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Vibrant Environment

Aeroponics: A Sustainable Solution for Urban Agriculture

Vertical Roots aeroponics system (Photo: Vertical Roots).
By Matthew Miller, Research and Publications Intern
Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Our cities are booming in both population and area. This uncontrolled land expansion, known as urban sprawl, results from several factors including transportation technology, income, consumer preference, and housing pressures. Unfortunately, urban sprawl can negatively impact the most vulnerable communities. The same factors that bring about sprawl also combine to produce “food deserts,” the lack of fresh quality food in an urban setting. For example, a 2014 John Hopkins University study showed that access to both healthy food and the number of supermarkets decreased in poor and minority communities when compared to their counterparts. Moreover, a 2016 Landscape and Urban Planning journal article shows that as low-wage jobs are generated in the areas of new urban growth, low-income communities in urban centers face increased difficulty finding entry-level jobs.

Urban agriculture has had moderate success addressing these challenges. In particular, one emerging method known as “aeroponics” may provide a more sustainable solution to expand access to local produce in the urban core while simultaneously providing stable employment opportunities for community members.

A Well Ends Well: An Exurban Fable

A Well Ends Well: An Exurban Fable
By Stephen R. Dujack, Editor, The Environmental Forum®
Monday, April 2, 2018

“April showers bring May flowers,” the saying goes – but we also rely heavily on groundwater. In honor of the changing seasons, Vibrant Environment recounts a tale from The Environmental Forum of neighborhood water woes.

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Limitless: The Race to Create the Sun on Earth

Scientists may be within years of harnessing nuclear fusion energy to create "a
By Miriam Aczel, Visiting Researcher, Environmental Law Institute
Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A research group at MIT says nuclear fusion is within years of being commercially viable. And a European project, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), is also aggressively moving toward development of nuclear fusion power. Is this the dawn of a new nuclear age—safe, sustainable energy from nuclear fusion?

Conservative Conservation: Bipartisan Environmentalism in the Trump Era

Blue heron are among the species benefiting from bipartisan conservation efforts
By Darragh Moriarty, Legal Extern
Wednesday, March 21, 2018

“Anti-environmentalism is a mark of identity,” says Fred Rich, author of Getting to Green: Saving Nature: A Bipartisan Solution. “It is a mark of what it is to be a conservative.” With fossil fuel companies continuing to fund GOP politicians and a president who has called global warming a “hoax,” there are legitimate concerns that environmental issues will continue to polarize. The Republican 2016 Party platform described the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as “a political mechanism,” rejecting the “agendas” of the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement. In spite of this political climate, several politicians, from congressmen to state governors, and city mayors, are making bipartisan efforts to combat climate change. In doing so, they are not only showing that environmental sustainability and economic growth can go hand-in-hand, but that these measures receive support from voters across the political spectrum.

Sustainable Business Models for Codigesting Food Waste

Creating Energy from Food Waste (EPA/Flickr)
By Carol Adaire Jones, Visiting Scholar
Monday, March 19, 2018

The wastewater sector’s “Utility of the Future” (UOTF) initiative envisions the sector’s transformation from managing waste to recovering and recycling valuable resources, thereby creating financial benefits for utilities, as well as environmental and economic development benefits for communities. Adding food waste to anaerobic digesters (AD) processing sewage sludge, a process called codigestion, is a promising UOTF innovation that expands the sector’s potential to recover renewable biogas for heat, power, and fuel, and to extract nutrients for fertilizers and soil amendments.

Yet, U.S. adoption of codigestion remains low: about 1 in 10 wastewater resource recovery facilities (WRRFs) have adopted AD, and about 1 in 10 of those is codigesting. To address this untapped potential, ELI has launched a new project to identify alternative sustainable business models for successful codigestion.

Bonus Round: ELI Brainstorms New Ideas for Serious Games

Games can produce valuable information about strategies for taking on environmen
By Emmett McKinney, Former Research Associate, Azi Akpan, Science and Policy Analyst; Manager, National Wetlands Awards, Lovinia Reynolds , Policy Analyst and Environmental Justice Coordinator, and John Hare-Grogg, Former Research Associate
Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Games are not always, well, fun and games. Or maybe they are—which is their greatest strength. As noted by a 2011 article in The Economist, “The main reason why games are different is that they marry the power of modern technology to the insatiable human desire for play.” Lengthy reports often fail to reach their target audiences or deliver information in an engaging format. “Serious games” can be tremendously valuable for developing new approaches to address social challenges. By allowing their audience to interact with the content, play different roles, test out ideas, fail and learn, and change their strategy, games provide effective frameworks for engaging with (and maybe finding solutions to) emerging social, economic, and environmental challenges.

“New Arctic” Is a Dream Meltdown

Inukshuks near Baffin Bay (Wikimedia Commons)
By Stephen R. Dujack, Editor, The Environmental Forum®
Wednesday, February 21, 2018

I went to the North Pole in April, the favored month for travel in the High Arctic. That was 16 years ago. According to the 2017 National Climate Assessment, the region’s warming began accelerating around the time of my visit. It is no longer the same frozen ecology and economy I had seen.

Measuring Up: Smart Meter Lessons From the United Kingdom

Smart meters can bring many benefits for both energy utilities and consumers (
By Miriam Aczel, Visiting Researcher, Environmental Law Institute
Monday, February 12, 2018

Smart meters—small, electronic devices that track and record energy consumption and communicate information back to the electrical utility—can reduce energy use by empowering consumers with the ability to monitor energy use and make better choices. Smart meters are an upgrade to outdated analog meters because they automatically record information in real time instead of requiring someone to manually record and transmit the collected data.

Of Frogs and Men

Are frogs better than humans at responding to slow threats?
Wednesday, February 7, 2018

In An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore famously used the example of a slowly boiled frog as a metaphor for climate change. That turns out not to be accurate, as biologists say the frog is smart enough to jump out of the pot long before it becomes frog soup. But the problem Gore described is real enough.

Public Health Consequences of Hurricane Harvey Continue to Unfold

Hurricane Harvey poses health risks, even after floodwaters have subsided (DoD).
By Christina Libre , Research Associate
Monday, February 5, 2018

Just over five months have elapsed since Hurricane Harvey battered the Texas Coast, dropping more than 50 inches of rain on parts of the Houston area. The storm’s devastation was swift, killing 88 people and displacing many thousands. Yet, Harvey’s full impacts continue to unfold. Beyond imposing huge material losses, the storm has taken a significant toll on the health of those in its wake. It may be wise to understand storm events like Harvey not only as short-term physical disruptors, but as public health crises that will likely unfold over many years, long after media attention and political will to respond may have cooled.