Author: Natalie Roach

Indigenous Peoples’ Week at UConn

Since the late 1980s, activists have been attempting to change Columbus Day — a federally recognized holiday — to Indigenous Peoples Day. Advocates argue that the historical account of Columbus obscures his record of colonization, which led to slavery, genocide, illnesses, and near extinction, of the Taino people by the mid-1500s. The Taino were the most numerous indigenous people of the Caribbean islands encountered by Columbus after his trans-Atlantic voyage in 1492.

Dozens of cities and states across the United States have recognized this holiday as Indigenous Peoples’ Day since advocacy began in the late 1980s. UConn has joined in recognizing this holiday in recent years. This year, the Office of the Provost emailed the UConn community about this recognition and the history behind it. The Native American Cultural Program hosts a week-long event series each year in celebration, dubbed Indigenous Peoples’ Week.

Indigenous people, in the United States and across the world, are on the frontlines of the fight for environmental and climate justice. In the United States, indigenous people are often associated with closeness to nature and a low-impact way of life. While this image is sometimes a caricature, in many cases, it holds true. Struggles for land rights and protection against pollution or displacement, whether caused by the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels and extended droughts, or by big businesses and expanding agricultural interests, are issues of survival for many of the world’s 370 million indigenous people.

22-year old Makasa Lookinghorse of the Six Nations of the Grand River

Indigenous Ecuadorians have long-pursued legal action against Texaco and Chevron, large oil conglomerates, for pollution of their homeland from large oil spills. While these lawsuits have dragged on for years, and even decades, they serve as reminders of the determination of indigenous people.

In 2016, indigenous people of the Standing Rock reservation came together to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was slated to run through ancient burial grounds and dangerously close to the tribe’s fresh water supply. Thousands of protesters brought international attention to the issue of indigenous land rights and environmental justice.  However, in 2017, protesters were eventually dispersed and removed by state and federal authorities and the final phase of the pipeline project was swiftly approved by the Army

Helena Gualinga of Ecuador

Corps of Engineers (ACOE). Although the project was completed and oil is flowing through the pipeline, a federal judge ordered the ACOE to reconsider certain environmental impacts. The reservation is currently litigating the adequacy of that second review, which was done in 2018 – their fight is yet another example of the challenges and environmental risks faced by indigenous people.

The most recent global climate strikes are most commonly associated with Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish activist who started the Fridays for Future student movement. But indigenous youth have been heavily involved on the frontlines of this movement as well. Other prominent activists include the 22-year old Makasa Lookinghorse of the Six Nations of the Grand River, who is

Xiye Bastida of Mexico

fighting for Native American water rights in opposition to a permit granted by Ontario, Canada, which allows the Nestle Corporation to pump millions of gallons of water per day from a local aquifer. We must recognize Helena Gualinga, who has fought for climate justice in her homeland of Ecuador, and Xiye Bastida, who has fought against extraction culture and for environmental justice in Mexico.

Indigenous activists have been leading on environmental justice issues long before it has gained the attention of the public eye. This Indigenous Peoples’ Week, we recognize and support them in their continued struggle for environmental and climate justice.

 

 

Meet the Interns!

Editor’s Note: Another year, another round of new interns. This year we have our largest intern team ever! Read on to learn about the amazing, passionate students we hired this semester.

Hope Dymond – Sophomore, Environmental Engineering

Hope is currently a sophomore studying Environmental Engineering with a minor in Human Rights. She came to UConn as salutatorian from Common Ground, an ecologically themed high school in New Haven, and is ready to not only build her technical skillset, but also to learn about new topics.  Since joining the office, she has helped design and edit the new Sustainability Activity Book, worked on the annual Green Metric Survey, and helped with Energy Use Intensity tracking. On campus she has been part of Horticulture Club, Alternative Break’s Immokalee trip, the Student Farmworker Alliance, UConn@COP, and UConn Survivor Spring 2019 (did she win? You’ll have to watch it on YouTube to find out!). In the upcoming year, she is committed to her plans to go spelunking, camping, and climbing with Outing Club. Any activity out in the sunlight is an activity Hope wants to get in on, and she is excited to explore the HEEP. Hope values creativity and, when she makes time for it, loves to paint portraits with watercolor. She tries to see the true learning value in every task, and while it can be tough, she enjoys the moments when things change her mind.

 

 

 

Lauren Pawlowski – Sophomore, Environmental Studies and Economics

Lauren is currently a sophomore at UConn double majoring in Environmental Studies and Economics. Since arriving at UConn, she has been an active member/volunteer for EcoHusky, USG Sustainability Sub-Committee, UConn Club Track, Women and Minorities in Economics, and also secretary for UConn Club Pole Vault and the UConn Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA). Her favorite memories involving the OS so far include attending the Earth Day Spring Fling and Green Game Days and contributing to the Sustainability Student Activity Book. This past summer, she worked as a Laboratory Technician Intern for the Fairfield Water Pollution Control Facility collecting water samples and conducting chemistry analyses. For spring break 2019, she participated in the Community Outreach alternative break trip to Immokalee, FL which focused on migrant farmworker rights. Lauren is interested in green building design, renewable energy, sustainable business practices, reducing food waste, and fun plants. She looks forward to growing her windowsill collection of succulents and also attending COP25 in Santiago, Chile this winter as a UConn@COP Fellow. In her free time, you can find her hiking, biking, travelling, skiing, or running around on campus or on a UConn Outing Club trip. Lauren ran her first (and maybe last) half marathon this summer and looks forward to completing a Tough Mudder next summer. She also enjoys painting, reading, spending time with friends, seeing dogs, listening to acoustic guitar, and going to random UConn events. 

 

 

Harry Zehner – Junior, Political Science

Harry is a junior majoring in Political Science with a minor in Environmental Economics and Policy. He is dedicated to making the cities we live in more sustainable, through a focus on sustainable urban design, efficient transportation, social equity and democratized city planning processes. Harry has worked at the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters (a state-wide environmental advocacy group), Sustainable CT (a municipal environmental certification program) and as a policy advisor on a New Haven mayoral campaign. Through these jobs, Harry has developed a range of skills, from developing and writing housing policy to researching statewide legislation. At UConn, Harry works as the Opinion Editor at the Daily Campus, where you can find his weekly column, and as the Program Director for Nathan Hale Homework Club, a middle-school tutoring program. In his spare time, Harry enjoys reading, hanging out with his friends, playing intramural soccer and recording his love-life podcast called (name). After graduation, Harry plans to work on policy in local elections, advising candidates on the deep connections between sustainability and housing, transportation, food, planning and equity. 

 

 

 

Maizey MabrySmith – Sophomore, Environmental Studies

Maizey Mabrysmith is a sophomore Environmental Studies major here at UConn. Prior to the start of her internship, Maizey participated in multiple sustainability events and projects around campus such as organized cleanups, Green Game Day and the Hartford Marathon. She hopes to increase participation in these incredible events and better engage the student body using her new perspective as an intern. Maizey is also a returning member of the EcoHouse learning community, this year serving as a floor mentor for incoming freshmen. Through these two new roles she hopes to provide environmentally-conscious students an outlet to make change. Maizey loves anything and everything outdoors, and spends her summers lifeguarding. For the past two years, she has worked as a Marine Patrol Officer for the Town of Columbia to implement and improve strategies for invasive species protection on Columbia Lake. Maizey has always had a strong passion for volunteer work and fulfills that by spending a large part of her free time at the Windham Region No-Freeze shelter. Maizey is excited for all that this year will bring in the office and is most looking forward to trailblazing the HEEP and improving signage to make the area more accessible to all of UConn’s nature lovers.

 

Green and Blue at UConn’s Football Green Game Day

Green Game Day was a bright spot on an otherwise disappointing day for UConn football fans. The Huskies lost a close game on the field, but Mother Earth won outside the stadium where EcoHusky and EcoHouse volunteers, along with Office of Sustainability interns, took to the tailgating fields to collect cans and bottles from fans. Volunteers sporting blue Green Game Day shirts walked among the rows of cars, approaching UConn alumni, Connecticut locals and even some Illinois fans to help make their game day a bit greener. 

Some student volunteers even ventured into the spirited student lot, all in the name of recycling! Unsurprisingly, they emerged with more bags than any other tailgate area. 

In total, the volunteers collected 58 bags of recyclable bottles and cans. 

While most of the volunteers scoured the fields, others staffed the Office of Sustainability tent in the HuskyFest fan zone, quizzing fans on their environmental knowledge and giving out prizes for correct answers. One notable addition to the prize table this year was the new UConn Sustainability Activity Book. Our youngest fans (and a few older ones) jumped at the chance to color and learn. One excited young Husky was heard walking away from the tent exclaiming: “Dad look! Jonathan’s on every page!”

From baby boomers to generation Z, all ages were equal parts enthralled, enthused and stumped by the intern’s questions. At the end of their experience at the tent, all participants had learned something about the environment and UConn’s sustainability efforts. 

Once inside, fans were treated to a recycling PSA from none other than Jonathan the Husky. Likely due to the inspiring recycling video, the Huskies got off to a strong start, scoring the first 13 points. Alas, it was not to last, as Illinois came storming back to win 31-23. 

While UConn’s first loss of the season was disappointing, it can teach us a valuable lesson about recycling: Care for the environment must be sustained, or else we risk losing all our progress. And vice versa: No matter what your habits are, you can always turn it around and become an EcoWarrior.

Green Game Day was a roaring success for all involved. We hope to see you during the basketball season at Gampel, or next year at the Rent!

 

Athlete Perspectives: Basketball Green Game Days

We would like to spotlight our senior intern Caroline Anastasia, who has now been part of 10 Green Game Days!

More than 35 student volunteers from Ecohusky, EcoHouse, and the OEP gathered at Gampel Pavilion for two basketball Green Game Days in March to educate Husky fans about recycling and

create an atmosphere buzzing with energy about the environment. Volunteers promoted recycling by engaging with fans as they entered the stadium and by standing next to trash and recycling

containers to make sure recycling was properly sorted. Additionally, by making these games carbon neutral through the purchase of offsets, we prevented a total of 8.5 metric tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere!  We would like to thank all of our volunteers who made these events possible and to especially spotlight our senior intern Caroline Anastasia, who has now been part of 10 Green Game Days!

 

In celebration of these events, we talked with student athletes at UConn who are passionate about the environment and appreciate the outreach that happens at events such as our Green Game Days. Here is what they had to say…

 

“Much like the human body, I believe what you put in and what you do to your body is eventually going to affect what comes out. The environment is an organism too. So, the things that we’re experiencing are a result of what we’ve done to the planet.

Education and knowledge are what changes everything. People are born uncivilized until they learn something or they’re influenced by something that leads them to make change for the better.”

– Carlton Steer, Senior Sociology Major, UConn Football Defensive Line

 

“A large majority of pollution is in our waters – oceans, rivers, lakes, ponds, etc. We’ve seen it in most of the places we’ve raced. While it may not directly affect our regatta performance, it’s a sign of a larger problem that affects all of us – if we see it here, then it’s probably worldwide, and it might be worse where people care less about the environment. It’s disheartening, it’s hard on the eyes, it’s damaging to the wildlife, and it’s why we need to keep pushing for more people to care.”

Maxwell Miller, Sophomore Finance Major, Sailing Team President   

           

 

“In order to properly advocate for the right to health for all, it is essential to equip people with the knowledge and skills to take responsible action to protect the environment. Through caring for our planet, we make the basis for just, sustainable, and equitable health outcomes possible.”

– Jen Koo, Junior Allied Health Sciences Major, Track & Field

Thank you to the student-athletes we talked to for your thoughtful reflections. Best of luck to our Husky women’s basketball team in the Final Four tonight!

Herbst Endorses Guiding Principles for Equitable Climate Solutions

This past week, UConn President Susan Herbst was part of a coalition of university presidents who took an important step toward achieving an equitable, environmentally conscious future by signing UConn on to the Second Nature’s Call to Action and Guiding Principles for Accelerating Equitable and Just Climate Solutions. Below is the statement she released explaining the role of UConn in creating a future that is healthy and safe for everyone.

 

Susan Herbst:

As a Land Grant and Sea Grant institution, the University of Connecticut has always felt a special responsibility to set high standards and uphold strong principles on the ways in which we understand and protect our environment both locally and globally.

For these and many other reasons, we wholeheartedly endorse the imperatives articulated in Second Nature’s Call to Action and Guiding Principles for Accelerating Equitable and Just Climate Solutions, which were announced recently at the 2019 Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit in Tempe, Arizona.

These principles remind us that universities have not only the power to motivate change and the expertise to offer innovative solutions, but also the responsibility to ensure that those solutions are equitable and developed in collaboration with the people most impacted.

That responsibility is especially challenging when it comes to climate change because of the distance between our actions here and now, and their consequences, which are often far removed in time and space.

It’s our duty as global citizens to adjust behaviors today for carbon mitigation and resilience preparation that will primarily benefit future generations, or vulnerable populations located somewhere else around the world. To this point, Second Nature’s Guiding Principles advise us to think globally; we must continuously review and refine our campus climate action plans to ensure that our goals and strategies reflect the best available science about the effects of climate change.

As a state flagship, public research university, UConn‘s mission has always included public service. We frequently partner with state and local governments and strive to be engaged leaders in our community. Second Nature’s Guiding Principles urge us to extend this engagement to the global community. In the context of climate change, we can do this by accounting for how the long-term costs of our institutional activities might “negatively impact people and the planet, and strive to measure, internalize, and avoid these costs to the greatest extent possible.”

The first step is raising awareness about the underlying science of global warming and collectively accepting our share of responsibility for its harmful effects, which are already occurring in places far removed from our nation’s campuses.  This includes subsistence farms in North Africa wiped out in recent years by historic droughts, entire coastal communities in Pacific island nations displaced by sea level rise and flooding, and essential drinking water supplies threatened by receding glaciers in the Himalayas.

Informed by this knowledge and driven by basic human decency, the next step of higher education institutions should be recognizing the urgent needs of the world’s most vulnerable populations by accelerating our climate strategies.

UConn has historically been a leader on this front, and we continue to reaffirm our efforts to this end. We recently adopted an environmental literacy general education requirement that will ensure our students graduate from UConn with a grasp of important, intersectional environmental issues including climate change.

UConn is also an active agent in local climate adaptation projects, notably through the University’s Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA), which works with economically disadvantaged communities to improve their climate resiliency.

In 2017, we joined a multi-sector coalition of American businesses, state and local governments, NPOs, and colleges and universities by signing the “We Are Still In” pledge, reaffirming our commitment to the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Last fall, we joined 17 other major research universities in the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3), sharing our expertise in order to accelerate solutions to global warming. And, for the past four years, our UConn@COP program has brought a delegation of students to the U.N.’s annual international climate summit for an immersive, hands-on learning experience, with the goal of developing future leaders in climate science and policy.

This year, UConn’s Sustainability Office will meet with departments and stakeholders across campus, including at a student summit scheduled for next month, in order to update our strategic goals and metrics for climate leadership through 2025.  This is the next five-year milestone in our long-term Climate Action Plan.  It’s also the perfect opportunity to utilize Second Nature’s Guiding Principles as a more global and equitable lens for reviewing our progress and envisioning more impactful strategies toward a carbon-neutral campus.

Hispanic Environmentalists Advancing the Environmental Movement

By Natalie Roach

The midterm elections that took place this November have ushered in a new vanguard of representatives ready to fight for the needs of the people. These newly elected representatives have harnessed public enthusiasm for change to beat out incumbents, and are entering Congress full of ideas and energy. One of the most well-known of these newly elected representatives is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A 29-year-old Latina from the Bronx, Cortez is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Along with a number of her colleagues, she has announced a plan called “The Green New Deal” that pushes for climate change to be prioritized in Congress. Ocasio-Cortez is just one example of the many Hispanic activists across the country and world that are fighting to protect us from environmental degradation.

In our country, Latinx people are more concerned about the environment and more willing to take action to protect it than the general population. This makes sense, since a history of environmental racism means they are one of the populations most affected by environmental hazards like particulate pollution and poor water. Despite often being excluded from the mainstream environmental movement, Latinx people have always been heavily involved in environmental activism.

In Latin America, environmentalists are fighting for their lives, literally. As the area continues to develop and those in power exploit the land and its resources, indigenous and poor people are displaced. Their way of life, their land, and their livelihoods are stolen from them, and governments do very little to protect them, if not encourage the exploitation. When people decide to organize and fight back, they are threatened or killed. A 2016 report from GlobalWitness found that two-thirds of the 185 environmentalists murdered in 2015 resided in Latin America.

UConn recognizes the importance of this reality. The USG Sustainability Subcommittee is one organization on campus that is dedicated to working towards a just and sustainable planet for all people. They are organizing a series of events this semester that make clear the importance of including Hispanic people and other diverse groups in the environmental movement. Keep an eye out for their events this semester!

We cannot possibly cover all of the passionate Hispanic activists that have dedicated their lives to environmentalism. However, we have highlighted some activists here which showcase the breadth of Hispanic people’s influence on the environmental movement.

 

Elizabeth Yeampierre

Elizabeth Yeampierre is an internationally recognized pioneer in the environmental movement, intent on creating a platform for oppressed communities in the fight against climate change. A Puerto Rican attorney with indigenous and African roots, she was born and raised in New York City, and has fought on behalf of her community for her whole life. She has pioneered a model of intergenerational, multi-cultural, and community-led organizing that is award-winning and effective.

Yeampierre is a leader in numerous organizations across the country, including the Climate Justice Alliance, a national coalition of community-based organizations focused on environmental justice, and Building Equity & Alignment for Impact, which aims to strengthen relationships between philanthropists, large environmental nonprofits, and grassroots organizations. She was one of the driving forces behind the historical People’s Climate March in 2014. She is also a leader in New York City policy. She currently serves on mayor DeBlasio’s Sustainability Advisory board, and has been instrumental in historic legislation such as the passing of New York’s first Brownfield legislation and the adoption of NYC’s Solid Waste Management Plan. On the federal level, she was the first Latina chair appointed to the EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and was also a member of the National Environmental Health Sciences Advisory Council. In addition to delivering inspirational speeches around the world, Yeampierre works as the Executive Director of UPROSE, a grassroots organization that focuses on sustainability and resiliency in Brooklyn, NY. 

 

Berta Caceres

Berta Caceres was a fearless environmental leader in her country of Honduras, one of the most dangerous places to be an environmentalist in the world. While still in college, she co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), and continued to lead the group for the rest of her life. The COPINH led a variety of important grassroots campaigns including protesting illegal logging, plantation owners, and US military presence on indigenous land. Caceres supported a wide range of social and indigenous issues including feminism and LGBT rights. As indigenous rights and human rights are inextricably linked with the environment, she became known as a prominent environmentalist. In 2015 she won the Goldman Environmental Prize for a campaign that was successful in pressuring the world’s largest dam builder to end a project on the Gualcarque River that would have “jeopardized the water resources and livelihood” of the surrounding land and people. However, her work to protect the people of Honduras eventually led to her death. In 2016, she was assassinated in her home by armed intruders. Fellow activists say one of Berta’s favorite expressions was “they are afraid of us because we are not afraid of them.”

 

Jamie Margolin

Youth activist Jamie Margolin is one of the 21 youth who have filed a lawsuit against the federal government alleging that the action it has taken that has led to climate change is depriving the next generation of life, liberty, and property, and has failed to protect essential public trust resources. The case made it to the US District Court this fall.

Margolin, however, is not waiting around for a decision to be reached. While this case is proceeding, she has created a national climate movement. She is the founder of Zero Hour, a diverse youth-led movement dedicated to concrete action to end climate change. In July of 2018, Zero Hour held a three day event in DC consisting of a day to lobby legislators, an arts festival, and the Youth Climate March itself. Sister marches happened in tandem across the nation and world. Margolin’s movement is focused on concrete action, not just rhetoric – they have a science-backed platform stemming from the lawsuit, and their march included a specific set of action items. They are also successfully intersectional; their platform fully recognizes that solving social issues is vital to fighting climate change, and having women of color at the helm brings a diversity to this movement that has led to its success.

 

Vanessa Hauc

Vanessa Hauc is an Emmy award-winning trilingual reporter who has used her platform to educate Spanish-speakers and the larger world about environmental issues. She started her career in Bogota, Colombia in 1993, and in 1999 moved to LA. She graduated from the University of Nevada with majors in Communication and Journalism, while working at nearby TV stations. In 2002 Hauc joined the Telemundo network as reporter and co-presenter of “Al Rojo Vivo con Maria Celeste,” and has risen up the ranks to her current position as a correspondent for Noticiero Telemundo. Telemundo is one of the largest providers of Spanish-language content in the country and has a global reach, providing programming in more than 100 countries.

Hauc has taken advantage of this global audience to spread awareness of environmental issues by creating her own segment “Alerta Verde” (Green Alert), to educate the public about the importance of protecting the environment. After much success, Telemundo made Alerta Verde its own company, and is now at the forefront of environmental news coverage.

Hauc has also been on the frontlines of environmental crises throughout her career, reporting on the ground from disasters. She covered Hurricane Katrina, earthquakes across the world, including Chile, Japan, and Haiti, and the Chilean miners’ rescue. She has also dedicated her time to travelling the United States challenging legislators on anti-immigration policies, has received a Master’s degree in Economy and International Politics from the University of Miami, and studied French Culture and Languages at the University of Aix in Provence, France.

 

Christiana Figueres

One of the world’s greatest accomplishments in the last decade was the Paris Climate Agreement, signed by 195 countries in 2015. This historical agreement was largely due to our next environmentalist, Christina Figueres. Figueres has a master’s degree in social anthropology and is a diplomat for Costa Rica. She became the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2010 and assumed responsibility for the annual international climate change negotiations. She was determined to bring the world to a consensus and implement a regulatory framework for carbon emissions that everyone could commit to. She successfully directed a series of annual negotiations across the world that culminated in the Paris 2015 Conference of the Parties (COP21), at which the Paris Climate Agreement was signed.

Christina is not satisfied with just the Paris Climate Agreement. She continues to push the world towards increasing climate protection. She is currently organizing Mission 2020, a global initiative to have world carbon emissions begin decreasing by 2020.

The Power of Storytelling @ COP24

Editors note: One takeaway shared by many COP fellows was the power that a single story can hold. It’s easy to become overwhelmed or numb when looking at climate change and environmental degradation from the global perspective. Listening to another’s story and empathizing with them is vital to finding solutions to the problems we face. Below are four blogs from some of our COP fellows that discuss this idea. This is the first in a series of blogs that will be posted in response to UConn@COP24.

 

Communicating Climate Change – Delaney Meyer

The Talanoa Dialogue is Making People Care! – Kat Konon

The Emotional, Psychological, and Mental Impacts of Climate Change – LeAnn McLaren

Personal Connections: Making Climate Change Hit Home – Luke Anderson

The Media’s Role in Communicating Climate Science – Delaney Meyer

Providing Platforms to Broaden Perspective – Luke Anderson

 

Communicating Climate Change

By Delaney Meyer – Junior, B.S. Civil Engineering

During one of our morning discussions while attending COP24, we analyzed the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. This indicator is determined through a series of questions, which are designed to determine a preference between four comparisons. The comparisons include; extroversion versus introversion, sensing versus intuition, thinking versus feeling and judging versus perceiving. Each of the student fellows in the UConn@COP24 group used the indicator in order to determine where they would fall when compared to other groups of people. Based on data provided by UConn@COP faculty member, Scott Stephenson, the results of the group members’ distribution for indicator codes proved to be similar to results nationwide. Examining the data, the most glaring difference when comparing these two groups was based on the sensing versus intuition comparison. Nationwide the ratio was 73% to 27% while the fellows’ ratio was 31% to 69% respectively.

As a group, we dove into possible reasoning behind this difference and analyzed how this indicator could be used to improve the portrayal of climate change information. As students, we naturally prefer intuition to sensing. This is because of our curiosity and desire for explanations to problems. We do not accept our reality for what it is, we want to understand why it is the way it is and in the context of climate change, fix it. Thus, we can take statistics given to us and apply them to our reality.

Nationwide, people fall on the opposite side of the spectrum and seem to simply focus on their current reality and accept it for what it is. In this context, statistics cannot provide these people with an accurate depiction of what reality is like for others. In order to change this, climate change effects will have to become more personal to those all over the world. During our discussion, we asked ourselves how this could be done and turned to our experiences at COP24 for guidance.

One way in which effects of climate change have effectively been portrayed at COP24 has been through storytelling. Through a story, people are able to convey experiences and emotions to others. When listening to a story it is easy to put yourself into the story teller’s shoes and experience their reality as your own, which would be beneficial to those who focus on their present reality.

The stories that I have experienced while at COP24 have triggered a range of emotions. I experienced a woman firefighter from Greenpeace speak about how wildfires have impacted her. She spoke of her home in Indonesia and a wildfire, which destroyed much of the land that she knew as her home. She broke down in tears while telling this story showing vulnerability and causing many of us in the audience to begin to cry. Through this experience, I was able to better understand the impact of wildfires on communities. I was also able to connect with this woman through the feeling of intense loss that she had allowed us to experience with her. We were able to experience stories such as this one repeatedly throughout our week at COP24.

COP24 taught our group how to better convey information about climate change to the public. Through the use of storytelling as a technique to portray the impacts of climate change to the general public, we believe that people will develop a better understanding of the reality that others are facing due to climate change.

 

The Talanoa Dialogue is Making People Care!

By Kat Konon – Junior, B.S. Chemical Engineering

Most people, especially in light of the most recent IPCC report, know something about climate change. Some people focus on the science behind it, others focus on the consequences, and still others decide to ignore it altogether. It can be hard to process all the warnings, statistics, and charts that we learn about in school or see on the news. Because of this, Fiji introduced the Talanoa dialogue at COP23, which aims to give people a platform to “share stories, build empathy and to make wise decisions for the collective good.” This concept carried over into COP24.

I attended many different talks covering topics such as policy, renewable energy, plant-based diets, and youth action, but the ones I continue to think about the most were people from around the world simply sharing their stories. One speaker from New Zealand talked about how each year, summers in her community are magical. There’s fresh fruit, beautiful weather, and an overall lightheartedness. However, in recent years, summertime has also brought overtones of anxiety and fear as wildfires, a product of extreme record-breaking drought, grow more and more destructive. If that isn’t bad enough, her low-lying community’s land will be underwater by the end of her lifetime. As she talked she emanated sadness and frustration, but her drive to prevent others from having the same fate spoke the loudest. She called for climate justice and climate equity, phrases I heard over and over at the conference. Together, these ideas convey that global warming is an ethical and political issue, and it generally poses the greatest threat to those who are the least responsible. Therefore, developed countries need to provide aid to those in less developed countries who are disproportionately impacted by climate change.

Another speaker from China talked about how 10 years ago, when she was a child, she could see the stars. Now, she looks up and they’re not there because of pollution. If you can’t imagine wildfires or floods destroying your home, try to imagine this. It just makes me feel so sad.

There are a ton of reasons to care about climate change. So many, in fact, that it can be overwhelming. So start here. Start with the people who have to face it every day. Show some empathy and do your part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. You’d hate to be in their shoes someday.

 

The Emotional, Psychological, and Mental Impacts of Climate Change

By Leann McLaren – Senior, B.S. Political Science and History

During my time as a member of the UConn@COP24 cohort attending the United Nations’ Conference on Climate Change in Poland, I had the opportunity to participate in an event titled “Intergenerational Inquiry: Youth Stepping Up for Climate Action.” The event showcased multiple speakers from the UN Secretary General for Youth to delegates from Ghana and students from many different countries.

What I found especially provoking was the testimony from a youth activist from the island of Jamaica. He described his struggle of being exiled from his community as a kid due to his LGBTQ identity. From his story of homelessness he described how the impacts of climate change took an emotional toll on him in addition to his family problems. In Jamaica, he described how as a developing island nation, much of the national disasters have the ability to wipe out entire nations of people. The harsh effects of climate change disproportionately affected people who were not primary contributors of GHG emissions.

Similarly, with another student from India, he described how his motivation to become an activist for climate justice stemmed from his childhood. Memories of morning runs with his father in India became progressively dangerous as temperatures increased to over 125º degrees Fahrenheit. The harsh effects of climate change affected not only his health but also his emotional connections with his father. He explains how these changes impacted his psychological development and contributed towards his activism. 

Overall, the students and speakers in this event resonated with me. The narrative of their personal stories allowed me to see how climate change produced much more than physical effects, but negative emotional and mental health side effects as well. This event made me more aware of the totality of impacts caused by climate change and more motivated to take action as a result of these realizations. I now aim to reduce my personal emissions and raise awareness to promote behavioral change among others, not only for the sake of preventing the catastrophic increase in global temperatures, but also for the mental, emotional, and psychological well-being of others all over the world.

 

Personal Connections: Making Climate Change Hit Home

By Luke Anderson – Junior, B.S. Nutritional Sciences and Anthropology

Emotionally, UConn@COP24 was a very impactful experience. We began our first full day in Poland with a tour of the concentration camps from World War II, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau. This set the tone for the sort of raw emotional vulnerability that made my personal experience at COP transformative.

I’ve heard many stories about others’ sobering experiences visiting Auschwitz, but to approach our guided tour through the lens of climate justice made the history of dehumanization and devastation surrounding the Holocaust surprisingly more relevant to the circumstances of the world today. I saw this in climate-induced refugee displacement of those in the developing world and the intersectionality of the people who are so heavily affected by xenophobia and other forms of hatred and the universal impacts of climate change.

This is where I drew connections to my own life and where this trip really helped me rekindle my passion to push for change.

 

I was able to connect with people through their stories. Pictured to the right is Laura. She is a volunteer firefighter with GreenPeace from Indonesia who very emotionally shared the story of how her village has become devastated by the haze of wildfires, which both exacerbate and are exacerbated by atmospheric carbon emissions. She’s among the many worldwide whose lives have been threatened by diagnoses of upper respiratory and cardiovascular infections and chronic diseases as a result of these conditions. As she shared about the loss of friends who she’s lost to fires and the health effects wildfires have had in Indonesia she began to cry and was comforted by other volunteer GreenPeace firefighters from other areas of the world.

Throughout my childhood I had always considered myself well-off and disconnected these sort of impacts of climate change and how they disproportionately affect people of poorer communities. However, when I suddenly lost my father to a heart attack last year I was forced to face how rapidly public health crises, such as those caused by climate around the world, can impact any of us and how we have to interact with the world. My mother hasn’t worked a full-time job since I was born and after my father’s death, we became dependent, in many ways, on his life insurance and the healthcare benefits we were fortunate to still be able to receive through his employer. Hearing Laura’s story and stories like hers made me viscerally acknowledge how common stories like mine are and will continue to become. With the acceleration of climate change, this will happen first among minority populations and those in the developing world, then for the rest of us whose lack of exposure allows us to remain inactive in fighting for climate action and justice.

 

The Media’s Role in Communicating Climate Science

By Delaney Meyer – Junior, B.S. Civil Engineering

Having had a little over a week to reflect on my experience while in Poland for COP24, I am overcome with the abundance of information that I was presented with. However, I am stuck thinking about one particular experience that I had while at the climate hub. From this particular experience, I was able to gain important statistical knowledge and further understand how the media can spread messages about climate change more effectively.

The second day that I attended the climate hub, Greenpeace had several sessions about wildfires planned for the day. When we first walked in, there were visuals of firefighters and wildfires set up in addition to fire fighting gear on display as can be seen in the pictures attached. These images had an immediate impact on me and put the intensity of these fires into perspective.  I sat down with a few other students to listen to one of the Greenpeace firefighters discuss his job as a volunteer and introduce another woman to discuss the impacts of wildfires on climate change.

It was emphasized continually throughout the presentations that we witnessed that fires are a contributor to climate change and are a part of a continuous positive feedback loop. This feedback loop consists of an increase in temperatures leading to drier conditions that are prone to fires. The fires release huge amounts of carbon and methane into the atmosphere, which are both potent greenhouse gases. This release of gas leads to worsening global warming. This loop is continuous and becomes worse and worse as time goes on.

Although warming temperatures are a large reason that many of these fires have the fuel to begin, humans are also making this worse through the use of palm oil. Many peatlands, which are naturally wet and would be highly unlikely to catch on fire, are drained and burned in order to produce palm oil. Palm oil can be found in the majority of products that people use on a day-to-day basis including cosmetics, detergents and many different foods. It can be difficult to determine whether palm oil is present in many products because there are dozens of different terms that can be used to describe palm oil in a list of ingredients. The use of palm oil does not need to be stopped completely, however it is important that the general public becomes aware of the impacts that unsustainably produced palm oil has. When shopping it is important to look for the RSPO label and the Green Palm Oil label, which both ensure that the palm oil for that product has been sustainably produced.

After we had been given all of the facts about how fires can have such a large impact on climate change, another volunteer firefighter from Indonesia took the stage to share her story. She explained that the draining of peatlands near her home lead to a large fire which destroyed much of her community and killed many of her close friends. As she shared her story, she had to pause to compose herself, which portrayed just how much of an impact these fires had on her life. By the end of the story, much of the audience was in tears along with this woman and had a deeper understanding of how a small choice of what product to eat or use can impact someone’s life across the world.

This experience emphasized how important story telling is when attempting to make a point. This was a theme that many of us saw throughout the COP and feel should be used in order to effectively portray climate change to people across the world. Testimonials evoke an emotional response out of people, which they are more likely to act on than when exposed to a bunch of statistics and political discussions. When educating others about climate change we need to appeal to people’s emotions to spark motivation for change.

 

Providing Platforms to Broaden Perspectives

By Luke Anderson – Junior, B.S. Nutritional Sciences and Anthropology

Despite having a long way to go in terms of whose interests are served and what actions are taken, COP is a place where people from all backgrounds can have a platform for their voices to be heard and to get involved in combating climate change. One of the reasons for this is because environmental issues, and climate change in particular, impact every aspect of each of our lives.

Climate issues require remarkably interdisciplinary solutions. As someone who is frequently asked about how my studies in Anthropology, Nutritional Sciences, and Mathematics are connected to climate change, attending COP24 really appealed to me as an opportunity to explore these connections.

And COP24 did not disappoint.  Because of the interdisciplinary and multi-cultural nature of the COP, I was constantly surrounded by people whose lives encompass vastly different experiences from my own. I was empowered by the incredible enthusiasm of the people I met for getting young people involved in their work to combat climate change and minimize its exponential impact on future generations.

The picture [to the right] is from a panel discussion, which was followed by audience (and UConn student) participation, about the role of intergenerational engagement in the Talanoa Dialogues, a COP platform focused on humanizing the effects of climate change and informing policy making through storytelling. At the event we were able to connect with other students, policy advisors, activists, and people involved in the United Nations Human Rights Council, among others.

Fellow UConn@COP delegate Emily Kaufman and I were invited to this event by Jean Paul Brice Affana (second from right), a policy advisor on climate finance and development from Bonn, Germany, after a moving panel the previous day. We came to this panel dispassionate and drained from the lack of meaningful personal connections we had been able to make exploring the COP venue that morning. The panel featured Jean Paul, director of the documentary on youth activism in the climate movement “Youth Unstoppable” Slater Jewell-Kemker (front left), Fijian Minister Inia Seruiratu who was instrumental in helping establish the Talanoa Dialogue at COP23, and 15-year-old activist and global climate strike leader Greta Thunberg. After a passionate and blunt address on the reality of climate change from Greta and an emotionally impactful screening of the trailer for Slater’s film, Emily and I approached Slater and Jean Paul in tears thankful for the stories shared on the importance of passionate young people in the climate movement.

In political dialogue, in the United States and elsewhere, we see a lot of apathy, especially around issues as vast and daunting as climate change. However, this apathy, and a lot of our inability to act on pressing issues, is rooted in a lack of connection and subsequent inability to empathize with the stories of those who are most affected. Platforms for sharing stories such as documentaries, sitting down with a traveler from Norway in the Kraków market over some kielbasa and mulled wine, or formalized panels under the Talanoa Dialogue help to bridge these gaps and broaden perspectives to a point where most people come to realize that, regardless of cultural barriers, all over the world we are fundamentally the same. Without these platforms it’s too easy to lose sight of the values and life experiences that bind us.

In the words of chef Anthony Bourdain on his career traveling the world connecting people through their stories, “If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”

I wholeheartedly believe that the world would be better off if our ambitions were more firmly grounded in our values than our résumés. And traveling with UConn@COP across the ocean has helped cement that sentiment.

The IPCC Report: Facing our Future

By Sophie MacDonald and Natalie Roach

This October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that has shaken the global community. The IPCC was invited by the UN to report this year on the effects that we would experience if the global temperature warms 1.5℃ (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels. They released a full report along with a technical summary and policymaker summary. The report contains scientific, technical, and socio-economic findings and has major ramifications across these disciplines. The contents of this report are grim, but give us a much more concrete vision of our future—something that is vital as the world makes plans to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Since civilization hit the industrial revolution in the mid-1800s, humanity has been dumping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air at an exponential rate. This has led to an increasing amount of sunlight and heat being trapped in our atmosphere, and consequently an increase in our planet’s average temperature. Even a slight increase in this global temperature has immense impacts on our climate and in turn the survival of life on Earth, including humans.

The IPCC report begins by defining what exactly the average global temperature was before humanity started to affect it. The IPCC defines pre-industrial levels as the average global temperature over the period of 1850-1900. The report then talks about where we are now. We have already caused a 1℃ rise in the average global temperature compared to pre-industrial levels. Effects from climate change are already happening, and at this point they are inevitable.

However, we still have control over how severe these effects become, and how long they will last. On our current global trajectory, we will reach a 2℃ increase by 2040. With the passage of the Paris Climate Agreement, the world committed itself to changing this trajectory. Countries promised to keep the increase to under 2℃, and to strive to keep the increase near 1.5℃. In reality, the agreement has little binding power. Globally, we are struggling to reach the 2℃ goal, never mind 1.5℃, which is currently categorized as ‘above and beyond.’

The IPCC report focuses on the changes in our climate that will result if we curb the global temperature rise at 1.5℃ as compared to an increase of 2℃. Although any further rise in the global temperature has and will result in devastating changes to our natural and human systems, the difference between 1.5℃ and 2℃ warming is significant. This report makes it clear that 1.5℃ should not be considered as ‘above and beyond,’ but instead as the absolute limit for global temperature rise.

By 2100, the global average sea level rise is projected to be 0.1 meter lower at 1.5℃ than at 2℃. Sea level rise will continue past 2100, and it is inevitable at this stage. However, sticking to the 1.5℃ goal and slowing the rate of sea level rise will allow more time for adaptation of coastal communities impacted by this rise. Although 0.1 meters may not seem significant, it will make a big difference in giving the world time to prepare for sea level rise.

One of the most poignant symbols of this change in global temperature is the livelihood of the coral reefs. At 2℃, more than 99% of coral reefs will die off due to coral bleaching. At 1.5℃, only 70-90% of current coral reefs are projected to die off. The loss of this incredible phenomenon would be a tragedy. The majority of the ocean’s biodiversity exists in coral reefs, they serve as a buffer that protects coastlines from tropical storms, and they function as important primary producers as well.

The frequency of a sea-ice-free Arctic during summer is substantially lower at 1.5℃ than at 2℃. At 1.5℃, an ice-free summer will happen once per century; at 2℃, it will happen at least once per decade.

In addition to the effects mentioned previously, a 2℃ rise instead of 1.5℃ will drive the loss of coastal resources, reduce the productivity of fisheries and aquaculture, and lead to greater species loss and extinction. Vector-borne diseases, such a malaria and dengue fever, are expected to increase and shift geographic regions. A 2℃ rise will lead to larger net reductions of cereal crop yields such as maize, rice, and wheat.

As the global temperature warms, the effects outlined above are expected to lead to increased poverty and disadvantages in vulnerable populations. Limiting the temperature rise to 1.5℃ instead of 2℃ could reduce the number of people who will be susceptible to poverty and facing climate-related risks by up to several hundred million by 2050.

The IPCC states that reaching the 1.5℃ goal and protecting what we can of our world requires “upscaling and acceleration of far-reaching, multi-level and cross-sectoral climate mitigation and by both incremental and transformational adaptation.” While the Paris Climate Agreement was a historical step for humankind, it’s not nearly enough to save us. The agreement was the beginning of this world transformation; true change will require continued, tenacious, collaborative effort.

This information can be overwhelming and disheartening. We at the office understand that, and know that this work requires stubborn positivity. The only way we’re going to get close to reaching the 1.5℃ goal is if we wholeheartedly believe in our mission and in the future of our world. Even if we do not reach our goal of 1.5℃, or even that of 2℃, any change we make now will still have an important effect on generations to come. So get out there and make some change happen. Reduce your carbon footprint. Vote on November 6th. Start improving your community. Collaborate with friends and neighbors. Have meaningful conversations with those around you. We are each just one person, but we still have an important, irreplaceable influence on the world around us.

Link to the IPCC’s Report: http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/

What is Environmental Justice?

By Natalie Roach

On the weekend of September 8th, New Haven was brimming with energy. There were events happening throughout the city to foster progress for people and the environment.

The first was a summit presented by the Yale Art Gallery and Artspace, a contemporary art non-profit. This summit, called “Homage: Soil and Site” was seven hours long and drew in some of the national leaders in the environmental movement today—household names like Eddie Bautista and Elizabeth Yeampierre. Oh, you haven’t heard of them? There’s a reason for that. They are self-proclaimed environmental justice advocates, a group that has had little space or power in the environmental movement until recently.

Leticia Colon de Mejias advocated for energy efficiency and justice for Puerto Rico at the rally

Environmental justice, put simply, is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to environmental conditions, regulation, and change. Those on the frontlines of climate change and other forms of environmental degradation are often the most economically and politically repressed. Impoverished island nations facing increased hurricane activity, poor urban communities facing the worst of air pollution, minority communities having little influence over the siting of a landfill in their backyard, and indigenous people facing potential contamination of their rivers by powerful oil companies should be given a seat at the table in discussions of policy and change. After all, they’re the ones who have experience dealing with the problems that we’re trying to solve.

After decades of effort on the part of environmental justice advocates, we are finally reaching a point where all voices are being heard. This was evident at event number two of the September 8th weekend, a rally for “Climate, Jobs, and Justice.” This event was unique in the groups that came together in order to make it happen. There were the typical organizations that are an important presence at environmental rallies in the state, notably the Sierra Club and 350CT, in addition to other groups such as the CT Puerto Rican Alliance. This meant that there was a larger variety of speakers and performances than the typical rally. There was a presentation of an electric car, and there was also a performance by local rappers about police brutality. There was a call to action for protecting CT’s Green Bank, and there was a young Latinx girl who sung about coming together as one. One stop of the rally was to admire a fuel cell, while another was for a local group to speak on issues related to prison reform. Rallies like this give hope for continued collaboration as we strive to create a safe and healthy environment for all people.

The OEP is working on incorporating environmental justice as a focus as well. We recognize the importance of indigenous people to our country and to the environmental movement. Worldwide, they are protectors of 80% of the world’s biodiversity, despite only living on 20% of the world’s land. They hold Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) that is vital to the stewardship of land, and utilized by many, including the US National Park Service. To honor this, we have partnered with Global House to hold a film screening and discussion of Sacred Water: Standing Rock Part 2 on October 3rd about the Standing Rock protests. It’s the kickoff for Indigenous People’s Week, a series of events at UConn that aim to replace Columbus Day with a celebration of indigenous people in our country. Please join us in the Global House Lounge at 5:30pm to learn more about this incredible population of people!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UConn – and Sustainability – Score at This Fall’s Green Game Day

By Natalie Roach

There was something different and exciting about the second home game of UConn’s football season.  For one, it turned out to be UConn’s first win of the season. But more importantly, Husky fans tailgating before the game were greeted by dozens of students in blue and green shirts carrying around trash bags, picking up bottles and cans, and giving out sustainability-themed trinkets.

Who were these students, and why were they at Rentschler Field? EcoHusky members and EcoHouse residents, along with OEP interns, had gotten together for our fall Green Game Day! Each year, the OEP partners with Athletics to educate not only UConn students but also Husky fans from all over Connecticut on the importance of recycling.

Martin Wolek collects cans from Jary Remly, a resident of Storrs. (Lucas Voghell/UConn Photo)

Volunteers walked around the parking lots, interacting with tailgaters while collecting bottles and cans. It was messy work – many shoes were dirtied with mysterious liquids in the process – but that did not dampen the students’ spirit. This year, 2.4 tons of recyclables were collected according to Windsor Sanitation, the most on record from any Green Game Day! Meanwhile, OEP staff and interns stationed at the Green Game Day tent during FanFest quizzed young and old on environmental facts while playing our brand new Plinko game for prizes.

A dedicated EcoHusky member gets his hands (and legs) dirty while digging for recyclables in a dumpster!

Another exciting addition to this Green Game Day event was a recycling PSA video the office created featuring the one and only Jonathan the Husky! In the video, Jonathan teaches you how to recycle by recycling a plastic water bottle himself!  If you haven’t seen it, it is one of the cutest videos you will see all year. It was shown on the Jumbo Tron before the game, and ‘awws’ could be heard throughout the stadium as it played. Check out our Facebook page to see it for yourself!

 

Thanks to our smiling, extremely dedicated, and hardworking volunteers, Green Game Day was a success! A big shout to all who made it possible. We’re looking forward to the next one in February!

Volunteers pose for a picture in high spirits before heading out to volunteer!