The Prosthetic Eyeball Is a Work of Art

Originally published at TheAtlantic.com. Making a realistic eye takes more than technical skill: an Object Lesson.

The eye is about the size of a quarter, resting gently in Kurt Jahrling’s hand as he adds faint washes of yellow and blue to the white surface. The ocularist has already laid tiny, reddish-pink threads of silk over the surface to mimic the curves of blood vessels, tiny rivers winding from either corner toward the iris. A hazel centerpiece surrounds a black dot meant to mimic the pupil; as the finishing touch, he adds the arcus, a grey ring that hugs the outer edge of some aging irises.

The result is an astoundingly close approximation of the missing right eye of a 63-year-old Bostonian named Kevin. Kevin had his eye surgically removed eight months prior. Today, he’ll wear this tiny piece of acrylic home: an illusion, a practical placeholder, and a little piece of art.

Read the full article at The Atlantic.

Image: Victor Ruiz Garcia / Reuters

Can Philanthropy Spur the Massive Climate Finance the Developing World Needs?

There’s perhaps no bigger climate-related challenge than the trillions in clean energy and sustainability investments needed in developing countries. How can private philanthropy possibly make a dent? While reducing greenhouse gas emissions to curb climate change is a global challenge, in many ways, the energy futures of two countries, China and India, will shape the course of the planet.

India has a goal of bringing energy to more than 300 million people, a quarter of its population that currently lives in the dark. Meanwhile, China is urbanizing at breakneck speed, with its cities expected to house one in eight people on the planet by 2030. That kind of rapid development could translate either to a global expansion of clean energy or hundreds of new coal plants pumping carbon into the atmosphere.

Read the full article at Inside Philanthropy.

'Extremes Are Becoming the Norm.' Why Water is the Next Big Issue For Philanthropy

There’s perhaps no bigger climate-related challenge than the trillions in clean energy and sustainability investments needed in developing countries. How can private philanthropy possibly make a dent?  While reducing greenhouse gas emissions to curb climate change is a global challenge, in many ways, the energy futures of two countries, China and India, will shape the course of the planet.

India has a goal of bringing energy to more than 300 million people, a quarter of its population that currently lives in the dark. Meanwhile, China is urbanizing at breakneck speed, with its cities expected to house one in eight people on the planet by 2030. That kind of rapid development could translate either to a global expansion of clean energy or hundreds of new coal plants pumping carbon into the atmosphere.

Read the full article at Inside Philanthropy.

The Goldman Winners Are Inspiring—Too Bad Such Bold and Diverse Work is Underfunded

The exciting work of the Goldman Prize winners should be an eye-opener to environmental funders. They reflect a level of diversity and grassroots activism in marginalized communities that is sadly lacking in green philanthropy. The environmental community rightly celebrates the annual Goldman Environmental Prize winners each year, with the six recipients each receiving $175,000, plus widespread publicity and praise for their work in sustainability, ecosystems, environmental health, or other related causes. Winners often put their lives and livelihoods at risk fighting for their communities, and the awards place an explicit emphasis on grassroots activism while deemphasizing large NGOs.

The result is a diverse and vibrant array of work that environmentalist activists are performing on the frontlines. It’s also a picture of environmentalism that green philanthropy as a whole—with its lagging diversity, disproportionately high support for large green groups, and underfunding of grassroots activism in marginalized communities—could learn a lot from.

Read the full article at Inside Philanthropy.

Interstellar Philanthropy: A $100M Mission to Alpha Centauri

Firing thousands of tiny spacecraft traveling 20 percent of the speed of light to Alpha Centauri using a massive laser beam is an astounding mission proposal. But Yuri Milner’s latest privately funded science initiative also ventures into some new frontiers for philanthropy. Tech billionaire Milner’s new Breakthrough Starshot initiative is a $100 million research and engineering project to prove that we could launch interstellar probes within a generation, boasting board members Mark Zuckerberg and Stephen Hawking and a prestigious team of advisers and researchers. The goal is so far out that even with the very real funding and notable participants, the whole project feels kind of dreamlike.

Read the full article at Inside Philanthropy.

Harnessing the Knowledge of Plants, Online

Originally published in American Forests Magazine Winter/Spring 2016 issue

Botanical gardens are building the first online catalog of every known plant species in the world. It could be a game-changing tool for conservation.

For more than 400 years, humans have been collecting bits of leaf and twig, pressing them flat and dry for safe-keeping and writing about them in journals and books, all to better understand the world’s plants and, more recently, to protect them.

Our knowledge has become exponentially more sophisticated over those years, but the information we’ve accumulated remains scattered all over the world and is often difficult to access. As biologists race to protect biodiversity, there’s an effort underway to change that, a global partnership to build World Flora Online — the first online catalog of the estimated 400,000 vascular plant species of the world.

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What Exactly is Christmas Tree Flocking?

Originally published at Mental Floss on Christmas morning 2015. Of the many curious holiday traditions (figgy pudding? wassailing?), one of the oddest has to be spraying down small trees with a mixture of adhesive and cellulose fibers to satisfy our longing for a white Christmas.

That’s what’s happening when you adorn a tree with artificial snow, otherwise known as flocking. And yet, when decorated and lit up, there’s something beautiful and warmly nostalgic about a well-flocked Christmas tree. Here’s how professionals manufacture this Christmas miracle.

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After Paris Climate Summit, it's Time for the Wealthy to Step Up

Climate negotiations wrapping up this week in Paris mark an unprecedented moment of global action and momentum on climate change. They also reveal our utter, collective failure on the issue. That combination only reaffirms that now is the time for the wealthy to max out on climate philanthropy.  Over the past year, Inside Philanthropy and other voices in the sector have been calling for increased funder commitment to climate work, prompted by the sort of palpable sense that things are starting to happen, but also that it’s just not nearly enough.

That’s a familiar sentiment for people who work in or even just read about climate change—the simultaneous sense of hope and optimism in response to signs of progress, coupled with abject despair due to the mostly grim situation. It’s probably deserving of its own German word. For many, it seems to be peaking with the Paris COP21 talks.

Read the full article at Inside Philanthropy.

Sorry Bill Gates, But Billions for Energy Research Is Not How to Win the Climate Battle

Originally published in Inside Philanthropy, December 4, 2015. Bill Gates has rounded up a squad of billionaires to save the day when it comes to climate change, using their investment wisdom and bank accounts to further energy tech. Too bad they aren’t putting their money where it would really help — advancing policy and grassroots efforts.

Not long ago, we issued a challenge to a set of mega-donors to pour billions of their collective wealth into the problem of climate change. Now, it seems that Bill Gates, one of our biggest targets, has rallied 28 investors behind a two-pronged plan to devote a pool of private funding to clean energy breakthroughs, and to convince governments to do the same.

I’m not quite self-aggrandizing enough to think Gates read our post and decided to start such a coalition, but this is great news, right?

Yes and no. While Gates deserves praise for moving money on the issue, banking on a tech breakthrough to save us is not where we really need the world’s billionaires to focus at this exact moment...

Read the full article here.