climate change

Latinx Heritage Month

Author’s note: During Latinx Heritage Month celebrations, we acknowledge that many non-white Latinxs do not identify with the notion of Latinidad, defined as the collection of attributes and experiences shared by members of the Latin American identity. Many Black and Indigenous members of the community reject a unified notion of Latinidad because it ignores the violent, racist history of Latin American colonization and erases the different histories experiences of peoples in Latin America. For these reasons, this Latinx Heritage Month, we honor the contributions of Black and Indigenous Latinxs to the conservation/sustainability field.

Feliz días de la independencia a mi gente Latinx! Con orgullo nicaragüense, les presento cinco pionerxs que están desafiando la definición de quién es ambientalista.

Happy (belated) Latinx Heritage Month! Between September and October, we celebrate the achievements, contributions, and influence of the Latinx* culture in the United States. Celebrations begin on September 15, when Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua gained their independence from Spain in 1821. Mexico celebrates the day after, and Chile recognizes their independence on September 18. Join us in celebrating Latinx Heritage Month by recognizing activists who call attention to environmental conservation while paying homage to their roots. 

 

Xiye Bastida is an eighteen-year old Xiye BastidaMexican-Chilean activist and member of the Otomi-Toltec Nation. She is from San Pedro Tultepec, Mexico, where she was raised with Otomi indigenous beliefs that emphasized the reciprocity of taking care of the Earth. Her community experienced a severe two-year drought followed by extreme flooding events, which prompted her to examine how the extreme weather events are exacerbated by the climate and how this disproportionately impacts BIPOC** communities. Upon moving to New York City with her family, where she witnessed the lingering damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, Bastida focused her energy on indigenous and immigrant visibility in climate activism. She is one of the principal organizers for Fridays for Future NYC, has mobilized people of all ages to participate in the Global Climate Strike, and is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.

 

Xiuhtezcatl MartínezXiuhtezcatl Martínez is a nineteen-year old activist who wrote a book entitled We Rise: The Earth Guardians Guide to Building a Movement That Restores the Planet. His book examines the failures of world leaders to solve the climate crisis and suggests tangible steps that youth can take to mobilize their communities. Martínez is a youth director for Earth Guardians, and has advocated for large governments to address climate change at the Rio+20 United Nations Summit and the UN General Assembly. Martínez cites his Mexica (Aztec) heritage as the motivation for his activism, and believes that all humans have a responsibility to protect the environment. Martínez shares his indigenous beliefs, stories, and experiences growing up as an activist in the spotlight through his hip hop music. 

 

Katherine Lorenzo is an Afro-Latina climate activist who began her career Katherine Lorenzoby volunteering during Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. She studied political science at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and has worked with advocacy groups such as Mi Familia Vota. Lorenzo frequently mentions that conservation is an inherent part of Latinx culture. While families are motivated to save money, there is an added benefit of reusing and wasting less. Lorenzo worked on environmental justice programs through CHISPA Nevada, and focused on the Clean Busses for Healthy Niños campaign to switch districts to clean, electric school buses. She currently works at a nonprofit, Energy Foundation, which promotes policy solutions to advance renewable energy and teach the public about the benefits of a clean energy economy.

 

Solimar FiskeSolimar Fiske is an activist who uses her Instagram feed #TakingUpSpaceOutdoors to amplify voices of color in outdoor spaces. Fiske speaks on the isolating experience of walking into outdoor clothing retail stores and not seeing anyone who looked like her, or clothing geared towards her frame. She says that engaging with her online platform has led her to find a community of activists (such as @melaninbasecamp and @unlikelyhikers) who are working towards the same goals she is, and that she is continuously learning about land acknowledgment, conservation, and environmental awareness. Fiske acknowledges that many people of color only see a narrow advertisement of what the outdoors is actually like, and face barriers of time, travel, and funds. She aims to educate others by emphasizing that experiences in nature are not out of reach, being a role model for other people of color who want to get involved outside, and taking up space as a woman of color, immigrant, person with mixed indigenous heritage, working class person, and person with a large body.

 

Melissa Cristina Márquez Melissa Cristina Márquezis a Puerto Rican and Mexican marine biologist and the founder of Fins United. The Fins United Initiative teaches people of all ages about Chondrichthyes (shark and ray) conservation, education, and co-existence. Márquez travels around the world speaking about the importance of diversity and inclusion in science. She has been dubbed the “Mother of Sharks” and has been featured on various nature programs, including Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. As a proud #LatinainSTEM, Márquez emphasizes the need for open communication between the scientific community and the general public, law and policy makers, and diverse stakeholders. 

 

*Latinx: gender-neutral term for someone of Latin American origin/descent

**BIPOC: Black, Indigenous, and People of Color

Sustainable Beauty

Editor’s Note: During these times of uncertainty, finding ways to proactively care for ourselves and our surroundings can have a grounding effect. However, we must recognize that having this opportunity is a sign of our privilege. I encourage you to take a moment to appreciate the labor of essential workers.

16 Top Ethical and Sustainable Beauty Brands You Should Know [Space Nation Orbit Blog]

Eco-conscious consumerism may seem like an unlikely investment of time during a global pandemic, but quarantine has allowed many of us to slow down and listen to our bodies. Practicing self-care can take many forms and adopting a skincare routine is one. When we discuss personal care products, however, we should also consider the life cycle and environmental impacts of their packaging.

According to a report compiled by Statista, the 2020 United States skincare market has generated $18.1 million and the average consumer has spent $55 on skincare. The bottles, tubes, and containers used annually by the cosmetic industry adds up to 120 billion units of plastics packaging. But how does this hurt our planet?

Of the 120 billion units of plastic packaging used each year, 70% ends up in landfills. Bioplastics do not degrade naturally or within the average human lifespan. They can be composted, but require such an intense degree of heat to break down that they must be returned to an industrial compost site.

Through the dumping of waste in developing nations and irresponsible waste collection practices, plastic ends up in our oceans and breaks down into microplastics. When ingested, plastics and microplastics jeopardize the health of marine life and move in such a way mimic the movements of prey consumed by fish and seabirds. Plastic pollution, which PEW Research Center estimates currently totals up to 8 million pieces of plastic in the ocean, can also become entangled with aquatic life. This has resulted in the strangulation of sea turtles and marine mammals’ necks, and the asphyxiation of aquatic life.

Alternative forms of packaging have been used by companies in response to rapid deforestation and plastic pollution. An increasingly popular material is bioplastic, which is made from the sugars in corn starch, cassava, and sugar cane. Bioplastics are defined by being composed of 20% or more renewable resources, and are free of the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA (bisphenol A). This alternative seems appealing compared to the use of petroleum-based packaging, but the conservation community warns that there are many contingencies to the success of bioplastics. It is often cited that they emit less carbon dioxide than petroleum-based plastic, due in part to the fact that they are not unearthing trapped liquid carbon dioxide. However, a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh found that extensive land use, as well as fertilizer and pesticide application, lead to more pollutant emissions than traditional plastic. Not only are these agricultural practices harmful to the environment, but they also threaten our hormonal and skin health.

The use of “natural” ingredients in products and packaging disproportionately impact people of color. On the agricultural side, migrant farmworkers in the United States experience routine exposure to pesticides and other environmental hazards associated with industrial farming (such as California’s continued wildfires), heat stress, and contaminated drinking water. These laborers are essential to the $200 billion agricultural industry, yet farmworkers make about 40 cents per bucket of produce picked. On the consumer side, there has also been an uptick in lawsuits based on exposure to toxic ingredients in household brand health and beauty products. A notable example is litigation based on mercury contamination in skin-lightening products. The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology issued an opinion that women of color are disproportionately exposed to unsafe ingredients in beauty products due to the societal pressures they face to conform to Western beauty standards. For these reasons, looking at sustainability through the lens of human rights and racial/social justice is key to the growth of the sustainable skincare/beauty industry.

So where does our beauty waste go?

Our demand for resource-intensive products contributes to the loss of 18 million acres of forest each year. This is because skincare products contain ingredients like soy, palm oil, and sugar cane, which are grown on large-scale farms that consume extensive stretches of land. Not only are the effects of our consumption felt on land, but also seen in the oceans. Alarm has been raised surrounding the ethical implications of agricultural sourcing. By diverting land and energy away from food production, companies are exacerbating food insecurity in many developing countries. Ecovia (formerly Organic Monitor), a market research firm that examines the organic beauty industry, compares the debate over “beauty crops” to that of biofuel. While both are striving to improve sustainability in their markets, advancing technology while failing to address food security ignores the basic human right to food. Developments in the industry, such as the commitment to sustainable palm oil-sourcing (see Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), have been created to address these concerns. Similar roundtables exist for soybeans and cocoa, all with the intent to responsibly and ethically grow consumer crops.

How can you find sustainable skincare products?

Greenwashing has frequently become more apparent as brands jump onto the eco-conscious trend. This term refers to the marketing strategy which deceives consumers into believing that the product is better for the environment (i.e. by having a lighter carbon footprint or donating to an environmental organization). Usually, greenwashed products use earth tone colors, have pictures of natural landscapes and/or leaves, and include key words such as “eco-,” “natural,” and “sustainable.” Greenwashing misleads consumers to think they are making decisions that positively impact or vaguely-reference the environment, when in reality, these companies continue to package in plastic and encourage wasteful consumption patterns. Many argue that bioplastics are an example of greenwashing due to inadequate composting infrastructure or consumer understanding of the waste process.

Along with greenwashing, be wary of the word “organic.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a certified organic label indicating that the crops “are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing… soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible” (USDA 2012). According to the New York Times, an amendment to the certification allowed 38 synthetic ingredients into organic products. With this in mind, conducting research on specific company policies in regards to ethical and sustainable sourcing is key. Look for Fair Trade Certified and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil Certified products when possible, and explore package-free products/options! Becoming more environmentally conscious doesn’t happen overnight – and it isn’t always financially sustainable for many people. Mindfulness about our practices and consumerism doesn’t mean we’re doing everything right, but that we’re conscious and working towards change.

Thank you. Gracias.

Considering Sustainability During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Lauren Pawlowski

Plants growing at the community gardens in Derby, CT.

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. 

  1. 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. 
  2. Try to stick to reusable containers, towels, etc.  You’ll need to wash them more frequently, but this will prevent unnecessary waste.
  3. Buy in bulk when you can.  This reduces wasteful packaging and helps minimize grocery store visits. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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. 
  7. 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!
  8. 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.
  9. 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.  
  10. 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.  

“Campus Cup” project brings free menstrual cups to UConn. Period.

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! 

Students Posing at USH Womxn's Health & Empowerment Fair
Emma MacDonald (left) and Natalie Roach (right) posing at the USG Womxn’s Health and Empowerment Fair at the Office of Sustainability booth!

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.

USG Tampon Time volunteer opens an OrganiCup package to display a Size A menstrual cup to fellow student.
OrganiCups, with their minimal packaging, lined up, ready to be picked up and used by UConn menstruators!

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.

The line for free menstrual cups was out the door for most of the event.

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.

To learn more about OrganiCup and the company goals/impact: https://www.organicup.com/impact/

*Womxn: term used, especially in intersectional feminism, as a way to move away from patriarchal language and explicitly include non-cisgender women and women of color.

The Three Rs: Order is Important

By Emma MacDonald

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.

 

Reduce:

  1. Replace single use items with reusable ones once you have used up all pre-owned single use versions
    1. Plastic bags → Rope/Canvas produce bags
    2. Plastic/Paper grocery/shopping bags → Canvas reusable bags
    3. Single use plastic water bottles → Metal/Glass/Reusable plastic water bottle
    4. Plastic disposable razor → Metal razor
    5. Face wipes → Washcloth
    6. Toothbrush → Electric toothbrush with replaceable heads
    7. Plastic wrap, Foil, Ziplocs → Tupperware, Fabric Pouches, Beeswax Wrap
    8. Paper Towels, Napkins → Washcloths, Cloth Napkins
    9. Water Bottles → Brita Filter or Tap Water
    10. Straws → Bamboo or Metal straws
    11. Cutlery → Bamboo cutlery goes well with straws in a zero waste kit!
    12. Menstrual Products → Period Underwear, Menstrual Cups
  2. Replace items that come in lots of packaging with ones that have none, less, or biodegradable packaging.
    1. Unpackaged shampoo/conditioner bars can replace liquid shampoo with a bottle
    2. Cardboard dispensers biodegrade whereas plastic dispensers don’t
  3. Buy high quality, less often.
  4. Borrow items if you only need them once or twice
  5. Buy in bulk for items that last
    1. Laundry Detergent
    2. Cleaning products
    3. Pasta
    4. Rice

 

Reuse:

  1. Reuse items you have lying around the house
    1. 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.
  2. Buy items secondhand
    1. Clothing
    2. Furniture
    3. Dishware
    4. DVD’s/CD’s
    5. Electronics (buy refurbished)
  3. Donate unused items to secondhand shops
    1. See bullets for #2
  4. Repair broken items rather than recycling them or throwing them away
    1. 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.

A scene from the Willimantic No Freeze Shelter

 

Some local to Storrs suggestions follow:

 

Sources:

https://communityoutreach.uconn.edu/semester-long-programs/#SS

https://communityoutreach.uconn.edu/philanthropy/

https://www.nrdc.org/stories/reduce-reuse-recycle-most-all-reduce

President announces new student working group on climate change!

Photo by Mark Mirko/Hartford Courant

This Tuesday, President Katsouleas announced the creation of a joint student-faculty working group to create “coordinated analysis, policy formulation and strategic planning on issues of sustainability, particularly reducing emissions.” In the announcement, which came via a campus-wide email, Katsouleas made an open call for applications from the student body, stressing that “diversity, including with respect to academic background, will be an important consideration.” The group will work for the remainder of the Fall semester and into the Spring to create a detailed action plan for the University.

The formation of this group comes in response to student demands from the Sept. 20th climate strike and subsequent sit-ins. Momentum for a student-led working group has been building since last semester, when UConn@COP24 fellows and Office of Sustainability interns discussed the idea with UConn’s Executive Vice President & CFO, months before President Katsouleas began his tenure as President on August 1st. The University Senate has played a key role, by endorsing the strikers’ demands and being continuous advocates for sustainability on campus. President Katsouleas has also agreed to convene a committee of the Board of Trustees, TAFS, to focus solely on coming up with recommendations for addressing the demands!

These are monumental steps in the right direction from the university administration. Not only is President Katsouleas committing to rapid forward momentum on the issue of sustainability, but he is also positioning students at the forefront of that effort.

All students who are interested can apply by sending a letter of interest and resume to president@uconn.edu. We strongly encourage all interested UConn students to apply!

Indigenous Peoples’ Week at UConn

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helena Gualinga of Ecuador

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

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

Xiye Bastida of Mexico

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

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

 

 

The climate strike at UConn and beyond

On Friday, September 20th, millions of students across the world left class and took to the streets to demand climate justice. Protesters gathered in every corner of the world, from Pakistan and India to the United States and Australia. Then, on Friday, September 27th, millions of students left class again to continue the fight for climate justice. In between, Greta Thunberg, the catalyst for the global strikes, gave a blunt speech to world leaders gathered at the United Nations: 

           “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

Young people no longer feel like asking politely for change to come — they are demanding it. At the end of her brief yet immensely powerful speech, Greta perfectly encapsulated the mood of the strikes: “The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.” 

At UConn, over a thousand students attended the first strike on the Student Union Lawn. On the lawn, there were art exhibits on environmental justice, hula hooping and sign making stations as well as a demands table, where interested students could learn more about the UConn-specific demands from the strike organizers.

Photo by Cameron Cantelmo

At noon, hundreds of students gathered in front of the Student Union to hear the strike’s dynamic student speakers. These students spoke on intersectionality, global climate justice, eco-anxiety and the need to act quickly. After the speeches wrapped up, over four hundred students marched to the President’s office at Gulley Hall to list their demands. A call and response chant of “What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!” echoed through Fairfield Way. At Gulley Hall, strike organizers listed their demands to the raucous crowd. Then, President Katsouleas arrived and responded through the organizer’s megaphone. He promised to take the demands seriously and dedicate a special Board of Trustees committee to researching solutions to UConn’s rising carbon emissions. 

The strike was a landmark moment in UConn’s history. Actions regarding the demands, including sit-ins at the President’s office, have continued following the strike.

In an email two Wednesdays ago, the President committed to forming a student working group on climate change as well as expediting the University’s emission reduction goals. 

Photo by Harry Zehner

Green and Blue at UConn’s Football Green Game Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Athlete Perspectives: Basketball Green Game Days

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Maxwell Miller, Sophomore Finance Major, Sailing Team President   

           

 

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

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

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