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Upcoming science-related events on ‘sustainable’ topics

Many, many years ago, I took pains to avoid using the word “sustainable” in my stories about science, agriculture and urban development — for the same reason I didn’t use the jargon teachers and professors fling around in education-speak.

Many, many years ago, I took pains to avoid using the word “sustainable” in my stories about science, agriculture and urban development — for the same reason I didn’t use the jargon teachers and professors fling around in education-speak. Too arcane. Too far into the weeds of environmental techno-speak.

There were other, more commonly used, words to talk about policies and practices that could serve the environment over the long term.

Some time ago, though, I yielded to the wonderful evolution of everyday language. “Sustainable” had taken its place in the Minnesota vernacular.

Now it seems as though every other science-related event has to do with a sustainable something. Here are four such events coming up within the next few days:

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Sustainable transportation

“Fuelish Choices: Improving Sustainability of Transportation” is the title of this week’s Wednesday lecture at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

Biofuels are touted as a means of achieving energy independence, reducing climate change, cleaning the air, and renewing rural communities. But do they? When we fill our tank with ethanol or biodiesel, are we simply trading one set of problems for another?

Jason Hill, Professor of Bioproducts & Biosystems Engineering, will explore the consequences of our various transportation fuel options, including “none of the above” – a telling comparison with the fossil fuel and greenhouse gas reductions we could achieve by driving less and improving vehicle efficiency.

The lecture, free and open to the public, is scheduled for noon to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 13, at the institute’s seminar room in 380 VoTech Building on the St. Paul campus. It also will air live on the Web. Details are available here.

Sustainable shelter

Cutting-edge home building technology and natural systems of shelter will be showcased in a new exhibit at the U of M’s Bell Museum of Natural History.

Just as birds select and gather materials from their local environments to fashion safe and nurturing nests, humans use natural resources to build homes to meet an array of needs and desires.

But while shelters in the animal kingdom work in tandem with natural cycles, human shelters typically consume more than they need in natural resources and energy. “Sustainable Shelter: Dwelling Within the Forces of Nature” investigates the way human dwellings extract, use and discard energy, water and other natural resources.

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Through graphics, cartoons, interactive computer games, model homes and mock shelters, visitors can explore how ordinary activities — from reading a book to drying clothes — impact the planet’s carbon and water cycles.

The exhibit also compares and contrasts human dwellings with those of other animals, offers a cross-cultural look at human dwellings from around the world and looks at the changes in building methods and consumption patterns of U.S. houses over the past 150 years.

Visitors will get to try out ways to make their homes more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable at the exhibit which was co-developed by the university’s Center for Sustainable Building Research.

The exhibit opens next Saturday, Oct. 16, and runs through May 15, 2011. Admission is free with regular admission to the museum at 10 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis. More information is available here.

Sustainable water

The Freshwater Society is bringing national water experts to town to share information and discuss critical water issues that impact nationally, in the Great Lakes region and in Minnesota.

Eric Evenson, the coordinator of a new U.S. Geological Survey census of water availability across the country, and Deborah Swackhamer, the leader of an effort to recommend to lawmakers a framework for water sustainability in Minnesota, are among the scheduled speakers.

A goal for the “Sustainable Water Resources Roundtable” is to bring together government, corporate, non-profit and academic sectors to advance our understanding of the nation’s water resources and to develop research and policy tools for their sustainable management. David Berry, a Virginia consultant, co-founded the Roundtable when he worked for the White House Council on Environmental Quality in the Clinton administration.

The meeting is scheduled for Thursday and Friday next week, Oct. 21 and 22, at the Gray Freshwater Center, 2500 Shadywood Road, Excelsior. It is free and open to the public, but seating is limited and registration is required. For more information and to register, go to

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For information on the Roundtable, go to here  or here.

Sustainable food

Three leaders of worldwide agricultural research centers will discuss “Sustainably Feeding the World” at a University of Minnesota forum on Monday.

All three panelists are directors-general of international research institutes that are part of the 15-member network known as the Consultative Group on International Research Centers. They include Carlos Sere, who leads the International Livestock Research Institute based in Nairobi; Shenggen Fan of the International Food Policy Research Institute based in Washington, D.C.; and Ruben Echeverria of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, based in Cali, Colombia.

Professor Philip Pardey of the Department of Applied Economics co-directs the HarvestChoice project and will moderate the panel of speakers.

HarvestChoice works with all three international centers with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The forum is set for 1:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 18, at the Cargill Building for Microbial and Plant Genomics, University of Minnesota St. Paul campus, 1500 Gortner Ave., St. Paul.