Greg Anderson Wins Lifetime Achievement at 2018 ELAs

April 17, 2019

Earlier this month, Greg Anderson accepted the first Lifetime Achievement Award in the 15-year history of UConn’s Environmental Leadership Awards

From 1973 and the moment he arrived in Storrs as a young assistant professor in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Greg Anderson has been a campus environmental leader, dedicating time and effort, above and beyond his internationally recognized research and academic pursuits, to making UConn a greener place. Four-and-a-half decades later, having been named a Board of Trustees’ Distinguished Professor, and served as an EEB department head, then a Vice Provost for Graduate Research & Education (VPGRE), Greg remains the “heart and soul” of the environmental movement at UConn.

Even as a semi-retired, emeritus faculty member, working from his lab in Torrey Life Sciences for the past few years, Greg is still as active, engaged and passionate about the environment as anyone on campus! Nearly 25 years ago, he founded and remains a leader of the committee that oversees UConn’s thought-provoking Teale Environmental Lecture Series.  Similarly, more than two decades ago, Greg established, and still co-chairs, the Campus Arboretum Committee, which has planted, identified, preserved and mapped out the locations of dozens of specimen trees across campus. In fact, just this past year, Greg has worked with the co-president of EcoHusky to begin a tradition of planting a graduating Class Gift Tree, using crowd-sourced funding by students and friends of the Arboretum, plus tools and expertise provided by UConn’s landscape architect and arborist staff.

His moral support and leadership has also been key to an environmentally-responsible campus.  In 2008, while serving as VPGRE, he was the senior administrator most responsible for convincing then-President Mike Hogan to sign UConn’s pledge for developing a Climate Action Plan (CAP) and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Greg was at the front of the room, standing proudly alongside then-state DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy (who later served eight years as head of President Obama’s EPA), when Hogan signed onto this important climate leadership commitment. And he was there four years later when Susan Herbst reaffirmed UConn’s carbon commitment upon her arrival as the University’s President.

Greg Anderson
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, John Volin (right) and Director of the Center of Biological Risk, Associate Professor (EEB), Mark Urban (left), congratulate Greg Anderson for receiving the ELA Lifetime Achievement Award
Greg Anderson also delivered an inspiring keynote address to a full house of award winners, runners up, finalists and nominators during UConn’s 6th ELAs, held at the UConn Foundation on April 4th, 2019.

That year, and for several years after, Greg helped organize an annual series of panelists and guest speakers on topics relevant to Climate Impact, Mitigation and Adaptation, and he was instrumental in bringing his longtime colleague, Gene likens, a pre-eminent ecologist and founder of the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, to UConn as President Herbst’s Special Advisor on the Environment.   The CAP has since driven UConn’s rise to the top of national and international green campus lists, according to the Sierra Club’s annual “Cool Schools,” Best Colleges, and GreenMetric World University rankings, among other sources.

The inaugural UConn Environmental Leadership Award for Lifetime Achievement looks great in the hands of Greg Anderson, the “heart and soul” of UConn’s Environmental movement for more than four decades.

2017-2018 ELA Honorees

Athlete Perspectives: Basketball Green Game Days

April 5, 2019

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!

Meet the Interns

March 15, 2019

Editor’s note: OEP interns are integral to the success of the program and we couldn’t be more proud of them! Read below to learn about more about the interns hired in spring 2018.

Emma MacDonald – Sophomore, Natural Resources

Emma MacDonald is a sophomore in the Natural Resources department with a focus in sustainable forest management, which aligns with her avid love of hiking. After two inspirational geoscience classes last fall, Emma has decided to pursue a minor in Geoscience as well. Since arriving at UConn, Emma has been an active member of EcoHusky, volunteering at events like Green Game Day before becoming an intern. She is the Vice President of the Forestry and Wildlife club, where her responsibilities include planning meetings and events, like hiking trips and maple syrup production classes. In addition to her environmental passions, Emma has always loved theatre, performing in over 25 shows throughout her career. Her favorites to perform are Guys and Dolls, Footloose, and The Music Man, while her favorite soundtracks are Les Miserables, Rent, Phantom of the Opera, and Wicked. Within the OEP, Emma is our social media coordinator as well as our videographer; look out for her many posts promoting events and other OEP news along with exciting videos, like this one training Recycling Auditors! So far, her favorite memories with the OEP are 2018’s Earth Day Spring Fling, and this fall’s football Green Game Day where her video of the “Goodest Boy in all of Connecticut,” Jonathan XIV, teaching UConn Nation how to recycle was debuted.

 

Matthew McKenna – Junior, Environmental Engineering

Matthew McKenna is currently a junior studying Environmental Engineering. In the office, Matt has worked on several different projects, including the annual Storrs campus Greenhouse Gas Inventory, creating a LEED building database, and improving the bikeability of campus. Last summer, Matt worked as an engineering intern at the Drinking Water Section of the CT Department of Public Health. While there, he was responsible for ensuring water systems complied with the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) & the Safe Drinking Water Act, researching water treatment methods for Legionella, and maintaining a database of water reservoirs around the state. On campus, Matt is a student with the Connecticut Brownfield Initiative, through which he has written an EPA proposal grant for the town of Stafford and is currently working on creating a comprehensive brownfield inventory for the south central region of Connecticut. This summer he plans on interning with Arconic in Davenport, Iowa. He will be responsible for keeping track of Arconic’s emissions and environmental footprint while coming up with ways for the factory to become more sustainable. As a hobby, Matt enjoys camping and hiking, and is excited to work on UConn’s HEEP trails later this semester.

 

Charlotte Rhodes – Junior, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Charlotte Rhodes is a junior at UConn studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with a minor in Environmental Studies. Since joining the office, her projects have included writing for the blog, working on social media outreach, leading the newsletter production as editor, and assisting in the UConn@COP program. This past summer, Charlotte was a CAPAL Public Service Intern and worked with the U.S. Forest Service as a Sustainability Operations, Climate Change, and Wildlife Ecology Intern in California. Her many tasks included documenting and writing about the intersectionality of climate change, developing an Electric Vehicle Charging Process Guide, spearheading a Greening Fire initiative, and summarizing literature about prey species of the California Spotted Owl. Charlotte is passionate about public service, building relationships, climate change, and research. After graduation, she plans to pursue a graduate degree in entomology with a focus on disease vectors, hoping to eventually facilitate research at the nexus of climate change and public health. In addition to being an OEP intern, Charlotte is part of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, a UConn@COP24 Fellow, and a member of EcoHusky. She is meticulous about staying organized, and doesn’t go anywhere without her planner! In her free time, Charlotte enjoys hiking, fishing, singing, exploring new places, crafting, and playing with her dog, Violet.

 

Natalie Roach – Sophomore, Environmental Science

Natalie Roach is a sophomore Environmental Sciences and Human Rights double major at UConn, integrating her passion for these two fields. In the office, she applies her interest in social justice issues, collaboration of ideas, and environmental conservation in her projects which include writing and co-editing the office blog, social media outreach, the office social justice initiative, and organizing for Earth Day Spring Fling. An active student on campus, Natalie is an officer of Revolution Against Rape, a cultural center discussion group facilitator, a member of the USG Sustainability Subcommittee, and a participant in Community Outreach’s alternative breaks. She is also part of a National Science Foundation research project focused on sustainable development in Ethiopia, and is doing research on the history of housing discrimination in Hartford for a traveling exhibition. Last summer, she worked on coordinating a high school internship program that introduced students to the water utility industry and the importance of water resources as program coordinator at Regional Water Authority. Outside of UConn, she is a dedicated member of the CT Sierra Club Political Committee. Natalie’s drive to combat inextricably linked social and environmental issues is rooted in finding community-based, inclusive, and just solutions. She hopes to carry this mindset into a professional career in environmental law, nonprofit organizations, or corporate social responsibility work. In her free time, you can catch her going on hiking adventures, playing lacrosse, at a hockey game, attending environmental conferences, baking, talking about social and political issues with peers, or spending quality time with her friends.

 

Mara Tu – Sophomore, Environmental Science

Mara Tu is a sophomore Environmental Sciences and Urban & Community Studies student in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. At the OEP, she has brought enthusiasm to all of her projects including Green Game Days, EcoMadness, RecycleThon, and has contributed content to the webpage. Mara’s values of open dialogue, the spread of ideas, and encouragement of communal energy are reflected in her work in the office and on campus. Outside of the OEP, she is the treasurer of UConn’s EcoHusky, a team leader on the UConn alternative break to Birmingham, Alabama focused on civil rights and urban poverty, as well as a member of the USG Sustainability Subcommittee and ChinaCare. Her interests in the environmental field include conservation, local planning, urban systems, urban farms, and social equity. Currently, she is also in the UConn Climate Corps, an independent study program where students work with local municipalities to recommend potential adaptations to climate change, and is working on a history of housing discrimination in Hartford exhibit. She enjoys working on crossword puzzles (but rarely finishing them), crafting, hanging out with friends, engaging in political and social conversation, napping, taking photos, and dancing and singing to her favorite musicians!

Herbst Endorses Guiding Principles for Equitable Climate Solutions

February 15, 2019

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.

Is Katsouleas the Sustainability-Minded President Students Asked For?

February 12, 2019

Dr. Thomas Katsouleas, was officially voted into office this past Tuesday by UConn’s Board of Trustees as the 16th president in UConn’s history. Serving as the current Provost and Executive Vice President at the University of Virginia (UVa) and previously as Dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke, Katsouleas is certainly well qualified for the job. Even more notable, is his demonstrated commitment to furthering environmental sustainability efforts in his previous leadership positions at Duke and Virginia.

This past October, members of the student organizations EcoHusky, ECOalition, and the Undergraduate Student Government Governing Board drafted a letter to UConn’s Presidential Search Committee urging them to only consider candidates who have demonstrated a sincere commitment to environmental sustainability in their career. The letter was formally endorsed by the University Senate, reflecting a unified interest between the student body and this important UConn legislative organization, which is comprised of faculty, staff and students.

As an established green campus leader, it is crucial for UConn to have a president who recognizes sustainability as one of the University’s transcendent values. With the appointment of Dr. Katsouleas, it is clear that the Presidential Search Committee took these student concerns seriously.

As Dean of Engineering at Duke, Katsouleas helped to organize the inaugural National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenges Summit. In 2010, he formed Duke’s Katsouleas NAE Grand Challenge Scholars Program. This program, the first of its kind in the nation, challenges students to use their expertise and skills to address one or more of 14 challenges posed by the NAE, many with links to sustainability.

Katsouleas is also an advisory board member of UVa’s Yamuna River Project. A heavily polluted waterway in India, the Yamuna is an environmental and public health concern. The project aims to restore the river and promote ecosystem recovery through interdisciplinary collaboration, with sustainable design solutions that “take into account, culture, behavior and policy, as well as technical feasibility and economic viability.”

As a Yamuna River board member, Katsouleas was in full support of the project as both a public service and learning opportunity. In a statement to CTMirror.org, he referred to these experiential learning opportunities as “not luxuries, but essential for an educated populace that wishes to address the human element in today’s challenges.”

Other notable involvements include helping to organize, and presenting at, UVa’s Sustainability Retreat in August 2015.  The retreat convened 60 of the University’s leaders in order to develop a framework for longer-term sustainability strategic planning.  As Dean of Engineering at Duke 10 years ago, Katsouleas supported the construction of Duke’s Smart Home, the nation’s first LEED Platinum-certified “live-in laboratory.” The Smart Home provides 10 select students with a greener, technologically advanced living space, while also demonstrating those attributes for related research and educational purposes.

President Katsouleas certainly has big shoes to fill, but his commitment to sustainability and students proves that he is up to the challenge.

Cultural Immersion at COP24

February 7, 2019

Cultural immersion is one of the key pillars of the UConn@COP program. This year, our fellows had the opportunity to tour various landmarks, facilities, and participate in breakfast club meetings to recap the events of the day. For more photos of the trip, please click on one of the photos below to be directed to an album.

 

Auschwitz and Birkenau

One of the most moving experiences throughout the trip, was the opportunity to tour Auschwitz and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. While many of our fellows have learned about the Holocaust, visiting the site gave them a new, personal, connection to the events that took place there.

 

Scenes from Krakow

During the trip, the UConn delegation stayed in Krakow. This historic city was filled with music, food, and vendors.

 

Wieliczka Salt Mine

The Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the oldest operating salt mines. Inside the mine, our fellows learned about the mine’s history and got to explore ST. Kinga’s chapel.

 

Breakfast Club

Every morning at COP started with a Breakfast Club. These meetings allowed students to reflect on the their experiences and facilitated lively discussions about all aspects of the trip.

 

Higher Education Networking Event

This year UConn co-sponsored a COP24 Higher Education Networking Event with Cornell University. The event was hosted at Jagiellonian University and gave our fellows an opportunity to connect with other students attending COP24.

 

Wawel Castle

Wawel Castle has served as home to many Polish kings, and is now an art museum featuring pieces from a variety of time periods.

Faculty Reflections from COP24

Editor’s note: Our COP fellows learned so much from the conference, but so did the faculty members who accompanied them. Below are their thoughts from the trip.

 

Outcomes of COP 24: Accounting and Finance – Scott Stephenson

Opportunities at COP24 – Frank Griggs

 

Outcomes of COP 24: Accounting and Finance

Scott Stephenson – Assistant Professor, Department of Geography

Following progress made last year at COP 23, COP 24 promised to focus attention on several issues critical to finalizing the so-called “Paris Rulebook,” the set of guidelines countries will follow in implementing their Paris commitments now and in the future. While all parties to the Paris Agreement pledged in 2015 to submit plans (“nationally determined contributions”) for reducing emissions over time, key questions such as how thoroughly and how often they should report on their emissions remained unresolved.

Some of these rules have provoked fierce debate among parties. For example, while the United States and most European countries have argued for common transparency standards for all parties, some developing countries and China in particular have been wary of disclosing their emissions accounting to outside observers. Coupled with the uncertain role of the U.S. in the negotiations going forward, such disagreements repeatedly threatened to derail adoption of a robust rulebook, with clear signals for increased ambition by 2020, in the run-up to and throughout COP 24. In the end, following several missed technical deadlines and a delayed plenary that continued past the scheduled end of the talks, the COP signed off on a rulebook that resolved many of the most pressing issues while tabling several others until COP 25 and beyond.

One of the most significant developments was a resolution on emissions accounting that would require countries to use the latest accounting guidance from the IPCC last updated in 2006 and currently being updated for next year. A common set of accounting rules is essential for ensuring that countries meet their climate pledges. The final rulebook outlines a single set of rules without explicitly differentiating between developed and developing countries.

However, in order to gain the support of countries with low capacity to meet targets, the rulebook also allows countries to use “nationally appropriate methodologies” to report their emissions, which may lead some countries to portray their emissions as better than they actually are. Thus, we can expect continued tension on this issue as countries’ reporting methodologies come under scrutiny in the years leading to the first global stocktake in 2023.

Climate finance remains a challenging issue following COP 24. The Paris Agreement requires developed countries to contribute $100 billion per year by 2020 to support mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries. Contributions are currently well short of this goal, not helped by the U.S.’ reneging on its $3 billion pledge last year.  Perhaps to remove perceived bureaucratic barriers to fulfilling climate finance pledges, the language of the rulebook tended toward flexibility and permissiveness in terms of how contributions are reported, allowing countries to count the full value of loans as climate finance rather than their “grant-equivalent” value. This could render collective goals such as “$100 billion per year” meaningless as the full “face value” of loans is typically less than the sum of the discounted future payments made by the loan recipient over the period of the loan.

On the positive side, Germany doubled its 2014 contribution to the Green Climate Fund (€1.5 billion), while Norway pledged $516 million, and the World Bank announced it would allocate $200 billion for its climate investment program. Ultimately, these contributions and more must be matched by other developed countries in order to meet not only the 2020 goal, but a new, more ambitious climate finance goal to be set by 2025. Countries have agreed to start discussing this goal at COP 26 in 2020.

 

Opportunities at COP24

Frank Griggs – Doctoral Candidate, Political Science

The UConn@COP24 returned to Storrs at approximately 1:45am on Saturday, December 8, after 22 hours of shuttles and flights from Poland. The trip was a tremendous opportunity. I learned a lot as a researcher, citizen, and human being, and managed to have a good time. It was inspiring to be amongst diplomats, researchers, students, and civil society activists who are working hard for the benefit of humanity and ecology.
The trip was super busy: early morning meetings and discussion with the UConn group; hour-long-plus bus rides to and from the conference in Katowice (we stayed in Kraków where there was less expensive lodging, also turned out there was more to do as tourists); all day participation in the COP (e.g. watching diplomats meet, listening to presentations by IPCC officials, civil society representatives, or country delegations); touring Auschwitz-Birkenau on our first day, prior to the COP’s commencement; tending to professional and familial matters back home during the evenings; and exploring Kraków as time and energy permitted.

I expected the conference to be organized into strictly delimited zones. Instead, country delegates and non-state actors extensively comingled at presentations, dining areas, displays, and simply walking about the conference center. This produced a serendipitous meeting. I was excited by the prospect of meeting diplomats, so I introduced myself to a group of delegates as a student-observer. I was especially pleased to meet them because they were the delegation from Sierra Leone, and I recently assigned an article and taught a class about energy justice in Sierra Leone. The delegation was likewise excited and insisted that I take a picture with their Minister of Energy (see photo below).

I highly recommend participating in the trip if you are interested in climate change and ecological issues beyond the scope of our GEP course. UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy coordinates the trip. Applications are accepted during the latter part of Spring term. Keep an eye out for notifications in the Daily Digest and the OEP website (https://ecohusky.uconn.edu/uconn-at-cop/).

 

Healthcare and Humans

January 29, 2019

Editor’s note: When thinking about climate change, human health is probably not the first thing to come to mind. That said, the link between climate change and our own health is quite strong and should certainly be considered. The blog below further explores this connection through the eyes of a COP24 delegate.

 

Shifting the Conversation – Sahil Laul

 

Shifting the Conversation

Sahil Laul – B.S. Molecular and Cellular Biology and Global Health

Sahil talking to Dr. Maria, WHO Director of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, after the press release of the Special Report on Health and Climate Change.

I’ll be the first to admit writing blog posts is a difficult task for me—I much prefer to orate my personal experiences. My thoughts flow as a web and the linear parameters of a written piece often feel restrictive. But there is a power to writing—which I understand to reach beyond the spoken word—the power of dissemination. An oral story reaches your direct audience. A written piece, however, has the power to reach a large audience through shares, retweets, emails, texts, etc. And for that reason, I will do my best to write about one of the most powerful experiences I have had.

“Do I belong here?”

This was the question that incessantly rang in my head in the pre-trip meetings leading to the COP and during the first couple of days of the trip.

Don’t get me wrong—in no way did any fellow or faculty member make me feel like I did not belong, but rather this was an internal conflict I was struggling with.

When I first found out I was selected to be a UConn COP fellow I was incredibly grateful, but also surprised. There I was as a student studying Molecular Biology, Global Health, Spanish and Anthropology—subjects which seemed almost completely unrelated to the environment—on my way to the largest conference on climate change. Of course, climate change was a topic I was interested in and one which I believed was closely related to my discipline, but I was not sure if I had a place in the conversation amongst my peers who were environmental science, ecology and evolutionary biology, and geography majors.

This feeling lingered a bit into the COP where the conversations during the first couple of days heavily focused on the IPCC report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels and the source of related greenhouse gas emissions. Few tangible solutions were offered and even those which were suggested felt too obvious or far beyond my own comprehension. Equipped with a science background, I could appreciate the evidence based arguments. At the same time, however, I could discern a disconnect between the parties present at the conference—the scientific community insisting upon immediate action and delegates trying to make decisions best suited for their constituencies. It became clear that the actual arguments and solutions were being lost in translation somewhere in between.

COP 24 Special Report on Health and Climate Change by the WHO cover page.

Still, I decided to attend several sessions spanning a range of topics during the first two days to broaden my own understanding of climate science and the actions being taken to combat climate change. I listened passively taking in what I could and engaging when I could. Yet, I still felt that an important perspective was missing.

Although going into the COP, I was aware that health was not typically a large focus of the conference, I was surprised to see how absent the topic was from the conversation during the first two days. While I was personally hoping to hear more health related discussions given my own academic background, I also believed that it would be the source of the most compelling arguments. A global health professor once told me that “We are not saving our planet, we are saving ourselves.” She explained that our planet existed before us and would survive long after us, but we must combat climate change as we will be the ones to shoulder its effects. It seemed obvious to me that if the scientists at the conference were going to convince policymakers that climate change was an issue that needed to be addressed with immediate action, they would need to demonstrate the direct effects of climate change on people—their constituency.

Finally, on the third day of the conference, Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, presented the COP24 Special Report on Health and Climate change to bring health to the forefront of the conversation. I was exuberant to see the health argument being addressed but shocked to learn that the report was the first one of its kind to be presented at a COP. After hearing the report which cited air pollution resulting in climate change as the cause of death for 7 million people, it became even more apparent that health care workers play a key role in climate action. After the press conference, I had the opportunity to talk to her before she moderated a panel of medical, environmental, political, and economic professionals discussing the imminent issue of climate change and its severe impact on health.

After I explained my own background and how I had been struggling to see my future professional role in the context of climate change until her press conference, she said to me and another UConn COP fellow: “Remember that you are a politician. Sometimes the medical students tell me yeah I am not a politician. But I say you are wrong, you are a Politician with a big P because taking care of people’s well-being means politics—in the good sense—not party issues but politics.”

At that point, something else became clear to me. I had been struggling to understand my role as a COP fellow but also grappling with the fact that there was such a large disconnect between the scientists and policymakers at the conference. Upon reflection, however, the parallels between climate change and global public health became evident. As an MCB and Global Health student I aspire to bridge the gap between the science based medical community and policy based public health community. The common denominator between both groups are people and their health—whether the focus is at the micro or macro levels. In the same way, at the heart of climate change, are people. In order to address any issue which requires a policy change, whether it be war, trade, health, or climate change, we must shift the conversation on either end to understand the effects on people.

Dr. Maria Neira moderates a panel side event entitled United Nations: 7 Million Unacceptable Deaths. Special COP24 Health and Climate Change Report.
Dr. Maria Neira giving the press release of the Special Report on Health and Climate Change in a press conference entitled WHO & CT – Key Health Messages & Opportunities in the IPCC SR1.5 & UN Climate Negotiations.

Hispanic Environmentalists Advancing the Environmental Movement

January 28, 2019

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.

Youth Voices and Involvement

January 10, 2019

Editor’s Note: When thinking about solving worldwide problems, we often look to adults to determine a course of action. But at COP24, our fellows were pleased to see organizations recognize the youth voice as equally important. The blogs below discuss the significance of considering youth in these negotiations.  

 

Power with the (Young) People – Nikki Pirtel

Postcards for Change – Kayleigh Granville

Carrying the COP24 Experience Back Home – Leann McLaren

 

Power with the (Young) People

Nikki Pirtel – Senior, B.S. Environmental Science

The shortcomings of COP took the center stage due to its location and events happening at the venue, but this was overshadowed in my mind by the presence of young people, both inside the conference itself and outside in the Climate Hub, where events for and hosted by youth were in great supply. More well-known figures such as Greta Thunberg from Sweden and Toby Thorpe from Australia had significant roles in the conference, controlling the charge for climate change regulations and calling out government officials from all countries on their inabilities to be adults and lead on this topic.

A particularly inspiring event I attended outside of the conference was “The People’s Open Climate and Human Rights Event: How to hold your government accountable for its climate ‘inaction.’” This presentation refreshingly included an all-women panel from five different countries throughout Europe, including an activist from a small island off the northern coast of Germany and a reindeer farmer from Norway. All these women had vastly different experiences, but the same ambition to do something about the inadequacy of climate action in their country.

Six years after the establishment of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by the UNFCC and three years after the Paris Agreement, there has been little to no global progress being made towards reducing emissions. These women had had enough of the inaction and began suing their governments for violating their human rights. Climate change has been negatively impacting their livelihoods for years and this was the only way to make their politicians pay attention to the issues that matter the most.

Although the UConn@COP24 delegation returned to campus after the first week of the conference (for final exams), I watched a fascinating interview that occurred during the second week with Greta Thunberg and her father. She described her experiences learning about climate change, why she came to care so much about the issue and what she decided to do with her newfound knowledge of it. Her father explained her transition from his perspective: how she had fallen into a deep depression, realizing that no one cared enough about the issue of climate change, but later felt that she could actually do something positive about the problem by changing herself and starting a worldwide phenomenon. Every Friday, instead of attending school, Greta would sit in front of the Stockholm Parliament building with a simple sign reading: “Skolstrejk för Klimatet (School Strike for Climate).” This eventually caught the attention of the media and would later cause a movement by students around the world. She says that without doing something about climate change now, many people will not survive in the future and this problem, therefore, should be at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

Although I’m a student who studies the science of climate change and how it has affected, and will affect, the functioning of both natural and human ecosystems, I have never been much of a climate activist and am not familiar with the policy side of the environment. However, participating in COP24 taught me not only about how international climate policy is governed, but also how to be a better climate activist. I realize now the importance of advocating for real change on a national level, because the United States has a lot of influence on international politics, especially with climate change… and despite the current administration’s announced plans to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement in 2020.

I truly believe the power of the youth will be able to overcome any delay, deregulation and backsliding on climate mitigation goals and make a significant difference for a better world, now and in the future.

 

Postcards for Change

Kayleigh Granville – Senior, B.S. Environmental Science

Switzerland’s glaciers have recently become the site of several climate change projects. We learned about these projects when we visited the Utopia International Association, a non-governmental organization whose mission is to promote sustainability in a world that is becoming increasingly virtual and connected. Utopia had set up one of the many side events related to the COP that were located outside of the actual conference venue but within the city of Katowice, and were therefore accessible to people without conference passes.

Their exhibit displayed huge pictures of Switzerland’s glaciers that had been covered in white sheets. The sheets were meant to make the glaciers, which are currently melting, look like tents in a refugee camp. The campaign aimed to illustrate how, like refugees, the disappearance of the world’s glaciers is another unintended consequence of human-induced climate change.

The sheets on one of Switzerland’s glaciers had been covered by yet another display: thousands of postcards written by young people from around the world. All of these postcards have messages about climate change, and the organizations involved in the project are hoping to raise awareness about the effects of climate change by breaking the Guinness World Record for the most number of postcards displayed in one place at one time.

Utopia had also collected hundreds of postcards from students around Europe, which they were exhibiting at their booth in Katowice and would later send to the glacier in Switzerland for a shot at the world record. Utopia’s representatives explained that they were presenting within the COP24 venue during the second week of the conference, and had created this side event to raise awareness about the glacier project during the first week of the COP.

The postcards that other students had written were powerful because they clearly showed how climate change is viewed as a prominent issue by our generation. Other messages, which were written by elementary to secondary school students, showed how even young children understand and worry about the consequences of climate change, with thoughts like “one touch of nature makes the whole world kind,” “we need a safe environment,” “save water, save earth,” and “you may know the differences, but the little creatures won’t: say no to plastic.”

Several of us students from the UConn@COP delegation wrote our own postcards for Utopia’s display in Katowice, ultimately to be sent to Switzerland. It was inspiring to see that Utopia was giving young people around the world, and students at the COP24 conference, a platform for their voices to be heard. Their presence outside of the conference venue showed the importance of having COP events that are accessible to the public. More information about Utopia’s projects can be found on their website: https://utopia-international.org/en/cop24/.

 

 

Carrying the COP24 Experience Back Home

Leanne McLaren – Senior, B.S. Political Science

Since my time spent at the COP24 Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland, I have tried to integrate the lessons I learned into my everyday life and future career aspirations. From this trip, I learned that climate change, although seemingly an abstract phenomenon, is real and affects the current and future lives of everyone on this earth.

Although it may seem that putting off the necessary changes to improve sustainability are feasible, the need for change is indeed crucial. With this, I try to be cognizant of how I can reduce the waste I produce. Simple habits, such as using plastic water bottles or even driving separate cars to the same destination, no longer feel moral to me and I encourage others to think the same.

In the future, I hope to carry these convictions as I strive to earn a PhD in political science, become a professor and mentor students. As a COP24 participant, I feel responsible for connecting these issues into my research. I’d like to delve into a research topic like “the intersectional effects of climate change in America as compared to other countries.” I also hope to develop a project that contributes to our knowledge of environmental politics within minority communities, using both quantitative and qualitative methods.

As a former congressional intern in the US House of Representatives, I recognize the importance of disseminating credible information and advocating for policy issues. I hope the work I accomplish in my career, given my experience participating in COP24, will help advance climate action and improve the lives of future generations.