University of Wisconsin–Madison

Climate Quest Finale showcases climate solutions

by Jill Sakai

At the public Climate Quest Finale on January 30, five teams delivered compelling presentations with their visions of novel approaches to help society reduce or cope with climate change and its effects.

The Climate Quest competition launched to create solutions that will allow the Madison community and beyond to become more responsive to climate change and better able to continue to thrive in a changing environment.

A panel of reviewers, including investors, entrepreneurs, and scientists, evaluated each team’s proposal and presentation on factors including clarity, feasibility, scalability, time to implement, expected impact, and ability to attain needed resources. Their final decision is expected within about a week.

At the start of the day, the EcoMotion team, composed of Keari Bell-Gawne, Dennis Ramirez, and Jonathan Elmergreen, presented a smartphone application, described as “the Fitbit of carbon tracking,” that helps users track their carbon footprints by visualizing the impacts of everyday choices such as biking instead of driving. Low-carbon actions can win rewards from local business partners and points so users can compete with their friends.

The goal is to provide information and motivation to help users make sustainable lifestyle choices, Ramirez said. “Data can tell a story, but you need to have the right tools to listen to that story.” The EcoMotion app plans a limited early launch in April at the 2015 Earth Day Conference sponsored by the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

The Mindful Climate Action team began their presentation with a three-minute mindfulness practice for the panelists and attendees, led by clinical psychologist Carmen Alonso. Team leader Bruce Barrett, a family physician and UW-Madison professor of medicine, then outlined a randomized, controlled clinical trial designed to evaluate the impacts of an education and behavior change program built on mindfulness-based stress reduction training coupled with climate and sustainability education.

The approach seeks to quantitatively explore the links identified between environmental health and human health and happiness, Barrett said.

For the Dionysus Project, team leader Bartlett Durand, former owner of Black Earth Meats, described a way to scale up professional grass-fed beef finishing to turn the beef industry into a large-scale carbon sequestration system while simultaneously meeting a growing consumer demand for a product associated with nutritional, health, and environmental benefits.

Durand cited data indicating that returning carbon to the soil through properly managed grazing has the potential to offset the effects of current global greenhouse gas emissions.

In the afternoon, the MIGHTi (Mission to Improve Global Health Through Insects) team of Rachel Bergmans and Valerie Stull presented a “microlivestock” farming system that allows people to grow mealworms as an inexpensive, nutritious and environmentally-friendly protein source. They are working with women’s co-operatives in Zambia to test their prototype mealworm farms in rural areas subject to food insecurity and climate impacts. They also plan to develop risk assessment analyses needed to explore the use of insect protein in developed countries.

The pair also brought some roasted mealworms for attendees to sample. Those who tasted the worms described them as crunchy with a slightly nutty flavor.

In the final presentation, UW–Madison zoology professor Warren Porter demonstrated a web and mobile-based application designed to help dairy farmers explore how factors such as diet, water, and shade will impact their animals’ milk production. Niche Mapper: Dairy Edition takes inputs such as cow color, fur length, diet, height, weight, and location and provides a month-by-month readout of water needs and expected milk output.

The application draws on climate models to predict future milk levels based on projected climate changes as well to help farmers adapt. “We’re at a point now where you can design your own animal or get it from our database and then put it in any environment,” Porter said.