On the weekend of September 8th, New Haven was brimming with energy. There were events happening throughout the city to foster progress for people and the environment.
The first was a summit presented by the Yale Art Gallery and Artspace, a contemporary art non-profit. This summit, called “Homage: Soil and Site” was seven hours long and drew in some of the national leaders in the environmental movement today—household names like Eddie Bautista and Elizabeth Yeampierre. Oh, you haven’t heard of them? There’s a reason for that. They are self-proclaimed environmental justice advocates, a group that has had little space or power in the environmental movement until recently.
Environmental justice, put simply, is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to environmental conditions, regulation, and change. Those on the frontlines of climate change and other forms of environmental degradation are often the most economically and politically repressed. Impoverished island nations facing increased hurricane activity, poor urban communities facing the worst of air pollution, minority communities having little influence over the siting of a landfill in their backyard, and indigenous people facing potential contamination of their rivers by powerful oil companies should be given a seat at the table in discussions of policy and change. After all, they’re the ones who have experience dealing with the problems that we’re trying to solve.
After decades of effort on the part of environmental justice advocates, we are finally reaching a point where all voices are being heard. This was evident at event number two of the September 8th weekend, a rally for “Climate, Jobs, and Justice.” This event was unique in the groups that came together in order to make it happen. There were the typical organizations that are an important presence at environmental rallies in the state, notably the Sierra Club and 350CT, in addition to other groups such as the CT Puerto Rican Alliance. This meant that there was a larger variety of speakers and performances than the typical rally. There was a presentation of an electric car, and there was also a performance by local rappers about police brutality. There was a call to action for protecting CT’s Green Bank, and there was a young Latinx girl who sung about coming together as one. One stop of the rally was to admire a fuel cell, while another was for a local group to speak on issues related to prison reform. Rallies like this give hope for continued collaboration as we strive to create a safe and healthy environment for all people.
The OEP is working on incorporating environmental justice as a focus as well. We recognize the importance of indigenous people to our country and to the environmental movement. Worldwide, they are protectors of 80% of the world’s biodiversity, despite only living on 20% of the world’s land. They hold Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) that is vital to the stewardship of land, and utilized by many, including the US National Park Service. To honor this, we have partnered with Global House to hold a film screening and discussion of Sacred Water: Standing Rock Part 2 on October 3rd about the Standing Rock protests. It’s the kickoff for Indigenous People’s Week, a series of events at UConn that aim to replace Columbus Day with a celebration of indigenous people in our country. Please join us in the Global House Lounge at 5:30pm to learn more about this incredible population of people!
There was something different and exciting about the second home game of UConn’s football season. For one, it turned out to be UConn’s first win of the season. But more importantly, Husky fans tailgating before the game were greeted by dozens of students in blue and green shirts carrying around trash bags, picking up bottles and cans, and giving out sustainability-themed trinkets.
Who were these students, and why were they at Rentschler Field? EcoHusky members and EcoHouse residents, along with OEP interns, had gotten together for our fall Green Game Day! Each year, the OEP partners with Athletics to educate not only UConn students but also Husky fans from all over Connecticut on the importance of recycling.
Volunteers walked around the parking lots, interacting with tailgaters while collecting bottles and cans. It was messy work – many shoes were dirtied with mysterious liquids in the process – but that did not dampen the students’ spirit. This year, 2.4 tons of recyclables were collected according to Windsor Sanitation, the most on record from any Green Game Day! Meanwhile, OEP staff and interns stationed at the Green Game Day tent during FanFest quizzed young and old on environmental facts while playing our brand new Plinko game for prizes.
Another exciting addition to this Green Game Day event was a recycling PSA video the office created featuring the one and only Jonathan the Husky! In the video, Jonathan teaches you how to recycle by recycling a plastic water bottle himself! If you haven’t seen it, it is one of the cutest videos you will see all year. It was shown on the Jumbo Tron before the game, and ‘awws’ could be heard throughout the stadium as it played. Check out our Facebook page to see it for yourself!
Thanks to our smiling, extremely dedicated, and hardworking volunteers, Green Game Day was a success! A big shout to all who made it possible. We’re looking forward to the next one in February!
UConn has recently entered into the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3) and is joining a network of 16 other leading research universities committed to channeling their resources into accelerating and easing the transition to a low carbon future on local and regional levels.
Climate change is one of the most challenging environmental issues facing society and has already begun to cause negative impacts on our ecosystems, communities, and health. The multi-layer complexity of our changing climate makes it a particularly difficult issue to address, and solutions complicated to implement. Everyone plays a part in mitigating climate change, and UC3 recognizes the significant role universities play when it comes to stimulating action. The Coalition will pilot a collaborative model; partnering with businesses, government, and higher education, to develop more realistic, scalable climate solutions.
University President Susan Herbst affirms UConn’s dedication to environmental sustainability saying, “Research universities are uniquely qualified to address the myriad of challenges of a problem as urgent and complex as climate change. We can lead not only by developing research, technology, and policy to effectively curb carbon emissions and ameliorate the effects of climate change on our communities, but also by making sustainability a core component of our mission and identity. The University of Connecticut is proud to join with our UC3 partner institutions in working to find solutions now to what could ultimately be the most important challenge of the 21st century.”
Executive Director of UConn’s Connecticut Institute of Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA), Jim O’Donnell remarked that “dozens of faculty from four different colleges are [currently] working on CIRCA-sponsored projects,” and feels that “UConn’s membership in UC3 will accelerate progress by further broadening interdisciplinary partnerships.” Many other UConn faculty are in agreement, including the Director of UConn’s Atmospheric Sciences Group, Dr. Anji Seth, who describes UC3 as “an excellent platform for UConn’s continued leadership on climate action.” Joining UC3 is the latest advancement in UConn’s long-term commitment to environmental sustainability and Dr. Mark Urban, Director of UConn’s Center of Biological Risk, considers “UConn’s membership in the UC3 Coalition…a logical and vital next step in order to keep UConn at the forefront of global climate action.”
The consensus among students is overwhelmingly supportive. Anna Freeda, a junior double-majoring in Psychology and Communications, is “excited to see UConn’s administration taking proactive measures to combat climate change.” Similarly, Taylor Doolan, a junior Allied Health major, is “proud of UConn’s dedication to the environment and [is] looking forward to seeing what the Coalition will accomplish.”
Formed in February 2018, UC3 is still quite new, but is certainly committed and ambitious. As they continue to evolve, UC3 looks forward to meeting their goals and spurring climate action across the country.
Patrick McKee has been hired by the OEP to serve as UConn’s Sustainability Program Manager. Patrick brings with him six years of experience in the sustainability field in both the private and public sectors. Most recently, his three years as the first Sustainability Manager at Eastern Kentucky University resulted in the establishment of a dock-less bike share program, improvements to both recycling and energy management, and the integration of sustainability thinking into university decision making. During this time he advised up to six student employees per semester, several of whom were also students in the ENV200: The Global Sustainable Future course that he instructed as an adjunct faculty member.
Prior to working at Eastern Kentucky University, Patrick served as a Sustainability Analyst with Legrand, North America at its West Hartford headquarters. While at Legrand, he helped spearhead operations and social sustainability initiatives including a highly successful energy savings competition known as the “Legrand Energy Marathon” and the ”Better Communities” corporate volunteer program.
Patrick has obtained a bachelor of science degree in biology from Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, PA, and received his master of science degree in environmental science and management from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA.
Patrick will work under the supervision of Rich Miller, OEP Director and will supervise the OEP’s high-achieving intern staff. He is looking forward to the work ahead. “This is a new challenge for me. I’m excited for this opportunity to become a leader at a large university that is already one of the top performers in sustainability. The many available resources and embracing culture at UConn will allow me to take the program to new heights.” said McKee.
In 2010, UConn created its Climate Action Plan (CAP) aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of the University. The goal of this plan is to be carbon neutral by 2050, with an interim milestone of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20% from the 2007 baseline by 2020. The OEP has worked with a number of UConn departments to achieve this goal through projects such as re-lamping with LEDs, other energy efficiency measures in existing facilities, and a strict LEED Gold-certified green building policy for new construction.
By 2016, emissions had been reduced by 20,381 tons, a 13.36% reduction from the 2007 baseline of 152,538 tons. We recently received 2017 GHG emissions data, and, as of last year, UConn had slipped somewhat, showing emissions reductions totaling 18,822 tons, or only a 12.34% reduction since 2007. This increase in emissions over 2016 is mainly attributable to the energy demand from the operation of three new buildings that came on-line late in 2016 or in 2017: Next Generation Connecticut (Werth) Residence Hall, the new Engineering and Science Building, and the Innovative Partnership Building. Despite the added GHG emissions from powering, heating and cooling these new buildings, UConn still made critical progress by further decreasing GHG emissions through ongoing projects like retro commissioning and re-lamping.
While UConn did emit more GHGs this year than last, the University is still on track to meet its 20% emissions reduction goal by 2020. When ongoing and proposed energy efficiency and clean energy projects are accounted for, UConn is on track to reduce emissions by 32,614 tons by 2020. This would be a 21.38% reduction, exceeding the 20% reduction goal. One possible development that could influence this projection is the number of curtailment days the university utilizes. During especially cold winter days on campus, when the demand for natural gas is high, UConn burns oil (a more carbon-intensive fossil fuel) instead of natural gas. For future projections, 20 curtailment days are accounted for, with each curtailment day adding 210 tons of emissions to the total. Under our three year gas procurement contract with CNG, however, it is possible for the University to have up to 30 curtailment days in a year. When the additional ten curtailment days are accounted for, the projected percent reduction drops from 21.38% to just 20%, right at the goal, leaving less room for unanticipated emissions increases.
To help offset the impact of curtailment days, UConn continues to focus on its ongoing emissions reduction initiatives, like re-lamping and steam line replacement projects. OEP and Energy Management staff estimate that campus-wide LED retrofitting of all interior and exterior lighting will contribute nearly 40% of emission reductions needed by 2020, with steam projects contributing another 30%. Given the momentum from these ambitious projects, we are optimistic that UConn will achieve its 2020 reduction goal!
This article was written by Richard Miller, Director of Environmental Policy. It also appeared in the Daily Campus on April 19, 2018.
As the events of UConn’s Environmental Metanoia continue to unfold this month, providing students with dozens of opportunities for learning, reflecting and talking about issues like solar power, water quality, environmental justice and more, it’s fair to ask the question: “What is UConn doing to become a more sustainable campus?” After all, in creating the context for teaching and inspiring our students, it’s important for the University to be the change we want to see, by demonstrating best practices and green technologies that make the campus a “Living Laboratory” for a more sustainable future.
With that in mind, in early 2017, UConn’s President Susan Herbst endorsed a 2020 Vision for Campus Sustainability and Climate Leadership. This is a strategic plan with 20 precise goals and metrics for success. To achieve these goals, UConn will need to reduce its carbon footprint by 20 percent, compared to 2007, despite our growth since then. That will mean big reductions in the energy, water, and fuel we use, and the waste we generate.
Students, faculty and staff were involved in setting these 2020 goals, and in giving feedback, including at a student summit meeting last year, about strategies for accomplishing them. As a result of an inclusive University planning process that focused on a series of ambitious targets, we’ve already made progress! Here are a few of the 2020 goals achieved ahead of schedule:
100% of purchased electricity used at our regional campuses consists of renewable energy
Daily potable water use at the main campus has decreased nearly 40% since 2005, despite a concurrent growth in enrollment of more than 20%
52% of our electronic purchases for items like computers, laptops and monitors are Gold-rated under the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) – up from 23% in 2016
All eight dining halls in Storrs are Green Restaurant certified – making UConn the first public university in the nation to achieve this standard.
UConn’s commitment to sustainability is especially centered on understanding and addressing the social, economic, environmental, and public health issues surrounding climate change. Over the past three years, no other public university in the nation has engaged more undergraduate students than UConn has in the U.N.’s annual International Climate Summit and Conference of the Parties (COP), held in Paris, Marrakech and Bonn. UConn@COP is a nationally-acclaimed program aimed at developing future leaders in climate science and policy.
Last year, through President Herbst, UConn joined more than 2,300 members of a multi-sector “We Are Still In” coalition of American businesses, state and local governments, and universities, committed to continued pursuit of climate action goals set in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Strategic coalitions like this will help keep UConn on the crest of what the Environmental Defense Fund recently called “The 4th Wave of Environmentalism,” driven by technology and multi-sector efforts.
Policy commitments, together with specific operational goals and strategies for a more resource-efficient and lower-carbon campus, are helping UConn lead the way to a prosperous, clean technology future.
After a frustrating series of snowed-out Wednesdays, the cohort of students who attended COP23 were finally able to host the annual Climate Change cafe, held recently at the Student Union. UConn@COP23 fellows shared their experiences at this year’s U.N. International Climate summit, held in Bonn, Germany.
Students from a wide variety of academic majors visited the event and learned about different aspects of the fight against climate change. Topics covered included the power of art as activism, businesses on the forefront of climate change, feminism within the movement, and the role of sub-national entities in lieu of the federal government.
“I find the “We Are Still In” movement to be an amazing representation of how our country plans to progress the mitigation of climate change.”
– Erika Shook, Animal Science Major
“Hearing that America as a country has not yet completely abandoned the fight against climate change was heartening, and progress can still be made even if its not on a national scale.”
– Matthew McKenna, Environmental Engineering Major
“I didn’t stay for very long, but I took out a flyer made by the office of environmental policy all about UConn’s efforts towards sustainability, and found it super interesting. I actually ended up sharing it with friends.”
– Nina Haigis, Accounting Major
“I was inspired by seeing this clear intersectionality of fields that are so heavily affected by the detriments of climate change reflected in the posters on exhibition at the Climate Change Café.”
– Luke Anderson, Anthropology/Nutritional Sciences Major
“I came to the Climate Change Cafe knowing that I was interested in going on the trip, but after talking to people and viewing the posters that were made I left super excited to apply and confident that the trip would be an experience that would be both fun and super educational.”
– Delaney Meyer, Civil Engineering Major
“Talking to the students at the Climate Change Cafe was an engaging and informative experience. You could tell that this trip fostered their passion for the environment, and that participants were inspired to make changes within our own community.”
Activists. Scientists. Scholars. Mothers. Writers. Women have been contributing to the environmental movement since its humble beginnings. Women have been disdained, excluded, jailed, and even murdered for working towards environmental progress, yet they still fight on. In honor of Women’s History Month, we have compiled profiles of revolutionary women from across the spectrum of the environmental movement. These women show us the value of empowerment, and inspire us with their passion for a better world.
Despite her wealthy, socialite upbringing in New York City, Rosalie Edge was anything but proper and demure. A dedicated suffragist, Edge shifted her attention towards the National Audubon Society after the passage of the 19th amendment. Having become aware of the gender-based injustices happening within the National Audubon Society, Edge sued the organization and made a point of exposing the persistent corruption. Through lawsuits and exposing pamphlets, Edge successfully had all the former directors removed from the organization.
Edge maintained this momentum for the rest of her life. The Emergency Conservation Committee that she created in response to the Audubon Society crisis became her instrument of political change. With its support she was able to preserve 8,000 acres of sugar pines on the southern edge of Yosemite and create both Kings Canyon and Olympic National Parks.
When the Audubon Association didn’t want to pay for a hawk sanctuary that she felt strongly about, Edge raised the money and bought the place herself, paving the way for a mindset of species preservation that had not existed in conservation circles before her. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, as it was called, was happily owned and run by Edge for the rest of her life, and is still an important place of conservation today. During her reign, Rosalie Edge was considered the leader of the conservation movement – her period’s John Muir. A tenacious and effective activist, she changed the movement in ways we can still feel today, and paved the way for Rachel Carson and all other women who came after her.
Sylvia Earle has inspired a generation of people to value our oceans. Also known as “Her Deepness,” or “The Sturgeon General,” Earle started her journey by obtaining a PhD in phycology (the study of algae) in 1966. A deep diving pioneer, she has tied the overall record for a solo dive depth in 1986 (the first woman to do so), and founded Deep Ocean Engineering, a business that aims to improve the technology of robotic and piloted subsea systems. She was awarded Time Magazine’s first Hero for the Planet designation in 1998, and has held the title of National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence since then. As the first woman to serve as Chief Scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), she was also the chair of the Advisory Council for the Ocean for Google Earth. An expert on the impact of oil spills, she was a crucial resource in the Exxon Valdez, Mega Borg, and Deepwater Horizon disasters.
Throughout her extensive career she has held positions at various universities, has won a slew of awards, and has authored over 150 publications. One of her greatest contributions to ocean preservation, Mission Blue, included a global coalition of over 200 organizations aims to preserve the world’s marine protected areas, deemed ‘Hope Spots.’ Sylvia Earle recognizes the power of science, and has harnessed it to capture the imaginations of the public.
Nobel laureate and leading environmentalist political activist Wangari Maathai spent her life promoting intersectional environmentalism, advocating that environmental action is “more than planting trees, it’s planting ideas.” Born in the rural Kenyan village of Nyeri, Maathai was one of 300 Kenyan students to be a part of the Airlift Africa program in 1960, a program that allowed her to receive an education at a university in the United States. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology, she returned to Kenya, becoming the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree.
Embracing the connections between gender inequality and environmental issues, Maathai founded the Greenbelt Movement, a movement that taught women sustainable land use practices. Since its inception, the movement has trained over 30,000 women and planted more than 51 million trees, an achievement that led to her Nobel Peace Prize Award. With a commitment to ecofeminism and equitable participation, Maathai has had a monumental impact on the global environmental movement.
Lois Gibbs is a story of the power that personal impact has to inspire national activism. She started out her journey as a mother in the small, suburban neighborhood of Love Canal. Her son attended the local elementary school in Niagara Falls, New York. It was discovered that her son’s elementary school and, with further investigation, the entire neighborhood, was built on top of a toxic waste site.
Fearing for the health of her son and all of the kids of Love Canal, Lois Gibbs was launched into activism. She began knocking on doors, creating petitions, and eventually came together with her neighbors to create the Love Canal Homeowners Association. After years of grassroots activism, confrontations with the New York State Department of Health, and national attention, Gibbs got what she wanted. Nearly one thousand families were evacuated from Love Canal, and a massive cleanup began.
Because of the hard work of Lois Gibbs and the residents of her neighborhood, the Environmental Protection Agency instituted a program to locate and clean up contaminated sites like Love Canal across the country. It’s called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or the Superfund Program.
Since Love Canal, Gibbs has founded a grassroots environmental crisis center called the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), which focuses on creating strong local organizations to ensure the federal government is doing what it’s supposed to do. Gibbs has received many awards for her work, including the Goldman Environmental Prize, the Heinz Award, and a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, the most important legacy she is leaving behind is the support system she has created for those neighborhoods that suffer as Love Canal has suffered, but do not have the voice to call for change.
A notable ecofeminist, scientist, writer, and activist, Vandana Shiva has worn many hats in her life, often at the same time. Brought up with a love for nature fostered by her two parents, she received a PhD in the philosophy of physics, and went on to interdisciplinary research in science, technology, and environmental policy at the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. She eventually established Bija Vidyapeeth, an international college for sustainable living, in collaboration with the U.K.’s Schumacher College.
Shiva is a leader in championing agricultural biodiversity and local sovereignty. She is on the cutting edge of advances in food technology and the human rights implications of such advances. Much of her activism in this area has been achieved through a national movement she started in 1991 called Navdanya, whose mission is to “protect diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seed, the promotion of organic farming and fair trade.” Navdanya has educated farmers across India of the value of diverse and individualized crops, and has mounted activist campaigns on issues involving intellectual property rights, biotechnology, bioethics, and genetic engineering.
A notable ecofeminist, Siva has written over 20 publications, many on topics that show how women’s rights and environmental issues are inextricably linked. In fact, the first book she published, Staying Alive, focused on redefining perceptions of third world women. In 1990, she wrote a report on women’s role in agriculture titled “Most Farmers in India are Women,” as requested by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. She founded the gender unit at Kathmandu’s International Centre for Mountain Development, and is a founding board member of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization.
Shiva has changed the narrative around local sovereignty, sustainable farming, women in the environmental movement, farmers, globalization, and everything in between. She advises governments, international organizations, and is a leader in worldwide discussions. How is she capable of such extraordinary feats, and how can we emulate her? When asked, Shiva responded “you are not Atlas carrying the world on your shoulder. It is good to remember that the planet is carrying you.” Protecting the Earth is simply a matter of recognizing our place within it.
With the Spring Semester quickly reaching its end, the class pick time season is once again upon us. Lucky for UConn students, there are hundreds of interesting courses to choose from, ranging from topics as far and wide as the mind can imagine. However, given this range of options, it can be difficult to navigate the extensive class lists. As students with passions for sustainability, the interns at the Office of Environmental Policy have compiled a concise list of some of their favorite sustainability courses, all of which are offered this upcoming fall. We hope that this list will aid your class selection process! Happy choosing!
SPSS/SAPL 2100: Environmental Sustainability of Food Production in Developed Countries
The current average population increase is estimated at a staggering 83 million people per year, a number that places us at 9.7 billion people by 2050. Given this steady increase, food production will need to accommodate the growing population size. However, the agricultural sector currently contributes to one third of the Earth’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The sector will need to alter its current practices to ensure both food security and environmental sustainability. Take this class to investigate alternative food systems, and the benefits and environmental risks associated with modern food production. (3 credits)
PHIL 3216: Environmental Ethics
Do trees have rights? Whose interests count? Whose interests must we consider? If you have ever pondered these questions, look no further. This class allows students to inquire about the extension of ethics to both human and non-human species, and challenges traditional boundaries of philosophical thought. (3 credits)
AH 3175: Environmental Health
The environment is not just made up of the woods in our backyards or the national parks we hike. It is also the quality of the air we breathe and the clean water we drink. This course investigates the true meaning of environmental health as a crucial component of any public health system, and exposes students to the health consequences of exposure to toxic chemicals, radiation, and food contaminants. Open to junior or higher, this course provides an advanced perspective of the basic principles of toxicology and complex occupational hazards. (3 credits)
Senior OEP intern Christen highly recommends this course, saying: “Environmental Health is a great interdisciplinary course that highlights the ways we impact our environment, as well as how our environment impacts us.”
BADM 3252: Corporate Social Impact and Responsibility
Can the private sector contribute to a future of shared environmental accountability, equity, and sustainability? Learn to navigate this debate in class through the deconstruction, and discussion, of social impacts and human rights implications as they relate to global operations of multinational corporations. (3 credits)
SPSS 1125: Insects, Food, Culture
Welcome to the interesting world of bugs and their multifaceted interactions with nature and people. A perfect course for fans of Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, this course introduces the varied roles of insects in traditional human culture, ranging from their contributions to fiber and food production, popular culture, and commerce. (3 credits)
EVST 1000: Introduction to Environmental Studies
Need one more class to fulfill content area two, social sciences? Want to think critically about the intersections of contemporary environmental themes across a wide array of sectors and disciplines? Introduction to Environmental Studies is the course for you. Explore environmental action from a variety of approaches and take a look at the different perspectives of the relationships between humans and nature. (3 Credits)
Here’s what our interns have to say:
Jon: “Great introduction to analyzing environmental issues from a holistic perspective”
Emma: “This class was basic enough for a non-major student to be interested and understanding of the content while laying a strong groundwork for any students with an Environmental major.”
If you take a glance at the extensive legacy of black American history, the intersections with conservation are undeniable. From urban and rural agriculturalists, environmental scientists, planetwalkers, and environmental justice activists, the legacy of black Environmentalists exists in our natural places, National Parks, and enacted policy. In celebration of Black History Month, and the often untold contributions made by black environmentalists, we will be highlighting four black Americans who have advanced and innovated the fields of conservation, environmentalism, and activism: Dr. John Francis, Majora Carter, Charles Young, and Margie Richard.
If you have ever had the opportunity to gaze upon the majestic Sequoia trees in California’s Sequoia National Park, you can thank Charles Young, the first Black colonel in the United States Army and fierce protector of the great Sequoias. It was under the careful instruction of Colonel Charles Young that the U.S. Army worked to preserve the Sequoias, and transformed the Sequoia forest from an impenetrable wilderness into the revered Sequoia National Park
Young’s journey towards this position was a difficult one, as he was born into slavery in Kentucky on March 12, 1864. It was through the legacy of his father, who had escaped slavery to join the Union Army during the Civil War, that Young attended West Point Military Academy.
Not only was Young the third black American to graduate from West Point, but he was the first black National Parks Superintendent, where environmental preservation was at the forefront of his life’s work. In this position, Young ensured the preservation of the great wilderness, and commanded a group of park rangers that became known as the “Buffalo Soldiers.” They kept the park free from poachers and ranchers whose grazing sheep destroyed the parks’ natural habitats. In 2013, Young was recognized as a true American hero, when President Barack Obama used the Antiquities Act to designate Young’s house as the 401st unit of the National Park System, the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument.
The modern day interpretation of an activist goes something like this: a young, jarring individual with an unapologetically loud voice, raised fist, and picket sign. And while this image was birthed from the largest and most successful social movements of the past century, an alternative form of activism has also emerged, in which silence can become the loudest and most compelling voice in the room. A conservationist, educator, and best-selling author, Dr. John Francis, also known as the ‘Planetwalker’ is best known for his impressive 22-year motorized transportation boycott, and his 17-year vow of silence.
Inspired by the horrific 1971 San Francisco Bay oil spill, Dr. Francis’s legacy led to years on foot, during which he traveled across the United States and Latin America, receiving a Ph.D. in Land Management from the University of Wisconsin-Madison along the way. In his decades-long journey, Dr. Francis observed the mutual disconnect between people and the environment, and urged people to reposition themselves as intricate pieces in the overall concept of the environment.
After breaking his silence during the first Earth Day in 1990, Dr. Francis has gone on to an extensive career in conservation, as both an educator and environmental policy maker. To date, he has garnered dozens of environmental accolades: being named the National Geographic Society’s first Education Fellow in 2010, an ambassador to the United Nations Environment Program’s Goodwill Ambassador to the World’s Grassroots Communities, and an acclaimed bestselling author.
If you’ve ever watched an online TED talk, there is a high probability that you have come across Majora Carter’s inspiring lecture entitled ‘Greening the Ghetto.’ With several million views and counting, Carter’s compelling TED talk outlines her journey fighting for environmental justice in the South Bronx, in which she draws key connections between economic, ecological, and social degradation.
As an activist in the 1990s, Carter brought the South Bronx its first open-waterfront park in 60 years, and founded ‘Sustainable South Bronx,’ an organization to mobilize grassroots environmental activism among New York City’s poorest and most environmentally oppressed citizens. In the present day, Carter works to help people in low-income communities realize that they don’t have to move out of their neighborhoods in order to live in a healthier environment.
While most acclaimed as an urban revitalization strategy consultant, Carter is also a real estate developer and a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster, whose innovative views on urban renewal have altered the understanding of comprehensive urban policy to include goals for environmental protection and restoration. Carter was also awarded a “Genius Grant” by the John D. and Katherine T. McArthur Foundation. Her company, the Majora Carter Group, is putting green economic tools to use, unlocking the potential of every place, from inner cities to rural communities, university campuses, government projects and industrial parks.
In Southern Louisiana sits an area known as Old Diamond, a small neighborhood in Norco where residents are sandwiched between a Shell Chemical plant and an oil refinery owned by a Shell joint venture. For decades, the residents of this predominantly black neighborhood suffered under the constant fear of an industrial accident, and faced unusually high rates of cancer, birth defects, and respiratory diseases. These environmental threats were a result of decades-long and, in some cases, ongoing environmental contamination stemming from the industrial operations that surrounded the residential neighborhood.
After years of being subjected to these environmental risks, and following the death of her sister from a rare bacterial infection, in the early-1990s, resident Margie Richard founded the Concerned Citizens of Norco, an environmental justice citizens’ group that fought for fair resettlement of Old Diamond residents in order to escape the daily threat of health and environmental hazards. After an intense community-based air quality research study, and 13 years of Ms. Richard’s tireless leadership, the CCN finally reached an agreement with Shell that paid for the relocation of Old Diamond residents to new homes, in neighborhoods with clean air, water and soil.
Margie Richards is a true pioneer of the environmental justice movement. Her work led her to become the first black American to win the Goldman Environmental Award in 2004.