The military spy turned sustainability warrior – drones have come of age

Read the full story in The Guardian.

Drones have come a long way, from their military origins as sinister hardware for spying and remote warfare to their more recent use by conservation charities monitoring whaling ships and rare bird nests.

This year’s Drones for Good awards finalists included social enterprises hoping to develop unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to deliver vaccinations in Africa, provide better planning in India’s slums and help with international disaster relief planning.

Andrew Revkin on energy, politics, species adolescence and the fate of the Earth

Read the full story in Great Lakes Echo.

Revkin was the keynote speaker at the Michigan State University Environmental Science and Policy Program’s “Fate of the Earth” symposium April 1. The conference schedule was filled with leading researchers on sustainability issues who all addressed the same theme that Revkin explores in his blog: How will the human race sustain itself on a planet with dwindling resources?

Should governments make emerging technologies a priority?

Read the full story in GreenBiz.

It’s been 20 years since Newt Gingrich sacrificed one of the most inspirational and educational 20th century institutions — the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment — on the altar of federal budget cuts. What a sad day that was.

Founded in 1972, the OTA ran for 23 influential years, employing a staff of about 200, two-thirds of them professional researchers. Of these, 88 percent had advanced degrees, mainly in economics, engineering and the physical, life and social sciences. They did heavy-duty investigative work on emerging technologies — and, as a tiny sidebar effect, had a profound impact on my own thinking and work.

University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment Frontiers in the Environment Events for March

The spring 2015 Frontiers in the Environment event series is in full swing, asking BIG QUESTIONS in solutions-focused conversations about the next wave of research and discovery. Held at noon Wednesdays in St. Paul or online, each hour-long session includes a lively 30-minute presentation followed by Q&A and a networking reception. Talks are free and open to the public – please join us! Here’s the March schedule.

3/4 – Is drawing down aquifers really so bad?
Close to 70 percent of Minnesotans drink groundwater everyday and many of our crops are irrigated with it. Concerns about overpumping are making headlines. So what’s the right way to manage this resource? Kate Brauman, lead scientist for IonE’s Global Water Initiative; Steve Polasky, project lead for 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 explore the question, “Is drawing down aquifers really so bad?”

3/11 – Government action on the environment: what does “success” look like?
There are many pathways to sustainability but few overall strategies that do not include some action by local, state and national governments.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 of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal to Clean Energy Campaign, examine case studies of successful government action at state and national scales, from multiple perspectives inside and outside government, that can serve as models for future efforts in “Government action on the environment: what does “success” look like?”

3/18 – Spring Break: No Frontiers

3/25 – How do we make advanced heat recovery in buildings commonplace?
Large commercial and institutional buildings consume a lot of electricity which degrades into heat, ultimately expelled as waste. 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, evaluate the hurdles and tipping points to the more rapid adoption of advanced heat recovery to deliver a suite of environmental and economic benefits in “How do we make advanced heat recovery in buildings commonplace?”.

Get the complete list of scheduled talks and watch any you’ve missed in the archives.

Ensia’s top 10 stories of 2014

Read the full story at Ensia.

Like most things in life, environmental issues live in a gray world, even if we often try to put them in black-and-white boxes. This reality prompted us to do something with a few stories in the second half of 2014: Take a 35,000-foot view of issues for which many people have either already made up their minds or the story has been fragmented to a point where people have missed the forest for the trees.

These efforts seemed to resonate with readers. Take our recent story on solutions to the palm oil problem — a complicated issue often presented as anything but. Rather than beginning from the negative point of view of palm oil that is so often the default starting point for other stories, environmental journalist Michael Kodas chose to look at why it’s so widely used and what can be done to fix the huge issues associated with it. The story quickly became one of our most-read stories of all time, and was picked up by Quartz and other outlets. In another story, we saw water expert Cynthia Barnett shine a light on the meta-issue lurking behind all the water stories of 2014, including quality issues in Ohio and water infrastructure issues in California: dysfunctional water pricing. Similarly, author Edward Struzik looked in detail at all the things we’ve been hearing about the Arctic over the last decade, painting an intense picture of a new future at the top of the world.

Other stories in the top 10 looked at controversial issues, such as GMOs and the environmental impacts of eating meat. And we dove headfirst into environmental health stories with pieces by journalist Elizabeth Grossman on why certain chemicals are banned in Europe and not in the U.S., and the possible dangers lurking in food packaging.

As always, our focus was not only on the problems we face, but also on possible ways to address those problems. This is at the core of our reporting, and we saw readers responding positively.

So, here are our 10 most popular stories for 2014:

Mapping the World’s Problems

Read the full story in the New York Times.

Nearly a decade ago, an environmental group in Brazil grew concerned that government data and maps about Amazon deforestation were out of date and hard to view. The group, Imazon, decided to create its own monitoring tools, using information from satellites.

Imazon’s efforts caught the attention of Google, the search engine giant. Now, monthly reports on the Brazilian Amazon are produced through Google Earth Engine, a technology platform within the company. The partnership has made data processing faster and the information more accessible, according to Carlos Souza Jr., a senior researcher at Imazon.