Over the past several months of a war in Ukraine and the highly-visible economic and political consequences stemming from it — either as a direct effect or under a pretext for raising prices in domestic markets — many important issues have been consigned to a lower priority of attention and coverage. Possibly the most significant of these topics sent to the backburner are climate and environmental justice, the continued relevance of which is once again on display.
Abroad, the South Asian nation of Pakistan is experiencing a third month of heavy rains and flooding whose peak has submerged nearly one-third of the country underwater. The country’s usual monsoon rainfall has been exacerbated by climate change through phenomena such as glacial melting. As the homes of millions are reduced to rubble in a country whose carbon emissions comprise no more than one percent of the global total, the glaring inequities of climate change become increasingly clear.
Accordingly, all segments of high-emitting society, from the quiet suburban neighborhood to a bustling university such as ours, must alter our institutions to combat the climate crisis to the greatest extent. The mere act of having an Office of Sustainability is not a viable tool against the ongoing climate crisis, nor is publicizing a list of accolades awarded to our “Green Leader” university. Appearance is no substitute for action; furthermore, far more productive than putting on airs for alumni and donors would be showing transparency on UConn’s own inability to swiftly and effectively make good on its climate change commitments as outlined by the President’s Working Group on Sustainability, commissioned in winter of 2020 after sustained efforts by students for their university to adopt a zero-carbon plan.[Text Wrapping Break][Text Wrapping Break]At this juncture, it is neither possible nor responsible to hide behind the accusation that activists are “letting perfect be the enemy of good.” Any actions that do not establish a strong foundation for a fossil fuel-free university are negligible while UConn’s power is still supported by Eversource, Connecticut’s largest power company with a geographic monopoly on providing fossil fuel energy. Highlighting this connection in the context of the climate crisis, however, does not provide as rosy an image of a sustainable university as being dubbed a “Cool School” by the Sierra Club.
Another critical obstacle in the way of a wholly renewable university is the continued use and maintenance of UConn’s Co-Generation facility, an on-campus power-generating plant which uses fossil fuels. As things stand, there is no democratic conversation between administrators, students, faculty and campus workers about what should become of this facility — that is, if it should be phased out or not. Every moment that the Co-Generation plant continues to run is a moment that UConn students should worry for our progress towards a zero-carbon institution; better yet, it should prompt all of us to consider our potential role in university-wide struggles to eliminate fossil fuels at UConn, namely by exploring the multitude of committed student organizations dedicated to stewarding this movement. Today’s involvement fair is, after all, the perfect time to do this.
The bare minimum that can be accomplished by the university on a short-term basis is including students — not just those in established trustee or student government positions — in conversations around sustainability and renewable energy. The absence of transparency and communication toward the UConn community should be hugely alarming, as it demonstrates that the university is not willing to share its progress on combating its role in the climate crisis. Looking at it less charitably, all we see is an abject lack of progress. Students must be active participants in efforts to make UConn a completely sustainable institution.