UConnTalksClimate

View from COP22 in Marrakech: 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.

View from COP22 in Marrakech: 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.

View from COP22 in Marrakech: US Election Results

20161109_132624By Scott Stephenson, Assistant Professor, Geography

A surreal mix of stoicism and denial pervaded the COP plenary meetings this morning. Delegates were introduced; formal addresses were read. Before long, discussion turned to the wonky language of the UNFCCC: carbon pricing, transparency frameworks, climate financing, and so on. In short, it was business-as-usual at COP22. Addressing the elephant in the room – the outcome of the US election – was not on the agenda.

Not to suggest that those participating in this morning’s session were unaware or even impartial with respect to said elephant. Donald Trump has claimed that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, and promised to scrap the landmark Clean Power Plan, repeal federal spending on clean energy, and pull the US out of the Paris Agreement. No amount of dutiful attendance to the agenda at hand would change the fact that the world has entered a very uncertain time for global climate governance. While reneging on the Paris Agreement would take four years to materialize, the US’ exit from the most significant environmental treaty in history would send shock waves throughout international negotiating mechanisms and likely hamper efforts to achieve good-faith agreements by the incoming US administration. Of course the delegates at COP22 know this, though you wouldn’t have known it from their workmanlike approach to the task at hand.

I, for one, found greater solace at a gathering of young activists outside the plenary hall, who had planned to present a “Presidential To-Do List” this morning in anticipation of a Clinton victory. The electoral reality prompted a change in plans: what would have been a call to Presidential action instead became a sort of support group for those in attendance – a welcome opportunity to let emotions rule, if briefly, an otherwise staid and dispassionate policy meeting.

20161109_130400Several activists made impassioned speeches, vocalizing the grief, frustration, and fear that must surely have been on the minds of many in attendance. Their words projected courage and compassion: “Rather than judge Trump’s supporters,” they said, “try to understand why they voted for him.” For those like myself who were seeking a space to mourn the electoral loss, the gathering was a powerful reminder of the stakes underpinning these negotiations, and the fragile global order on which they depend. 

COP21 Paris: All Hands on Deck for the next 20 years.

Anji Seth

“Welcome to those who are working to save our planet”

“Later will be too late”

“We can’t tell our children we didn’t know”

“The world is in our hands”

“7 Billion people, one planet”

 

IMG_4353 (1)Billboards across Paris,  in Charles DeGalle airport, in metro stations, and on historic buildings, reminded us constantly why we were there. Our group of 12 students and 6 faculty/staff from UConn were on a mission to learn about and participate in the historic events taking place, as UN Envoys and negotiators work on an international agreement that would limit global warming to [2C][1.5C]*.  This is the 21st UN Conference of the Parties, or COP21.

IMG_4241More than 20 years ago the United Nations agreed to “talk” about Global Warming. The road to Paris has been long and the stars are now aligning for an international agreement to “act”.  The scientific evidence is overwhelming and indisputable, global leaders have been educated and show some understanding of the threats to nations, people and ecosystems, and people across the planet are calling for action.  Clearly those who deny the science are on the wrong side of history.  The final agreement to act from the Paris 2015 COP21 will not be perfect, there should be a review process in place to further reduce emissions over time, but the agreement will be a starting point for action over the next 20 years.

IMG_4250We travelled to Paris with a 12 students from across the UConn colleges, each passionate about their discipline and the global context in which they will make their marks. During the last 20 years global warming has been in the realms of climate-related sciences, economics and policy, the next 20 years there will be a role for everyone.

Implementation of the Paris agreement will require artists and engineers, teachers and health professionals, ecologists, attorneys and business leaders.  The careers of UConn students will follow the implementation of the Paris agreement over the next 20+ years.  Today’s students will be in the driver’s seat for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, implementing carbon pricing, adapting local infrastructure, and assisting ecosystems in need.

These are exciting times.  Let’s get to work.

*[brackets] indicate items under negotiation.

 

Anji Seth is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography with expertise in climate science. See http://climate.lab.uconn.edu

UConn and the Climate Conference: Looking Ahead

Ron Tardiff ’16 (CLAS), marine sciences and maritime studies major

The 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change began in Paris, France on Nov. 30, and at the same time, a group of 18 UConn students, faculty, and staff traveled to Paris for five days to participate in a number of events surrounding the conference. The 12 students selected represented a diverse group of majors, most of which fall within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, from marine sciences to human rights. For me, the conference was educational and sobering, but also inspired my fellow students and I to take action here at home.

Every day in Paris began with a group dialogue focused on the science or politics of climate change and solutions globally and at UConn. The diverse perspectives contributed by our multidisciplinary group of people definitely enhanced our conversations. The group visited the COP21 site in Le Bourget, Paris, and toured the public area of COP21, the Climate Generations Space. We also attended a networking night at the Kedge Business School co-sponsored by UConn and Second Nature, called “Higher Education Leads on Climate.”

On Friday, most of the group attended the Solutions COP21 exhibition, while I attended Oceans Day back at COP21. Oceans Day drew high-level attention to how the ocean and climate are inextricably linked. Among the many esteemed attendees were Prince Albert II of Monaco; Laurent Fabius, Foreign Minister of France and President of COP21; and Irina Bokova, the Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

As an American, one of the most sobering aspects of the conference and the international climate conversation in general is the skepticism towards U.S. commitment. Historically, particularly on climate change, the United States has failed to be a leader; if anything, we’ve often stymied the conversation. When I was at Oceans Day, I was asked by a French attendee whether I thought the U.S. would “follow through” this time. My only honest answer was that I believe our negotiators are working in good faith, but that the political climate – pun intended – at home is pretty unpredictable.

What is most interesting to me is that 190 countries convened to address an issue that an unfortunately large number of Americans refute entirely. This demonstrates how critical climate change education is. That is one of the many reasons our group will be advocating for a “sustainability” category to be included in General Education Requirements here at UConn.

Tackling global climate change epitomizes the types of challenges for which a liberal arts education aims to prepare students. The process of burning fossil fuels and forests and how that affects the climate is a fundamentally scientific issue. Why we continue these destructive processes, how these processes affect human civilization, and what we should do to improve our resilience and adaptation to climate change are intersectional issues spanning fields from science to the social sciences to humanities.

Now that we’re home, our group of “COP21ers” will be launching initiatives to improve our University’s carbon footprint, spearheading climate change conversation at UConn, and creating works of art, writing, or media to highlight the impacts of climate change. And we’ll be advocating for a greater role of sustainability education in the curriculum at UConn. We’ll be using the new perspectives we gained from meeting so many people from around the world to help UConn be a leader in this quintessentially global issue.

Originally published on the Office of Environmental Policy’s blog.

Follow the climate change conversation at UConn at the social media hashtag #UConnTalksClimate.

Combating Climate Change: The Power of Multiple Perspectives

Jessica Griffin, OEP Intern

Today I had two experiences that helped me to understand the broad reaching impacts of climate change. At an event called Climate Generations, our group was able to interact with a variety of teams and organizations interested in climate change. The participants came from a wide variety of civil society organizations- some were wildlife focused, others offered suggestions for energy innovation, and many incorporated aspects of social responsibility.

IMG_2059

Towards the beginning of the conference, I came across a women’s caucus, which consisted of 6 women who had gathered to speak about their experience in the climate movement and how they felt that being a woman impacted their involvement and perspective in the movement. Each women spoke about different aspects of their experiences, including encounters with sexism and obstacles they faced in getting to COP21. However, they also shared funny stories, spoke about their hobbies and families, and about how they felt that being a woman was an asset to them. I felt humbled to have the privilege of hearing the stories of these women, who hailed from Japan, India, France, and the United States. They asked me to speak about myself, and I felt reluctant. I thought that what I had to say would be of little interest to them. But as I began to speak, I realized that I had a lot to say about the subjects of women and environmentalism. The environment that they invited me to speak in was warm and accepting, and I am glad to have participated in this caucus.

Following the caucus, I went to an entirely different event across the conference center. This event was called “The Messengers,” and it was focused on how researching birds can tell us about the health of the environment. There were several speakers from an organization called BirdLife International, dedicated to the conservation of bird species worldwide. The panel answered questions on subjects ranging from factors threatening birds, policy changes associated with conservation, and the ways in which bird populations indicate a changing world. I enjoyed hearing from a wide variety of perspectives, including speakers from the UK and Liberia.

IMG_2050

What struck me about having these two experiences was the range of impacts made by climate change, and of ways to approach solutions. At the women’s caucus, the foci were social factors and environmental justice, which are instrumental in understanding how people of different backgrounds are affected by environmental degradation. At the Birdlife International Event, most discussion centered on conservation and working with nature, both of which are enormously important in the effort to combat climate change.

As a society, we can combat climate change by allowing people of a variety of backgrounds and disciplines to make their voices heard. We can also understand all of the ways that climate change will impact our lives, including socially and ecologically. The broader our shared experience, the closer we can come to finding real solutions.

Originally published on the UConn OEP website.

Climate Change – The Ultimate Interdisciplinary Issue

Rob Turnbull

 

group lessonClimate change is the ultimate inter-disciplinary issue, and today I learned exactly how many disciplines I understand thoroughly: almost one. Coming from a strict biological science background (I study Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at UConn) I have long considered myself a very literate person in terms the effects, causes, opinions, etc. surrounding climate science. After a few discussions had over breakfast and UConn’s daily group discussion in the lounge of our hotel, I came to understand that even though I thought I completely got the “science” of global warming, I could really only claim to understand the general biological effects of global warming on organisms. The physics and chemistry were, though not entirely foreign to me, far more complex than I anticipated, and it took nearly an hour listening to, and talking with, Dr. Anji Seth, a UConn climatologist, to get a firmer grasp of how solar radiation, heat, earth’s elliptical orbit, albedo, and a slurry of other factors all interact to create our observed climate trends.

I entered into an even more foreign discussion with my fellow UConn@COP21-ers on the economics of dealing with global warming. While I certainly learned plenty from my peers, my ignorance about these topics highlights a major challenge in dealing with such a broad-reaching issue as climate change: the isolation of the many professional disciplines. I wasn’t the only COP21er who had a fish-out-of-water moment today. Among such a diverse group of UConn students – including scientists, political scientists, economists, and social scientists – whenever anyone began to talk in depth about their respective field, the others often found themselves having such a conversation for the first time.

While it is excellent, in my opinion, for different people to develop different types of expertise, especially given the complexity of global warming, this diversity only becomes a good thing if accompanied by strong communication and collaboration. Otherwise, issues aren’t resolved in a holistic sense and accessory problems will persist. While the scientist can unveil the trends to back up climate theories, that scientist needs the economist and the politician to draft viable policy, and the artist to help spread the word.

exhibitsWith this in mind, I was pleasantly surprised to find, among the many booths and exhibits at the COP21 “Climate Generations” event, an organization practicing what I’ve just preached. The UN Environmental Program’s Climate Change website can be found at the link below. With a focus, at least for this COP21 day, on influencing ocean climate legislation, the aforementioned group involves academics, political scientists, artists, and many others, to accomplish its goals. Upon arriving at the booth, I was presented with scientific procedures and results, as well as a clear plan about how these results will play into the policy negotiations. Such multidisciplinary collaboration is vital to addressing problems associated with global warming. Those involved with www.UNEP.org/climatechange   have shown me that Climate Change is the ultimate inter-disciplinary issue and can only be resolved through multi-disciplinary collaboration on a global scale.

Originally published on the OEP blog.

Maskbook

Anna Middendorf

 

At our first stroll around COP21, I noticed a little stall in the back of the Climate Generations area that seemed inconspicuous enough. Always on the outlook for other ambassadors of creativity against climate change, I was impressed to find the stall to be Maskbook.

Anna

Maskbook is a project that came to life through the non-profit organization Art of Change 21 initiative which links “social entrepreneurship, art and youth at an international level.”1 The idea behind Maskbook is to offer observers the chance to create a mask covered in whatever the activist’s heart might desire: buttons, textiles, lightbulbs, playing cards, soda cans or perfume samples, amongst many more. Representing the daily rubbish that we discard, the mask uses a connotation of potentially fearful images to focus on the health hazards that we are not only imposing on ourselves, but also on the flora and fauna that surround us. The masks remind us that the environment is not ours to destroy, and the playful way of expressing this makes the mission both personal and real, especially when surrounded by thousands of like-minded campaigners here in Le Bourget, Paris.

 

1Art of Change website, http://artofchange21.com/?page_id=253

Originally published on the OEP blog.

The Road to COP21

Kerrin Kinnear, OEP Intern

 

busGazing out at the cacophony of asphalt, metal, and concrete, an inner conflict is brewing. As the scenes of Connecticut civilization blur by the bus window on the first leg of my journey to COP21, I cannot help but wonder if I should feel awestruck or pained.

The society we live in has become more physically connected than ever before. Because of the infrastructure in place, I can drive a fairly direct route from Storrs, CT to Pennsylvania to see my boyfriend, or hop on a plane just a short 45-minute shuttle ride away to see my family in Oklahoma. I can fly to Paris, France in less than 7 hours to demonstrate solidarity with thousands of other environmental activists at the 2015 United Nations Climate Conference.

airport 2.JPGThe ease with which my fellow citizens and I can mobilize ourselves to unify and act is a beautiful thing about modern society, but at what cost have we achieved this mobility?

The landscape I see beyond this window is marred. Trees and shrubs are few and far between. Impervious building materials suffocate the earth and its soil systems. And the bus I ride spews the very carbon emissions I am traveling to Paris to combat. This is not the scene of a connected planet where species live in harmony with one another. No, this is the scene of a world where it has become easy for humans to be mentally removed from their impact on the environment, where it has become the norm to be unaware of, or apathetic about, the repercussions of our effect on climate and the earth’s ecosystems.

Kerrin pic flags

I write this post not to criticize society, but instead to initiate a call for action. It will soon be halfway through the UN’s negotiations on climate change, and I realize us citizens on “the outside” cannot stand by idly, waiting and hoping for world leaders to come to an agreement that will solve this massive problem. As individuals, we have the intrinsic power to reconnect with our environment, to be conscious stewardsand not ignorant polluters, and to care for our international neighbors already suffering from the impacts of climate change, rather than turn a blind eye. We cannot and should not wait for others to make the choice for us.

Regardless of the outcome of this year’s negotiations, I challenge you to consider your responsibilities as a global citizen. Become more knowledgeable about your personal impact on the planet, brainstorm ways to reduce your environmental footprint, and get involved with your community’s environmental initiatives.

The time to act is now. Together we are strong, and together we can create long-lasting change.

Originally published on the OEP blog.

First Days in Paris

Rich Miller, OEP Director

Originally published on the UConn Office for Environmental Policy OEP blog.

 

group photoWe have finally arrived in Paris at the UN’s 21st annual international climate summit or Conference of the Parties (aka COP21). After a 3-hour bus ride from Storrs to JFK, barely ahead of the Monday evening rush hour, then a 6 ½ hour flight from NYC to Paris, not to mention seven months of intensive planning and organizing – nous sommes arrivés! And by “nous,” I mean the UConn contingent of 12 talented students (selected from a strong field of 77 applicants), four faculty members, involved in some aspect of climate change-related research, and two OEP sustainability staff members charged with overseeing implementation and outreach for UConn’s own Climate Action Plan and commitment to a carbon-neutral campus.

After arriving in France on mid-day Tuesday, having lost 6 hours to the time zone differential, the first two full days of our stay have been a whirlwind of activity, education and cultural immersion. We begin each day with breakfast at 8, followed by a group gathering in the stately hotel lounge, where each of our faculty members takes a daily turn at leading a lively group discussion on a climate science or policy topic.

CaptureBy 11, we’re off on the 45-minute combination metro, train and bus ride that takes us from the heart of Paris’ Left Bank to Le Bourget, on the northern outskirts of the city, where a vast convention complex hosts the COP21 official proceedings, so-called “civil society” events, and hundreds of related lectures and exhibits from NPOs, companies, and governmental officials and agencies around the globe. Even for someone like myself, who has been to many an annual AASHE conference, which are always buzzing with thousands of higher ed faculty, staff and students, the COP21 “Climate Generations” gathering is somewhat daunting.

Eventually, several from the UConn contingent will break away from Le Bourget and head to more focused side events (e.g, workshops about the effects of climate change on oceans, public health or human rights), which are each held at different venues throughout Paris. Then, with evening temperatures in the balmy low-50s, others will use their free time for long walks and short visits at some of the many cultural landmarks that have made Paris one of the world’s favorite tourist destinations.

After very late dinners (in the European custom), students, faculty and staff are back at the hotel, catching up on their work or studies; some students are busily writing papers due next week (the final week of fall semester classes before exams), and others dutifully writing blog posts, tweeting or using Facebook and Instagram to instantly share their experiences with friends and family, and oh yes, the UConn Nation and beyond, through the hyper-connected world of social media.

eiffel tower group.PNGHowever, Wednesday night, December 2nd, was an exception. We all gathered, along with another 30+ guests from other colleges and universities, from 7:30 to 10 p.m., at the Kedge Business School, in the Montmartre section of Paris. Here, UConn had the honor of co-hosting, along with Second Nature and AASHE, a special “Higher Education Leads on Climate” event. While it was mostly a networking occasion for meeting up with our peers and colleagues, who happened to be in Paris for the same aspirational reasons, we also heard two spirited informational presentations from Second Nature’s Education Manager and Kedge’s CSR Director. Respectively, they explained the re-branded Climate Leadership Commitments and HESI’s sustainability literacy tests. By the end of the day, I had gotten positive feedback from several of my colleagues at the event, who appreciated the opportunity for higher ed gatherings, both fun and informative, at COPs. Mission accomplished – thanks to all who helped make the event a success!