PERC Student Sustainability Symposium



This past Friday, a few other Dickinson students and I attended the PERC Student Sustainability Symposium at Becknell. This year was the second annual symposium where students from schools in Pennsylvania come together to share sustainability initiatives that are taking place at their schools. We had people from Dickinson talking about the Energy Challenge, Athletic EcoReps, the biodiesel shop, the CAT, among other initiatives and research happening.

Students can present in one of three styles; a presentation, a poster, or hold a round table discussion. I wasn’t really sure what to expect since I have never been to this event before so I took the easy way out and submitted an abstract to present the Global Climate Change Mosaic as a poster. During the opening remarks they relayed the message that there were only four people holding round tables and that if anyone was interested in doing so, they were more than welcome to. Within a few minutes I made a decision to prepare a round table discussion. I am glad I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone to make that decision because once I was talking about the mosaic and engaging with other students I was comfortable and pleased.

I started by talking about the Mosaic, what exactly we did, and a few other climate related things such as our Climate Action Plan. Then, I asked the others at my table what they have in terms of classes that pertain to climate change, organizations, outreach, energy challenges, etc.. From there I took a poster and split it into two sections: “worked well” and “needs improvement”. We spent the remainder of our time from focusing on the fact that often times there is a part of the student body who is invested and passionate about environmental concerns and a large portion that is not. We talked about what our schools have done that has worked well and what needs improvement.

In all, the day was extremely insightful and inspiring. I was able to see what sort of things other schools may be doing that we aren’t and what sorts of things have succeeded or failed. At the conclusion of the conference many of the students had a conversation about how to we further this connection and information base. How do we take the PERC symposium from being a once a year thing to an around the year sharing source?

Thought Trap

people and the world

At their core is the premise of lack, the notion that there just isn’t enough– of anything. Not enough food or fuel, jobs or jungles, parking spots or pandas, laughter or love… There isn’t enough goodness either. Our culture seems to whittle the human essence down to a caricature: We are selfish, materialistic, and competitive… So, the worldview we absorb everyday is driven by a fear of being without– without either resources or human qualities we need to make this historic turnaround. Within this Western, mechanical worldview that we absorb subconsciously, we are each separate from one another, and reality consists of distinct, limited, and fixed things. I think of it as the three S’s: separateness, scarcity, and stasis. that’s our world.”  – Francis Moore Lappe

Sustainability at Otago – Cheers!


Dunedin Peninsula, University of Otago, Dunedin, NZ
Dunedin Peninsula, University of Otago, Dunedin, NZ

Studying abroad on a Non-Dickinson Program has been all but an easy experience. A couple of days ago I finally hit my month mark of being abroad and I am happy to say that everyday has gotten much better than the previous. It is with great happiness that I share the good news of my latest involvement with the S.E.A (Students for Environmental Action) community at the University of Otago. Finding a pool of like-minded people was exactly what I needed to finally feel like I had a place here. S.E.A. provides a safe space for open dialogue about pressing environmental issues locally and internationally. S.E.A hosts a variety of events ranging from coastal cleanup days, film screenings, Farmer’s Markets, lectures, seminars, workshops, etc.


Green Drinks, Dunedin, NZ

S.E.A tries hard not to focus solely on local campus wide issuesbut rather extending out within the larger Dunedin community through Green Drinks. Green Drinks Dunedin is part of a non-political international movement to foster a safe space for people interested in sustainability and the environment. Green Drinks Dunedin is hosted by Sustainable Dunedin City, which is the local council on climate change activism. Last Friday I met with the head of the council and shared my experiences from COP20. She was delighted to invite me to share my experiences at the next Green Drinks Dunedin on Thursday, March 26th. I look forward to sharing my perspectives from COP20 and to continue to connect with individuals from all walks of life who truly value the environment. Cheers to keeping the conversation going on the road to Paris.

Highlights from Peru


Better late than never… I still have yet to reflect on my experiences at COP20. Almost three months ago the mosaic team embarked on their journey to Lima, Peru. Looking back on the opportunity as a whole, including the leisure parts of the trip to Cusco, Machu Picchu, and Ollantaytambo, and my personal travels to Arequipa and Puno, I can say that I genuinely enjoyed the academic portion of the trip better.

Being at an international conference was inspiring and one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. Even the bus rides to and from the COP every day was unique and I still remember many of my conversations. If you managed to sit next to someone interesting on the bus then you had the entire hour long ride to talk with them and ask anything about where they are from, what they do, or what are some important concerns of their nation from climate change. On the bus I met people from Benin, Azerbaijan, Latvia, Brazil, Peru, and Ethiopia among plenty of other fascinating people. Furthermore, being present at the actual COP was, sorry for the lack of vocabulary, so cool. Everywhere you walked and everywhere you looked, there was hundreds of people from different nations and I think that’s what was the neatest part for me. When I got home and everyone would ask me what my favorite part was, my first response would always be just simply talking to people from everywhere… I mean, I met and spoke to someone who’s been to space before, I met Picchauri, I met heads of delegations, and the president of the COP.

The entire opportunity of the Climate Change Mosaic is something I am so grateful for and would do it over again in a heart beat. The thought of our final papers being done in a week from tomorrow makes me want to vomit.




March to Extinction


     Last week in my March to Extinction: The Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity class we did an exercise focused on climate change. On Tuesday we split the class into five groups, each with a different topic. My topic was climate forcings and magnitude. Each group had to brainstorm and come up with everything they knew about the subject and all their uncertainties they had and then present it to the class. Before the following class on Thursday, we were instructed to address all of the uncertainties we had and present again. The exercise was helpful in forcing me to realize it’s not so easy to just talk about climate change and teach a class about it without any preparation. We had a reflective assignment to do wrapping it all up. The first question was “Did this exercise teach you anything new or identify for you important gaps in your knowledge?” I responded with the following…

“I have to say that no this exercise did not really teach me anything new in terms of substantive material, however I did get something out of it. I realized that I might think I know a decent amount about climate change but when it comes time to actually verbalize my knowledge, I struggle. Having discussions with people or teaching and informing people is very different from writing a paper, taking a test, or reading a book. You have less time to think about what you are going to say in a conversation and it’s certainly not as easy as reading something for class and absorbing only the big picture or listening to a lecture. I found it difficult to vocalize my knowledge that I do have, on the spot.

     As far as knowledge gaps go, this is something I struggle with all the time. In fact, it stresses me out. There is literally so much more for me to learn in the environmental field as a whole. Even after being in the mosaic I feel that I still have only briefly touched the surface and that’s stressful to me. How am I going to make a difference (on the bigger scale) if I don’t know enough? I’ve been researching and exploring sea level rise since last semester, my paper is currently at 22 pages and I STILL feel like I don’t know nearly enough about the subject. What’s worse is there isn’t enough time in the day to learn everything.”

An Observer Role is Not A Staring Role


Although the COP20 was a couple months ago, one moment of clear inequity will be an indelible memory in my mind. In our climate change governance course, we learned that indigenous peoples had an observer’s status at the United Nations Climate Change Conferences. However, there’s always a difference between reading about something and actually seeing the thing you read about. Six of my classmates and I were fortunate enough to attend the COP20 as observers for the first week. I didn’t realize just how fortunate we were until I was interviewing an Amazonian indigenous chief. He discussed how difficult it was for him to gain access to the COP and how he was the only one representing his entire community. I looked down at my tag and then looked at his, I felt extremely guilty and wanted to tear the blue lanyard from my neck and hand it over to him. This chief, who’s highly respected amongst his peers and was fighting for his rights, had the same role as me. An observer.

He was at the COP to create awareness and  protect his lands from being further threatened by REDD+, land claims and deforestation. While, I was at the conference for an undergraduate research project to gather information about his situation. This situation felt so unfair. In negotiations, delegates and members of the World Bank would discuss the future of the Amazon territory, while Amazonian indigenous peoples could only observe the discussion about the lands they inhabit. In addition, when the room was full or the negotiators did not want to answer any questions, all the observers were asked to leave the room, meaning they couldn’t even observe negotiations. Indigenous peoples are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change since they often depend on the environment for their livelihood. Hence, I believe that indigenous peoples should have full participation in negotiations to express their concerns and situation.

Although, this video below is a little off topic, I thought it’s message was really interesting!

Listen to the People…That Means Republicans Too

toon luckovich

The New York Time had an article today titled, Most Americans Support Government Action on Climate Change, Poll Finds.  A recent study conducted by both the New York Times and Stanford University shed light on the changing mindset of the American people and perhaps more importantly American Voters. The republican party is notorious for its position of climate change, in fact I wrote a blog post last semester on what the republican domination of the last election meant for government action on climate change… it was not optimistic. So this research came as a happy surprise. Its opening line states, that “An overwhelming majority of the American public, including nearly half of Republicans, support government action to curb global warming… [and] two-thirds of Americans say they are more likely to vote for political candidates who campaign on fighting climate change.” The study also found that the majority of people (and about half of republican voters) would be turned off by a candidate who questioned the science of climate change or called it a hoax.

However, this study begs the question, why are republicans candidates not in line with the views of their consituents? Clearly half of republicans in office do not think government should take action on climate change. Of the 2012 republican presidential candiateds only one publicly acknowledged the science of climate changed and believed it to be “real,” and thought it would be beneficially to have some government policy for emissions reductions. The chair of the senate’s Environmental Committee is a republican by the of James Inhofe that literally wrote of book on climate change denial. Furthermore, the senate approved the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline, pushed by republican leadership despite its dire climate consequences.

Perhaps the answer lies in campaign finance. It is no big secret that big oil companies contribute hefty amounts of campaign funds to politicians with some expectations on how their candidates handle climate change. The article states that, “advocacy groups funded by the billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch have vowed to ensure that Republican candidates who advocate for climate change action will lose in primary elections.” Perhaps the divide between republicans and democrats is not actually as large as we often perceive, maybe the problem lies in a much broader issue of how we allow large corporations to influence American politics.



Preparation for Paris


The post Lima preparation for Paris is already underway. While each country and their delegations have their own expectations and responsibilities, it is imperative that the entire global community prepares as well. What better way to spread global awareness and participation than with live music!? Al Gore and pop icon Pharrell Williams have teamed up to announce a global Live Earth concert in June. This concert, with its purpose to demand climate action, will be staged in six cities on all seven continents. Yes, Antarctica will also be participating in this global event. On this day, the entire globe will stand up together for a cause that is affecting all aspects of our shared planet. The ultimate goal of this music festival is to collect 1 billion signatures to encourage world leaders to adopt a new climate agreement in Paris at COP21. There is a lot of pressure for the outcomes in Paris, especially after 2014 was recorded as the Earth’s warmest year on record. A global event like this could be groundbreaking for increasing public action and awareness.

The Outcome




I’ll admit it, I came to COP20 as a dewy-eyed, idealistic college student. After being immersed in the UNFCCC all semester, I was ready to see climate change tackled head on by the thousands of delegates that flew in from almost every country in the world. We came off the plane in Lima filled with excitement for the next two weeks.


I still felt the energy from attending the People’s Climate March in September. The EU had just announced its plans to reduce its total emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and, the previous month, China and the US, had jointly committed to addressing climate change.


The task for COP20 seemed simple enough: use voluntary agreements to create a draft of the Paris agreement. Even jaded COP20 attendees who I talked to felt that an agreement of voluntary commitments would be completed, even if the commitments were not very strong.


However, after two weeks of negotiating, the climate talks seemed on the verge of collapse. A day after the meetings were scheduled to end, a heated discussion ended in over 80 developing countries refusing to back proposals suggested by UN officials.


The delegates pulled a 32-hour marathon session to produce a modest compromise. With the overtime session, 195 countries agreed to adopt a four page document that explains the types of national climate targets they will need to deliver in the next six months.


Countries with the leading economies will submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) by March 2015 and others will follow by June.


Still, most NGOs have called the agreement a weak one. A statement signed by Oxfam, Greenpeace, and Christian Aid said the agreement left the world on course of a warming of 4C or worse.


Countries do not need to explain how their INDCs are fair or ambitious. Instead, the UNFCCC will analyze the aggregate effect of all the pledges only a month before COP21 in Paris. Developing countries were placated with text including the importance of loss and damage. However, there is no concrete plan for raising the promised $100 billion by 2020 for developing countries.


Neither did Lima deliver concrete commitments to reduce short term emissions. Samantha Smith, leader of the WWF Global Climate and Energy Initiative said: “The science is clear that delaying action until 2020 will make it near impossible to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, yet political expediency won over scientific urgency. Instead of leadership, they delivered a lackluster plan with little scientific relevancy.”


In the end, the UNFCCC is just one tool for combating climate change. Waiting on politicians may take too long. A ground-up movement may be our best bet to avoid disaster.

Outcomes From COP 20, Lima


The world gained momentum on a climate agreement going into Lima. A historic agreement was reached between the US and China going into COP 20. Pledges to the Green Climate Fund were on the rise and narrowing in on the goal on $10 Billion. Everyone knew going in that Lima needed to hole the proverbial climate agreement ship steady, and it did that. Nothing glamorous or jaw dropping came out of Lima, but the parties are in a position to meet the deadline for the 2015 Paris Agreement. That is much easier said than done, it is no easy task to get just under 200 countries to agree to a climate deal to limit warming to 2°C.

COP20 Main Hall (Lima)
COP20 Main Hall (Lima)

Some good things did come out of Lima. The President of the COP, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, highlighted three important outcomes: (1) $10 billion goal for the Green Climate Fund was met, (2) the Multilateral Assessment work as countries exposed themselves to questioning about their emission reduction plans, and (3) the Lima Ministerial Declaration on Education and Awareness was put forward as a means to increase education efforts on climate change in schools around the world.

Strides were also made on National Adaptation Plans. Several platforms for NAPs were established including the NAP Global Network and the Lima Adaptation Knowledge Initiative.

The biggest piece of the 2015 Paris Agreement is going to be country emissions targets. Each country will set their own target in an Intended National Determined Contribution (INDC). Major economies are expected to submit these targets soon, which will put forth their contribution to global emissions reductions. This is the corner stone for the 2015 Paris Agreement. This bottom up style agreement has the potential to involve every country on the planet. However, the question then becomes how to ratchet up ambition. That part will be worked out using the Multilateral Assessment (MA). The MA will hopefully be the mechanism to allow pressure on parties to raise ambition towards reducing carbon emissions. AILAC and European Union (EU) parties advocate for a full on review of every countries’ INDC, while China, India and the Like Minded Developing Countries do not favor any public review of the contributions. This will be an important piece of the negotiations to follow through Paris, 2015.

Finally, the 2013-2015 Review met during COP 20 in Lima. This group is in charge of evaluating the adequacy of the 2°C goal as well as of party commitments. Part of this Review is the Structured Expert Dialogue (See my blog post from December 9th, 2014). They met twice with IPCC and other experts to discuss the adequacy of the goal, that is, if they ought to increase ambition to stay below 1.5°C warming. The dialogue will conclude in February, with a report coming out a few months after. It will be interesting to follow the conclusion of this process to see what inputs will be provided for the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Here is a link to the Elements for a Draft Negotiating Text. This draft text must be finalized in June, 6 months before the meeting in Paris, to give parties sufficient time to review the text and make edits.