social responsibility

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 Pollinators” Film Screening

By Maizey MabrySmith

Looking for something to watch while you’re stuck at home? Eco House has a suggestion for you. On February 25th, the Eco House learning community held a screening of the exciting new documentary, “The Pollinators.” The event, held in the Student Union Theatre, was open to all students as well as members of the general public. Over 90 students turned out and many more watched remotely.

The film profiles large-scale American beekeepers whose jobs are getting increasingly harder as the years go by. As pesticides such as neonicotinoids become more widespread, bees are dying in record numbers, and bee die-offs are becoming part of the daily routine. To keep up with demand despite this challenge, there is now a constant and large scale movement of hives back and forth across the United States by freight trucks. The almond industry plays an immense role in this, as they rent almost 100% of the nation’s hives for their pollination period. The almond industry’s high demand leaves behind only a small number of bees to pollinate other crops for that period. One emerging solution explored in the film is the regenerative agricultural practices, such as no-till farming, silvo-pasturing and creating habitats for beneficial pollinators. Many of these practices work in conjunction with one another to support the bee population. For instance, the growth of nitrogen-fixing cover crops between normal planting seasons allows for no-till practices and reduces the need for harmful pesticides.

The film was followed by a lively Q&A session with the director, Peter Nelson and producer Sally Roy. The audience came prepared to discuss solutions to the issues facing bee populations and ways in which we can keep the pollinator industry alive. Nelson promoted the importance of supporting local farmers and beekeepers, but also focused on spreading knowledge. The film itself is available upon request for screenings by towns and other large groups, like UConn. Nelson emphasized the importance of spreading the knowledge of these issues so that they can be better understood by the general public, either through the documentary or through alternative educational efforts.

Nelson, a beekeeper himself, personally explained the struggles within the work force and is excited to get to work on his next big project!

The event was co-sponsored by the Office of Sustainability, the Institute of the Environment, the UConn Honors Program and the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture.

 

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

We’ve Moved!

Spring semester has begun with more than just a few spring cleaning items at the Office of Sustainability. We have moved to a freshly renovated new space in the Institute of the Environment located in the Building #4 Annex behind Horsebarn Hill.

The relocation solidifies our place within the new Institute of the Environment (IoE) and has already enabled increased collaboration with our new partners, the Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering (CESE), The CT State Museum of Natural History, and the Natural Resources Conservation Academy – not to mention several familiar faculty members and their grad students doing sustainability-related research in one the IoE’s many labs.

Sustainability was considered throughout our move as well as the comfort and productivity of our staff and intern team. With the help of Project Manager Tom Reichardt in Facilities Operations, we were able to design an efficient work space that minimized waste

Moving to a new office meant acquiring new furniture. In order to cut down on unnecessary waste, we decided to bring over all of our chairs from the old office, as well as  some other furnishings, office supplies, computers, and printers. This significantly cut down the amount of new resources we used in the move, and saved money as well. All new furniture and construction materials were selected with sustainability at the forefront. Check out more energy-saving measures in the flyer above.

Staff and interns all agree that our new office space is already feeling like home!  The color scheme is relaxing and the high ceilings reduce the claustrophobia associated with interior offices. Despite not having windows to see the abundant natural scenery, including serene farmland and the Fenton tract of the UConn Forest at our doorstep, two “drive-thru” style windows connect the collaborative intern space with two of the offices for staff. And while you can’t order an Impossible burger, these windows allow for productive conversations and quick feedback on assignments and projects from Sustainability Program Manager, Patrick McKee, and Administrative Coordinator, Cherie Taylor. Meanwhile our Director, Rich Miller, is also not far away, in the sustainably-renovated office right across the hall.

SUSTAINABILITY PROFILE OF OUR NEW OFFICE

  1. HVAC pre-filters and low VOC paints, adhesives, and furniture used to preserve indoor air quality
  2. LED lighting used in all fixtures to save energy
  3. Installed 100% recyclable Interface Carbon Neutral Flooring carpet tiles
  4. New ceiling tiles made of 76% recycled material
  5. All furniture fabrics are made of 100% post-consumer recycled polyester
  6. Reuse of all doors, frames, and ceiling grids prevented construction waste during renovation.
  7. All construction waste was properly sorted and recycled when possible
  8. Insulation added to walls to improve energy efficiency

 

Come visit us! Take the yellow line bus down to the end of Horsebarn Hill Rd., and stop by our office anytime you have a question about campus sustainability initiatives.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

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/