Archive for ‘Activism’

March 31, 2014

Upcoming Lecture TODAY: Climate Policy as Wealth Creation

by Melissa Harding

climate change lecture

March 31, 2014
4:30 pm
University Club, Ballroom B
123 University Place, Pittsburgh, PA 15260

How well do you understand the science of climate change? Recent research shows that most people have a minimal understanding of the ins and outs of this important issue. In an effort to bring about awareness and increase scientific literacy on this topic, The University of Pittsburgh’s University Honors College (UHC) has initiated a series of lectures to educate students, faculty and staff, as well as others in the Pittsburgh community. To bring this series to a wider community audience, they are partnering with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, and the National Aviary.

We need to drive investment in renewables and energy efficiency through economic signals, including carbon pricing as well as conventional environmental regulations. If and when we price emissions, via a carbon tax or a cap-and-permit system, a crucial economic and political question is: Who will get the money? Join us for the next Climate Change Lecture by energy economist James K. Boyce from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
A panel discussion will follow the lecture featuring:
Erica Cochran, Carnegie Mellon University
Paul Ohodnicki, National Energy Technology Laboratory
Stephen Rose, Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center
Moderated by Christina Gabriel, University Energy Partnership

Click HERE to reserve your spot at the lecture today.
We hope to see you there!


March 27, 2014

Inspire Speaker Series, April 10: Spreading the Message of Sustainability Through Silence and Action

by Melissa Harding


Presented by Green Building Alliance and Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, the second year of this lecture circuit will continue to plant the seeds of inspiration throughout our community.  

Planetwalker: Spreading a Message of Sustainability Through Silence and Action

In this edition of the Inspire Speakers Series, audience members will feel fortunate to have the opportunity to hear ONE WORD from Dr. John Francis, not to mention an entire lecture!  That’s because he once went 17 years without speaking.  That’s right – 17 years!  When John was 26-years-old, he witnessed an oil tanker collision on San Francisco Bay.  He felt so disturbed (and partially responsible for his use of oil), that he decided to give up motorized vehicles – a decision which spurred so many arguments with friends and family members that he decided to stop talking.  This was the beginning of a 17-year journey that led him to be known as the Planetwalker.  During the nearly two decades that followed, John received a Master’s degree, a PhD, and founded the Planetwalk Foundation (a nonprofit environmental awareness organization) – all while spreading a silent message of sustainable living.

Ending his silence in 1990, Dr. Francis has spent his subsequent years carrying that same message across the country.  Trust us – you’ll be glad that John decided to start talking again – and that you have the chance to listen!

More About John Francis

  • Author of Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence.
  • Author of The Ragged Edge of Silence: Finding Peace in a Noisy World
  • Read an article about John here
  • See John’s TED Talk here

Come grab dinner and enjoy an opportunity for networking in Phipps Cafe starting at 5:00 p.m.  Inspire Speakers presentations will follow at 6:00 p.m.  Register here to join the speakers for dinner after their talks.

Check out the rest of this year’s Inspire Speakers presenters here!  GBA Members save $51 by purchasing the entire series!

March 18, 2014

Melissa Harding and Amanda Joy Present at Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators 2014 Conference

by Melissa Harding

IMG_0091 2 IMG_0061

Last weekend, both Melissa Harding and Amanda Joy presented at the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators (PAEE) 2014 conference in Ligonier, PA. Melissa presented at the conference on “Changing Behavior Through Creative Reuse: Using “Trash” Materials in Programming”; this presentation focused on how the department repurposes many “trash” materials in programming, from craft projects to program props, and included demonstrations of how to repurpose old T-shirts to make bags and how to turn magazines into butterflies. Amanda presented on “Cute Critters and Crazy Cartoons: Using Human and Animal Characters to Teach Botany”; this presentation focused on how the department uses animals, cartoons and other characters to help children better relate to botany, including demonstrations of our new Habitats and Discovering Biomes school programs.

We would also like to congratulate Melissa on her re-election to the PAEE Board of Directors as Southwest Regional Director. She hopes that her efforts with the board will create more opportunities to support both students and educators in her region.

The above photos were taken by Cory Doman.

January 27, 2014

Understanding the Human Connection to American Ginseng

by Melissa Harding

ginesng 4

BIA Fellow Jessi Turner shares with us her love of ginseng and her commitment to its preservation in this following essay. Thanks to Jessi for sharing her story and helping us understand the human connection to this great plant!

I will never forget the first time I saw American ginseng.  It was in the last daylight hours of a chilly, early September day; my older brother and I put on our flannels as we walked into the woods.  “Here it is,” he pointed at the small, unassuming plant with bright red berries, “Green Gold.” After I looked at the three prongs, each with the compound whorl of leaflets, Joshua bent down, took the bright red berries and planted them. Then he used a small shovel, slowly digging it into the soil, and he exposed a dirty, beige root.  I remember how excited he was to show me how to “go ‘sanging” (or hunt for ginseng.)  He later took it into the basement, and among others, placed it out to dry.

ginesng 2I have always been fascinated by medicinal plants, and ginseng was no exception. The international connection of this plant is second to none. Locally, people harvest with their family and friends to earn a valuable second income.  After these roots are sold, they end up in Hong Kong, and sold for traditional Chinese medicine.  Ginseng is considered a cure-all, an aphrodisiac, and an energizer (let’s be honest, ginseng basically sells itself!).  The mere fact that this moment with my brother would influence the market on the other side of the world, is still a concept that amazes me.

Wild American ginseng can sell for hundreds of dollars a pound, and it has been harvested readily since the 1700’s.  Ginseng harvest is an important tradition of Appalachian culture.  However, ginseng faces a host of pressures: unethical harvest (out of season, taking non-reproductive plants, taking plants that are too small), climate change, deer browse, and loss of habitat from conversion of forests to other types of land use.  Without sustainable practices, ginseng will likely go extinct.

In order to conserve ginseng for future generations, there should be a push to ethically harvest and steward populations of ginseng.  This is an easy process:
1. Familiarize yourself on Ginseng Harvest Laws in your state.
2. Always ask permission, or acquire the proper permits, to harvest if it isn’t on your property.
3. Harvest only 25% of all mature plants in a population (3 to 4 prong plants) that have red fruit.
4. Plant the seeds near the host plant, make sure the seeds are about an inch deep in the soil.
5. Plant any seeds from any plant, even if you do not harvest the plant.

ginseng 3These days, I still go out in the woods yearly with family members.  As my brother joined the AirForce and moved away, I now go out with my parents.  Both are skilled at finding ginseng.  In late August, when the berries are red, we go looking for plants.  As I study ginseng conservation, rather than harvest the plant, the thrill for us is finding these rare plants. I like to think we do a catch and release program.  After we find ginseng, we plant the berries, 2 cm into the dirt, and then carefully cut off the plant at the stem (to keep illegal harvesters from finding the plant and digging it up.)  Since it is the end of the season, the plants have enough energy from the summer, and the tops are no longer needed- plus, we collect the leaves to use them in tea.  Over the past few years, we have seen populations of ginseng in the areas we visit increase dramatically. Ginseng is a very special plant that reminds me of great memories with my family and friends.  As it is a species that is economically, culturally, and medicinally importance on an international scale, we need to conserve it for future generations.

For more information, please visit and watch the following video: How to Steward your Ginseng Population.  

 Learn more about Jessi at her website and follow her work with Phipps with our Follow the Fellows feature!

The above photos were all provided courtesy of Jessi Turner.

December 6, 2013

Interview with a Scientist: BIA Fellow Anita Varghese

by Melissa Harding


If there is one segment of society that is often misunderstood, it is people who work in science fields. Public perception of scientists tends to lean towards lab coats, crazy hair and beakers full of chemicals, especially in the eyes of children.  In reality, most scientists are just regular people who want to make the world a better place through scientific discovery. The best way to dispel the myth that scientists are boring or crazy is to get to know them; the purpose of this segment is to talk with real scientists to ask them what they love about their jobs and why they think their work is fun and important.

For our second interview, we sat down with BIA Fellow Anita Varghese. The Botany in Action Fellowship program at Phipps fosters the development of the next generation of plant-based scientists who are committed, first, to excellent research, and second, to educational outreach. The BIA program provides Fellows with funding for use towards field research in the US or abroad and a trip to Phipps, to engage in science outreach training and opportunities to share his or her research to public audiences. Anita is in her third year as a BIA Fellow, studying biodiversity in the Western Ghats of India.

We interviewed Anita about why curiosity is important, her favorite part of her job and her experience crossing a river on a bamboo pole.

  1. Describe your work: Most of the world’s remaining biodiversity occurs in human forest landscapes and its conservation requires participation of local communities. My research focuses on the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot in India, and seeks to establish linkages between the ecology of wild harvested plants, the ecosystems where they are found, and the knowledge of indigenous gatherers. The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, which lies within the Western Ghats is home to more than 20 indigenous forest dependent groups who derive a part of their livelihood from collection of forest produce. These forest products range from leaves, barks, seeds, fruits, resin and animal products like honey. My research objectives are to assess the impact of resin harvest methods on the biology of Canarium strictum (Burseraceae), an evergreen forest tree also called the Black Dammer tree. I am also keen to understand the factors that shape indigenous people’s motivation to be gatherers of forest produce. Finally I want to understand what indicators do the indigenous people use to predict ecological changes either to the forest produce or to its habitat.
  2. Why did you become a scientist?
    Nature and the love for nature is what made me an ecologist. By the time I finished my Masters in Ecology I felt I had enough of textbook knowledge and wanted to work to apply this knowledge. As I continue to work for the Keystone Foundation, an eco-development NGO, I combine my conservation action with research and I am using my PhD to work out a balance between the two.
  3. What is your favorite part about being a scientist?
    My favorite part about being an ecologist is that I get to do my research and science outdoors.
  4. What is the most important quality in a scientist?
    To accept that you are engaged in understanding only a part of the puzzle
  5. What is the coolest thing you have ever done at work?
    Working in the forests in the tropics has several adventures, but I think the one that I don’t want to do again is walking on a bamboo pole across a 30m wide river in the peak of the monsoons! There were no life jackets, no harnesses not even a decent side railing to the bamboo pole which was the bridge.
  6. If you weren’t a scientist, what other job would you want to do?
    Teach science to school children
  7. What are your hobbies outside of your research?
    Playing the piano
  8. Why is science important?
    Science is all around us and very much a part of our daily lives. We do need more people to do science to set right some of the wrongs that we have done to the planet.
  9. Why is it important for kids to learn science?
    Curiosity is most alive in a child and that is the starting point for science. Some of the best science is done by asking the most basic questions. So I feel children have it in them to do science, we have made science so restricted that children are terrified of it.

Anita is someone who sees science all around her every day and wants to use her research to make the world a better place. She is also an example of someone who combines art and science together in her life. To learn more about the role that art plays in science, check out this post.

To learn more about Anita’s work, check out her Follow the Fellows page on the Botany in Action Website.

The above photo was taken by Amanda Joy.

December 5, 2013

December Inspire Speaker Series Welcomes Jim Hartzfield and Bill Strickland!

by Melissa Harding

GBA  Dec 2013

Presented by Green Building Alliance and Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, the second year of this lecture circuit will continue to plant the seeds of inspiration throughout our community.  

The Power of People Uncovering the Human Potential in Achieving True Sustainability “Some people are so wrapped up in the what, that they forget about the why.”  At December’s Inspire Speakers Series lecture, Jim Hartzfeld will help audience members identify their big WHY.  Why do we care about sustainability?  Why do green spaces matter?  Why are human equity, environment, and economy connected?

A pioneer in developing cultures of sustainability, Jim spent nearly 20 years working at Interface with the legendary Ray Anderson.  During his time with Interface and since then, he has developed proactive strategies for companies, schools, and communities to integrate cultures of sustainability into their practices.  Finding his place at the intersection of head and heart, technology and purpose, Jim has championed sustainable enterprise as the right and smart thing to do.

Taking a humanistic approach to sustainability, Jim has come to learn that no matter how green a building or company is, it’s the people who truly sustain its sustainability.

How does this topic relate to Western Pennsylvania?  December’s Inspire Speakers Series will feature the following local speaker who will share details about how the topic is being addressed here.

Local Speaker: Bill Strickland In a very special edition of the Inspire Speakers Series, our main speaker will be joined by a local speaker who is a national icon in his own right: Pittsburgh native Bill Strickland.  Bill is president & CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corporation and its subsidiaries, Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG) and Bidwell Training Center (BTC).  The corporation, which is being replicated throughout the country, has become a national example of culture, education, and hope.

While Bill is a sought-after speaker across the nation, he rarely makes local appearances – so this is a special and much-anticipated chance for community members to hear him speak about how they can make their community – and his – healthier and more equitable. (For a better sense of Bill, watch his TED Talk, “Rebuilding a Neighborhood with Beauty, Dignity, Hope”.)

Come grab dinner and enjoy an opportunity for networking in Phipps Cafe starting at 5:00 p.m.  Inspire Speakers presentations will follow at 6:00 p.m.  Register here to join the speakers for dinner after their talks.

Check out the rest of this year’s Inspire Speakers presenters here!  GBA Members save $51 by purchasing the entire series!

November 27, 2013

1-year Paid Internship Oppportunity in Phipps’ Science Education & Research Department!

by Melissa Harding


Phipps is accepting applications for a 1-year paid internship position in Science Education for 2014! Available to undergraduate through graduate students. Application deadline Jan 7, 2014.

GENERAL SUMMARY:  The intern will become an invaluable team member in Phipps’ Science Education department, helping to strengthen and create new youth-focused education and outreach initiatives in the areas of environmental conservation and sustainability, art and science, and healthy living, with the core of building a positive relationship between humanity and the environment.

This paid internship spans 12 months, starting January 2014, with up to 40 hours/week during the summer months and 15-20 hours/week during the school year. Some evening and weekend work will be required. Intern may participate in many of Phipps’ classes at no cost (except applicable material fees).

DSC_0084PRINCIPAL DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES:  The intern will work closely with Science Education and Research staff and volunteers to a) develop and teach cross-disciplinary, participatory programs including summer camps, out-of-school and weekend programs for youth and families, on-site and off-site school programs, scouts and brownies badge programs, programs for homeschool groups, and outreach for under-resourced youth, b) assist in developing programs that connect youth to environment-focused scientists and provide educational enrichment for formal and informal educators, and c) represent Phipps at community events, online as applicable, present on Phipps’ innovative green initiatives, and other potential duties as needed.

QUALIFICATIONS: The student should be currently enrolled in an undergraduate program at least halfway through the course of study, or one year post-graduate from undergraduate program, or currently enrolled as a graduate student.  The degree focus must be in an area related to Phipps’ Science Education and Research department, e.g., environmental education, environmental social sciences, environmental communications, ecological or conservation-based biological sciences, or nutrition and dietetics.  A valid driver’s license and a car to use for transport for off-site programs (mileage reimbursed) are preferred.  The student must be willing and able to engage public of all ages, have excellent team member and multi-tasking skills, be creative and willing to adapt to changing scenarios, be punctual, self-motivated, and enthusiastic about and committed to helping connect youth and youth-related adults with nature and nature-based sciences.  Experience working with youth is a plus.

TO APPLY: Submit a cover letter and resume by January 7, 2014 via email to Please reference SCIENCE EDUCATION INTERNSHIP in the subject line.

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff.


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