Is your New Year’s Resolution to get more exercise?

Do you want to improve your health by getting more exercise in the new year? Is it difficult to find the time to exercise during your busy day? Activate your commute and you’ll do both!

Make walking or biking a part of your commute to the U and your physical health will improve – and help clear our air. As you experience the benefits of walking or biking, also known as active transportation, you are contributing to a healthier community – both physically, socially and economically. Continue reading for more ideas on activating your commute… NEED LINK With active transportation a part of your lifestyle you save money on fuel, spend less time in traffic congestion and integrate physical activity into your daily commute. You also help reduce vehicle emissions that contribute to Utah’s poor air quality while reducing traffic congestion and demand for vehicle parking on campus.

University survey data indicates a majority of us live eight miles or less from our campus destination. Riding a bike is a great way to commute over short distances and keep you active during the day. Bicycling to campus means you have a free parking space, right next to your campus destination. Take your bike to the Campus Bike Shop for repairs, and make sure you ride on February 14th – it’s Winter Bike to Work Day and we want to celebrate with you!
 
If you are a commuter that drives alone in your car, rethink your trip and try public transit. Notice how you benefit from taking the bus or train– this is your personal time to read, listen to music, socialize or just zone out during your daily commute. If you live in Salt Lake City, you can also rent a shared scooter to access the campus. Just like a bicycle, shared scooters must be parked adjacent to an outdoor bicycle rack. When operating a shared scooter, you are responsible for following the University operating guidelines for devices on campus sidewalks.
 
Safety is key with active transportation. Plan your walking or biking route with the campus map and observe where all sidewalks, bikeways and crosswalks are located. Be aware of your surroundings, wear clothing that is easily visible to motorists, slow your speed on campus pathways and always give pedestrians the right of way.
 
So get outside and walk to the bus or train, hop on your bike, push a scooter or skateboard, or if you drive alone in your car, park farther from your destination and take a brisk walk. These are all great ways to improve your physical health and help clear our air, every single day of the year.

Is climate change good for plants?

This article, originally published in @theu, November 25, 2019, was written by Paul Gabrielsen, science writer, University of Utah Communications.

In a world of rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, plants should be happy, right? Experiments have shown that, yes, increased carbon dioxide does allow plants to photosynthesize more and use less water.

But the other side of the coin is that warmer temperatures drive plants to use more water and photosynthesize less. So, which force, CO2 fertilization or heat stress, wins this climate tug of war?

The answer, University of Utah researchers write in a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is that it depends on whether forests and trees are able to adapt to their new environment. The study, they say, incorporates aspects of a tree’s physiology to explore how trees and forests respond to a changing climate.

“It’s taking the physiology of individual cells and scaling it up in a computer to make projections of a continents’ worth of forests,” says study co-author William Anderegg.

Stemming water loss

To set the stage for this tug of war, it’s important to understand how trees and plants use water.

In a tree, water is pulled up from the roots through the xylem, the tree’s vascular system. The water moves to the leaves, where photosynthesis happens. On the underside of leaves, small pores called stomata open to admit CO2 for photosynthesis. Water vapor can escape through the stomata, though, so closing stomata is required to guard against water loss during dry or hot times.

During an intense drought, trees have to work harder to pull water into the tree and through the xylem. If the soil is dry enough, the tension on the water causes a bubble of air to form in the xylem, effectively reducing water transport and injuring or killing the tree. It’s akin to a heart attack.

A physiological model

John Sperry of the U’s School of Biological Sciences spent decades studying the physiology of tree water use, and in recent years has been joined by Anderegg and postdoctoral researcher Martin Venturas, along with other colleagues. Together, they’ve developed a model of how trees’ physiological traits, primarily the regulation of stomatal opening, influence photosynthesis and water loss in response to a changing environment, including drought.

This model, Sperry says, has now enabled a new way of predicting the outcome of the climate tug of war, quantifying the competing effects of CO2 fertilization and heat stress to find the balance point.

But it’s also enabled another advance in understanding: Anderegg says that the model allows them to simulate the ability of trees to acclimate to heat and drought—both at short time scales, by closing or opening stomata, or at long time scales, by extra tree growth or forest dieback. “We’re assuming the plants are adapted to be somewhat smart about responding to the climate and the environment,” Anderegg says.

Some acclimation was seen in previous experiments where trees were bathed in CO2-enriched air, Venturas adds, and is also seen in forests that are similar to each other but are located in slightly different climates.

“Our present-day models don’t do physiology or acclimation,” Anderegg says. “They matter absolutely enormously to the future of forests. We came up with ways to incorporate those.”

It’s all about the ratio

The model results, Sperry says, suggest that the winner of the tug of war doesn’t depend on the absolute amount of COrise or warming—just the ratio between the two.

“So you can have the same forest moving across big gradients in climate change if that ratio is at the neutral point,” Sperry says. “But anything that pushes that ratio to the warming side is going  to have the potential for serious negative impact.”

If forests aren’t able to acclimate, the researchers write, then the ratio must be above 89 parts per million CO2 per degree C of warming to avoid significant stress and tree die-off. Only 55% of climate forecasts show this scenario occurring. But if forests are able to acclimate, then they can tolerate a lower ratio: 67 parts per million CO2 per degree of warming, which occurs in 71% of forecasts.

Other tipping factors

But even with acclimation, other factors can tip the balance toward forest catastrophe. The model doesn’t take into account forest fires or insect infestation, Venturas says, only the physiology of the trees—although stressed forests are more susceptible to both fires and insects.

“It’s improving one piece of the puzzle, but we still need to learn a lot about the other pieces and how they’re integrated,” he says.

The researchers also write that exceptionally dry years can also tip the balance. “In those cases, if we drop below a soil moisture threshold, we could have the whole forest die,” Venturas says. Mortality can happen relatively suddenly. “You see this in your flower pot at home if you forget to water,” Sperry says. “It’ll look fine up to a certain point, but then you hit that moisture threshold and in a matter of days the plant can die. If you don’t get rain in that period, the system goes into a cycle where the soil is drying out too fast and sends the trees into vascular failure.”

Sperry adds that the study predicts a precarious tightrope of climate conditions for future forests to navigate. “The study by no means gives a green light to the status quo.”

Henry N. Todd, Anna T. Trugman, Yujie Wang and Xiaonan Tai are also co-authors on this paper.

Find the full study here.

What’s waste got to do with climate change?

This article, originally published in @theu, November 13, 2019, was written by Kate Whitbeck, communications, sustainability department.

Did you know that one of the easiest low cost and most effective ways to impact climate change is to change our consumption habits? An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funded study indicates that more than 40% of our climate impact in the U.S. comes from our stuff and our food. There is an energy and emissions cost to manufacturing, transporting, using goods and then eventually disposing of them. Simply reusing, reducing, recycling and buying used or recycled goods conserves energy and reduces emissions.

More than 40% of our climate impact in the U.S. comes from our stuff and our food.

Environmental Protection Agency

Millie Heiner, sustainability ambassador, presents a zero waste kit to President Ruth Watkins.

 

In an effort to promote a culture of waste reduction on campus, the Sustainability Office has launched the #UBYO campaign to encourage the U community to bring their own reusable bottles, mugs, containers, utensils and more to reduce plastic waste. We handed out thousands of reusable utensil kits at new student orientation events and the farmers market and gave away 12 zero-waste kits through an opportunity drawing. We even presented U President Ruth Watkins with a zero waste kit. Each kit contains a reusable hot/cold bottle, reusable silicone bag (plastic bag alternative), handkerchief (reusable napkin), reusable grocery bag, utensils and reusable silicone food container. Many of the items are available at the Campus Store or can be assembled from items you already have at home or can pick up at your favorite thrift store.

In order to start a conversation around waste reduction on campus and in honor of America Recycles Day, which takes place in November, the Sustainability Office is organizing a Hinckley Institute Panel entitled The End of Recycling? Life After National Sword on Wednesday, Nov. 20, from 12-1 p.m. The panel will explore how policy changes in China have affected our local recycling practices and what we can expect for the future. Panel participants include Beau Peck, director of sales and marketing from the Pro Recycling Group, Jennifer Farrell from Salt Lake City Waste and Recycling Division and Joshua James, University of Utah recycling manager.

It is important to understand the link between climate change and waste reduction, and the energy and emissions savings we can gain from reducing and recycling. According to the EPA, recycling aluminum cans saves 95% of the energy needed to make new cans from raw materials. Recycling steel and tin cans saves 60-74%; paper about 60%, and plastic and glass about 33% compared to making those from raw materials. While these energy savings are significant, we also need to recognize that recycling has its own carbon footprint related to collection, transportation and processing. Reducing, reusing and sharing should always come before recycling.

An environmentally friendly kit made for U. Available now at the Campus Store.

Some people are intimidated by the concept of zero waste. While zero waste is generally defined as diverting 90% or above from the landfill, it can still feel like an unachievable goal. Fortunately, the reality is that many people making a concerted but imperfect effort has a much greater effect than one person reaching zero. Zero doesn’t have to be everyone’s goal. Making good choices when possible can be the goal.

The other good thing about changing consumption habits is that it’s within everyone’s reach and can save you money. Not everyone can afford an electric car or has the ability to make major changes to our power grid or transportation system. The movement isn’t about buying. Choosing to borrow, reuse and share keeps money in your wallet and keeps your carbon footprint low.

The University is taking a close look at its waste habits and focusing on some new strategies to divert more from the landfill.  See the text box below for some highlights and take action by joining the #UBYO Campaign or get your office certified through our Green Office Program.

Waste wins at the U

  • The U has identified some new priorities for managing its waste based on a recently completed study. These include an overhaul of signage, a food waste collection pilot program and the development of a more effective system to incentivize waste reduction and recycling.
  • Since the launch of the Green Office Certification program in 2017, ecofriendly purchasing of general office supplies has increased from 35% to 53% and ecofriendly paper purchasing has increased from 38% to 79%.
  • Each year, the Sustainability Office coordinates U Recycle Day, an electronic waste drive which diverts tons of waste from the landfill.
  • The annual housing moveout donation drive (aka WAGACA – What Goes Around Comes Around) diverts food, clothing, blankets, and more from the residence halls each May.
  • The University Carpenter Shop is committed to creative reuse. They reclaim materials from buildings that are being demolished or remodeled and repurpose them. The desks below are made of marble from OSH and wood from basketball courts and harvested from trees (sycamores) displaced by new construction.
    wooden table made from reclaimed wood with U logo on the top in a conference room

Humans of the U: Piper Christian

This article was originally published in@theu on November 14, 2019.

“At the age of 16, I had the opportunity to travel to Paris during the COP 21 climate accords. As a junior correspondent for a Utah news station, I was tasked with reporting the events of the accords back to my home state. I wanted to know, ‘How are ordinary people confronting environmental threats in meaningful ways?’ To answer this question, I interviewed dozens of strangers throughout the city.

By the end of my project, the stories I gathered spanned six continents. My favorite story came from Melati Wijsen, a student who, with her younger sister, Isabel, convinced the governor of Bali to ban plastic bags when she was only 12 years old and Isabel was 10.

When I returned to Utah, I collaborated with students statewide to pass a climate change resolution through the Utah State Legislature, in 2018. Utah was the first predominantly Republican state in the country to acknowledge climate change in this capacity.

As an adolescent, I was troubled by the fact that Utah’s leaders were not speaking about climate change despite the threat it posed to our state. As we experience warmer winters, our yearly snowpack is shrinking, which not only hurts our world-renowned ski industry but also reduces our water supply that we depend on as one of the driest states in the country.

As a student, I believe that I, and others, can and should pressure our leaders to take action since ultimately my generation and generations to come will carry the greatest burden of climate impacts.

Looking to the future, I hope to pursue environmental law, serve as a city planner or study environmental economics.

Currently, I am the vice president of a new club on campus called Utah Climate Advocates. Our club focuses on projects pertaining to climate action and environmental justice. We have been meeting with congressional staffers to discuss climate policies, and we are exploring environmental justice projects in the Salt Lake area.

This semester, I helped organize the University of Utah’s involvement in the Global Climate Strike. On Sept. 20, more than 100 U students walked out of class to demand global action to address climate change. We guided students to the City and County Building, then marched with a crowd of over 2,000 to the state capitol.

While I’m daunted by the future of our planet, it is the stories of my fellow climate activists that help me persist.”

—Piper Christian, U student double majoring in Environmental Studies and Political Science

We’ll be featuring Humans of the U and sharing their stories throughout the year with the university community. If you know someone with a compelling story, let us know at ThisWeek@utah.edu.

Changing Behavior to Improve the Air

This article by University of Utah Communications was featured in @theu on November 19, 2019.

Sometimes even well-meaning people contribute to air pollution (exhibit A: the majority of attendees at the University of Utah’s “The Air We Breathe” symposium arrived by car). So how do you inspire people to change?

Take a look at the way obesity rates have risen even though people know that diet and exercise help, said Robin Marcus, and “we’re quite naïve to think if you just give people knowledge it will change their behaviors.” Marcus, professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Athletic Training and chief wellness officer at the University of Utah, was part of the symposium’s Environmental Health Literacy panel, moderated by Beth Krensky, U professor of art education.

Of the people who commute to the U, 50% live within eight miles of the campus, she said, yet a very small percent use mass transit. “We’re bringing people to this campus every day contributing to the problem.” As the U’s wellness officer, Marcus said her staff is looking at whether incentives work to bring about change. “Do we incentivize people to not buy a parking pass? Or pay people $2 a day to not drive to campus?”

“We need experts on our campus who are implementation scientists,” she added.

“There’s a big gap between attitude change and behavioral change,” said Danielle Endres, professor in the U’s Department of Communication. Technology alone won’t solve the problem either, she said.

Some of the things Endres wonders about: “How can our decisions about air quality be as democratic and just as possible? How can we foster broad public participation in air quality decision-making?” She urged conference attendees to remember that “there are many communities outside of academia that have vast stores of expertise.”

One way to change hearts and minds might be to let people see more clearly how bad the air is, and how undemocratically it’s spread across the Salt Lake Valley. That can include providing low-cost PM2.5 sensors to individuals and public schools, said Kerry Kelly, assistant professor in the U’s Department of Chemical Engineering.

“We need dense measurements” that complement existing, sparser measurements supplied by the state, she said. These “community-engaged measurements” can also be a way to bolster STEM education, she added. In one experiment, young students were taught to build their own pollution sensors out of Legos, LED lights, photo detectors and computer fans as a low-cost hands-on way to measure light scattering.

Not everybody absorbs information identically, noted Whitney Tassie, senior curator at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. “Not everybody is inspired by graphs in the same way.” One solution: Art that is visceral—for example, adding smog to whipped egg whites, “so you can taste it.” Tassie is in the research and development phase of a six-month exhibit that will open in January 2021 that she hopes will bring air and air pollution to life.

Policy, Media and the Public: Driving the Agenda for Change

By Amber Aumiller, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

How much impact does the media actually have on policy change?  How much impact does the public have?  Knowing the answers to these questions is absolutely critical in a global moment where the effects of climate change necessitate a swift environmental policy or regulatory response. Knowing what the components of change are and how they work together is crucial in identifying the intersections of influence needed to pressure government to take appropriate and constructive action. Dr. Juliet Carlisle’s work looks at how the public, media and government officials attend to a slow-moving crisis (like drought, for instance), and how this attention shifts across the slower lifespan of the crisis. Looking at the relationships between corresponding streams of attention can help explain how windows for policy change open. Dr. Carlisle shows that even a crisis that takes years to unfold can capture attention and produce policy change. This underscores the significance of our roles as producers and consumers of media and citizens of a nation. 

On Tuesday, January 28th,  Professor Carlisle will help explain how the recent California drought captured and sustained attention to yield policy change in her lecture, “Driving the Agenda?: California Drought in the 21st Century,” from 4-5 p.m. in room 210 of the Aline B. Skaggs Biology Building as part of the Global Change and Sustainability Center’s Seminar Series.

Dr. Carlisle is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program at the University of Utah. She earned a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Washington and both her M.A. and Ph.D., also in Political Science, from the University of California Santa Barbara. She has investigated public attitudes around environmental issues like offshore oil drilling, large-scale solar development and vaccines. Her work seeks to explain the causes and characteristics of public opinions, attitudes, knowledge and behavior regarding politics, the environment and energy development. In this lecture she will focus on the ongoing drought in California over the last two decades, engaging with the interplay of attention given by the government, the public and the media and the corresponding policy change that has occurred.

“Policy is for the most part fairly static,” says Carlisle, “not all problems result in policy change.” Her research, therefore, looks at how and whether politicians respond to environmental crises and what factors explain policy change when it does happen. Sudden, devastating, catastrophic events demand immediate attention from the public. Large-scale tragedies like plane crashes, hurricanes, or earthquakes affect a lot of people instantly, and the resulting attention creates opportunities for policy change.  However, slow-moving crises that can take years rather than minutes to unfold tend to be more complicated and are often harder to define. The effects on most people’s daily lives may be comprehended gradually, if at all. A slow-moving crisis gives rise to questions like: Do we even notice a crisis is occurring? Can it capture the attention of the public? To what extent is the media covering it? Does the crisis have the potential to produce a significant policy impact or change? What Professor Carlisle wants to know is how and when policy change is affected for a slow-moving crisis.   

Dr. Carlisle looks at how the media’s coverage of the more recent California drought correlates to the public’s views and potential to propel policy change, helping prove that even a slow-moving crisis can shift policy. Her findings point to the need for more research on what types of media stories are most effective in creating urgency around regulatory change. “The public has a lot of power to push change,” Carlisle reminds us. When we are aware and mobilized, the pressure on our political systems can be hugely effective. 

To hear her speak and learn more about the co-mingling relationships influencing policy change come by on Tuesday, January 28th from 4-5 p.m. in ASB 210.  As always, there will be coffee and treats for you, so bring a mug and enjoy!

Confronting Climate Change

By Kate Whitbeck, communications and relationship manager, Sustainability Office

What if climate change wasn’t a terrifying specter threatening our future? What if it were an opportunity—an opportunity for research, investment and growth? An opportunity to right wrongs and restore balance? An opportunity to build stronger partnerships and collaboration and, through them, healthier robust communities able to withstand change?

As a tier-one research institution with a world-class health center, the University of Utah is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this opportunity and develop new approaches to cross-cutting interdisciplinary research addressing climate change.

This has been a year of bold action for the university in establishing its position as a leader in the climate change movement and embracing the opportunity.

In April 2019, U President Ruth V. Watkins signed the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments renewing the university’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050 and placing the institution on a path toward resilience and adaptation. That same month the university joined the University Climate Change Coalition, a group of 20 leading North American research universities—including University of California; University of Colorado, Boulder; University of Michigan; and others—that have committed to mobilizing their resources and expertise to accelerate local and regional climate action in partnership with businesses, cities and states, foundations and other organizations.

“We understand the important role higher education plays in building a sustainable society. As a public research university, we are committed to generating new knowledge in areas relating to sustainability, and to implementing best practices in university operations,” Watkins said. “This work highlights the interconnections between humans and the environment and allows us to address the urgent sustainability challenges of our time. We look forward to working with other leading institutions across North America to build critical momentum to affect change on a national and global level.”

A combination of factors spurred these actions. In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report urging institutions and countries around the world to reduce their carbon emissions by at least 45% of the 2010 level by 2030 and to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by no later than 2050 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. The report’s findings indicated that the immediate consequences of climate change would be “far more dire” than previously thought and acknowledged that avoiding these consequences will require “transforming the world economy at an unprecedented speed and scale.”

Our graduating class of 2020 will reach the mid-career point by the time the impacts of climate change begin to take devastating effect. Recognizing the need for urgency, U students issued a resolution to the Academic Senate calling for a reaffirmation of the university’s commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions. The resolution cites the IPCC report and references “the intergenerational impact of climate change wherein the consequences of each generation’s action affect successive generations’ environmental and physical health and their access to resources.”

The resolution called for the university to use its vast resources and collective brain power to explore bold and innovative solutions, serve as a living lab to address climate change, work in collaboration with community partners and establish a Presidential Task Force on Carbon Neutrality to evaluate and recommend options to achieve net-zero carbon emissions. Among other topics, the students asked that the task force reevaluate the appropriateness of the university’s 2050 deadline given the urgency detailed in the IPCC report. The resolution passed the Academic Senate with unanimous support.

In mid-August, Watkins and Dan Reed, senior vice president for Academic Affairs, addressed members of the newly formed Climate Commitment Task Force at its first meeting. The task force was called upon to do the following:

  • Lead and complete an initial campus community resilience assessment, including initial indicators and current vulnerability building up to a Community-Campus Climate Resilience Action Plan in 2022
  • Set an updated target date for achieving carbon neutrality
  • Define actions to make carbon neutrality and resilience a part of the curriculum
  • Define actions to expand research in carbon neutrality and resilience

Keith Diaz Moore, in his role as interim chief sustainability officer, and Brenda Bowen, director of the Global Change & Sustainability Center, serve as co-chairs of the task force. While the task force contains key players from across campus, it will be calling for input from additional groups and forming sub-committees to collect, gather and analyze information as it develops a plan for the future.

“Let us use this challenge to accelerate achievement and contribute to healthier communities and a healthier world,” Reed said. “Our university doesn’t operate in isolation, it is part of a greater ecosystem and partnerships are key. Our approach must be based on the integration of social equity, ecological integrity and economic security.”

New leadership will be driving these dramatic changes across campus. A search is currently underway for a new chief sustainability officer, who will take over as co-chair of the task force and be responsible for strategic planning and implementation of the institutional sustainability efforts at the U.

All these efforts are transforming our campus and helping us prepare for the future. Our goal as an institution of higher education is to prepare our students to thrive in an everchanging world. We need to prepare them for the planet they will inhabit in 2050, which will be vastly different from the planet we inhabit today. Our success and their success depend on the engagement of the entire community and benefit the entire community. It will take one U to build resilient communities where we can grow, thrive and enjoy the same quality of life that we enjoy today.

A Sustainable U

Over the past several years, the U has made significant progress in becoming a more sustainable institution. Here’s how:

  • In 2018, the U achieved its lowest total energy consumption and lowest total energy cost since 2010—despite a 23% growth in total building area over the same time span.
  • From 2017 to 2018, the U reduced local emissions by 3.2%.
  • The U will be investing $2 million to improve energy efficiency in existing buildings over the next year.
  • The U has crafted a seven-year plan to invest $22 million in strategically replacing assets and other efforts designed to reduce the university’s carbon footprint, which is expected to result in net savings over a 21-year period.
  • Gardner Commons is the U’s first net-zero ready (all electric) building and the U is exploring ways to electrify all future buildings. By 2021, the U expects two-thirds of its electricity will come from renewable sources.
  • Investments in active and sustainable transportation have led to a 25% expansion of dedicated bikeways on campus.
  • Currently, 48% of commuters choose a mode of transportation other than driving alone to campus. These transportation choices significantly reduce noxious tailpipe emissions and help clear our air.
  • The U is implementing plans to divert all food waste from the landfill, which will dramatically improve our diversion rate.
  • A major upgrade to the campus irrigation system is projected to save more than 87 million gallons of water per year.

What prehistoric societies can teach us about climate change

By Nicholas Apodaca, Graduate Assistant, Sustainability Office

The common rhetoric surrounding the contemporary climate crisis often frames the dramatic manifestations of climate change as unprecedented in their intensity. The scorching heat and record-level dryness that has plagued the Western US in recent years clearly indicates an ominous shift to a “new normal.” However, while there is no denying the evidence of climate change, archaeological data also suggests that this is not the first time the Western US has experienced similar events. To aid our contemporary fight for sustainability and adaptation, could we look into the past and learn from how ancient peoples survived through climate change?

Doug Kennett, professor of Environmental Archaeology and Human Behavioral Ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, believes the past can help us understand the present crisis. On Tuesday, October 22nd, from 4 – 5 PM in room 210 of the Alice B. Skaggs Biology Building, Kennett will explore how climate change in the West affected ancient peoples in his lecture, “Drought and Long-Term Sociopolitical Dynamics West of the Hundredth Meridian,” as part of the Global Change and Sustainability Center’s Seminar Series.

Kennett earned his Ph.D in archaeology from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1998. During his student years, he experienced first-hand the effects of climate change as the Western US was hit by intense periods of drought. Kennett recalls thinking that “the prehistoric record probably has something to say about what these droughts have looked like in the past, and how people responded under different types of social and political conditions.”

Kennett’s initial research focused on early peoples of the Yucatan, but as his interest in historical drought grew he also began to study indigenous cultures of coastal California. Working with climate scientists, they used reconstructed climate records alongside archaeological evidence to decipher how these cultures responded to climate change. As Kennett explains, “we [now] know that in the climate system in the West, from the climate record and the archaeological record, that conditions can be much more severe with much more extended droughts.” 

His work has since driven him to dive deeper into the climate history of the West, from California’s Channel Islands to Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. “I’m interested in the persistence of prehistoric societies in the face of environmental and climate change,” Kennett says. “So, in other words: what worked? But I’m also interested in when things go badly and we see the disintegration of social and political connectivity and what we colloquially call ‘collapse.'”

Kennett’s research has also led to collaborations with geneticists, in particular David Reich at Harvard University. Through genomics, Kennett has been able to analyze the genetic population structure of prehistoric peoples. This has provided insight in his research on the environmental factors that contributed to the collapse of these ancient cultures, and has been significant in his research on drought in Mayan civilization in the Yucatan.  “You may say that the Maya were in a tropical forest. How could you have trouble with water in that kind of context? In fact, there were times when there were droughts that had significant impacts on the population.”

There are far-reaching implications for this cutting-edge research in developing strategies for combating climate change in the 21st century. “From a sustainability perspective, I’m arguing that the archaeological record has great value for what’s happening today,” Kennett explained. This is especially evident in his work in the Yucatan. According to Kennett, “In the case of the Maya, with [regards to] sustainability, there were also major transformations of the landscape because they were large-scale agriculturalists. There were very well-documented geological or geomorphic changes made to the landscape associated with deforestation.” Understanding the changes that occurred in the landscape during the time of the Maya can provide insight into how the landscape has become what it is today, and how these changes affect contemporary populations.

If you’re interested in learning more about what climate change in the past can tell us about the present and future, come by ASB 210 on Tuesday, October 22nd for Professor Doug Kennett’s lecture, “Drought and Long-Term Sociopolitical Dynamics West of the Hundredth Meridian,” as part of the GCSC seminar series.

When Green isn’t Green

Kate Whitbeck, communications manager, Sustainability Office
Wes Mangum, communications specialist, Facilities

Our landscape has slowly been changing around us. Those who have been on campus for more than 10 years remember when much of it was a vast expanse of lush green turf. As awareness of water conservation became more prevalent, the University of Utah began slowly adapting the landscaping.

Since then, the university’s Landscape Maintenance team has primarily focused on turfgrass replacement, water-wise landscape design and modern irrigation systems. By using “Slow the Flow” guidelines designed by our state water conservation experts, following the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED standards for planting and expanding the use of well water for irrigation, the team has created a dramatic transformation saving the university millions of gallons of water and hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. In 2018 alone, 3,093 centum cubic feet of water (CCF), which equals 2.3 million gallons, were conserved through the efforts of the landscaping team.

So, why do we still have so much turf on campus? Unfortunately, this isn’t a process that can happen overnight both due to the enormous scope of the project and budgetary constraints. The university covers over 1,500 acres and manages 1,000 acres while about 439 acres have been set aside to remain in their wild state under the Heritage Preserve Program. Each year, the landscaping team reduces the amount of turf on campus and replaces it with water-wise landscaping. Where that happens is often a result of where the opportunity presents itself. The ideal opportunity to remove turf is often when a new building is erected or a large-scale remodel is occurring.  In 2018, 12 acres of turf were removed.

While replacing turf with water-wise landscaping is immediately noticeable, a lot of water conservation related to landscaping happens behind the scenes. The irrigation team is completing a substantial upgrade to the central irrigation systems that involves installing equipment that improves the U’s ability to manage irrigation, fine-tune water delivery and report outcomes. This project will conserve roughly 117,000 CCF (87.5 million gallons) water per year and provide better data for researchers. Because of the vast amount of water conserved through this project the return on investment is under four years.  The project was jointly funded through the Sustainable Energy Fund ($150K) and Facilities’ Sustainability & Energy Program ($400K).

What is significant about this new system is that it allows each zone to be calibrated by the water delivery technology and associated flow rate, from the giant, high-flow spray nozzles used on big turf areas to slow drip used for xeriscape. Lisa McCarrel, the current landscape supervisor is responsible for overseeing the irrigation upgrade.

“The ability to monitor water used for irrigation purposes at the level that this equipment and program gives us is remarkable. It allows each irrigator or horticulturist access to the program to make changes based on root zones, soil type, slope and other landscape data while in the field,” said McCarrel. “The system provides reports indicating water flow issues, which are received each morning. It provides information that helps the technician determine which problem should be addressed first, based on water loss or possible plant material loss. The calculated water cost savings could reach $10 million in seven to 10 years. In addition to water savings, the reporting will result in a significant reduction in labor and maintenance costs.”

The irrigation overhaul and changes in planting practices are producing good results. When looking at the five-year average for total water usage (both irrigation and culinary) on campus, the numbers indicate that water efficiency has outpaced growth. Water use intensity (CCF/sq. ft) is continuing to trend down. This is a direct result of water-efficient appliances, well-managed central plants and growing utilization of well water (secondary water) for irrigation.

And yes, we have all walked by that rogue sprinkler that is going off in the hottest part of the day or leaking all over the sidewalk. Our landscaping teams get stretched thin at the height of the irrigation season, and they need our help to let them know when something is malfunctioning or broken. Any malfunctioning irrigation issues can be reported by tweeting @UofUFM or calling 801 581-7221.

As climate change alters our weather patterns and our summers become longer and hotter, we will all have to be ever more diligent about water conservation. We are grateful that the landscaping team is doing their part to adapt our landscape to the changing conditions providing a model for us all.

This article was featured in @theu July 26, 2019

New Directions for Environmental Justice

By Nicholas Apodaca, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

Many of us who care about climate change and environmental justice take action in our daily lives to do our part: we recycle, use sustainable products, use public transportation or eat locally grown food. Yet often environmental problems play out at a larger scale, and while our personal actions can help in small ways, it is important to understand the forces at work in creating environmental hazards and injustice from the start. If we know where injustice begins, we can begin to make a change for the better.

Professor David Pellow of the University of California, Santa Barbara, is exploring new directions in environmental justice in his research. On April 16 from 4 – 5 p.m. in ASB 210, join him for his lecture, “Toward a Critical Environmental Justice: Exploring State Violence & the Settler Colonial Conflicts.”

Pellow began his research in Sociology and Environmental Justice in the 1990s when he completed his Ph.D. dissertation in Sociology,  “Black workers in green industries: the hidden infrastructure of environmental racism,” at Northwestern University. He has since taught at Colorado, UC San Diego, and Minnesota, before arriving at UC Santa Barbara in 2015. There he is the Dehlsen Professor of Environmental Studies and Director of the Global Environmental Justice Project.

In his lecture, Pellow will explore new directions in the theoretical side of environmental sociology.  He breaks it down into multiple approaches. First, he is attempting to further build on existing research that focuses on the intersection between environmental hazards and class, income, race, gender, citizenship and nationality. He sees these intersections as critical for developing nuanced solutions to the complex interactions that produce injustice. “[I am] trying to ask bigger questions about the role of government or the nation-state in producing and exacerbating environmental problems and environmental justice issues in the first place,” Pellow explains. The contradiction is one of “relying on some of the same institutions that are arguably creating the problem in the first place.”

Pellow is also concerned with questions of scale in environmental justice research. He sees environmental justice as an issue that affects us  individually as well as globally. “Environmental hazards regarding academic and policy analysis must be approached as multi-scalar,” argues Pellow. “What happens at the micro scale is almost always revealed to be linked the community or national scale.” As no environmental issues exist in a vacuum, local and regional issues are just as “global” in consequence as environmental injustice outside of the United States. Often, we can find problems in our own neighborhood. Pellow’s recent research on oil refineries located in residential areas of Richmond, California illustrates this well, showing how global economic dynamics can lead to visible environmental impacts on real people.

Lastly, Pellow will explore the ethics of environmental injustice research.”The kind of environmental research I’m doing seeks to question the expendability of ecosystems, of habitats, and of marginalized human populations,” Pellow says. Pellow believes that environmental sociology shouldn’t simply seek to expose injustice, but should fight these notions of expendability. “It’s really about declaring, loudly, the indispensability (of marginalized people). It’s about saying every voice counts. Otherwise, it’s not a democracy.”

Should you too believe that every voice counts in the fight against environmental injustice, and have an interest in the cutting edge of environmental sociology research, come to ASB 210 on April 16 at 4 PM for David Pellow’s GCSC Seminar Series lecture, “Toward a Critical Environmental Justice: Exploring State Violence & the Settler Colonial Conflicts.”