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By Misa Saros, A2C2 IGERT Program Coordinator, University of Maine
(This article appears in the December, 2012 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

ACUPCC ImplementerThe University of Maine has launched a new National Science Foundation sponsored Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) – the first of its kind to focus explicitly on adaptation to abrupt climate change (A2C2).  The A2C2 IGERT is a partnership between the Climate Change Institute (CCI) and the School of Policy and International Affairs (SPIA) and is focused on the need to adapt environmental policies and management strategies to meet the social and ecological challenges caused by abrupt climate change events.  The program is funded by a five-year, $3 million award from the National Science Foundation, and will support the research of 24 Ph.D. students in Earth sciences, ecology, economics, anthropology and archaeology. Their research will focus on the effects of abrupt climate change on global security, ecosystem sustainability, and the integrity of economic, social, political and ideological systems.

Abrupt climate change (ACC) refers to the surprisingly rapid and dramatic shifts in regional and global climate that have occurred numerous times during Earth’s history, but which have only been well documented and appreciated by the scientific community over the past several decades.  Although the phenomenon of ACC is well established scientifically, is not widely understood by policy makers, planners, or the general public.  The A2C2 IGERT therefore features a novel training program that emphasizes equal participation by the natural and social sciences and fosters enhanced understanding of the dynamics of coupled natural and human systems in response to ACC.

The primary goal of the A2C2 IGERT is to train a new generation of scientists who possess the skills and attitudes needed to meaningfully address the environmental and social challenges of ACC.  In addition to conducting collaborative interdisciplinary research, A2C2 students will participate in policy and management internships with international groupsJoint-2-309x400, federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, and private corporations.  In so doing, they will become experts and leaders in their fields, understanding the dynamic relationship between the environment and the security of humans in response to ACC, says Dr. Jasmine Saros, associate director of UMaine’s Climate Change Institute and the principal investigator on the project. The program is also designed to train leaders and experts who will make significant professional contributions in facilitating a paradigm shift in the way that policy makers and managers conceptualize climate change, so that the threats and opportunities associated with rapid shifts in regional and global climate are explicitly acknowledged in societal planning.  In other words, we hope our students will ultimately persuade planners and managers to rethink their assumptions about how Earth’s climate has functioned in the past, and to reexamine their ideas about how this surprisingly temperamental system might respond to current and future levels of human influence and disruption.

The A2C2 IGERT also hopes to challenge the commonly held view that the past 11,000 years –during which human civilization arose – has been a period of remarkable climate stability.  In light of the best and most contemporary scientific evidence that we possess, this notion of global climate stability during the rise of civilization appears to be deeply flawed, since we now know that numerous ACC events occurred during this time.  Although these events were certainly milder than those that occurred in the more distant past, they were nonetheless quite dramatic by modern standards and were more than adequate to severely disrupt a variety of civilizations and ecosystems by way of extreme and prolonged drought, dramatic sea ice expansion, increased storminess, and increased frequency and magnitude of freezes. We also know that numerous societies failed catastrophically during these events.  We believe that the lessons learned from investigations into these events are of clear value to contemporary societies, since rising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will likely create the persistent, looming threat of abrupt and highly disruptive climate shifts in our future.

The good news, of course, is that although many societies collapsed during periods of abrupt climate change, many others found ways to flourish.  We should therefore resist the temptation to view ACC events in an apocalyptic light; although they present significant challenges to societal well-being, they also present a wide variety of opportunities for societies that can find ways to reduce vulnerability and increase resilience.

UMaine is very excited to have received this IGERT award, the third in our university’s history. The IGERT program is now the National Science Foundation’s flagship interdisciplinary graduate training program, and is well aligned with the ACUPCC’s goal of curricular transformation.  IGERT strives to catalyze a cultural change in graduate education by establishing innovative new models that transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries, by facilitating greater diversity in student participation and preparation, and by contributing to the development of a globally-engaged science and engineering workforce. Since its inception in 1998, the IGERT program has made 215 awards to over 100 leading universities in 41 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. IGERT has provided funding for nearly 5,000 graduate students.

To learn more about the A2C2 IGERT at UMaine, please visit our program website or contact Misa Saros, A2C2 IGERT Program Coordinator, at misa.saros@umit.maine.edu.  General inquiries can also be sent to a2c2igert@umit.maine.edu.

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By Sarah Brylinsky, Program Associate, Second Nature
(This article appears in the October, 2012 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

ACUPCC ImplementerThe celebration of the 10th Anniversary of Campus Sustainability Day (CSD) needed a topic appropriate to a moment in time when campuses have shown that the impossible is possible – changing the way they teach, operate, build, and plan in order to reduce emissions and prepare students to lead a just and sustainable future – while recognizing the challenges and opportunities still present in their journey to integrating deep sustainability education. This year, Second Nature and the CSD supporting organizations, including AASHE, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), The Society for College & University Planning (SCUP), USGBC, Focus the Nation, Tree Campus USA, the SEED Center, and IDEAS, are calling on campuses to participate in a national day of dialogue around a critical question which invites conversation on both success and continued roadblocks: How is higher education preparing students for a changing climate?

Campuses across the country are organizing discussions to gather input from students, faculty, and staff on the best practices and remaining challenges for providing students with the skills and experiences they need to prepare for a changing climate, society, and economy, using three guiding questions to form a common national dialogue.

Campus Sustainability Day 2012

Here’s how to participate:

#1: Screen the Keynote Broadcast on Your Campus
October 24th 2012, 2pm – 3:30pm EST
Join thought leaders in campus sustainability as they discuss best practices and challenges for preparing students for a changing climate, with an emphasis on curriculum, research, and experiential learning.

Featuring Geoffrey Chase, leader of the Ponderosa Project, Julie Elzanati, Director of the Illinois Green Economy Network, Julian Keniry, Senior Director of Campus and Community Leadership National Wildlife Federation Campus Ecology Program, Neil Weissman, Provost of Dickinson College, and Debera Johnson, founder of the Partnership for Leadership in Sustainability, this panel invites questions from the audience to discuss best practices for creating ecological curriculum, advancing experiential and living laboratory learning, and engaging faculty and the surrounding community in meaningful and critical education.

This is a live, interactive event!  Panelists will base their discussion on questions provided by you – the audience – during the panel, and will be screened using live video in Google+ Hangouts on Air.  The panel will be screened live to Youtube – no special login or software is necessary to watch, and you will be provided with the link after registration.  To ask questions, you will need a Google or YouTube login to leave comments on the video as a question for the panelists.  Institutions are encouraged to participate in the keynote broadcast as a way to jumpstart regional conversations.

#2: Host or Participate in a Regional Conversation 
October 22nd – October 26th 2012, Times and dates vary by region
Register or learn more here

How are you preparing students for a changing climate?  We want to hear from campuses across the country, and gather input from students, faculty, and staff on the best practices and remaining challenges for providing students with the skills and experiences they need.  Host a conversation on campus, gather for a virtual conversation with campuses in your region, or tune-in to one of the regional conversations organized in your area.  

Use these questions to guide the conversation:

  1. What is your college/region doing to prepare students for a changing climate?
  2. Where do challenges still exist for your campus/region in creating successful sustainability and climate programs, and what are the solutions to these challenges?
  3. How can your campus/region ensure that all students acquire the skills and education necessary to prepare for a changing climate, society, and economy, regardless of their course of study or career goals?

Be sure to appoint a student liaison to take notes – your conversations will be turned into a national guiding document on “Best Practices for Preparing Students for a Changing Climate.”

For questions about Campus Sustainability Day, please contact Sarah Brylinsky, Program Associate, Second Nature at sbrylinsky@secondnature.org.

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This piece by Unity College President Stephen Mulkey originally appeared on Climate Access and is reposted with permission from that site.

Crisis and opportunity in the Environmental Century: Inspiring a generation to greatness
By: Unity College President, Stephen Mulkey

As an ecologist, I know that we have precious little time to prepare a generation to respond to the ecological crisis of our planet in peril. As the president of Unity College, I am alarmed by how little progress has been made in focusing higher learning on what is undoubtedly the most important challenge facing humankind. Given the overwhelming scientific evidence of imminent climate disruption, failure to make climate literacy a requisite part of any undergraduate curriculum is inexcusable.

Recent papers in the journal Nature show that we have transgressed the boundaries of a safe operating space for humanity with respect to several key environmental factors. Chief among these is climate change, which amplifies the effects of all other critical factors such as freshwater depletion, nitrogen pollution, biodiversity loss, ozone depletion, and changes in land use. There is now mounting evidence that sometime during this century we will reach a state shift in the planet’s ability to support us (doi:10.1038/nature11018). Climate change will affect every facet of the academy and change the practice of essentially all fields of study.

Unity College aspires to be America’s Environmental College and thus climate change must be a centerpiece of our programming. It is nothing short of mission critical that we get this right. At my request the faculty and Board of Trustees have adopted Sustainability Science (sensu U.S. National Academy of Science) as our overarching framework for all academic programming, and especially for upper division courses. Although this approach addresses all aspects of global environmental change, because of its innovative delivery, it is especially suited to the urgency of climate change. As a four-year liberal arts academy, a focus this specific has sweeping implications for our programming, but it does not obviate the need for critical skills such as oral and written literacy. Thus I am quick to point out that the humanities are foundational to implementation of Sustainability Science as pedagogy.

As multiple components of our life support deteriorate, I think it likely that this century is destined to be the Century of the Environment. There can be little doubt that a child born today faces the prospect of living in a vastly diminished world unless we are able to make significant adjustments in our use of natural resources and bring new sources of energy rapidly online. Development of a sustainable relationship with our natural resources is an imperative for our survival as we face the ultimate test of our adaptability as a species. Owing to the lead-time required to address climate change, it is likely that we have little more than a decade to vigorously transition towards sustainability. Because our curriculum is science-based, we do not shy away from acknowledging that the consequences of failing to respond will be catastrophic and irrevocable over a millennial time scale. Such a broad frame for the work of Unity College gives profound meaning to everything we do.

Interdisciplinary programming in higher education is accepted as necessary for effective instructional delivery of complex environmental problems. Unfortunately this approach has largely failed because of the impediments to sharing resources among disciplinary silos at universities. Moreover, the need for students to sequentially access information from different disciplines makes integration of knowledge unwieldy and slow. In contrast, Sustainability Science employs transdisciplinary programming, which requires that the perspectives of various disciplines be simultaneously integrated in problem-focused pedagogy. This is a promising alternative framework that focuses on the dynamics of coupled human-natural systems and is defined by the problems that it addresses rather than by the disciplines it employs. Students are empowered to become knowledge brokers, while faculty act as curators of knowledge to provide students with networked resources that are generally external to the classroom.

Although an exciting innovation in delivery, Sustainability Science will not be useful if we cannot quickly produce effective practitioners. We are simply out of time to address many aspects of climate change. Accordingly, it is the streamlining of knowledge management that we think is one of the most significant advantages of Sustainability Science as a paradigm. The entering class this fall will be the first to matriculate under this new framework, and we are eager to demonstrate that our graduates can bring the right stuff to the green economy.

Because of the opportunities inherent in our long ecological crisis I see many reasons for hope. This crisis, made hugely immediate by climate change, represents an opportunity rarely witnessed in the history of our species. During this century the current generation of students will be forced to the limits of their ingenuity, cooperation, and innovation. I am struck that the results of such efforts will be immensely rewarding.Those who are prepared and can lead will have unprecedented opportunities for service through the creation of a new global economy based on sustainable practice. They will be remembered long after their time for laying the cornerstones of a stable human ecology.

I believe that we have a covenant of duty to not merely prepare, but also inspire this generation to rise to greatness. Indeed, this is the Great Work of their generation (cf., Thomas Berry). As a scientist, I know that climate change will be the defining environmental issue of this century, but as an educator I know that an even more pressing challenge is one of motivation and inspiration. History shows us that our species will not rise to meet great challenges unless there is a force that speaks to our hearts. Inspiration and affective power must be embedded in this endeavor if it is to succeed.

Historically, the arts and humanities have been the key to such willingness, and I see these fields as utterly indispensable to Sustainability Science. Our vision of a sustainable future must inspire, rather than burden, and thus it should be partnered with fine art, great literature, and powerful music. It must lead, rather than support the status quo. It must build, rather than merely struggle to maintain. It must counter fear with a luminous path forward. It must provide brilliant, pragmatic hope when the future seems devoid of options. Through the ineffable power of art and literature we can experience the grandeur of the quest for sustainability. By infusing sustainability education with such primal affective substance we can reclaim the identity that connects all of us as obligate social primates to each other and to the Earth.

It is my fervent hope that we will soon arrive at a cultural tipping point when higher education will embrace the imperative of this mission. David Orr has noted that “all education is environmental education,” and I take this to be literally true if we are to have any hope of supporting a civilization of over nine billion humans by mid century. Placed in the context of our own survival, there can be no more important mission for higher education. Yet, like awareness of the inevitability of our own death, awareness of impending ecological collapse is overwhelming, and thus unthinkable. We push it from our minds, especially if the evidence is not in our faces. So, for now we continue with business as usual in higher education, acquiescing to the perennial demand to educate students for jobs. The great irony is that within the next few decades these jobs will certainly not exist if we do not address the environmental imperative that we so assiduously avoid.

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Unity College is a signatory of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Read the public reports including greenhouse gas inventories, Climate Action Plan, and Progress Reports by Unity College at rs.acupcc.org.

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Last Friday, I had the opportunity to participate on a panel at the 2nd Annual Slow Living Summit in Brattleboro, VT.

‘Slow Living’ as described by the organizers; “…is shorthand for taking a more reflective approach to living and work; an approach that is mindful of  impacts on the environment, on Earth, and on communities; and that incorporates resilience —  our ability to “bounce back” from the consequences of climate change, resource depletion and other changes and stresses...“Slow” encodes the transformative change from faster and cheaper to slower and better—where quality, community and the future matter.”

The Summit program was broken into multiple tracks, covering a range of topics including community supported agriculture, media & journalism, sustainable investing & finance, community building, renewable energy, and education to name a few. For a detailed description of the program click here.

Our session was titled, EDUCATION: Sustainability in Higher Education: Leadership by Example? It was moderated by Jerelyn Wilson, Outreach Director at Building Green LLC, and included the following panelist:

  • David Orr, Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies & Politics, Oberlin College
  • Philip Ackerman-Leist, Director, Farm & Food Project, Green Mountain College
  • Anim Steel, Director of National Programs, The Food Project

Each panelist gave a 10-minute presentation describing our organization, role, and the personal connection to the work that we do. I led off with an overview of Second Nature, the ACUPCC, and a high level assessment of the US college and university sustainability movement. For my personal connection, I gave an abbreviated version on what I shared last year in our Second Nature team series about why we do what we do.

David Orr provided his usual terrific commentary on the higher education sustainability movement, including some historical  context on how formal education contributes to perpetuating an unsustainable society. He also shared his background in the movement including starting the Meadowcreek Project, a 1600 acre wildlife preserve in Arkansas devoted to sustainable education and recreation. He concluded his presentation with his current focus on revitalizing downtown Oberlin, OH. Called The Oberlin Project, it aims is to build a resilient local economy by eliminating carbon emissions, restoring local agriculture, the food supply and forestry, and creating a new, sustainable base for economic and community development.

Philip Ackerman-Leist discussed Green Mountain College’s (GMC) efforts to support Vermont’s rich farming heritage. Current research being conducted at GMC includes the Long Term Ecological Assessment of Low Energy Farming Systems (LEAFS), the Sustainable Purchasing Initiative, the Viability of Flash-Freezing Technologies for enhancing local foods in the institutional and charitable food systems, and Integrating High Tunnel Crop Production & Renewable Energy Systems. GMC is a terrific example of institution’s positive community impact when it makes sustainability a strategic imperative.

Anim Steele, discussed his role in creating the Real Food Challenge and his support of students to have a dialogue with their institutions to commit and help create a healthy, fair, and green food system. The Real Food Challenge is working “to shift $1 billion of existing university food budgets away from industrial farms and junk food and towards local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane food sources—what we call “real food”—by 2020.” Anim shared that he sees a new generation of students that are comfortable with ‘peapods’ and ‘ipods’, and are integrating their world of technology with the need to move forward to the land.

After the presentations, we engaged in a lively discussion with the participants. We covered a range of topics from how we learn to what is community? I continue to be amazed at the level of work and sophistication that colleges and universities are undertaking to advance sustainability. I want to thank the Slow Living Summit for the opportunity to participate and to share the excellent work being done by colleges and universities to an audience beyond its borders!

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Second Nature is pleased to announce our co-sponsorship and support of the New England Campus Sustainability Forum, a conference that will take place on September 21st at the Colleges of the Fenway in Boston, MA. The Forum is designed to leverage the collective resources of schools and colleges, and we hope to attract campus sustainability stakeholders such as administrators, facilities personnel, sustainability directors, interested faculty and staff, and students.

Please save the date and circulate the above announcement to your friends and colleagues in the higher education sustainability community.

More details on the Forum are coming soon!

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On April 30, 2012, the 3rd Annual Massachusetts Sustainable Economy Conference was presented by Integrative Sustainability & Environmental Solutions (ISES) in Boston, MA. ISES, an environmental consulting initiative led by Crystal Johnson.The conference leveraged a variety of discussions on the community and business practices that cultivate a sustainable economy. Higher education plays a critical role in this conversation as the educational driver which creates meaningful programs for career preparedness, community innovation, and participatory citizenship in order to prepare students to create a sustainable future.

Participants included local and multinational businesses, higher education representatives, chambers of commerce and non-profit organizations.  the daylong conference was divided into three main informational sessions with topics including: Active Citizenship for Sustainable Communities, Principles of Product Stewardship and Supply Chain, Leveraging Diversity and Inclusion in Business, and Emerging Energy Issues and Technologies. The final session for the conference was a full-attendee dialogue on “The Role of Women in Creating a 21st Century Economy.”

In “Active Citizenship for Sustainable Communities,” session leader Pat Stewart, President of the North Country Sustainability Center, discussed NCSC’s shift from what was originally created to provide a community kitchen for local agricultural value-added demands, to a regional hub for practical sustainability practices. Recognizing the increasing demand for, and value of, traditional knowledge, NCSC has expanded its services to offer a wide range of guild workshops on topics ranging from weaving and cheese making to masonry, all of which are offered by local experts, or as Pat noted “older folks who don’t even realize they are experts”. The NCSC model represented a critical dialogue point between “formal” and “informal” educational institutions, modeling from the latter steps towards creating a local economy which can depend on local production as well as preserve an array of increasingly vanishing traditional knowledge.

Alongside the community center and the small business owners attending the conference, Chamber of Commerce leaders discussed different effective partnerships with town/city leaders, other business owners, and local schools. One example of this was the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce’s partnership with Nexamp to form the Merrimack Valley Clean Energy Partnership (MVCEP). “The Chamber was awarded a $500,000 contract through a competitive bidding process to provide clean energy consulting and energy monitoring to 31 Merrimack Valley companies” and as a result, received the Northeastern Economic Developers Association “Program of the Year” award in 2011.

In addition to the continuing discussions on supply chain management, urban agriculture techniques, and community partnerships, the conference placed a special emphasis on the role of diversity and minorities in the shift towards a sustainable economy. During the final, all-conference dialogue devoted to the role of women in creating the 21st century economy, Jackie VanderBrug discussed the role of gender lens investing at a business and individual level as a critical sustainability lens. Another imperative aspect of this session was the dire need and current process of getting more women in leadership positions, such as the 20% by 20 campaign. Steven Grossman, State Treasurer and Receiver General, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, opening keynote for the session, underscored the role of partnerships as a baseline method for accountability and progressive reform.

As a cross-sector conference, the 3rd Annual Massachusetts Sustainable Economy Conference provided critical points of conversation on a range of sustainable economy intersections, at which the role of education stood out as a strong partnership imperative, and critical point of movement necessary to shift policy and practice throughout Massachusetts communities.

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On April 19th, Eastern Connecticut State University and their Institute for Sustainable Energy hosted the Green Campus Conference to discuss Public Act 11-80. The bill requires the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to develop a comprehensive State Energy Plan and establish a variety of new programs to promote clean energy and energy efficiency.

DEEP recently launched the Lead-By-Example (LBE) program requiring energy use in State owned and operated buildings to be reduced by 10% by January 1, 2013, and another 10% by January 1, 2018. The LBE program applies to all state agencies, including the facilities within Connecticut’s Higher Education sector, which makes up 50% of the square footage of buildings under the control of state government.  Buildings controlled by the CT Board of Regents constitute 50% of Higher Education and 25% of the Governor’s energy reduction goal.

To achieve the energy reduction targets on CT Board of Regents campuses the following seven actions have been identified:

  1. Establish an Energy and Sustainability Baseline
  2. Participate in the American College and University President’s Climate Challenge (ACUPCC)
  3. Engage Student Organizations in Support of Campus Environmental Sustainability
  4. Identify Projects for Funding through Connecticut’s Lead-by-Example Initiative
  5. Establish a Board of Regent Technical Support and Project Review Team
  6. Develop and Deploy Multiple Project Financing Strategies
  7. Provide O&M and Auditing Training to Facility Maintenance Staff

More information of the CT Board of Regents Green Campus Strategy can be found here.

The conference brought together representatives from all CT Board of Regents institutions including the four Connecticut State Universities, twelve Connecticut Community/Technical Colleges, and Charter Oak State College. More than 80 participants learned about the LBE program and how the State of Connecticut is working to support colleges and universities in achieving the energy reduction goals.

The conference offered two panel sessions:

1.     Financing Green Campus Projects: moderated by Alex Kragie, Special Assistant to the Commissioner, DEEP

Presentations included:

2.     The Latest & Greatest Energy Technology: moderated by William Leahy, Director, Institute for Sustainable Energy

 Presentations included:

  • Eastern’s Green CampusNancy Tinker, Director, Facilities and Management Planning
  • CCSU’s Energy CenterRobert Gagne, Plant Facility Engineer
  • Connecticut’s Demand Response, Monitoring & Analysis Program – Cliff Orvedal & Bob Mancini, EnerNOC
  • CT Energy Efficiency FundRich Steeves, Energy Efficiency Board, Randy Vagnini, Retrofit Programs, Dave McIntosh, Retro-commissioning

Second Nature President Dr. Tony Cortese gave the keynote address, commending the state of Connecticut and the Board of Regents for working together to address energy consumption and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He also reminded the crowd of the importance of higher education to lead society and prepare graduates for a changing global market economy. Issues of climate and sustainability are about much more than the environment. It is time to stop viewing global challenges as separate, competing, and hierarchical and begin to address them as systemic and interdependent. Colleges and universities can and must develop graduates that can think systemically and begin developing the solutions to transition to a just, healthy, and sustainable society.

Connecticut’s LBE program is a terrific model for other states to reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also a terrific model of collaboration for state colleges and universities to work with their state government. DEEP is working on identifying best practices in energy efficiency financing and developing a vetted list of energy service companies to submit RFPs. The CT BOR is establishing a Project Technical Review team to ensure proposals submitted by individual campuses are complete, comprehensive, and fully documented. This will help streamline the decision process for DEEPs Technical Advisory Committee and Project Finance Committee. The BOR is also building the capacity of campus staffs by providing training on energy management and energy auditing. By building internal expertise campuses can operate more efficiently and will be better able to identify areas for further energy savings. For Connecticut, LBE is the key program to making it the most energy efficient state in the nation!

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