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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/

2020 Vision For a Greener UConn

This article was written by Richard Miller, Director of Environmental Policy. It also appeared in the Daily Campus on April 19, 2018.

As the events of UConn’s Environmental Metanoia continue to unfold this month, providing students with dozens of opportunities for learning, reflecting and talking about issues like solar power, water quality, environmental justice and more, it’s fair to ask the question: “What is UConn doing to become a more sustainable campus?”  After all, in creating the context for teaching and inspiring our students, it’s important for the University to be the change we want to see, by demonstrating best practices and green technologies that make the campus a “Living Laboratory” for a more sustainable future.

With that in mind, in early 2017, UConn’s President Susan Herbst endorsed a 2020 Vision for Campus Sustainability and Climate Leadership. This is a strategic plan with 20 precise goals and metrics for success.  To achieve these goals, UConn will need to reduce its carbon footprint by 20 percent, compared to 2007, despite our growth since then.  That will mean big reductions in the energy, water, and fuel we use, and the waste we generate.

Students, faculty and staff were involved in setting these 2020 goals, and in giving feedback, including at a student summit meeting last year, about strategies for accomplishing them. As a result of an inclusive University planning process that focused on a series of ambitious targets, we’ve already made progress! Here are a few of the 2020 goals achieved ahead of schedule:

An interaction at Earth Day Spring Fling, one of the environmental outreach events hosted by UConn.
  • 100% of purchased electricity used at our regional campuses consists of renewable energy
  • Daily potable water use at the main campus has decreased nearly 40% since 2005, despite a concurrent growth in enrollment of more than 20%
  • 52% of our electronic purchases for items like computers, laptops and monitors are Gold-rated under the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) – up from 23% in 2016
  • All eight dining halls in Storrs are Green Restaurant certified – making UConn the first public university in the nation to achieve this standard.

UConn’s commitment to sustainability is especially centered on understanding and addressing the social, economic, environmental, and public health issues surrounding climate change. Over the past three years, no other public university in the nation has engaged more undergraduate students than UConn has in the U.N.’s annual International Climate Summit and Conference of the Parties (COP), held in Paris, Marrakech and Bonn. UConn@COP is a nationally-acclaimed program aimed at developing future leaders in climate science and policy.

Last year, through President Herbst, UConn joined more than 2,300 members of a multi-sector “We Are Still In” coalition of American businesses, state and local governments, and universities, committed to continued pursuit of climate action goals set in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Strategic coalitions like this will help keep UConn on the crest of what the Environmental Defense Fund recently called “The 4th Wave of Environmentalism,” driven by technology and multi-sector efforts.  

Policy commitments, together with specific operational goals and strategies for a more resource-efficient and lower-carbon campus, are helping UConn lead the way to a prosperous, clean technology future.

Tree planting with Jonathan! UConn was recently re-certified as a Tree Campus for 2017 by Tree Campus USA.

5 Women Who Have Revolutionized the Environmental Movement

Activists. Scientists. Scholars. Mothers. Writers. Women have been contributing to the environmental movement since its humble beginnings. Women have been disdained, excluded, jailed, and even murdered for working towards environmental progress, yet they still fight on. In honor of Women’s History Month, we have compiled profiles of revolutionary women from across the spectrum of the environmental movement. These women show us the value of empowerment, and inspire us with their passion for a better world.

Rosalie Edge

Edge posing with one of the hawks she spent her life protecting

Despite her wealthy, socialite upbringing in New York City, Rosalie Edge was anything but proper and demure. A dedicated suffragist, Edge shifted her attention towards the National Audubon Society after the passage of the 19th amendment. Having become aware of the gender-based injustices happening within the National Audubon Society, Edge sued the organization and made a point of exposing the persistent corruption. Through lawsuits and exposing pamphlets, Edge successfully had all the former directors removed from the organization.

Edge maintained this momentum for the rest of her life. The Emergency Conservation Committee that she created in response to the Audubon Society crisis became her instrument of political change. With its support she was able to preserve 8,000 acres of sugar pines on the southern edge of Yosemite and create both Kings Canyon and Olympic National Parks.

When the Audubon Association didn’t want to pay for a hawk sanctuary that she felt strongly about, Edge raised the money and bought the place herself, paving the way for a mindset of species preservation that had not existed in conservation circles before her. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, as it was called, was happily owned and run by Edge for the rest of her life, and is still an important place of conservation today. During her reign, Rosalie Edge was considered the leader of the conservation movement – her period’s John Muir. A tenacious and effective activist, she changed the movement in ways we can still feel today, and paved the way for Rachel Carson and all other women who came after her.

A view from Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Sylvia Earle

Earle has logged over 7,000 hours underwater

Sylvia Earle has inspired a generation of people to value our oceans. Also known as “Her Deepness,” or “The Sturgeon General,” Earle started her journey by obtaining a PhD in phycology (the study of algae) in 1966. A deep diving pioneer, she has tied the overall record for a solo dive depth in 1986 (the first woman to do so), and founded Deep Ocean Engineering, a business that aims to improve the technology of robotic and piloted subsea systems. She was awarded Time Magazine’s first Hero for the Planet designation in 1998, and has held the title of National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence since then. As the first woman to serve as Chief Scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), she was also the chair of the Advisory Council for the Ocean for Google Earth. An expert on the impact of oil spills, she was a crucial resource in the Exxon Valdez, Mega Borg, and Deepwater Horizon disasters.

Throughout her extensive career she has held positions at various universities, has won a slew of awards, and has authored over 150 publications. One of her greatest contributions to ocean preservation, Mission Blue, included a global coalition of over 200 organizations aims to preserve the world’s marine protected areas, deemed ‘Hope Spots.’ Sylvia Earle recognizes the power of science, and has harnessed it to capture the imaginations of the public.

Earle “saving the blue heart of the planet”

Wangari Maathai

Nobel laureate and leading environmentalist political activist Wangari Maathai spent her life promoting intersectional environmentalism, advocating that environmental action is “more than planting trees, it’s planting ideas.” Born in the rural Kenyan village of Nyeri, Maathai was one of 300 Kenyan students to be a part of the Airlift Africa program in 1960, a program that allowed her to receive an education at a university in the United States. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology, she returned to Kenya, becoming the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree.

Maathai’s picture on the U.S. Embassy in Kenya’s website

Embracing the connections between gender inequality and environmental issues, Maathai founded the Greenbelt Movement, a movement that taught women sustainable land use practices. Since its inception, the movement has trained over 30,000 women and planted more than 51 million trees, an achievement that led to her Nobel Peace Prize Award. With a commitment to ecofeminism and equitable participation, Maathai has had a monumental impact on the global environmental movement.

Women hard at work as part of Maathai’s Green Belt Movement

Lois Gibbs 

Lois Gibbs is a story of the power that personal impact has to inspire national activism. She started out her journey as a mother in the small, suburban neighborhood of Love Canal. Her son attended the local elementary school in Niagara Falls, New York. It was discovered that her son’s elementary school and, with further investigation, the entire neighborhood, was built on top of a toxic waste site.

A mother first, Gibbs’ focus was always first on protecting the children of her neighborhood

Fearing for the health of her son and all of the kids of Love Canal, Lois Gibbs was launched into activism. She began knocking on doors, creating petitions, and eventually came together with her neighbors to create the Love Canal Homeowners Association. After years of grassroots activism, confrontations with the New York State Department of Health, and national attention, Gibbs got what she wanted. Nearly one thousand families were evacuated from Love Canal, and a massive cleanup began.

Because of the hard work of Lois Gibbs and the residents of her neighborhood, the Environmental Protection Agency instituted a program to locate and clean up contaminated sites like Love Canal across the country. It’s called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or the Superfund Program.

Since Love Canal, Gibbs has founded a grassroots environmental crisis center called the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), which focuses on creating strong local organizations to ensure the federal government is doing what it’s supposed to do. Gibbs has received many awards for her work, including the Goldman Environmental Prize, the Heinz Award, and a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, the most important legacy she is leaving behind is the support system she has created for those neighborhoods that suffer as Love Canal has suffered, but do not have the voice to call for change.

One of many protests by residents of Love Canal

Vandana Shiva

A notable ecofeminist, scientist, writer, and activist, Vandana Shiva has worn many hats in her life, often at the same time. Brought up with a love for nature fostered by her two parents, she received a PhD in the philosophy of physics, and went on to interdisciplinary research in science, technology, and environmental policy at the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. She eventually established Bija Vidyapeeth, an international college for sustainable living, in collaboration with the U.K.’s Schumacher College.

Shiva working with local farmers through her organization Navdanya

Shiva is a leader in championing agricultural biodiversity and local sovereignty. She is on the cutting edge of advances in food technology and the human rights implications of such advances. Much of her activism in this area has been achieved through a national movement she started in 1991 called Navdanya, whose mission is to “protect diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seed, the promotion of organic farming and fair trade.” Navdanya has educated farmers across India of the value of diverse and individualized crops, and has mounted activist campaigns on issues involving intellectual property rights, biotechnology, bioethics, and genetic engineering.

Shiva speaking in Washington, DC, March 2, 2009, before the start of the Capitol Climate Action.

A notable ecofeminist, Siva has written over 20 publications, many on topics that show how women’s rights and environmental issues are inextricably linked. In fact, the first book she published, Staying Alive, focused on redefining perceptions of third world women. In 1990, she wrote a report on women’s role in agriculture titled “Most Farmers in India are Women,” as requested by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. She founded the gender unit at Kathmandu’s International Centre for Mountain Development, and is a founding board member of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization.

Shiva has changed the narrative around local sovereignty, sustainable farming, women in the environmental movement, farmers, globalization, and everything in between. She advises governments, international organizations, and is a leader in worldwide discussions. How is she capable of such extraordinary feats, and how can we emulate her? When asked, Shiva responded “you are not Atlas carrying the world on your shoulder. It is good to remember that the planet is carrying you.” Protecting the Earth is simply a matter of recognizing our place within it.

Climate Justice and Solidarity @COP23

The following blog posts, written by student members of the UConn contingent to COP 23, emphasize the importance of solidarity and inclusion in the climate negotiations:

Redefinition: My Agency to Take Up Space Wawa Gatheru

Integrating Intersectional Feminism and Climate Policy Rebecca Kaufman

Women Revolutionizing the Environmental Movement Taylor Mayes

Warning! Climate Change is Real Colleen Dollard

UConn @COP23 Breakfast Clubs – Reconciling Science and Social Justice on Climate Change Jillianne Lyon

 

Redefinition: My Agency to Take Up Space

Wawa Gatheru, Environmental Studies, Minor in Environmental Economics and Policy

There is nothing more awkward than incorrect ideological association.

Over a year after the election of our most recent President and his infamous declarations of climate denial, perhaps the most frustrating outcome has been the ideological association placed upon the American people. As the United States operates under a democracy, the internationally perceived status of climate change legitimacy in the U.S. has mirrored that of our President – even while its alignment could not be further from the truth for most Americans.

Isabella Zizi (Northern Cheyenne Arikara and Muskogee Creek youth leader with Idle No More SF Bay Earth Guardians Bay Area) and Ruth Nyambura (African Eco-Feminists Collective, Kenya)

I, along with 68% of Americans, believe in anthropogenic climate change. As a proud environmentalist with the hopes to dedicate her life to environmental justice, the ever-so accepted narrative of the American refusal to legitimize this fact has been frustrating. For so many, anthropogenic climate change is not just a distant fact, but a driver for action. And for me, the environment – its study, its appreciation, its protection – is my life.

So you can probably understand my distress at the thought that some of the most fundamental scientific truths about climate change might be overshadowed due to incorrect ideological association. And upon my arrival at COP23, this consciousness – one of possible incorrect alignment – discouraged me. How would I be accepted in the COP space as a dedicated environmental activist if my very nationality as an American could disqualify me from such a categorization? Could it also potentially disqualify my UConn cohorts and other U.S. citizens here in Bonn? Or worse – could this perception be another barrier for those who aspire to stand up against environmental injustices around the world?

Although these concerns raced through my mind during the weeks leading up to COP23, in the end, my interactions throughout this week at the U.N.’s Climate Summit in Bonn, Germany provided me with both a sense of relief and renewed inspiration. That’s because when I reflect, my cumulative experience at COP was more than just transformative. It was reaffirming.

Surrounded by hundreds of citizens, languages, and colors, I realized the following things:

I have the unalienable right to be a member of the climate justice movement. While my initial discouragement about my reception in the COP space was, and continues to be, legitimate, I must never, EVER question my right to take space in this movement. Every single relationship to the environment is valid and necessary in making long-lasting, sustainable, socially and scientifically competent change. Every single voice is necessary to accurately redefine environmental action as a non-partisan one.

Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights speaking at the WECAN Conference. Photo taken by Sarah Munro.

There is no time for the exclusion of voices in this movement. During her presentation at the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network conference, Noelene Nabulivou, founder of DIVA for Equality FIJI and one of the most incredible people I have ever had the pleasure to meet, said it best. “We are in a social revolution, an economic revolution, an ecological revolution – because we have to be.” Climate change and adequate solutions must be appreciated in relation to every sector – social, economic, and ecological – as this appreciation will lead to understanding the interconnections and level of accountability that must be taken. The #WeAreStillIn movement represented this shared accountability, as it included voices that are not usually heard in the environmental movement – namely those of the private sector. In continuing to make the climate justice space inclusive, it must also be said that while all voices must be heard to create the most riveting changes, certain voices must be at the forefront of this movement. Women, specifically women of color and indigenous women, MUST be at the forefront of this movement, as they are simultaneously the most adversely impacted by environmental degradation. In this fact, it is this demographic that should be valued as indispensable actors and leaders of just and effective solutions.

Finally, I realize that the takeaways I received from COP cannot and will not live in momentary appreciation. There is no time. Climate change cannot exist only as a subject for discussion, but as a topic for action. Because the devastation of climate change has already begun, and we must act. Together.

 

Integrating Intersectional Feminism and Climate Policy

Rebecca Kaufman, Political Science and Human Rights, Minor in Public Policy

“We need to reclaim the ideal of ‘the commons’ and reject the prioritization of technological and economic fixes.” This quote by Ruth Nyambura, an Eco-feminist and activist from Kenya, was one of the many that I have messily scrawled in my notebook from the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) event, ‘Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change’ — a side event at the UN Climate Conference COP23. Throughout the course of this session I felt empowered, inspired, and angry. However, Nyambura’s sentiments capture the essence of what I took from the event.

When working towards climate change solutions, it is clear that we need to fundamentally change the way that we consume and interact with our environment. This is overwhelming and sometimes feels scary, if not impossible. Personally, I have always understood access to a clean and healthy environment as the fundamental human right upon which the realization of all other rights relies. What Nyambura gets at is the idea that if we are not spiritually connected to our environment, and by proxy the other actors that exist within it (both human and non-human) we will never be able to address the overwhelmingly complex issue of climate change.

Speakers at the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) event, ‘Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change. Photo taken by Sarah Munro.

The fact of the matter is that the people who are disproportionally impacted by climate change-related issues like flooding and drought (and the subsequent shortages of food, water and shelter) are not the primary ones contributing to antecedents of climate change, like over-consumption of animal products, food waste, and fossil fuel emissions, among others. Many of the most-impacted people include women, such as Nina Gualinga, the Kichwa leader from the Pueblo of Sarayaku, Ecuador, who is working to preserve the Amazon rainforest, and Thilmeeza Hussein, founder of the NGO Voice of Women and former resident of the Maldives.

As I listened to Gualinga and Hussain talk about defining ‘development’ in a way that empowers those in countries that are developing and the negligence of those pushing to continue the use of fossil fuels (including the United States’ heartily-protested COP23 presentation on “clean coal”  – are you kidding me?) I became angrier and angrier that this incredible WECAN conference was merely a ‘side event.’ Meanwhile, those with the the highest clearance, those with the most policy-making power were sitting at the main COP venues listening to a panel of environmental injustice perpetrators, like Shell, discuss alternative energy.

When Gualinga asked the question, “who is defining development?” she is addressing the fact that voices like hers aren’t at the table with corporations like Shell. The people whose lives depend on the preservation of diverse ecosystems are not at the table. The people whose employers have caused and perpetuated climate change related disasters are.

There are a lot of reasons for this. I would argue that one of the most prominent ones is the fear among those in power that their power will be dismantled or changed in some fundamental way. Perhaps after decades of disenfranchising indigenous people in the Global South, these policy makers and corporations have had a moment of reflection — where they realized that what they did was wrong and that the process of making amends and distributing appropriate reparations will be painful and time consuming but necessary.

Essentially, I think that the persistence of unequal power dynamics stems from our lack of a spiritual connection to our environment and each other. And our inability to form this connection has the direct consequence of maintaining institutionalized inequality and a western capitalist culture of consumption.

It is problematic that corporations are so highly valued as change-makers, when by definition, the mission of a corporation is to increase their profits. Especially in America, where private corporations are not subject to the same level anti-discrimination rules as the public sector. Furthermore, while not all governments represent their constituents well, their chief role, unlike businesses, is to represent the best interests of their constituents.

Businesses (perhaps with the exception of B-Corps) hold a fiduciary responsibility to maximize the profits of their stakeholders, who often represent the world’s elite. This, to me, is completely inconsistent with the core values of social and environmental justice — to attain a sustainable network of systems that are healthy, equitable, and compassionate.

Womens Earth and Climate Action Network Event at COP 23.

This is not to say that corporations cannot use their profitability to effect positive social and environmental change. We should just be skeptical of their willingness to do this effectively — especially when promises of corporate responsibility are proven to serve as effective marketing. Even in the panels I’ve attended discussing the virtues of corporate social responsibility, corporate leaders are incredibly transparent in discussing social and environmental impact as fiscally beneficial — rarely addressing the fact that we should just be kind to others. We just should.

80% of climate refugees are women and children. In Africa, although 80% of food is produced by women, 22 out of every 25 women live in poverty. During times of food and water shortage, which are expected to increase as climate change becomes more severe, women are more likely to go without food and die from starvation. So when female climate leaders like Hussain call out the negligence of industrialized countries as a “climate genocide by corporate greed,” why isn’t everyone there to listen?

“Women’s movements have always been in the business of territories — be it bodies, communities or the world,” said Noelene Nabulivou of DIVA for Equality and the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network, Fiji. I will reiterate Nabulivou’s call to action because I think it is empowering and will inspire self-reflection. We are not all in this together. Climate change affects everyone, but people of color and women are impacted disproportionately. Failing to address climate change related disaster is a tool for maintaining institutionalized racism and sexism.

We need diverse bodies participating in climate negotiations. We need to mainstream the tenets of intersectional feminism into climate policy because intersectional feminism is inherently related to the power dynamics. A favorite quote of mine by Audre Lorde is, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” It is the responsibility of our leaders to mainstream gender in climate policy. It is the responsibility of those in power to self-reflect on their bias. Negligence to do so perpetuates systematic sexism and racism.

Our identities are multifaceted and they intersect. And if there was anything that I took from WECAN’s event, it is that each of us has solutions. Those of us who have experienced institutionalized violence are often the most creative. And so, as stewards of the environments we occupy, it is our responsibility to use the privilege we do have to speak up.

 

Women Revolutionizing the Environmental Movement

Taylor Mayes, Environmental Studies and Political Science

WECAN: Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network, International

On Monday, November 13th, UConn@COP23 attended an event at the conference called Women Leading Solutions on the Front Lines of Climate Change. The event was organized and hosted by WECAN, the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network, International. WECAN is a climate justice-based initiative established to unite women worldwide as powerful in worldwide movement building for social and ecologic justice. The event took place at the beautifully eloquent, Hotel Königshof, located right on the Rhine River in the city of Bonn. The hotel had a very vintage-chic-feminine vibe which created the perfect back drop for the event.

Upon entering the space, one could truly feel the room radiating with warmth and life. Imagine a room filled with passionate women from a diverse array of countries, communities, cultures, and identities from all around the globe. It was so refreshing to be in a space filled with such richness and color.

Our group stayed for three of the events panels and keynote speakers; each panel consisting of talks done by a composition of four very wise and experienced environmental activists. This was well executed, as the purpose of the event was to unite women from all different walks of life to join in solidarity and speak out against environmental and social injustice as well as to draw attention to the root causes of the climate crisis.

Addressing the root causes of this crisis and having discussions about racial and gender injustices is a form of resistance, and it should be given a lot of credit, as it takes courage to be disruptive and to revolutionize the way we talk about the environment. This was especially true in the context of the mainly white male cisgender dominated 23rd Conference of Parties, where the “main events” were often very superficial and non-substantive.

Present in the very tone and essence of all of the talks was the idea that this issue of climate change and environmental degradation would not be solved until women, especially brown and black women, are given a seat at the forefront of decision making table.

“Don’t make a black woman take off her earrings” a metaphor for action in the environmental movement, inspired by panelist Katherine England.

I greatly appreciated the unique way this event united a group of women, who were all so different in so many ways, around a common cause. Women who had a diversity of experiences: coming from different places, celebrating different cultures and religions, speaking different languages, and in turn, who face different struggles. And yet, even though this theme of unity was present, it did not erase or diminish any of the women’s identities — but instead maintained that fine balance by celebrating those differences at the same time. There was spoken word, poetry, different languages being spoken (and translated), and even an indigenous women’s warrior song, all used to conveyed the experiences and witnesses these women had to the effects of climate change.

The event was so uplifting, and inspiring for many, if not all, of the women in the room. Our anger and frustration with current state of the world was not only validated, but re-inspired which does not happen often. A flame was lit underneath my passion and drive, and to use the words of our speakers, Katherine England, I felt my earrings literally fall off. This “side event” at COP23 was an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

 

Warning! Climate Change is Real

Colleen Dollard, Geography and Maritime Studies

Warning! Climate change is real and affects millions of people around the globe every day. The longer nations wait to take action the more perilous these impacts are expected to become. More importantly, the people who have contributed the least to climate change will be the ones to face the brunt of it first. Drought, infectious diseases, hunger, and displacement are all disproportionately impacting women and people who are living in less developed countries.

A collection of climate-themed signs in Bonn

Additionally there are islands in the Pacific that have already been lost due to the rising sea level. At the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network conference, Thelmeeza Hussain from the Maldives reported that her home is subjected to saltwater intrusion.  This has led to a loss of drinkable water, destruction of agricultural lands from sea salt, coral reefs dead and bleached white or in the process of dying, and an increasing frequency of dangerous king tides. These impacts are not a product of the actions of the people of the Maldives, yet they are unfairly affected by the fossil fuel businesses and consumption in developed countries, who continue bad practices despite knowledge of climate change.

Real change starts with opening up the floor to their voices, listening, then implementing the policies that were chosen by them for their communities.

Thank you, Fiji and Germany, for hosting COP23 and empowering voices that otherwise may have been lost in the conversation.  I look forward to raising awareness back at the UConn Avery Point Campus and elsewhere about issues like the role of gender in climate change and the social injustices of loss and damage already incurred from its effects.

 

UConn @COP23 Breakfast Clubs – Reconciling Science and Social Justice on Climate Change

Jillianne Lyon, Human Rights and Political Science, Minor in French

One staple of our UConn@COP23 week was the ‘Breakfast Club,’ where the group gathered each morning for a faculty-led discussion about a climate change-related topic and to share thoughts about our experiences from COP-related events of the previous day.  As a senior majoring in Human Rights, I have principally been exposed to social justice narratives and it was constructive to hear voices from students majoring in Chemistry, Engineering, Business, Environmental Sciences, Geography and Environmental Studies.

The students were at many times split between those studying humanities and those in STEM, challenging norms accepted in both fields. Should we be talking about racism when we talk about climate change? Should pragmatic science-driven solutions be given preference even if they discount or perpetuate discriminatory effects?

In my Human Rights classes, climate change conversation has always gone hand-in-hand with analysis of environmental injustices. My courses focus on issues like racialized housing policies in Flint, Michigan, or violations of indigenous rights like the Dakota Access Pipeline. Discussions are often people-centric and use rights-claiming language. Everyone has the right to clean water; everyone has the right to life, to an attainable standard of health, to nondiscrimination. However, this conception of climate change can be limiting and is often dismissed in countries where such norms do not hold much authority.

On the other hand, I have recognized that exclusively human rights-driven narratives are not sufficient for addressing existential environmental threats, like climate change, which demand immediate, radical action from the global community. It is infinitely easier to demand reduced CO2 emissions than it is to demand the destruction of the patriarchy.

Science-based targets and emission thresholds provide states and private actors with clear goals and limits that are accessible and attainable. Unfortunately, international environmental agreements, like the Paris Accord, hold no definitive binding power, and are only as effective as the ensuing commitments made and actions taken by each nation.

One thing that has been made very clear to me by my COP23 experience is that climate dialogues are often exclusive spaces. They are white spaces, they are Western spaces, and they are male spaces. There’s a push to highlight SIDS (Small Island Developing States), to include gender analysis, to incorporate social justice. But these efforts have brought us panels with token minorities and corporate leaders who are applauded for green-washed diversity programs. Climate dialogue needs to emphasize diverse and nondiscriminatory leadership if it wants to correct the issues that caused climate change in the first place.

UConn@COP daily Breakfast Club meeting. Photo taken by Mark Urban.

The UConn@COP ‘Breakfast Club’ discussions raised many of these issues.  Deliberating back and forth with a diverse group of UConn students about climate change priorities has reaffirmed my belief in multi-dimensional dialogue. Social justice and science driven solutions to climate change do not have to be and are not mutually exclusive. Science-driven policies can ignore systematic inequalities and exacerbate them in proposed solutions. Social justice claims can be disconnected from the capacity of governments and constraints in the private sector. The key is striking a balance between these two narratives without excluding or marginalizing voices that should be playing main roles.

Our daily ‘Breakfast Club’ discussions pushed me to think more broadly and creatively about climate solutions. For every UConn class talking about environmental discrimination, there is one talking about habitat evolution, and another talking about corporate social and environmental responsibility. My experience at COP23 has reassured me that it is vital to bridge this divide and engage in inclusive climate discussions. Without leadership from diverse narratives, both scientific and humanitarian, our planet won’t stand a chance against climate change.

The Results Are In: EcoMadness 2017

On the average day, a single student uses a lot of resources; from washing clothes to charging a laptop, the total amassed energy and water-use that the average student accumulates is pretty substantial! Now imagine the combined energy and water usage of the average student and multiply that by the enormity of the average dorm – in which hundreds of students reside. Have you ever spent time thinking about the collective amount of water 700 showers use? Or how much energy hundreds of iPhones utilize within hours? For the residents of Buckley, Shippee, Northwest, East, West, and Towers, achieving this consciousness is what stood in between them and becoming a champion of the 9th annual EcoMadness Competition!

This year’s EcoMadness Competition took place from October 9th to November 6th, during which each involved residency was carefully measured in the following categories: per capita water reduction, per capita energy use reduction, percent water reduction, and percent energy use reduction.

After a month of active education, increased environmental awareness, and the encouraging prospect of a free Dairy Bar ice-cream party prize, the results are in!

This year, we are pleased to congratulate the following winners in each water and energy category breakdown! The results are as follows:

WATER

Percent Reduction: Hanks

Lowest Per Capita Use: Grange/Hicks

ENERGY

Percent Reduction: Buckley

Lowest Per Capita Use: Hanks

While the winners in each category have been chosen, we would also like to extend our gratitude and congratulations to every student resident involved in the competition. This month showcased an incredible collaborative effort, and could not have been successful without this environmental commitment, and the work of our wonderful EcoCaptains and supportive RA’s! In the coming weeks, the winning dorms should expect a dairy bar ice cream party – free of charge!

Though the EcoMadness competition is over, we hope the concepts of water and energy conservation remain a focal point in the culture of each residency hall on campus. Because who knows – maybe a continued sense of awareness will propel a residency hall into a winning category next year! And who doesn’t like free ice cream?

Until then, happy saving!

#ShrinkYourDormPrint @UConn

LED Desk Lamps 2017
A student picking up his free energy efficient LED desk lamp at the UConn Bookstore (photo courtesy of @EversourceCT)

The upcoming school year is looking as bright as ever, as thousands of new and returning students recently flocked to the bookstore to receive the sleekest new edition to the #shrinkyourdormprint movement – an energy efficient, multifunctional LED desk lamp generously provided by UConn and it’s energy provider, Eversource. Equipped with varying light intensity, color, and height variations, not only is this lamp a terrific addition to dorm aesthetics, but it provides students the chance to take part in UConn’s commitment to an environmentally sustainable future. With this new dorm addition, students can keep their dorms well-lit and be more energy efficient with a product that uses at least 75% less energy and lasts 25 times longer than incandescent lighting.

According to estimates by Eversource, student use of LED light bulbs for task lighting in the dorms saves more than 600,000kWh a year, concurrently reducing UConn’s carbon footprint by 400 tons of eCO2 and saving $60,000 in energy costs. These statistics also fall in line with UConn’s Climate Action Plan, where LED transition is a major component. Eversource has also estimated that if every student switched one old-school lamp with an LED, the saved emissions would total that similar to a small power plant for two semesters – and looking at the eager faces of students lined around the perimeter of the bookstore, it looks as though that statistic could one day be a reality.

desk lamp box screenshot
A close up of the LED desk lamp box

UConn LED Desk Lamp Giveaway Video

This year-round attention to energy efficiency does not stop here. UConn also replaced refrigerators in both Charter Oak and Northwood apartments with ones that met the government-issued Energy Star standard. From June 15th to July 18th, 300 refrigerators were replaced, a transition that will conserve a whopping 10,000 kWh!

Energy Star refrigerator on its way into a Charter Oaks Apartment
Energy Star refrigerator on its way into a Charter Oaks Apartment

While the massive distribution of LED bulbs and refrigerators are themselves impressive feats, the giveaways signified something much more. With the generous support from Eversource, these initiatives are proof of UConn’s commitment to environmental stewardship, and more impressively, its commitment to maintaining this objective both in and out of the regular academic sessions and simultaneously involving students in the process.

 

 

10th Annual EcoMadness Competition!

This week marks the beginning of the Tenth Annual EcoMadness Competition! Over the month of October, students in over twenty residence halls will be competing to reduce their water and energy consumption.

There are four categories to measure the dorms’ progress:

  • Per Capita Water Reduction
  • Per Capita Energy Use Reduction
  • Percent Water Reduction
  • Percent Energy Use Reduction

To reduce their dorm’s energy and water consumption, students undertake a variety of tasks. Energy can be saved by using desk lamps with LED bulbs, unplugging devices when not in use, and washing clothes with cold water. Water can be saved by taking shorter showers, doing laundry with full loads, and shutting off the sink while brushing teeth.

These simple activities have reduced some residence halls’ energy and water consumption by as much as 35%!

To lead their dorms to victory, the Office of Environmental Policy calls on residents to volunteer as EcoCaptains. These students post fliers and posters around their residence halls, organize activities, and provide weekly updates to the OEP on how the dorms are doing.

The winning dorm for each category will receive a certificate and a free ice cream party in November featuring Dairy Bar Ice Cream!

Find out more about EcoMadness here!

NRCA Students Help to Renovate a Campus Rain Garden

Despite our best intentions, sometimes things don’t go as planned. As part of its commitment to reducing stormwater impacts to our local streams, UConn installed a rain garden at Mansfield Apartments in 2010. Unfortunately, it was not maintained and the garden failed. Fortunately, a collaboration of several groups helped to renovate this garden and restore its functionality.

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Rain garden before renovation. Turf dams had grown in and prevented water from entering, and all of the plants had died.

UConn’s landscape services provided heavy equipment to removed excess material from the garden, and they also provided stone for the “river channel” to prevent erosion. New plants were purchased with help from the Office of Environmental Policy though the UConn Campus Sustainability Fund. Students from UConn’s Natural Resources Conservation Academy (http://nrca.uconn.edu) used the garden as their project during their week-long natural resources field experience on campus. This exciting program brings high school students from around the state to UConn to learn about many different aspects of natural resource conservation. Working with Mike Dietz, students replanted and mulched the rain garden, and prepared a presentation about the project to all of the parents on the final day of the NRCA.

So in the end, functionality has been restored to a failed rain garden, and the project turned into positive learning experience for an outstanding group of students!

 

Michael Dietz, PhD

Water Resources Educator

CT Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO) Progam/CT Sea Grant Program
University of Connecticut

Revitalizing Rural West Virginia: EcoHouse Alternative Spring Break 2016

West Virginia 1This Spring Break, I had the privilege of participating in EcoHouse’s fourth annual service trip to Milam Creek and Glen Rogers in Wyoming County, West Virginia. Initiated by former EcoHouse program coordinator Brigid Belko, this Alternative Break assists the Friends of Milam Creek on various service projects. This organization is composed of local volunteer residents who seek to revitalize their community. In their own words: “Aspiring to restore Milam Creek and its adjacent neighborhoods to its former glory with clean, lush waters and creek beds, Friends of Milam Creek is uniting the community through collaborative action toward a healthier environment and better tomorrow.”

The Appalachian Community

View from West Virginia Alternative Spring Break TripDvon Duncan, Friends of Milam Creek’s Secretary, and Donna Burner, Chair, welcomed us all warmly and gave an introduction to the town and its situation. The Milam, McGraws, Ravencliff, and Glen Rogers region of the county is one of many small, relatively isolated communities in southern West Virginia that has been severely impacted by the coal industry over the last century. For decades, the timber, gas, and coal industries have held a virtual monopoly on the region.  At one time mining companies forced workers to buy all provisions from company stores, preventing the growth of local businesses. Most men in the area have worked in the mines at some point in their lives, since there are few other jobs available to them. In addition to very poor working conditions, the mines have polluted the surrounding watersheds with heavy metals and coal residue. As a result of landscape modification, the narrow creek and river valleys where most towns lie have been prone to massive and deadly floods.

Now, as coal production declines in the face of natural gas and renewable energy, more layoffs and few alternative job options have resulted in a high unemployment rate and a general feeling of hopelessness for the once thriving communities. And on top of all this, the area is suffering a ‘brain drain,’ as those who can afford higher education often move away and don’t return. Dvon stressed that our work here is essential to providing a place where people young and old can safely play and exercise.  There are no other sources of recreation for this community except Milam Creek Park.  An important goal for Friends of Milam Creek is to re-educate their community about the importance of taking care of all their natural resources.

West Virginia 3Throughout the week, we worked on several projects around the community. The main location was the Milam Creek House, where the Friends are based.  Here, we helped to remove rotten wood from the basement and paint the building. Down the road, we helped to renovate the recently donated community center. This involved setting up electrical wiring and lighting throughout the building, as well as demolishing the old restrooms. Meanwhile, several people cleared invasive plants from the nearby creek bank to make room for a fishing deck. The final major project was the construction of a memorial to the more than 160 miners who died in Glen Rogers mines between 1917 and 1960. We installed a new fence and pathway on site to make way for the stone obelisk that will honor the dead.

As we worked, we got to meet many local residents and gained some insight on what it was like to live there. Dave Polk, for example, chatted about what it was like to grow up here. He told us that when he was young there were dozens of bird species in the area, even in winter. The whip-poor-will’s call would announce the arrival of spring, and soon the woods would be full of wildflowers. Now, he explained, the environment has become degraded. He hasn’t seen a whip-poor-will or a wildflower in years, and urbanization has forced remaining wildlife into developed areas. Like many young men, Dave soon found himself working ten to twelve hours a day in the coal mines. Throughout his time working he’s seen many changes in the community, including the end of segregation in the industry. According to Dave, the community as a whole was always far more tolerant of diversity than the mines, where African Americans and European immigrants used to receive very poor treatment until very recently.

West Virginia 4
Taking a break and walking through town in our free time.

However, when I spoke with Dvon later on the issue of race, she said that to most people coal mining was the ‘great equalizer.’ “One had to depend on the person working next to them for their individual safety.  There was no room for prejudice in the mines.  While African Americans and European immigrants might have been treated differently outside the mines in other parts of the community, when you were working inside the mines – everyone was someone of color – coal black.  Communities DID center somewhat on nationality – but much of that was because of language…and food…and familiarity.”

Doug's helmet, decorated with stickers that include a Cross and one that says, "End Black Lung. Act Now!"
Doug’s helmet, decorated with stickers that include a Cross and one that says, “End Black Lung. Act Now!”

Doug Thorn gave a presentation on his work as a miner and a mine inspector. He showed us the gear that miners carry, including a methane gas detector, oxygen tank for emergencies, and light. Doug then explained that while he worked as an inspector, he came across numerous safety violations from different companies as they tried to avoid regulations. He’s been in court several times to force mines to temporarily shut down as gas or coal dust buildups were drained, and continues to challenge mines on their hazardous conditions. Doug himself has developed black lung, in spite of all the precautions he’s taken over the years.

West Virginia 6
Doug Thorn, dressed in his mining outfit, gives a presentation on the life of a coal mine inspector.

We also met Jack Spadaro, an expert witness and environmental consultant, who came to speak to us about how he combats these illegal mining activities. He became active after the 1972 Buffalo Creek Flood killed over 120 people and destroyed over 4,000 houses. It was discovered that the flood resulted from leaky dams that filled with coal and metal slurry, then spilled into the valleys below. The pollutants have caused numerous health issues in the victims and birth defects in their children, but for years the mines refused to take responsibility. Some have even illegally hid the documents linking them to the pollutants. Many floods have occurred since 1972, the worst of which destroyed 3,000 more homes in 2001. Jack has worked on hundreds of cases and investigations, many of which have resulted in at least some financial compensation for the victims. However, Jack warns that over 700 reservoirs remain full of mining waste, and many are poorly maintained. There could easily be more disasters in the near future if nothing is done.

 

Mountaintop Removal

Elise Keaton explains the landscape-level impact of mountaintop removal. All of the mountains visible in the background are currently slated to be excavated.
Elise Keaton explains the landscape-level impact of mountaintop removal. All of the mountains visible in the background are currently slated to be excavated.

Before leaving West Virginia on Saturday, we got to see the heart of modern environmental devastation in Appalachia. Kayford Mountain, owned and managed by Keeper of the Mountains, is a sliver of protected land surrounded by mountaintop removal. We met with Elise Keaton, who has worked for many years to promote awareness and push for action against the industry. She gave us insight into this now prevalent form of mining.

The shift away from reliance on manpower began in the 1970s, as the growing energy crisis and increasing environmental regulations brought companies to search for more efficient methods of coal extraction. Instead of sending miners underground, companies raze entire forests and level the mountains with explosives. Debris is forced down into the valleys and watersheds, which in turn has caused the heavy flooding in recent decades. Elise showed us several mountains that have lost up to 800 feet of elevation. Diverse forests have been reduced to barren wastelands, and the ground beneath Kayford has begun to crack as the rock destabilizes. Furthermore, the mining is continuing to expand. At this time, 500 mountains have been demolished, and every mountain around Kayford is slated to be removed as well.

The view from Kayford Mountain. Only a few years ago, another mountain peak stood where this quarry is now.
The view from Kayford Mountain. Only a few years ago, another mountain peak stood where this quarry is now. The forest was razed, and 800 vertical feet of rock were removed to access the coal beneath.

In spite of growing up in West Virginia, Elise herself was unaware of mountaintop removal until she was in college. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of other people in West Virginia remained uninformed of the devastation going on in their own back yard.

Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions to this crisis. Overall coal production continues to decrease as it’s replaced by natural gas and renewables, but the United States still consumes over 700 million tons of coal per year. As long as there is a demand for coal, the industry will continue to supply. 30-40% of our nation’s energy is currently supplied by coal, and the Department of Defense relies heavily on fossil fuels.  And until new industries – energy or otherwise – develop in Appalachia and other coal producing communities throughout the United States, large portions of the population will remain jobless and/or impoverished for the foreseeable future.

west virginia 9
UConn students and several members of Friends of Milam Creek on our last night in Mullens.

There is still hope for the region’s natural environment. When mining companies do follow regulations, hard and soft wood trees and native species can be planted on reclaimed land.  Some of that land has been turned over to communities. For example, Dvon recently helped with planting in the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area, managed by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources.  Here, some of the ridgetops have been surface mined and reclaimed to ‘wildlife habitat,’ most recently by Alpha Natural Resources. On top of this, the DNR plans to reintroduce elk to the new preserve. Additionally, in a separate project, Cliffs Natural Resources planted 9,000 trees with help from the two Wyoming County high schools. Here, there is a plan to introduce American chestnut hybrids.

I’m incredibly grateful for my experiences on this trip. I got to bond with other environmentally-minded UConn students, meet the wonderful people of West Virginia, and gain insight into one of the most challenging environmental crises our country faces. I hope to continue to raise awareness of the problems of fossil fuels, and go back to help the residents of Milam Creek in the future.

-Ben

 

Learn more about the issues surrounding coal mining: http://www.mountainkeeper.org/the-problems/

Find out how much you rely on coal: http://ilovemountains.org/my-connection

 

UConn Sustainable Programs: Water Reclamation Facility

For today’s focus on sustainable programs at UConn, we look at the new Water Reclamation Facility on campus.  Here’s a great write up of how the water reclamation facility works, as well as a repost of Corinne’s visit to the Water Reclamation Facility.

You may not know this, but if you see a purple pipe, it indicates that the water inside is recycled or reclaimed water!  Reclaiming water is a great way to promote conservation, and also to reduce the overuse of potable (drinkable) water.  Water gets used for all sorts of things at UConn – irrigation, flushing toilets, industrial uses, cooling, heating, and (most importantly in this hot weather) air conditioning!  None of those uses actually require potable water – just water.  At UConn, we actually have a Central Utility Plant (the CUP) which provides cogeneration, heating, cooling, fire protection and emergency electrical backup power to the campus.  Today we had an event to celebrate the opening of UConn’s Reclaimed Water Facility, which in the summer, provides water primarily for cooling to the CUP.  Today, all of the water necessary for cooling has been provided to the CUP, and all of the energy needed on campus so far today has been provided by the CUP!

A picture from my tour of the UConn Reclaimed Water facility today
A picture from my tour of the UConn Reclaimed Water facility today

In order to recycle water, storm water and waste water are collected, filtered and cleaned, and then piped to the CUP.  Right now, water for cooling is the primary use for reclaimed water at UConn, but there is the possibility for duel piping in new buildings to use reclaimed water for toilets, and permits are currently under review to allow us to use reclaimed water for irrigation.  In the winter, the reclaimed water will continue to be used for the lower cooling needs of the university, as well as to provide water for the boilers to produce steam to heat the university.  After the water is used at the CUP, it then flows back to the reclaimed water facility to be filtered, cleaned, and used again.

Reclaiming water is an important step towards environmental sustainability, even in a relatively water-rich region.  Reusing waste water (or grey water), or reclaiming water is critical for basic health and survival in many water-poor regions of the world where there is not enough potable water to use it for sanitation, irrigation, or industrial uses, as well as for drinking water.  In the developing world – where 800 million people lack access to clean water and 2.5 billion people lack access to proper sanitation – infrastructure can be designed and built to support reclaimed water, rather than adding it after the fact.

As part of UConn’s commitment to sustainability and to human rights, I hope that the reach of our reclaimed water facility goes beyond just reducing our water use, but helps provide an example of responsible and sustainable water use for others across the globe.