DC Environmental Film Festival Live Online Through March 31

Because of the pandemic, the DC Environmental Film Festival is streaming its movies through the end of March. Most are free to watch.

About the festival: The Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital (DCEFF) is the world’s premier showcase of environmentally themed films. Since 1993, its mission has been to celebrate Earth and inspire understanding and stewardship of the environment through the power of film.

Each March in Washington, D.C., they host the largest environmental film festival in the world, presenting 100+ films to audiences of more than 20,000. Collaborating with over 110 partners, including museums, embassies, universities, and theaters, the Festival is one of the leading annual cultural events in Washington, D.C., winning the 2017 DC Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Creative Industries.

Keep learning with Smithsonian Museum of Natural History webcasts

Smithsonian Science How

Bring a Smithsonian Scientist into your classroom with Smithsonian Science How! Check out the Science How schedule below to get started, or preview our formats by watching a program from our video webcast archives.

Video Webcasts

These free, interactive, live video webcasts take questions from your students while introducing them to science concepts and practices through the lens of Smithsonian research and experts. The shows provide opportunities for your students to interact via live polls and Q&A with the scientist.

  • Grades 3-8; optimized for students in grades 3-5
  • Developed in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s children’s theater, Discovery Theater
  • Scientists take your questions
  • Complementary teaching resources
  • 30 minutes long
  • Aligned with national science standards

Schedule

Here is the webcast schedule for the 2019-2020 school year. Want to suggest a topic for a future show? E-mail us at ScienceHow@si.edu.

Upcoming Shows

We’re moving our popular webcast series to video webinars to connect your learners to natural history science and careers more often. Webinars will be presented on Zoom video. All times are Eastern Time.

Completed Shows

Video Archives

We’ve produced 52 Smithsonian Science How webcasts over the last six years. They feature Smithsonian experts and cover specific topics in the disciplines of Earth Science, Life Science, Paleontology, and Social Studies.

Browse the video archives.

Ask Science How

Teachers and students: Do you have a question for our science experts? Send us your questions, either before or after a webcast. We’ll send you the answer. Ask Science How

From the Humane Gardener: The frogs are calling. Will we listen?

Suffering from their own global pandemic, frogs have few places to hide from mowers, pesticides and fungal disease. But helping them starts at home, right in your own backyard.

As Italians sang in hope and unity from their balconies last week, a different kind of national anthem played outside my window an ocean away. American toads trilled their hearts out. Clucking wood frogs plucked the bass strings. Spring peepers chirped a staccato soprano….

The eve of spring, normally a joyous occasion, was unfolding in a world very different from the one we lived in last spring, last month and even last week. And yet it wasn’t different at all, at least not for the frogs, whose symphony reminded me that for so many creatures living here among us, life goes on.

Read the rest of Nancy Lawson’s story

Join the U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions

In November 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the formation of the U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions group and presented the first set of 2030 Champions.

U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions are businesses and organizations that have made a public commitment to reduce food loss and waste in their own operations in the United States by 50 percent by the year 2030.

The staggering amount of wasted food in the United States has far-reaching impacts on resource conservation and food security, while costing businesses and consumers money. To help galvanize national efforts to reduce food loss and waste, USDA and EPA announced the United States’ first-ever food loss and waste reduction goal in September 2015, calling for a 50-percent reduction by 2030. Government alone cannot reach this goal. It will require effort and action from the entire food system. The 2030 Champions have heard the Call to Action and are committed to do their part to help the nation reach this critical goal.

EPA, FDA, and USDA co-hosted a Food Loss and Waste event at USDA’s Whitten Building on October 18, 2018, in Washington, DC. The purpose of the event was to celebrate the commitments of the 2030 Champions to reduce food loss and waste in their industrial operations by 2030 and to sponsor a panel to highlight some innovative ways and best practices to educate American consumers on the impacts of food loss and waste, environmentally, socially and economically. The leaders of EPA, USDA, and FDA signed a formal agreement aimed at improving coordination and communication across the federal agencies attempting to better educate Americans on the impacts and importance of reducing food loss and waste.

Learn more about reducing food waste

Gardening for Earth Renewal

Article by Plant NOVA Natives staff

How does your garden renew the earth? Vegetable gardens, flower gardens, conventional landscaping and even container gardens can all contribute to a connected landscape that supports our local birds and butterflies. By restoring native plants and avoiding chemicals, together we can heal the damaged landscape we have created with our buildings, sterile lawn, and green-but ecologically-useless plants from other continents.

The wildlife of the East Coast evolved in concert with the complex mixture of trees and understory plants that covered most of the land in the past, plus smaller areas of meadows and wetlands. Turtles, birds, frogs and fireflies all suffer when those hundreds of species of plants are replaced by a monoculture of lawn and a few specimen shrubs. And biodiversity all but disappears when those few plants consist of species that were introduced from elsewhere, as is the case with turf grass (which is from Europe), Japanese Barberry, English Ivy, and many other commonly sold plants, some of which have become invasive and taken over our remaining natural areas.

The antidote is clear: plant more plants, and make sure they are native species! The first step is to look at any nearby natural area and figure out how your property might expand its habitat value and reduce the fragmentation that interferes with the movement of animals. Are you near woods? How about adding more trees and shade-loving shrubs and ground cover? After all, they say that shade gardens are the gardens of the future, because it will be too hot to want to spend much time in the sun! Or perhaps your yard receives your neighbor’s runoff which can be turned into an asset by deep-rooted plants that soak up the excess water and recreate a butterfly-filled meadow. Or perhaps you are lucky enough to have a lawn in full sun that could be used for a raised vegetable bed. Those vegetables are unlikely to be native plants, but the bed will absorb runoff much better than lawn, and you can improve your crop yields by adding a nearby sunny flower garden that draws in the pollinators.

It doesn’t matter whether you want to change or to keep the general appearance of your property – if you prefer, you can achieve the same general look by simply substituting native plants for introduced ones. What we should change is our understanding of how our land functions. You need not settle for a yard that is an empty hole in the map that excludes its natural residents. Rather, your home can become part of what Doug Tallamy, in his newly-released Nature’s Best Hope, is calling our future “Homegrown National Park.” If enough of us make some relatively easy changes to our yard practices, we can knit together our properties into a thriving environment where people and nature live in harmony. Now, in this time of trouble, we can renew the Earth. Find out how at www.plantnovanatives.org/gardening-for-earth-renewal.

Sustaining America’s Aquatic Biodiversity: Frog Biodiversity and Conservation

Virginia Cooperative Extension has just published a refreshed version of this useful 4-page info sheet (Publication 420-527). Good for naturalists, classrooms, and nature centers.

One of the references is to a site that US Geological Survey sponsors on frog calls. Take the quiz–lots of fun.

2019 Year in Review, by Michelle Prysby, Virginia Master Naturalists Program Director

For the full report, click here.

National Academies of Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering study on Grand Challenges for Environmental Engineering in the 21st Century

The National Academies of Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering performed a study on Grand Challenges for Environmental Engineering in the 21st Century, which they published in 2018. It is now available to the general public and is a good, bracing read. The excerpt below is from the introduction. Yup, it’s 125 pages and will take longer than 15 minutes to absorb, but it’s worth the time. You can download the report and slides, too.

“The report identifies five pressing challenges for the 21st century that environmental engineers are uniquely poised to help advance:

1: Sustainably supply food, water, and energy

2: Curb climate change and adapt to its impacts

3: Design a future without pollution and waste

4: Create efficient, healthy, resilient cities

5: Foster informed decisions and actions

These grand challenges stem from a vision of a future world where humans and ecosystems thrive together. Although this is unquestionably an ambitious vision, it is feasible—and imperative—to achieve significant steps toward these challenges in both the near and long term.

The challenges provide focal points for evolving environmental engineering education, research, and practice toward increased contributions and a greater impact. Implementing this new model will require modifications in the educational curriculum and creative approaches to foster interdisciplinary research on complex social and environmental problems. It will also require broader coalitions of scholars and practitioners from different disciplines and backgrounds, as well as true partnerships with communities and stakeholders. Greater collaboration with economists, policy scholars, and businesses and entrepreneurs is needed to understand and manage issues that cut across sectors. Finally, this work must be carried out with a keen awareness of the needs of people who have historically been excluded from environmental decision making, such as those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, members of underrepresented groups, or those otherwise marginalized.”

Inside Out Gardens

Article by Plant NOVA Natives

Before we turn our thoughts to spring, let us take this opportunity to plan for next year’s long stretch of cold and gray. Does your landscape give you pleasure in the winter, as you sit inside looking out? Or is it only designed for curb appeal, with the plants crammed up against the foundation so that all you see from your window is the lawn and the street? Or perhaps the shrubs that were installed with the house are now overgrown and blocking your view altogether. A little rearranging can give you both curb appeal and a vibrant vista from your breakfast table or living room.

The first thing to consider is that movement brings a landscape to life. That can be provided by wind bending the grasses but most importantly by birds and other critters that are making use of your yard. A bird feeder can help you obtain that experience, but to actually support the wildlife, you need to provide them with the plants they need for shelter and food for both themselves and their babies. With rare exceptions, baby songbirds cannot eat seeds – they require insects, which themselves require the plants with which they evolved. In other words, to support life, your yard needs native plants.

If you take out any overgrown shrubs and plant new ones fifteen or twenty feet away from the window, from the inside the effect can be as if you added on a room to your house. Native shrubs can be arranged into a living backdrop where birds entertain you as they eat and shelter. Winterberry, Chokeberry and Elderberry are examples of shrubs that provide colorful berries to feed the birds. Multi-stemmed Serviceberries, with their lovely white flowers followed by berries that are also edible to humans, provide a place for birds to sit while they eat the seeds from your feeder. Native Heucheras and evergreen native ferns and sedges can fill the lower levels, which are also the perfect place to include some small shade-loving species that might get lost in a flower garden bed. Partridgeberry, for example, lies flat on the ground and has adorable red berries from November to January. Not as tiny but still quite small, the spring ephemerals start to emerge just when you need relief from winter.

Spring ephemerals are shade plants that emerge and quickly flower in late winter and spring and then fade away once the trees leaf out. If you plant them in the woods, you will be mimicking nature, but you may miss the whole show. How often do you walk in your woods in cold or rainy weather? On the other hand, if you also tuck them under your deciduous shrubs out front where you can spot these treasures from your window or as you walk by on the way to your car, you can enjoy them the same way we appreciate snow drops, crocuses and daffodils as they emerge in succession. One of the earliest harbingers of spring is Round-lobed Hepatica, whose cute three-lobed leaves peek out in March to be followed by pale purple flowers. Another plant with intriguing leaves is Bloodroot, which starts to flower by late March, around the time that the pink and white flowers of Virginia Spring Beauty begin their long bloom period, providing an important source of nectar to bees as they first awaken. The blossoms of Virginia Bluebells may occasionally start to appear that early as well. A whole troop of other ephemerals burst forth in April. You can find details about spring ephemerals and other native plants on the Plant NOVA Natives website, as well as information about where to buy them.

Project Drawdown’s 100 solutions to reverse global warming

What if we took out more greenhouse gases than we put into the atmosphere? This hypothetical scenario, known as drawdown, is our only hope of averting climate disaster, says strategist Chad Frischmann of Project Drawdown.

In a compelling TED Talk about climate change, he shares solutions that exist today: conventional tactics like the use of renewable energy and better land management as well as some lesser-known approaches, like changes to food production, better family planning, and the education of girls.

Listen for ideas about how we can reverse global warming and create a world where regeneration, not destruction, is the rule. His talk was presented at “We the Future,” a special event in partnership with the Skoll Foundation and the United Nations Foundation.

For the full list of solutions, click here.

For material on managing refrigerants, click here.

For Katherine Wilkinson’s TED Talk on empowering women and girls an their role in addressing climate change, click here.