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YouTube / National Wildlife Federation

The Muppets Celebrate Earth Day (in 1990)

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YouTube / National Wildlife Federation

On April 22, 1990, the Muppets marked Earth Day with a two-hour special jam-packed with guest stars. The list is absurdly long, but I'll give you a taste -- the cast included Neil Patrick Harris, Carl Sagan, Dustin Hoffman, Tone-Loc, Will Smith, Dan Akroyd, Chevy Chase, Downtown Julie Brown, Candice Bergen, Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Morgan Freeman, Queen Latifah, Jack Lemmon, Edward James Olmos, Christopher Lloyd, Rick Moranis, Martin Short, Meryl Streep, Alex Trebek, Robin Williams, and...wait for it...the casts of The Cosby Show, Cheers, Married With Children, and Golden Girls. Plus a bunch more. You get the point, though, right? Basically everybody was in this thing. Because the guest list was so long, there's relatively little Muppet material (though that material was directed by Jim Henson), but I'll take any Muppet-related Earth Day video I can get. And, shocker, the whole thing is on YouTube.

So, twenty-three years later, settle in and grab some popcorn, and enjoy this nugget from the past. Keep in mind that Jim Henson died on May 16, 1990, so this was among the last major works he lived to see on the air. Henson was a devoted environmentalist, so I can only assume that 23 years ago today, he was proud.

Part 1

Robin Williams testifies.

Part 2

Doogie Howser, M.D. tries to save Mother Earth while Murphy Brown reports, then we get into the Jeopardy! material.

Part 3

Carl Sagan drops knowledge until Danny DeVito changes the channel in favor of Dennis Miller's Weekend Update segment on SNL. Around 3:50 into this segment is a sketch written by Henson featuring Kermit and fellow swamp animals. And then Dustin Hoffman argues with Robin Williams. Oh yeah...and then E.T. shows up. What?!

Part 4

Let the 1990 TV-friendly rap number begin!

Part 5

Michael Keaton apologizes for his polluting ways, then we eventually get into some Married With Children tomfoolery.

Part 6

Meryl Streep! Kevin Costner with a ponytail! The cast of Cheers!

Part 7

Murphy Brown wraps up her reporting as everybody realizes there's something they can do to help...and then Barbra Streisand performs, before a rapid-fire set of tips from celebrities including Morgan Freeman.

The PSAs

As a final treat, here are a series of 1991 spots promoting Earth Day (for the National Wildlife Federation) featuring Kermit and various other muppets working for Frog Frog & Frog Advertising, trying to develop a catchy slogan for Earth Day.

And these are a bit earlier (late 1980s):

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environment
A Coral Reef in Mexico Just Got Its Own Insurance Policy
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iStock

The Puerto Morelos coral reef, about 20 miles south of Cancún, is one of Mexico’s most popular snorkeling attractions. It also serves a vital purpose beyond drawing tourists. Like all reefs, it provides a buffer for the coast, protecting nearby beaches from brutal waves and storms. And so the beachside businesses that rely on the reef have decided to protect the coral as they would any other vital asset: with insurance. As Fast Company reports, the reef now has its own insurance policy, the first-ever policy of its kind.

Coral reefs are currently threatened by increasing ocean acidification, warmer waters, pollution, and other ocean changes that put them at risk of extinction. Mass coral bleachings are affecting reefs all over the world. That’s not to mention the risk of damage during extreme storms, which are becoming more frequent due to climate change.

Businesses in Puerto Morelos and Cancún pay the premiums for the Reef & Beach Resilience and Insurance Fund, and if the reef gets damaged, the insurance company will pay to help restore it. It’s not just an altruistic move. By protecting the Puerto Morelos reef, nearby businesses are protecting themselves. According to The Nature Conservancy, which designed the insurance policy, coral reef tourism generates around $36 billion for businesses around the world each year. Perhaps even more importantly to coastal businesses, reefs protect $6 billion worth of built capital (i.e. anything human-made) annually.

When a storm hits, the insurance company will pay out a claim in 10 days, according to Fast Company, providing an immediate influx of cash for urgent repair. (The insurance policy is tied to the event of a storm, not the damage, since it would be hard to immediately quantify the economic damage to a reef.) The corals that break off the reef can be rehabilitated at a nursery and reattached, but they have to be collected immediately. Waiting months for an insurance payout wouldn’t help if all the damaged corals have already floated away.

The insurance policy is one of many new initiatives designed to rehabilitate and protect endangered coastal ecosystems that we now know are vital to buffering the coast from storm surges and strong waves. Coral reefs aren’t the only protective reefs: In the eastern and southern coastal U.S., some restaurants have started donating oyster shells to help rebuild oyster reefs offshore as a storm protection and ecosystem rehabilitation measure.

Considering the outsized role reefs play in coastal protection, more insurance policies may be coming to ecosystems elsewhere in the world. Hopefully.

[h/t Fast Company]

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How Louisville Used GPS to Improve Residents' Asthma
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Louisville, Kentucky has some of the worst air pollution in the U.S., which is particularly bad news for the 85,000 people in surrounding Jefferson County (about 11 percent of the population [PDF]) who have been diagnosed with asthma.

The air quality situation in Louisville won’t be changing anytime soon, but a new study with sensor-equipped inhalers shows that technology can help people with asthma cope, as CityLab reports. The two-year AIR Louisville project involved the Louisville government, the Institute for Healthy Air Water and Soil, and a respiratory health startup called Propeller, which makes sensors for inhalers that can track location and measure air pollutants, humidity levels, and temperature.

Propeller's inhaler-mounted sensors allowed the researchers to monitor the relationship between asthma attacks and environmental factors and provided new insight on how air quality can change from neighborhood to neighborhood. The sensors—which are already used by doctors, but have never been deployed citywide before—can measure levels of nitrogen oxide, sulfur, ozone, particulate matter, and pollen in the air, plus track location, temperature, and humidity, all of which can impact the risk of asthma attacks. The sensors send Propeller data on when, where, and how many "puffs" patients take to track how often people are resorting to emergency medication.

Propeller sent out app notifications to warn the Louisville program participants of greater risk of an asthma attack on bad air quality days, and showed them where and when the most asthma attacks happened around the city.

An inhaler with a sensor on top of it lies next to a smartphone open to the Propeller app.
Propeller

The Propeller program illuminated just how much more asthma-triggering pollution the city’s west side (predominantly home to poor, African-American residents) faces compared to other neighborhoods. The data also showed that ozone provoked an uptick in asthma attacks throughout the city, namely along highways. The study may end up influencing air quality regulations, since the researchers found that air pollutants became problematic for asthma sufferers even under the legal levels.

The program had huge short-term benefits, too, beyond collecting research for city policies. By the time it ended in late June, the study clearly had a significant impact on the nearly 1200 people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who took part. The asthma group showed a decline in average inhaler use after a year. There was an 82 percent decline in people's weekly average uses of rescue inhalers at the 12-month follow-up, and the participants had twice the number of symptom-free days. The majority of participants said they understand their asthma "very well" or "well," can better control it, and feel confident about avoiding a bad asthma attack.

Now that the program is over, the institutions involved are still working to launch new policies based on the results, like creating citywide asthma alerts and planting more trees.

[h/t CityLab]

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