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The IPCC Report: Facing our Future

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/

UConn Joins the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3)


UConn has recently entered into the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3) and is joining a network of 16 other leading research universities committed to channeling their resources into accelerating and easing the transition to a low carbon future on local and regional levels.

Climate change is one of the most challenging environmental issues facing society and has already begun to cause negative impacts on our ecosystems, communities, and health. The multi-layer complexity of our changing climate makes it a particularly difficult issue to address, and solutions complicated to implement. Everyone plays a part in mitigating climate change, and UC3 recognizes the significant role universities play when it comes to stimulating action. The Coalition will pilot a collaborative model; partnering with businesses, government, and higher education, to develop more realistic, scalable climate solutions.

University President Susan Herbst affirms UConn’s dedication to environmental sustainability saying, “Research universities are uniquely qualified to address the myriad of challenges of a problem as urgent and complex as climate change. We can lead not only by developing research, technology, and policy to effectively curb carbon emissions and ameliorate the effects of climate change on our communities, but also by making sustainability a core component of our mission and identity. The University of Connecticut is proud to join with our UC3 partner institutions in working to find solutions now to what could ultimately be the most important challenge of the 21st century.”

Executive Director of UConn’s Connecticut Institute of Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA), Jim O’Donnell remarked that “dozens of faculty from four different colleges are [currently] working on CIRCA-sponsored projects,” and feels that “UConn’s membership in UC3 will accelerate progress by further broadening interdisciplinary partnerships.” Many other UConn faculty are in agreement, including the Director of UConn’s Atmospheric Sciences Group, Dr. Anji Seth, who describes UC3 as “an excellent platform for UConn’s continued leadership on climate action.” Joining UC3 is the latest advancement in UConn’s long-term commitment to environmental sustainability and Dr. Mark Urban, Director of UConn’s Center of Biological Risk, considers “UConn’s membership in the UC3 Coalition…a logical and vital next step in order to keep UConn at the forefront of global climate action.”

The consensus among students is overwhelmingly supportive. Anna Freeda, a junior double-majoring in Psychology and Communications, is “excited to see UConn’s administration taking proactive measures to combat climate change.” Similarly, Taylor Doolan, a junior Allied Health major, is “proud of UConn’s dedication to the environment and [is] looking forward to seeing what the Coalition will accomplish.”

Formed in February 2018, UC3 is still quite new, but is certainly committed and ambitious. As they continue to evolve, UC3 looks forward to meeting their goals and spurring climate action across the country.

6 Stupendous Sustainability Courses to Take in Fall 2018

With the Spring Semester quickly reaching its end, the class pick time season is once again upon us. Lucky for UConn students, there are hundreds of interesting courses to choose from, ranging from topics as far and wide as the mind can imagine. However, given this range of options, it can be difficult to navigate the extensive class lists. As students with passions for sustainability, the interns at the Office of Environmental Policy have compiled a concise list of some of their favorite sustainability courses, all of which are offered this upcoming fall. We hope that this list will aid your class selection process! Happy choosing!

 

SPSS/SAPL 2100: Environmental Sustainability of Food Production in Developed Countries

(Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

The current average population increase is estimated at a staggering 83 million people per year, a number that places us at 9.7 billion people by 2050. Given this steady increase, food production will need to accommodate the growing population size. However, the agricultural sector currently contributes to one third of the Earth’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The sector will need to alter its current practices to ensure both food security and environmental sustainability. Take this class to investigate alternative food systems, and the benefits and environmental risks associated with modern food production. (3 credits)

 PHIL 3216: Environmental Ethics

Do trees have rights? Whose interests count? Whose interests must we consider? If you have ever pondered these questions, look no further. This class allows students to inquire about the extension of ethics to both human and non-human species, and challenges traditional boundaries of philosophical thought. (3 credits)

AH 3175: Environmental Health 

The environment is not just made up of the woods in our backyards or the national parks we hike. It is also the quality of the air we breathe and the clean water we drink. This course investigates the true meaning of environmental health as a crucial component of any public health system, and exposes students to the health consequences of exposure to toxic chemicals, radiation, and food contaminants. Open to junior or higher, this course provides an advanced perspective of the basic principles of toxicology and complex occupational hazards.  (3 credits)

Senior OEP intern Christen highly recommends this course, saying: “Environmental Health is a great interdisciplinary course that highlights the ways we impact our environment, as well as how our environment impacts us.”

BADM 3252: Corporate Social Impact and Responsibility

Can the private sector contribute to a future of shared environmental accountability, equity, and sustainability? Learn to navigate this debate in class through the deconstruction, and discussion, of social impacts and human rights implications as they relate to global operations of multinational corporations.  (3 credits)

SPSS 1125: Insects, Food, Culture

Welcome to the interesting world of bugs and their multifaceted interactions with nature and people. A perfect course for fans of Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, this course introduces the varied roles of insects in traditional human culture, ranging from their contributions to fiber and food production, popular culture, and commerce.  (3 credits)

EVST 1000: Introduction to Environmental Studies

Need one more class to fulfill content area two, social sciences? Want to think critically about the intersections of contemporary environmental themes across a wide array of sectors and disciplines? Introduction to Environmental Studies is the course for you. Explore environmental action from a variety of approaches and take a look at the different perspectives of the relationships between humans and nature. (3 Credits)

Here’s what our interns have to say:

Jon: “Great introduction to analyzing environmental issues from a holistic perspective”

Emma: “This class was basic enough for a non-major student to be interested and understanding of the content while laying a strong groundwork for any students with an Environmental major.”

 

 

 

4 Black Environmentalists Who Changed the Environmental Movement

If you take a glance at the extensive legacy of black American history, the intersections with conservation are undeniable. From urban and rural agriculturalists, environmental scientists, planetwalkers, and environmental justice activists, the legacy of black Environmentalists exists in our natural places, National Parks, and enacted policy.  In celebration of Black History Month, and the often untold contributions made by black environmentalists, we will be highlighting four black Americans who have advanced and innovated the fields of conservation, environmentalism, and activism: Dr. John Francis, Majora Carter, Charles Young, and Margie Richard.

  1. Charles Young, the first black US national park superintendent

    Charles Young 

If you have ever had the opportunity to gaze upon the majestic Sequoia trees in California’s Sequoia National Park, you can thank Charles Young, the first Black colonel in the United States Army and fierce protector of the great Sequoias. It was under the careful instruction of Colonel Charles Young that the U.S. Army worked to preserve the Sequoias, and transformed the Sequoia forest from an impenetrable wilderness into the revered Sequoia National Park

Young’s journey towards this position was a difficult one, as he was born into slavery in Kentucky on March 12, 1864. It was through the legacy of his father, who had escaped slavery to join the Union Army during the Civil War, that Young attended West Point Military Academy.

Not only was Young the third black American to graduate from West Point, but he was the first black National Parks Superintendent, where environmental preservation was at the forefront of his life’s work. In this position, Young ensured the preservation of the great wilderness, and commanded a group of park rangers that became known as the “Buffalo Soldiers.”  They kept the park free from poachers and ranchers whose grazing sheep destroyed the parks’ natural habitats. In 2013, Young was recognized as a true American hero, when President Barack Obama used the Antiquities Act to designate Young’s house as the 401st unit of the National Park System, the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument.

  1. Dr. John Francis, American environmentalist and planetwalker

     John Francis

The modern day interpretation of an activist goes something like this: a young, jarring individual with an unapologetically loud voice, raised fist, and picket sign. And while this image was birthed from the largest and most successful social movements of the past century, an alternative form of activism has also emerged, in which silence can become the loudest and most compelling voice in the room. A conservationist, educator, and best-selling author, Dr. John Francis, also known as the ‘Planetwalker’ is best known for his impressive 22-year motorized transportation boycott, and his 17-year vow of silence.

Inspired by the horrific 1971 San Francisco Bay oil spill, Dr. Francis’s legacy led to years on foot, during which he traveled across the United States and Latin America, receiving a Ph.D. in Land Management from the University of Wisconsin-Madison along the way. In his decades-long journey, Dr. Francis observed the mutual disconnect between people and the environment, and urged people to reposition themselves as intricate pieces in the overall concept of the environment.

After breaking his silence during the first Earth Day in 1990, Dr. Francis has gone on to an extensive career in conservation, as both an educator and environmental policy maker. To date, he has garnered dozens of environmental accolades: being named the National Geographic Society’s first Education Fellow in 2010, an ambassador to the United Nations Environment Program’s Goodwill Ambassador to the World’s Grassroots Communities, and an acclaimed bestselling author.

  1. Majora Carter 

    Majora Carter, American urban revitalization strategist and public radio host

If you’ve ever watched an online TED talk, there is a high probability that you have come across Majora Carter’s inspiring lecture entitled ‘Greening the Ghetto.’ With several million views and counting, Carter’s compelling TED talk outlines her journey fighting for environmental justice in the South Bronx, in which she draws key connections between economic, ecological, and social degradation.

As an activist in the 1990s, Carter brought the South Bronx its first open-waterfront park in 60 years, and founded ‘Sustainable South Bronx,’ an organization to mobilize grassroots environmental activism among New York City’s poorest and most environmentally oppressed citizens. In the present day, Carter works to help people in low-income communities realize that they don’t have to move out of their neighborhoods in order to live in a healthier environment.

While most acclaimed as an urban revitalization strategy consultant, Carter is also a real estate developer and a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster, whose innovative views on urban renewal have altered the understanding of comprehensive urban policy to include goals for environmental protection and restoration. Carter was also awarded a “Genius Grant” by the John D. and Katherine T. McArthur Foundation. Her company, the Majora Carter Group, is putting green economic tools to use, unlocking the potential of every place, from inner cities to rural communities, university campuses, government projects and industrial parks.

  1.   Margie Richard

    Margie Eugene-Richard, 2004 Goldman Environmental Prize Winner, North America (United States), holding Ouroboros statuette.

In Southern Louisiana sits an area known as Old Diamond, a small neighborhood in Norco where residents are sandwiched between a Shell Chemical plant and an oil refinery owned by a Shell joint venture. For decades, the residents of this predominantly black neighborhood suffered under the constant fear of an industrial accident, and faced unusually high rates of cancer, birth defects, and respiratory diseases.  These environmental threats were a result of decades-long and, in some cases, ongoing environmental contamination stemming from the industrial operations that surrounded the residential neighborhood.

After years of being subjected to these environmental risks, and following the death of her sister from a rare bacterial infection, in the early-1990s, resident Margie Richard founded the Concerned Citizens of Norco, an environmental justice citizens’ group that fought for fair resettlement of Old Diamond residents in order to escape the daily threat of health and environmental hazards. After an intense community-based air quality research study, and 13 years of Ms. Richard’s tireless leadership, the CCN finally reached an agreement with Shell that paid for the  relocation of Old Diamond residents to new homes, in neighborhoods with clean air, water and soil.

Margie Richards is a true pioneer of the environmental justice movement.  Her work led her to become the first black American to win the Goldman Environmental Award in 2004.

 

 

 

Give Back with the ECOCoin!

As we enter the fourth week of the spring semester, many of the alluring ‘back to school’ deals are coming to an end. Fortunately, the UConn community can now turn to the new and improved ECOCoin program, the Bookstore’s latest and greatest customer incentive. Engineered in collaboration with the Office of Environmental Policy and the UConn Bookstore, the ECOCoin program allows customers the ability to give back and be environmentally friendly: all with one, simple action.

A successful day of EcoCoin collection at the UConn Bookstore

Sounds like a pretty enticing sales pitch, right? But what’s the catch?

Unlike typical discounts and sales, the ECOCoin program is straight forward and not time exclusive. In fact, the way to participate is fairly simple. After purchasing an item at the UConn Bookstore, customers need only choose an ECOCoin over a standard plastic bag. That’s where the fun truly begins! Not only is an ECOCoin a savvy item that represents a commitment to sustainability, but the five cent-equivalent coin can also be dropped into one of three local charity boxes on one’s way out of the bookstore: CLiCK Willimantic, UConn’s Campus Sustainability Fund, or Habitat for Humanity.

ECOCoin instruction poster located at the UConn Bookstore

With the program in the works since mid-January, the UConn community has already shown its commitment to sustainable practices on campus with the success of the ECOCoin program. To date, the program has already been readily available and used by students and visitors alike! With so many weeks still left in the semester, we can only imagine the cumulative positive impact this program will have!

So what are you waiting for? Head over to the UConn Bookstore to participate in the ECOCoin program, where you can be environmentally conscious and generous at the same time!

 

Meet the OEP Interns: Caroline & Hannah

What could the captain of the Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team and an avid “Chopped” enthusiast possibly have in common? Besides an uncanny love for all things outdoors (and the ability to binge watch several episodes of a television series), both students are current sustainability interns at the Office of Environmental Policy! In our fourth installment of the ‘Meet the Interns’ blog, we will profile two more remarkable interns, junior Caroline and senior Hannah. Each very different in their current endeavors and career aspirations, Caroline and Hannah are brought together by a genuine passion for sustainability, a unifying trait that makes them both student environmental leaders.

Junior Caroline’s path to the OEP was nothing short of fate. As a first-semester Chemistry major in the Honors Program, Caroline hoped to continue the environmental involvement she had enjoyed in high school, where she won several accolades including the Northeast Resource Recycling Association (NRRA) Innovative Recycling Idea award, the EcoMaine Eco-Excellence award, and the Aquarion Water Company Environmental Champion Award for a compost project she coordinated her senior year. That experience led her to enroll in the one credit UNIV course in Environmental Sustainability taught by the OEP’s Director, Rich Miller. She excelled in the class, often volunteering for extra credit work, like collecting recyclables at Green Game Day – not because she needed the bonus points but because she loved making a difference.

Soon after her first semester and the UNIV course had ended, she was encouraged to apply for an OEP sustainability internship. Determined as she is about many of her goals, Caroline jumped at the chance – and the rest is history! Fast forward two years and we find an experienced, hard-working team player, who considers her internship an opportunity that has undeniably transformed her college experience. She even stayed in Connecticut this past summer and worked part-time hours at the OEP, rather than return home to New Hampshire.
Caroline’s internship has not only fulfilled her college aspiration of continued environmental involvement, but also taught her about sustainability initiatives on campus and the inter-workings of the university as a whole. Whether it’s analyzing data in order to maintain UConn’s top 10 Green Campus national rankings or manning a recycling dumpster at Rentschler Field, Caroline is all about teamwork and helping out wherever she can. In her two years as a sustainability intern, she has become an expert in her focused initiatives, namely the EcoMadness competition and Green Game Days. As a lead intern for both events, Caroline has served on the front lines for UConn community engagement and outreach covering topics from energy and water conservation to proper recycling during football games. She’s excited about traveling to Bonn, Germany for the UN’s Annual climate summit next month, as part of the UConn@COP23 contingent.
Additionally remarkable, is Caroline’s involvement outside of the office. She has previously worked as a ski instructor, and continues to serve as an undergraduate researcher, captain and secretary of the Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team, and President of a newly created club, the Undergraduate Society of Plastics Engineers. An intern of the coolest proportions, the OEP is incredibly lucky to call Caroline one of their own!

Senior sustainability intern, Hannah, adds to the long list of talented undergraduates working at the OEP, as she is simultaneously earning her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and Master’s in Public Policy. While her passion for environmental policy has been long evident, her involvement in campus sustainability initiatives on campus has allowed her to solidify her career aspirations. Prior to her employment at the OEP, Hannah had directed her environmental passions towards EcoHusky, where she led a successful shoe and sneaker recycling drive as an officer in the student organization. After discovering the OEP internship opportunity and successfully receiving a position, Hannah quickly became an involved member of the OEP team. In her time as an intern, Hannah has taken the lead on several initiative, such as: planning student engagement and educational activities for UConn@COP, organizing the first inter-fraternity recycling competition as part of the annual football Green Game Day, assessing grant and fundraising opportunities for the Campus Sustainability Fund, and gathering data in order to complete the survey for the GreenMetric World University rankings, in which UConn has consistently scored among the top five. Along with a select group of 12 UConn students, she traveled in November 2016 to Marrakech, Morocco for the U.N.’s 22nd annual International Climate Summit (COP22) – it was her first time abroad!

Outside of the OEP, Hannah keeps a busy schedule, but not at the expense of academics, as she is a consistent CLAS Dean’s List student. After a year as an officer in EcoHusky, she remains active in the club, is an avid outdoorswoman AND massive “Chopped” fan. Hannah is planning on an environmental career after UConn – the past two summers she interned for Dominion Energy as a Diversity Scholarship Recipient. She worked for Dominion at their environmental lab on the Connecticut coast in 2016 and, this past summer, as an environmental compliance intern at their West Virginia plant. She enjoyed and excelled at her summer jobs, so much so that she will work with them again next summer, as an energy intern, at Dominion’s corporate headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. And while Hannah is clearly on an impressive trajectory towards a career in Environmental Policy, if all else fails, you will most likely find Hannah living her life as a scuba diver recovering lost things.

And there we have it – two more of our fabulous OEP Interns!

Next week, we will meet the final set of interns, the newest members of the OEP’s sustainability team: Sophie, Jon, and myself (Wawa)!
Until then!

 

 

Progress Towards Carbon Neutrality – UConn’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On March 25, 2008, University of Connecticut President Michael Hogan signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) promising that the university would aim for carbon neutrality by 2050. This means that the university would have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, through new projects and sustainable initiatives.

UConn tracks Scope 1, 2, and 3* emissions, and calculates them with the help of the widely used University of New Hampshire Campus Carbon Calculator (CCC) to try to reach this goal. Compiling information to calculate carbon emissions is very involved and requires that the Office of Environmental Policy collaborate with many departments around campus.

So what are these scopes of emission sources?

Scope 1 – direct GHG emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by the entity, including fossil fuels burned on site, emissions from entity-owned or entity-leased vehicles, and other direct sources.

 

Scope 2 – indirect GHG emissions resulting from the generation of electricity, heating and cooling, or steam generated off site but purchased by the entity.ghg9

Scope 3 – indirect GHG emissions from sources not owned or directly controlled by the entity but related to the entity’s activities, such as employee travel and commuting, contracted solid waste disposal, and contracted wastewater treatment.

*UConn does not fully track Scope 3 Emissions. Certain sources, such as sponsored air travel, are not calculated due to inability to adequately acquire data. The following data are approximate, calculated using the University of New Hampshire CCC.

How much emissions come from each source at UConn?ghg7.png

Since the signing of this agreement, UConn has finished many projects to reduce emissions. These include over 100 re-lamping projects, and enhancing building energy efficiency through retrocommissioning.

So, where are we now?ghg8.png

Despite extensive new building projects and very cold winters, UConn has made emissions progress since 2007. When it is exceptionally cold, the campus’s great heating demands require natural gas curtailment days, during which the Co-Generation plant, our campus’s major energy supplier, uses oil instead of natural gas. Overall, key emissions take-aways include:

  • 1% decrease since 2007 with curtailment included
  • 9% decrease since 2007 if curtailment never happened
  • New Building Construction has accounted for Direct Source Emissions increase in recent years
  • Air travel is not included in Scope 3 emissions due to inconsistencies in record keeping
  • Scope 3 Emissions, primarily Student/Faculty Commuting numbers, were based off of consistent methodology over the years, whereas permit numbers were used to estimate commuting mileage
  • The Central Utility Plant is UConn’s primary Scope 1 Emissions source
  • Scope 2 Emissions consisted only of purchased electricity from ConEd

The OEP is always looking for more information to better track GHG emissions, but overall signs of emissions progress are promising. Emissions are the primary reason for climate change, so any reduction counts.

-Chris

The Eco-nomic Guide to Gift-Giving

We have now reached December, the gift-giving peak of the year. Running through our minds are family, Christmas trees, food, and whether or not professors will have that good ole holiday cheer while grading our exams. Here is something else to keep in mind while preparing for the holidays: the economic and environmental impacts of holiday gift-exchanges.

scroogenomics
Scroogenomics – Joel Waldfogel

In a controversial, Grinch-esque study done by economist, Joel Waldfogel, author of “Scroogeonomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays,” 86 undergraduate students were asked whether or not they liked their Christmas gifts. Instead of phrasing it as a yes or no, Waldfogel asked how much the students would have paid for those gifts themselves. The result?

The students estimated that their gifts had cost $438.20 — but they said the most they would have been willing to pay for them was $313.40. From an efficiency standpoint, this means over $100 in wasted spent money. Viewed through an environmental lens, this wasted money translates to wasted materials, manufacturing pollution, travel miles, and more that is not contributing to the gift-receivers satisfaction.

This illustrates the dark side to gift-giving which is that “between a tenth and a third of the value of holiday gifts is destroyed by gift-giving,” (Waldfogel, 1998) translating to a loss of between $4 and $13 billion in a given holiday season.

Everyone loves money, but let’s face it, it doesn’t make the best gift. Because of this, you need to make up the lost value from the gift-giver/receiver mismatch elsewhere which can be done through giving the rarest gifts of all: Sentimental gifts.

An economic concept that everyone can understand is that the rarer something is, the more valuable it is and thus the more value it adds to a present. Handmade sentimental gifts are nearly impossible to receive from anyone other than you. Similarly, handmade gifts will easily lessen the carbon footprint of gift-buying through a store that likely had most of its inventory shipped thousands of miles.

gift2.pngSo consider creating or crafting a gift with what you have at home. Homemade peppermint bark, a repurposed painted frame with a picture of you and your mom, or maybe a clever coupon book with ideas for what your cherished-one would love! If handmade gifts aren’t your strong suit, etsy.com is a great way to support small businesses that will often personalize sentimental gifts for you to give.

Another way to prevent this lost value is to buy people what they really want but wouldn’t buy themselves. Although it takes away some of the fun, just ask! This will alleviate the stress of having to pick out an entire gift and also ensure they receive something they want and will value.

Get creative with packaging! Recycle materials or buy wrapping paper made with at least 50% recycled content. I have found that old daily campus newspapers make for an excellent wrapping paper!

That’s all for now, Happy Holidays!

-Rose

 

Waldfogel, Joel. Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2009. Print.

Waldfogel, Joel. The Deadweight Loss of Christmas: Reply. New Haven: American Economic Review, 1998. Print.

Thoughts from Paris

On Dec. 4th, we posted a handful of blogs written by several of UConn’s first-ever group participants in the UN’s annual international climate summit. Today, we’re posting blogs from the second half of our stay, including a few overall reflections on what we observed in Paris and at COP21, and about the challenges of global action to address climate change. The following blogs include:

Seeing the Green Light at the End of the Tunnel: UConn @ COP21 Oksan Bayulgen

Lost in Translation: The Complexities of Reaching a Global Climate Agreement Kerrin Kinnear

On Gender and Climate Change Alexandra Mayer

The Climate Tradeoff: A Global Carbon Budget for the Future Andrew Carrol

UConn and the Climate Conference: Looking Ahead Ron Tardiff

COP21 Paris: All Hands on Deck for the next 20 years Anji Seth

 

 

Seeing the Green Light at the End of the Tunnel: UConn @ COP21

Oksan Bayulgen, Associate Professor, Political Science; Academic Director – Global House

 

oksan 2What a week it was! Traveling to Paris on Monday with 12 students and 5 other faculty/staff to participate in the historic COP21, I did not know what exactly to expect from this experience. We did not have the authorized passes to observe the plenary sessions or even enter the ‘blue zone’ designated for some media and civil society observers. I did not know any of the students (except from their application materials), and I was going to spend a week with UConn sustainability staff and other faculty from different disciplines and with different research interests. Yet, the week turned out to be a huge success thanks to our trips to the many civil society events organized around the main conference and across the city, the enlightening and thought-provoking discussions we had every morning, and the close friendships we formed in just a matter of days. Of course the magical atmosphere of Paris helped as well!

I have two main insights from this week: one regarding the education of sustainability, particularly at UConn, and the other regarding the overall trends in climate change discussions. The wide scope of the events we attended as well as our morning discussions made obvious the importance of approaching climate change in a holistic manner. This is an interdisciplinary issue and looking at it through the prism of just one or two disciplines is limiting and unrealistic. The sources of, and solutions to, this crisis of humanity are found in the intersection of hard sciences, social change, human psychology, economics, human rights and politics. As such, we have a lot to learn from each other to find common and sensible solutions. At UConn we, as the faculty, need to engage in collaborative research and offer more courses that build on the strength of each of our disciplines as well as bridge the gap among them. We need to talk to and not past each other; we need to build research agendas that encompass sustainability and climate change topics as well as curricula that support general education of our students.

oksanRegarding the broader discussion on climate change, it once more became clear to me that there are two counter trends in the world today. One is extremely positive and inspiring, as exemplified by the people and ideas in and around the COP21 conference. There are thousands of people who understand the urgency of the crisis and appreciate the environmental, social, economic and political consequences of not doing enough to reverse the trends. There is no questioning of the science. These are passionate, committed ordinary individuals, bureaucrats, non-governmental organizations and businesses who make personal and organizational sacrifices, utilize their entrepreneurial skills, and engage in fierce and determined activism. From the many booths at the COP21 Solutions displaying state-of-the-art and innovative technologies to the many panels on natural tropical forests, smart agriculture, indigenous peoples’ right to land in the Global Landscape Forum all the way to the 350.org’s mock trial of ExxonMobil at the outskirts of Paris, we saw progressive ideas and kindled spirits in defense of humanity and our planet. These are truly uplifting and promising developments.

Yet, on the other side of the equation, we also observe the counter trends of denial, apathy, bureaucratic incompetency and gridlock, green washing, and political obstructionism. In the same week that the world leaders gathered in Paris to address climate change, in Vienna OPEC agreed to continue oil production uninterrupted, journalists have uncovered that fossil fuel companies have been spending billions of dollars hiding the truth about climate change, paying scientists to write expert reports questioning the urgency of climate change and even sponsoring certain parts of the very climate summit designed to shrink their industry. We have also heard many accounts of the difficulties inherent in international negotiations such as the one in Paris. The requirement of unanimity on the final terms of the agreement, the structural inequalities between developing and developed countries that raise questions about injustice and unfairness in the responsibility to pay for a cleaner environment, and the issues of sovereignty are all challenges facing a comprehensive, definitive deal. Perhaps the biggest challenge yet is the way COP21 is playing out in domestic politics. Just as the U.S. representatives are negotiating the details of the agreement and the U.S. president is projecting global leadership in addressing this crisis, some presidential candidates and congressional leaders back home are racing with each other to ridicule the efforts and threaten to reject the very terms that the U.S. delegation is busy negotiating at the conference. And, because of these troubling and depressing developments, there are legitimate concerns that the summit will fall short of its intended goals.

Despite the pendulum swinging back and forth from hope to despair, I believe (want to believe) that the tide is turning and the balance is shifting in favor of forces of change. The domestic and international momentum is finally here. Public opinion is changing, albeit slowly. Renewable energy technologies are becoming appealing to people not only on moral and environmental grounds but also in terms of economic benefits. Businesses that opt to become sustainable are being rewarded by consumers and see their profit margins increase. Many universities and municipalities are increasingly divesting their fossil fuel holdings. The list goes on and on… Against the dark forces, we, the educators and students, have to stand tall and unwavering in our principles and trust that the truth will prevail eventually. There is much more to do, but there is also light at the end of the tunnel! ACTION NOW!

 

 

Lost in Translation: The Complexities of Reaching a Global Climate Agreement

Kerrin Kinnear, OEP Intern

 

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Negotiators at COP21 using headsets for international communication. Source: IISD Reporting Services

Muscles tensed by a mind overcome with frustration, I exit the auditorium. I had just witnessed a keynote address made by the President of COP21, Laurent Fabius, at the start of the Global Landscapes Forum. Arguably a once in a lifetime opportunity for an environmentalist, I had not understood a single word he said. Why? The speech was in French, and my language skillset is primarily limited to English.

 

Language issues are significant in the realm of global negotiation. Prior to traveling to Paris for the United Nations Climate Conference, most of my conversations about international climate action focused solely on which strategies were most appropriate for effectively mitigating fossil fuel emissions and adapting to the current and future impacts of climate change. Speaking with delegates from Madagascar and Namibia as well as negotiation observers from Dickinson University, I realized I had overlooked a key concept for the conference – the profound impact complexities of language can have on the effectiveness of international coordination.

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At the Sierra Student Coalition’s COP21 table, buttons were available in Chinese, English, and French.

With delegates and members of Civil Society from over 190 different countries gathered at COP21, ensuring a uniform sense of understanding is an incredible feat. To accommodate the resulting vast range of languages, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) mandates that all formal proceedings are interpreted into the organization’s six official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. Using headsets, delegates from across the globe are able to hear live feeds of the negotiations in their preferred language, and contribute when they are given the floor. Representatives who speak none of the six official languages have the opportunity to speak in their language, so long as they pay for an interpreter to translate their message.

lost in translationWhile this framework for communication demonstrates a certain commitment to universal comprehension, barriers still persist in the conference arena. During my conversation with Dickinson alumni, I was surprised to learn that a topic of debate for that day’s official proceedings was the clarification that international parties “welcomed” rather than “invited” countries to increase climate change efforts. From this, the importance of semantics and cultural word meanings in an international setting became evident. Additionally, when I spoke with a researcher from a French NGO focused on deforestation, he explained how quickly high-level jargon becomes integrated into the climate negotiations. As a result, delegates who have limited proficiency in the UN languages and who cannot afford interpreters struggle to keep up with and weigh in on complex conversations and policy strategies.

Despite the difficulties associated with communicating across languages, the United Nations and its member countries have held 21 climate change conferences and continue to plan global coordination on this issue. Because of the international community’s persistence in the face of cross-cultural communication barriers, I am more excited than ever before about the prospects for a global climate agreement.

 

 

On Gender and Climate Change

Alexandra Mayer

 

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A poster created by “The Women’s Global Call for Climate Justice” in the COP21 Generations Area

The agenda for the COP21 lists 22 steps towards agreement. Discussing “gender and climate change” is number 17. Women represent the majority of the world’s poor and agricultural workers and many are responsible for fetching water. Dramatic shifts in climate and food production are therefore primed to disproportionately harm women. Furthermore, women fight economic, social, and physical discrimination that also limit their ability to adapt to climate change.

Yet, on December 7th, Mary Robinson, former UN human rights chief and president of Ireland, lamented, “This [the UN conference] is a very male world. When it is a male world, you have male priorities,” and asserted, “women in developing countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change.” Her frustrated words indicate that there may be no legal text on gender equity coming out of the COP21 negotiations.

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The panel on Land Tenure and Indigenous Rights, which also focused on female experiences

While I was listening to a panel discussion on indigenous and women’s rights at the Global Landscapes Forum in Paris, the man sitting next to me whispered, “Why should we care, if we’ll all be dead soon anyways?” alluding to the idea that if global warming goes unmitigated, humans may go extinct. I shushed the man to hear the speaker, but, as I have heard this argument used repeatedly to dismiss calls for human rights, I will reply now:

In fighting against climate change, you are fighting for the future of humankind. The next question, then, is what kind of future are you fighting for? We live in a beautiful world that is also riddled with atrocity, disparity, and exploitation.

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The Women’s Global Call for Climate Justice asked women to share their Feminist visions in the Green Space at COP21.

Rape, racism, and domestic violence are global epidemics, so is poverty at the hand of the elite. I must ask, whose future are you fighting for when you rally to limit emissions, but not to stop the avoidable deaths that are occurring now at the hand of starvation, lack of health care, and violence? Are you okay with saving your own kind, and nobody else?

I know it is impossible to take on every injustice. We all have our own cause. Still, at the very least, I invite you to recognize the importance of human rights. Why should we save ourselves if we’ll only continue to disparage the earth and each other?

 

 

The Climate Tradeoff: A Global Carbon Budget for the Future

Andrew Carrol

 

andrewWhile in Paris for the COP21 Conference during the first week in December, I had to make some rather mundane decisions, mostly confined to the breakfast buffet in our hotel: brie or gruyere, baguette or croissant? In contrast, the international negotiators in the Red Zone at Le Bourget are tasked with reaching consensus on a full plate of complex subjects: a global carbon budget, fossil fuel reduction, investment in renewable energy sources, and the tenuous balance of responsibility for carbon reductions. A topic that has been thoroughly discussed by many nations is a global carbon budget that would legally bind countries to a pre-determined level of carbon output set forth by the UNFCC. However, these plans have been squashed by nations that emit the most carbon. Thus, the cap-and-trade or cap-and-tax debate rages on across the ideological spectrum, from those who claim it’s our moral responsibility to those who maintain that a carbon budget would be unrealistic.

andrew 2As the UConn contingent discussed this concept more thoroughly, we were extremely like-minded about the idea of establishing a global carbon budget and taxing those who exceed their allowable emissions output. Even though we all supported a carbon budget, a few of us questioned its economic feasibility. I questioned whether the plan would disrupt the stability of international markets. And if the plan were to adversely affect the GDP of a country, would the carbon benefit and the value of this environmental externality outweigh the lost GDP? Will the bureaucracy and hierarchical nature of nations within the UN allow for such a plan to exist? What weights are given to additional factors, such as higher health care costs, the costs of shorter growing seasons, and even the potential for climate refugees?

When it comes to climate action, all factors need to be weighed in making a final decision. Unfortunately, the environment is usually second fiddle to the importance of economic stability. Yet, if we reach a breaking point in which we do not have a truly sustainable global environment, then the strength of a nation’s economy is meaningless. We cannot gamble on our environment – and we cannot put a price tag on a moral imperative.

 

 

UConn and the Climate Conference: Looking Ahead

Ron Tardiff

 

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COP21 student delegates pose outside the Sacré-Cœur Basilica

The 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change began in Paris, France on Nov. 30, and at the same time, a group of 18 UConn students, faculty, and staff traveled to Paris for five days to participate in a number of events surrounding the conference. The 12 students selected represented a diverse group of majors, most of which fall within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, from marine sciences to human rights. For me, the conference was educational and sobering, but also inspired my fellow students and I to take action here at home.

Every day in Paris began with a group dialogue focused on the science or politics of climate change and solutions globally and at UConn. The diverse perspectives contributed by our multidisciplinary group of people definitely enhanced our conversations. The group visited the COP21 site in Le Bourget, Paris, and toured the public area of COP21, the Climate Generations Space. We also attended a networking night at the Kedge Business School co-sponsored by UConn and Second Nature, called “Higher Education Leads on Climate.”

On Friday, most of the group attended the Solutions COP21 exhibition, while I attended Oceans Day back at COP21. Oceans Day drew high-level attention to how the ocean and climate are inextricably linked. Among the many esteemed attendees were Prince Albert II of Monaco; Laurent Fabius, Foreign Minister of France and President of COP21; and Irina Bokova, the Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

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A poster put together by Conservation International – Brazil

As an American, one of the most sobering aspects of the conference and the international climate conversation in general is the skepticism towards U.S. commitment. Historically, particularly on climate change, the United States has failed to be a leader; if anything, we’ve often stymied the conversation. When I was at Oceans Day, I was asked by a French attendee whether I thought the U.S. would “follow through” this time. My only honest answer was that I believe our negotiators are working in good faith, but that the political climate – pun intended – at home is pretty unpredictable.

What is most interesting to me is that 190 countries convened to address an issue that an unfortunately large number of Americans refute entirely. This demonstrates how critical climate change education is. That is one of the many reasons our group will be advocating for a “sustainability” category to be included in General Education Requirements here at UConn.

Tackling global climate change epitomizes the types of challenges for which a liberal arts education aims to prepare students. The process of burning fossil fuels and forests and how that affects the climate is a fundamentally scientific issue. Why we continue these destructive processes, how these processes affect human civilization, and what we should do to improve our resilience and adaptation to climate change are intersectional issues spanning fields from science to the social sciences to humanities.

Now that we’re home, our group of “COP21ers” will be launching initiatives to improve our University’s carbon footprint, spearheading climate change conversation at UConn, and creating works of art, writing, or media to highlight the impacts of climate change. And we’ll be advocating for a greater role of sustainability education in the curriculum at UConn. We’ll be using the new perspectives we gained from meeting so many people from around the world to help UConn be a leader in this quintessentially global issue.

 

 

COP21 Paris: All Hands on Deck for the next 20 years

Anji Seth, Associate Professor, Geography

 

“Welcome to those who are working to save our planet”

“Later will be too late”

“We can’t tell our children we didn’t know”

“The world is in our hands”

“7 Billion people, one planet”

anji.jpgBillboards across Paris, in Charles DeGalle airport, in metro stations, and on historic buildings, reminded us constantly why we were there. Our group of 12 students and 6 faculty/staff from UConn were on a mission to learn about and participate in the historic events taking place, as UN Envoys and negotiators work on an international agreement that would limit global warming to [2C][1.5C]*. This is the 21st UN Conference of the Parties, or COP21.

More than 20 years ago the United Nations agreed to “talk” about Global Warming. The road to Paris has been long and the stars are now aligning for an international agreement to “act”. The scientific evidence is overwhelming and indisputable, global leaders have been educated and show some understanding of the threats to nations, people and ecosystems, and people across the planet are calling for action. Clearly those who deny the science are on the wrong side of history. The final agreement to act from the Paris 2015 COP21 will not be perfect, there should be a review process in place to further reduce emissions over time, but the agreement will be a starting point for action over the next 20 years.

We traveled to Paris with a 12 students from across the UConn colleges, each passionate about their discipline and the global context in which they will make their marks. During the last 20 years global warming has been in the realms of climate-related sciences, economics and policy, the next 20 years there will be a role for everyone.

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An art exhibit at Solutions COP21. If you stand alone in this circle, seemingly random music notes are played. Only when the circle is complete does a powerful, synchronized harmony come together. The message? Power in unity.

Implementation of the Paris agreement will require artists and engineers, teachers and health professionals, ecologists, attorneys and business leaders. The careers of UConn students will follow the implementation of the Paris agreement over the next 20+ years. Today’s students will be in the driver’s seat for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, implementing carbon pricing, adapting local infrastructure, and assisting ecosystems in need.

These are exciting times. Let’s get to work.

*[brackets] indicate items under negotiation.

Bonjour from UConn@COP21

First Days in Paris

Rich Miller, OEP Director

group photoWe have finally arrived in Paris at the UN’s 21st annual international climate summit or Conference of the Parties (aka COP21). After a 3-hour bus ride from Storrs to JFK, barely ahead of the Monday evening rush hour, then a 6 ½ hour flight from NYC to Paris, not to mention seven months of intensive planning and organizing – nous sommes arrivés! And by “nous,” I mean the UConn contingent of 12 talented students (selected from a strong field of 77 applicants), four faculty members, involved in some aspect of climate change-related research, and two OEP sustainability staff members charged with overseeing implementation and outreach for UConn’s own Climate Action Plan and commitment to a carbon-neutral campus.

After arriving in France on mid-day Tuesday, having lost 6 hours to the time zone differential, the first two full days of our stay have been a whirlwind of activity, education and cultural immersion. We begin each day with breakfast at 8, followed by a group gathering in the stately hotel lounge, where each of our faculty members takes a daily turn at leading a lively group discussion on a climate science or policy topic.

CaptureBy 11, we’re off on the 45-minute combination metro, train and bus ride that takes us from the heart of Paris’ Left Bank to Le Bourget, on the northern outskirts of the city, where a vast convention complex hosts the COP21 official proceedings, so-called “civil society” events, and hundreds of related lectures and exhibits from NPOs, companies, and governmental officials and agencies around the globe. Even for someone like myself, who has been to many an annual AASHE conference, which are always buzzing with thousands of higher ed faculty, staff and students, the COP21 “Climate Generations” gathering is somewhat daunting.

Eventually, several from the UConn contingent will break away from Le Bourget and head to more focused side events (e.g, workshops about the effects of climate change on oceans, public health or human rights), which are each held at different venues throughout Paris. Then, with evening temperatures in the balmy low-50s, others will use their free time for long walks and short visits at some of the many cultural landmarks that have made Paris one of the world’s favorite tourist destinations.

After very late dinners (in the European custom), students, faculty and staff are back at the hotel, catching up on their work or studies; some students are busily writing papers due next week (the final week of fall semester classes before exams), and others dutifully writing blog posts, tweeting or using Facebook and Instagram to instantly share their experiences with friends and family, and oh yes, the UConn Nation and beyond, through the hyper-connected world of social media.

eiffel tower group.PNGHowever, Wednesday night, December 2nd, was an exception. We all gathered, along with another 30+ guests from other colleges and universities, from 7:30 to 10 p.m., at the Kedge Business School, in the Montmartre section of Paris. Here, UConn had the honor of co-hosting, along with Second Nature and AASHE, a special “Higher Education Leads on Climate” event. While it was mostly a networking occasion for meeting up with our peers and colleagues, who happened to be in Paris for the same aspirational reasons, we also heard two spirited informational presentations from Second Nature’s Education Manager and Kedge’s CSR Director. Respectively, they explained the re-branded Climate Leadership Commitments and HESI’s sustainability literacy tests. By the end of the day, I had gotten positive feedback from several of my colleagues at the event, who appreciated the opportunity for higher ed gatherings, both fun and informative, at COPs. Mission accomplished – thanks to all who helped make the event a success!

 

Students submitted the following blog posts detailing their experiences during the first few days of our trip:

The Road to COP21 Kerrin Kinnear

Maskbook Anna Middendorf

Climate Change – The Ultimate Interdisciplinary Issue Rob Turnbull

Combating Climate Change: The Power of Multiple Perspectives Jessica Griffin

Many more are to come as the conference continues.

 

 

The Road to COP21

Kerrin Kinnear, OEP Intern

busGazing out at the cacophony of asphalt, metal, and concrete, an inner conflict is brewing. As the scenes of Connecticut civilization blur by the bus window on the first leg of my journey to COP21, I cannot help but wonder if I should feel awestruck or pained.

The society we live in has become more physically connected than ever before. Because of the infrastructure in place, I can drive a fairly direct route from Storrs, CT to Pennsylvania to see my boyfriend, or hop on a plane just a short 45-minute shuttle ride away to see my family in Oklahoma. I can fly to Paris, France in less than 7 hours to demonstrate solidarity with thousands of other environmental activists at the 2015 United Nations Climate Conference.

airport 2.JPGThe ease with which my fellow citizens and I can mobilize ourselves to unify and act is a beautiful thing about modern society, but at what cost have we achieved this mobility?

The landscape I see beyond this window is marred. Trees and shrubs are few and far between. Impervious building materials suffocate the earth and its soil systems. And the bus I ride spews the very carbon emissions I am traveling to Paris to combat. This is not the scene of a connected planet where species live in harmony with one another. No, this is the scene of a world where it has become easy for humans to be mentally removed from their impact on the environment, where it has become the norm to be unaware of, or apathetic about, the repercussions of our effect on climate and the earth’s ecosystems.

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International flags outside the COP21 venue representing all nations attending the United Nations negotiations

I write this post not to criticize society, but instead to initiate a call for action. It will soon be halfway through the UN’s negotiations on climate change, and I realize us citizens on “the outside” cannot stand by idly, waiting and hoping for world leaders to come to an agreement that will solve this massive problem. As individuals, we have the intrinsic power to reconnect with our environment, to be conscious stewards and not ignorant polluters, and to care for our international neighbors already suffering from the impacts of climate change, rather than turn a blind eye. We cannot and should not wait for others to make the choice for us.

Regardless of the outcome of this year’s negotiations, I challenge you to consider your responsibilities as a global citizen. Become more knowledgeable about your personal impact on the planet, brainstorm ways to reduce your environmental footprint, and get involved with your community’s environmental initiatives.

The time to act is now. Together we are strong, and together we can create long-lasting change.

 

Maskbook

Anna Middendorf

At our first stroll around COP21, I noticed a little stall in the back of the Climate Generations area that seemed inconspicuous enough. Always on the outlook for other ambassadors of creativity against climate change, I was impressed to find the stall to be Maskbook.

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Anna modeling her own creation. Maskbook has officially been supported by the French government and operates a dedicated space within the Grand Palais (Solutions COP21) and at Ie Bourget (Générations Climat). Join the initiative by creating your own mask and posting a picture with it on the official Maskbook website to protect your health and our climate.

Maskbook is a project that came to life through the non-profit organization Art of Change 21 initiative which links “social entrepreneurship, art and youth at an international level.”1 The idea behind Maskbook is to offer observers the chance to create a mask covered in whatever the activist’s heart might desire: buttons, textiles, lightbulbs, playing cards, soda cans or perfume samples, amongst many more. Representing the daily rubbish that we discard, the mask uses a connotation of potentially fearful images to focus on the health hazards that we are not only imposing on ourselves, but also on the flora and fauna that surround us. The masks remind us that the environment is not ours to destroy, and the playful way of expressing this makes the mission both personal and real, especially when surrounded by thousands of like-minded campaigners here in Le Bourget, Paris.

1Art of Change website, http://artofchange21.com/?page_id=253

 

Climate Change – The Ultimate Interdisciplinary Issue

Rob Turnbull

group lessonClimate change is the ultimate inter-disciplinary issue, and today I learned exactly how many disciplines I understand thoroughly: almost one. Coming from a strict biological science background (I study Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at UConn) I have long considered myself a very literate person in terms the effects, causes, opinions, etc. surrounding climate science. After a few discussions had over breakfast and UConn’s daily group discussion in the lounge of our hotel, I came to understand that even though I thought I completely got the “science” of global warming, I could really only claim to understand the general biological effects of global warming on organisms. The physics and chemistry were, though not entirely foreign to me, far more complex than I anticipated, and it took nearly an hour listening to, and talking with, Dr. Anji Seth, a UConn climatologist, to get a firmer grasp of how solar radiation, heat, earth’s elliptical orbit, albedo, and a slurry of other factors all interact to create our observed climate trends.

I entered into an even more foreign discussion with my fellow UConn@COP21-ers on the economics of dealing with global warming. While I certainly learned plenty from my peers, my ignorance about these topics highlights a major challenge in dealing with such a broad-reaching issue as climate change: the isolation of the many professional disciplines. I wasn’t the only COP21er who had a fish-out-of-water moment today. Among such a diverse group of UConn students – including scientists, political scientists, economists, and social scientists – whenever anyone began to talk in depth about their respective field, the others often found themselves having such a conversation for the first time.

While it is excellent, in my opinion, for different people to develop different types of expertise, especially given the complexity of global warming, this diversity only becomes a good thing if accompanied by strong communication and collaboration. Otherwise, issues aren’t resolved in a holistic sense and accessory problems will persist. While the scientist can unveil the trends to back up climate theories, that scientist needs the economist and the politician to draft viable policy, and the artist to help spread the word.

exhibitsWith this in mind, I was pleasantly surprised to find, among the many booths and exhibits at the COP21 “Climate Generations” event, an organization practicing what I’ve just preached. The UN Environmental Program’s Climate Change website can be found at the link below. With a focus, at least for this COP21 day, on influencing ocean climate legislation, the aforementioned group involves academics, political scientists, artists, and many others, to accomplish its goals. Upon arriving at the booth, I was presented with scientific procedures and results, as well as a clear plan about how these results will play into the policy negotiations. Such multidisciplinary collaboration is vital to addressing problems associated with global warming. Those involved with www.UNEP.org/climatechange   have shown me that Climate Change is the ultimate inter-disciplinary issue and can only be resolved through multi-disciplinary collaboration on a global scale.

 

Combating Climate Change: The Power of Multiple Perspectives

Jessica Griffin, OEP Intern

Today I had two experiences that helped me to understand the broad reaching impacts of climate change. At an event called Climate Generations, our group was able to interact with a variety of teams and organizations interested in climate change. The participants came from a wide variety of civil society organizations- some were wildlife focused, others offered suggestions for energy innovation, and many incorporated aspects of social responsibility.

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A speaker at “The Messengers” panel

Towards the beginning of the conference, I came across a women’s caucus, which consisted of six women who had gathered to speak about their experience in the climate movement and how they felt that being a woman impacted their involvement and perspective in the movement. Each woman spoke about different aspects of their experiences, including encounters with sexism and obstacles they faced in getting to COP21. However, they also shared funny stories, spoke about their hobbies and families, and about how they felt that being a woman was an asset to them. I felt humbled to have the privilege of hearing the stories of these women, who hailed from Japan, India, France, and the United States. They asked me to speak about myself, and I felt reluctant. I thought that what I had to say would be of little interest to them. But as I began to speak, I realized that I had a lot to say about the subjects of women and environmentalism. The environment that they invited me to speak in was warm and accepting, and I am glad to have participated in this caucus.

Following the caucus, I went to an entirely different event across the conference center. This event was called “The Messengers,” and it was focused on how researching birds can tell us about the health of the environment. There were several speakers from an organization called BirdLife International, dedicated to the conservation of bird species worldwide. The panel answered questions on subjects ranging from factors threatening birds, policy changes associated with conservation, and the ways in which bird populations indicate a changing world. I enjoyed hearing from a wide variety of perspectives, including speakers from the UK and Liberia.

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A display for BirdLife International

What struck me about having these two experiences was the range of impacts made by climate change, and of ways to approach solutions. At the women’s caucus, the foci were social factors and environmental justice, which are instrumental in understanding how people of different backgrounds are affected by environmental degradation. At the Birdlife International Event, most discussion centered on conservation and working with nature, both of which are enormously important in the effort to combat climate change.

As a society, we can combat climate change by allowing people of a variety of backgrounds and disciplines to make their voices heard. We can also understand all of the ways that climate change will impact our lives, including socially and ecologically. The broader our shared experience, the closer we can come to finding real solutions.