environmental metonia, uconn

The University of Connecticut has had a long history of convening Metanoia around important issues facing society that would benefit from deep reflection and discussion. In keeping with that tradition, we are happy to announce a Metanoia on The Environment over Spring Semester 2018. Many of the grave problems facing society in the 21st Century are environmental in nature, including issues of sustainability, water availability, food security, deforestation, and the loss of biodiversity. Because these problems are global, assuredly they will befall many nations and peoples that can least afford them. MORE

Catching Recyclables Before the Football Game

 - Lucas Voghell '20

Local residents, travelling fans and students alike all pitch in to make the world a cleaner place, as evidenced by this local resident donating three bottles to Isabel Umland ’22. (Lucas Voghell/UConn Photo)

The EcoHuskies, interns in the Office of Environmental Policy,  chartered one of the UConn buses to host a sustainability effort at the Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field before Saturday’s football game against the University of Rhode Island.

The Division of Athletics has worked together with the Office of Environmental Policy to promote recycling at all of its sports venues since 2008.

Each year, students from the EcoHusky student group and EcoHouse living and learning community have been invited to football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball games to encourage fans to recycle. These events have been dubbed Green Game Days.

This past weekend, the EcoHuskies pitched a tent outside the stadium in East Hartford to raise awareness about their mission of sustainability, and to serve as the headquarters for about a dozen volunteers who collected bags of containers for recycling.


Insects Coping with Climate Change

Sept. 13, 2018, UConn Today

The giant swallowtail butterfly, a newcomer to Connecticut, is one representative of increased biodiversity among insect species in the Northeast due to climate change. (Getty Images)

As the seasons move through their annual procession, they are accompanied by the presence of a spectacular diversity of insects. Bees, butterflies, moths – you name it, if you look closely you’ll see them.

Connecticut is home to more than 10,000 species of insects, says ecology and evolutionary biology professor David Wagner, and the number is climbing each year – due to climate change.

Winners and Losers Among Insect Populations

Since his arrival in Connecticut in the late 1980s, after finishing his degree out West, Wagner has been studying the insects around the state, starting in his own backyard.

“I started keeping a list right after I arrived,” he says. “I was able to record around 1,200 different butterflies and moths within a mile of my first house here in Connecticut.”

Wagner says that with climate change, as with any other environmental change, there will be winners and there will be losers.


UConn Joins Coalition of Universities Working Against Climate Change

Sept. 12, 2018, UConn Today

(Graphic: University of Maine Climate Change Institute)

UConn is joining 16 other leading North American research universities in the University Climate Change Coalition, or UC3, announced Tuesday by the Second Nature organization.

UC3 aims to promote climate action and resilience by leveraging the strengths and skill sets of its member schools.

As a nationally recognized leader among green campuses, UConn’s membership in the coalition is another indicator that the University is continuing to pursue a path toward sustainability.

President Herbst says universities have a key role to play in finding solutions to the challenges of climate change. “We can lead not only by developing research, technology, and policy to effectively curb carbon emissions and ameliorate the effects of climate change on our communities, but also by making sustainability a core component of our mission and identity,” she says. “The University of Connecticut is proud to join with our UC3 partner institutions in working to find solutions now to what could ultimately be the most important challenge of the 21st century.”

Richard Miller, director of UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy, says, “As a coalition of top research universities, UC3 is working on research that helps multisector climate action and resilience initiatives.”

“Coalition members’ expertise spans many disciplines, ranging from atmospheric and marine sciences, to biology, public health, engineering, political science, economics, and human rights,” says Anji Seth, professor of geography and chair of UConn’s Atmospheric Sciences Group. This highlights the fact that this news is not only about UConn’s membership in the UC3 coalition, it is also an opportunity to mobilize UConn researchers and increase collaborative efforts in research to combat climate change and instill climate resilience.

Marine sciences professor Jim O’Donnell is executive director of UConn’s Connecticut Institute for Climate Resilience and Adaptation (CIRCA) at Avery Point, which seeks to engage faculty and students from across the University with state agency staff to develop innovative approaches to improving Connecticut’s resilience to the effects of climate change. “Currently, dozens of faculty from four different colleges are working on CIRCA-sponsored projects,” he says, “and UConn’s membership in UC3 will accelerate progress by further broadening interdisciplinary partnerships.”

To learn more about UC3, and the other institutions in the coalition, go to http://secondnature.org/uc3-coalition/.

To learn more about UConn’s efforts to be a greener campus, read about the latest Sierra Club Green Schools rankings.


Sierra Club Ranks UConn a Green Campus Leader Again

Aug 27, 2018, UConn Today

Students pick beans at the Spring valley Student Farm on July 19, 2016. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

UConn has once again been rated among the top 10 in Sierra Club’s “Cool Schools” rankings. UConn placed third overall, an accomplishment that Richard Miller, director of UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy, says is something that has distinguished UConn as a leader among its peers.

“We’ve done quite well year after year and have established a reputation for environmental stewardship and sustainability that helps the school attract and retain top students and faculty,” says Miller.

The Sierra Club rankings are derived from data collected by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) self-reporting tool. The results are reported in the 2018 Sustainable Campus Index.

Having ranked as number one Cool School in 2013, Miller says the perception in ranking high is that it must be an easy accomplishment. He says the opposite is true, in fact, since the standards are getting tougher and other institutions are continuing to improve, the bar is constantly being raised.


Rapid Change – A Tale of Two Species

Aug 29, 2018, UConn Today

Climate change is creating winners and losers, such as the predatory marbled salamander, which is taking over local ponds, and the coastal saltmarsh sparrow, shown here, which is in danger of extinction. (Photo by Jenna Mielcarek)

When thinking about the impact of environmental change on species, certain animals in far-off places tend to come to mind: the ‘charismatic megafauna’ – such as polar bears, orangutans, and penguins, for example – that are at risk due to factors such as habitat destruction or over-hunting by humans. And yet some species actually flourish in times of change.

In Connecticut, two examples of such disparate species stories are the marbled salamander and the saltmarsh sparrow.

These two stories are linked by the change of a single but very important variable. While it may not sound like much, a rise in global temperatures by just a few degrees is enough to tip the scale, resulting in huge impacts on the ecosystems where these species exist. The climate in this region has changed enough to allow for predatory salamanders to completely alter pond biodiversity, and the sea level rise that accompanies climate change will likely lead to extinction of the saltmarsh sparrow within the next 40 years.


Nature and Knowledge at Our Doorstep

Aug 15, 2018, UConn Today

A gray tree frog calling. (Kurt Schwenk/UConn Photo)

Notes from the field 

At dusk on a cool, damp evening in late spring, a group of UConn students and researchers suit up in waders and descend upon a flooded meadow, just off the Storrs campus in the UConn Forest. The going is slow, and a little treacherous as the destination is more flooded than usual this evening. Tangled mounds of grass and fallen tree limbs await in the murky water, to trip the unwary.

The outing is part of a summer course in Field Herpetology and an opportunity for ecology and evolutionary biology professor Kurt Schwenk to enlist help from students locating the vocal spring peepers, Pseudacris crucifer, in the act of mating.


Preserving Green Spaces in Connecticut’s Changing Landscape

Aug 9, 2018, UConn Today


Percentages of Connecticut's land surface in 2015. Smart land use management is critical in order to preserve open space, says extension educator Chester Arnold. 'It isn’t something we can go back and fix later on.' (Graphic by Maxine Marcy for UConn)

The history of land use in Connecticut is one of dramatic but ongoing change. Perhaps most strikingly, the state was once covered in forests that were clear cut to make way for development, and this happened not once, but twice. In addition, significant coastal modification and marsh land changes are now underway, changing the coastline as the sea level continues to rise.

UConn’s Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) was created to help decision makers make good land use decisions by providing them with the information they need.

The director of CLEAR, extension educator Chester Arnold, says smart land use management is critical in order to preserve open space: “It isn’t something we can go back and fix later on.” READ MORE

Connecticut’s Forests Today a Far Cry from Towering Giants of Old

Aug 1, 2018, UConn Today

Connecticut Forests, Then and Now
Researcher John Volin discusses the history of the state’s forests, and current threats from climate change, blights, and invasive species. (Yesenia Carrero/UConn Illustration)

Imagine stepping back in time, before the first Europeans arrived, into the forests of New England more than 500 years ago.

At that time, these forests were dominated by towering giants, such as the chestnut and white pine, capable of reaching over 100 feet, above a layered variety of species right down to the forest floor. They would have looked very different from what is seen today.

Widespread change initially came to New England after the arrival of the colonists, when forests were cleared to make way for farmlands, says John Volin, a professor of natural resources and the environment and vice provost for academic affairs. Then when richer, less rocky agricultural lands further west appealed to farmers, many New England farms were abandoned and the forest began to regenerate.

That was in the early 1800s. Then industrialization happened, and deforestation took place for a second time in the mid- to late 1800s. It’s hard to picture today’s largely forested landscape as it was 100 years ago, with significantly fewer trees.

The relatively quick regrowth of the forests is testament to the resilience of nature, but the young forests of today are not the same as the forest of 500 years ago.  READ MORE

Camera Traps, Citizen Science, Help Track State’s Animal Populations

July 25, 2018, UConn Today

A female deer and her fawn are captured on camera by UConn researchers, part of a project to gather abundance data on the state's deer population. (Jennifer Kilburn/UConn Photo)

Connecticut is home to an abundance of wildlife and one doesn’t have to go far to find it. With the unique not-quite-urban, not-quite-rural landscape in much of the state, this means humans are living among wildlife, oftentimes in our own backyards.

Keeping track of the animals and their numbers is important information for decision making, management, and conservation for animal populations.

Researchers at UConn are addressing these challenges using new technology and citizen science, to learn more about the animals and the places where both people and wild creatures live.

Associate professor of natural resources and the environment Tracy Rittenhouse and researcher Jennifer Kilburn ’18 MS have been tackling the question of how deer density varies across the state, by developing better methods to estimate deer abundance.

“Determining deer abundance can be very labor-intensive and costly in terms of counting, marking, and recapturing,” says Rittenhouse. “One method may work better in one area and not so well in another, so finding the best way to count them to get a good estimate of abundance by using cameras is something we have been working on.” READ MORE

Working Toward Sustainable Solutions

July 12, 2018, UConn Today

John Volin, Sustainability

“Environment,” “concern for the environment,” and “sustainability” are often considered to be important issues for voters. Unfortunately these concerns seldom translate into effective actions.

The economy, jobs, health care, terrorism, immigration, and the like typically trump environmental issues. Indeed, all of these issues are extremely important and have major effects on human well-being. But the issue that most greatly affects human well-being now and into the future is the health of the planet.

The relatively thin layer below and above the surface of our planet provides the environmental services that are critical for human survival and prosperity. Despite the environment’s integral importance, we often delay making the tough decisions that are necessary for the future well-being of our children and their children’s children. We politicize environmental concerns such as climate change for short-term gain, rather than working collectively toward environmentally sound and sustainable solutions. READ MORE

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