Earth Day: Green Smarts

16 Apr

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I think the internet is a pretty fantastic place.  Not only can you look at adorable pictures of cats literally (and I am using that correctly) all day long, you also have a near infinite depository of knowledge at your fingertips. One of the things I love the most about this is that education has become universal.  True, you won’t land a job in bioscience without paying for a degree, but you can get a basic education on almost any subject for free.

Some of the sources I share will be obviously “eco” or “green” topics, but for the most part I think learning about our earth, its systems, inhabitants, and place in the universe leads to understanding and appreciation which leads to the desire to protect our planet.  So some of these will lean more toward the “isn’t earth AWESOMESAUCE?!” than an issues approach to learning.

Podcasts are one of my prime ways of enlightening myself.  I can listen to them in the background while doing routine work or driving in the car.  It’s like a zero-effort way to making my brain all smart.
1. Radiolab – Fun fact!  They recently lost NPR’s March Madness of programs by a slim margin to This American Life.  For the uninitiated, RadioLab takes on a topic (very similar to This American Life) and goes several directions with it over the hour, but each take is at least passingly related to science.  This fits comfortably in the Awesomesauce category.  One of my favorite Radiolab moments was listening to their story about Voyager II taking pictures of earth from space while driving beneath the starry skies of Joshua Tree National Park.  It is impossible to take our planet for granted after hearing that.
2. Slate’s Table to Farm – If you’re interested in food systems, this show covers it all.  Each episode, the two hosts take a balanced approach to looking at how different foods get to our plate.  Then, they cook it.  Of particular note is their recent episode on seafood.  Not only do they discuss factory fish farming and government regulation, they also make a pretty mean scallop.
3. MonsterTalk – This barely ekes into the category, but I’ve been loving it lately so I added it.  MonsterTalk takes on a different type of monster (Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, giant squid…) every week and talks about their history and plausibility.  The twist is that it’s part of the Skeptic magazine network so they often delve into the scientific side of the creatures.  I was hooked when I listened to their episode on spiders.  Who needs zombies when the animals we already have on this planet are so amazing?
If you want something a little more to the point, NPR has Climate Connections, Environment, Living on Earth and many more. If you like shorter podcasts, Good Dirt is a great 5 minute fix that has a good overview of many environmental topics.

TED Talks
TED is pretty much impossible to attend due the prohibitively high price of admission. Luckily, they make their content free to us plebeians, so that eliminates most of the jealousy.  I cheated and put a few TED Talks in the YouTube playlist below, but sometimes it’s more fun to bounce through them on the TED website.  Start off by exploring the environment tag.  Even though each talk is shorter than 18 minutes, you can easily spend hours listening to all the brilliant speakers.

MOOC stands Massive Open Online Course. They are often offered by legit universities and have a wide range of both content and learning methods.
1. Coursera – I’ve already mentioned how much I love Coursera.  What makes them different, is that you earn badges in order to pass the course.  You may have to get a certain average score on tests, complete a final project or participate in class discussions.  This method keeps students motivated and lets you focus on whatever goal best suits your learning style.  The Sustainability course that I’m in is almost over, but a Climate Literacy class starts at the end of May.  Unlike most of the other options, these courses have a definitive start and end date, making them feel more like a real course.
2. iTunes U – For a more laid back approach, you can listen to lectures through iTunes U.  Aside from the lectures, most courses also have supplemental materials for further study.  Some of their programs are more like podcasts, so they tend to be casual.  Try looking in the social sciences and science sections.  The Ohio State University has a comprehensive program on Intro to Environmental Science.
3.  Aggregators- There are so many courses out there that there are many sites dedicated to indexing these courses.  They’ll often pull from the places I’ve already mentioned.  Sometimes it’s easier to see all your options in one place, but their level of organization and their choice of content varies.  The Open Education Database has a robust selection of open courses, divided by type (such as full courses or individual lectures).  EdX has a listing of different college courses.  They have a much smaller selection, but the courses seem to be more rigorous.  The next “green” topic is on Energy in September.  Udacity is another popular aggregator, but they tend not to have much on environmental topics.
4. Individual Universities – Many universities have their own programs to explore.  MIT (End of Nature sounds fascinating) ,  UC Berkeley, Harvard (which doesn’t seem to have any relevant courses this semester) and Yale all have their own selection of courses.  This is only a shortlist, though, so be sure to check out your local universities for other options.

While YouTube is often a refuge for aforementioned adorable kittens and frat boys taking nosedives, there is some great educational content available, too.  From full-length documentaries to 2-minute clips, YouTube can give you a quick overview of subjects or delve into the specifics.  The downside is it is very hard to find good content with good quality.  To help out, I’ve made an Earth Day playlist of YouTube videos to get you started.  I’ll keep the list updated whenever I find something else, and if you know of something great I’d be happy to add it.

With all of the great information online, you should have no problem educating yourself on environmental issues (and whatever else interests you).  I didn’t even get into all the blogs, facebook pages and tumblrs that may not be as official, but still have great information.  If you take a course or know a great podcast, let me know about it!  I’m always looking forward to learning more.

~ April


One Response to “Earth Day: Green Smarts”


  1. Earth Day: All In One Place | Without a Map - August 27, 2014

    […] 14, Earth Day: Room by Room in the Kitchen April 15, Earth Day: Going Green to Save Green April 16, Earth Day: Green Smarts April 17, Earth Day: Dirtbags and Dirty Hippies April 18, Earth Day: Green Crafting Roundup April […]

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