunities for local residents.

Swach
Students at Cornell and the K.J. Somaiya Institute of Management in Mumbai created Swach to improve the efficiency and efficacy of the midday meal audit process in schools. Swach would provide testing kits and the communication infrastructure to test for food quality issues and report them to authorities, allowing time-strapped government auditors to focus where they are most needed.

Ankur Initiative
The Ankur Initiative, a collaborative effort between students at Duke and the India Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee, aims to combat water stress in parts of rural India by selling affordable polytunnels - lightweight plastic miniature greenhouses - to subsistence farmers in order to reduce water loss and increase crop yields.

Watch the Acara website for more information about these teams' progress at the Summer Institute and beyond!

Photos by Sarah Karnas and Todd Reubold 

Oceans of Inspiration

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National Geographic explorer in residence, deep-sea diver and ocean advocate Sylvia Earle addressed a crowd of more than 500 last night at Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis, the third and final speaker in the Institute on the Environment's groundbreaking Momentum 2011 event series.

To say her talk was inspirational is an understatement. With lyrical words and stunning underwater images, Earle conveyed not only her passion for what she calls "the blue heart of the planet," but also her conviction that we must - and, encouragingly, can - rescue it from overfishing, climate change and other onslaughts it faces today.

To truly appreciate Earle's message, you'll just have to catch it yourself (see below). But here are a few nuggets to tide you over:

"We now know what we could not know just a few decades ago. ... Now that we know, there's no excuse."

"As long as you can breathe, you can dive."

"A submersible is so easy to drive, even a scientist can do it."

"We just don't know [how many species there are in the ocean]. What we are beginning to recognize is that it matters."

"No child should be left dry."

"We are a part of nature, not apart from it."

"If you want to get perspective, go get a kid. Go out to some wild place and see the future through their eyes."

"The next 10 years are likely to be the most important in the next 10,000."

"I, for one, am a hope-aholic. I ask you to join me in that endeavor."

"We now know that nature is not an option. Nature is not a luxury. Nature is us."

"It's only individuals who do make a difference. ... What is it that each of you has that can change the world around you?"

A video of Sylvia Earle's Momentum 2011 presentation will be available online later this month. Email momentum@umn.edu to be notified when it's posted. And visit the Momentum website regularly for news on Momentum 2012, coming next spring!
 
Photo by Kip Evans

Rx for Africa's Rift Valley Lakes

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malawi.jpgHow many times has someone stood at the edge of an ecosystem in disarray and thought, "If only we had known"?

Tom Johnson is hoping to make it one less than it otherwise might be.

For the past quarter century, Johnson, a Regents professor of geology with the Large Lakes Observatory at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, has been studying the sediments of Lake Malawi, among the biggest of the big African lakes pocking the continental crease known as the East African Rift Valley. In the process, he's become intimately familiar with the huge ecological and economic roles the lakes play, providing food in the form of fish, water for irrigating croplands, rich habitat for an abundance of species, a venue for a growing tourist trade, and a major source of hydropower for the region.
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He has also become acutely aware of the "perfect storm" looming over the lakes as the climate warms and more people and a growing standard of living increase pressures on the rich ecosystems within and around them.

Wanting to do more for the vulnerable region than simply study it, Johnson applied for and received an IonE resident fellowship last year to take the first steps toward creating a mechanism for boosting the Rift Lakes region's resilience. With the help of funding and faculty connections provided through the fellowship, Johnson is putting together a plan for an interdisciplinary research and policy institute to be located near - and focused on - the Rift Valley lakes. His goal? To create a mechanism for guiding development in a way in which both economies and ecosystems can thrive.

"The pressures and potential for economic development are at an all-time high," Johnson says. "The Big Idea is one of capacity building - bringing together engineers, natural scientists, social scientists, policy makers and more from the region and from around the world to do it right."

Photos of Lake Malawi courtesy of Tom Johnson

Sylvia Earle Sneak Preview

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A half century ago, when Sylvia Earle began what became a lifetime of undersea exploration, few people thought we could harm the world's seemingly endless oceans. Today these waters tell a different tale, with massive losses of fish and coral reefs, pollution, and the specter of acidification due to elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide.

On May 12, Earle will present her thoughts on the damage done - and her vision for healing the ocean's wounds - at Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis. Watch her TED presentation above for a sneak preview of what Earle has to tell us all, then reserve your tickets to see Earle live, with a special presentation by musician Mason Jennings.



To Clear the Air

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IonE global renewable energy leadership fellow Jill Baumgartner is on a mission to clear the air.

Last weekend, Baumgartner made international news with a research presentation at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Denver, Colo. Baumgartner reported that exposure to second-hand smoke is associated with increased blood pressure in boys, which in turn is a portent of adult health issues. "This study adds to overwhelming evidence that preventing children's exposure to secondhand smoke is an important public health initiative," she said.

Baumgartner is also working with Julian Marshall, a civil engineering professor and Institute on the Environment resident fellow, on an IonE-funded project aimed at reducing indoor air pollution in India. In that study, she's assessing health impacts of replacing conventional household stoves used for cooking and heating with cleaner alternatives.

You can listen to Baumgartner describe the Household Stove Change-Out project here:

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Photo by Nicolas Semeniuk  

Creating a Climate for Change

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After 33 years in a state where weather perennially tops the conversation charts, University of Minnesota climatologist and meteorologist Mark Seeley has a unique perspective on climate conversations. He gladly shared it with last week's Frontiers on Environment audience - alongseeley2.jpg with some pointed words of warning about the brewing storm on the horizon.

Seeley started by calling out memorable weather-related events over the course of his career, from the 1976 drought that brought him here from Texas, to the current Spring That Refuses to Arrive. (Yes, we're expecting snow again today.) From there he moved on to talk about the topic top on his mind: Engaging the public in climate change.

After offering three compelling reasons to accept that climate change is real, Seeley invited listeners to think about five things they care most about. Chances are you share at least one of them with others around you those around you, he said - so find that common ground and build on it to create the shared commitment that can open the door to collaborative action.

"If we continue to be dismissive and ignore, that's the wrong thing to do. That's just deferring the problem to our children," he said. "There is no ready-made solution that's on the shelf that is going to cure everything. ... But we need to be on the same platform to discuss."

View Seeley's recorded presentation here.

  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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