climate change

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!

Herbst Endorses Guiding Principles for Equitable Climate Solutions

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

 

Susan Herbst:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hispanic Environmentalists Advancing the Environmental Movement

By Natalie Roach

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

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

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

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

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

 

Elizabeth Yeampierre

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

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

 

Berta Caceres

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

 

Jamie Margolin

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

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

 

Vanessa Hauc

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

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

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

 

Christiana Figueres

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

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