News

Hollywoods’ Messaging about Nature and the Environment

LoraxA new paper in Environmental Communication examines ideologies about nature and the environment in popular, animated Hollywood films—including The Lorax, Wall-E, and Ice Age 2—through a symptomatic reading. The primary goal of the analysis is to elucidate key omissions in these texts through an assessment of the problematic—defined in this research as an a-priori answer to perceived audience concerns regarding the role of consumerism and corporate culture in environmental problems. Silences in the films revolve around: how environmental problems are defined; what the consequences are; who the responsible parties are; and what potential solutions exist to mitigate them. The significance of the research is underscored by the formation of an increasingly intimate relationship between children, consumer culture, and commercial media in the USA, as well as the increasingly dire information emerging about global environmental issues. This analysis reveals the dual, often conflicting, messages that commercial film provides for its young audiences about pivotal environmental problems and their potential resolution.

See the full paper, here.

Utah Conservation Corps to Launch Nation’s First Fossil Free Bike Crew

UCCThe Utah Conservation Corps (UCC) has secured a $20,000 grant from Utah State Park’s  Recreational Trails Program to launch the nation’s first fossil-free bike crew. This four-person AmeriCorps crew will be based out of UCC’s Salt Lake City field office and will use cargo bicycles to transport themselves, tools, food, and camping gear to two Utah State Park sites for seven weeks during the summer. The crew will cycle from Salt Lake City to both East Canyon State Park (33 miles away) and Deer Creek Canyon (56 miles away) for six-day work hitches before returning back to Salt Lake City. During their 7 weeks, the crew will complete two miles of trail construction and five miles trail maintenance at the two state parks. Read More

USU, Logan City, and Logan High Partner to Improve Cache Valley Air Quality

PosterContestParticulate matter (PM) air pollution exerts a considerable impact on public health. PM pollution is ranked as the 13th leading cause of mortality worldwide (ca. 800,000 annual deaths). In January 2004, the Cache Valley in northern Utah was reported to have the nation’s “worst ever” PM2.5(particulate matter less than or equal to 2.5 μm in diameter) air pollution. Surrounded by tall mountains (2513-3042m), and subject to frequent winter atmospheric inversions, Cache Valley is particularly susceptible to episodes of high PM2.5 air pollution. Consistent violation of the 24 hr average U.S. EPA National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for PM2.5, resulted in designation of non-attainment as identified by the Clean Air Act. Furthermore, the majority (>80%) of Cache Valley PM2.5 (CVPM) has a mean geometric diameter < 1 mm, which efficiently penetrate to the general circulation or to the brain, causing widespread cardiovascular and cardiopulmonary pathologies than larger PM. Read More

2015: International Year of Soils

Year_of_SoilsHealthy soils are the foundation for food, fuel, fibre and even medicine said the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today as it kicked off 2015 the International Year of Soils on the first-ever World Soil Day.

Soils are also essential to our ecosystems, playing a key role in the carbon cycle, storing and filtering water, and improving resilience to floods and droughts, and yet we are not paying enough attention to this important “silent ally,” the UN agency explained.

The International Year of Soils kicks off today at events in Rome, New York and Santiago de Chile, in an effort to raise awareness and promote more sustainable use of this critical resource. Read More

27 Non-Governmental Organizations Pledge to Support the Urban Waters Federal Partnership

From the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Release Date: 12/03/2014
Contact Information: Robert Daguillard,  (202) 564-6618,  daguillard.robert@epa.gov

uwp-logoWASHINGTON – A broad coalition of 27 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including The Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy, and The Conservation Fund has pledged to support the Urban Waters Federal Partnership as it works to restore waterways and revitalize communities across the country. The NGOs will align resources, funding, and expertise with federal efforts to restore urban waters and parks, increase outdoor recreation, and engage residents and youth. Read More

USU, Logan City, and Logan High Partner to Improve Cache Valley Air Quality

Cache Valley Air Quality

Particulate matter (PM) air pollution exerts a considerable impact on public health. PM pollution is ranked as the 13th leading cause of mortality worldwide (ca. 800,000 annual deaths). In January 2004, the Cache Valley in northern Utah was reported to have the nation’s “worst ever” PM2.5 (particulate matter less than or equal to 2.5 μm in diameter) air pollution. Surrounded by tall mountains (2513-3042m), and subject to frequent winter atmospheric inversions, Cache Valley is particularly susceptible to episodes of high PM2.5 air pollution. Consistent violation of the 24 hr average U.S. EPA National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for PM2.5, resulted in designation of non-attainment as identified by the Clean Air Act. Furthermore, the majority (>80%) of Cache Valley PM2.5 (CVPM) has a mean geometric diameter < 1 mm, which efficiently penetrate to the general circulation or to the brain, causing widespread cardiovascular and cardiopulmonary pathologies than larger PM.

The main chemical component of CVPM is ammonium nitrate (NH4 NO3) formed through acid-base reactions between gas-phase ammonia from the excreta of dairy cattle and nitrogen oxides from vehicle exhaust and other combustion products. This reaction is catalyzed by cold temperatures, high humidity, and by the presence of volatile organic, and reactive compounds

Numerous epidemiology studies conducted around the world associate PM2.5 exposure with all-cause mortality, stroke, cancer, cardiopulmonary and cardiovascular disease, asthma, pneumonia, hypertensive disease, cardiac arrest, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Alzheimer’s disease and autism. PM2.5 is also associated with increased hospital admissions for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Consistent and coherent health effects observed in these and other studies have led to the consensus of a causal link between particulate pollution and heightened morbidity and mortality.

To summarize why air quality is an issue to address in Cache Valley:

  • Cache Valley Utah frequently experiences wintertime episodes of some of the highest PM2.5 pollution measured in the USA, and new data demonstrates reductions in pulmonary function in human volunteers during these episodes;
  •  In other locales, similar PM2.5 concentrations are known to cause pulmonary and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.

Logan High Poster Contest will Target Idling in Cache Valley

Given the health risks and severity of PM2.5 concentrations during Cache Valley’s inversion period, Logan City listed improving Cache Valley’s air as one of their top primary needs. In a new partnership called “Community Bridge Initiative,” Roslynn Brain and Edwin Stafford, USU professors in the College of Natural Resources and the Huntsman School of Business, partnered with Logan City to tackle this issue. Dr. Brain’s upper-level undergraduate course, “Communicating Sustainability” and Dr. Stafford’s marketing students will team up with Logan High School students in a mentoring program to create catchy and effective messaging to reduce idling in Cache Valley. Top winners will receive prizes ranging from the RockHaus Climbing Gym to a main prize donated by the Mayor. The top posters (displaying locally-relevent, effective, and eye-catching messaging) will also be converted into anti-idling signs to be distributed around Cache Valley. To find out more about the poster contest, click here.

What is the Community Bridge Initiative?

USU’s Community Bridge Initiative (CBI), a place-based service-learning program loosely modeled after the University of Oregon's Sustainable City Year Program, launched in January 2015. CBI matches a multidisciplinary set of courses to a set of projects identified by Logan City. Students work with community leaders to define meaningful solutions, develop action plans and implement projects directly relevant to their course curriculum. As a result, students come away with the experience of tackling real-world problems identified by the community.

2015: International Year of Soils

 From the UN News Centre:

Healthy soils are the foundation for food, fuel, fibre and even medicine said the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today as it kicked off 2015 the International Year of Soils on the first-ever World Soil Day.

Soils are also essential to our ecosystems, playing a key role in the carbon cycle, storing and filtering water, and improving resilience to floods and droughts, and yet we are not paying enough attention to this important “silent ally,” the UN agency explained.

The International Year of Soils kicks off today at events in Rome, New York and Santiago de Chile, in an effort to raise awareness and promote more sustainable use of this critical resource.

“Today, we have more than 805 million people facing hunger and malnutrition. Population growth will require an approximately increase of 60 per cent in food production,” FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva warned today.

“Unfortunately, 33 per cent of our global soil resources are under degradation and human pressures on soils are reaching critical limits, reducing and sometimes eliminating essential soil functions,” he added. The UN General Assembly declared 5 December World Soil Dayin December 2013. The Day and Year kicks off today with events in Rome, New York and Santiago de Chile, in an effort to raise awareness and promote more sustainable use of this critical resource.

“I invite all of us to take an active role in promoting the cause of soils during 2015 as it is an important year for paving the road towards a real sustainable development for all and by all,” Mr. Graziano da Silva said.

FAO estimates that a third of all soils are degraded, due to erosion, compaction, soil sealing, salinization, soil organic matter and nutrient depletion, acidification, pollution and other processes caused by unsustainable land management practices.

Unless new approaches are adopted, the global amount of arable and productive land per person will in 2050 be only one-fourth of the level in 1960.

It can take up to 1,000 years to form one centimetre of soil, and with 33 per cent of all global soil resources degraded and human pressures increasing, critical limits are being reached that make stewardship an urgent matter, Mr. Graziano da Silva said.

Calling soils a “nearly forgotten resource,” he urged investment in sustainable soil management, saying that would be cheaper than restoration and “is needed for the achievement of food security and nutrition, climate change adaptation and mitigation and overall sustainable development.”

Echoing that call, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that without healthy soils, “life on Earth would be unsustainable.” Indeed, soils are the foundation of agriculture. They provide vital ecosystem services and the basis for food, feed, fuel, fibre and medical products important for human well-being.

“Soil is also the largest pool of organic carbon, which is essential for mitigating and adapting to climate change. In an era of water scarcity, soils are fundamental for its appropriate storage and distribution,” said Mr. Ban, urging all States to pledge to do more to protect this important yet forgotten resource. “A healthy life is not possible without healthy soils,” he declared.

According to FAO, at least a quarter of the world’s biodiversity lives underground, where, for example, the earthworm is a giant alongside tiny organisms such as bacteria and fungi. Such organisms, including plant roots, act as the primary agents driving nutrient cycling and help plants by improving nutrient intake, in turn supporting above-ground biodiversity as well.

Better management can assure that those usually unnoticed organisms boost soil’s ability to absorb carbon and mitigate desertification, so that even more carbon can be sequestered – helping offset agriculture's own emissions of greenhouse gases.

Marking the Year, FAO has implemented more than 120 soil-related projects around the world and produced together with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Soil Map. Among the most urgent priorities is to update, standardize and render accessible the world's knowledge of soil types and distribution.

Currently, data on soils is very often outdated, limited in coverage, and fragmented in nature. One of FAO's priorities is to establish a global soil information system that could assist with reliable data decision-making regarding soil management.

For more information on 2015 International Year of Soils events, visit http://www.fao.org/soils-2015/en/

27 Non-Governmental Organizations Pledge to Support the Urban Waters Federal Partnership

From the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Release Date: 12/03/2014
Contact Information: Robert Daguillard, (202) 564-6618, daguillard.robert@epa.gov

WASHINGTON – A broad coalition of 27 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including The Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy, and The Conservation Fund has pledged to support the Urban Waters Federal Partnership as it works to restore waterways and revitalize communities across the country. The NGOs will align resources, funding, and expertise with federal efforts to restore urban height=”338″ align=”right” alt=”” />The announcement came as federal agencies and NGOs convened in Washington, D.C. today to share best practices on restoring urban waterways. Many urban waterways have been polluted for years by sewage, runoff from city streets, and contamination from abandoned industrial facilities. Healthy and accessible urban waters can help grow local businesses and enhance economic, educational, recreational and social opportunities in nearby communities. Reconnecting residents to their local urban waters helps communities to actively participate in restoring urban waters while improving their neighborhoods.

“We are very grateful for the support and partnership that these important organizations will be bringing to our efforts to restore urban waterways,” said Ken Kopocis, deputy assistant administrator for Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Community led revitalization is central to the success of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership and these organizations have deep roots in cities across the country, which will enhance and accelerate our collective work.”

“Restoring urban waterways helps re-connect metropolitan residents—youth in particular—to open spaces and a relationship with nature,” said Mike Connor, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. “The Urban Water Federal Partnership is an important part of Interior’s programs to help youth and veterans by creating opportunities for them to restore their waters, parks and greenspaces, and providing them with jobs and, in many cases, a career path for those in distressed areas."

“From the ‘source to the faucet’, the Urban Waters Federal Partnership is ‘banding together, sharing resources and avoiding duplication’ to improve America’s waters and the associated communities along a complex rural to urban land gradient,” said Robert Bonnie, undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Urban Waters Federal Partnership is made up of 13 federal agencies working to reconnect urban communities with their waterways by improving coordination among federal agencies and collaborating with community-led revitalization efforts. The Urban Water Federal Partnership is led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Launched in 2011, the federal partnership provides grants, resources and expertise to local governments looking to restore urban rivers and jumpstart local economies, particularly in underserved communities. The Urban Waters Grant program, which currently supports 19 communities in some of the country’s largest cities, has awarded more than $1.8 million since its inception, with grantees leveraging an additional $6.7 million in local project support. To find out more about this program, and to see the original story, visit the United States Environmental Protection Agency

These are a few examples of how NGOs are already supporting the partnership and advancing efforts, which will be expanded through the new pledge of support:

· Baltimore: The Conservation Fund is leading a project with NGOs, and federal and state agencies to protect and increase green infrastructure in the Baltimore metropolitan region. Partners are now assessing the use of existing green infrastructure to increase resiliency to coastal storms and other climate change effects, such as sea level rise.
· Bronx River: A public access project on the Bronx River became possible through collaboration of Amtrak, local NGOs, and federal, state, and local agencies. With more than $16 million in funding, a groundbreaking event is slated for spring 2015.

· Harlem River: The Trust for Public Land and Pratt Institute are working with the National Park Service, EPA, New York City and community groups to create a new waterfront greenway along the Bronx side of the Harlem River, connecting the river to neighborhoods. TPL and Pratt are leading a visioning project for a “Green Print” for the waterfront.

· Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.: Federal agencies and local partners have identified funding and support to establish native plant nursery pilot projects in underserved communities in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. The University of the District of Columbia is providing land and in-house expertise to establish a nursery in D.C. and the National Park Service has committed seed funding and nursery staff support for the Los Angeles site.

· Delaware River Basin: With federal funding, Wilderness Inquiry was able to reach an additional 2,500 underserved youth to paddle urban rivers. Expanding from the Bronx and Anacostia rivers, Wilderness Inquiry was able to include at-risk urban youth throughout the Delaware River Basin. At risk youth paddled the Delaware River, learned about the watershed and their community, and collected water samples for analysis and study

The 27 NGOs who have pledged support are:
· Alliance for Community Trees
· American Forests
· American Planning Association
· American Rivers
· American Society of Landscape Architects
· Amigos de los Rios
· Arbor Day Foundation
· Arkansas Urban Forestry Council
· City Parks Alliance
· EarthForce
· Groundwork USA
· Izaak Walton League
· National Association of Clean Water Agencies
· National Recreation and Park Association
· National Wildlife Federation
· River Network
· SavATree
· Society of Municipal Arborists
· The Chesapeake Conservancy
· The Conservation Fund
· The Intertwine Alliance
· The Nature Conservancy
· The Sierra Club
· The Trust for Public Land
· Tree Care Industry Association
· U.S. Water Alliance
· Wilderness Inquiry

Energy Department Announces $53 Million to Cut Solar Power Costs

 From the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE):

The Energy Department on October 22 announced more than $53 million for 40 innovative research and development projects that aim to drive down the cost of solar energy, tackling key aspects of technology development in order to bring innovative ideas to the market more quickly. The awards will support the development of next generation photovoltaic (PV) solar technologies and advanced manufacturing processes, and address both hardware and non-hardware “soft” costs of solar installation.

To accelerate the development of next generation PV technologies that will further drive down costs, the Energy Department is awarding more than $14 million of the funding announced last week to 10 research institutions—including the Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories—to improve the performance, efficiency, and durability of solar PV devices. The projects will explore a variety of leading-edge solutions, from new high-performance materials to novel techniques for creating more efficient solar cells that cost less to manufacture. Through its SunShot Incubator program, the Energy Department is also investing more than $14 million of the announced funding in 20 small businesses that will develop innovative technologies and services to further drive down hardware and non-hardware costs for solar electric systems. The projects take a number of approaches to decreasing costs, such as creating a software-based solution to quantify risk for solar investors, developing advanced materials and components that maximize efficiency for concentrating solar power (CSP), and identifying ways to eliminate the need for expensive silver in solar cell manufacturing.

And in support of the Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, the Energy Department is awarding more than $24 million to 10 U.S.-based solar manufacturers working to develop and implement innovative technologies that will reduce costs and increase efficiency in manufacturing processes used to make PV and CSP technologies. These investments focus on tackling key cost-contributors such as raw materials, labor-intensive processes, and capital expenses. See the Energy Department news release and the SunShot Initiative website.

USU Permaculture Initiative Underway

 Starting a New Campus Sustainability Movement

“Permaculture is too eccentric…it won’t gain enough momentum here.” This was the response we received from select colleagues and administrators at USU as our team proposed implementing a permaculture teaching garden on main campus. The idea sounded straightforward enough: implement a garden in Utah’s high desert climate to teach students about water-wise practices, plant guilds, and visually appealing edible landscaping. Besides, all we would be replacing was Kentucky bluegrass – simple! Well over a year and countless meetings, phone calls, and emails later, the sod has finally been removed and we are working on phase one of three in implementing Utah’s first official campus permaculture garden. We are now also putting in permaculture gardens on USU Moab's current campus. This article highlights our amusing and frustrating journey in changing the university paradigm.

What is permaculture? Simply put, it is a design concept mimicking natural ecosystems with a 3-part focus: Care for the earth, care for people, and a fair distribution of the surplus. 

In the early spring of 2013, following a permaculture design workshop in Moab, Utah with Brad Lancaster and Joel Glanzberg, Emily Niehaus, Founding Director of Community Rebuilds (a nonprofit organization building energy efficient straw bale homes for income qualifying families) proposed implementing a permaculture teaching garden on USU’s main campus in Logan, Utah. Roslynn Brain, Assistant Professor in Sustainable Communities at USU, recognized a perfect match in the concepts of permaculture design and her community sustainability outreach program. Roslynn and Emily worked with Tamara Steinitz, an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Sciences (NDFS) at USU to identify an ideal garden site that would be easily accessible to NDFS students to learn about sustainable landscaping and growing food in small, unconventional spaces while harvesting and cooking with the garden bounty. This had been a dream among select faculty for years, but the vision needed funding, expertise, and like-minded and creative partners to become reality.

The next step was to convince administration and university facilities of the benefits and educational opportunities that a permaculture teaching garden could provide. The permaculture team discovered that numerous professors on campus were researching and teaching permaculture-related concepts, but not labeling these as such. One professor, Phil Waite in Landscape, Architecture, and Environmental Planning (LAEP) received a large grant to implement a 5-acre teaching space for LAEP students, one part of which would include a small permaculture site. Bringing an LAEP professor onboard was of great benefit to our movement, particularly because of his prior work in higher administration and his skill in presenting the permaculture concept in a way that met upper administration’s interests and needs. The team of four developed a goal for the campus permaculture initiative, which was to “Provide educational opportunities for students and the public to learn about and practice sustainable food production methods, including wise use of available space, low water gardening, seasonal eating, and a focus on native edible perennials.” Several meetings with upper administration and facilities for over a year resulted in approval to develop a 65 x 72 foot site on main campus, located between NDFS and facilities. This location was ideal for NDFS student use and also served as a symbol of the relationship strengthened between university facilities and academia.

Any lasting university movement requires funding, and in order for upper administration to recognize community interest in permaculture education and ultimately provide financial support, Roslynn, Emily, and Tamara hosted a two-day introductory permaculture workshop in September of 2013 in Logan, Utah with Joel Glanzberg. Day One of the workshop covered basic permaculture principles and philosophy, while Day Two involved hands-on planning of the permaculture site on campus. The permaculture workshop helped campus and community partnerships to flourish. Over 75 participants attended the workshop to positive acclaim:

"Really reinforced the message that if we take care and look around, we truly can find positive changes to make."

"Plants aren't just plants anymore. They're interconnected organisms that can work together."

"The idea of increasing exchanges (an abundance view, rather than a scarcity view) gives me a more positive outlook when evaluating problems."

"I was starting to feel all alone and hopeless here. The pool of knowledge when that many people are together offers hope for change."

"The permaculture garden is a wonderful idea to bring a new way of thinking to campus and to disseminate throughout the community. I worry that the site may be inconspicuous, but am hopeful that enough communication will bring the attention it deserves."

"Permaculture philosophy has a lot to bring to USU, and it would be great to see this garden started, continued, and then expanded. It was really heartening to have a representative from facilities at the workshop. I really hope the momentum continues!"

After compiling and analyzing the workshop evaluations, the team had sufficient evidence of the demand and potential impact of permaculture design, and dug in to piece together additional components for implementation. An LAEP graduate student who attended the permaculture workshop volunteered to take community ideas and turn them into a landscape and planting plan. Additional community members and students in the College of Agriculture, Caine College of the Arts, and the College of Natural Resources helped finalize the planting plan and took responsibility to meet with facilities to move forward with the garden. So far, $2,500 has been raised for materials, facilities has donated $1,000 in labor to break ground and transition the current irrigation system to a drip system, the University Sustainability Council donated funds for a garden sign, LAEP is now designing a permaculture course for architects, LAEP has allowed access to all tools needed in the build, professors in the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences and the USU Student Organic Farm are donating plants, bricks for keyhole gardens and an herb spiral were donated from a construction site on campus, mulch is being donated from facilities, a student permaculture intern has been hired to implement the first phase of the garden, and three additional permaculture sites have been proposed on main campus.

Following these efforts in Logan, USU Moab has approved all of their landscaping to be replaced with permaculture gardens. Some of the campus plans can be seen above. 

The prospect of implementing this initial garden was daunting, unlikely, and arduous, but the momentum is now moving quickly. In-depth observation, patience, collaboration, and perseverance were critical in fostering lasting positive change.

To learn more about and become involved in the USU Permaculture Initiative, contact Roslynn Brain at roslynn.brain@usu.edu, or join our newsletter and/or Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/UsuExtensionSustainability