Personal, financial, and health requirements may prevent you from being your most environmentally-friendly self right now, but there are still small steps you can take each day to support a more sustainable lifestyle during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health and safety is of utmost importance at this time, but if you have the time and means to do so, you can try out the following tips for living more sustainably during a pandemic.
Use washable, reusable masks. Many people hand make them out of extra fabric or other materials and sell them on Etsy, Facebook sale pages, etc. You can also make your own, if you have free time. Wearing disposable masks every time you need to use one creates a great amount of waste that can be avoided if you are able to wash and wear reusable masks.
Try to stick to reusable containers, towels, etc. You’ll need to wash them more frequently, but this will prevent unnecessary waste.
Buy in bulk when you can. This reduces wasteful packaging and helps minimize grocery store visits.
Clean up your spaces and declutter! Now’s a great time to clean out any junk drawers or messy spaces in your home. Donate these materials to Goodwill, Savers, the Salvation Army, or other organizations near you. Many of these organizations will sell the donated items if they can, or send the unsaleable materials to other processing centers for reuse or recycling. If you want a new project to tackle, repainting furniture from a thrift store can save you some money and make your stuff more meaningful.
Spend quarantine free time reading new books – audio books and earbuds allow you to multitask while you learn. You might even get a head start on the UConn Reads book this fall, Amitav Ghosh’s “The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable,” which addresses climate justice from a Global South perspective. Many websites, such as Alibris and Betterworldbooks, have great selections of used books online for low prices. This saves you money while also encouraging reuse of materials! You can also choose to go paperless and tune into TV shows, YouTube videos, movies, and podcasts.
Volunteer at a community garden, urban forestry initiative, coastal cleanup, land trust, watershed group, or other environmentally-focused organization. This can include planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, grounds maintenance and more to benefit your local community. Helping out sustainable community initiatives provides support to people in need and also the local environment.
Get outside! Now is the perfect time to explore the great outdoors, where there is plenty of room for social distancing. Go hiking, walking, running, biking, kayaking, boating, fishing, swimming, picnicking or gardening. Travel to new places nearby or visit a local park. Get your friends and family outside to spend some time together in nature. Take a garbage bag with you to make sure you leave “nothing but footsteps” or even to clean up after others!
Research and support sustainable brands. This can include cosmetics, clothing, household products, and more that produce durable products and are committed to protecting environmental and human health.
Grow your own fruits and veggies, visit local farmers’ markets, and try new recipes that are meatless or more sustainable. Some farmers’ markets are still operating even in these times by offering goods for sale online or by outdoor vendors. Individual farms may have their own stores operating as well, although you should call ahead or check online for hours and restrictions. If you have free time, it could be fun to test out some new recipes with different vegetables, grains, and other ingredients that are healthy and sustainable.
Start a compost pile. This prevents food waste from entering the waste stream in landfills, where, in CT, it will be incinerated as trash. Instead, you can use the healthy soil from the compost in your garden or for any plants you have!
Disclaimer: CDC, state, and local health department guidelines should always be followed in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and risk of infection. The above recommendations should not supplant health guidelines from public health agencies and the medical community. These suggestions should only be employed as they align with CDC, state, and local health guidelines.
Four of our interns are now officially UConn graduates! Although this was not the senior year we wanted for them, and our office graduation traditions are now happening over WebEx, we are still so proud of them. They have all been integral members of the office over the past four years, and they will be greatly missed. Below we share everything they have accomplished during their time at UConn, what the future holds for them, and our favorite memories with these special people.
Matt joined our sustainability staff in the spring of 2018 and has been a key contributor on many of the Office’s more technical assignments. He was the author of UConn’s 2018 and 2019 Greenhouse Gas Inventory and served on the Bicycle Friendly University working group. In 2019 Matt took a more active role in outreach and engagement initiatives and led a volunteer team in trailblazing the Blue Trail in the Hillside Environmental Education Park (HEEP) while helping advise on the design of a Pollinator Garden and Pavilion which will be constructed in the HEEP in the near future. He also provided critical leadership in completing UConn’s 2019-2020 AASHE STARS report. His “steady Eddy” demeanor in the office made him a reliable teammate and provided reassurance in his abilities to turn around an assignment quickly and accurately. In the summer of 2019 Matt had the opportunity to further round his engineering skill set while working on wastewater effluent treatment methods for nutrients and chlorine during his internship with Arconic in Davenport, Iowa. Outside the office, Matt is a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, and is well known for his Duck Pin bowling prowess. He is graduating from UConn with a B.S. in Environmental Engineering. Matt’s post grad career begins in Plainville, CT, where he will be working for Loureiro Engineering. His presence will be greatly missed in the office.
Sophie joined our Sustainability staff in the spring of 2017 and has been a talented intern and truly supportive leader. She has been the graphic designer and webmaster for the office during her time here, using her skills to elevate the brand of the office via a new office logo, a complete overhaul of the website, and countless graphics for t-shirts, events, the campus sustainability fund and more. Sophie was also a lead on many projects, including the Green Office Certification Program, where she led the effort to reach 100 certified offices and before that took on completion of the 2017 campus greenhouse gas inventory. Outside the office, Sophie has an incredible passion for renewable energy, and has been a valued team member of countless labs and projects on campus from developing community microgrids to studying solar cells to analyzing termites. She co-authored the student declaration that was a vital part of this September’s climate strike, and her honors thesis is a holistic assessment of renewable energy implementation options on campus. In her free time, Sophie enjoys hiking, climbing, and writing philosophy essays. This year she received the 2020 UConn Spirer/Dueker Student Humanitarian Achievement Award. Sophie is graduating from UConn with a B.S. in Environmental Engineering and a minor in Philosophy. Starting this summer, Sophie will continue her passion for ethical renewable energy as a design engineer at MPR Associates in Alexandria, VA.
Charlotte joined our sustainability staff in the spring of 2018. With a level of professionalism and organization that we were all inspired by, Charlotte brings whatever initiative she leads to the next level, whether it be the annual Climate Change Cafe, the office’s newsletter, UConn fundraising events or any other communication piece. She is also always coming up with new ideas to bring the whole office to the next level, whether that be the photo contest she created and executed her first semester in the office, or a creative promo video she filmed and edited documenting the student experience at COP24. In her free time, Charlotte was just as impressive, completing internships that included being a Public Service & U.S. Forest Service Sustainability Operations, Climate Change, and Wildlife Ecology Intern as part of the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership and an REU at the University of Maine where she completed an independent project titled Documenting Human and Societal Impacts of Extreme Weather Events. In her free time, Charlotte can be found collecting bugs for her classes, taking notes in calligraphy, and color-code organizing her planner. Charlotte is graduating from UConn with a B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. After graduation Charlotte will be moving to College Station Texas to attend Texas A&M University to pursue a PhD in entomology.
Jon joined our Sustainability staff in the fall of 2017. He has been the OS’s waste guru, working to streamline UConn’s recycling procedures during his time as an intern. With the ability to inform as he pushes for sustainability, Jon has created personal connections with different stakeholders across campus in these efforts to move UConn towards zero-waste. Jon has brought a wonderful sense of professionalism mixed with humor to our office environment. Outside the office, Jon played a key role in the formation of the President’s Working Group on Sustainability and the Environment, and has been an active member of the working group and its report writing sub-group. Jon is also an undergraduate researcher for EPA-funded clean water valuation research, which he is incorporating into his honor’s thesis. In his free time, Jon is a member of the fraternity Zeta Beta Tau, and has a passion for connecting business & sustainability. Jon is graduating from UConn with a B.S. in Environmental Sciences and a second major in Economics. Jon’s post graduation plan is to obtain a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation and pursue employment that unifies his interests in sustainability strategy and financial analysis.
The fight against plastic continues. Single-use plastic is pervasive in our lives and there is no exception for menstrual products. The products themselves and plastic packaging of tampons, pads, and panty liners generate more than 200,000 tonnes of waste per year. In the US alone, 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons are thrown out and end up in landfills, sewage lines, and our oceans annually!
Luckily, many different reusable products have been popping up as alternatives on the market. This movement has been led by empowered feminists looking to redefine the quality of products available and take down the stigma of periods while shifting away from these single-use menstrual products. You can find reusable cloth pads, period underwear, menstrual disks, menstrual cups and many more creative solutions and continued innovations!
OrganiCup, a women-led Danish menstrual cup company, is one such company focused both on empowering menstruators and tackling this menstrual waste problem. By providing silicone menstrual cups that are reusable for years and come in multiple sizes, this company is breaking barriers, destigmafying periods, and generating much less waste.
Organicup has launched the “Campus Cup” program, an initiative to introduce their reusable menstrual cups to college students as a sustainable alternative to traditional menstrual products by providing students with free menstrual cups. Identified via our GreenMetric rating, UConn served as a pilot for this initiative.
The UConn Office of Sustainability brought the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Tampon Time program on board in order to effectively distribute 500 menstrual cups during USG’s Womxn’s* Health and Empowerment Fair on March 2nd, 2020 for the OrganiCup Campus Cup launch date!
During the Womxn’s Health and Empowerment Fair, excitement and chatter filled the Student Union Ballroom, as students and attendees engaged with different booths highlighting organizations catered towards supporting female/womxn students. At each booth, students could learn about how resources on and off campus connect sustainability, physical & mental health, sex, gender-based violence, intersectional identities, and other topics related to female health & empowerment. The Office of Sustainability even had our own booth with giveaways where we highlighted the cost of different menstrual products and the connections between climate justice, sexual assault, & female empowerment. The biggest draw to the fair, though, was by far the free menstrual cups given out, with students lining up out the door to pick up their very own.
With the opportunity to try out one of the many reusable products on the market for free, menstruating college students on a budget are able to test something potentially out of their comfort zones without spending anything, all while getting one step closer to a more sustainable lifestyle and bringing sustainability to a part of their life that they may have never thought of.
Students walked away that day excited and ready to try out their free menstrual cup! This was a wonderful reminder to support continued efforts to talk about periods, provide comfortable and cost-saving products & resources for menstruating students, and find creative opportunities to incorporate sustainability on the college campus. And this fair was just the start; there are many more menstrual cups that will be distributed at UConn, through the Women’s Center and in public bathrooms across campus alongside USG Tampon Time’s disposable menstrual products.
Keep your eyes open as OrganiCup launches their nation-wide Campus Cup program this fall! Feel free to reach out to the UConn Office of Sustainability with any questions.
Looking for something to watch while you’re stuck at home? Eco House has a suggestion for you. On February 25th, the Eco House learning community held a screening of the exciting new documentary, “The Pollinators.” The event, held in the Student Union Theatre, was open to all students as well as members of the general public. Over 90 students turned out and many more watched remotely.
The film profiles large-scale American beekeepers whose jobs are getting increasingly harder as the years go by. As pesticides such as neonicotinoids become more widespread, bees are dying in record numbers, and bee die-offs are becoming part of the daily routine. To keep up with demand despite this challenge, there is now a constant and large scale movement of hives back and forth across the United States by freight trucks. The almond industry plays an immense role in this, as they rent almost 100% of the nation’s hives for their pollination period. The almond industry’s high demand leaves behind only a small number of bees to pollinate other crops for that period. One emerging solution explored in the film is the regenerative agricultural practices, such as no-till farming, silvo-pasturing and creating habitats for beneficial pollinators. Many of these practices work in conjunction with one another to support the bee population. For instance, the growth of nitrogen-fixing cover crops between normal planting seasons allows for no-till practices and reduces the need for harmful pesticides.
The film was followed by a lively Q&A session with the director, Peter Nelson and producer Sally Roy. The audience came prepared to discuss solutions to the issues facing bee populations and ways in which we can keep the pollinator industry alive. Nelson promoted the importance of supporting local farmers and beekeepers, but also focused on spreading knowledge. The film itself is available upon request for screenings by towns and other large groups, like UConn. Nelson emphasized the importance of spreading the knowledge of these issues so that they can be better understood by the general public, either through the documentary or through alternative educational efforts.
Nelson, a beekeeper himself, personally explained the struggles within the work force and is excited to get to work on his next big project!
The event was co-sponsored by the Office of Sustainability, the Institute of the Environment, the UConn Honors Program and the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Students learn these words at a very young age. But their meaning and importance are often swept aside as kids grow older. Instead of forgetting about these fundamentals, we should be expanding upon them. Recycling, while accessible and easy, is not the best option of the three for environmental health. In fact, of the three, it is the least environmentally friendly. It is better to reduce your consumption of all items in general, but since consuming nothing at all is impossible in the current state of the world, at least reducing consumption of harmful materials would lessen a person’s environmental impact quite a bit. Reusing an item is also better than recycling it, as less energy is consumed in order to make and recycle one item that someone used over a period of time than two or three or four of the same item in that same window. So here is a list of ways to first reduce, then reuse your items before you recycle them.
Replace single use items with reusable ones once you have used up all pre-owned single use versions
If you forget your reusable bags at the store and need grocery bags, reuse them as small bin liners or to pick up after a pet.
Buy items secondhand
Electronics (buy refurbished)
Donate unused items to secondhand shops
See bullets for #2
Repair broken items rather than recycling them or throwing them away
Repair Cafes are places where experts can help people to learn how to fix their own items or help to fix them. Look online to find one near you!
And finally, if all else fails, recycle whatever you are unable to cut down on or reuse.
In a blog post like this, we would be at fault if we didn’t mention the privileged nature of individual action. Many sustainable tips include buying a reusable item that is much more expensive than a single use product would be. While, in the long run, these switches can save some people money, the upfront cost may be too much for others. If you happen to be fortunate enough to be able to afford all these tips, please consider also donating money or a box of these reusable items to a shelter or to a charity of your choice.
Editor’s Note: Climate change requires humans to adapt and modify their behavior to preserve natural resources for generations to come. Our fellows identified a number of natural resource issues at the COP. Some areas have shown growth in adaptation measures, but other sectors require much more work if we hope to address and adapt to climate change.
Agriculture: The Forgotten Sector and the Food Security Crisis – Georgia Hernandez-Corrales
“Help, I Can’t Breathe!” – Air Pollution and Global Health – Himaja Nagireddy
Agriculture: The Forgotten Sector and the Food Security Crisis
Georgia Hernandez-Corrales – M.S. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
The biggest rebellion that a community can do in the face of the current climatic crisis is secure its food independence.
One of the discussions that most impacted me at COP@25 was the issue of food security. Especially because I come from a country (Costa Rica) in which we are giant producers of pineapple, banana, and flowers. What would happen if a global catastrophe happens and we could not continue importing all our food? Would we survive with fruits and flowers?
This is the situation of many countries in the world where governments have looked away from the importance of food security. This issue was discussed in the side event on actions for future food security. Panelist Dhanush Dinesh (CCAFS) was very direct in stating that the collective imaginary is to think farming is desperate decision but should be a decision for prosperity. Unfortunately, this is how governments and society in general think about agriculture. They think agriculture is a symbol of poverty and lack of education. The irony is great when the entire population depends on this forgotten sector. Farmers are a fragile group which already has to address intrinsic problems and are more vulnerable now than ever because of climate change.
Dhanush talked about the need to transform the production system through simple steps so that governments and communities can easily adapt their production systems to better environmental practices.
Among the most important mechanisms are eliminating crop expansion and concentrating on increasing soil health, reducing food waste, and improving crops with new production technologies. He mentioned agriculture must be seen as something “cool” in order to encourage new generations of farmers that seek prosperity. Of course, this has to be coupled with a government that increases the resilience of markets and supports the social mobility of agricultural sectors. In addition, it should go hand in hand with the promotion of social change for more sustainable decision-making, such as more friendly environmental diets and reduction of food waste.
If we modify our behaviors as consumers, the market will be forced to change according to current demands. It seems that countries are not going to agree at the COP@25 negotiations, but against this, what is left is to safeguard the future through local governments. Now, the change has to begin at a very personal level, such as buying food locally, demand that local governments protect local producers and protect them from climate change and eliminate food waste. At the level of local government there must be a transfer of knowledge from universities and institutions towards production, zero agricultural land expansion, encourage agroecology, and to eliminate myths around technology that improves production.
Seguridad alimentaria para el futuro
La rebelión mas grande que una comunidad puede hacer ante la crisis actual es asegurar su independencia alimentaria.
Uno de los temas que más me impactaron en la COP@25 fue el tema de seguridad alimentaria. En especial porque vengo de un país (Costa Rica) en el que somos gigantes productores de piña, banano y flores. ¿Qué pasaría ante una catástrofe mundial y no pudiéramos seguir importando todos nuestros alimentos? ¿Sobreviviríamos con frutas y flores?
Esta es la situación de muchos países en el mundo donde los gobiernos han apartado su mirada de la importancia de asegurar la producción alimentaria nacional. Este tema se discutió en el Side Event sobre acciones para la futura seguridad alimentaria. El panelista Dhanush Dinesh (CCAFS) fue muy directo al mencionar que es inaceptable el imaginario colectivo que se tiene de que tornarse hacia la agricultura sea una decisión desesperada, sino que debería ser una decisión para la prosperidad. Lamentablemente así es como ven la agricultura los gobiernos y la mayoría de las personas en el mundo. La agricultura es símbolo de pobreza y falta de educación. Esto es irónico al pensar que toda la población depende de este sector olvidado y que ya es frágil para atender problemas intrínsecos, y aún ahora más vulnerable ante el cambio climático.
Dhanush habló de la necesidad de transformar el sistema de producción mediante pasos simples para que los gobiernos y comunidades se puedan adaptar fácilmente a sus sistemas de producción.
Entre los mecanismos más importantes están eliminar la expansión de los cultivos y concentrarse en aumentar la salud de los suelos, reducir la pérdida de comida, y mejorar los cultivos con nuevas tecnologías de producción. Mencionaba que de alguna manera hay que hacer ver la agricultura como algo “cool” para fomentarla entre las nuevas generaciones y que sea vista como un símbolo de prosperidad. Claro está, esto iría de la mano con un gobierno que aumente la resiliencia de los mercados y apoye la movilidad social de los sectores agrícolas. Además, debería de ir de la mano con la promoción de un cambio social para la toma de decisiones más sustentables, como el caso de dietas más amigables con el ambiente y una reducción del desperdicio de alimento.
Si modificamos nuestras conductas como consumidores, el mercado se verá obligado a cambiar conforme a las demandas actuales. Todo parece ver que los países no se van a poner de acuerdo en las negociaciones de la COP@25, pero ante tanta inoperancia lo que queda es salvaguardar el futuro mediante los gobiernos locales. Así que el cambio comienza a nivel muy personal, desde que compremos alimentos locales, exijamos a los gobiernos locales la protección de los productores locales para resguardarlos ante consecuencias del cambio climático, y hasta eliminar el desperdicio de comida. A nivel de gobierno local debe de existir una transferencia de conocimiento de universidades y centros de conocimiento hacia la producción, evitar la competición de productores locales con exteriores, fomentar la agroecología mediante la eliminación de monocultivos y que toda práctica esté a favor el ambiente, y finalmente, eliminar la misticidad alrededor de técnicas de mejora en la producción.
“Help, I Can’t Breathe!” – Air Pollution and Global Health
Himaja Nagireddy – B.S. Molecular and Cell Biology, Physiology and Neurobiology, and Sociology
Far too often, we take the air we breathe for granted. A COP25 exhibit made it a point to draw attention to the air pollution that millions are experiencing on a daily basis, to help us understand why addressing air pollution is key to our fight against climate change.
The immersive art installation contained five pods which mimicked air pollution in four of the most polluted cities in the world (London, Beijing, Sao Paulo, and New Delhi), as well as one of the cleanest air environments in the world (Tautra in Norway).
The pods themselves were safe, containing perfume blends and fog machines to imitate the quality of the air at these different locations. The temperature was also controlled in the pods. A heater was added in the Delhi pod to mimic warm temperatures and an air conditioner was added to the Beijing pod to mimic the cold temperatures this time of year.
As soon as we walked into the first pod, which mimicked the air conditions of London, the decrease in air quality was clearly visible- the air was much foggier and smelled strongly. Walking into the New Delhi pod, one immediately felt the humid and sticky atmosphere of the city and the fog was a bit thicker. It was hard to see objects that were over 15 feet away with the smog. The transition into the Beijing pod was a stark temperature difference. We could see our breath turn into fog and merge with the heavy smoke in the room. The Sao Paulo pod was warmer but with a similar fog density. This lead to the last pod mimicking air quality conditions in Tautra, Norway. Here, the air was clear and smelled fresh, a welcome change from the other pods that were difficult to breathe in.
Walking through the pods put into perspective so much of what I had known but never really understood. It is one thing to read articles about air particulate matter in cities that exceed safe air pollution limits and ano ther to experience what degraded air quality feels like.
According to the World Health Organization, outdoor air pollution caused an estimated 4.2 million deaths in both urban and rural areas and has been linked to stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections.
As a student interested in understanding the intersections between health and the environment, walking through the pods helped me better understand why addressing air pollution is critical to our fight against climate change and our goal for achieving social health and well-being globally.
This is but one example of how COP25 hosted a variety of platforms for stakeholders to raise their voices in an effort to bring global climate change issues and their relevance to social health and well-being close to home. As a first time COP attendee, I walked away from the event with a strong sense of hope and personal responsibility to continue fighting the fight against climate change, to ensure a more equal and fairer world for all.
Himaja Nagireddy, from Acton, MA, is a senior undergraduate student pursuing three degrees in Molecular and Cell Biology, Physiology and Neurobiology, and Sociology with a minor in Chemistry.
Editor’s Note: Despite contributing little to climate change, indigenous groups will likely be among the first to suffer the consequences. These communities have been quick to advocate against climate change, but have struggled to make their voices heard amongst the global community.
Disproportionate Representation at COP25 – Matthew Yang
The Power of Indigenous Communities and Traditional Knowledge – Megan Ferris
Disproportionate Representation at COP25
Matthew Yang – B.S. Civil Engineering
Coming back from COP25 I’m overwhelmed with mixed emotions. On one hand I’m suffused with exuberance and a sense of fulfillment. Attending the UN Climate Change Conference was a once in a lifetime experience. I got to participate in a conference convening thousands of the world’s leading scientists, politicians, business leaders, students and activists. In Madrid I gained new experiences, insights and met genuinely inspiring people. Yet there was constantly this underlying feeling that I didn’t belong. This discomfort didn’t stem from the presence of intimidating ambassadors and overpowered prime ministers. Moresoe it came from a gradual awareness of the voices absent from COP25, the presences absent from the discussion.
Coastal, island, and sub-saharan communities in non-western countries are disproportionately affected by climate change. I had the privilege of hearing from ambassador Ronald Jean Jumeau of Seychelles, a small island nation off the eastern coast of Africa. He fears that rising sea levels are destined to make thousands of islands like Seychelles uninhabitable. Millions of people from island nations will be forced to flee their homes, abandoning their culture, way of life, and even their language. The COP is intended to be a space for nations to negotiate and propose a unified response to the climate crisis. Despite having the most to lose, nations like the Seychelles lack the representation and political clout needed to make their problems relevant in negotiations.
Nations like the Seychelles face tremendous logistical, economic, social and political barriers just to attend the conference. The COP was originally planned for Santiago, Chile, but violent protests in the weeks before forced Chile to withdraw. Scrambling officials were able to find a replacement venue in Madrid, Spain.
Thousands of people had to try their best to reschedule flights, rebook hotels, and recuperate expenses. We were some of the fortunate, who were able to still attend the conference in Madrid. However this logistical nightmare prevented hundreds of representatives from nations like Peru from attending the COP. For those representatives able to attend, the stakes were extremely high. The livelihood of thousands of people weighed on the handful of delegates sent by these disenfranchised communities. As the negotiations carried on, many of these delegates became more and more pessimistic. It was becoming evident that little to no progress was being made.
I am extremely grateful and honored to be among the 21 delegates UCONN sent to COP25. I’m also disturbed and upset by our school having representation not afforded to entire nations and impoverished populations bearing the brunt of climate change. There is a clear disparity in representation between western and non-western countries at the UN Climate Change Conference. Climate change and global superpowers inattention to developing and at-risk nations are rooted in economic disparity and the extractive economies of the west. After disenfranchising non-western countries for centuries, it’s vital western nations listen responsively to the communities suffering from climate change. We must be able to propose solutions for all, and not just for the hegemony.
The Power of Indigenous Communities and Traditional Knowledge
Megan Ferris – B.S. Environmental Science
Reflecting on all my experiences and encounters at COP25, I have decided that one of the most powerful lessons I learned was how resilient indigenous communities are and how important their role is in mitigating and stopping global climate change.
These communities have produced the lowest amounts of carbon dioxide that have entered the atmosphere and more importantly, they have an influential tool many developed countries don’t utilize — the power of storytelling.
Most of my memories gained from COP revolved around stories I heard from various people I encountered. Stories link people and communities to each other by appealing to the emotions. Many people have a hard time understanding the complicated numbers that are involved in discussions on global climate change. However, hearing firsthand stories of how nations, islands, and people are personally being affected allows others to truly comprehend the devastation involved in this global crisis, and thus I’m hopeful these indigenous voices and their work will get more people to act.
One story that left a lasting impact on me was from the people of the Polynesian islands.
Angelica Salele, from the island of Tuvolu, told me her experiences with her island sinking and how the salt water from the seas rising has destroyed much of the vegetation on the outskirts of the islands, leaving them with less food to eat.
She also told how she was a mother and her biggest desire is to have her child know the island she has grown to love. But she fears that the sea will one day swallow everything she calls home and her child will only know fear for the ocean and not the life and love she knows.
Another woman named Shawna Larson reflected on how her community in Alaska has some of the highest rates of cancer and illnesses due to DDT and other chemicals making their way into the sea and up into the Arctic, where it is in the fish they eat and then gets passed to children in the breast milk. She also commented on the power of storytelling and how it “makes you feel and feeling gives you responsibility and relationship to things.”
Indigenous communities not only understand the power of storytelling but they also have traditional knowledge. Traditional knowledge works to simplify the scientific jargon and numbers for communities. It attempts to bridge this communications barrier in order to allow more people the opportunity to be informed and to open a space for dialogue in order to have action.
Local people need to be involved and traditional knowledge is another tool that can work to bring their voices to the table.
One speaker from the Polynesian islands said how she used to contemplate if she was “good enough” to discuss and take on this climate change emergency. She said people of their islands always look to others for the answers, until they realized their own worth and traditional knowledge.
She remarked, “I’m talking as an expert about being a human in the Pacific, not as an expert about climate science.” But because she wasn’t a scientist it doesn’t mean her voice should be any less important. She wanted to humanize the Pacific and other indigenous communities and leverage them into positions of power, which needs to be done.
Editor’s Note: We must rethink how we structure our society and create our buildings. Building a greener, more sustainable world, is crucial if we hope to mitigate the effects of our changing environment.
Need vs. Greed: Balancing Economic Development and Sustainability – Spencer Kinyon
Sustainable Development and Youth Partnership – Sarah Schechter
Need vs. Greed: Balancing Economic Development and Sustainability
Spencer Kinyon – B.S. Political Science and Economics
Throughout COP25, UConn students had the unique opportunity to talk with people from different countries and organizations about the discovery and implementation of solutions to climate change. On the last day we attended COP25, myself and two other UConn students had the chance to interview C.K. Mishra, who is the Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for India. Secretary Mishra discussed how climate change is impacting India and the solutions involving mitigation and adaptation that the nation is pursuing. With over one billion people, India is an extremely large economy that is constantly growing. Therefore, India has had to find a way to balance economic development with sustainability.
Under the Paris Climate Agreement, every country established Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), whereby each country agreed to reduce their emissions by a specific amount. Currently, India is only one of four countries that is on pace to fulfill its nationally determined contributions. As a result, Secretary Mishra stated that the country is pursuing “sustainable growth” in order to meet the needs and demands of the people, while thinking about their impact. Secretary Mishra highlighted that India is pursuing a goal of 40% renewable electricity by 2022 and moving away from coal to renewable energy.
Our conversation was fantastic because it allowed me to better understand how leaders in government are thinking about climate change and its real effects. He highlighted the point that individuals want to be sustainable, but also want cars. As a result, people’s lifestyles must change Secretary Mishra further inspired us to think of Mahatma Gandhi quote: “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” I believe that Mahatma Gandhi’s message is one that everyone in the world should be thinking about. We might not all be from the same country, but we all share this world, and we need to ensure that our world is sustainable.
In a separate discussion at the Chile pavilion, I learned that one of the methods through which India is pursuing climate adaptation is using artificial intelligence. Google has developed an initiative called “AI for Social Good”, whereby the company partners with governments and organizations to develop methods to use artificial intelligence to address problems in the world. Carla Bromberg, who is the Program Lead of AI for Social Good at Google, spoke of how they have accepted many projects related to climate change. Due to the increase in flooding r elated to climate change, Google partnered with the government of India to improve flood forecasting. Using data provided by India’s government, Google is able to utilize machine learning to forecast flooding and then notify people about potential floods. I found this use of artificial intelligence and data to be a fantastic method to adapt to climate change. It was inspiring to hear about Google’s efforts to use their technology to better the world and potentially save people’s lives.
Spencer is a Senior from Cheshire, Connecticut pursuing a degree in Political Science and Economics.
Sustainable Development and Youth Partnership
Sarah Schechter – B.A. Environmental Studies and Anthropology
Student action on campus is powerful, present, and pushing universities towards progress. When youths have the opportunity to collaborate, there is no end to amazing projects that can be created.
This year UConn partnered with other institutions from the United States and had a booth where students could discuss the programs at their schools that related to COP25. Some of the students also spent the semester working on projects related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and presented them during “SDGS for the SDGS: Students Doing Goal-Oriented Science for Sustainable Development Goals” on Tuesday, December 3.
I spent some time talking with two students, Alexis Pascaris and Adewale Adesanya from Michigan Tech, who were focusing on SDG #11: “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient & sustainable.”
At the farm there is the use of solar power, composting, recycling, some implementation of aquaponics for a period of time, beekeeping and also the students grow a great deal of food that is then distributed at Whitney Dining Hall.
Additionally, other students from campus have the opportunity to get involved with the farm through Farm Fridays, attending the Spring Valley Student Farm Club, or through the EcoHouse learning community. This interaction allows the farmers to share their sustainable lifestyles with the rest of campus, which will hopefully encourage others to do the same.
I was very interested to listen to the presentation and see that Michigan Tech and UConn have been working on similar projects. It is the hope that these projects will continue to spread throughout each school and in others as well.
Editor’s Note: Article 6 of the Paris Agreement states that countries are to set up a global carbon market to encourage a more affordable transition towards carbon neutral economies. The implementation of the article was a major focus of COP25 – Read what our fellows have to say about it below!
Top Down and Bottom Up: The Dual Approach Needed to Address Climate Change – Lauren Pawlowski
Article 6 Deconstructed and Why No One Can Agree on a Solution – Hope Dymond
Carbon Pricing and Indigenous People: Key Issues at COP25 – Michael Goccia
Top Down and Bottom Up: The Dual Approach Needed to Address Climate Change
Lauren Pawlowski – B.A. Environmental Studies and B.S. Economics
A lot of the conversation and debate at COP25 was about carbon markets, carbon budgets, and renewable energy. There was heated talk in some of the high-level negotiations between country delegates regarding consensus on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement which is centered on carbon markets.
These negotiations were only in one or two hour blocks and these high-status delegates only meet at the annual COP in December, in June, and at a few interim meetings during the year. Also, unless every country in attendance agrees, nothing gets passed, so I could clearly see the frustration of delegates over this lengthy process when countries like Egypt prioritized their own individual interests over global cooperation.
These types of international agreements and articles of the Paris Agreement are important in building a foundation of environmental policy on a global scale. However, it seems like a difficult task to reach consensus on and outline ways to implement these policies.
On a similar note, encouraging countries to reach their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and to reduce emissions through energy infrastructure is a good starting point for reducing climate change at the national level. However, change at the local level is more community-based, dignifying, and attainable.
Shawna Lawson, who is a part of the Indigenous Environmental Network, Native Movement.org, and is Ahtna on her father’s side and Supiaq on her mother’s side,, mentioned at a panel that Native Americans have the highest rates of breast cancer, diabetes, incarceration, and suicide in Alaska. She talked about how DDT is still used in other countries besides the US today, so it biomagnifies in the global aquatic food chains and causes health problems within the tribes.
When I asked her how she tries to alleviate these social and environmental justice issues, she highlighted the importance of education and culture. Shawna said that in her traditional language, “there is no way to say ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m sorry.’ You have to show it.” In this sense, the tribes have to honor their responsibility to the earth through their daily actions and by passing on their cultural values through songs, stories, and teachings.
She talked about her tribe when she said, “We made an agreement to take care of the earth and the earth, in agreement, would take care of us.”
Through their indigenous way of life that honors the planet and its natural resources, they are environmental stewards. Shawna also told us how there are only two Alaskan tribal schools that educate indigenous people on the true history of US involvement in the tribal nations and colonization. By passing down stories of life before big oil extractors took over their lands, she said, they are able to take pride in their culture and ties to their environment.
In terms of the climate crisis, Shawna told the crowd that she worries about everyone else in the world. Her tribe, she said, “Will continue to be here. We will figure it out.”
This is one of many examples where bottom-up efforts to make a community more sustainable are best achieved through storytelling, activism, spreading awareness, and local policy change. This makes big issues like climate change and environmental justice more personal and relatable and it enables small individual actions to contribute to greater world change.
Environmental issues must be tackled from these two lenses: one from a technology, infrastructure, economic lens and one from a social change perspective. International, national, and local change all need to occur simultaneously in order for the world to tackle the climate crisis, but more individuals can contribute to this through action in the local communities that they know best. In this way, communities can honor their experiences and culture and fight for a better future together.
Article 6 Deconstructed and Why No One Can Agree on a Solution
Hope Dymond – B.S. Environmental Engineering
My first blog post was about Article 6, and I would recommend reading that (see Hope Dymond) first, as well as Alyssa Pagan’s Article 6 blog, to get a full understanding of this important component of this year’s negotiations.
Now that we have returned home, and the COP 25 has concluded, what is the status of Article 6? Let’s see if we can find out.
At the conference, it is impossible to be at every negotiation at once, and for a newcomer, even if I was at every negotiation I would falter in comprehending what was going on. However, I found a helpful tool at the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s booth in Madrid. They write a Bulletin (check it out!) for each day of the conference that summarizes the goings-on of the party talks. From here is where we’ll look to see the failings of the COP in regards to Article 6, and details on what is next.
The COP ended Sunday December 15, two days after the official deadline of December 13th. And yet even with the extra time, regarding Article 6, “CMA President Schmidt reported no substantive agreement could be reached on this agenda item.”
The countries could not agree.
There were issues on specifics of Article 6 that countries held differing views on, and even after the two week conference the decisions could not be made.
One outstanding issue was whether carbon credits, or units, from the previous Kyoto Protocol could be used to in this new trading system under the Paris Agreement’s Article 6. Countries such as Australia and Brazil were proponents of this happening, but many other countries, as well as NGOs, called for the avoidance of double counting.
My understanding of the logic behind both sides is not that advanced, but it goes like this: If I am an Australian and I have spent lots of money reducing emissions in a certain sector, then suddenly I’m being told I can’t use my hard earned “credits” in a new carbon trading scheme, then I am being denied a reward for all my work.
On the opposing side, against double counting, is the bathtub argument from my first blog post. The millions of carbon credits put towards previous trading schemes such as the Kyoto scheme are called “hot air” because counting them again in the new trading system will flood the carbon market. You have probably heard what flooding any market will do –flooding will bring the prices way down and low prices make carbon markets ineffective.
To the groups standing firmly against double counting, these “hot air” credits need to be avoided. The negotiations on this topic were pushed to June 2020 where the SBSTA (another fun acronym meaning Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice) will discuss further.
One more problem the countries couldn’t agree on was human rights. Some parties wanted to explicitly mention human rights in Article 6, other wanted to include “other rights”.
An example to help illustrate the consequences was brought up at a side event on a “Just Transition”. If Brazil sells a carbon credit of 1000 tonnes of carbon (let’s just use pretend units) to France, then France can emit 1000 tonnes of carbon into the air and in theory it is is “zero sum game”; France can report on its NDC that it did not emit those thousand tones because it bought the credit from Brazil.
But what actually happened in Brazil? If the carbon credit took the form of funding a renewable energy project that sounds pretty cool. All good things, right? Not always.
There are a substantial number of reports of renewable energy companies displacing indigenous people to build wind or solar farms. Read this article for information on native leaders in Honduras that have been killed in the struggle for their land, and to have free and open consent with incoming industry.
Fossil fuel and other extractive industries have done this for many years, but it is important to know that renewable development is not inherently people-conscious. An Article 6 that lacks provisions for human rights can secretly accelerate the endangering of those most vulnerable, while appearing to be beneficial.
Last year’s COP24, in Katowice, had not found agreement on the carbon trading system. Now, with another year and no conclusion, it is difficult to find optimism. However, the COPs will continue, as well as the many meetings that bring together the negotiating bodies and advisors year round.
Some countries may begin their own carbon trading systems in light of the progress that has been made at this year’s conference. As an observer, I feel my own disappointment that must pale in comparison to the frustrations felt by delegates that have worked for months only to turn up without a conclusion.
I think the only reasonable next step for us students and citizens is to learn as much as we can about these systems that are being proposed, such as Article 6. My most exhilarating experiences in the negotiating rooms were the ones where I realized I actually knew what the delegates were talking about, versus the times where I scanned the paragraphs being discussed over and over and still could not for the life of me comprehend.
It is important for us to be literate in the specifics of the conversation, such as carbon markets and carbon capture technologies. Knowing what is actually being talked about at these conferences makes me, and I hope you, less inclined to shrug it all off as toothless political babble.
Secondly, I have learned that the broader context of human rights and history needs to be understood by us. This is critical, and I think Harry Zehner’s blog post outlines the “tale of two COPs” well. At the next COP, Article 6 may actually be finalized. That gives all of us a whole other year to read up and understand what is at stake.
Carbon Pricing and Indigenous People: Key Issues at COP25
Michael Goccia – B.S. Management and Economics
My week at COP25 in Madrid has flown by. Before coming to Madrid I was apprehensive that there would not be enough to justify a whole week at the conference. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and quantity of events to attend, making me wish we had the full two weeks to engage with more people and attend other events. I originally applied to the UConn@COP fellowship without knowing exactly what to expect at the COP. I knew there would be discussions and lots of different opportunities, but I was unsure what I would be able to attend. It was very impactful to attend the actual negotiation sessions as well as the unique side events.
The wide range of topics for side events was impressive. I was very glad we were given the freedom to pick and choose which events we would like to attend. This allowed me to tailor my UConn@COP experience to my interests. I have an economics and business background so I gravitated to events with relevant topics, but I also saw UConn@COP as a unique opportunity to broaden my horizons. It is for this reason that I attended many sessions about climate justice and the impact of climate change on indigenous people. These events, especially those relating to indigenous people, were very unique to the United Nations.
I think it would have been difficult to hear the perspective of these groups if I did not attend COP25 in Madrid. These discussions about indigenous peoples also helped me to better understand their perspective and the meaning of climate justice overall. I feel that the perspective of many indigenous groups and some countries is grounded in the context of colonization. This historical context to the climate change issue guided many groups to arrive at the conclusion that the countries who are primarily responsible for carbon dioxide emissions should be providing financial support to countries that have been disproportionately impacted by climate change.
While at COP25 I was able to listen to many conversations about what the best course of action is to adequately address climate change. In addition to the idea that some countries should be paying reparations to those who are being disproportionately impacted, there was much discussion about green investment opportunities.
One of the most informative sessions I was able to attend on this topic was called “The road to carbon pricing in emerging economies: issues and challenges.” This included discussions about carbon pricing and issues specific to emerging economies and indigenous people.
In my view, this was a key division at COP25. Climate justice proponents viewed green investment funds that expected a return on their investment as a new form of colonialism, while green fund investors viewed their approach as the most efficient way to help countries meet their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). I found this divide to be very interesting because I could see the truth to both arguments. It will be interesting to follow this discussion through the rest of COP25 and future COPs to see what the resolution will be. I think that both sides will need to compromise to reach an agreement, potentially having a blend of profitable investments in addition to gratis infrastructure projects in some nations.
Michael Goccia is a senior from Mystic, CT pursuing a dual degree in Management and Economics.
Editor’s Note: Too often we discourage individuals from involving emotions in the decision making process. However, our fellows recognized that emotion, empathy, and personal connection is essential and necessary in addressing global issues holistically.
Hope Amongst Devastation: Personal Connection and Youth Involvement – Louanne Cooley
I’m Right, You’re Wrong! A Need for Empathy in the Environmental Movement – Xinyu Lin
The Essence of a Talanoa – Danny Osorio
Hope Amongst Devastation: Personal Connection and Youth Involvement
Louanne Cooley – JD School of Law
On our last day in Madrid for COP25, my body and mind are still battling out which gets to be in charge. The mind has mostly won this week allowing me to function on intermittent sleep and questionable food choices, but still be able to listen intently and speak more or less coherently. However, by yesterday, it was mostly a matter of running on coffee and enthusiasm. My body finally gave up and said, “Treat me like this and I’ll make you sorry,” and I spent the last 24 hours losing a fight against a cold. Basic epidemiology suggested that putting 25,000 people from 200 countries together was bound to make viruses very happy, and most of us have succumbed in one way or another.
Humanity is a cooperative, communal species. The energy here at COP25 is also infectious. Learning how others cope with climate change is simultaneously heartening and devastating. In the US, our most pressing issue is convincing people this is “real”; but in central Africa, people are dying from the combined effects of drought, malnutrition, disease and lack of resources exacerbated by climate change. Indigenous cultures world-wide are feeling the pressure of environmental degradation and loss of cultural knowledge. Island nations are losing land to sea level rise and seeing shifts in ocean ecology at unprecedented rates.
Early in the week, I sat in on several talks dealing with ‘loss and damage’. The concept is that wealthier countries historically responsible for industrialization and carbon inputs that drive climate change are responsible for assisting in offsetting the costs borne by vulnerable nations, essential recognizing their humanitarian obligations with financial assistance. As you can bet, this isn’t popular with developed nations and working out just who is responsible for what, for how long, and how much is the source of intense debate. Loss and damage arguments also highlight how interconnected issues of human rights, poverty, debt financing, international aid are with climate change.
The last two days of COP25 for me have mostly been about making personal connections. I spoke with a delegate from Uganda who works in the finance ministry and told me about the difficulty in maintaining the enthusiasm and energy to address climate concerns outside of the time spent at COP. Smaller nations with aligned interests can often effectually form voting coalitions to amplify their voice, but it is difficult to remain in contact during the rest of the year when much of their time and resources are spent responding to pressing immediate crises. This was echoed by delegates from Zambia and Fiji.
I also spent time talking youth activists like Adam Currie of Generation Zero which pushed for the recent adoption of the Zero Carbon Act in New Zealand.
Harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of youth to lead civil activism to hold government responsible for climate action is imperative if we have any chance of meeting targets to limit emissions.
Last night many of our students attended the climate march in Madrid. It felt like the entire city was on the move, out to show support, be present, make their voice heard. There is still so much to do, and as we’ve learned from watching the negotiations, it happens slowly and incrementally. At a time when we are truly out of time, this is frustrating and exacerbating. But for lasting change to happen, but processes need to work in tandem: civil action and protest to highlight the issues and push governmental action, and the work of scientists and negotiators to building up long term data and translate that into robust, well thought out political frameworks.
This week has been devastating and hopeful. Devastating to hear the voices of those most vulnerable and affected, and hopeful that civil action, led by youth and supported by decades of dedicated work, can lead to real change.
I’m Right, You’re Wrong! A Need for Empathy in the Environmental Movement
Xinyu Lin – B.S. Civil Engineering
Armed with heavy skepticism, I sat down for a joint panel titled “Ecological Protection and Renewable Energy Transition in the Belt & Road” hosted by researchers from China and representatives from the organization Peace Boat on the second day of COP. While I listened to details on China’s Green Belt & Road Initiative and a “sustainable” cruise boat, I took note of any questionable conclusions or potential greenwashing. At the end of the panel, I marched up to the front and began my quest to expose gaps in judg ement that were made in both projects.
I ended up having a fantastic conversation with a representative from Peace Boat. We disagreed on certain approaches to solving the climate crisis, but we connected as people just trying to improve the world to the best of our abilities. He became a familiar face throughout the rest of my time at COP as I ran into him every day following the panel. My interactions with him reminded me that as my opinions have become stronger, so has my intolerance for bystanders and imperfect activism. I had forgotten the importance in understanding others — not just individuals most heavily affected by these problems, but also individuals that might even be impeding change.
We’re drawn towards those that share our opinions. Within the environmental movement, it’s easy to find voices that echo our own trains of thought and to villainize those that don’t seem to get the basic ideas that underlie climate activism. Yet what good does it do to stay within our circles, preaching change to those who already agree with us?
In the urgency to tackle our climate emergency, we’re leaving behind patience and understanding. We can’t change minds without empathizing with them first.Yes, we certainly need to hold people accountable, but we also need the ability to collaborate effectively with people from other perspectives.
Amidst the urgency of the situation, we need to constantly remind ourselves why we care and what we’re fighting for — our communities, our connection, our ability to love, and our hope.
The Essence of a Talanoa
Danny Osorio – B.S. Molecular and Cellular Biology and Marine Sciences
I come from the Pacific coast of a country in South America and I would have never thought of participating in the honor of a Talanoa Dialogue. Despite the limitations of how panels at COP25 work and how it could not really be a proper dialogue, I still feel happy I got to share part of my experiences and stories of how climate change has affected lives directly and indirectly.
In many of our Pasifika cultures, it is all about storytelling, or telling our story to make the connections. I met some Samoan delegates and the first thing they asked me was for my name and surname, and then they started making the connections.
They asked for my father’s name and I saw them thinking — they were coming with questions that I did not have the answers for. They would ask, “Is your grandfather from…?” or “Is your mother’s family from…?”
I didn’t know the answers but this is how they connect. This is where relationships are built and how the story goes on. The Talanoa Dialogue is an element of the COP that nurtures and helps continue this story telling, in the context of climate change.
The word ‘talanoa’ is a term meaning to talk or speak. The four elements around the word ‘talanoa’ are attributes that make the talanoa more meaningful and rich: Ofa/Love, Mafana/Warmth, Malie/Humour, Faka’apa’apa/Respect.
I don’t know if we necessarily fulfilled all of these requirements in the panel where I was a participant, but we certainly did when I was talking with other young representatives who were advocating for the voices of the ocean.