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North St. Paul Works Toward Resilience

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The community of North St. Paul is working toward some ambitious goals with the help of University of Minnesota faculty and students, including attracting more residents and visitors to an area nature preserve and addressing the issue of an aging population growing old in aging housing stock as part of this year's Resilient Communities Project. The initiative was recently featured on the University's "Discover" page. Read the feature story by Rick Moore, University Relations writer and editor.

The Resilient Communities Project, a program of the Institute on the Environment and the Center for Urban Regional Affairs, is a year-long partnership that connects a Minnesota community with University of Minnesota expertise to tackle community-identified sustainability projects. If your community wishes to partner with RCP for the 2014-15 academic year, apply by Feb. 14.

Image by Mike Howard, courtesy of the City of North St. Paul

Will Humanity's Appetite Leave Land for Nature?

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Feeding the world's growing population is shaping up to be the challenge of the century, but where does conservation fit into the equation?

Joe Fargione, senior director for The Nature Conservancy - North America Region, attempted to answer just that in last Wednesday's Frontiers in the Environment presentation, "Peak Cropland: Saving Room for Nature While Feeding Humanity this Century."

Food: Past, Present, Future

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The opening of the American Museum of Natural History's new exhibition, Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture, this Saturday (Nov. 17) comes at an interesting time. 


The exhibit, which will look at food production throughout history and address the challenge we currently face of feeding an ever-growing population without destroying the planet as we do so, comes just days before Thanksgiving, the nation's holiday most focused on food as celebratory act. Obviously, as this is an annual holiday, the exhibition planners no doubt planned the opening with Thanksgiving in mind. The second reason the timing is interesting, though, is due to an event that no one could have anticipated well in advance. The AMNH is located in New York City, which, along with other areas of the East Coast, is still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. In recognition of these dichotomous events, Ellen V. Futter, president of the AMNH, said in a press release, "As the Museum prepares to open this comprehensive exhibition on the subject of food, we find ourselves disquietingly poised between the extremes of Hurricane Sandy--with its extensive devastation, including disruption to the food supply--and...Thanksgiving. In such a timely and vivid context, the Museum presents Our Global Kitchen, which addresses the vital and complex topic of food from the perspectives of the environment, food supply, and human culture."

Tweeting the New Normal

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The irony was not lost on the 300 or so environmental scientists, policy makers, activists and citizens who gathered earlier this week at the Aspen Institute for three days of solution-seeking around the theme, "Living in the New Normal." Even as participants in Aspen Environment Forum 2012 shared information, ideas and opinions, haze from the forest fires currently ravaging Colorado hung over the nearby mountains. This, more than one participant commented, is the new normal: uncertainty, extremes, unpredictability, unexpected turns of events - all brought on by humans' fiddling with the dials of nature on a grandiose scale.

Of course it's relatively easy to talk about troubles. But that's not what AEF2012 was about. The forum focused not only on defining the new normal, but also on exploring what we ought to do about it. Should we let us take it where it will? Or should we engage? Will we be tossed about like ships at sea? Or will we work to understand the changes taking shape, and shape our own activities to make both most compatible with the preservation of life on Earth?

Perhaps the best way to get a sampling of the conversations is to pull some participant quotes and paraphrases from the Twitter stream (#AEF2012):

If we continue at the present rate of eliminating species, half of them will be gone by the end of the century. - E.O. Wilson

The bulk of the credit for maintaining a planet that works goes to a living ocean. - Sylvia Earle

60,000-90,000 years ago, there may have only been 600-2,000 human beings. We were an endangered species at one time. - Richard Potts

‎‏ We *have* to figure out how to close the gap - to bring environmental externalities into pricing. - Jason Clay

The past is no longer any guide for the future. This planet (w/new climate, biosphere, land use, ocean acidification) is new. - Jon Foley

Abruptness in climate change creates largely unpredictable side-effects. - William Calvin

Eating tuna is like eating something that feeds on dragons. Very high on the food chain. - Daniel Pauly

What happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic. - Neal Conan

If you're pro-free market and ignore biggest market failure on planet (CO2), you have a problem. - Gernot Wagner

We have the tools at our disposal to end overfishing. We should start tackling the problem now. - Miguel Jorge

Comparing block to block, house to house, there is 7% greater property value to tree lined streets. - Rohit Aggarwala

In public's eye, pollution is top ocean problem. In reality, it's #3, behind overfishing & climate change. - Ayana Johnson

When you say "climate" it turns people off because they fear they'll have to reduce their quality of life. - Heidi Cullen

Not climate change or global warming, but planetary destabilization. - David Orr

‎‏The future of America is networked resilient communities. - John Robb

Never eat shrimp: either caught with 90% bycatch net, or in mangrove-destroying aquaculture. - Ayana Johnson

We have to be careful about what we can measure and what matters - Daniel Pauly

We need to make climate an economic issue, because it is. - Mindy Lubber

The notion that our emergence occurred during the most violent period of climate fluctuation means that we're able to adapt. - Richard Potts

We need to preserve ecosystems as working systems, for us to learn from and emulate in the Anthropocene. Not keep as museum pieces. - Jon Foley

Don't fish, you have zero fish. Fish too much, you have zero fish. Sustainable fishing is in between. - Daniel Pauly

Smart growth is the greatest technology we have to fight climate change, and its not in any of the books. - Peter Calthorpe

Trawling is like using a bulldozer to catch songbirds. - Sylvia Earle

The past can no longer be a guide to the future.- Dennis Dimick

No farmer is going to invest in sustainability if they don't have land rights. - Jason Clay

Let's celebrate successes in sustainable agriculture - and scale them up. - Chris Reij

U.S. agricultural research budget has gone to hell in a handbasket. - Dan Glickman

‎‏Something that people often miss: resilience doesn't just mean strengthened rule of law, it also means stronger civil society. - Jamais Cascio

We thought the ocean was too big to fail. Now we know otherwise. - Sylvia Earle

Why should unsustainable products cost less? They should cost more because they are subsidized by nature. - Jason Clay

If there's an elephant in the room with the global food system, it's a cow. - Jon Foley

Like to learn more? Check out video of select AEF2012 panel presentations here.


Terra Populus

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map.jpgFor a health project she was working on, University of Minnesota sociologist Anne Meier needed to know the average elevation, temperature and rainfall by district in Ghana, Tanzania and Malawi. Tracy Kugler, a research associate at the Minnesota Population Center, was happy to oblige. After about 20 hours of gathering, organizing, integrating, and processing data from a half-dozen separate databases, she was able to hand over Meier the information she needed.

And that, Kugler says, is why she's spending much of the rest of her time helping to get a massive new population and environment database known as Terra Populus - TerraPop for short - up and running. If TerraPop had been in place, Meier not only could have gathered her own data, she could have done it in well under an hour.

TerraPop is a massive initiative of the Minnesota Population Center, the Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota Libraries, and faculty from the College of Liberal Arts and College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, along with collaborators from Columbia University and the University of Michigan. Funded by an $8 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the project is gathering land cover, land use, climate and census data from around the world and across two centuries into a common database that researchers anywhere can use to answer questions about complex relationships between people and their environment. 

Perhaps the biggest challenge TerraPop faces is figuring out how to get data from many different places, gathered at many different scales, at many different times, for many different parameters, and in many different formats, together in a way that provides meaningful information.

Initially, the database will bring together individual- and household-level from selected countries, aggregated population data, and climate, and land use and land cover data. At later stages, the TerraPop team plans to expand the database to include census data from additional countries, additional environmental data, and additional dimensions of human data, such as economic and health data. A prototype system is scheduled to be available for beta-testing in spring 2013, and should be available to the public around the end of 2013.

"We expect that the system will be valuable to researchers in multiple disciplines, including sociology, demography, climatology, geography, environmental sciences, epidemiology, as well as cross-disciplinary research communities concerned with human-environment interactions, such as environmental justice, landscape ecology, hazards, sustainability, and health, and natural resources management," Kugler says. "Our overall goal is to lower the data acquisition and processing barriers involved in studying questions of how people interact with the environment."

Like to learn more about TerraPop, join the development community or be part of the beta test group? Check out TerraPop's website at www.terrapop.org.

Listen to a description of the TerraPop project here:

 


Image courtesy of Carlaarena

2 Billion More Coming to Dinner

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science on a sphere.jpgBY JOHN GORDON


Whether the planet is ready for it or not, by 2050 approximately 9 billion people will be living on Earth.

How can we expect to support 9 billion, when today we struggle to feed 7 billion?

There's not an easy answer to that question. But a Discovery Grant from the Institute on the Environment has made it possible for the Science Museum of Minnesota to at least break it down into an entertaining 9-minute film.



The issue of food production is complicated by the fact that we already use about 40 percent of Earth's land surface for agriculture, and there simply isn't much available arable land left. Increasing global cropland area would require clearing natural ecosystems and destroying the valuable services they provide.



Formatted for spherical displays (such as the Science on a Sphere and Magic Planet systems), the new film, "2 Billion More Coming to Dinner," features data sets developed by IonE's Global Landscapes Initiative, and presents challenges and potential solutions for our hungry planet.

How is global cropland distributed, and exactly how much does each area produce? With ideal fertilization and irrigation, how much could each area produce? Which regions show the greatest gap between current and potential production, and what would it take to close that gap, maximizing food production? Spherical visualizations and a conversational narrative style address each of these questions in the film.


"
2 Billion More Coming to Dinner" also considers what kinds of food we eat. To support the animals that feed us, a significant amount of cropland is devoted to producing animal feed instead of human food. A "food vs. feed" GLI data set is visualized as a global map of who produces crops mostly for direct consumption by people, and whose cropland is largely used for growing animal feed. Without offering a direct course of action, the film allows viewers to consider the data and how it might apply to their behavior.
 


How can you become one of these viewers? You'll soon be able to find "2 Billion More Coming to Dinner" at one of the world's 80 Science on a Sphere installations. Also, the film and its associated data sets will soon be available for free download from the Science Museum of Minnesota at sciencebuzz.org/earth. It's a fun showcase of a small part of IonE and GLI's work, and we hope people enjoy it!
 


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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