UConn Office of Environmental Policy

Promoting sustainability at UConn


Leave a comment

Progress Towards Carbon Neutrality – UConn’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On March 25, 2008, University of Connecticut President Michael Hogan signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) promising that the university would aim for carbon neutrality by 2050. This means that the university would have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, through new projects and sustainable initiatives.

UConn tracks Scope 1, 2, and 3* emissions, and calculates them with the help of the widely used University of New Hampshire Campus Carbon Calculator (CCC) to try to reach this goal. Compiling information to calculate carbon emissions is very involved and requires that the Office of Environmental Policy collaborate with many departments around campus.

So what are these scopes of emission sources?

Scope 1 – direct GHG emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by the entity, including fossil fuels burned on site, emissions from entity-owned or entity-leased vehicles, and other direct sources.

 

Scope 2 – indirect GHG emissions resulting from the generation of electricity, heating and cooling, or steam generated off site but purchased by the entity.ghg9

Scope 3 – indirect GHG emissions from sources not owned or directly controlled by the entity but related to the entity’s activities, such as employee travel and commuting, contracted solid waste disposal, and contracted wastewater treatment.

*UConn does not fully track Scope 3 Emissions. Certain sources, such as sponsored air travel, are not calculated due to inability to adequately acquire data. The following data are approximate, calculated using the University of New Hampshire CCC.

How much emissions come from each source at UConn?ghg7.png

Since the signing of this agreement, UConn has finished many projects to reduce emissions. These include over 100 re-lamping projects, and enhancing building energy efficiency through retrocommissioning.

So, where are we now?ghg8.png

Despite extensive new building projects and very cold winters, UConn has made emissions progress since 2007. When it is exceptionally cold, the campus’s great heating demands require natural gas curtailment days, during which the Co-Generation plant, our campus’s major energy supplier, uses oil instead of natural gas. Overall, key emissions take-aways include:

  • 1% decrease since 2007 with curtailment included
  • 9% decrease since 2007 if curtailment never happened
  • New Building Construction has accounted for Direct Source Emissions increase in recent years
  • Air travel is not included in Scope 3 emissions due to inconsistencies in record keeping
  • Scope 3 Emissions, primarily Student/Faculty Commuting numbers, were based off of consistent methodology over the years, whereas permit numbers were used to estimate commuting mileage
  • The Central Utility Plant is UConn’s primary Scope 1 Emissions source
  • Scope 2 Emissions consisted only of purchased electricity from ConEd

The OEP is always looking for more information to better track GHG emissions, but overall signs of emissions progress are promising. Emissions are the primary reason for climate change, so any reduction counts.

-Chris


Leave a comment

The Eco-nomic Guide to Gift-Giving

We have now reached December, the gift-giving peak of the year. Running through our minds are family, Christmas trees, food, and whether or not professors will have that good ole holiday cheer while grading our exams. Here is something else to keep in mind while preparing for the holidays: the economic and environmental impacts of holiday gift-exchanges.

scroogenomics

Scroogenomics – Joel Waldfogel

In a controversial, Grinch-esque study done by economist, Joel Waldfogel, author of “Scroogeonomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays,” 86 undergraduate students were asked whether or not they liked their Christmas gifts. Instead of phrasing it as a yes or no, Waldfogel asked how much the students would have paid for those gifts themselves. The result?

The students estimated that their gifts had cost $438.20 — but they said the most they would have been willing to pay for them was $313.40. From an efficiency standpoint, this means over $100 in wasted spent money. Viewed through an environmental lens, this wasted money translates to wasted materials, manufacturing pollution, travel miles, and more that is not contributing to the gift-receivers satisfaction.

This illustrates the dark side to gift-giving which is that “between a tenth and a third of the value of holiday gifts is destroyed by gift-giving,” (Waldfogel, 1998) translating to a loss of between $4 and $13 billion in a given holiday season.

Everyone loves money, but let’s face it, it doesn’t make the best gift. Because of this, you need to make up the lost value from the gift-giver/receiver mismatch elsewhere which can be done through giving the rarest gifts of all: Sentimental gifts.

An economic concept that everyone can understand is that the rarer something is, the more valuable it is and thus the more value it adds to a present. Handmade sentimental gifts are nearly impossible to receive from anyone other than you. Similarly, handmade gifts will easily lessen the carbon footprint of gift-buying through a store that likely had most of its inventory shipped thousands of miles.

gift2.pngSo consider creating or crafting a gift with what you have at home. Homemade peppermint bark, a repurposed painted frame with a picture of you and your mom, or maybe a clever coupon book with ideas for what your cherished-one would love! If handmade gifts aren’t your strong suit, etsy.com is a great way to support small businesses that will often personalize sentimental gifts for you to give.

Another way to prevent this lost value is to buy people what they really want but wouldn’t buy themselves. Although it takes away some of the fun, just ask! This will alleviate the stress of having to pick out an entire gift and also ensure they receive something they want and will value.

Get creative with packaging! Recycle materials or buy wrapping paper made with at least 50% recycled content. I have found that old daily campus newspapers make for an excellent wrapping paper!

That’s all for now, Happy Holidays!

-Rose

 

Waldfogel, Joel. Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2009. Print.

Waldfogel, Joel. The Deadweight Loss of Christmas: Reply. New Haven: American Economic Review, 1998. Print.


1 Comment

Thoughts from Paris

On Dec. 4th, we posted a handful of blogs written by several of UConn’s first-ever group participants in the UN’s annual international climate summit. Today, we’re posting blogs from the second half of our stay, including a few overall reflections on what we observed in Paris and at COP21, and about the challenges of global action to address climate change. The following blogs include:

Seeing the Green Light at the End of the Tunnel: UConn @ COP21 Oksan Bayulgen

Lost in Translation: The Complexities of Reaching a Global Climate Agreement Kerrin Kinnear

On Gender and Climate Change Alexandra Mayer

The Climate Tradeoff: A Global Carbon Budget for the Future Andrew Carrol

UConn and the Climate Conference: Looking Ahead Ron Tardiff

COP21 Paris: All Hands on Deck for the next 20 years Anji Seth

 

 

Seeing the Green Light at the End of the Tunnel: UConn @ COP21

Oksan Bayulgen, Associate Professor, Political Science; Academic Director – Global House

 

oksan 2What a week it was! Traveling to Paris on Monday with 12 students and 5 other faculty/staff to participate in the historic COP21, I did not know what exactly to expect from this experience. We did not have the authorized passes to observe the plenary sessions or even enter the ‘blue zone’ designated for some media and civil society observers. I did not know any of the students (except from their application materials), and I was going to spend a week with UConn sustainability staff and other faculty from different disciplines and with different research interests. Yet, the week turned out to be a huge success thanks to our trips to the many civil society events organized around the main conference and across the city, the enlightening and thought-provoking discussions we had every morning, and the close friendships we formed in just a matter of days. Of course the magical atmosphere of Paris helped as well!

I have two main insights from this week: one regarding the education of sustainability, particularly at UConn, and the other regarding the overall trends in climate change discussions. The wide scope of the events we attended as well as our morning discussions made obvious the importance of approaching climate change in a holistic manner. This is an interdisciplinary issue and looking at it through the prism of just one or two disciplines is limiting and unrealistic. The sources of, and solutions to, this crisis of humanity are found in the intersection of hard sciences, social change, human psychology, economics, human rights and politics. As such, we have a lot to learn from each other to find common and sensible solutions. At UConn we, as the faculty, need to engage in collaborative research and offer more courses that build on the strength of each of our disciplines as well as bridge the gap among them. We need to talk to and not past each other; we need to build research agendas that encompass sustainability and climate change topics as well as curricula that support general education of our students.

oksanRegarding the broader discussion on climate change, it once more became clear to me that there are two counter trends in the world today. One is extremely positive and inspiring, as exemplified by the people and ideas in and around the COP21 conference. There are thousands of people who understand the urgency of the crisis and appreciate the environmental, social, economic and political consequences of not doing enough to reverse the trends. There is no questioning of the science. These are passionate, committed ordinary individuals, bureaucrats, non-governmental organizations and businesses who make personal and organizational sacrifices, utilize their entrepreneurial skills, and engage in fierce and determined activism. From the many booths at the COP21 Solutions displaying state-of-the-art and innovative technologies to the many panels on natural tropical forests, smart agriculture, indigenous peoples’ right to land in the Global Landscape Forum all the way to the 350.org’s mock trial of ExxonMobil at the outskirts of Paris, we saw progressive ideas and kindled spirits in defense of humanity and our planet. These are truly uplifting and promising developments.

Yet, on the other side of the equation, we also observe the counter trends of denial, apathy, bureaucratic incompetency and gridlock, green washing, and political obstructionism. In the same week that the world leaders gathered in Paris to address climate change, in Vienna OPEC agreed to continue oil production uninterrupted, journalists have uncovered that fossil fuel companies have been spending billions of dollars hiding the truth about climate change, paying scientists to write expert reports questioning the urgency of climate change and even sponsoring certain parts of the very climate summit designed to shrink their industry. We have also heard many accounts of the difficulties inherent in international negotiations such as the one in Paris. The requirement of unanimity on the final terms of the agreement, the structural inequalities between developing and developed countries that raise questions about injustice and unfairness in the responsibility to pay for a cleaner environment, and the issues of sovereignty are all challenges facing a comprehensive, definitive deal. Perhaps the biggest challenge yet is the way COP21 is playing out in domestic politics. Just as the U.S. representatives are negotiating the details of the agreement and the U.S. president is projecting global leadership in addressing this crisis, some presidential candidates and congressional leaders back home are racing with each other to ridicule the efforts and threaten to reject the very terms that the U.S. delegation is busy negotiating at the conference. And, because of these troubling and depressing developments, there are legitimate concerns that the summit will fall short of its intended goals.

Despite the pendulum swinging back and forth from hope to despair, I believe (want to believe) that the tide is turning and the balance is shifting in favor of forces of change. The domestic and international momentum is finally here. Public opinion is changing, albeit slowly. Renewable energy technologies are becoming appealing to people not only on moral and environmental grounds but also in terms of economic benefits. Businesses that opt to become sustainable are being rewarded by consumers and see their profit margins increase. Many universities and municipalities are increasingly divesting their fossil fuel holdings. The list goes on and on… Against the dark forces, we, the educators and students, have to stand tall and unwavering in our principles and trust that the truth will prevail eventually. There is much more to do, but there is also light at the end of the tunnel! ACTION NOW!

 

 

Lost in Translation: The Complexities of Reaching a Global Climate Agreement

Kerrin Kinnear, OEP Intern

 

lost in translation 3

Negotiators at COP21 using headsets for international communication. Source: IISD Reporting Services

Muscles tensed by a mind overcome with frustration, I exit the auditorium. I had just witnessed a keynote address made by the President of COP21, Laurent Fabius, at the start of the Global Landscapes Forum. Arguably a once in a lifetime opportunity for an environmentalist, I had not understood a single word he said. Why? The speech was in French, and my language skillset is primarily limited to English.

 

Language issues are significant in the realm of global negotiation. Prior to traveling to Paris for the United Nations Climate Conference, most of my conversations about international climate action focused solely on which strategies were most appropriate for effectively mitigating fossil fuel emissions and adapting to the current and future impacts of climate change. Speaking with delegates from Madagascar and Namibia as well as negotiation observers from Dickinson University, I realized I had overlooked a key concept for the conference – the profound impact complexities of language can have on the effectiveness of international coordination.

lost in translation 2

At the Sierra Student Coalition’s COP21 table, buttons were available in Chinese, English, and French.

With delegates and members of Civil Society from over 190 different countries gathered at COP21, ensuring a uniform sense of understanding is an incredible feat. To accommodate the resulting vast range of languages, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) mandates that all formal proceedings are interpreted into the organization’s six official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. Using headsets, delegates from across the globe are able to hear live feeds of the negotiations in their preferred language, and contribute when they are given the floor. Representatives who speak none of the six official languages have the opportunity to speak in their language, so long as they pay for an interpreter to translate their message.

lost in translationWhile this framework for communication demonstrates a certain commitment to universal comprehension, barriers still persist in the conference arena. During my conversation with Dickinson alumni, I was surprised to learn that a topic of debate for that day’s official proceedings was the clarification that international parties “welcomed” rather than “invited” countries to increase climate change efforts. From this, the importance of semantics and cultural word meanings in an international setting became evident. Additionally, when I spoke with a researcher from a French NGO focused on deforestation, he explained how quickly high-level jargon becomes integrated into the climate negotiations. As a result, delegates who have limited proficiency in the UN languages and who cannot afford interpreters struggle to keep up with and weigh in on complex conversations and policy strategies.

Despite the difficulties associated with communicating across languages, the United Nations and its member countries have held 21 climate change conferences and continue to plan global coordination on this issue. Because of the international community’s persistence in the face of cross-cultural communication barriers, I am more excited than ever before about the prospects for a global climate agreement.

 

 

On Gender and Climate Change

Alexandra Mayer

 

gender 3

A poster created by “The Women’s Global Call for Climate Justice” in the COP21 Generations Area

The agenda for the COP21 lists 22 steps towards agreement. Discussing “gender and climate change” is number 17. Women represent the majority of the world’s poor and agricultural workers and many are responsible for fetching water. Dramatic shifts in climate and food production are therefore primed to disproportionately harm women. Furthermore, women fight economic, social, and physical discrimination that also limit their ability to adapt to climate change.

Yet, on December 7th, Mary Robinson, former UN human rights chief and president of Ireland, lamented, “This [the UN conference] is a very male world. When it is a male world, you have male priorities,” and asserted, “women in developing countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change.” Her frustrated words indicate that there may be no legal text on gender equity coming out of the COP21 negotiations.

gender

The panel on Land Tenure and Indigenous Rights, which also focused on female experiences

While I was listening to a panel discussion on indigenous and women’s rights at the Global Landscapes Forum in Paris, the man sitting next to me whispered, “Why should we care, if we’ll all be dead soon anyways?” alluding to the idea that if global warming goes unmitigated, humans may go extinct. I shushed the man to hear the speaker, but, as I have heard this argument used repeatedly to dismiss calls for human rights, I will reply now:

In fighting against climate change, you are fighting for the future of humankind. The next question, then, is what kind of future are you fighting for? We live in a beautiful world that is also riddled with atrocity, disparity, and exploitation.

gender 2

The Women’s Global Call for Climate Justice asked women to share their Feminist visions in the Green Space at COP21.

Rape, racism, and domestic violence are global epidemics, so is poverty at the hand of the elite. I must ask, whose future are you fighting for when you rally to limit emissions, but not to stop the avoidable deaths that are occurring now at the hand of starvation, lack of health care, and violence? Are you okay with saving your own kind, and nobody else?

I know it is impossible to take on every injustice. We all have our own cause. Still, at the very least, I invite you to recognize the importance of human rights. Why should we save ourselves if we’ll only continue to disparage the earth and each other?

 

 

The Climate Tradeoff: A Global Carbon Budget for the Future

Andrew Carrol

 

andrewWhile in Paris for the COP21 Conference during the first week in December, I had to make some rather mundane decisions, mostly confined to the breakfast buffet in our hotel: brie or gruyere, baguette or croissant? In contrast, the international negotiators in the Red Zone at Le Bourget are tasked with reaching consensus on a full plate of complex subjects: a global carbon budget, fossil fuel reduction, investment in renewable energy sources, and the tenuous balance of responsibility for carbon reductions. A topic that has been thoroughly discussed by many nations is a global carbon budget that would legally bind countries to a pre-determined level of carbon output set forth by the UNFCC. However, these plans have been squashed by nations that emit the most carbon. Thus, the cap-and-trade or cap-and-tax debate rages on across the ideological spectrum, from those who claim it’s our moral responsibility to those who maintain that a carbon budget would be unrealistic.

andrew 2As the UConn contingent discussed this concept more thoroughly, we were extremely like-minded about the idea of establishing a global carbon budget and taxing those who exceed their allowable emissions output. Even though we all supported a carbon budget, a few of us questioned its economic feasibility. I questioned whether the plan would disrupt the stability of international markets. And if the plan were to adversely affect the GDP of a country, would the carbon benefit and the value of this environmental externality outweigh the lost GDP? Will the bureaucracy and hierarchical nature of nations within the UN allow for such a plan to exist? What weights are given to additional factors, such as higher health care costs, the costs of shorter growing seasons, and even the potential for climate refugees?

When it comes to climate action, all factors need to be weighed in making a final decision. Unfortunately, the environment is usually second fiddle to the importance of economic stability. Yet, if we reach a breaking point in which we do not have a truly sustainable global environment, then the strength of a nation’s economy is meaningless. We cannot gamble on our environment – and we cannot put a price tag on a moral imperative.

 

 

UConn and the Climate Conference: Looking Ahead

Ron Tardiff

 

ron 2

COP21 student delegates pose outside the Sacré-Cœur Basilica

The 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change began in Paris, France on Nov. 30, and at the same time, a group of 18 UConn students, faculty, and staff traveled to Paris for five days to participate in a number of events surrounding the conference. The 12 students selected represented a diverse group of majors, most of which fall within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, from marine sciences to human rights. For me, the conference was educational and sobering, but also inspired my fellow students and I to take action here at home.

Every day in Paris began with a group dialogue focused on the science or politics of climate change and solutions globally and at UConn. The diverse perspectives contributed by our multidisciplinary group of people definitely enhanced our conversations. The group visited the COP21 site in Le Bourget, Paris, and toured the public area of COP21, the Climate Generations Space. We also attended a networking night at the Kedge Business School co-sponsored by UConn and Second Nature, called “Higher Education Leads on Climate.”

On Friday, most of the group attended the Solutions COP21 exhibition, while I attended Oceans Day back at COP21. Oceans Day drew high-level attention to how the ocean and climate are inextricably linked. Among the many esteemed attendees were Prince Albert II of Monaco; Laurent Fabius, Foreign Minister of France and President of COP21; and Irina Bokova, the Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

ron

A poster put together by Conservation International – Brazil

As an American, one of the most sobering aspects of the conference and the international climate conversation in general is the skepticism towards U.S. commitment. Historically, particularly on climate change, the United States has failed to be a leader; if anything, we’ve often stymied the conversation. When I was at Oceans Day, I was asked by a French attendee whether I thought the U.S. would “follow through” this time. My only honest answer was that I believe our negotiators are working in good faith, but that the political climate – pun intended – at home is pretty unpredictable.

What is most interesting to me is that 190 countries convened to address an issue that an unfortunately large number of Americans refute entirely. This demonstrates how critical climate change education is. That is one of the many reasons our group will be advocating for a “sustainability” category to be included in General Education Requirements here at UConn.

Tackling global climate change epitomizes the types of challenges for which a liberal arts education aims to prepare students. The process of burning fossil fuels and forests and how that affects the climate is a fundamentally scientific issue. Why we continue these destructive processes, how these processes affect human civilization, and what we should do to improve our resilience and adaptation to climate change are intersectional issues spanning fields from science to the social sciences to humanities.

Now that we’re home, our group of “COP21ers” will be launching initiatives to improve our University’s carbon footprint, spearheading climate change conversation at UConn, and creating works of art, writing, or media to highlight the impacts of climate change. And we’ll be advocating for a greater role of sustainability education in the curriculum at UConn. We’ll be using the new perspectives we gained from meeting so many people from around the world to help UConn be a leader in this quintessentially global issue.

 

 

COP21 Paris: All Hands on Deck for the next 20 years

Anji Seth, Associate Professor, Geography

 

“Welcome to those who are working to save our planet”

“Later will be too late”

“We can’t tell our children we didn’t know”

“The world is in our hands”

“7 Billion people, one planet”

anji.jpgBillboards across Paris, in Charles DeGalle airport, in metro stations, and on historic buildings, reminded us constantly why we were there. Our group of 12 students and 6 faculty/staff from UConn were on a mission to learn about and participate in the historic events taking place, as UN Envoys and negotiators work on an international agreement that would limit global warming to [2C][1.5C]*. This is the 21st UN Conference of the Parties, or COP21.

More than 20 years ago the United Nations agreed to “talk” about Global Warming. The road to Paris has been long and the stars are now aligning for an international agreement to “act”. The scientific evidence is overwhelming and indisputable, global leaders have been educated and show some understanding of the threats to nations, people and ecosystems, and people across the planet are calling for action. Clearly those who deny the science are on the wrong side of history. The final agreement to act from the Paris 2015 COP21 will not be perfect, there should be a review process in place to further reduce emissions over time, but the agreement will be a starting point for action over the next 20 years.

We traveled to Paris with a 12 students from across the UConn colleges, each passionate about their discipline and the global context in which they will make their marks. During the last 20 years global warming has been in the realms of climate-related sciences, economics and policy, the next 20 years there will be a role for everyone.

anji 2.jpg

An art exhibit at Solutions COP21. If you stand alone in this circle, seemingly random music notes are played. Only when the circle is complete does a powerful, synchronized harmony come together. The message? Power in unity.

Implementation of the Paris agreement will require artists and engineers, teachers and health professionals, ecologists, attorneys and business leaders. The careers of UConn students will follow the implementation of the Paris agreement over the next 20+ years. Today’s students will be in the driver’s seat for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, implementing carbon pricing, adapting local infrastructure, and assisting ecosystems in need.

These are exciting times. Let’s get to work.

*[brackets] indicate items under negotiation.


2 Comments

Bonjour from UConn@COP21

First Days in Paris

Rich Miller, OEP Director

group photoWe have finally arrived in Paris at the UN’s 21st annual international climate summit or Conference of the Parties (aka COP21). After a 3-hour bus ride from Storrs to JFK, barely ahead of the Monday evening rush hour, then a 6 ½ hour flight from NYC to Paris, not to mention seven months of intensive planning and organizing – nous sommes arrivés! And by “nous,” I mean the UConn contingent of 12 talented students (selected from a strong field of 77 applicants), four faculty members, involved in some aspect of climate change-related research, and two OEP sustainability staff members charged with overseeing implementation and outreach for UConn’s own Climate Action Plan and commitment to a carbon-neutral campus.

After arriving in France on mid-day Tuesday, having lost 6 hours to the time zone differential, the first two full days of our stay have been a whirlwind of activity, education and cultural immersion. We begin each day with breakfast at 8, followed by a group gathering in the stately hotel lounge, where each of our faculty members takes a daily turn at leading a lively group discussion on a climate science or policy topic.

CaptureBy 11, we’re off on the 45-minute combination metro, train and bus ride that takes us from the heart of Paris’ Left Bank to Le Bourget, on the northern outskirts of the city, where a vast convention complex hosts the COP21 official proceedings, so-called “civil society” events, and hundreds of related lectures and exhibits from NPOs, companies, and governmental officials and agencies around the globe. Even for someone like myself, who has been to many an annual AASHE conference, which are always buzzing with thousands of higher ed faculty, staff and students, the COP21 “Climate Generations” gathering is somewhat daunting.

Eventually, several from the UConn contingent will break away from Le Bourget and head to more focused side events (e.g, workshops about the effects of climate change on oceans, public health or human rights), which are each held at different venues throughout Paris. Then, with evening temperatures in the balmy low-50s, others will use their free time for long walks and short visits at some of the many cultural landmarks that have made Paris one of the world’s favorite tourist destinations.

After very late dinners (in the European custom), students, faculty and staff are back at the hotel, catching up on their work or studies; some students are busily writing papers due next week (the final week of fall semester classes before exams), and others dutifully writing blog posts, tweeting or using Facebook and Instagram to instantly share their experiences with friends and family, and oh yes, the UConn Nation and beyond, through the hyper-connected world of social media.

eiffel tower group.PNGHowever, Wednesday night, December 2nd, was an exception. We all gathered, along with another 30+ guests from other colleges and universities, from 7:30 to 10 p.m., at the Kedge Business School, in the Montmartre section of Paris. Here, UConn had the honor of co-hosting, along with Second Nature and AASHE, a special “Higher Education Leads on Climate” event. While it was mostly a networking occasion for meeting up with our peers and colleagues, who happened to be in Paris for the same aspirational reasons, we also heard two spirited informational presentations from Second Nature’s Education Manager and Kedge’s CSR Director. Respectively, they explained the re-branded Climate Leadership Commitments and HESI’s sustainability literacy tests. By the end of the day, I had gotten positive feedback from several of my colleagues at the event, who appreciated the opportunity for higher ed gatherings, both fun and informative, at COPs. Mission accomplished – thanks to all who helped make the event a success!

 

Students submitted the following blog posts detailing their experiences during the first few days of our trip:

The Road to COP21 Kerrin Kinnear

Maskbook Anna Middendorf

Climate Change – The Ultimate Interdisciplinary Issue Rob Turnbull

Combating Climate Change: The Power of Multiple Perspectives Jessica Griffin

Many more are to come as the conference continues.

 

 

The Road to COP21

Kerrin Kinnear, OEP Intern

busGazing out at the cacophony of asphalt, metal, and concrete, an inner conflict is brewing. As the scenes of Connecticut civilization blur by the bus window on the first leg of my journey to COP21, I cannot help but wonder if I should feel awestruck or pained.

The society we live in has become more physically connected than ever before. Because of the infrastructure in place, I can drive a fairly direct route from Storrs, CT to Pennsylvania to see my boyfriend, or hop on a plane just a short 45-minute shuttle ride away to see my family in Oklahoma. I can fly to Paris, France in less than 7 hours to demonstrate solidarity with thousands of other environmental activists at the 2015 United Nations Climate Conference.

airport 2.JPGThe ease with which my fellow citizens and I can mobilize ourselves to unify and act is a beautiful thing about modern society, but at what cost have we achieved this mobility?

The landscape I see beyond this window is marred. Trees and shrubs are few and far between. Impervious building materials suffocate the earth and its soil systems. And the bus I ride spews the very carbon emissions I am traveling to Paris to combat. This is not the scene of a connected planet where species live in harmony with one another. No, this is the scene of a world where it has become easy for humans to be mentally removed from their impact on the environment, where it has become the norm to be unaware of, or apathetic about, the repercussions of our effect on climate and the earth’s ecosystems.

Kerrin pic flags

International flags outside the COP21 venue representing all nations attending the United Nations negotiations

I write this post not to criticize society, but instead to initiate a call for action. It will soon be halfway through the UN’s negotiations on climate change, and I realize us citizens on “the outside” cannot stand by idly, waiting and hoping for world leaders to come to an agreement that will solve this massive problem. As individuals, we have the intrinsic power to reconnect with our environment, to be conscious stewards and not ignorant polluters, and to care for our international neighbors already suffering from the impacts of climate change, rather than turn a blind eye. We cannot and should not wait for others to make the choice for us.

Regardless of the outcome of this year’s negotiations, I challenge you to consider your responsibilities as a global citizen. Become more knowledgeable about your personal impact on the planet, brainstorm ways to reduce your environmental footprint, and get involved with your community’s environmental initiatives.

The time to act is now. Together we are strong, and together we can create long-lasting change.

 

Maskbook

Anna Middendorf

At our first stroll around COP21, I noticed a little stall in the back of the Climate Generations area that seemed inconspicuous enough. Always on the outlook for other ambassadors of creativity against climate change, I was impressed to find the stall to be Maskbook.

Anna

Anna modeling her own creation. Maskbook has officially been supported by the French government and operates a dedicated space within the Grand Palais (Solutions COP21) and at Ie Bourget (Générations Climat). Join the initiative by creating your own mask and posting a picture with it on the official Maskbook website to protect your health and our climate.

Maskbook is a project that came to life through the non-profit organization Art of Change 21 initiative which links “social entrepreneurship, art and youth at an international level.”1 The idea behind Maskbook is to offer observers the chance to create a mask covered in whatever the activist’s heart might desire: buttons, textiles, lightbulbs, playing cards, soda cans or perfume samples, amongst many more. Representing the daily rubbish that we discard, the mask uses a connotation of potentially fearful images to focus on the health hazards that we are not only imposing on ourselves, but also on the flora and fauna that surround us. The masks remind us that the environment is not ours to destroy, and the playful way of expressing this makes the mission both personal and real, especially when surrounded by thousands of like-minded campaigners here in Le Bourget, Paris.

1Art of Change website, http://artofchange21.com/?page_id=253

 

Climate Change – The Ultimate Interdisciplinary Issue

Rob Turnbull

group lessonClimate change is the ultimate inter-disciplinary issue, and today I learned exactly how many disciplines I understand thoroughly: almost one. Coming from a strict biological science background (I study Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at UConn) I have long considered myself a very literate person in terms the effects, causes, opinions, etc. surrounding climate science. After a few discussions had over breakfast and UConn’s daily group discussion in the lounge of our hotel, I came to understand that even though I thought I completely got the “science” of global warming, I could really only claim to understand the general biological effects of global warming on organisms. The physics and chemistry were, though not entirely foreign to me, far more complex than I anticipated, and it took nearly an hour listening to, and talking with, Dr. Anji Seth, a UConn climatologist, to get a firmer grasp of how solar radiation, heat, earth’s elliptical orbit, albedo, and a slurry of other factors all interact to create our observed climate trends.

I entered into an even more foreign discussion with my fellow UConn@COP21-ers on the economics of dealing with global warming. While I certainly learned plenty from my peers, my ignorance about these topics highlights a major challenge in dealing with such a broad-reaching issue as climate change: the isolation of the many professional disciplines. I wasn’t the only COP21er who had a fish-out-of-water moment today. Among such a diverse group of UConn students – including scientists, political scientists, economists, and social scientists – whenever anyone began to talk in depth about their respective field, the others often found themselves having such a conversation for the first time.

While it is excellent, in my opinion, for different people to develop different types of expertise, especially given the complexity of global warming, this diversity only becomes a good thing if accompanied by strong communication and collaboration. Otherwise, issues aren’t resolved in a holistic sense and accessory problems will persist. While the scientist can unveil the trends to back up climate theories, that scientist needs the economist and the politician to draft viable policy, and the artist to help spread the word.

exhibitsWith this in mind, I was pleasantly surprised to find, among the many booths and exhibits at the COP21 “Climate Generations” event, an organization practicing what I’ve just preached. The UN Environmental Program’s Climate Change website can be found at the link below. With a focus, at least for this COP21 day, on influencing ocean climate legislation, the aforementioned group involves academics, political scientists, artists, and many others, to accomplish its goals. Upon arriving at the booth, I was presented with scientific procedures and results, as well as a clear plan about how these results will play into the policy negotiations. Such multidisciplinary collaboration is vital to addressing problems associated with global warming. Those involved with www.UNEP.org/climatechange   have shown me that Climate Change is the ultimate inter-disciplinary issue and can only be resolved through multi-disciplinary collaboration on a global scale.

 

Combating Climate Change: The Power of Multiple Perspectives

Jessica Griffin, OEP Intern

Today I had two experiences that helped me to understand the broad reaching impacts of climate change. At an event called Climate Generations, our group was able to interact with a variety of teams and organizations interested in climate change. The participants came from a wide variety of civil society organizations- some were wildlife focused, others offered suggestions for energy innovation, and many incorporated aspects of social responsibility.

IMG_2059

A speaker at “The Messengers” panel

Towards the beginning of the conference, I came across a women’s caucus, which consisted of six women who had gathered to speak about their experience in the climate movement and how they felt that being a woman impacted their involvement and perspective in the movement. Each woman spoke about different aspects of their experiences, including encounters with sexism and obstacles they faced in getting to COP21. However, they also shared funny stories, spoke about their hobbies and families, and about how they felt that being a woman was an asset to them. I felt humbled to have the privilege of hearing the stories of these women, who hailed from Japan, India, France, and the United States. They asked me to speak about myself, and I felt reluctant. I thought that what I had to say would be of little interest to them. But as I began to speak, I realized that I had a lot to say about the subjects of women and environmentalism. The environment that they invited me to speak in was warm and accepting, and I am glad to have participated in this caucus.

Following the caucus, I went to an entirely different event across the conference center. This event was called “The Messengers,” and it was focused on how researching birds can tell us about the health of the environment. There were several speakers from an organization called BirdLife International, dedicated to the conservation of bird species worldwide. The panel answered questions on subjects ranging from factors threatening birds, policy changes associated with conservation, and the ways in which bird populations indicate a changing world. I enjoyed hearing from a wide variety of perspectives, including speakers from the UK and Liberia.

IMG_2050

A display for BirdLife International

What struck me about having these two experiences was the range of impacts made by climate change, and of ways to approach solutions. At the women’s caucus, the foci were social factors and environmental justice, which are instrumental in understanding how people of different backgrounds are affected by environmental degradation. At the Birdlife International Event, most discussion centered on conservation and working with nature, both of which are enormously important in the effort to combat climate change.

As a society, we can combat climate change by allowing people of a variety of backgrounds and disciplines to make their voices heard. We can also understand all of the ways that climate change will impact our lives, including socially and ecologically. The broader our shared experience, the closer we can come to finding real solutions.


1 Comment

A Greener Gym

Exercise140428e407

In 2017, UConn will begin the construction of its new recreation center. This gym will contain all new facilities, intended to last for a long time. As the UConn recreation center’s website says, “If the University is going to move forward with a major undertaking such as this, the goal is to do it right the first time.” With this in mind, we should look into the most environmentally friendly options for exercise equipment.

Most gym equipment doesn’t require electricity to operate, except for some of the popular cardio machines. Treadmills, tread climbers, and stair climbers use large amounts of energy. Each treadmill, for example, can consume 1.5 kilowatts of energy every hour, leading to as much as 3,000 kilowatts used by all the treadmills each week. Luckily, there are already some green cardio alternatives. The ellipticals, cross trainers, stationary bikes, and rowing machines are mostly self-powered; the energy created from using the machine generates some or all of the electricity that powers the display.

As we look towards a new gym, there are several state-of-the-art green cardio machines that we can consider. ReRev is a company that retrofits certain exercise machines with power generators that create enough electricity to send some back into the building’s power supply. They’ve modified equipment in dozens of schools, including Drexel University, James Madison University, and UC San Diego.

 

Some brands are creating new equipment specifically for efficient compatibility with ReRev, or for generating their own electricity without accessories. Woodway has created a new type of treadmill that is both more environmentally friendly and more intense to workout with. This product, the EcoMill, is a human-powered treadmill that can generate 16 watt hours of electricity per mph of speed. There are also individual products that generate electricity without ReRev systems, such as SportsArt’s ECO-POWR line. These ellipticals and indoor bikes simply plug into the building and give back the energy produced from the user’s exercise.

As UConn continues to grow, it is important to incorporate more sustainable technology into the new facilities. Energy efficient cardio equipment could be a great addition to the new recreation center.

-Ben, OEP Sustainability Intern