News

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!

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!

 

The IPCC Report: Facing our Future

By Sophie MacDonald and Natalie Roach

This October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that has shaken the global community. The IPCC was invited by the UN to report this year on the effects that we would experience if the global temperature warms 1.5℃ (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels. They released a full report along with a technical summary and policymaker summary. The report contains scientific, technical, and socio-economic findings and has major ramifications across these disciplines. The contents of this report are grim, but give us a much more concrete vision of our future—something that is vital as the world makes plans to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Since civilization hit the industrial revolution in the mid-1800s, humanity has been dumping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air at an exponential rate. This has led to an increasing amount of sunlight and heat being trapped in our atmosphere, and consequently an increase in our planet’s average temperature. Even a slight increase in this global temperature has immense impacts on our climate and in turn the survival of life on Earth, including humans.

The IPCC report begins by defining what exactly the average global temperature was before humanity started to affect it. The IPCC defines pre-industrial levels as the average global temperature over the period of 1850-1900. The report then talks about where we are now. We have already caused a 1℃ rise in the average global temperature compared to pre-industrial levels. Effects from climate change are already happening, and at this point they are inevitable.

However, we still have control over how severe these effects become, and how long they will last. On our current global trajectory, we will reach a 2℃ increase by 2040. With the passage of the Paris Climate Agreement, the world committed itself to changing this trajectory. Countries promised to keep the increase to under 2℃, and to strive to keep the increase near 1.5℃. In reality, the agreement has little binding power. Globally, we are struggling to reach the 2℃ goal, never mind 1.5℃, which is currently categorized as ‘above and beyond.’

The IPCC report focuses on the changes in our climate that will result if we curb the global temperature rise at 1.5℃ as compared to an increase of 2℃. Although any further rise in the global temperature has and will result in devastating changes to our natural and human systems, the difference between 1.5℃ and 2℃ warming is significant. This report makes it clear that 1.5℃ should not be considered as ‘above and beyond,’ but instead as the absolute limit for global temperature rise.

By 2100, the global average sea level rise is projected to be 0.1 meter lower at 1.5℃ than at 2℃. Sea level rise will continue past 2100, and it is inevitable at this stage. However, sticking to the 1.5℃ goal and slowing the rate of sea level rise will allow more time for adaptation of coastal communities impacted by this rise. Although 0.1 meters may not seem significant, it will make a big difference in giving the world time to prepare for sea level rise.

One of the most poignant symbols of this change in global temperature is the livelihood of the coral reefs. At 2℃, more than 99% of coral reefs will die off due to coral bleaching. At 1.5℃, only 70-90% of current coral reefs are projected to die off. The loss of this incredible phenomenon would be a tragedy. The majority of the ocean’s biodiversity exists in coral reefs, they serve as a buffer that protects coastlines from tropical storms, and they function as important primary producers as well.

The frequency of a sea-ice-free Arctic during summer is substantially lower at 1.5℃ than at 2℃. At 1.5℃, an ice-free summer will happen once per century; at 2℃, it will happen at least once per decade.

In addition to the effects mentioned previously, a 2℃ rise instead of 1.5℃ will drive the loss of coastal resources, reduce the productivity of fisheries and aquaculture, and lead to greater species loss and extinction. Vector-borne diseases, such a malaria and dengue fever, are expected to increase and shift geographic regions. A 2℃ rise will lead to larger net reductions of cereal crop yields such as maize, rice, and wheat.

As the global temperature warms, the effects outlined above are expected to lead to increased poverty and disadvantages in vulnerable populations. Limiting the temperature rise to 1.5℃ instead of 2℃ could reduce the number of people who will be susceptible to poverty and facing climate-related risks by up to several hundred million by 2050.

The IPCC states that reaching the 1.5℃ goal and protecting what we can of our world requires “upscaling and acceleration of far-reaching, multi-level and cross-sectoral climate mitigation and by both incremental and transformational adaptation.” While the Paris Climate Agreement was a historical step for humankind, it’s not nearly enough to save us. The agreement was the beginning of this world transformation; true change will require continued, tenacious, collaborative effort.

This information can be overwhelming and disheartening. We at the office understand that, and know that this work requires stubborn positivity. The only way we’re going to get close to reaching the 1.5℃ goal is if we wholeheartedly believe in our mission and in the future of our world. Even if we do not reach our goal of 1.5℃, or even that of 2℃, any change we make now will still have an important effect on generations to come. So get out there and make some change happen. Reduce your carbon footprint. Vote on November 6th. Start improving your community. Collaborate with friends and neighbors. Have meaningful conversations with those around you. We are each just one person, but we still have an important, irreplaceable influence on the world around us.

Link to the IPCC’s Report: http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/

What is Environmental Justice?

By Natalie Roach

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.

Leticia Colon de Mejias advocated for energy efficiency and justice for Puerto Rico at the rally

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UConn – and Sustainability – Score at This Fall’s Green Game Day

By Natalie Roach

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.

Martin Wolek collects cans from Jary Remly, a resident of Storrs. (Lucas Voghell/UConn Photo)

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.

A dedicated EcoHusky member gets his hands (and legs) dirty while digging for recyclables in a dumpster!

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!

Volunteers pose for a picture in high spirits before heading out to volunteer!

 

UConn Hires New Sustainability Program Manager

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.

Please welcome Patrick to campus by emailing him at patrick.mckee@uconn.edu.

Coffee and Climate Change

UConn@COP23 fellow and OEP intern Wawa Gatheru explains the topic of her poster, power in resistance.

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.

 

With the advent of the new U.S. administration not supporting the Paris Climate Accords, sub-national entities were a big topic during this year’s trip.

 

“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.”

– Megan Boyer, Biological Sciences Major

 

UConn@COP23 fellows were inspired by the many powerful art installations they saw while in Germany.

 

UConn@COP23 – Bonn Climate Change Conference

Bonn

Trip Description

COP 23 is the United Nations Climate Change Conference, and will be hosted this year by the small Pacific island state, Fiji, and held in Bonn, Germany from November 6 th to November 17th, 2017. The event will bring together diplomats, business executives, heads of government and other delegates to discuss action on climate change. COP 23 will highlight the voices of countries most vulnerable to climate change, and will focus on action.

In the words of Fiji Prime Minister and Chair of COP 23, Frank Bainimarama, he will be “guiding the deliberations of almost 200 countries as [they] gather in Bonn, Germany, in November to continue to seek a more decisive response on the part of the industrial nations….And to set aside funds to enable developing countries such as Fiji to adapt to the changes to their way of life that have been caused through no fault of [their] own.”1

The University of Connecticut will be providing full funding, excluding meals other than breakfast, for a select group of undergraduate students to travel to Bonn from November 12th – November 18th to attend events associated with the conference. Airfare, housing, and city transportation will be provided. In addition, students will have the opportunity to experience the beautiful city of Bonn, Germany.

Application

The application must be completed and submitted to sarah.munro@uconn.edu by 11:59pm EST on Monday, April 3rd in order to be considered by the Selection Committee for the trip. Only complete applications will be considered. Applicants will be notified of the Committee’s decision via e-mail on Monday, August 18th. Decisions will not be released prior to then.

For more information on past UConn@COPs, click here.

1 http://www.fiji.gov.fj/Media-Center/Speeches/HON-PRIME-MINISTER-BAINIMARAMA-2017-NEW-YEAR-S-MES.aspx

First Ever Carbon-Free UConn Basketball Games!

carbon-free-certificateEvery spring, volunteers from the EcoHusky student group and EcoHouse learning community come together to raise environmental awareness at Basketball Green Game Days. By teaching fans how to recycle, and collecting bottles at the end of the game, volunteers always play an integral role in making these events “green.” This year’s Green Game Days were special because, for the very first time, the Office of Environmental Policy purchased carbon offsets to make the games carbon-free!

Carbon offsets are credits purchased that represent the reduction of an amount of carbon dioxide emissions. In cases such as powering a basketball game, where it is difficult or impossible to reduce associated emissions, a carbon offset can be purchased to fund the reduction of greenhouse gases elsewhere. This is a great tool for organizations that would like to mitigate their carbon impacts, but when it is not feasible for them to do so directly.

twitter-postWe would like to thank all of our volunteers for their time and enthusiasm. With their help, we were able to collect enough bottles to donate $40 to the Campus Sustainability Fund to support more programs and initiatives to raise environmental awareness. We would also like to thank UConn Athletics for their time and effort to promote sustainability. We greatly appreciate the P.A. announcements, video board slides, and social media posts throughout the events. We look forward to working with you at future Green Game Days!

UConn Receives Gold AASHE STARS Rating

stars_logo_3Each year, the Office of Environmental Policy submits campus sustainability data to a variety of surveys to be ranked among the most environmentally sustainable colleges and universities in the United States and even the world. Data collection for these surveys is a vigorous process that involves communication with many departments on campus and analysis of both qualitative and quantitative information. UConn and its peers utilize the AASHE Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS), an online self-assessment tool, to organize and input this data each year. From this comprehensive, peer-developed report, snapshots are submitted to surveys such as the Sierra Club’s Cool Schools and the Princeton Review Green Colleges.

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UConn ecologist Mark Urban studies the impact of climate change on biodiversity (UConn Today)

UConn has performed consistently well in the Sierra Club’s Cool Schools survey, which emphasizes climate change, divestment, and energy, and the UI GreenMetric survey, which focuses on green building and greenhouse gas emissions reduction policy. The STARS self-assessment tool is unique in that it employs the Earth Charter definition of sustainability, which encompasses nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace for future generations. As a result, this reporting tool requires that a greater breadth of data be collected.

UConn achieved a strong Gold Rating on its STARS submission. Although STARS does not publish rankings, of the 230+ schools with current STARS 2.0 ratings, UConn had the second highest score! Our university will be recognized in AASHE’s 2016 Sustainable Campus Index as a Top Performer for our Vendor Code of Conduct and commitment to research, as well as for the high-impact initiative of sending eighteen students, faculty, and staff members to the United Nations’ annual climate change summit, COP21 last December. Click here to access previous Sustainable Campus Indexes.

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A group of UConn students, faculty, and staff at the UN Conference on Climate Change

As stated on their website, “AASHE’s mission statement is to inspire and catalyze higher education to lead the global sustainability transformation.” AASHE has encouraged universities to give significance to all aspects of sustainability beyond those directly related to the environment, including ethical principles such as human rights and economic justice. This falls directly in line with UConn’s mission statement, which highlights the health and well-being of citizens through the enhancement of social, economic, cultural, and natural environments in and beyond Connecticut.