The Secret to Real Sustainability

Read the full story at Ensia.

Truly sustainable decisions start with looking at the big picture.

Copper foam turns CO2 into useful chemicals

Read the full story from Brown University.

A catalyst made from a foamy form of copper has vastly different electrochemical properties from catalysts made with smooth copper in reactions involving carbon dioxide, a new study shows. The research, by scientists in Brown University’s Center for the Capture and Conversion of CO2, suggests that copper foams could provide a new way of converting excess CO2 into useful industrial chemicals.

The research is published in the journal ACS Catalysis.

New citizen science project on Zooniverse: Discover Floating Forests

Proceedings Now Available for EPA’s June 26 Heat Island Webcast

On June 26, 2014, EPA’s Heat Island Reduction Program hosted a webcast entitled “Keeping Your Cool: How Communities Across the Country are Reducing the Heat Island Effect.” The webcast provided an overview of the heat island effect, its impacts, and  showcased the actions that the cities of Los Angeles, Louisville, and Tucson are taking now to reduce their heat islands.
Presentation files, audio recordings, and transcripts of the webcast are now available on EPA’s Heat Island Effect Website.

Disposable Utensils Going Green

Read the full post from the National Park Service Commercial Services GreenLine News blog.

Choosing the right disposable flatware for your food service operation might seem like a daunting task. With so many options out there featuring different price points and a variety of green attributes, how can you tell which is the best choice?

Public art, environment, history, and the locals all collide in the Anacostia River

Read the full post at Grist.

The Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C., reacted less than embracingly last month to the idea of an artist submerging a “mock gas station” into its eponymous river as an artistic statement about climate change.

Mia Feuer’s “Antediluvian” proposal was supposed to clue drivers traveling the bridge over the Anacostia River that the gas in their tanks was abetting climate destabilization. The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities ordained Feuer’s concept as a crown feature of its upcoming 5×5 Festival.

But the mostly African-American, working-class Anacostia community, which has been fighting for the government’s attention to clean the river for decades, felt that the project sent the wrong message. The project was ultimately nixed when the D.C. Department of the Environment said that it would interfere with efforts underway to mitigate river pollution. Rejecting the site was appropriate — as Feuer has accepted herself — given that D.C. has been less than embracing of Anacostia for basically all of its history.

As disappointing as this decision is for those who donated thousands of dollars to see this climate change critical Elenchus happen, Feuer, an accomplished artist well before this, may pull “Antediluvian” off at another time in another city.

Still, the controversy that arose from the project’s mere announcement illustrates what happens when the various activist tributaries of climate change, public art, environmentalism, and environmental justice converge. Each feeder carries its own baggage and that means it’s fated to get messy at the confluence — that is unless social equity is considered up front.

Let’s unpack some of this baggage, as it helps explain the Anacostia River art fiasco and why it played out the way it did.

Cigarette butts offer energy storage solution

Read the full story from the Institute of Physics.

A group of scientists from South Korea have converted cigarette butts into a high-performing material that could be integrated into computers, handheld devices, electrical vehicles and wind turbines to store energy…

This paper can be downloaded from

Better Together: Regional Capacity Building for National Disaster Risk Management

Download the document.

When a disaster strikes, national disaster management organizations (NDMOs) are called to respond quickly and effectively, usually in collaboration with local governmental authorities. These are the governmental agencies that are on the front lines of response and increasingly on the front lines of efforts to reduce the risk of disasters. For many years, international humanitarian organizations and bilateral aid donors have worked to strengthen the capacity of NDMOs. But, in spite of a growing literature on the role of regional organizations in disaster risk management, there have been few efforts to assess the role of regional organizations in building the capacity of NDMOs.

The Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement, with the support of the Australian Civil-Military Centre, is currently undertaking field-based research on the role of three regional organizations – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and the Pacific Islands Forum/South Pacific Community – in building capacity of national disaster management organizations. This initiative builds on our 2013 study, In the Neighborhood: The Role of Regional Organizations in Disaster Risk Management,  which provided a global overview of the expanding involvement of regional organizations with a particular emphasis on regional actors in the Pacific and the Caribbean. The study identified some of the particular strengths of regional approaches to disasters. For example, in the Pacific region, regional organizations were found to have clear comparative advantages including: “political convening power through strong links with the region’s leaders; key coordinating roles at the regional level; information management and dissemination through portals, provision of education, training and applied research; faith-based perspectives and actions in disaster risk management; representatives of, and advocates for, vulnerable groups (e.g. women, disabled, youth); and their extensive and broad regional experience.” Because of their close ties with member governments in the region, their activities may be viewed as more culturally and politically appropriate than those of international organizations.

While regional actors play important roles, it is the state itself that bears primary responsibility for preparing for and responding to disasters occurring in the area under its jurisdiction through its national disaster management organization. Though regional mechanisms may provide an important coordinating function and can effectively mobilize a regional response to a disaster (e.g. the case of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in response to Cyclone Nargis), perhaps the most important role they play is to increase the capacity of key national institutions.

The 2013 research found that about half of the regional organizations surveyed were active in the areas of capacity building, research, and technical cooperation. For some organizations, such as the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, training is an important part of the disaster management framework. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation’s core institution, the SAARC Disaster Management Centre, seems to be mainly focused on research and training activities. In the Pacific, several organizations involved in the design and delivery of emergency management training have formed the Pacific Emergency Management Training Advisory Group. In many cases, regional organizations cooperate with international actors in research and training and serve as important conveners for regional training activities and/or research projects. As many regional organizations engage in collecting information, they are also important resource centers not only for governments in the region but also for practitioners and academic researchers.

This short review, based on desk research, surveys literature on the work of regional organizations and NDMOs in disaster risk management and draws out some of the themes that may be useful for further examination of the relationship between regional bodies and national organizations in disaster risk management.

Pennsylvania seed-library caper grows loopier

Read the full post at Grist. I looked at the Illinois Seed Law and the Federal Seed Act and reached the same conclusions as the researchers mentioned in the post. I suspect that state laws are modeled on the federal one and are meant to regulate the sale of seeds. That being said, I’m not a lawyer, so it would be good to consult one to make sure that your library is on solid legal ground if you decide to establish a seed library.

A few days ago, I wrote about the strange saga of the Joseph T. Simpson Public Library in Mechanicsburg, Penn., the little library that accidentally fell afoul of the regulatory authority of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Joseph T. Simpson had converted an old card catalog into a seed lending library — visitors could leave seeds collected from their own gardens, and “check out” other seeds dropped off by their neighbors.

It was both a charming idea and, according to Pennsylvania’s Seed Act of 2004, totally illegal. The seed party didn’t stop, exactly; the library can still host events where people give seeds to each other. It just can’t host the seeds themselves without having to jump through all sorts of regulatory hoops.

As several commenters on my first story pointed out, having some rules at seed libraries — particularly around the testing of seeds, which some groups, like the Seed Library of Los Angeles, already do — is not such a bad idea. Nobody wants to accidentally plant an invasive species in the middle of their garden, or spread a weird plant fungus. But the rules around Pennsylvania’s Seed Act (and similar federal regulations around what you can and can’t do with seeds) are daunting enough that even an extraordinary home gardener would have a hard time following them.

Is there a way to alter these rules? To have our regulations, and eat them too? A team of researchers from the Sustainable Economies Law Center, Shareable, and The Center for a New American Dream went and studied the state rules a little more closely and announced they’d found a loophole.

Mississippi River Water Quality and Interstate Collaboration: Summary of a Workshop

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Summary of a Workshop on Mississippi River Water Quality Science and Interstate Collaboration summarizes presentations and discussions of Mississippi River and basin water quality management, monitoring, and evaluation programs that took place at a workshop that was held in St. Louis on November 18-19, 2013. The workshop examined a wide array of challenges and progress in water quality monitoring and evaluation in states along the Mississippi River corridor, and provided a forum for experts from U.S. federal agencies, the Mississippi River states, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to share and compare monitoring and evaluation experiences from their respective organizations.