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Climate Action and Higher Education @COP22

The following blogs emphasize a common theme at COP22: the role of universities and educated youth as powerful leaders in the fight against climate change, highlighted at a higher education networking event at Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech:

We Want You (to Help Combat Climate Change) Eddie McInerney

Green Campuses: Turning Knowledge into Action Christen Bellucci

A Meeting of Millennials Stephanie Hubli

Knowledge is Privilege Usra Qureshi

An American Dream? Hannah Casey

It’s Up to Us Now Ben Breslau

Caring on Campus Margaux Verlaque-Amara

 

We Want You (to Help Combat Climate Change)

Eddie McInerney, Student, Political Science

There were a large number of panel discussions to attend in the Green Zone at COP22, ranging in subject matter from implementation of sustainable practices in the fashion industry, to the implications of climate change on basic human rights. Based on the sessions attended and the topics discussed among faculty and student in the UConn@COP22 group, it seemed that one of the most pressing issues was the younger generation’s role in combatting climate change and how we as students can become involved at the local, national, and international levels.

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Cadi Ayyad University, host of the higher education networking event. Photo taken by Mark Urban

One of the first questions we heard asked at the conference, and that we asked ourselves in our daily discussions, was how can we spread awareness about climate change to people in the U.S.?  Outreach is desperately needed, especially with President-elect Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed climate denier. We rebounded a number of different ideas through our group, but were not able to reach any compelling revelations. Should we try to get every student who would listen to become an advocate for the issue? Or could we get more done with fewer students who were more knowledgeable? Should we use emotive rhetoric to garner support among older populations, especially those who voted for Trump, or should we focus on better educating their children on the subject matter? It seemed as though we were stuck in a loop.

 

Then, on Wednesday evening, we attended a higher education networking event with students from Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech, along with students from a number of schools across the United States. The same question was posed by a UConn faculty member: how can we get the younger generation excited about this issue, and to that measure, involved? Ultimately, it seemed the conclusion drawn by both the students and faculty was that we must take action together.  A Moroccan student argued that it is one thing to say you want to stop climate change, but another to actually do something about it, given most students’ pre-occupation with the daily academic workload of assignments, projects and maintaining good grades.

Coming from the higher education networking event meeting, I was inspired by the similarity of our views and the power of climate change as a unifying issue among students from diverse backgrounds and nationalities.  I’m convinced that the surest way for us to combat this issue is to make use of these international connections. Students at UConn and other American universities need to reach out to international students, peer-to-peer, through contacts made during study abroad programs, at future COPs, or otherwise. Mobilizing Millennials and Generation Zs, especially college students, would create a formidable international force for influencing governments and educating youth in ways that give us the best chance at combatting climate change, across all regions of the world.

 

Green Campuses: Turning Knowledge into Action

Christen Bellucci, Student, Environmental Sciences, Human Health Concentration

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COP22 “ACT” signs were posted all throughout the city of Marrakech

From the moment we first stepped foot in COP22’s Green Zone, an urgent question presented itself to us: What can universities do to strengthen the fight against climate change? The first panel we attended as a group Monday evening was The Relevance of Green University Networks in Promoting a Sustainable Future, a discussion led by a group of higher education leaders from around the world. One of their primary messages was that universities have a responsibility to exist as leaders in the area of sustainability and climate change mitigation. By building and supporting green campuses, universities embed a sustainability mindset in their students.

 

Sustainable campuses allow for multiple angles of education, drawing a link between the classroom, initiative, and innovation. As stated in the panel, they “create platforms to turn knowledge into action.” This discussion was so relevant to UConn’s goals of providing its community members with a sustainable living and learning environment. I was encouraged to hear that UConn had already taken on one of the panel’s primary recommendations for optimizing sustainability: managing and monitoring both quantitative and qualitative sustainability metrics. UConn has discovered, developed, and implemented a great number of sustainability initiatives through participation in annual surveys such as the Sierra Club’s Cool Schools ranking.

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Colleges United for Climate Action networking event at Cadi Ayyad University. Photo taken by Mark Urban

While at Cadi Ayyad University for our co-hosted event, Colleges United for Climate Action, a student even congratulated us for our number 2 ranking in the international GreenMetric sustainability survey. I was not fully aware until this moment that UConn’s achievements are being recognized throughout the world, confirming the higher education panel’s message that we have a responsibility as a university to act as a leader for our own community, for fellow colleges and universities, and for the world.

 

 

A Meeting of Millennials

Stephanie Hubli, Student, Environmental Engineering

The optimism I gained from this conference greatly outweighs my initial skepticism about the daunting nature of the global fight against climate change. The change in my overall outlook stems not from the success of this year’s formal proceedings at the COP, but rather from what I observed about the promising leadership and camaraderie amongst the millennial generation worldwide.

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Photo taken by Mark Urban

My enthusiasm is rooted in my own COP22 experiences and interactions, which have reassured me about the connectivity of educated youth on a global scale.  On Monday evening, while waiting for the bus from the Green Zone back to our hotel, our group had the pleasure of meeting a college-educated, twenty-something Reuters reporter from Cairo, Egypt.  Naturally, we discussed international concerns about the recent U.S. election of Donald Trump, a known climate change skeptic.  The reporter did not laugh at us but instead empathized with us. Later in the week, we had the honor of meeting with faculty, students, and graduates from Moroccan and other American colleges at a COP22 higher education networking event held at the University of Cadi Ayyad.  Every individual I engaged in conversation with was intelligent, action-oriented, and determined to be a voice of change. I was especially struck by the similarity of concerns, ideas and aspirations of the many Moroccan students we met.

 

Some would say that the competitive nature of globalization, such as international trade agreements, have led to a more divided and selfish world.  However, in the case of international youth, I dare to disagree. My experiences at COP22 and the people I have met in Marrakech have given me hope for the future.

I know that it will be a long process, but we can do anything when we stand together.  We are united on the need for climate action.  We are empathetic to the plight of those who have been or will be displaced by the effects of climate change, such as flooding and drought.  We are strong in preparing for a more resilient world, and protecting those, often in developing nations, who are most at risk from climate change.  We are determined to succeed.  We are one.

 

Knowledge is Privilege

Usra Qureshi, Student, Molecular and Cell Biology, Human Rights

I want to believe that everyone has the opportunity to participate in environmentally friendly practices, that every community knows enough about climate change to understand the urgency of the situation. And that sustainability is affordable for all.

The reality is morose. Liberals, academics and the upper class are communities privileged and enabled by the understanding of climate change, and all afforded access to sustainable measures meant to keep our world going.

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Attendees of the Colleges United for Climate Action event learn about sustainability projects at Cadi Ayyad University

COP22 in itself felt accessible to few. During a session on funding sustainable practices in Africa, one man went on an unforgettably impassioned monologue about how COP22 would not have been frequented by so many African voices had it not been taking place in Africa. The Innovation Zone was found to be populated by incredible inventions and visions that would undoubtedly change lives – so long as you came from a lineage of royalty.

Certainly, the world becomes more aware by the day about the impacts of climate change. But we keep educating those who are already educated. This is a problem. Continuously, there is a failure to frame the subject in a way that is understandable to the average person. Climate change is incomprehensible. Sustainability is inaccessible. Change is unaffordable.

So before we expect them to understand and join the revolution, we ourselves need to fix the way we enable. It is a privilege to be able to understand climate change. It is time we make it a right.

 

An American Dream?

Hannah Casey, Student, Environmental Studies, Public Policy

The mostly Moroccan and North African students at the higher education networking event, co-sponsored by UConn and the Universite Cadi Ayyad, were extremely excited to host us at their college.  Afterwards, they showed us an exhibition displaying their sustainability-focused research projects. The 20 or so students from this top University in Morocco were studying a variety of majors, from biology to environmental science and linguistics.

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Students, faculty, and staff networking at Cadi Ayyad University. Photo taken by Mark Urban

One of the undergraduate students, Omi, stood out to me. Omi is a freshman studying physics with a passion like no other. Her greatest inspiration is Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the American astrophysicist, author, and Director of the Hayden Planetarium in NYC. Omi aspires to follow his path and become an astrophysicist. Despite her hard work and incredible grades, Omi will be unable to pursue her planned career in Morocco.  That’s because of the lack of resources and educational institutions with specialized programs, like those Tyson found at Columbia for his Masters and Doctorate in astrophysics. Her dream is to study in America and she described this goal as comparable to “winning a prize.” Her simple wish to continue her education in America with the same opportunities we have, points out some of the things we take for granted in the U.S..

 

Omi’s entry into the United States also is dependent on potential immigration policy decisions made by the new president elect. Such policies could greatly affect the ability of Omi and many other bright students to continue their studies in the U.S and realize their dreams. New innovations, technologies, and future solutions to current problems may also not be realized if many great international students are not given equal academic opportunities –  especially if this means pursuing their graduate student dreams in America.

Omi’s sincere desire to follow in the academic footsteps of her American role model was a real eye-opener. How lucky we are to live in the United States.

 

It’s Up to Us Now

Ben Breslau, Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Upon entering COP22 on Monday I struggled with what to do next. What did any of this matter if the U.S. government refuses to help us? Fortunately, over the course of this week at the conference, I came to understand that I am far from alone in the pursuit of a healthier planet. Individuals, corporations, and governments from around the world are working harder than ever to solve the issues that lay ahead. And our young generation has a greater potential than ever to completely reshape our world for the better.

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COP22 higher education panel. Photo taken by Christen Bellucci

On our first night at the conference, all of the UConn students entered a panel of faculty from around the world, discussing the role of Higher Education in future environmentalism. Professors spoke in French and English about how important it is that every college student learns about sustainability. As our generation is the one bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, it is vital that we are all equipped with the knowledge of how climate change and other environmental issues occur, how they relate to issues of social justice and economics, and how to create lasting solutions. It is important not only to teach sustainability, but also to make the lessons memorable; as with any subject, students are most likely to remember the lessons that are interesting, engaging, and relatable. Luckily, UConn students and faculty are pursuing this goal by promoting a new environmental literacy/sustainability general education requirement through a student-circulated petition and a faculty-led workgroup. It would be wonderful for our university to be on the short list of schools around the world that have adopted such a requirement. So how exactly can we, as students and faculty, construct these programs for more schools besides our own? Networking. Luckily, we had numerous opportunities to network and exchange ideas with a host of other people throughout the conference.

On Monday night, several of us were stuck waiting for our bus back to the hotel. Luckily, a potentially troubling situation quickly turned into a great opportunity. As we waited, we began to exchange information with some of the other conference attendees.

Mostafa, for example, is a journalist from Cairo. For the last few years, his work has granted him unique opportunities on the front lines of our changing world. Mostafa has seen the death and destruction caused by Syria’s civil war, and the plight of the now impoverished refugees trapped in Jordan and other countries. And of course, he was actively involved in the 2011 Arab Spring demonstrations that removed Hosni Mubarak from his decades-long rule. He also had to watch helplessly, first as the extremely conservative Mohammad Morsi was elected, then as Morsi was forcibly deposed by Abdel al-Sisi and his military companions. Now, Mostafa and his friends — who, like us, want a nation of more democracy and transparency — are stuck under military rule with no sign of an election in the foreseeable future. Interestingly, we observed how the Arab Spring, and other recent events like the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, share similar social trends: the population at-large seems to be sick of ineffective “establishment” governments, but there is a strong divide as to what should replace the current world order.

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Students and OEP Director Rich Miller learn about sustainable heating solutions at the COP22 Green Zone. Photo taken by Christen Bellucci

Before Mostafa boarded his bus, I asked him for advice about what we could do to counter our potentially regressive regime. He said: “Be patient. Unlike us, you’ll have a midterm election in two years, and another presidential election in four. Before then, we can all form a more connected international community.” We exchanged information, and will hopefully continue to build grassroots international support for climate awareness and action.

As the week went on, our group continued to ask ourselves what many Americans have recently been asking: How has our nation, and even our world, become so polarized? On Wednesday, we brainstormed this question with students from other American Universities and the Moroccan University of Cadi Ayyad. We gathered in one of the large university’s boardrooms with local students, as well as students from American schools such as the University of Denver, Columbia University, University of St. Louis, and several from Historically Black Colleges and Universities cohort. After introductions, UConn professor Oksan Bayulgen observed: In our generation, there are some teens and young adults who, like us, are incredibly passionate and active about a wide range of issues. But there are also many who show nearly complete apathy towards anything controversial or political. I, and some of the other American students, suggested that many of us are stuck in online echo chambers — we follow people and ‘news’ sources that align with our pre-existing ideas, and fear or condemn those with different outlooks. People also suggested that many American millennials need to be reached in areas of their life that matter to them. Examples include eco-friendly fashion, green community service, and sustainable diets. Some of the Moroccan students expanded on this notion and suggested that environmentalism is also a subject that too often is presented as abstract. Students need to learn, from a very early age, that sustainability is a real-world issue that affects us all.

I spoke later with Zakaria, a local student who runs “Science Caravans” with some of the other students who were at the networking event. They travel to local high schools and demonstrate simple experiments that explain how climate change works. Other Moroccan students suggested more outreach with a stronger focus on human rights and social justice issues that accompany climate challenges. This promotes community service and engages poor and minority stakeholders in the battle to avert a climate crisis.

Throughout the conference, we spotted many more opportunities to improve our generation’s global networking. For example, one of the many NGOs presenting in the Civil Societies pavilion held student gatherings throughout one of the days. While we weren’t able to attend ourselves, we gathered information about the organization, called Sustaining All Life. A U.S.-based group, they encourage exactly the information exchanges and conferences that we support.

I’m happy to say that I feel much more positive about our generation after all of these networking encounters. This, coupled with a Northeastern U.S. college sustainability conference I attended two weeks ago, has shown me that our generation is very proactive, especially in the face of disaster. All it takes is a coordinated effort!

 

Caring on Campus

Margaux Verlaque-Amara, Student, Molecular and Cell Biology

On Wednesday afternoon the group took a taxi ride to the Universite Cadi Ayyad for a program entitled, Colleges United for Climate Action; Connecting at COP22. As we walked through the university gates on the bustling city street, we entered a beautiful and sunny campus with walkways lined with orange trees and students hanging around the open-air academic buildings. Upon entering the main building, we were greeted with quintessential Moroccan architecture; elaborate wooden archways and red-clay walls, leading into beautiful lobby with delicate tiles that covered pillars that extended all the way to the ceiling.

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Cadi Ayyad University, co-host of the Colleges United for Climate Action networking event

Various students and professors from both UConn and other universities in Morocco and beyond sat around a long conference table in the main building of the university. Soon after the introductions from the university president and the students and educators in the room, our very own Dr. Oksan Bayulgen posed the idea; how can we get students at UConn to actually care?

This might seem mildly offending for some students reading this – no one wants to be called out for being apathetic. But let’s be real, a majority of us do not do all that we can in our community to combat the issues of climate change, nor do we feel overwhelmingly guilty about it. We don’t rally around the ideas of rising sea levels and depletion of bio-diversity like we rally around President Herbst not calling a snow day.

The evidence is clear, climate change is a real and imminent threat to us all, and there are tangible steps we can take to reverse the effects. It was agreed upon that while most students know the threats of climate change, the day-to-day behavior of each individual needs to reflect this on a much larger scale.

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College United for Climate Action group discussion. Photo taken by Mark Urban

Being mindful of how our daily actions impact our environment was agreed to be the biggest component of shaping the campus environment. There is an emotional and personal component that needs to be tapped into, much of which can be achieved by daily reminders that our consumption adds up. Being environmentally conscious cannot be an isolated event on a designated day, one commentator said, but rather a part of daily life, built into every action. Some easy solutions that came out of not only this conversation at the university, but also the panel discussions at COP 22, included restructuring the way we deal with waste and making recycling more accessible in every space. I find this to be true, especially in major public spaces such as Homer Babbidge Library. Coffee cups, wrappers, boxes, plastic waste, all thrown into the little garbage cans next to tables with little care from the students furiously studying for their calculus exams. Making recycling more accessible in all spaces creates a constant reminder that our resources can be reused

On the topic of integrating climate awareness on campuses and the role of a campus in spreading awareness, Dr. Beverley Wright, a professor of Sociology and the founding director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, gave an answer that I found promising and feasible. Dr. Wright expressed an idea about community-based partnership where a community of interest would guide projects and research in partnership with a local university. I think this idea is simple, yet can lead to the behavioral change that enables climate action, as we discussed beforehand. Specialized programs that emphasize community-based partnerships allow members of a community to actively engage in research, political advocacy, and awareness. There are many communities around Storrs that could pose a mutually beneficial partnership with UConn to transition to a more sustainable lifestyle. As we expand UConn’s sustainability programs and climate science research, we could use our resources to catalyze and support communities that are transitioning to more sustainable practices. Additionally, this allows UConn students to take community involvement to a level that directly changes our world, and could bolster the excitement and urgency surrounding climate change.

 

 


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U.S. Election Casts Shadow Over Marrakech

As a contingent of UConn students, faculty, and staff arrived at COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco, it became clear that, although they were more than 3,000 miles away from home, the uncertainty and concern surrounding the recent U.S. election were being felt just as strongly. The following blog posts were submitted by members of the UConn contingent, detailing their experiences at COP22 in light of the recent election:

The World Without U.S. Mark Urban

An Uncertain Future Ben Breslau

UCONN@COP22: The Trump Opener Kristin Burnham

Hoping for a Better Donald: What the 2016 Election Means for Climate Change Policy Klara Reisch

Since these blogs were written, President-elect Trump has moderated his position, and stated that he is “open-minded” about the Paris Agreement; however, Myron Ebell, a vocal climate change skeptic for many years, remains in charge of the President-elect’s EPA transition team.

 

The World Without U.S.

Mark Urban, Biologist, Associate Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

“Maybe it won’t be so bad,” a taxi driver said as he weaved through the tangle of motorbikes, pedestrians, donkey carts, and buses clogging the streets of Marrakech, Morocco. I flinched when he slammed on the brakes or accelerated through precarious gaps in the traffic. He was talking about U.S. President-elect Trump. He was trying to make me feel better even though the world was a very different place than it was just one year ago.

Last December, the world met in Paris for the 21st meeting of climate delegates to the United Nations, or COP21 for short. The world agreed to try to limit global warming to 1.5 °C above preindustrial temperatures. The Paris Climate Agreement exceeded expectations. The world and the UConn delegation celebrated in the streets of Paris. Some of our faculty and staff cried tears of joy when they heard the news.

Last year’s COP21 was one of shining optimism. This year’s COP22 in Marrakech was one of gritty determination. If the Paris COP was a flute of French champagne, the Marrakech COP was a can of warm Casablanca beer.

Already the promises of just a year ago are fading. The world hasn’t figured out how to implement the lofty goals of the Paris accords. Whereas President Obama helped lead the fight against climate change, his successor threatens to withdraw.

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Jemaa el-Fnaa outdoor market

Against this backdrop, our second UConn delegation of undergraduates, faculty, and staff flew to the highlands of central Morocco. Marrakech, an ancient center for African trade, religion, and culture, provides the nexus for protecting all those things from a changing climate. Just beyond the ancient Jemaa el-Fnaa outdoor bazaar and outside the high pink walls of the Kasbah, the massive white tents of COP22 rose from a flat field. Out front, flagpoles of the world skewered the big African sky.

Like in Paris, we watched panel discussions about everything from the economy of climate adaptation to the sustainable development of Africa. We visited the government and corporate solutions tent, where new electric cars and photovoltaic cells shimmered under LED lights. We visited the stands of non-profit groups, cities, countries, and regions from around the world to hear about their climate solutions. The Nordic countries’ booth was expansive, white and clean. The African section was bright and welcoming. The Dutch offered a full bar, proudly extolling the ‘Dutch Approach.’ But I never found the US booth.

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John Kerry on the small screen

The US did take the center stage at the conference when US Secretary of State John Kerry delivered an impassioned argument for continuing to address climate change. Not managing to talk our way into the tight security of the UN blue zone, a group of us watched Kerry’s address to the assembled diplomats on an Iphone propped against a water bottle in an expat hotel. He was not speaking to the world, but to his country. Quoting Winston Churchill, Kerry said “It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required.”

The white, blubbering specter of a Trump presidency sapped strength from world efforts. Yet, I returned more optimistic than when I arrived. The world ratified the Paris Agreement more quickly than ever thought. Cities around the world are advancing toward carbon neutrality. Businesses are developing clean technologies because they recognize that efficiency is good business. The world reconfirmed its commitment to addressing climate change. A large banner on the last day proclaimed “We Will Move Ahead!”

Maybe the taxi driver was correct. Maybe it won’t be so bad. The world is united against the climate threat, even if our government is not. The world will lead, even if the US will not.

 

An Uncertain Future

Ben Breslau, Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

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The UConn contingent arriving at Marrakech

As we flew into Morocco, my mind raced. Like many of my environmentally conscious peers in the United States and beyond, I was still in shock from the previous week’s presidential election. Among his many campaign promises, President-elect Trump has spoken of promoting policies that would be disastrous to the national and global environment. He has discussed reinvigorating the coal industry, which will translate into massive health hazards for the people of Appalachia. He has also proposed to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency. This agency has improved countless lives by directly reducing the amount of pollutants in our nation’s rivers, air and soil. He has also suggested opening up our National Parks to private industries for exploitation. This would not only severely damage America’s tourism industry, but it would also destroy unique and irreplaceable ecosystems. And most dangerous of all, he is seriously considered abandoning the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Since the United States is Earth’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter (and may again become the largest as China seeks more renewable energy), this could mean that our country, which stands as a beacon for freedom around the world, may irreparably contribute to the largest global crisis in our generation.

Needless to say, I was less than optimistic before we touched down in Africa. I felt something that others less privileged than myself have felt for years or even decades: a strong sense of disillusionment and betrayal towards the officials that are supposed to represent the interests of ALL Americans.

 

UCONN@COP22: The Trump Opener

Kristin Burnham, Student, Pathobiology and Molecular and Cell Biology

The Trump Opener: A cultural phenomenon observed at COP22 in which, once the nationality of a U.S. citizen is established, the opening remark of the conversation is about President-Elect Donald Trump.

“You know I’ve never met a Trump supporter,” Mostafa, a well-spoken, twenty something journalist from Cairo tells us as we wait for the bus from the Green Zone back to the hotel.

We comment that people who voted for Trump don’t come to climate change conferences, or to developing countries for that matter. The statement is laced with condescension, the implicit message clear: they don’t know better because they haven’t seen the things we have, they don’t know the things we know.  It’s how we explain their seemingly inexplicable choice.

Rich Miller, from the UConn cohort comments that it’s interesting how close the rest of the world followed the U.S. election. Mostafa replies, “We’re all stakeholders – your elections affect us as much as they affect you, maybe even more.” And, to some degree, he is right. For better or worse, the U.S. is a global superpower. Our foreign policy brings not only humanitarian aid and other resources to developing nations, but also, all too often, our soldiers, our missiles, and our carbon emissions, which travel far beyond our borders.

Mostafa explains that he sympathizes, comparing many Egyptians’ dislike for their President of the past two and-a-half years, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to many Americans’ dislike of Trump. “I was a part of the Arab Spring,” he tells us. With pride and eloquence he says that our generation is more connected than ever before: How incredible it is that we can know the story and thoughts of a 16 year old girl in Palestine, a 41 year old man in Iraq… or a 20 year old girl from Connecticut.

kristin-mitigation-2There is a lull in the conversation. Ben Breslau, a fellow student from the UConn group, asks “So what do we do?” Mostafa emphatically replies, “You wait. Please wait.  You do nothing. You have patience,” almost pleading for the new US administration to stand behind the Paris Agreement, reached just last year at the historic COP21.  He cares what we do. He cares because it affects him too.

It’s not just what the president does that has a global impact. It’s what we all do. It’s the votes we cast, the revolutions we start, the passion of our convictions, and the causes we choose to champion.

A few minutes later we meet a delegate from Turkey, “You’re from America? I was here [at the conference] as the election results were coming in.” He says people cried and scheduled talks were abandoned to discuss instead the potential devastation Trump’s environmental policies could have on the world.

I hope that no matter what Trump does, no matter how drastic or inflammatory, we, as a country, can be more than his actions.

Let’s use the overwhelming feelings of frustration and helplessness to create a better United States. Let’s treat each other with more kindness. Let’s use the outrage and fear that surround Trump’s election to be a catalyst for change. Let’s join together to reduce our contribution to greenhouse gasses.

If we can’t take pride in our President, let us instead create a culture, country and carbon footprint we can be proud of.

 

Hoping for a Better Donald: What the 2016 Election Means for Climate Change Policy

Klara Reisch, Student, Molecular and Cell Biology

klara-human-rightsI shuffled in and out of shops trying to find a souvenir in Marrakech when one merchant turned to me, chuckled and asked “you voted for Trump?” I was confused and slightly embarrassed that this election was following me deep into the Souks of the Medina, but I was not surprised. In fact, before that encounter, most panel discussions I attended at COP22 mentioned the election results back home, which named Donald Trump as our president-elect. Throughout the campaign, Trump argued that climate change is merely a hoax spurred by the Chinese and criticized the United States for spending money on environmental initiatives to minimize its effects. He had threatened to dismantle last year’s landmark Paris Agreement, and Trump and revoke the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which calls for a decrease in carbon emissions from power plants.

klara-human-rights-2Either way, this election left many delegates and panelists concerned and unsure about the future of our world. I spoke with a panelist from GIZ, Klaus Wenzel, about the U.S.’s resistance of climate change policy. He talked about how workers are concerned about how they will be affected by this transition to things like clean energy. “People are afraid,” he said. “People are afraid of what this means for their jobs.” One of Trump’s main issues with renewable energy is that it is too expensive. Wenzel argued that although the return on investment takes time, renewable energy decreases the amount of air pollution and green house gas emissions, both of which have major effects on the environment and human health. “What is the worth of a premature death?”

Of course, no one knows for sure what this election means for the United States and the rest of the world, but I heard opinions expressed by both sides in various panel discussions at COP22. Some said that the United States would not back out because of the geopolitical and trade implications, while others believe that the U.S. may step out of the game and perhaps force other countries to step up.

Hopefully, enough people will speak out against Trump’s environmental policies. If our president will not fight on our behalf, we will have to.


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2013-16 Environmental Leadership Awards

20161025_ELA_056.jpgThis past week, members from across the UConn community attended a very special ceremony. For the first time since 2012, UConn held the Environmental Leadership Awards (ELAs). These awards were presented to those who have gone above and beyond to promote sustainability in their field.

The event took place on Tuesday, October 25th, in the UConn Foundation Building, where more than 80 guests, including the winner and finalists of each category, were in attendance. They were given time to network and enjoy breakfast prior to the ceremony.

The ceremony began with a welcome from Scott Jordan, the University’s Executive Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer. He congratulated the UConn community as a whole, and thanked those in attendance for helping to make the university a leader in environmental sustainability.

Scott Jordan ELAs.pngVice President Jordan’s introduction was followed by a brief address from Dr. Gene Likens. Among many achievements, Dr. Likens has published over 450 scientific papers on the ecological health of lakes, forests, and other environments. He is most renowned for his contributions to the discovery and remediation of acid rain throughout the 1970s and beyond. He now serves as UConn’s Special Environmental Advisor to the President. Dr. Likens emphasized the importance of community-wide dedication to environmental protection, and gave an anecdote about a Canadian town’s successful efforts to remediate a woodland polluted by copper smelting.

Following, OEP Director Rich Miller and Sustainability Coordinator Sarah Munro called up the winner and finalists for each category, and summarized each person’s or group’s accomplishments. Those recognized were selected by members of UConn’s Environmental Policy Advisory Council (EPAC) from a pool of over 40 nominations.

The 2013-2016 ELA winners are:

Emily McInerney Undergraduate: During her time at UConn, Emily worked at the Office of Environmental Policy, served as President of both EcoHusky and ECOalition, and conducted independent research on the relationship between climate change and wetland health.

Dave Wanik Graduate: Dave conducts research on the impact of wind on electrical power utilities, and developed a model to predict these outages. He is also a member of EPAC, and helped found the Eversource Energy Center.

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Photo taken by Jeff Gonci

NEMO Rain Garden Outreach Team: Michael Dietz and Dave Dickson developed an application to educate people on construction of raingardens in association with the Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officers (NEMO) Program.

Spring Valley Student Farm Student Group: This farm is largely student operated. Crops are harvested and sent to several places on campus. The organization also hosts student volunteers on Farm Fridays, and promotes sustainability through their solar thermal greenhouse system and aquaponics system.

Dining Services Group: Dining Services’ staff have actively promoted sustainable innovation in the university’s dining halls. So far, five dining halls have been Green Restaurant Certified, and Dining Services plans to certify all of UConn’s halls in near future.

Julia Cartabiano Staff: Julia is the Manager of Spring Valley Student Farm, as well as a program organizer for EcoHouse. She organized the “Just Food! Or Is It?” symposia and Insect Wonders at the Farm program.

Christopher Mason Environmental Partner: Chris has contributed lots of time and effort to promoting the health of the Hillside Environmental Education Park (HEEP). He participated in the annual BioBlitz, led trail maintenance groups, and promoted invasive species removal.

Dr. Michael Dietz Alumni: In addition to developing the Nemo Rain Garden App, Dr. Dietz has served as an educator in many UConn programs. He leads tours of Low Impact Development Sites around campus, and teaches high school students during the summer at the Natural Resources Conservation Academy.

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Photo taken by Jeff Gonci

Dr. James O’Donnell Faculty: Dr. O’Donnell is the Executive Director of the CT Institute for Resilience & Climate Adaptation. He also serves on the CT Council on Environmental Quality and the Governor’s Council on Climate Change. Dr. O’Donnell also conducts research on oceanography and rising sea levels.

Dr. Cameron Faustman and Jillian Ives Special Recognition: This award was presented for the recent Huskies Ending Food Waste initiative. Several lectures and events were organized to promote reduction of food waste in daily life.

 


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EcoHusky and EcoHouse “Race” to Recycle and Compost

group-photoOver 30 members of EcoHusky and the EcoHouse learning community got up bright and early on Saturday, October 8th, to volunteer at the Hartford Marathon in Bushnell Park. After a quick power nap on the bus, volunteers were ready for a day of excitement, positivity, and environmental awareness. Upon arrival at Bushnell Park in Hartford, volunteers mapped out the best locations for compost and heatsheet bins, as their primary responsibility for the day was to manage the waste stations throughout the park to ensure that runners and race-goers correctly disposed of food, recyclables, and foil blankets.

The Hartford Marathon Foundation has expressed strong interest in environmental initiatives over the years, with compost management as a top priority on the day of the event. Their composting partner is the KNOX Park Foundation, a nonprofit organization that partners with residents, businesses, and government to make Hartford more sustainable. This year, all of the food items on the race menu were compostable, including the soup, fruit, deserts, plates and napkins. The Marathon planners were also conscious in their other purchasing decisions, as the cups provided at the drink stations were recyclable as well.

waste-stationThe Marathon’s efforts to reduce waste at the event are commendable; however, it was up to the volunteers from EcoHusky and EcoHouse to ensure that those efforts were seen through. Composting and recycling can have such positive waste diversion impacts, but only if the items are separated into the correct bins. Not only did volunteers ensure that this was done at the event, they also educated race-goers about recycling and composting so they could be more sustainable in their daily lives. Additionally, they tracked the bags of compost, weighing hundreds of pounds over the course of the day.

“I definitely thought the volunteers had a positive impact on the people attending the Marathon. Most race-goers were eager to learn, asking us questions to make sure they were throwing their waste out in the appropriate bins.” -Eddie McInerney, EcoHusky member

In addition to manning the waste stations throughout the park, EcoHusky also had an environmental awareness tent, with an interactive basketball and recycling-themed game that encouraged players to think about what items are recyclable, compostable, and trash, then throw the items into the correct basketball hoops.

ecohusky-table“Race-goers were attracted to the EcoHusky tent because of its peculiar set up – needless to say, no one else had a conglomeration of “waste” items and handmade basketball hoops scattered around their table. For such a simple and low budget idea, we still managed to make a big impact with the people we spoke to.” -Katie Main, EcoHusky Treasurer

Each year, members of EcoHusky and EcoHouse refer to the Hartford Marathon as one of their favorite volunteer events. The positive atmosphere surrounding the marathon, and the receptiveness of the race-goers to the message about sustainability, consistently leave the volunteers feeling both cheerful and optimistic.


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NextGen and Putnam Dining Hall “LEED” the Way to a More Sustainable Campus

“The green features at NextGen Hall separate it from other residence halls because they show initiative. The university is investing in renewable, sustainable, and efficient practices, which is great for our environment.” – Cassidy Cooley, Sophomore, Management and Engineering for Manufacturing

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NextGen Hall’s solar thermal panels and green roof

As students arrived on campus for the fall semester, one of the greatest changes recognized was the newly opened NextGen Residence Hall. Construction of the new building began last November, as part of the Next Generation Connecticut Initiative, alongside a significant renovation project at Putnam Dining Hall. Both projects were unique in that they included many sustainable features, and received LEED Silver certifications. LEED-certified buildings are known for their efficiency with respect to water, energy, and greenhouse gas emissions, attributed to their carefully considered building and interior designs.

NextGen Hall is innovative in both design and concept. Unlike any residence hall in UConn’s history, it houses 8 Learning Communities, one on each floor, and the design of the building is focused on providing ample community spaces and opportunities for collaboration and innovation among its residences. Great examples of this are the 1,500 square foot maker space and idea lab, which encourage craftsmanship and creativity.

“[The design of NextGen] instills a sense of community…” – Caroline Anastasia, Sustainability Intern

Some of the more prominent green highlights of NextGen Hall are the green roof garden and solar heating panels; however, there are many hidden features of NextGen Hall that also contributed to its LEED Silver certification. Sun shades found on the sides of the building are architectural elements that can either deflect direct sunlight to maintain cool internal temperatures, or catch the light and concentrate it inside the building to warm internal temperatures and provide better natural lighting. The light color of NextGen Hall’s roof plays a similar role in reflecting sunlight to maintain internal temperatures. Surrounding rain gardens are an example of low impact development landscapes that collect rain water to reduce runoff. The contents of rain gardens are typically native plants and soils that enhance infiltration and capturing of pollutants. Inside the building students will also find water refill stations, thermostats that monitor when windows are opened, low flow water features in the bathrooms, and an energy dashboard on the first floor that allows residents to monitor the building’s energy usage.

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Putnam Dining Hall “Living Wall”

NextGen Hall wasn’t the only new green project on campus this semester; neighboring Putnam Dining Hall underwent a major renovation this past year, earning a LEED Silver rating for its building interior. Notable features of the new dining hall include the “Living Wall” of herbs and EnviroPure food waste disposal system, among others. Putnam Dining Hall is also Green Restaurant Certified, which means it met performance standards in areas including water efficiency, waste reduction, sustainable food, reusables and environmentally preferable disposables, as well as chemical and pollution reduction.

NextGen Hall and Putnam Dining Hall now stand alongside a growing number of green buildings at UConn, including Laurel and Oak Hall, the Werth Family Basketball Champions Center, and the Burton-Shenkman Football Complex. With a LEED Gold minimum standard for all new buildings and large renovations, UConn is projected to become even more sustainable as it continues to grow.


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Zipcar Arrives at UConn!

zipcar_2Living at UConn Storrs without a car can be challenging if you are a student that likes to adventure off campus. Even the simplest trips can be difficult. Living in an apartment, I have found that I often need to rely on friends to drive me to the grocery store. Luckily, a new alternative to having a car on campus just came to UConn! Zipcar, a car-sharing service, arrived on campus this fall.

Zipcar allows students, faculty, staff, and community members to reserve cars on an hourly basis. There are currently 10 vehicles parked in several designated spots around campus. These locations include Northwest and Towers Residence Halls, Whitney Road, the Field House, and the Nathan Hale Inn. These cars are available 24/7, and after paying a $15 membership fee, can be reserved for as little as $7.50 per hour or $69 per day. After the first year, the annual membership fee increases to $25. The cost includes insurance, gas, and up to 180 miles of driving per day. Another attractive feature of this program is that unlike traditional car-rental, many of which have age limits between 21 and 24, the age limit for membership for this service is 18 for UConn students, faculty, and staff, and 21 for local community members.

This car-sharing service provides a new option for students who do not have cars or cannot afford to have a car on campus. The cheapest resident student parking permit costs $122 for the year and only allows you to park in C Lot, one of the farthest parking lots from the campus core. Additionally, Zipcar represents a more sustainable option for students wishing to travel. Car sharing is an alternative form of transportation that allows for fewer cars to be driven on campus. According to Zipcar’s website, each Zipcar covers the transportation needs of about 40 of their members, and surveys show that 1 in 4 members said they would have bought a car if they had not had the option of using Zipcar. This represents a significant number of cars not on the road. In this way, car sharing has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because fewer students may bring cars to campus in light of this option. Furthermore, this may reduce the need for parking spaces on campus, and Zipcar could act as a Low Impact Development, or LID, feature by reducing runoff. Thus, having this new car-sharing service at UConn will not only give students the option to be more independent, but also allow them to reduce their environmental impact.

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Personally, I used Zipcar just this past week, and I found the process easy to navigate. After reserving a car using the Zipcar app on my cellphone, I was able to get the car at the parking lot in front of the UConn Field House, and drive from there. I unlocked the car using my Zipcard, which was sent to me in the mail. The actual car keys are left in the vehicle. The Zipcard is used to pay for gas, so that you do not have to pay for gas out of your own pocket. The car that I drove was clean and new, and my trip was smooth. When I had finished with my travels, I simply returned the car to the place where I had found it (a spot clearly marked where only Zipcars are allowed to park), left the keys in the car, and locked the car using my Zipcard. A few hours later, I received an email with trip details and the total cost.

I found my Zipcar experience to be very convenient, and I would recommend it to anyone who does not have a car and is looking to make a quick trip to the grocery trip, visit a friend, or go on an adventure. Along the way, you can feel good knowing your decision will help our community reduce its carbon footprint, and make UConn a more sustainable place to work and play!

Click here to join Zipcar!

-Jessica Griffin and Matthew McCann, Sustainability Interns


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10th Annual EcoMadness Competition!

This week marks the beginning of the Tenth Annual EcoMadness Competition! Over the month of October, students in over twenty residence halls will be competing to reduce their water and energy consumption.

There are four categories to measure the dorms’ progress:

  • Per Capita Water Reduction
  • Per Capita Energy Use Reduction
  • Percent Water Reduction
  • Percent Energy Use Reduction

To reduce their dorm’s energy and water consumption, students undertake a variety of tasks. Energy can be saved by using desk lamps with LED bulbs, unplugging devices when not in use, and washing clothes with cold water. Water can be saved by taking shorter showers, doing laundry with full loads, and shutting off the sink while brushing teeth.

These simple activities have reduced some residence halls’ energy and water consumption by as much as 35%!

To lead their dorms to victory, the Office of Environmental Policy calls on residents to volunteer as EcoCaptains. These students post fliers and posters around their residence halls, organize activities, and provide weekly updates to the OEP on how the dorms are doing.

The winning dorm for each category will receive a certificate and a free ice cream party in November featuring Dairy Bar Ice Cream!

Find out more about EcoMadness here!

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