climate change

Climate Action and Higher Education @COP22

The following blogs emphasize a common theme at COP22: the role of universities and educated youth as powerful leaders in the fight against climate change, highlighted at a higher education networking event at Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech:

We Want You (to Help Combat Climate Change) Eddie McInerney

Green Campuses: Turning Knowledge into Action Christen Bellucci

A Meeting of Millennials Stephanie Hubli

Knowledge is Privilege Usra Qureshi

An American Dream? Hannah Casey

It’s Up to Us Now Ben Breslau

Caring on Campus Margaux Verlaque-Amara


We Want You (to Help Combat Climate Change)

Eddie McInerney, Student, Political Science

There were a large number of panel discussions to attend in the Green Zone at COP22, ranging in subject matter from implementation of sustainable practices in the fashion industry, to the implications of climate change on basic human rights. Based on the sessions attended and the topics discussed among faculty and student in the UConn@COP22 group, it seemed that one of the most pressing issues was the younger generation’s role in combatting climate change and how we as students can become involved at the local, national, and international levels.

Cadi Ayyad University
Cadi Ayyad University, host of the higher education networking event. Photo taken by Mark Urban

One of the first questions we heard asked at the conference, and that we asked ourselves in our daily discussions, was how can we spread awareness about climate change to people in the U.S.?  Outreach is desperately needed, especially with President-elect Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed climate denier. We rebounded a number of different ideas through our group, but were not able to reach any compelling revelations. Should we try to get every student who would listen to become an advocate for the issue? Or could we get more done with fewer students who were more knowledgeable? Should we use emotive rhetoric to garner support among older populations, especially those who voted for Trump, or should we focus on better educating their children on the subject matter? It seemed as though we were stuck in a loop.


Then, on Wednesday evening, we attended a higher education networking event with students from Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech, along with students from a number of schools across the United States. The same question was posed by a UConn faculty member: how can we get the younger generation excited about this issue, and to that measure, involved? Ultimately, it seemed the conclusion drawn by both the students and faculty was that we must take action together.  A Moroccan student argued that it is one thing to say you want to stop climate change, but another to actually do something about it, given most students’ pre-occupation with the daily academic workload of assignments, projects and maintaining good grades.

Coming from the higher education networking event meeting, I was inspired by the similarity of our views and the power of climate change as a unifying issue among students from diverse backgrounds and nationalities.  I’m convinced that the surest way for us to combat this issue is to make use of these international connections. Students at UConn and other American universities need to reach out to international students, peer-to-peer, through contacts made during study abroad programs, at future COPs, or otherwise. Mobilizing Millennials and Generation Zs, especially college students, would create a formidable international force for influencing governments and educating youth in ways that give us the best chance at combatting climate change, across all regions of the world.


Green Campuses: Turning Knowledge into Action

Christen Bellucci, Student, Environmental Sciences, Human Health Concentration

Green Campus Sign
COP22 “ACT” signs were posted all throughout the city of Marrakech

From the moment we first stepped foot in COP22’s Green Zone, an urgent question presented itself to us: What can universities do to strengthen the fight against climate change? The first panel we attended as a group Monday evening was The Relevance of Green University Networks in Promoting a Sustainable Future, a discussion led by a group of higher education leaders from around the world. One of their primary messages was that universities have a responsibility to exist as leaders in the area of sustainability and climate change mitigation. By building and supporting green campuses, universities embed a sustainability mindset in their students.


Sustainable campuses allow for multiple angles of education, drawing a link between the classroom, initiative, and innovation. As stated in the panel, they “create platforms to turn knowledge into action.” This discussion was so relevant to UConn’s goals of providing its community members with a sustainable living and learning environment. I was encouraged to hear that UConn had already taken on one of the panel’s primary recommendations for optimizing sustainability: managing and monitoring both quantitative and qualitative sustainability metrics. UConn has discovered, developed, and implemented a great number of sustainability initiatives through participation in annual surveys such as the Sierra Club’s Cool Schools ranking.

networking event
Colleges United for Climate Action networking event at Cadi Ayyad University. Photo taken by Mark Urban

While at Cadi Ayyad University for our co-hosted event, Colleges United for Climate Action, a student even congratulated us for our number 2 ranking in the international GreenMetric sustainability survey. I was not fully aware until this moment that UConn’s achievements are being recognized throughout the world, confirming the higher education panel’s message that we have a responsibility as a university to act as a leader for our own community, for fellow colleges and universities, and for the world.



A Meeting of Millennials

Stephanie Hubli, Student, Environmental Engineering

The optimism I gained from this conference greatly outweighs my initial skepticism about the daunting nature of the global fight against climate change. The change in my overall outlook stems not from the success of this year’s formal proceedings at the COP, but rather from what I observed about the promising leadership and camaraderie amongst the millennial generation worldwide.

higher ed networking
Photo taken by Mark Urban

My enthusiasm is rooted in my own COP22 experiences and interactions, which have reassured me about the connectivity of educated youth on a global scale.  On Monday evening, while waiting for the bus from the Green Zone back to our hotel, our group had the pleasure of meeting a college-educated, twenty-something Reuters reporter from Cairo, Egypt.  Naturally, we discussed international concerns about the recent U.S. election of Donald Trump, a known climate change skeptic.  The reporter did not laugh at us but instead empathized with us. Later in the week, we had the honor of meeting with faculty, students, and graduates from Moroccan and other American colleges at a COP22 higher education networking event held at the University of Cadi Ayyad.  Every individual I engaged in conversation with was intelligent, action-oriented, and determined to be a voice of change. I was especially struck by the similarity of concerns, ideas and aspirations of the many Moroccan students we met.


Some would say that the competitive nature of globalization, such as international trade agreements, have led to a more divided and selfish world.  However, in the case of international youth, I dare to disagree. My experiences at COP22 and the people I have met in Marrakech have given me hope for the future.

I know that it will be a long process, but we can do anything when we stand together.  We are united on the need for climate action.  We are empathetic to the plight of those who have been or will be displaced by the effects of climate change, such as flooding and drought.  We are strong in preparing for a more resilient world, and protecting those, often in developing nations, who are most at risk from climate change.  We are determined to succeed.  We are one.


Knowledge is Privilege

Usra Qureshi, Student, Molecular and Cell Biology, Human Rights

I want to believe that everyone has the opportunity to participate in environmentally friendly practices, that every community knows enough about climate change to understand the urgency of the situation. And that sustainability is affordable for all.

The reality is morose. Liberals, academics and the upper class are communities privileged and enabled by the understanding of climate change, and all afforded access to sustainable measures meant to keep our world going.

solar powered car
Attendees of the Colleges United for Climate Action event learn about sustainability projects at Cadi Ayyad University

COP22 in itself felt accessible to few. During a session on funding sustainable practices in Africa, one man went on an unforgettably impassioned monologue about how COP22 would not have been frequented by so many African voices had it not been taking place in Africa. The Innovation Zone was found to be populated by incredible inventions and visions that would undoubtedly change lives – so long as you came from a lineage of royalty.

Certainly, the world becomes more aware by the day about the impacts of climate change. But we keep educating those who are already educated. This is a problem. Continuously, there is a failure to frame the subject in a way that is understandable to the average person. Climate change is incomprehensible. Sustainability is inaccessible. Change is unaffordable.

So before we expect them to understand and join the revolution, we ourselves need to fix the way we enable. It is a privilege to be able to understand climate change. It is time we make it a right.


An American Dream?

Hannah Casey, Student, Environmental Studies, Public Policy

The mostly Moroccan and North African students at the higher education networking event, co-sponsored by UConn and the Universite Cadi Ayyad, were extremely excited to host us at their college.  Afterwards, they showed us an exhibition displaying their sustainability-focused research projects. The 20 or so students from this top University in Morocco were studying a variety of majors, from biology to environmental science and linguistics.

Students, faculty, and staff networking at Cadi Ayyad University. Photo taken by Mark Urban

One of the undergraduate students, Omi, stood out to me. Omi is a freshman studying physics with a passion like no other. Her greatest inspiration is Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the American astrophysicist, author, and Director of the Hayden Planetarium in NYC. Omi aspires to follow his path and become an astrophysicist. Despite her hard work and incredible grades, Omi will be unable to pursue her planned career in Morocco.  That’s because of the lack of resources and educational institutions with specialized programs, like those Tyson found at Columbia for his Masters and Doctorate in astrophysics. Her dream is to study in America and she described this goal as comparable to “winning a prize.” Her simple wish to continue her education in America with the same opportunities we have, points out some of the things we take for granted in the U.S..


Omi’s entry into the United States also is dependent on potential immigration policy decisions made by the new president elect. Such policies could greatly affect the ability of Omi and many other bright students to continue their studies in the U.S and realize their dreams. New innovations, technologies, and future solutions to current problems may also not be realized if many great international students are not given equal academic opportunities –  especially if this means pursuing their graduate student dreams in America.

Omi’s sincere desire to follow in the academic footsteps of her American role model was a real eye-opener. How lucky we are to live in the United States.


It’s Up to Us Now

Ben Breslau, Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Upon entering COP22 on Monday I struggled with what to do next. What did any of this matter if the U.S. government refuses to help us? Fortunately, over the course of this week at the conference, I came to understand that I am far from alone in the pursuit of a healthier planet. Individuals, corporations, and governments from around the world are working harder than ever to solve the issues that lay ahead. And our young generation has a greater potential than ever to completely reshape our world for the better.

higher ed panel
COP22 higher education panel. Photo taken by Christen Bellucci

On our first night at the conference, all of the UConn students entered a panel of faculty from around the world, discussing the role of Higher Education in future environmentalism. Professors spoke in French and English about how important it is that every college student learns about sustainability. As our generation is the one bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, it is vital that we are all equipped with the knowledge of how climate change and other environmental issues occur, how they relate to issues of social justice and economics, and how to create lasting solutions. It is important not only to teach sustainability, but also to make the lessons memorable; as with any subject, students are most likely to remember the lessons that are interesting, engaging, and relatable. Luckily, UConn students and faculty are pursuing this goal by promoting a new environmental literacy/sustainability general education requirement through a student-circulated petition and a faculty-led workgroup. It would be wonderful for our university to be on the short list of schools around the world that have adopted such a requirement. So how exactly can we, as students and faculty, construct these programs for more schools besides our own? Networking. Luckily, we had numerous opportunities to network and exchange ideas with a host of other people throughout the conference.

On Monday night, several of us were stuck waiting for our bus back to the hotel. Luckily, a potentially troubling situation quickly turned into a great opportunity. As we waited, we began to exchange information with some of the other conference attendees.

Mostafa, for example, is a journalist from Cairo. For the last few years, his work has granted him unique opportunities on the front lines of our changing world. Mostafa has seen the death and destruction caused by Syria’s civil war, and the plight of the now impoverished refugees trapped in Jordan and other countries. And of course, he was actively involved in the 2011 Arab Spring demonstrations that removed Hosni Mubarak from his decades-long rule. He also had to watch helplessly, first as the extremely conservative Mohammad Morsi was elected, then as Morsi was forcibly deposed by Abdel al-Sisi and his military companions. Now, Mostafa and his friends — who, like us, want a nation of more democracy and transparency — are stuck under military rule with no sign of an election in the foreseeable future. Interestingly, we observed how the Arab Spring, and other recent events like the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, share similar social trends: the population at-large seems to be sick of ineffective “establishment” governments, but there is a strong divide as to what should replace the current world order.

sustainable heating solutions
Students and OEP Director Rich Miller learn about sustainable heating solutions at the COP22 Green Zone. Photo taken by Christen Bellucci

Before Mostafa boarded his bus, I asked him for advice about what we could do to counter our potentially regressive regime. He said: “Be patient. Unlike us, you’ll have a midterm election in two years, and another presidential election in four. Before then, we can all form a more connected international community.” We exchanged information, and will hopefully continue to build grassroots international support for climate awareness and action.

As the week went on, our group continued to ask ourselves what many Americans have recently been asking: How has our nation, and even our world, become so polarized? On Wednesday, we brainstormed this question with students from other American Universities and the Moroccan University of Cadi Ayyad. We gathered in one of the large university’s boardrooms with local students, as well as students from American schools such as the University of Denver, Columbia University, University of St. Louis, and several from Historically Black Colleges and Universities cohort. After introductions, UConn professor Oksan Bayulgen observed: In our generation, there are some teens and young adults who, like us, are incredibly passionate and active about a wide range of issues. But there are also many who show nearly complete apathy towards anything controversial or political. I, and some of the other American students, suggested that many of us are stuck in online echo chambers — we follow people and ‘news’ sources that align with our pre-existing ideas, and fear or condemn those with different outlooks. People also suggested that many American millennials need to be reached in areas of their life that matter to them. Examples include eco-friendly fashion, green community service, and sustainable diets. Some of the Moroccan students expanded on this notion and suggested that environmentalism is also a subject that too often is presented as abstract. Students need to learn, from a very early age, that sustainability is a real-world issue that affects us all.

I spoke later with Zakaria, a local student who runs “Science Caravans” with some of the other students who were at the networking event. They travel to local high schools and demonstrate simple experiments that explain how climate change works. Other Moroccan students suggested more outreach with a stronger focus on human rights and social justice issues that accompany climate challenges. This promotes community service and engages poor and minority stakeholders in the battle to avert a climate crisis.

Throughout the conference, we spotted many more opportunities to improve our generation’s global networking. For example, one of the many NGOs presenting in the Civil Societies pavilion held student gatherings throughout one of the days. While we weren’t able to attend ourselves, we gathered information about the organization, called Sustaining All Life. A U.S.-based group, they encourage exactly the information exchanges and conferences that we support.

I’m happy to say that I feel much more positive about our generation after all of these networking encounters. This, coupled with a Northeastern U.S. college sustainability conference I attended two weeks ago, has shown me that our generation is very proactive, especially in the face of disaster. All it takes is a coordinated effort!


Caring on Campus

Margaux Verlaque-Amara, Student, Molecular and Cell Biology

On Wednesday afternoon the group took a taxi ride to the Universite Cadi Ayyad for a program entitled, Colleges United for Climate Action; Connecting at COP22. As we walked through the university gates on the bustling city street, we entered a beautiful and sunny campus with walkways lined with orange trees and students hanging around the open-air academic buildings. Upon entering the main building, we were greeted with quintessential Moroccan architecture; elaborate wooden archways and red-clay walls, leading into beautiful lobby with delicate tiles that covered pillars that extended all the way to the ceiling.

Cadi Ayyad University, co-host of the Colleges United for Climate Action networking event

Various students and professors from both UConn and other universities in Morocco and beyond sat around a long conference table in the main building of the university. Soon after the introductions from the university president and the students and educators in the room, our very own Dr. Oksan Bayulgen posed the idea; how can we get students at UConn to actually care?

This might seem mildly offending for some students reading this – no one wants to be called out for being apathetic. But let’s be real, a majority of us do not do all that we can in our community to combat the issues of climate change, nor do we feel overwhelmingly guilty about it. We don’t rally around the ideas of rising sea levels and depletion of bio-diversity like we rally around President Herbst not calling a snow day.

The evidence is clear, climate change is a real and imminent threat to us all, and there are tangible steps we can take to reverse the effects. It was agreed upon that while most students know the threats of climate change, the day-to-day behavior of each individual needs to reflect this on a much larger scale.

group discussion
College United for Climate Action group discussion. Photo taken by Mark Urban

Being mindful of how our daily actions impact our environment was agreed to be the biggest component of shaping the campus environment. There is an emotional and personal component that needs to be tapped into, much of which can be achieved by daily reminders that our consumption adds up. Being environmentally conscious cannot be an isolated event on a designated day, one commentator said, but rather a part of daily life, built into every action. Some easy solutions that came out of not only this conversation at the university, but also the panel discussions at COP 22, included restructuring the way we deal with waste and making recycling more accessible in every space. I find this to be true, especially in major public spaces such as Homer Babbidge Library. Coffee cups, wrappers, boxes, plastic waste, all thrown into the little garbage cans next to tables with little care from the students furiously studying for their calculus exams. Making recycling more accessible in all spaces creates a constant reminder that our resources can be reused

On the topic of integrating climate awareness on campuses and the role of a campus in spreading awareness, Dr. Beverley Wright, a professor of Sociology and the founding director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, gave an answer that I found promising and feasible. Dr. Wright expressed an idea about community-based partnership where a community of interest would guide projects and research in partnership with a local university. I think this idea is simple, yet can lead to the behavioral change that enables climate action, as we discussed beforehand. Specialized programs that emphasize community-based partnerships allow members of a community to actively engage in research, political advocacy, and awareness. There are many communities around Storrs that could pose a mutually beneficial partnership with UConn to transition to a more sustainable lifestyle. As we expand UConn’s sustainability programs and climate science research, we could use our resources to catalyze and support communities that are transitioning to more sustainable practices. Additionally, this allows UConn students to take community involvement to a level that directly changes our world, and could bolster the excitement and urgency surrounding climate change.



U.S. Election Casts Shadow Over Marrakech

As a contingent of UConn students, faculty, and staff arrived at COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco, it became clear that, although they were more than 3,000 miles away from home, the uncertainty and concern surrounding the recent U.S. election were being felt just as strongly. The following blog posts were submitted by members of the UConn contingent, detailing their experiences at COP22 in light of the recent election:

The World Without U.S. Mark Urban

An Uncertain Future Ben Breslau

UCONN@COP22: The Trump Opener Kristin Burnham

Hoping for a Better Donald: What the 2016 Election Means for Climate Change Policy Klara Reisch

Since these blogs were written, President-elect Trump has moderated his position, and stated that he is “open-minded” about the Paris Agreement; however, Myron Ebell, a vocal climate change skeptic for many years, remains in charge of the President-elect’s EPA transition team.


The World Without U.S.

Mark Urban, Biologist, Associate Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

“Maybe it won’t be so bad,” a taxi driver said as he weaved through the tangle of motorbikes, pedestrians, donkey carts, and buses clogging the streets of Marrakech, Morocco. I flinched when he slammed on the brakes or accelerated through precarious gaps in the traffic. He was talking about U.S. President-elect Trump. He was trying to make me feel better even though the world was a very different place than it was just one year ago.

Last December, the world met in Paris for the 21st meeting of climate delegates to the United Nations, or COP21 for short. The world agreed to try to limit global warming to 1.5 °C above preindustrial temperatures. The Paris Climate Agreement exceeded expectations. The world and the UConn delegation celebrated in the streets of Paris. Some of our faculty and staff cried tears of joy when they heard the news.

Last year’s COP21 was one of shining optimism. This year’s COP22 in Marrakech was one of gritty determination. If the Paris COP was a flute of French champagne, the Marrakech COP was a can of warm Casablanca beer.

Already the promises of just a year ago are fading. The world hasn’t figured out how to implement the lofty goals of the Paris accords. Whereas President Obama helped lead the fight against climate change, his successor threatens to withdraw.

outdoor market
Jemaa el-Fnaa outdoor market

Against this backdrop, our second UConn delegation of undergraduates, faculty, and staff flew to the highlands of central Morocco. Marrakech, an ancient center for African trade, religion, and culture, provides the nexus for protecting all those things from a changing climate. Just beyond the ancient Jemaa el-Fnaa outdoor bazaar and outside the high pink walls of the Kasbah, the massive white tents of COP22 rose from a flat field. Out front, flagpoles of the world skewered the big African sky.

Like in Paris, we watched panel discussions about everything from the economy of climate adaptation to the sustainable development of Africa. We visited the government and corporate solutions tent, where new electric cars and photovoltaic cells shimmered under LED lights. We visited the stands of non-profit groups, cities, countries, and regions from around the world to hear about their climate solutions. The Nordic countries’ booth was expansive, white and clean. The African section was bright and welcoming. The Dutch offered a full bar, proudly extolling the ‘Dutch Approach.’ But I never found the US booth.

John Kerry giving speech on an iphone
John Kerry on the small screen

The US did take the center stage at the conference when US Secretary of State John Kerry delivered an impassioned argument for continuing to address climate change. Not managing to talk our way into the tight security of the UN blue zone, a group of us watched Kerry’s address to the assembled diplomats on an Iphone propped against a water bottle in an expat hotel. He was not speaking to the world, but to his country. Quoting Winston Churchill, Kerry said “It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required.”

The white, blubbering specter of a Trump presidency sapped strength from world efforts. Yet, I returned more optimistic than when I arrived. The world ratified the Paris Agreement more quickly than ever thought. Cities around the world are advancing toward carbon neutrality. Businesses are developing clean technologies because they recognize that efficiency is good business. The world reconfirmed its commitment to addressing climate change. A large banner on the last day proclaimed “We Will Move Ahead!”

Maybe the taxi driver was correct. Maybe it won’t be so bad. The world is united against the climate threat, even if our government is not. The world will lead, even if the US will not.


An Uncertain Future

Ben Breslau, Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

The UConn contingent arriving at Marrakech

As we flew into Morocco, my mind raced. Like many of my environmentally conscious peers in the United States and beyond, I was still in shock from the previous week’s presidential election. Among his many campaign promises, President-elect Trump has spoken of promoting policies that would be disastrous to the national and global environment. He has discussed reinvigorating the coal industry, which will translate into massive health hazards for the people of Appalachia. He has also proposed to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency. This agency has improved countless lives by directly reducing the amount of pollutants in our nation’s rivers, air and soil. He has also suggested opening up our National Parks to private industries for exploitation. This would not only severely damage America’s tourism industry, but it would also destroy unique and irreplaceable ecosystems. And most dangerous of all, he is seriously considered abandoning the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Since the United States is Earth’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter (and may again become the largest as China seeks more renewable energy), this could mean that our country, which stands as a beacon for freedom around the world, may irreparably contribute to the largest global crisis in our generation.

Needless to say, I was less than optimistic before we touched down in Africa. I felt something that others less privileged than myself have felt for years or even decades: a strong sense of disillusionment and betrayal towards the officials that are supposed to represent the interests of ALL Americans.


UCONN@COP22: The Trump Opener

Kristin Burnham, Student, Pathobiology and Molecular and Cell Biology

The Trump Opener: A cultural phenomenon observed at COP22 in which, once the nationality of a U.S. citizen is established, the opening remark of the conversation is about President-Elect Donald Trump.

“You know I’ve never met a Trump supporter,” Mostafa, a well-spoken, twenty something journalist from Cairo tells us as we wait for the bus from the Green Zone back to the hotel.

We comment that people who voted for Trump don’t come to climate change conferences, or to developing countries for that matter. The statement is laced with condescension, the implicit message clear: they don’t know better because they haven’t seen the things we have, they don’t know the things we know.  It’s how we explain their seemingly inexplicable choice.

Rich Miller, from the UConn cohort comments that it’s interesting how close the rest of the world followed the U.S. election. Mostafa replies, “We’re all stakeholders – your elections affect us as much as they affect you, maybe even more.” And, to some degree, he is right. For better or worse, the U.S. is a global superpower. Our foreign policy brings not only humanitarian aid and other resources to developing nations, but also, all too often, our soldiers, our missiles, and our carbon emissions, which travel far beyond our borders.

Mostafa explains that he sympathizes, comparing many Egyptians’ dislike for their President of the past two and-a-half years, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to many Americans’ dislike of Trump. “I was a part of the Arab Spring,” he tells us. With pride and eloquence he says that our generation is more connected than ever before: How incredible it is that we can know the story and thoughts of a 16 year old girl in Palestine, a 41 year old man in Iraq… or a 20 year old girl from Connecticut.

kristin-mitigation-2There is a lull in the conversation. Ben Breslau, a fellow student from the UConn group, asks “So what do we do?” Mostafa emphatically replies, “You wait. Please wait.  You do nothing. You have patience,” almost pleading for the new US administration to stand behind the Paris Agreement, reached just last year at the historic COP21.  He cares what we do. He cares because it affects him too.

It’s not just what the president does that has a global impact. It’s what we all do. It’s the votes we cast, the revolutions we start, the passion of our convictions, and the causes we choose to champion.

A few minutes later we meet a delegate from Turkey, “You’re from America? I was here [at the conference] as the election results were coming in.” He says people cried and scheduled talks were abandoned to discuss instead the potential devastation Trump’s environmental policies could have on the world.

I hope that no matter what Trump does, no matter how drastic or inflammatory, we, as a country, can be more than his actions.

Let’s use the overwhelming feelings of frustration and helplessness to create a better United States. Let’s treat each other with more kindness. Let’s use the outrage and fear that surround Trump’s election to be a catalyst for change. Let’s join together to reduce our contribution to greenhouse gasses.

If we can’t take pride in our President, let us instead create a culture, country and carbon footprint we can be proud of.


Hoping for a Better Donald: What the 2016 Election Means for Climate Change Policy

Klara Reisch, Student, Molecular and Cell Biology

klara-human-rightsI shuffled in and out of shops trying to find a souvenir in Marrakech when one merchant turned to me, chuckled and asked “you voted for Trump?” I was confused and slightly embarrassed that this election was following me deep into the Souks of the Medina, but I was not surprised. In fact, before that encounter, most panel discussions I attended at COP22 mentioned the election results back home, which named Donald Trump as our president-elect. Throughout the campaign, Trump argued that climate change is merely a hoax spurred by the Chinese and criticized the United States for spending money on environmental initiatives to minimize its effects. He had threatened to dismantle last year’s landmark Paris Agreement, and Trump and revoke the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which calls for a decrease in carbon emissions from power plants.

klara-human-rights-2Either way, this election left many delegates and panelists concerned and unsure about the future of our world. I spoke with a panelist from GIZ, Klaus Wenzel, about the U.S.’s resistance of climate change policy. He talked about how workers are concerned about how they will be affected by this transition to things like clean energy. “People are afraid,” he said. “People are afraid of what this means for their jobs.” One of Trump’s main issues with renewable energy is that it is too expensive. Wenzel argued that although the return on investment takes time, renewable energy decreases the amount of air pollution and green house gas emissions, both of which have major effects on the environment and human health. “What is the worth of a premature death?”

Of course, no one knows for sure what this election means for the United States and the rest of the world, but I heard opinions expressed by both sides in various panel discussions at COP22. Some said that the United States would not back out because of the geopolitical and trade implications, while others believe that the U.S. may step out of the game and perhaps force other countries to step up.

Hopefully, enough people will speak out against Trump’s environmental policies. If our president will not fight on our behalf, we will have to.

UConn Ranked Top 10 Cool School for 5th Consecutive Year

sierra-logoThe Sierra Club has just released its 10th annual Cool Schools ranking, and for the 5th consecutive year, UConn has maintained its position in the top 10! Accompanied by only one other university in this accomplishment, UConn has demonstrated incredible consistency and growth not only in environmental sustainability on campus, but in tracking and compiling data in a wide range of areas. The survey includes a variety of categories which encompass all aspects of sustainability in a university setting; UConn’s strengths included the water, waste, food, academics, innovation, planning, and purchasing sections.

Recent changes to the survey’s organization and weighting resulted in a noticeable shift in the members included in the top 10; many strong schools from previous years fell in rank, while new ones arrived. Significant weight was given to the fossil fuel divestment section, a factor that hurt many schools, including UConn. Nevertheless, our consistency can be attributed to our ability to score strongly in such a large number of sections, requiring the collective efforts of a variety of staff and faculty on campus, including Facilities Operation, Community Outreach, Dining Services, Transportation, Procurement Services, and Planning, Design and Construction.

UConn’s #9 ranking in the Sierra Club’s Cool School survey, as well as #2 position in the 2015 UI GreenMetric World Ranking and recent acceptance of the CT DEEP GreenCircle Award, all elevate the university’s visibility locally and at the international scale, while shedding light on our strong commitment to protecting our environment and creating a more sustainable campus for years to come.

UConn’s 2015 Greenhouse Gas Emissions

UConn’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) has led to the implementation of several notable projects and initiatives. The CAP outlines plans to improve sustainability under the following categories: transportation, energy, and sustainable development. In Spring 2012, UConn added an adaptation section to work in conjunction with its mitigation strategies. This section is focused on UConn’s research, outreach and service roles, as we seek to provide resources for improving the climate resiliency of communities throughout the state and region.  The mitigation strategies in UConn’s CAP serve to identify the emissions reduction benefits and cost effectiveness of potential action items. The Office of Environmental Policy’s current emissions targets call for a 20% decrease in emissions by 2020 and 30% by 2025. UConn’s overall progression includes:

  • Class III Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) generated by UConn’s Co-Generation Facility, sold to finance energy efficiency projects across campus
  • 134 re-lamping projects completed for more than $700,000 per year savings in energy costs and over 5,000 Tons eCO2 avoided
  • 19 retro-commissioning projects completed for  $2.2 million per year savings in energy costs and more than 12,000 Tons eCO2 avoided
  • LEED Silver certification requirement for all new building and renovations over $5 million
  • Several variable-frequency drive (VFD) projects optimizing heating and cooling in buildings for around 1,000 Tons eCO2 avoided
  • Long-term electricity purchasing agreement with ConEd for 40% of purchased electricity comprised of renewable energy
  • Over 15% decrease in water consumption, despite 23% growth in user population from 2005-2014
  • Agricultural/organic waste composting facility operating at maximum load of 800 tons per year
  • Connecticut Institute for Resiliency and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) established in January 2014
  • 400 kW fuel cell and 7 kW solar array, providing electricity, heating, and cooling to the Depot campus
  • 8 kW solar array on top of the reclaimed water facility
  • Department of Energy’s Workplace Charging Challenge pledge signed: 5 active EV charging stations and an expanding EV fleet
  • Transportation fleet now includes 15 hybrid vehicles and 12 plug-in EVs, including the EStar campus van (15% of the light-duty fleet)

UConn is still on track to meet its 20% interim reduction goal by 2020. This is being achieved primarily through on-going LED re-lamping projects in buildings, parking lots, and walkways, and with the replacement of old, inefficient steam pipes. These projects are expected to be completed between 2015 and 2020 and will yield an annual 13,265 ton reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. With all of these developments, UConn continues to strive toward carbon neutrality and a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the years to come. UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy uses the University of New Hampshire Campus Carbon Calculator (CCC) to store and track greenhouse gas information.ghg emissions

Electricity, heating, ventilation and air conditioning for buildings account for over 80% of the university’s carbon footprint based on current calculations which do not fully account for scope 3 emissions. As it can be seen above, a 12.9% decrease since 2007 is observed when the effects of natural gas curtailment are included. Curtailment occurs when the weather is especially cold and demand on the natural gas pipeline is high. This forces UConn to burn fuel oil instead of natural gas. On average, each day of natural gas curtailment results in 50,000 gallons of oil being consumed by the co-generation plant (a net release of 250 tons eCO2 per day*).

When natural gas curtailment is ignored, an 18.1% decrease in eCO2 emissions since 2007 is observed. It can be noted that the direct emissions sources from the university are decreasing, but with more cold weather affecting the local area, the amount of curtailment days has continued to increase. In the winter months of 2015, there were 30 days of natural gas curtailment, compared to 14 the prior year, and only 3 in 2012. Fortunately, the natural gas infrastructure in Connecticut is being expanded, so it is likely that we will not have further curtailment days next winter.

In addition, new building construction has accounted for a majority of Direct Source Emissions increase in recent years. A breakdown of UConn’s emission sources can be seen below.emissions by source

*In recent years, each day of natural gas curtailment was estimated at an extra 500 tons of eCO2 per day. This has been adjusted to 250 tons of eCO2 per day based on conversations with compliance staff.

Climate Change, the Supreme Court and Presidential Politics

If you follow current events in environmental policy, you’ve been getting a real lesson in Constitutional checks and balances among the three branches of federal government. And if you consider yourself an environmentalist, you’re probably as shocked and angry as we are about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to stay implementation of EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP).

This decision overturned a lower federal court’s decision and occurred months before that court (the DC Circuit Court of Appeals) was scheduled to rule on the merits of a lawsuit challenging the legality of the CPP. The lawsuit was brought by 29 coal-burning/mining and oil-producing states, along with other fossil-fuel industry interests.

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling was along ideological lines, with five of the more conservative justices voting to block the CPP and the four progressive judges voting against the stay. The CPP is EPA’s primary regulatory tool for achieving carbon reductions over the next 10+ years, and it’s our nation’s best hope for achieving the progress called for in the Paris Agreement. It’s also pretty flexible, setting carbon reduction targets and giving each state wide latitude to figure out specific plans. Fundamentally though, it’s focused on forcing coal-fired power plants to reduce their carbon footprint or shut down.

indexSo the Supreme Court’s decision was a huge victory for the climate deniers and a major setback for the rest of us. Below are links to two of the many recent articles and opinion pieces about the SCOTUS’s ruling. inside-the-most-important-supreme-court-case-in-human-history supreme-court-blocks-obama-epa-coal-emissions-regulations

As a result, in just a few short months, “climate realists” went from the highest of highs (COP21 and the Paris Agreement) to the lowest of lows. Count the UConn@COP21 group among the devastated. About a month ago, a colleague from the University of Colorado – Boulder posted a triumphant blog about the Paris Agreement. He remarked about how, in the weeks leading up to the Climate Summit in Paris, the presidents, chancellors, or other EVPs at more than 300 colleges and universities (including UConn), had signed a pledge advanced by the Council on Environmental Quality and Second Nature, reaffirming our commitments to climate leadership.

Then, the strangest twist of fate occurred last weekend. The Supreme Court’s most conservative member, Justice Antonin Scalia, died unexpectedly while vacationing at a Texas resort – may he rest in peace. But had he died a week earlier, SCOTUS would have been deadlocked in a 4-4 vote and the lower court’s ruling rejecting the stay of the CPP would still stand.

The net result of this sequence of events, is that the issue of climate change, already far more politicized than it should be in the U.S., has now become even more entangled in the highly-polarized Presidential campaign. Under the Constitution, the President nominates federal judges to fill any vacancy, like Scalia’s, and the U.S. Senate then approves or rejects those nominees. The next appointee to the SCOTUS could dramatically influence the outcome of close decisions on the most politicized issues for decades to come, including the likely appeal of the lower court’s decision in the CPP case.

eiffel tower 2 horizConservative Republicans who control the U.S. Senate, mostly representing states that are still heavily dependent on cheap and dirty coal for generating electricity, are threatening to block approval of any nominee advanced by President Obama. Meanwhile, the more progressive West Coast and Northeastern states, like Connecticut, which have long since transitioned away from coal, might actually stand to gain an economic advantage through the enactment of the CPP. Our state and others are joining EPA in the legal defense of the CPP and would like to see the President appoint a climate realist to SCOTUS, sooner rather than later.

It seems like now might be a good time for higher education to exert some climate leadership. With the Supreme Court’s decision, climate realists are on the ropes and the climate deniers are closing in for a knockout. EPA simply cannot lose this case! The CPP would have obvious air quality and public health benefits, all the way up to preventing the most catastrophic consequences of global warming per the Paris Agreement. But what can we do? Is there a role for law school faculty and students? If so, I hope our best and brightest are willing and able to step up to the challenge.

– Rich Miller, Office of Environmental Policy Director

Reflections on COP21

Below is a collection of blogs reflecting UConn’s experiences in Paris and at COP21. They include:

Takeaways from UConn@COP21 Rich Miller

Race, Privilege, and Climate Change – Addressing global instability Cristina Macklem

For a worldview of climate change Rachel Smiley



Takeaways from UConn@COP21

Rich Miller, Director – Office of Environmental Policy

Now that we’ve had a month or so since our return from Paris to reflect, what are the key takeaways from UConn’s first-ever participation in the UN’s annual Climate Summit?  Let’s start with the global perspective – COP21 will be long-remembered for two distinctly different reasons:

  1. it occurred a few short weeks after ISIS-attributed terrorist attacks killed 130 innocent people at three popular locations in and around Paris; and
  2. more importantly, it resulted in the Paris Agreement, which was approved by vote of acclimation among the 195 participating countries, finally including the world’s top two carbon emitters, the US and China.

eiffel tower 2 horizLet’s hear it for the US’s decision to join the world’s most economically-powerful and globally-engaged nations in approving this historic climate accord.  In so doing, the US sides with countries like the those in the EU and Japan, and disassociates itself from a shrinking group of increasingly belligerent, rogue nations that did not participate, like Syria and North Korea.

eiffel tower 1
Like an Olympic torch for COP21, the Eiffel Tower illuminated an environmental theme.

The Paris Agreement will limit greenhouse gas emissions at levels needed to avoid global temperature increases of more than 2 degrees C. and thereby prevent the most catastrophic consequences of global warming.  While skeptics say the agreement is not strictly enforceable, a schedule of annual and five-year progress reports will establish a “name and shame” system for assuring compliance with each country’s own emissions targets. There is precedent in environmental law for the power of public disclosure.  Consider, for example, the successful reductions in the use and storage of hazardous chemicals after the adoption of Emergency Planning & Community Right to Know Act, which was part of the Superfund amendments during the late 1980s (aka, SARA Title III).

But back to the basics of UConn’s experience at COP21 and the related events and activities that occurred throughout Paris during our one-week stay, from Nov. 30 – Dec. 6. Perhaps the best way to describe it is like the Olympics for environmental policy wonks and climate activists, myself included.  Extending the analogy, Le Bourget was the main stadium, with multiple other venues in and around Paris, and hundreds of thousands of spectators and participants from around the globe who had gathered to be a part of history.  The Eiffel Tower was an inspiring analog for the Olympic torch – illuminated at times in green or with a “For the Planet” message throughout the event.

Our observations have been reported in two previous blog posts (Bonjour and Thoughts) written by several from the UConn cohort, which included  12 undergraduate students, faculty from four different academic departments – EEB, Geography, Political Science and NRE – and two staff from OEP’s Sustainability Office.  This overview introduces the third such group blog.

In December, our UConn@COP21 social media reports and photos posted on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (#UConnTalksClimate), seem to have reached a wide audience. In deference then to our busy readers, here are 12 top takeaways written with Tweet-like brevity:

  1. We did it! And they said it couldn’t be done with only seven months of planning. We represented UConn well, had an incredible experience, and returned safely – eager to share our experiences with the UConn community and beyond.
  2. Coveted entry passes to the official COP21 and/or “civil society” proceedings were grossly over-rated. We had neither but still managed a busy schedule of events.

    Several from UConn’s group sat in on Bill McKibben’s divestment presentation at Le Bourget
  3. Colleagues from other schools who had passes to the official proceedings reported that it was about like watching the proverbial paint dry – no loss there for the (sans passes) UConn group.
  4. Speakers, expert panels, discussion groups and exhibits at the vast COP21 Climate Generations Space (Green Zone) in Le Bourget, along with related events, like Climate Solutions, provided us with a substantive, immersive experience.
  5. The impromptu climate change discussions, which the UConn group held every morning after breakfast, were a thought-provoking highlight of the trip for all.

    morning discussions.png
    Four faculty members from different academic departments and 12 students from nearly as many different majors (plus a great setting in the hotel lounge) made for lively, interdisciplinary group discussions every morning.
  6. UConn was proud to co-sponsor the “Higher Education Leads on Climate” networking event for our colleagues – thanks to co-hosts Second Nature, Kedge Business School and AASHE.
  7. Attendance, not including UConn and other co-sponsors, was relatively modest, with 30 or 40 guests from perhaps a dozen different colleges and universities.  But the networking event clearly filled a void. We hope it’s the first of many higher-ed focused gatherings at future COPs.  See you in Marrakech?

    higher ed 1.png
    The higher education event featured lively presentations by Kedge’s CSR director and Second Nature’s Education Manager, then networking with colleagues from Edinburgh to Emory.
  8. Extra security was everywhere in Paris – reports said 30,000 police, many in full body armor and armed with AK-47s, were on duty at COP21 venues and patrolling the main tourist attractions.

    Extra security outside a COP21 venue in the wake of the November terrorist attacks in Paris
  9. Once we arrived in Paris, we never felt unsafe, despite the anxiety of family and friends beforehand.  As some suggested, this might have been the safest time to be in Paris.
  10. The “City of Lights” did not disappoint.  We saved enough time to see many of the 300 beautiful Parisian buildings, monuments, fountains and statues that are up-lit at night.
  11. Our hotel was perfect, from its convenient location to the excellent service we received. On our last morning in Paris, hotel staff even arrived 30 minutes early to send us off on our return flight with a full breakfast buffet.

    Our hotel entrance, street-side, in the heart of the Latin Quarter, part of La Rive Gauche. Note that Paris appears to be a “no gas guzzler” zone.
  12. The hotel’s front desk clerks had heard of UConn, not surprisingly from our multiple championship women’s basketball team. Now they know a little bit more about other things that UConn stands for, like world class campus sustainability and climate science programs.

In the coming months, our outstanding undergrads, selected from 77 extraordinary student applicants, will truly earn their expense-paid trip to Paris. They’ll be sharing their experiences with the UConn community, and beyond, by organizing and conducting outreach events, demonstration projects, photo exhibits and more. Stay tuned!

After final exams a few weeks ago, most of our group of 18 met with President Susan Herbst, who was genuinely impressed with our accomplishment.  She encouraged us to continue the UConn@COP group effort, and to develop longer-term and unique climate leadership and sustainability strategies for UConn. Toward the end of our meeting, which ran about 45 minutes longer than scheduled, she even brainstormed with us, offering some great ideas about how to reach the widest audience.  She was pleased to hear that there were very few, if any, colleges and universities that participated in COP21 quite the way we did. If this kind of global, interdisciplinary and co-curricular experience is to happen again for UConn at future COPs, there’s no better nod of support to have than the President’s.

And, while we’re at it, thanks again to the senior administrators and others who believed in and enabled our vision last year, starting in May, when we began planning and fundraising for UConn@COP21: especially the VP of Global Affairs, Deans of CLAS, CAHNR, and the School of Engineering, along with faculty leaders in the Marine Sciences Department and at the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, which is purchasing carbon offsets (with proceeds supporting the Indonesian Rimba Ray Project) to account for the greenhouse gas emissions from our international travel.  Even UConn’s beverage contractor, Coca-Cola, which had a significant corporate presence of its own at COP21, contributed a student sponsorship share. Last but not least, the Campus Sustainability Fund, supported by individual and company donations from UConn (EcoHusky) Nation, helped transform our unlikely dream in April into an unforgettable reality by

Merci beaucoup, on et tout – au revoir, Paris!



Race, Privilege, and Climate Change—Addressing global instability

Cristina Macklem


subway ad.png
A subway advertisement for the World March on Climate in Paris, France

A few weeks ago, my conservation biology class did an exercise on privilege, and the thing about privilege is that it is often hard to see unless it is brought to your attention. After completing the exercise, I realized how much of my privilege I failed to recognize and how insidious and complex the manifestations of privilege and racism are, particularly with regard to climate change and the environment. That experience was in the back of my mind as I traveled to Paris for COP21 with UConn. As an ecology student, I wanted to get a new perspective on climate change by attending talks and discussions focused on addressing issues pertaining to racism, women, and indigenous peoples. I hoped these events would help me to better understand the complexity of these issues and my privilege in these situations.

On our third full day in Paris, I attended a profound discussion on racism and climate change.  The event included a panel of people from all races and walks of life. Each panelist took turns telling their own personal stories about the exploitation of their lands and people. The discussion focused on the idea that the root of our social and environmental instability is in the economic self-interests of a few powerful countries, a pattern that began centuries ago. Our willingness to exploit our land resources arose when we became willing to exploit and enslave people. We took the land and natural resources of many indigenous persons away and continued to abuse them and the land, until we reached the tipping point on which we currently balance. Between the war in Syria and the refugee crisis, senseless discrimination, catastrophic natural disasters, and the massacres in Paris just a few weeks before COP21, tensions in many countries are rising along with the average global temperature. At the conclusion of this discussion, there was an agreement that we cannot address climate issues and environmental degradation without addressing the social issues, which permeate from the foundation of our global society. The group also expressed concern that the decisions made during the delegations would reflect a select few privileged nations and not the interests of the majority of our world’s citizens.

nigerian woman
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Minister of Finance, Nigeria

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance who served on a panel for the Global Landscape Forum, also shared these sentiments. She spoke about the need for extrinsic financial support to adequately address the current and future climate-related issues facing her country, which, many would argue, are largely caused by the past actions of the would-be extrinsic financial contributors. Even though these developed countries are responsible for many of our current climate concerns, she wasn’t optimistic that their contributions would be sufficient. As a result, she has been forced to find and utilize extremely limited domestic financial resources to mitigate any losses and damages and to develop ways to reduce emissions in her country.

This panelist now has a reason to be optimistic because the final draft of the agreement document states that developed nations will pay a minimum of “USD 100 billion per year” to support the “needs and priorities of developing countries.” While it still remains to be seen how the developed countries will allocate these funds to the developing countries, it is absolutely a step in the right direction to stop the cycle of social and environmental destruction that we have created.

My week at COP21 truly transformed my outlook on climate change. In order to address current global instability effectively, we must first have a united global community. We cannot sit back and let things continue as they have. We have to act together to change policy, behavior, and land use. We must recognize our privilege and learn to value the input and concerns of the global majority and compensate them accordingly. We owe it to the environment, humanity, and the continued existence our planet.



For a worldview of climate change

Rachel Smiley


After a very short week at COP21, I quickly realized that we in the United States are strikingly sheltered from the effects of climate change, which undoubtedly contributes to our nation’s reluctance to take action and the ongoing refusal of some to accept that dramatic action needs to be taken.

It may seem like the US is doing fairly well.  We don’t have to worry about entire cities closing down because of smog.  Our economic position allows us to deal with the drought in California without worrying about running out of food.  Sea level rise doesn’t put our entire country at risk of flooding.  The general public in the US hasn’t experienced any significant changes (yet!!), so dramatic action to mitigate climate change isn’t seen as a priority.  Arguments for climate action often refer to the impacts it could have in the future.

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Two UConn students participating in a group discussion at the COP21 Green Zone

However, my conversations with people from places already being significantly affected by changes in the climate opened my eyes to the urgency of the issue.  Island nations are pushing to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C instead of the proposed 2°C, because sea level rise is already causing their people to lose their homes.  The Middle East and Northern Africa, whose economies rely on fossil fuels, are active in coming to an agreement to limit CO2 emissions because they are currently experiencing large scale droughts and dust storms.

In Paris I witnessed so many people who were exceptionally passionate about finding solutions to climate change because they have personally seen what kind of destruction to people’s livelihoods results from increasing global temperatures.  So, does the US wait to suffer huge consequences before we are serious about cutting emissions and investing in renewable energy sources?  Hopefully the COP21 agreement will ensure that the US doesn’t experience the widespread effects of climate change to such a degree.  Regardless, I think it is important for everyone in the US to take a broader worldview of the issue and understand the harm that rising temperatures is already having on so much of the world.


Changing the World, One Step at a Time – The People’s Climate March

By Brianna Church

The best thing about little kids is that their dreams have no limitations. Back when I was about eight years old all of my friends dreamt of being the next big pop star, the likes of Britney or the Spice Girls. The vast majority of those same friends have now abandoned the thought of singing to any audience outside of their shower heads.

My big childhood dream was a little different, though. My dream was to save the world, singlehandedly, through medicine. I know now that no individual can save the planet without help from others and, more importantly, that even very basic medical procedures make me queasy. I still have not given up my dreams of changing the world, however. I am now studying environmental engineering and hope that in doing so I can make a difference, even if only in some small way.

My passion for environmental issues has led me to two different internships as well as to a number of different clubs and activities at UConn and through all of these means I learned about the People’s Climate March.



The People’s Climate March will take place on September 21st, mere days before the UN Climate Summit is held in New York City. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is encouraging the participating governments to unite and support global goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Tens of thousands of people are anticipated to march in the streets of New York City in the largest environmental march in history to demonstrate that we, the people, are demanding a change.

This march will offer me the chance to show the UN and our country that both climate change and socioeconomic equality matter to me. This march will offer me the opportunity to change the course of history, one step at a time. This march will offer me the possibility to realize my dreams.

That’s why the People’s Climate March is so important to me.

Please join me and the UConn community in standing up for what is right; an economy that works for both the people and the environment. Join the tens of thousands of people that will be in the streets of New York, proving to our governments that we deserve a safe, just world to live in. Join the People’s Climate March on September 21st for the price of just one bus ticket.

If you would like to RSVP to the People’s Climate March and purchase a bus ticket from Sierra Club for $24.20 as a student or $29.48 as an adult, follow this link. For more information about this event, contact Brianna or Emily at,, or at (860)486-5773.

CIMA 3: Climate Change Conference

On March 31st, we held the third annual Climate Impacts, Mitigation, and Adaptation conference, known as CIMA 3.  Faculty, staff, and students from all over campus attended the event to discuss climate adaptation and impact. The event helped kick off a month of environmental programming, ending with Earth Day Spring Fling on April 22nd.

CIMA 3 logo

The event was headed by a keynote address from the EPA Administrator for Region 1, Curt Spalding. Mr. Spalding spoke about the challenges facing New England with regards to climate change, and specifically severe weather events and sea level rise.

EPA Region 1 Administrator Curt Spalding. Photo by Eric Grulke
EPA Region 1 Administrator Curt Spalding. Photo by Eric Grulke

He focused on what the region was doing as a whole, but also how some local governments in New England are working proactively to better adapt to climate change and its effects. Mr. Spalding also talked about the need to frame the issue of climate change for local policy makers in order to make adaptation more of a priority for the New England towns.

Keynote Address Curt Spalding. Photo by Eric Grulke
Keynote Address Curt Spalding. Photo by Eric Grulke

After the keynote, a panel of UConn faculty from a variety of disciplines presented on the wide reaching impacts of climate change. Each faculty member discussed climate change impact in the context of a specific system. Included in this discussion were impacts on water resources, agriculture, human health, biota, infrastructure, economics, and political systems.

CIMA 3 Panel 2
Faculty panelists Michael O’Neil, Mark Urban, and Carol Atkinson-Palombo (right). Photo by Eric Grulke
Faculty panelist Merrill Singer Photo by Eric Grulke
Faculty panelist Merrill Singer Photo by Eric Grulke










After an audience question and answer session with the panel, there was a networking lunch and poster session for the attendees. The posters represented some of the climate-related initiatives and research at the University of Connecticut. The relaxed atmosphere of the poster exhibition and lunch provided a unique opportunity for faculty, staff, and students to not only talk about the issue of climate change as a whole, but also what is being done at UConn.

Professor John Volin (left) and UConn students enjoy the Poster and Networking Lunch. Photo by Eric Grulke
Professor John Volin (left) and UConn students enjoy the Poster and Networking Lunch. Photo by Eric Grulke

The final session of the day was a closing presentation from Eban Goodstein – Director and Faculty, Center for Environmental Policy and Sustainability MBA at Bard College (Organizer of Power Shift, Focus the Nation and Mr. Goodstein talked on the immediacy of needed action on climate change. In this talk, he focused on the current generation of students and how their actions will be pivotal in influencing the course of climate change over the next fifty years.

Eban Goodstein’s closing presentation. Photo by Eric Grulke
Eban Goodstein’s closing presentation. Photo by Eric Grulke

Overall the event was well received by the attendees. It provided an excellent forum for discussion on what needs to happen regionally, globally, and at the University of Connecticut going forward to adapt and respond to global climate change.

Weathering the Storms – UConn Leads in Climate Adaptation (Part 2)

(Part 1 of this two-part blog looked at how a unique Adaptation amendment to UConn’s Climate Action Plan, approved by President Herbst in 2012, created a roadmap that has helped guide UConn to a leadership position on resiliency research and public service, especially with the creation of the ICRCA at Avery Point. Part 2 focuses on adaptation research, from clean energy microgrids to roadside forestry, with a preview of the half-day CIMA3 conference on March 31st.)

UConn’s Microgrid – A Model for Clean and Resilient Energy Infrastructure

Most residents in the state will remember the challenges of being without electricity for up to 10 days in the aftermath of at least one of the major storms we’ve experienced in recent years.  In response, Connecticut now leads the nation with its innovative microgrid program, which once again features UConn as a key player and potentially as a statewide center of excellence.  Under its three phase, multi-year microgrid program, DEEP provides grant funding for high-tech switchgear, independent distribution systems and automated controls that enable on-site, efficient, and preferably clean, energy-generating sources to operate in “island mode,” separate from the utility-owned grid.

Last year, UConn was in the initial group of nine, including municipalities, hospitals and other college campuses, to receive a phase one incentive grant. In our case, $2.14 million in funding will be used to convert our 400 kW ClearEdge fuel cell, a source of combined heat and power to most of the UConn-owned and occupied buildings at the Depot, along with a small PV solar array, into a clean energy microgrid.  In turn, when this system is installed and operating this fall, it will ensure continuous power to certain facilities that can meet public needs during extended grid power outages, like electric vehicle charging stations, a communications command center for UConn police and fire departments, and community warming centers, with kitchens and restrooms.

Installed in 2012, the fuel cell generates heat and power through an electrochemical reaction, similar to a battery, not through combustion. Our Depot Campus fuel cell reduces UConn’s carbon footprint by more than 800 tons a year compared to receiving power from the grid or using more conventional fuel-burning sources of energy.  Thus, UConn’s microgrid not only makes for a more resilient and reliable energy infrastructure but also helps promote the use of cleaner, renewable, and more efficient energy sources.

Beyond these immediate operational and public benefits, UConn’s microgrid will be another example of a state-of-the-art “living laboratory,” i.e., an on-campus platform for research and a functional demonstration project for education and outreach. Already, a half-dozen faculty members affiliated with the University’s Center for Clean Energy Engineering (C2E2), led by Dr. Peter Luh in Electrical & Computer Engineering, are preparing and envisioning research grant proposals on hot microgrid topics like energy storage, advanced optimization and ultra-fast programmable networks for virtual energy management.

Courtesy of Dr. Peter Luh (E&CE) and Dr. Peng Zhang (E&CE)
Courtesy of Dr. Peter Luh (E&CE) and Dr. Peng Zhang (E&CE)

There is yet another benefit to UConn for being on the cutting edge of this emerging microgrid technology: corporate R&D partnerships. On February 26th, nearly 60 people, representing dozens of potential industry partners, in Hartford for a three-day “Next Generation Microgrids” conference, visited the Depot for presentations and tours of the University’s C2E2 and recently-established Fraunhofer Center for Energy Innovation.  This visit was an opportunity to further showcase UConn’s leadership in these important aspects of climate adaptation and sustainable energy. The audience was a representative cross-section of the energy industry, including small and large, regional and international companies, all with an interest in microgrid R&D. The conference brochure touted a “staggering growth” since 2011 in installed microgrid capacity worldwide, with a “market value…likely to reach up to $27 billion by 2022.”

Plenty of good reasons for UConn to stay at the forefront of microgrid research!

UConn Research Helping Connecticut Adapt to Climate Change

Meanwhile, there are many University faculty members, across a variety of disciplines, who are conducting adaptation-related research. To highlight just a few:

  • Dr. Mark Boyer, a Political Science professor who focuses on environmental politics and is the director of UConn‘s new Environmental Studies B.A. degree program, is looking at the drivers and barriers to local governance of climate change.  In particular, he’s studied climate adaptation policies, ordinances and other initiatives adopted by Connecticut towns.
  • Dr. Manos Anagnostou (Environmental Engineering/ENVE), Dr. Brian Hartman (Math), Dr. Marina Astitha (ENVE) and PhD candidate Dave Wanik (ENVE) are working on weather-based damage prediction models for the electric distribution system in CT and MA. The models relate high resolution weather forecasts, distribution infrastructure and GIS data to historic damage observations, and will soon include tree trimming data as a model input.
  • Related research into mitigating tree failure by Drs. Mark Rudnicki, John Volin (Natural Resources & the Environment) and Thomas Worthley (Extension) will further enhance reliability of the grid through management of trees and forest edges near power lines.  Part of their “Stormwise” initiative was recently featured in this Hartford Courant article and this report on WNPR. The total Stormwise initiative is developing a systems approach which integrates the biophysical, economic and social dimensions needed for successfully increasing the resilience of trees, forests and the utility infrastructure to expected future storms. Follow them @StormwiseUCONN

Also, led by Dr. Jim Edson (Marine Sciences), nearly two dozen faculty members in UConn’s inter-disciplinary Atmospheric Sciences Group, along with affiliated graduate Research Assistants, met last month to discuss their climate change-related research.  Many are studying the impacts of climate change on everything from terrestrial biota, to coastlines, estuaries and oceans. Much of this research is intended to provide data that will guide the development of mitigation and adaptation strategies, pursuant to the mission of UConn’s new Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation.

You can learn more about this research by attending UConn’s third annual Climate Impact Mitigation & Adaptation (CIMA3) conference, scheduled for March 31st at the Student Union Theater and in the SU’s Room 104, across from Chuck & Auggie’s and the Blue Cow.

By Rich Miller, Director of the Office of Environmental Policy (OEP) and Kerrin Kinnear, OEP intern (4th semester, ENVST)


Rapid Responses to Climate Change: The Actions We Need To Take

  • 9:00 – Introductory remarks by Provost Mun Choi
  • 9:15 – Keynote address from Curt Spalding, EPA’s top official in New England
  • 10:00 – A panel of TED talks on the impacts of climate change on environmental systems, featuring a variety of  UConn faculty experts
  • 11:30 – 1:00 – The “CIMA Café” & Plain-Language Poster Session – a free networking lunch – enjoy finger food from Dining Services’ sustainable catering menu as you mingle with other students, faculty and staff during a “plain language” poster session explaining CIMA-related UConn research, centers and programs
  • 12:30 – Closing plenary remarks by Dr. Eban Goodstein, Director of Bard College’s Center of Environmental Policy and Sustainability MBA, best known as lead organizer of Power Shift, Focus the Nation, and other higher ed-focused climate action initiatives.
  • 1:30 – Conference concludes

Come and see for yourself what makes UConn a leader in Climate Adaptation!  For more information about the event, please contact UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy at (860) 486-5773.

Regional EPA Administrator Curt Spaulding speaks at an event to announce the launch of the Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation held on Jan. 24, 2014 at the Branford House at the University of Connecticut Avery Point campus in Groton. Seated from left are Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Provost Mun Choi. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Regional EPA Administrator Curt Spaulding speaks at an event to announce the launch of the Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation held on Jan. 24, 2014 at the Branford House at the University of Connecticut Avery Point campus in Groton. Seated from left are Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Provost Mun Choi. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Eban Goodstein
Eban Goodstein

Clearing the Air – A look at UConn’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On March 25, 2008 University of Connecticut President, Michael Hogan, signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment (PCC) 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. Since the signing of this agreement, UConn has been retro-commissioning and re-lamping many large buildings to save on energy costs and negate greenhouse gas emissions. The university has also implemented an energy efficient fuel cell on the depot campus. So have we made progress?

UConn has reduced its primary CO2 emissions by 4,802 tons per year since 2011 (more than 4%). This is a great decrease considering the increased student population, building space and tough winters (requiring a lot of energy consumption for heating) which Storrs has experienced over the past few years. It should also be noted that our emissions tracking technology and behavior has been improved over the past few years. We expect to see further drops in greenhouse gas emissions each year. To put our expected greenhouse gas emissions decreases into perspective, keep in mind that the retro-commissioning and re-lamping projects from the past few years have expected carbon dioxide offsets of 16,000 tons per year (This would cut out main body of emissions by more than 10%). Although we didn’t see the expected decrease in 2013 due to some  of the above factors, we believe that the general trend will continue to be downward.

GHG 2013 Graph

UConn uses the University of New Hampshire’s Campus Carbon Calculator to calculate emissions. Scope 1 refers to direct emissions from campus activity. Scope 2 refers to indirect emissions from purchasing and related activities.

The greenhouse gas inventory takes a very long time to complete because we have to contact various people from many different departments for emissions data. We put all of this data into common terms, verify it, and enter it into a large greenhouse gas calculator so that we can analyze our results. Let’s just say that we’re happy to be finished with this year’s greenhouse gas inventory, for now.