Looking for something to watch while you’re stuck at home? Eco House has a suggestion for you. On February 25th, the Eco House learning community held a screening of the exciting new documentary, “The Pollinators.” The event, held in the Student Union Theatre, was open to all students as well as members of the general public. Over 90 students turned out and many more watched remotely.
The film profiles large-scale American beekeepers whose jobs are getting increasingly harder as the years go by. As pesticides such as neonicotinoids become more widespread, bees are dying in record numbers, and bee die-offs are becoming part of the daily routine. To keep up with demand despite this challenge, there is now a constant and large scale movement of hives back and forth across the United States by freight trucks. The almond industry plays an immense role in this, as they rent almost 100% of the nation’s hives for their pollination period. The almond industry’s high demand leaves behind only a small number of bees to pollinate other crops for that period. One emerging solution explored in the film is the regenerative agricultural practices, such as no-till farming, silvo-pasturing and creating habitats for beneficial pollinators. Many of these practices work in conjunction with one another to support the bee population. For instance, the growth of nitrogen-fixing cover crops between normal planting seasons allows for no-till practices and reduces the need for harmful pesticides.
The film was followed by a lively Q&A session with the director, Peter Nelson and producer Sally Roy. The audience came prepared to discuss solutions to the issues facing bee populations and ways in which we can keep the pollinator industry alive. Nelson promoted the importance of supporting local farmers and beekeepers, but also focused on spreading knowledge. The film itself is available upon request for screenings by towns and other large groups, like UConn. Nelson emphasized the importance of spreading the knowledge of these issues so that they can be better understood by the general public, either through the documentary or through alternative educational efforts.
Nelson, a beekeeper himself, personally explained the struggles within the work force and is excited to get to work on his next big project!
The event was co-sponsored by the Office of Sustainability, the Institute of the Environment, the UConn Honors Program and the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture.
Green Game Day was a bright spot on an otherwise disappointing day for UConn football fans. The Huskies lost a close game on the field, but Mother Earth won outside the stadium where EcoHusky and EcoHouse volunteers, along with Office of Sustainability interns, took to the tailgating fields to collect cans and bottles from fans. Volunteers sporting blue Green Game Day shirts walked among the rows of cars, approaching UConn alumni, Connecticut locals and even some Illinois fans to help make their game day a bit greener.
Some student volunteers even ventured into the spirited student lot, all in the name of recycling! Unsurprisingly, they emerged with more bags than any other tailgate area.
In total, the volunteers collected 58 bags of recyclable bottles and cans.
While most of the volunteers scoured the fields, others staffed the Office of Sustainability tent in the HuskyFest fan zone, quizzing fans on their environmental knowledge and giving out prizes for correct answers. One notable addition to the prize table this year was the new UConn Sustainability Activity Book. Our youngest fans (and a few older ones) jumped at the chance to color and learn. One excited young Husky was heard walking away from the tent exclaiming: “Dad look! Jonathan’s on every page!”
From baby boomers to generation Z, all ages were equal parts enthralled, enthused and stumped by the intern’s questions. At the end of their experience at the tent, all participants had learned something about the environment and UConn’s sustainability efforts.
Once inside, fans were treated to a recycling PSA from none other than Jonathan the Husky. Likely due to the inspiring recycling video, the Huskies got off to a strong start, scoring the first 13 points. Alas, it was not to last, as Illinois came storming back to win 31-23.
While UConn’s first loss of the season was disappointing, it can teach us a valuable lesson about recycling: Care for the environment must be sustained, or else we risk losing all our progress. And vice versa: No matter what your habits are, you can always turn it around and become an EcoWarrior.
Green Game Day was a roaring success for all involved. We hope to see you during the basketball season at Gampel, or next year at the Rent!
There was something different and exciting about the second home game of UConn’s football season. For one, it turned out to be UConn’s first win of the season. But more importantly, Husky fans tailgating before the game were greeted by dozens of students in blue and green shirts carrying around trash bags, picking up bottles and cans, and giving out sustainability-themed trinkets.
Who were these students, and why were they at Rentschler Field? EcoHusky members and EcoHouse residents, along with OEP interns, had gotten together for our fall Green Game Day! Each year, the OEP partners with Athletics to educate not only UConn students but also Husky fans from all over Connecticut on the importance of recycling.
Volunteers walked around the parking lots, interacting with tailgaters while collecting bottles and cans. It was messy work – many shoes were dirtied with mysterious liquids in the process – but that did not dampen the students’ spirit. This year, 2.4 tons of recyclables were collected according to Windsor Sanitation, the most on record from any Green Game Day! Meanwhile, OEP staff and interns stationed at the Green Game Day tent during FanFest quizzed young and old on environmental facts while playing our brand new Plinko game for prizes.
Another exciting addition to this Green Game Day event was a recycling PSA video the office created featuring the one and only Jonathan the Husky! In the video, Jonathan teaches you how to recycle by recycling a plastic water bottle himself! If you haven’t seen it, it is one of the cutest videos you will see all year. It was shown on the Jumbo Tron before the game, and ‘awws’ could be heard throughout the stadium as it played. Check out our Facebook page to see it for yourself!
Thanks to our smiling, extremely dedicated, and hardworking volunteers, Green Game Day was a success! A big shout to all who made it possible. We’re looking forward to the next one in February!
Over 30 members of EcoHusky and the EcoHouse learning community got up bright and early on Saturday, October 8th, to volunteer at the Hartford Marathon in Bushnell Park. After a quick power nap on the bus, volunteers were ready for a day of excitement, positivity, and environmental awareness. Upon arrival at Bushnell Park in Hartford, volunteers mapped out the best locations for compost and heatsheet bins, as their primary responsibility for the day was to manage the waste stations throughout the park to ensure that runners and race-goers correctly disposed of food, recyclables, and foil blankets.
The Hartford Marathon Foundation has expressed strong interest in environmental initiatives over the years, with compost management as a top priority on the day of the event. Their composting partner is the KNOX Park Foundation, a nonprofit organization that partners with residents, businesses, and government to make Hartford more sustainable. This year, all of the food items on the race menu were compostable, including the soup, fruit, deserts, plates and napkins. The Marathon planners were also conscious in their other purchasing decisions, as the cups provided at the drink stations were recyclable as well.
The Marathon’s efforts to reduce waste at the event are commendable; however, it was up to the volunteers from EcoHusky and EcoHouse to ensure that those efforts were seen through. Composting and recycling can have such positive waste diversion impacts, but only if the items are separated into the correct bins. Not only did volunteers ensure that this was done at the event, they also educated race-goers about recycling and composting so they could be more sustainable in their daily lives. Additionally, they tracked the bags of compost, weighing hundreds of pounds over the course of the day.
“I definitely thought the volunteers had a positive impact on the people attending the Marathon. Most race-goers were eager to learn, asking us questions to make sure they were throwing their waste out in the appropriate bins.” -Eddie McInerney, EcoHusky member
In addition to manning the waste stations throughout the park, EcoHusky also had an environmental awareness tent, with an interactive basketball and recycling-themed game that encouraged players to think about what items are recyclable, compostable, and trash, then throw the items into the correct basketball hoops.
“Race-goers were attracted to the EcoHusky tent because of its peculiar set up – needless to say, no one else had a conglomeration of “waste” items and handmade basketball hoops scattered around their table. For such a simple and low budget idea, we still managed to make a big impact with the people we spoke to.” -Katie Main, EcoHusky Treasurer
Each year, members of EcoHusky and EcoHouse refer to the Hartford Marathon as one of their favorite volunteer events. The positive atmosphere surrounding the marathon, and the receptiveness of the race-goers to the message about sustainability, consistently leave the volunteers feeling both cheerful and optimistic.
This 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
Dvon 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.
Throughout 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This past October 24th was the 10th annual Campus Sustainability Day (CSD). CSD is an occasion for college and university campuses to celebrate the unique role they play in the movement towards a sustainable society. Sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), CSD is a national event with 151 institutions participating from coast to coast. This was the first year that the University of Connecticut joined in.
As a center of higher learning and forward thinking, UConn has a growing culture interested in practicing and spreading awareness about sustainability. From student organizations to faculty and staff initiatives, UConn has distinguished itself as one of the “greenest” schools in the country (as we were proudly recognized by the Sierra Club!). The contributors to UConn’s CSD were equally diverse, including sustainability staff from the Office of Environmental Policy (OEP), the EcoHouse Learning Community, Green Grads, EcoHusky Student Group, Spring Valley Student Farm, and even Ballroom Dancing Club.
The first part of CSD focused on sharing information about the various opportunities available for students to get involved in the green movement on campus. This was a great opportunity for these groups to advertise their ongoing activities and projects. Tables, tents, and displays were set up on Fairfield Way. Participants brought games, produce, and a range of information for students to take on their way through campus. The fair-style event provided a physical representation of the sustainable movement at UConn.
The second component of CSD was a review of UConn’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) by sustainability intern Emily McInerney. The CAP is a guidance document that is a product of the American Colleges and Universities Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) intended to outline steps to lead UConn to carbon neutrality by the year 2050. Emily gave a brief presentation on the history of the CAP, its progress since implementation in 2009, and what the future holds in light of the goals it sets out.
The talk set the stage for a breakout session in which the (mostly undergraduate) crowd formed groups to discuss the student-centric aspects of UConn’s CAP and sustainability initiatives. Conversation focused on ways in which students can learn about and get involved with sustainability programs on campus. Groups identified information gaps, including the general lack of awareness about electronic waste recycling and car share programs, and pressing campus issues like food waste, recycling, and sustainable transport.
Finally, the discussion turned towards ways to address these problems or promote the progress that UConn has made. Including sustainability-related information early in students’ UConn experience such as during freshman orientation or campus tours received widespread support, as did adjusting the parking fee structure to encourage alternative transit or carpooling. Students suggested that simple relatable messages could be effective in addressing issue like food or electricity waste.
Overall, CSD proved to be a success. The greatest accomplishment of 2012’s CSD was the collaboration and communication that occurred between the diverse factions of students and organizations. Networking, conversation, and education were focal points of the day’s events and these exchanges between the different parties will be a platform for which UConn can continue to build itself, both in practice and in philosophy, as a school dedicated to long-term sustainability. We look forward to participating in 2013!