Manufacturing a cleaner future

Read the full story from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Manufacturing had a big summer. The CHIPS and Science Act, signed into law in August, represents a massive investment in U.S. domestic manufacturing. The act aims to drastically expand the U.S. semiconductor industry, strengthen supply chains, and invest in R&D for new technological breakthroughs. According to John Hart, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity at MIT, the CHIPS Act is just the latest example of significantly increased interest in manufacturing in recent years.

UN strengthens environmental governance to reduce carbon footprint

Read the full story at Environment + Energy Leader.

According to a new report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations entities strengthened their environmental governance and staff training in 2021, signaling another year of steady progress toward improving the organization’s environmental sustainability.

Degrowth can work — here’s how science can help

Read the full story in Nature.

Wealthy countries can create prosperity while using less materials and energy if they abandon economic growth as an objective.

Computer games may be a key to ecological learning, study says

Read the full story from Penn State University.

Computer games are an effective way to teach ecological issues and build pro-environment policy support, according to published research by an interdisciplinary group of Penn State scholars.

The challenge to science funders to increase research capacity with sustainability savings

Read the full story at Labconscious.

Research funding agencies are on the path to providing guidance and incorporating sustainability language into grant applications. On top of the ultimate good to protect our environment and health – best practices reduce costs and increase lab productivity. Shouldn’t biomedical research labs qualify for sustainability-specific incentives, too?

The Million Advocates for Sustainable Science campaign from My Green Lab and the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) is a letter-signing campaign that issues a challenge to science funders around the world to encourage sustainability best practices in research operations. It’s a way for scientists to directly demonstrate support.

A car ban will improve the state of the climate, but is it ableist?

Read the full story at Treehugger.

Recently, I sent an appreciative tweet about fellow Treehugger Lloyd Alter’s argument for banning cars from our cities as a means to reduce the urban heat island effect. But a minute after I sent out my tweet, I noticed a Twitter friend of mine discussing some strangely familiar language. 

Car bans, she said, were ableist and marginalizing, and the environmental movement could probably do better. It was a point worthy of discussion, so I sent it further out into the world.  

Governing the sustainability commons

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

The Supreme Court’s West Virginia decision puts the ball of developing rules for business to contribute meaningfully to sustainability squarely in the private sector’s court. When, as Joel Makower’s disturbing article in these pages points out, there has been little progress in meeting the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, U.S. leadership is sorely needed.

But as I argued in a previous article, to make real progress in attaining sustainability we need a substructure of rules that creates a level playing field and prevents “free riders” from taking advantage of their rivals’ responsible actions.

The West Virginia ruling will undermine U.S. government regulatory action to do this.

We do, however, have a guide for action in Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel-prize winning work summarized in “Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action” as well as in academic research on voluntary environmental programs. Below I briefly summarize and extend Ostrom’s work with the results of academic research and my own experience.

Food insecurity and water insecurity go hand-in-hand, study finds

Read the full story from the American Society for Nutrition.

In a new 25-country study, researchers report a strong link between water insecurity — a lack of reliable access to sufficient water — and food insecurity.

50 years of UN environmental diplomacy: What’s worked and the trends ahead

Negotiations over the years have aimed to protect forests, biodiversity and the climate. Manjunath Kiran/AFP via Getty Images

by Mihaela Papa, Tufts University

In 1972, acid rain was destroying trees. Birds were dying from DDT poisoning, and countries were contending with oil spills, contamination from nuclear weapons testing and the environmental harm of the Vietnam War. Air pollution was crossing borders and harming neighboring countries.

At Sweden’s urging, the United Nations brought together representatives from countries around the world to find solutions. That summit – the U.N. Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm 50 years ago on June 5-16, 1972 – marked the first global effort to treat the environment as a worldwide policy issue and define the core principles for its management.

The Stockholm Conference was a turning point in how countries thought about the natural world and the resources that all nations share, like the air.

It led to the creation of the U.N. Environment Program to monitor the state of the environment and coordinate responses to the major environmental problems. It also raised questions that continue to challenge international negotiations to this day, such as who is responsible for cleaning up environmental damage, and how much poorer countries can be expected to do.

A conference hall filled with seated people and a person at the podium in the front.
The Stockholm Conference began on June 5, 1972. UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata

On the 50th anniversary of the Stockholm Conference, let’s look at where half a century of environmental diplomacy has led and the issues emerging for the coming decades.

The Stockholm Conference, 1972

From a diplomacy perspective, the Stockholm Conference was a major accomplishment.

It pushed the boundaries for a U.N. system that relied on the concept of state sovereignty and emphasized the importance of joint action for the common good. The conference gathered representatives from 113 countries, as well as from U.N. agencies, and created a tradition of including nonstate actors, such as environmental advocacy groups. It produced a declaration that included principles to guide global environmental management going forward.

A U.N. video captured scenes in and around the Stockholm Conference, including young protesters and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s speech.

The declaration explicitly acknowledged states’ “sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.” An action plan strengthened the U.N.’s role in protecting the environment and established UNEP as the global authority for the environment.

The Stockholm Conference also put global inequality in the spotlight. Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi questioned the urgency of prioritizing environmental protection when so many people lived in poverty. Other developing countries shared India’s concerns: Would this new environmental movement prevent impoverished people from using the environment and reinforce their deprivation? And would rich countries that contributed to the environmental damage provide funding and technical assistance?

The Earth Summit, 1992

Twenty years later, the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development – the Earth Summit – in Rio de Janeiro provided an answer. It embraced sustainable development – development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. That paved the way for political consensus in several ways.

A person in a costume of the Earth holds a child's hand on a beach in Rio. The photo is from 1992
U.N. conferences like the Earth Summit, held June 3-14, 1992, draw global attention to environmental problems. Antonio Ribeiro/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images, 1992

First, climate change was making it clear that human activities can permanently alter the planet, so the stakes were high for everyone. The imperative was to establish a new global partnership mobilizing states, key sectors of societies and people to protect and restore the health of the Earth’s ecosystems.

Second, economic development, environmental protection and social development were treated as interdependent.

Finally, while all countries were expected to pursue sustainable development, it was acknowledged that developed countries had more capacity to do so and that their societies placed greater pressures on the environment.

A young person a nuclear symbol on a contamination suit hugs another person wearing a gas mask in front of a dark illustration of Earth.
Young people at the Earth Summit in 1992 protested against nuclear power. Antonio Ribeiro/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images, 1992

The Earth Summit produced the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, laying the foundation for global climate negotiations that continue today; the Convention on Biological Diversity; nonbinding Forest Principles; and an overarching action plan to transition to sustainability.

Progress, but major challenges ahead

The increasing awareness of environmental challenges over the past 50 years has led to the spread of national environmental agencies and the growth of global environmental law.

The world has pulled together to stop the destruction of the ozone layer, phase out leaded gasoline and curb the pollutants from burning fossil fuels that create acid rain. In 2015, U.N. member countries adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals with measurable targets and signed the Paris climate agreement. Countries in 2022 committed to develop a treaty to reduce pollution from plastics. Climate change and sustainable resource use have also become higher priorities in foreign policymaking, international organizations and corporate boardrooms.

But while environmental diplomacy has demonstrated that progress is possible, the challenges the world still faces are immense.

Greenhouse gas concentrations are still increasing, and rising temperatures are fueling devastating wildfires, heat waves and other disasters. More than a million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction, potentially leading toward the worst loss of life on the planet since the time of dinosaurs. And 99% of the global population breathes air that exceeds World Health Organization guidelines for pollutants.

The next 50 years: Trends to watch

As environmental diplomacy heads into its next 50 years, climate change, biodiversity and effects on human health are high on the agenda. Here are a few newer trends that also bear watching.

The idea of a circular economy is gaining interest. People produce, consume and throw away billions of tons of materials every year, while recycling or reusing only a small percentage. Ongoing efforts to create a more circular economy, which eliminates waste and keeps materials in use, can help mitigate climate change and restore natural systems.

Advocacy for rights of nature and animal rights is becoming more prominent in environmental diplomacy.

Outer space is another theme, as it increasingly becomes a domain of human exploration and settlement ambitions with the growth of private space travel. Space junk is accumulating and threatening Earth’s orbital space, and Mars exploration raises new questions about protecting space ecosystems.

The 50th anniversary of the Stockholm Conference is an important opportunity to think about development rights and responsibilities for the future while using environmental diplomacy today to preserve and regenerate the Earth.

Mihaela Papa, Adjunct Assistant Professor in Sustainable Development and Global Governance, The Fletcher School, Tufts University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New Bemidji State degree draws on Indigenous practices to teach 21st century sustainability

Read the full story from Minnesota Public Radio.

On a recent brisk spring morning, in the backwoods of the Red Lake Reservation, Bemidji State University assistant professor, Awanookwe Kingbird-Bratvold worked among the maple trees. She emptied thick plastic bags of clear sap, harvested a drop at a time, into an old, white, five-gallon bucket.

On this day she’s alone. But often she has students help her as part of the curriculum for BSU’s new Indigenous Sustainability Studies Program. Together they manage dozens of maple trees, transforming a forested syrup camp into a modern-day classroom.