Author’s note: During Latinx Heritage Month celebrations, we acknowledge that many non-white Latinxs do not identify with the notion of Latinidad, defined as the collection of attributes and experiences shared by members of the Latin American identity. Many Black and Indigenous members of the community reject a unified notion of Latinidad because it ignores the violent, racist history of Latin American colonization and erases the different histories experiences of peoples in Latin America. For these reasons, this Latinx Heritage Month, we honor the contributions of Black and Indigenous Latinxs to the conservation/sustainability field.
Feliz días de la independencia a mi gente Latinx! Con orgullo nicaragüense, les presento cinco pionerxs que están desafiando la definición de quién es ambientalista.
Happy (belated) Latinx Heritage Month! Between September and October, we celebrate the achievements, contributions, and influence of the Latinx* culture in the United States. Celebrations begin on September 15, when Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua gained their independence from Spain in 1821. Mexico celebrates the day after, and Chile recognizes their independence on September 18. Join us in celebrating Latinx Heritage Month by recognizing activists who call attention to environmental conservation while paying homage to their roots.
Xiye Bastida is an eighteen-year old Mexican-Chilean activist and member of the Otomi-Toltec Nation. She is from San Pedro Tultepec, Mexico, where she was raised with Otomi indigenous beliefs that emphasized the reciprocity of taking care of the Earth. Her community experienced a severe two-year drought followed by extreme flooding events, which prompted her to examine how the extreme weather events are exacerbated by the climate and how this disproportionately impacts BIPOC** communities. Upon moving to New York City with her family, where she witnessed the lingering damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, Bastida focused her energy on indigenous and immigrant visibility in climate activism. She is one of the principal organizers for Fridays for Future NYC, has mobilized people of all ages to participate in the Global Climate Strike, and is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
Xiuhtezcatl Martínez is a nineteen-year old activist who wrote a book entitled We Rise: The Earth Guardians Guide to Building a Movement That Restores the Planet. His book examines the failures of world leaders to solve the climate crisis and suggests tangible steps that youth can take to mobilize their communities. Martínez is a youth director for Earth Guardians, and has advocated for large governments to address climate change at the Rio+20 United Nations Summit and the UN General Assembly. Martínez cites his Mexica (Aztec) heritage as the motivation for his activism, and believes that all humans have a responsibility to protect the environment. Martínez shares his indigenous beliefs, stories, and experiences growing up as an activist in the spotlight through his hip hop music.
Katherine Lorenzo is an Afro-Latina climate activist who began her career by volunteering during Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. She studied political science at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and has worked with advocacy groups such as Mi Familia Vota. Lorenzo frequently mentions that conservation is an inherent part of Latinx culture. While families are motivated to save money, there is an added benefit of reusing and wasting less. Lorenzo worked on environmental justice programs through CHISPA Nevada, and focused on the Clean Busses for Healthy Niños campaign to switch districts to clean, electric school buses. She currently works at a nonprofit, Energy Foundation, which promotes policy solutions to advance renewable energy and teach the public about the benefits of a clean energy economy.
Solimar Fiske is an activist who uses her Instagram feed #TakingUpSpaceOutdoors to amplify voices of color in outdoor spaces. Fiske speaks on the isolating experience of walking into outdoor clothing retail stores and not seeing anyone who looked like her, or clothing geared towards her frame. She says that engaging with her online platform has led her to find a community of activists (such as @melaninbasecamp and @unlikelyhikers) who are working towards the same goals she is, and that she is continuously learning about land acknowledgment, conservation, and environmental awareness. Fiske acknowledges that many people of color only see a narrow advertisement of what the outdoors is actually like, and face barriers of time, travel, and funds. She aims to educate others by emphasizing that experiences in nature are not out of reach, being a role model for other people of color who want to get involved outside, and taking up space as a woman of color, immigrant, person with mixed indigenous heritage, working class person, and person with a large body.
Melissa Cristina Márquez is a Puerto Rican and Mexican marine biologist and the founder of Fins United. The Fins United Initiative teaches people of all ages about Chondrichthyes (shark and ray) conservation, education, and co-existence. Márquez travels around the world speaking about the importance of diversity and inclusion in science. She has been dubbed the “Mother of Sharks” and has been featured on various nature programs, including Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. As a proud #LatinainSTEM, Márquez emphasizes the need for open communication between the scientific community and the general public, law and policy makers, and diverse stakeholders.
*Latinx: gender-neutral term for someone of Latin American origin/descent
Editor’s Note: During these times of uncertainty, finding ways to proactively care for ourselves and our surroundings can have a grounding effect. However, we must recognize that having this opportunity is a sign of our privilege. I encourage you to take a moment to appreciate the labor of essential workers.
Eco-conscious consumerism may seem like an unlikely investment of time during a global pandemic, but quarantine has allowed many of us to slow down and listen to our bodies. Practicing self-care can take many forms and adopting a skincare routine is one. When we discuss personal care products, however, we should also consider the life cycle and environmental impacts of their packaging.
According to a report compiled by Statista, the 2020 United States skincare market has generated $18.1 million and the average consumer has spent $55 on skincare. The bottles, tubes, and containers used annually by the cosmetic industry adds up to 120 billion units of plastics packaging. But how does this hurt our planet?
Of the 120 billion units of plastic packaging used each year, 70% ends up in landfills. Bioplastics do not degrade naturally or within the average human lifespan. They can be composted, but require such an intense degree of heat to break down that they must be returned to an industrial compost site.
Through the dumping of waste in developing nations and irresponsible waste collection practices, plastic ends up in our oceans and breaks down into microplastics. When ingested, plastics and microplastics jeopardize the health of marine life and move in such a way mimic the movements of prey consumed by fish and seabirds. Plastic pollution, which PEW Research Center estimates currently totals up to 8 million pieces of plastic in the ocean, can also become entangled with aquatic life. This has resulted in the strangulation of sea turtles and marine mammals’ necks, and the asphyxiation of aquatic life.
Alternative forms of packaging have been used by companies in response to rapid deforestation and plastic pollution. An increasingly popular material is bioplastic, which is made from the sugars in corn starch, cassava, and sugar cane. Bioplastics are defined by being composed of 20% or more renewable resources, and are free of the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA (bisphenol A). This alternative seems appealing compared to the use of petroleum-based packaging, but the conservation community warns that there are many contingencies to the success of bioplastics. It is often cited that they emit less carbon dioxide than petroleum-based plastic, due in part to the fact that they are not unearthing trapped liquid carbon dioxide. However, a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh found that extensive land use, as well as fertilizer and pesticide application, lead to more pollutant emissions than traditional plastic. Not only are these agricultural practices harmful to the environment, but they also threaten our hormonal and skin health.
The use of “natural” ingredients in products and packaging disproportionately impact people of color. On the agricultural side, migrant farmworkers in the United States experience routine exposure to pesticides and other environmental hazards associated with industrial farming (such as California’s continued wildfires), heat stress, and contaminated drinking water. These laborers are essential to the $200 billion agricultural industry, yet farmworkers make about 40 cents per bucket of produce picked. On the consumer side, there has also been an uptick in lawsuits based on exposure to toxic ingredients in household brand health and beauty products. A notable example is litigation based on mercury contamination in skin-lightening products. The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology issued an opinion that women of color are disproportionately exposed to unsafe ingredients in beauty products due to the societal pressures they face to conform to Western beauty standards. For these reasons, looking at sustainability through the lens of human rights and racial/social justice is key to the growth of the sustainable skincare/beauty industry.
So where does our beauty waste go?
Our demand for resource-intensive products contributes to the loss of 18 million acres of forest each year. This is because skincare products contain ingredients like soy, palm oil, and sugar cane, which are grown on large-scale farms that consume extensive stretches of land. Not only are the effects of our consumption felt on land, but also seen in the oceans. Alarm has been raised surrounding the ethical implications of agricultural sourcing. By diverting land and energy away from food production, companies are exacerbating food insecurity in many developing countries. Ecovia (formerly Organic Monitor), a market research firm that examines the organic beauty industry, compares the debate over “beauty crops” to that of biofuel. While both are striving to improve sustainability in their markets, advancing technology while failing to address food security ignores the basic human right to food. Developments in the industry, such as the commitment to sustainable palm oil-sourcing (see Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), have been created to address these concerns. Similar roundtables exist for soybeans and cocoa, all with the intent to responsibly and ethically grow consumer crops.
How can you find sustainable skincare products?
Greenwashing has frequently become more apparent as brands jump onto the eco-conscious trend. This term refers to the marketing strategy which deceives consumers into believing that the product is better for the environment (i.e. by having a lighter carbon footprint or donating to an environmental organization). Usually, greenwashed products use earth tone colors, have pictures of natural landscapes and/or leaves, and include key words such as “eco-,” “natural,” and “sustainable.” Greenwashing misleads consumers to think they are making decisions that positively impact or vaguely-reference the environment, when in reality, these companies continue to package in plastic and encourage wasteful consumption patterns. Many argue that bioplastics are an example of greenwashing due to inadequate composting infrastructure or consumer understanding of the waste process.
Along with greenwashing, be wary of the word “organic.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a certified organic label indicating that the crops “are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing… soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible” (USDA 2012). According to the New York Times, an amendment to the certification allowed 38 synthetic ingredients into organic products. With this in mind, conducting research on specific company policies in regards to ethical and sustainable sourcing is key. Look for Fair Trade Certified and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil Certified products when possible, and explore package-free products/options! Becoming more environmentally conscious doesn’t happen overnight – and it isn’t always financially sustainable for many people. Mindfulness about our practices and consumerism doesn’t mean we’re doing everything right, but that we’re conscious and working towards change.
The fight against plastic continues. Single-use plastic is pervasive in our lives and there is no exception for menstrual products. The products themselves and plastic packaging of tampons, pads, and panty liners generate more than 200,000 tonnes of waste per year. In the US alone, 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons are thrown out and end up in landfills, sewage lines, and our oceans annually!
Luckily, many different reusable products have been popping up as alternatives on the market. This movement has been led by empowered feminists looking to redefine the quality of products available and take down the stigma of periods while shifting away from these single-use menstrual products. You can find reusable cloth pads, period underwear, menstrual disks, menstrual cups and many more creative solutions and continued innovations!
OrganiCup, a women-led Danish menstrual cup company, is one such company focused both on empowering menstruators and tackling this menstrual waste problem. By providing silicone menstrual cups that are reusable for years and come in multiple sizes, this company is breaking barriers, destigmafying periods, and generating much less waste.
Organicup has launched the “Campus Cup” program, an initiative to introduce their reusable menstrual cups to college students as a sustainable alternative to traditional menstrual products by providing students with free menstrual cups. Identified via our GreenMetric rating, UConn served as a pilot for this initiative.
The UConn Office of Sustainability brought the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Tampon Time program on board in order to effectively distribute 500 menstrual cups during USG’s Womxn’s* Health and Empowerment Fair on March 2nd, 2020 for the OrganiCup Campus Cup launch date!
During the Womxn’s Health and Empowerment Fair, excitement and chatter filled the Student Union Ballroom, as students and attendees engaged with different booths highlighting organizations catered towards supporting female/womxn students. At each booth, students could learn about how resources on and off campus connect sustainability, physical & mental health, sex, gender-based violence, intersectional identities, and other topics related to female health & empowerment. The Office of Sustainability even had our own booth with giveaways where we highlighted the cost of different menstrual products and the connections between climate justice, sexual assault, & female empowerment. The biggest draw to the fair, though, was by far the free menstrual cups given out, with students lining up out the door to pick up their very own.
With the opportunity to try out one of the many reusable products on the market for free, menstruating college students on a budget are able to test something potentially out of their comfort zones without spending anything, all while getting one step closer to a more sustainable lifestyle and bringing sustainability to a part of their life that they may have never thought of.
Students walked away that day excited and ready to try out their free menstrual cup! This was a wonderful reminder to support continued efforts to talk about periods, provide comfortable and cost-saving products & resources for menstruating students, and find creative opportunities to incorporate sustainability on the college campus. And this fair was just the start; there are many more menstrual cups that will be distributed at UConn, through the Women’s Center and in public bathrooms across campus alongside USG Tampon Time’s disposable menstrual products.
Keep your eyes open as OrganiCup launches their nation-wide Campus Cup program this fall! Feel free to reach out to the UConn Office of Sustainability with any questions.
Since the late 1980s, activists have been attempting to change Columbus Day — a federally recognized holiday — to Indigenous Peoples Day. Advocates argue that the historical account of Columbus obscures his record of colonization, which led to slavery, genocide, illnesses, and near extinction, of the Taino people by the mid-1500s. The Taino were the most numerous indigenous people of the Caribbean islands encountered by Columbus after his trans-Atlantic voyage in 1492.
Dozens of cities and states across the United States have recognized this holiday as Indigenous Peoples’ Day since advocacy began in the late 1980s. UConn has joined in recognizing this holiday in recent years. This year, the Office of the Provost emailed the UConn community about this recognition and the history behind it. The Native American Cultural Program hosts a week-long event series each year in celebration, dubbed Indigenous Peoples’ Week.
Indigenous people, in the United States and across the world, are on the frontlines of the fight for environmental and climate justice. In the United States, indigenous people are often associated with closeness to nature and a low-impact way of life. While this image is sometimes a caricature, in many cases, it holds true. Struggles for land rights and protection against pollution or displacement, whether caused by the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels and extended droughts, or by big businesses and expanding agricultural interests, are issues of survival for many of the world’s 370 million indigenous people.
Indigenous Ecuadorians have long-pursued legal action against Texaco and Chevron, large oil conglomerates, for pollution of their homeland from large oil spills. While these lawsuits have dragged on for years, and even decades, they serve as reminders of the determination of indigenous people.
In 2016, indigenous people of the Standing Rock reservation came together to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was slated to run through ancient burial grounds and dangerously close to the tribe’s fresh water supply. Thousands of protesters brought international attention to the issue of indigenous land rights and environmental justice. However, in 2017, protesters were eventually dispersed and removed by state and federal authorities and the final phase of the pipeline project was swiftly approved by the Army
Corps of Engineers (ACOE). Although the project was completed and oil is flowing through the pipeline, a federal judge ordered the ACOE to reconsider certain environmental impacts. The reservation is currently litigating the adequacy of that second review, which was done in 2018 – their fight is yet another example of the challenges and environmental risks faced by indigenous people.
The most recent global climate strikes are most commonly associated with Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish activist who started the Fridays for Future student movement. But indigenous youth have been heavily involved on the frontlines of this movement as well. Other prominent activists include the 22-year old Makasa Lookinghorse of the Six Nations of the Grand River, who is
fighting for Native American water rights in opposition to a permit granted by Ontario, Canada, which allows the Nestle Corporation to pump millions of gallons of water per day from a local aquifer. We must recognize Helena Gualinga, who has fought for climate justice in her homeland of Ecuador, and Xiye Bastida, who has fought against extraction culture and for environmental justice in Mexico.
Indigenous activists have been leading on environmental justice issues long before it has gained the attention of the public eye. This Indigenous Peoples’ Week, we recognize and support them in their continued struggle for environmental and climate justice.
On Friday, September 20th, millions of students across the world left class and took to the streets to demand climate justice. Protesters gathered in every corner of the world, from Pakistan and India to the United States and Australia. Then, on Friday, September 27th, millions of students left class again to continue the fight for climate justice. In between, Greta Thunberg, the catalyst for the global strikes, gave a blunt speech to world leaders gathered at the United Nations:
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
Young people no longer feel like asking politely for change to come — they are demanding it. At the end of her brief yet immensely powerful speech, Greta perfectly encapsulated the mood of the strikes: “The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”
At UConn, over a thousand students attended the first strike on the Student Union Lawn. On the lawn, there were art exhibits on environmental justice, hula hooping and sign making stations as well as a demands table, where interested students could learn more about the UConn-specific demands from the strike organizers.
Photo by Cameron Cantelmo
At noon, hundreds of students gathered in front of the Student Union to hear the strike’s dynamic student speakers. These students spoke on intersectionality, global climate justice, eco-anxiety and the need to act quickly. After the speeches wrapped up, over four hundred students marched to the President’s office at Gulley Hall to list their demands. A call and response chant of “What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!” echoed through Fairfield Way. At Gulley Hall, strike organizers listed their demands to the raucous crowd. Then, President Katsouleas arrived and responded through the organizer’s megaphone. He promised to take the demands seriously and dedicate a special Board of Trustees committee to researching solutions to UConn’s rising carbon emissions.
The strike was a landmark moment in UConn’s history. Actions regarding the demands, including sit-ins at the President’s office, have continued following the strike.
In an email two Wednesdays ago, the President committed to forming a student working group on climate change as well as expediting the University’s emission reduction goals.
This past week, UConn President Susan Herbst was part of a coalition of university presidents who took an important step toward achieving an equitable, environmentally conscious future by signing UConn on to the Second Nature’s Call to Action and Guiding Principles for Accelerating Equitable and Just Climate Solutions. Below is the statement she released explaining the role of UConn in creating a future that is healthy and safe for everyone.
As a Land Grant and Sea Grant institution, the University of Connecticut has always felt a special responsibility to set high standards and uphold strong principles on the ways in which we understand and protect our environment both locally and globally.
For these and many other reasons, we wholeheartedly endorse the imperatives articulated in Second Nature’s Call to Action and Guiding Principles for Accelerating Equitable and Just Climate Solutions, which wereannounced recently at the 2019 Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit in Tempe, Arizona.
These principles remind us that universities have not only the power to motivate change and the expertise to offer innovative solutions, but also the responsibility to ensure that those solutions are equitable and developed in collaboration with the people most impacted.
That responsibility is especially challenging when it comes to climate change because of the distance between our actions here and now, and their consequences, which are often far removed in time and space.
It’s our duty as global citizens to adjust behaviors today for carbon mitigation and resilience preparation that will primarily benefit future generations, or vulnerable populations located somewhere else around the world. To this point, Second Nature’s Guiding Principles advise us to think globally; we must continuously review and refine our campus climate action plans to ensure that our goals and strategies reflect the best available science about the effects of climate change.
As a state flagship, public research university, UConn‘s mission has always included public service. We frequently partner with state and local governments and strive to be engaged leaders in our community. Second Nature’s Guiding Principles urge us to extend this engagement to the global community. In the context of climate change, we can do this by accounting for how the long-term costs of our institutional activities might “negatively impact people and the planet, and strive to measure, internalize, and avoid these costs to the greatest extent possible.”
The first step is raising awareness about the underlying science of global warming and collectively accepting our share of responsibility for its harmful effects, which are already occurring in places far removed from our nation’s campuses. This includes subsistence farms in North Africa wiped out in recent years by historic droughts, entire coastal communities in Pacific island nations displaced by sea level rise and flooding, and essential drinking water supplies threatened by receding glaciers in the Himalayas.
Informed by this knowledge and driven by basic human decency, the next step of higher education institutions should be recognizing the urgent needs of the world’s most vulnerable populations by accelerating our climate strategies.
UConn has historically been a leader on this front, and we continue to reaffirm our efforts to this end. We recently adopted an environmental literacy general education requirement that will ensure our students graduate from UConn with a grasp of important, intersectional environmental issues including climate change.
UConn is also an active agent in local climate adaptation projects, notably through the University’s Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA), which works with economically disadvantaged communities to improve their climate resiliency.
In 2017, we joined a multi-sector coalition of American businesses, state and local governments, NPOs, and colleges and universities by signing the “We Are Still In” pledge, reaffirming our commitment to the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Last fall, we joined 17 other major research universities in the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3), sharing our expertise in order to accelerate solutions to global warming. And, for the past four years, our UConn@COP program has brought a delegation of students to the U.N.’s annual international climate summit for an immersive, hands-on learning experience, with the goal of developing future leaders in climate science and policy.
This year, UConn’s Sustainability Office will meet with departments and stakeholders across campus, including at a student summit scheduled for next month, in order to update our strategic goals and metrics for climate leadership through 2025. This is the next five-year milestone in our long-term Climate Action Plan. It’s also the perfect opportunity to utilize Second Nature’s Guiding Principles as a more global and equitable lens for reviewing our progress and envisioning more impactful strategies toward a carbon-neutral campus.
The midterm elections that took place this November have ushered in a new vanguard of representatives ready to fight for the needs of the people. These newly elected representatives have harnessed public enthusiasm for change to beat out incumbents, and are entering Congress full of ideas and energy. One of the most well-known of these newly elected representatives is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A 29-year-old Latina from the Bronx, Cortez is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Along with a number of her colleagues, she has announced a plan called “The Green New Deal” that pushes for climate change to be prioritized in Congress. Ocasio-Cortez is just one example of the many Hispanic activists across the country and world that are fighting to protect us from environmental degradation.
In our country, Latinx people are more concerned about the environment and more willing to take action to protect it than the general population. This makes sense, since a history of environmental racism means they are one of the populations most affected by environmental hazards like particulate pollution and poor water. Despite often being excluded from the mainstream environmental movement, Latinx people have always been heavily involved in environmental activism.
In Latin America, environmentalists are fighting for their lives, literally. As the area continues to develop and those in power exploit the land and its resources, indigenous and poor people are displaced. Their way of life, their land, and their livelihoods are stolen from them, and governments do very little to protect them, if not encourage the exploitation. When people decide to organize and fight back, they are threatened or killed. A 2016 report from GlobalWitness found that two-thirds of the 185 environmentalists murdered in 2015 resided in Latin America.
UConn recognizes the importance of this reality. The USG Sustainability Subcommittee is one organization on campus that is dedicated to working towards a just and sustainable planet for all people. They are organizing a series of events this semester that make clear the importance of including Hispanic people and other diverse groups in the environmental movement. Keep an eye out for their events this semester!
We cannot possibly cover all of the passionate Hispanic activists that have dedicated their lives to environmentalism. However, we have highlighted some activists here which showcase the breadth of Hispanic people’s influence on the environmental movement.
Elizabeth Yeampierre is an internationally recognized pioneer in the environmental movement, intent on creating a platform for oppressed communities in the fight against climate change. A Puerto Rican attorney with indigenous and African roots, she was born and raised in New York City, and has fought on behalf of her community for her whole life. She has pioneered a model of intergenerational, multi-cultural, and community-led organizing that is award-winning and effective.
Yeampierre is a leader in numerous organizations across the country, including the Climate Justice Alliance, a national coalition of community-based organizations focused on environmental justice, and Building Equity & Alignment for Impact, which aims to strengthen relationships between philanthropists, large environmental nonprofits, and grassroots organizations. She was one of the driving forces behind the historical People’s Climate March in 2014. She is also a leader in New York City policy. She currently serves on mayor DeBlasio’s Sustainability Advisory board, and has been instrumental in historic legislation such as the passing of New York’s first Brownfield legislation and the adoption of NYC’s Solid Waste Management Plan. On the federal level, she was the first Latina chair appointed to the EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and was also a member of the National Environmental Health Sciences Advisory Council. In addition to delivering inspirational speeches around the world, Yeampierre works as the Executive Director of UPROSE, a grassroots organization that focuses on sustainability and resiliency in Brooklyn, NY.
Berta Caceres was a fearless environmental leader in her country of Honduras, one of the most dangerous places to be an environmentalist in the world. While still in college, she co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), and continued to lead the group for the rest of her life. The COPINH led a variety of important grassroots campaigns including protesting illegal logging, plantation owners, and US military presence on indigenous land. Caceres supported a wide range of social and indigenous issues including feminism and LGBT rights. As indigenous rights and human rights are inextricably linked with the environment, she became known as a prominent environmentalist. In 2015 she won the Goldman Environmental Prize for a campaign that was successful in pressuring the world’s largest dam builder to end a project on the Gualcarque River that would have “jeopardized the water resources and livelihood” of the surrounding land and people. However, her work to protect the people of Honduras eventually led to her death. In 2016, she was assassinated in her home by armed intruders. Fellow activists say one of Berta’s favorite expressions was “they are afraid of us because we are not afraid of them.”
Youth activist Jamie Margolin is one of the 21 youth who have filed a lawsuit against the federal government alleging that the action it has taken that has led to climate change is depriving the next generation of life, liberty, and property, and has failed to protect essential public trust resources. The case made it to the US District Court this fall.
Margolin, however, is not waiting around for a decision to be reached. While this case is proceeding, she has created a national climate movement. She is the founder of Zero Hour, a diverse youth-led movement dedicated to concrete action to end climate change. In July of 2018, Zero Hour held a three day event in DC consisting of a day to lobby legislators, an arts festival, and the Youth Climate March itself. Sister marches happened in tandem across the nation and world. Margolin’s movement is focused on concrete action, not just rhetoric – they have a science-backed platform stemming from the lawsuit, and their march included a specific set of action items. They are also successfully intersectional; their platform fully recognizes that solving social issues is vital to fighting climate change, and having women of color at the helm brings a diversity to this movement that has led to its success.
Vanessa Hauc is an Emmy award-winning trilingual reporter who has used her platform to educate Spanish-speakers and the larger world about environmental issues. She started her career in Bogota, Colombia in 1993, and in 1999 moved to LA. She graduated from the University of Nevada with majors in Communication and Journalism, while working at nearby TV stations. In 2002 Hauc joined the Telemundo network as reporter and co-presenter of “Al Rojo Vivo con Maria Celeste,” and has risen up the ranks to her current position as a correspondent for Noticiero Telemundo. Telemundo is one of the largest providers of Spanish-language content in the country and has a global reach, providing programming in more than 100 countries.
Hauc has taken advantage of this global audience to spread awareness of environmental issues by creating her own segment “Alerta Verde” (Green Alert), to educate the public about the importance of protecting the environment. After much success, Telemundo made Alerta Verde its own company, and is now at the forefront of environmental news coverage.
Hauc has also been on the frontlines of environmental crises throughout her career, reporting on the ground from disasters. She covered Hurricane Katrina, earthquakes across the world, including Chile, Japan, and Haiti, and the Chilean miners’ rescue. She has also dedicated her time to travelling the United States challenging legislators on anti-immigration policies, has received a Master’s degree in Economy and International Politics from the University of Miami, and studied French Culture and Languages at the University of Aix in Provence, France.
One of the world’s greatest accomplishments in the last decade was the Paris Climate Agreement, signed by 195 countries in 2015. This historical agreement was largely due to our next environmentalist, Christina Figueres. Figueres has a master’s degree in social anthropology and is a diplomat for Costa Rica. She became the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2010 and assumed responsibility for the annual international climate change negotiations. She was determined to bring the world to a consensus and implement a regulatory framework for carbon emissions that everyone could commit to. She successfully directed a series of annual negotiations across the world that culminated in the Paris 2015 Conference of the Parties (COP21), at which the Paris Climate Agreement was signed.
Christina is not satisfied with just the Paris Climate Agreement. She continues to push the world towards increasing climate protection. She is currently organizing Mission 2020, a global initiative to have world carbon emissions begin decreasing by 2020.
Editor’s Note: Climate change is not strictly an environmental issue. Many of the UConn@COP24 fellows took a human-centered approach to climate change and noticed the significant intersection between people and their environment. The blogs below detail their experiences and represent the diverse voices present at COP24.
Women’s Voices in Climate Negotiation – Jessica Weaver
Our climate is on fire and it’s time we all step up to put it out. – Adrienne Nguyen
Climate Change: The Faceless Genocide? – Sahil Lual
Youth Activism at COP24 – Emily Kaufman
Women’s Voices in Climate Negotiations
Jessica Weaver – Senior, B.S. Political Science
On my second day at COP24, I attended a side meeting regarding the intersection of gender and climate. The meeting was particularly focused on the progress of the Gender Action Plan and the Lime Work Programme. I learned about the steps that have been taken to provide “gender responsive” climate solutions that focus on helping women and girls adapt to climate change effects particularly with regards to water and agriculture resources.
When the meeting commenced, delegates from Malawi and Costa Rica voiced concern over the lack of meetings between full delegation meetings. They asserted the need for funds for women and girls in the countries represented by the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group because they are disproportionately dependent on climate-sensitive resources for their livelihoods.
I was able to view all of the interactions while sitting behind delegates from the United States. After the meeting closed, I asked the two delegates about their occupations and how they felt about the COP itself. Both worked in the Climate Office of the State Department and expressed their admiration for the large amount of students that were attending and participating in the dialogues that had already ensued. They also conveyed their satisfaction with the meeting proceedings and the importance of being a part of the negotiations to continue these projects into the coming years.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and am glad I was able to not only witness a glimpse of UNFCC proceedings, but also see a possible career avenue in the future. These negotiations are crucial not only for addressing the gender aspect of climate change, but for creating comprehensive dialogue for climate change solutions in COPs to come.
Our climate is on fire and it’s time we all step up to put it out.
By Adrienne Nguyen – Junior, B.S. Pathobiology and Molecular and Cellular Biology
Forest fires seem to be a hot topic these days. Especially because this year’s wildfire season has been the most destructive on record, internationally. Internationally. If you googled “2018 wildfires” the headlines are all about California. The wildfires alone in California emitted a year’s worth of power pollution. But what is happening at the other side of the world?
At the climate hub, I had the opportunity to listen to stories about the impact of forest fires on the climate from volunteers and leaders from Greenpeace. As we sat down in our seats, a man named Anton Beneslavskiy walked up on stage. A picture of black smoke clouds appeared on the screen. The slideshow progressed to aerial shots of forests engulfed in flames. He looked outside his window one morning in his city. The smog was so dense in the air that he could not see anything more than 50 ft away. In that moment, he knew something had to be done. He quit his career as a corporate lawyer and joined Greenpeace.
Another woman walked up on the stage. She was wearing a bright orange jumpsuit covered with smoke stains. The images of forest burning appeared on the screen again. In her 20s and standing about 5’3’’ tall, Larasati Wido Motovani, explained that she has suffered from upper respiratory diseases since she was a child. Lara’s from Indonesia and this year alone they’ve had countless wildfires. She glanced at the picture behind her and couldn’t speak. Tears started welling up at her eyes as she struggled to tell her story about how she leads groups of people to put out wildfires in her country.
These two leaders from Greenpeace are volunteer firefighters who changed their career paths to take action against climate change into their own hands. There is constant discussion on what needs to be changed, but most people are oblivious to the global effects. The California wildfires are arguably the most destructive climate related disasters this year but the attention has only been on them. This garnered aid from surrounding states and Canada to assist with putting out the fires. Yet, what about in Russia and Indonesia? And the rest of the world?
As I listened to their stories from a place of privilege, where I can breathe relatively smog free air in Connecticut, I now recognize that climate change action needs to be on the top of everyone’s priorities. Especially for those who may not face the immediate effects of climate change on a daily basis. We need everyone to start talking about climate change and bring the voices of those who are affected the most to the forefront.
Climate Change: The Faceless Genocide?
Sahil Lual – Senior, B.S. Molecular and Cellular Biology and Global Health
On the morning of December 2, 2018, we made a trip from the city of Kraków to the town of Oświęcim, best known for being home to Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Although I knew that touring the camp would be a sobering experience, I was not prepared for what ensued. As we exited the bus to enter the gates of Auschwitz-I, it was immediately clear that an unfathomable tragedy had occurred there. The air was cold, the sky grey, the tone somber, the landscape lifeless, and the emotion overwhelming. The three-and-a-half-hour tour of Auschwitz-I main camp and Auschwitz-II Birkenau camp not only revealed the ruthless crimes against humanity that had taken place there but contextualized the individual experiences of hundreds of thousands of Jews during one of humanity’s worst genocides. As we left the camp to return to Kraków several discussions followed; however, the most powerful one was the parallel between the Holocaust and climate change—an idea I had never considered. One student explained how the Holocaust was undoubtedly a crime against humanity with clear perpetrators; however, climate change, a change that causes hundreds of thousands of deaths a year, despite being understood to have anthropogenic origins, is often overlooked as the same.
The following morning, we reconvened for our first breakfast club in preparation of our first day at the COP, and the conversation continued. Soon the parallels between the Holocaust and climate change became apparent prompting the question of why people are not held accountable for the same devastating loss of life. Research has clearly demonstrated the role of humans in the global rise of temperature, and it has been suggested that 200,000 deaths a year are linked to climate change, a number that will continue to rise as the earth warms. Yet, people, especially the CEOs of large companies and those with great political influence who contribute the most to climate change, are not implicated in the same way for the loss of life as Hitler and Nazi Germany were for the holocaust.
Why? Perhaps it is because the source of climate change cannot easily be pinpointed to a single person or group of people with a shared identity. Or maybe because we are still too naïve or ignorant and have not realized the truth about climate change—it is a faceless genocide. But if we do not realize this right now, it will be on us to repent to our children for the crimes we committed or idly allowed to be committed against humanity.
While thinking about this, I recalled learning about a Nazi resistance group called the White Rose. The White Rose consisted of German college students during the holocaust who realized that they as Germans would be held accountable for the incredible loss of lives from crimes being committed by Nazi Germans around them. Although the students were not Nazis, they understood that future generations would implicate them for the same crimes committed by the Nazis if they did not take action to stop it. As students, they had perspective and were able to mobilize a movement against Nazi Germany throughout Europe. Throughout my time at COP, one thing became clear: we as young people have the perspective and ability to catalyze change right now. And if we do not, it will be on us to answer to our children for the crimes we allowed to occur.
It is our time to act and as best stated in a biblical song by a slave:
“God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, the fire next time!”
Youth Activism at COP24
Emily Kaufman – Sophomore, B.A. Environmental Studies and Sociology
The COP24 experience was one that came with inspiration, hope, but also frustration.
The first day that I had full access to the conference, I noticed that many of the events highlighted the “glamorous” messages that “renewables are cheaper and come with very few consequences” and that “a carbon tax will provide economic incentives and will pay itself off.” While, in hindsight, there is some truth to these messages, I found that many of these presentations failed to incorporate intersectionality and the humanity to these solutions.
In one panel about the myths of renewables, I found myself wondering if those praising this transition were considering those who have been working in the fossil fuel industry and will need to find another source of income. I had trouble accepting the fact that many people already being directly affected by climate change were reduced to statistics.
It wasn’t until I fell upon a panel about youth activism that I finally felt hope for meaningful systematic change. These panelists discussed the Talanoa dialogue, a term coined by the Fiji delegation in COP23, which recognizes the need to connect together as a global unit and share our stories in order to achieve our climate goals. As one panelist stated, “I have heard very few policy makers actually share their story.” The panelists stressed the importance of utilizing our creativity to create empathy, share stories, and internalize climate change issues.
I found this to be a refreshing take on the climate change movement—one that made me reconsider how we must tackle our impending world crisis.
I was so moved by this panel, that I started crying when I went up to thank the speakers for providing an often overlooked, but important perspective. The day after talking to these panelists, specifically to Jean Paul Brice Affana, a climate change activist, I was emailed and asked to speak on a panel to talk about intergenerational dialogues and youth activism.
This incredible opportunity made me recognize even more how important it is to make connections and share our stories with each other. If I had not reached out and shared how much their panel meant to me and connected to my passions, I would not have been able to have the opportunity to talk on a UN panel at COP24.
After this experience, I feel more confident about my pursuit of climate activism and inspired to share my story and fight for other stories to be heard. I am excited to become more of an activist on campus and hopefully empower others to make change.
On the weekend of September 8th, New Haven was brimming with energy. There were events happening throughout the city to foster progress for people and the environment.
The first was a summit presented by the Yale Art Gallery and Artspace, a contemporary art non-profit. This summit, called “Homage: Soil and Site” was seven hours long and drew in some of the national leaders in the environmental movement today—household names like Eddie Bautista and Elizabeth Yeampierre. Oh, you haven’t heard of them? There’s a reason for that. They are self-proclaimed environmental justice advocates, a group that has had little space or power in the environmental movement until recently.
Environmental justice, put simply, is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to environmental conditions, regulation, and change. Those on the frontlines of climate change and other forms of environmental degradation are often the most economically and politically repressed. Impoverished island nations facing increased hurricane activity, poor urban communities facing the worst of air pollution, minority communities having little influence over the siting of a landfill in their backyard, and indigenous people facing potential contamination of their rivers by powerful oil companies should be given a seat at the table in discussions of policy and change. After all, they’re the ones who have experience dealing with the problems that we’re trying to solve.
After decades of effort on the part of environmental justice advocates, we are finally reaching a point where all voices are being heard. This was evident at event number two of the September 8th weekend, a rally for “Climate, Jobs, and Justice.” This event was unique in the groups that came together in order to make it happen. There were the typical organizations that are an important presence at environmental rallies in the state, notably the Sierra Club and 350CT, in addition to other groups such as the CT Puerto Rican Alliance. This meant that there was a larger variety of speakers and performances than the typical rally. There was a presentation of an electric car, and there was also a performance by local rappers about police brutality. There was a call to action for protecting CT’s Green Bank, and there was a young Latinx girl who sung about coming together as one. One stop of the rally was to admire a fuel cell, while another was for a local group to speak on issues related to prison reform. Rallies like this give hope for continued collaboration as we strive to create a safe and healthy environment for all people.
The OEP is working on incorporating environmental justice as a focus as well. We recognize the importance of indigenous people to our country and to the environmental movement. Worldwide, they are protectors of 80% of the world’s biodiversity, despite only living on 20% of the world’s land. They hold Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) that is vital to the stewardship of land, and utilized by many, including the US National Park Service. To honor this, we have partnered with Global House to hold a film screening and discussion of Sacred Water: Standing Rock Part 2 on October 3rd about the Standing Rock protests. It’s the kickoff for Indigenous People’s Week, a series of events at UConn that aim to replace Columbus Day with a celebration of indigenous people in our country. Please join us in the Global House Lounge at 5:30pm to learn more about this incredible population of people!
Activists. Scientists. Scholars. Mothers. Writers. Women have been contributing to the environmental movement since its humble beginnings. Women have been disdained, excluded, jailed, and even murdered for working towards environmental progress, yet they still fight on. In honor of Women’s History Month, we have compiled profiles of revolutionary women from across the spectrum of the environmental movement. These women show us the value of empowerment, and inspire us with their passion for a better world.
Despite her wealthy, socialite upbringing in New York City, Rosalie Edge was anything but proper and demure. A dedicated suffragist, Edge shifted her attention towards the National Audubon Society after the passage of the 19th amendment. Having become aware of the gender-based injustices happening within the National Audubon Society, Edge sued the organization and made a point of exposing the persistent corruption. Through lawsuits and exposing pamphlets, Edge successfully had all the former directors removed from the organization.
Edge maintained this momentum for the rest of her life. The Emergency Conservation Committee that she created in response to the Audubon Society crisis became her instrument of political change. With its support she was able to preserve 8,000 acres of sugar pines on the southern edge of Yosemite and create both Kings Canyon and Olympic National Parks.
When the Audubon Association didn’t want to pay for a hawk sanctuary that she felt strongly about, Edge raised the money and bought the place herself, paving the way for a mindset of species preservation that had not existed in conservation circles before her. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, as it was called, was happily owned and run by Edge for the rest of her life, and is still an important place of conservation today. During her reign, Rosalie Edge was considered the leader of the conservation movement – her period’s John Muir. A tenacious and effective activist, she changed the movement in ways we can still feel today, and paved the way for Rachel Carson and all other women who came after her.
Sylvia Earle has inspired a generation of people to value our oceans. Also known as “Her Deepness,” or “The Sturgeon General,” Earle started her journey by obtaining a PhD in phycology (the study of algae) in 1966. A deep diving pioneer, she has tied the overall record for a solo dive depth in 1986 (the first woman to do so), and founded Deep Ocean Engineering, a business that aims to improve the technology of robotic and piloted subsea systems. She was awarded Time Magazine’s first Hero for the Planet designation in 1998, and has held the title of National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence since then. As the first woman to serve as Chief Scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), she was also the chair of the Advisory Council for the Ocean for Google Earth. An expert on the impact of oil spills, she was a crucial resource in the Exxon Valdez, Mega Borg, and Deepwater Horizon disasters.
Throughout her extensive career she has held positions at various universities, has won a slew of awards, and has authored over 150 publications. One of her greatest contributions to ocean preservation, Mission Blue, included a global coalition of over 200 organizations aims to preserve the world’s marine protected areas, deemed ‘Hope Spots.’ Sylvia Earle recognizes the power of science, and has harnessed it to capture the imaginations of the public.
Nobel laureate and leading environmentalist political activist Wangari Maathai spent her life promoting intersectional environmentalism, advocating that environmental action is “more than planting trees, it’s planting ideas.” Born in the rural Kenyan village of Nyeri, Maathai was one of 300 Kenyan students to be a part of the Airlift Africa program in 1960, a program that allowed her to receive an education at a university in the United States. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology, she returned to Kenya, becoming the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree.
Embracing the connections between gender inequality and environmental issues, Maathai founded the Greenbelt Movement, a movement that taught women sustainable land use practices. Since its inception, the movement has trained over 30,000 women and planted more than 51 million trees, an achievement that led to her Nobel Peace Prize Award. With a commitment to ecofeminism and equitable participation, Maathai has had a monumental impact on the global environmental movement.
Lois Gibbs is a story of the power that personal impact has to inspire national activism. She started out her journey as a mother in the small, suburban neighborhood of Love Canal. Her son attended the local elementary school in Niagara Falls, New York. It was discovered that her son’s elementary school and, with further investigation, the entire neighborhood, was built on top of a toxic waste site.
Fearing for the health of her son and all of the kids of Love Canal, Lois Gibbs was launched into activism. She began knocking on doors, creating petitions, and eventually came together with her neighbors to create the Love Canal Homeowners Association. After years of grassroots activism, confrontations with the New York State Department of Health, and national attention, Gibbs got what she wanted. Nearly one thousand families were evacuated from Love Canal, and a massive cleanup began.
Because of the hard work of Lois Gibbs and the residents of her neighborhood, the Environmental Protection Agency instituted a program to locate and clean up contaminated sites like Love Canal across the country. It’s called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or the Superfund Program.
Since Love Canal, Gibbs has founded a grassroots environmental crisis center called the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), which focuses on creating strong local organizations to ensure the federal government is doing what it’s supposed to do. Gibbs has received many awards for her work, including the Goldman Environmental Prize, the Heinz Award, and a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, the most important legacy she is leaving behind is the support system she has created for those neighborhoods that suffer as Love Canal has suffered, but do not have the voice to call for change.
A notable ecofeminist, scientist, writer, and activist, Vandana Shiva has worn many hats in her life, often at the same time. Brought up with a love for nature fostered by her two parents, she received a PhD in the philosophy of physics, and went on to interdisciplinary research in science, technology, and environmental policy at the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. She eventually established Bija Vidyapeeth, an international college for sustainable living, in collaboration with the U.K.’s Schumacher College.
Shiva is a leader in championing agricultural biodiversity and local sovereignty. She is on the cutting edge of advances in food technology and the human rights implications of such advances. Much of her activism in this area has been achieved through a national movement she started in 1991 called Navdanya, whose mission is to “protect diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seed, the promotion of organic farming and fair trade.” Navdanya has educated farmers across India of the value of diverse and individualized crops, and has mounted activist campaigns on issues involving intellectual property rights, biotechnology, bioethics, and genetic engineering.
A notable ecofeminist, Siva has written over 20 publications, many on topics that show how women’s rights and environmental issues are inextricably linked. In fact, the first book she published, Staying Alive, focused on redefining perceptions of third world women. In 1990, she wrote a report on women’s role in agriculture titled “Most Farmers in India are Women,” as requested by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. She founded the gender unit at Kathmandu’s International Centre for Mountain Development, and is a founding board member of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization.
Shiva has changed the narrative around local sovereignty, sustainable farming, women in the environmental movement, farmers, globalization, and everything in between. She advises governments, international organizations, and is a leader in worldwide discussions. How is she capable of such extraordinary feats, and how can we emulate her? When asked, Shiva responded “you are not Atlas carrying the world on your shoulder. It is good to remember that the planet is carrying you.” Protecting the Earth is simply a matter of recognizing our place within it.