The University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment has made some great movies examining what they call "big questions."
Big question: Feast or famine?
IonE's first Big Question asks: How do we feed a growing world without destroying the planet?
Big question: Is Earth past the tipping point?
Have we pushed our planet past the tipping point? That's a critical issue the IonE explores in our second Big Question video.
Big question: What is nature worth?
Plants, animals, even entire ecosystems are disappearing. So what? "What is Nature Worth" offers a three-minute look at what we’re REALLY losing – and what we can do about it.
Interesting problems, right? If you're intrigued, and want to know more about the folks posing the questions and trying to find the solutions, jump over to Future Earth.
Don’t worry, it’s not cruel and usual punishment. The inmates aren’t being used as guinea pigs to test new drugs or try out some new method of electroshock therapy. Instead, the incarcerated offenders are part of Nadkarni’s research team. Nadkarni holds a PhD in Forest Ecology and is on the faculty at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has funded some of her inmate-aided research.
For one of Dr. Nadkarni's
Courtesy Nalini Nadkarni research projects, offenders at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, Washington, helped plant seeds of rare prairie plants then recorded data during the plants growth stages. The prisoners actually enjoyed helping out with the research. Not only did it give them a sense of doing something worthwhile, it connects them to something that’s sorely lacking in the old Graybar Hotel: nature.
For another project called Moss-in-Prisons (no Thor, your hero Randy has been picked up by the Tennessee Titans), Nadkarni recruited inmates at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Littlerock, Washington, to help discover improved ways of cultivating slow-growing mosses.
"I need help from people who have long periods of time available to observe and measure the growing mosses; access to extensive space to lay out flats of plants; and fresh minds to put forward innovative solutions," Nadkarni said.
If successful, the research could help replace ecologically important mosses that have been stripped from old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest, a sometimes illegal tactic that seems to be a favorite among some horticulturists.
In many cases, helping with the research isn’t just a way for inmates to pass time behind the brick walls and barbed wire of their confinement. It’s also a way to inspire them. One former inmate, who had worked with Nadkarni, enrolled in a Ph.D. program in microbiology after his release from Cedar Creek, and went on to give a presentation of the research he had done there at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America.
Apparently, Dr. Nadkarni is on to something, and its importance is not lost on those still behind bars.
"It teaches me something," said one prisoner involved with Nadkarni’s prairie plant study. "It makes me work with people and it's just a new skill that I've learned."
Both science and prisoners benefit from this natural symbiosis taking place in such an unnatural setting. And other prisons have expressed interest in getting their inmates involved in Nadkarni’s research programs,
"Everyone can be a scientist,” Nadkarni says. “Everyone can relate to nature, everyone can contribute to the scientific enterprise, even those who are shut away from nature.”
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Andrew Revkin, the blogger, is asking readers to send in photos or video (via Flickr or YouTube) of "...parts of your environs that you treasure, that are imperiled, or that otherwise matter." Doesn't say they have to be of New York, and Minnesotans know a thing or two about beautiful places and water in winter or both.
(Be warned—depending on where you're coming from, you might find this Looney Tunes-hilarious, or, you know, kind of disturbing.)
Not to mention good taste and common sense. Heck, I could have told them that.
Courtesy Lori Oberhofer, National Parks ServiceSee, I always thought I wanted to die from being suffocated by cotton candy, or maybe from a Super Mario Brothers-triggered seizure. Well, Fate, cross that nonsense off the list, because something more than a little bit better came up: I want to die from having a little songbird rip its way out of my chest.
The decision isn’t final, by any means—there are still some details to work out before I really make a commitment. Do I, for instance, want to eat the little bird first (swallow it whole and alive, of course), or would it be better to have a mother bird lay its eggs in my chest, and have the young burst out later (think Alien)? Whatever the specifics, though, I think it’s a pretty good way to go.
Where do you get these genius ideas, JGordon? Well, I can’t take total credit for the death—the basic concept was really Nature’s, and I just built on it. That’s right, somehow, of all the things happening in the world, I found out about a sharp-shinned hawk in California that was found dead last month with the claws of a songbird emerging from its chest. What are the chances? I don’t mean the chances of a hawk eating a songbird, and then of the eaten bird’s clawed foot ripping through the hawk’s body, but the chances that of all the dead birds in the world, this one would find its way onto the Internet, and then to me. It’s fate.
There’s not much of a story to tell, really. An animal rescue worker was driving home and noticed the hawk lying by the road. Hoping to rescue the bird, she pulled over and carefully picked it up. Unfortunately, it had the remains of its last meal, probably a sparrow, spilling out of its chest. Yuckers! And there’s no cure for that! Sharp-shinned hawks usually don’t eat the heads or feet of their avian prey, probably for just this reason, but this sparrow was apparently just too delicious.
Remember a post from a year and half ago about a seed vault being built in the Arctic regions of Norway? It's now open and will be preserving all the world's main crops from the man-made disasters we might want to throw at them.