Climate Impact, Mitigation, and Adaptation: a Reflection on Our Future

“Climate Impact, Mitigation, and Adaptation: a Reflection on Our Future,” was a four day climate-centric event that occurred in late March. The intent of CIMA was to engage all levels of the Storrs and UConn communities in productive discussions about the implications that a warming climate will have on our society and our environment. As public concerns grow about environmental issues and global warming the conversations have often focused on the science behind climate change and what people can do to mitigate its causes and impacts. This event was progressive in its inclusion of climate change adaptation, or what steps people may take to alleviate the harmful effects of global warming and even to explore where humans may stand to benefit from a warmer environment. This theme was consistent throughout the week; each speaker wove their own experiences and backgrounds into the central ideas of CIMA.

CIMA’s opening ceremonies included brief talks by DEEP Commissioner Daniel Esty, Dr. Gene Likens of the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, and UConn’s President Susan Herbst. The event culminated in a rededication of the University to its Climate Action Plan as well as a signed endorsement of a new “Adaptation” section by President Herbst. Guests and speakers alike stuck around the North Reading Room of Wilbur Cross for the following reception, featuring local food and drink arranged by UConn’s Dining Services.

Tuesday’s events were focused on community engagement. Independent journalist and author, Mark Hertsgaard, spoke during the day as well as at the event, Climate Impact Expo: Actions for Cool Communities, that evening. As the keynote speaker, Hertsgaard’s talk, “Inspiring Our Communities To Fight Global Warming,” detailed cases where communities had come together to implement responsible practices and planning in their own areas. The Climate Impact Expo was a forum for Mansfield community entities striving to forge a sustainable culture to showcase their organization and build connections for future collaboration.

President Susan Herbst signs UConn’s climate action plan during the opening ceremony of “Climate Impact, Mitigation and Adaptation: A reflection of Our Future”, a symposium held at the Wilbur Cross North Reading Room on March 26, 2012. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Students were emphasized during Wednesday’s CIMA events. The day began with a climate and environment research and interactive Eco-footprint exhibition in the Student Union. Displayed all day, the aim was to allow students and passersby to peruse cutting edge UConn based research into climate change and adaptation or else evaluate their consumption practices in such categories as water, energy, and food. The Student Day culminated with the afternoon’s panel discussion, “Sustainability: What UConn Students Should Know,” which strove to bring students into an open conversation with professionals as well as other students about environmental, agricultural, and industry based aspects of sustainability. Panelists David Tine and Paul Popinchalk of the Glastonbury based energy consulting firm Celtic Energy brought pragmatic insights into the outlook of alternative energy alternatives, stressing that the first step is increasing efficiency of current technology. President Herbst’s newly appointed environmental adviser, Dr. Gene Likens, discussed his views on the student role in sustainability and discussed his experiences in environmental research. Julia Cartobiano, an organic farmer, Trevor Biggs and Laura Dunn, two UConn students, discussed their views and history in sustainable agriculture as well as answered questions concerning the harmful effects of industrial agriculture.

The culmination of CIMA occurred on Thursday March 29th, with the last Teale Lecture of the year featuring controversial climatologist Dr. Michael Mann. He spoke about his research into climate change, his findings, and some of the legal troubles that hindered its acceptance by the public. As introductions were given by Dr. Kathleen Segerson  and Provost Peter Nichols students, community members, staff and faculty poured through the doors of the Konover Auditorium to hear Dr. Mann speak. The event was so well attended that the aisles had to be cleared and multiple rooms on campus were commandeered for remote viewing. The talk was well delivered; Mann showed his expertise at bridging the gap between the public and scientific community. An engaged audience led to an interesting question and answer session and contributed to an ideal ending the week of Climate Change awareness.

CIMA proved to be a groundbreaking event at UConn. The level of collaboration between diverse academic departments, the Mansfield community, and the student body was inspiring and should serve as a model for future projects. As such, the great success of CIMA was not only the unique approach it took to Climate Adaptation but the scope of the groups that were engaged in the conversations it provoked. With Climate Change on the minds of the Storrs Mansfield public and academic communities, as well as the action items of the newly adopted Adaptation Section of the Climate Action Plan, CIMA has helped set the foundation for assimilation of research, outreach, and infrastructure into the progress of the movement towards sustainability at UConn.