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Virtual Earth Optimism Lectures

Our free evening lectures have moved online! Keep the spirit of Earth Day alive, with virtual Earth Optimism-inspired talks highlighting success stories from Chesapeake Bay and around the world. Discover what's working in conservation and sustainability, and what it may take to scale up those efforts to a global level.

Lectures from June 2020 onwards were recorded on Zoom and made available for viewing after they aired. Lectures for which we had full photo permissions are available indefinitely; lectures for which we were not able to obtain full photo permissions were available 14 days after the talk and then removed. Use the online signup links below each talk to watch the on-demand recordings where available.

Our lecture series for 2020 has finished. We'll have more virtual lectures coming in January 2021! Subscribe to our email list to receive updates about virtual lectures and other upcoming events.

2020 Lectures


Man in blue coat kneeling on rocky beach beside large bones
Nick Pyenson with whale bones on Cuverville Island, in Antarctica. (Credit: Martha Stewart)

Spying on Whales
Tuesday, Oct. 20, 7-8pm
Nick Pyenson, Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History
We think of whales as icons of the sea, but the first whales were certainly not like the ones that you see today: They lived on land, had four legs, and were the size of a dog. How do we know about the deep past of whales, and what does that tell us about how evolution works? In the finale of SERC's 2020 Earth Optimism series, get a closer look with Nick Pyenson, author of "Spying on Whales" and curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. Dive in for the surprising backstory and a glimpse of our shared future with these enigmatic giants. The talk will span the poles to the equator; ice-locked waters to dry deserts; from millions of years in the past to our uncertain future.

Sign up online to view the recording


Man on rocky ledge in misty mountain range
Scott Sillett on Santa Cruz Island (Photo: John Gibbons/Smithsonian Institution)

Global Connections, Changing Seasons and Living Bird-Friendly
Tuesday, Sept. 15, 7-8pm
Speaker: Scott Sillett, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center
Birds and bird watching have become popular international topics these past months. In our September webinar, Scott Sillett of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center will provide an update on the latest research and outreach about migratory birds in eastern North America: climate change, space-based bird tracking, and sustainable consumer choices. A recording of this webinar will be available for 14 days after the live talk.

Collage with three photos of scientists outdoors
Clockwise from left: Zoe Johnson (Credit: Amelia Johnson), Chela Zabin (Credit: Brandy Gale) and Jason Toft (Credit: Kathleen Pozarycki)

Building Climate-Resilient Communities on the Coasts
Tuesday, August 18, 7-8:30pm
Zoë Johnson, Co- Chair, Annapolis City Dock Resiliency Workgroup
Jason Toft, University of  Washington
Chela Zabin, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center - San Francisco Branch
Moderator: Kristen Minogue, Smithsonian Environmental Research (SERC)
Tens of millions of Americans make their homes in coastal cities. How these cities adapt to rising seas will determine their futures in the 21st century. In our August webinar, three experts from cities on the East and West Coasts of the U.S. will share stories and ideas about how coastal communities can build resiliently in the face of sea level rise. Join us for an evening of cross-country dialogue, with built-in time for audience questions. 

Sign up online to watch recording on Zoom 

Head and shoulders picture of woman standing on a mountain with red and yellow fall colors in the background
Kim Komatsu. (Credit: Karin Burghardt)

Working Landscapes: Doing Science To Help People and Nature
Tuesday, July 21, 7-8pm
Kim Komatsu, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC)
As humans, we depend on the environment for our well-being and livelihoods. Yet in an era of global change, these critical environmental services are under threat. Now more than ever, it's vital for communities to work together to understand the impacts humans have on the environment and how we can mitigate those effects. In this talk Dr. Kim Komatsu, a scientist with SERC and the Smithsonian's Working Land and Seascapes Initiative, will highlight new research that's serving both people and nature. She'll focus on two projects in the Chesapeake Bay region: how soil microbes can protect soybeans—the second most farmed crop in the U.S.—and how land use is changing diversity in our forests. Join us for an evening of conservation optimism, focused on science to protect our working landscapes for future generations. 

Watch the recording of the webinar on Zoom

Cyrena Simons (Credit: Stoney Simons)

Bay-Wise Gardening To Help The Environment
Tuesday, June 16, 7-8pm
Speaker: Cyrena Simons, Anne Arundel County Master Gardeners
While many are at home and gardening this summer, there are many bay-friendly practices you can use to enhance your property and the environment. At our June virtual evening lecture, Master Gardener Cyrena Simons will share tips from the University of Maryland's Master Gardener Bay-Wise Program, which strives to improve land and waterways by managing our yards in an eco-conscious way. Bay-wise gardening can take less work and less money, while attracting birds and butterflies to your garden. She’ll also share resources for getting free help with gardening questions. While Cyrena will focus on examples from the Chesapeake, the Master Gardener Program has connections with state universities all across the country. (Photo: Stoney Simons)

Watch the recording of the webinar on Zoom

Download the webinar slides (pdf)

Greg Ruiz (Credit: SERC)

Global Trade, Ballast Water and Invasive Species on Ships
Tuesday, May 19, 2021, 7-8pm
Speaker: Greg Ruiz, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
Global trade is enabling invasive species to cross borders at unprecedented speeds. But it’s also triggered the rise of new technologies to combat them. In this talk, SERC marine biologist Greg Ruiz highlights some of the latest efforts to track and clean up the ballast water in ship hulls—a key way invasive species have crossed oceans—and the research that's helping prevent future invasions. 

Listen to audio of lecture

Tom Jordan (Credit: SERC)

City Stream, Country Stream: Getting a Clearer Picture of Stream Restorations
Tuesday, Feb. 18, 7-8pm
Speaker: Tom Jordan, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
Stream restorations, especially in urban watersheds, are a popular strategy for reducing nutrient loads to Chesapeake Bay. However, the latest research suggests their effectiveness can vary. In this talk, SERC nutrient ecologist Tom Jordan compares two stream restorations his lab has been tracking: an urban one and a rural one. He reveals the different approaches each restoration took, and how each measured up in terms of improving water quality.

Listen to audio of lecture

View lecture slides


Richard Bowen (Credit: Kristin Lagana)

How to Recycle More and Recycle Right
Tuesday, Jan. 21, 7-8pm
Speaker: Richard Bowen, Anne Arundel County Dept. of Public Works
In our kickoff lecture of 2020, Richard Bowen, recycling program manager for Anne Arundel County, answers questions about what can and can't be recycled in the county and the services the county offers to help residents recycle more effectively. Get an inside look at what happens to the items we throw out.

Listen to audio of the lecture

View lecture slides

2019 Keynote Lecture

Jane Lubchenco (Credit: NOAA)

2019 Keynote Lecture - The Ocean: Our Future
Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, 6-8:30pm
Speaker: Jane Lubchenco
Our grand finale lecture of 2019 featured marine biologist Jane Lubchenco, the first female administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In this talk, Dr. Lubchenco took stock of the challenges in achieving a healthy ocean, while highlighting the encouraging actions underway to address these problems. Focusing on science-based solutions embraced by communities, businesses, and governments, she connected the dots between the health of oceans and coasts, and our own health and prosperity.

Listen to audio of the lecture