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!

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.”

INVESTING IN A CLEAN ENERGY FUTURE

Originally post on @theU on April 1, 2019.

By Emerson Andrews, Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund program manager

Did you know that every semester U students are investing in a clean energy future? In the past 15 years, students have come together on two occasions to pass self-imposed fees to create a fund for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects on campus. Both of these initiatives defined a more concrete pathway toward carbon neutrality while providing a mechanism to achieve the dream of a renewably powered future.

The resulting Sustainable Energy Fund (SEF) is a revolving loan fund (RLF) dedicated to large-scale sustainability projects at the University of Utah. To date, the SEF has invested $235,000 in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects on campus.

Now faculty and staff have an opportunity to contribute to this same fund. Sustainable investment on campus doesn’t have to rely solely on student fees.  This April, in honor of Earth Month, we encourage our faculty and staff to join our students to take direct, tangible action to address climate change and realize our students’ vision of a clean energy future.

Due to the nature of the projects that are funded, the SEF reduces greenhouse gas emissions, water use, fuel use and waste. Because of these benefits, it helps the University meet its goals of carbon, waste and water neutrality.

Sustainability-oriented RLFs exist across campuses nationwide. These funds provide up-front capital to fund renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that result in cost savings. As the projects pay back the loan, the money coming in from these cost savings is used to fund other projects. Quite simply, revolving funds are renewable sources of money for renewable projects.

Creating an RLF addresses a major roadblock in campus sustainability: High initial costs make many sustainability measures difficult for colleges and universities to finance, despite the fact that these projects often have long-term cost savings. These funds capitalize on the long-term profitability of sustainability projects by covering these initial costs while securing the return they produce for future initiatives, making such projects much more feasible.

Additionally, RLFs internalize the benefits of cost savings and energy production. Because the university’s fund uses existing resources to pay for projects, rather than seeking external funding, it allows the university to capture the full financial benefits of renewable energy and efficiency projects.

Just in the past few years, our students’ efforts have resulted in the following:

  • Mounted solar arrays on the S.J. Quinney College of Law parking canopy, Kennecott Mechanical Engineering building and Taft Nicholson Center.
  • Replaced old heaters at Red Butte Garden greenhouses with new high-efficiency and low-polluting models.
  • Installed motion- and daylight-sensitive LED lighting in the Special Collections area of Marriott Library to reduce energy and preserve collections.

These projects now return more than $25,000 a year to the fund in energy savings, which accounts for almost 20 percent of funding available for new projects. Within a few years, the growing fund will outpace student fees and staff donations demonstrating the power of an RLF.

Despite all of these benefits, the majority of the SEF projects have been funded only through student fees. Of the 80 plus funds like this at campuses around the nation, the university’s is one of five that relies almost entirely on student funding.

Now, University of Utah’s faculty and staff have an opportunity to match the efforts of the students to build a sustainable campus.  A simple $20 per month donation (just $10 per paycheck for U employees) will offset a single person’s portion of all carbon emissions coming from campus operations. Our students have put their dollars to work for the greater good. Now it is your turn. Join us in making an investment in sustainability this year. With your help, we will continue to make the U a better place for all who live, work and play here.

Click here to learn more about the Sustainable Energy Fund and how you can make it grow.

HUMANS OF THE U: NAIMA DAHIR

Originally post on @theU on March 9, 2019.

“I grew up in a family that never discussed environmental issues or sustainability. That was not something known to us. My parents have been through a lot—war and things like that—so sustainability and environmental justice hasn’t been a focus. We weren’t privileged enough to know about those issues or to have the resources or knowledge to know how our actions related to climate change.

When I first started college and learned about environmental racism, such as the water crisis in Flint, MI., I was taken aback at how these environmental injustices are happening in communities of color that don’t have the resources to fight back against things that are affecting them. It became personal to me as a person of color, who comes from a community that has a large refugee community with a low socioeconomic status.

I’m a big believer that we need to make sure we take care of our environment and our world. The earth has resources that are finite and can’t sustain us the way we have been using them.

When I found out the U offered free bus and TRAX passes I was excited. I use TRAX to get to and from school every day. I also use the bus sometimes as well when I need to get to places outside of campus. It’s easier than driving and I’m able to do homework, read and get things done.

But more important, I am reducing my carbon footprint and that was important to me. It makes me feel empowered just to be able to do something as easy as taking TRAX to help the planet. It’s the little things we do in our communities that really add up at the end of the day.”

— Naima Dahir, junior, International Studies and Environmental & Sustainability Studies

RECYCLE RIGHT

Originally posted on @theU on March 25, 2019.

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Sustainability Office

“You think you know…but you have no idea.”

Sure, this is the lead-in for a celebrity exposé series on MTV, but in reality, it’s probably the best line to describe the state of recycling. Recycling isn’t a particularly new concept, even in the United States—Depression-era families couldn’t afford to throw things away and wartime conservation pushed for reduce, reuse, recycle before it was a “thing.” But the system we know today came out of the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

Chances are, the majority of people who recycle have been doing it wrong for decades. Recycling bins have long been the receptacle of hope—“aspirational recyclers” toss everything in the bin because they want it to be recyclable. That’s not how it works. Now, with China and other countries banning the import of a number of waste materials, including post-consumer plastic and mixed paper, as well as reducing the contamination threshold for other materials, learning to recycle right is more important than ever.

In January, the Sustainability Office, in partnership with Athletics and Stadium & Arena Event Services, launched the “Recycle Right” campaign at the Huntsman Center. We installed recycling and trash bins that follow best practices in waste management and added eye-catching posters designed to remind people to think before they throw. Then, on March 2, we decided to test how well the bins were working as part of the Pac-12 Team Green push to promote sustainability in conference sports facilities. After the gymnastics meet (in which our Red Rocksachieved a season-best score and beat Michigan!), employees and students in Sustainability and Facilities opened up the bins.

LANDFILL: Drink cups, lids, straws, condiment packets, chip bags, popcorn containers, food containers, food wrap, hotdog wraps, plastic cutlery, Styrofoam, napkins, paper towels, excess food and liquids. RECYCLING: Soda and water bottles, aluminum cans, candy cardboard boxes, paper drink trays, souvenir cups, clean food containers. No food or liquid.

 

We found recyclables—cans, plastics, perfect “10” signs—but we also found a lot of contaminants, aka trash. Contamination has long been a concern in single-stream recycling, where all recyclable materials go in one bin. The U uses single-stream recycling in the Huntsman Center to make recycling easier for fans and to reduce bin space. For the recycling bins on March 2, half the material by weight, was in the wrong bin. (By volume, an alternate way to measure, 40 percent was trash.)

We know people want to do the right thing, so we’re here to help you do the right thing right. Here are the top five contaminants we saw in the Huntsman bins:

  1. “Paper” soft drink cups
    Just like “paper” coffee cups, soft drink cups from concessions should go in the trash. While the outside of the cup is paper, the inside is a thin layer of plastic, which is what makes it able to hold liquid. It’s next to impossible to split the materials, so multi-layered cups go to the landfill.
  2. Liquid
    No liquid should go on the recycling side. So, if you have a soda bottle that is half empty that you want to recycle, empty the liquid first and then place the plastic bottle in the recycling bin. Same goes for water.
  3. Food
    Food is particularly problematic when all recycling is placed together. Large amounts of recyclable paper ended up in the trash because of food, syrup from ice cream and liquids. How clean should a container be before it goes in the recycling bin? Its contents shouldn’t spread to other materials. Also, popcorn isn’t recyclable.
  4. Food containers
    Paper popcorn bins should go in the trash, because like the cups, they are lined with plastic. Additionally, the red-checkered boat and paper need to go to the trash can.
  5. Napkins
    Yes, they are paper, but they can’t be recycled. Napkins are often soiled with food or human by-products (eww), plus the paper is such low quality that it doesn’t get recycled even when unused.

By eliminating these items from recycling bins, we can significantly reduce contamination and improve our recycling totals. It takes a community, and luckily, we’ve got a good one.

BYOB: Bring Your Own Bottle

Recycling is good, but reducing our waste generation in the first place should be the priority. The three Rs—reduce, reuse, recycle—are actually a hierarchy, with recycle being the last option. Fans can reduce their waste by bringing their own water bottles. From the Stadium & Arena Event Services A-Z Fan Guide:

One factory-sealed bottle of water per person (1 liter or less), is permitted in the stadium and arena. Bottled water may not be frozen. In an effort to be sustainable, empty, clear, plastic water bottles will be permitted. Bottle-filling stations can be found throughout the concourses at Rice-Eccles and the Huntsman Center.

REAL FOOD, REAL PROGRESS

Orginially posted on @theU on March 8, 2019.

By Jess Kemper, sustainable food systems manager, Office of Sustainability

Did you know that making good choices about the food we eat not only improves our health, but can support better labor conditions, improve the environment and keep profits in our local economy? Unfortunately, making poor choices can have the opposite impact.

Research conducted by University of Utah students on Dining Services’ purchases shows the U is moving in a positive direction.

In 2015, U President David Pershing signed the Real Food Campus Commitment, making the U part of a national campaign for food justice and committing our Dining Services to buy at least 20 percent “real food” by the year 2020. Food is considered “real” if it falls under one of four categories: humane, ecologically sound, fair or community-based.

The Real Food Challenge is backed by a student group focused on where their food comes from. Every other year, these students perform an audit of Dining Services’ purchases to determine the percentage of real food purchased. Wrapping up the research for the 2017-18, students found that Dining Services purchased 14.6 percent real food which is up from 12.3 percent in 2015.

Successes were seen in real poultry products, a 62 percent rise from 4 percent in 2015 to 66 percent in 2018. This was a result of the shift to a local poultry supplier, Wasatch Meats. Real baked goods rose to 62 percent in 2018 from 56 percent in 2015 by shifting to Beni Bakery Distributors. Real beverage and grocery purchases also saw a 6 percent and 2 percent bump, respectively.

After the audit is finalized the students produce recommendations on all food product purchases. For example, they determined that by only shifting 64 percent of non-real dairy dollars to real dairy the total real food percentage would increase to 20 percent. This would allow the campus to reach its goal one year early. If they switched all tea, coffee and meat to real, the U could report 27 percent, well above the goal, of its food purchases as humane, ecologically sound, fair or community-based.

“University Dining Services is optimistic in meeting the goal by 2020,” said Jennifer Nielsen, sustainability and safety coordinator, Chartwells-University Dining Services. “We are thankful for university and student support as we aim for the 20 percent benchmark. Our goal is to support our hard-working staff and dedicated students by continuing to serve local and quality products expected at the U. We strive to strengthen our U community through robust partnerships, and growing and implementing sustainable ideas.”

To read more about the results of the audit, click here. The next audit will start Fall Semester of 2019. If you are interested in joining the Real Food Challenge student group or researching real food as a paid intern, please e-mail Jessica Kemper at jessica.kemper@utah.edu. And learn more about the short- and long-term objectives related to building sustainable food systems on campus here.

HEALTHIER CAMPUS INITIATIVE

Originally posted on @theU on March 8, 2019.

By Shawn Wood, communications specialist, University of Utah Communications

The University of Utah has adopted guidelines to promote better health on campus through nutrition, physical activity and programming over the next three years through the Healthier Campus Initiative sponsored by the Partnership for a Healthier America.

President Ruth V. Watkins signing the Healthier Campus Initiative.

L-R Jerry Basfor, Robin Marcus, President Watkins and Alexis Pearl Lee.

“I’m impressed with the work being done on campus,” said President Ruth V. Watkins, who signed the initiative on March 7, 2019. “I fully support doing whatever we can to encourage and educate our students, staff and faculty about the importance of engaging in healthy habits and the difference eating well, exercising regularly and taking care of their overall wellness will make throughout their lives.”

The Healthier Campus Initiative partners with 73 colleges and universities across the nation to advance healthy living. Each partner commits to meeting a majority of the guidelines developed by Partnership for a Healthier America in collaboration with some of the nation’s leading nutrition, physical activity and campus wellness experts.

By joining the initiative, the U has agreed to meet at least 23 separate guidelines in three categories: food and nutrition, physical activity and overall wellness programming.

A new campus wellness committee will guide the U’s work over the next three years. Members are charged with identifying and organizing campus activities that promote living well for students, staff, faculty and visitors. Supporting a One U approach, the broad-based committee will develop recommendations and direction of campus wellness initiatives and promote healthy living on campus and in the community.

The leaders on campus are Robin Marcus, chief wellness officer, U of U Health, and Jerry Basford, associate vice president, Student Affairs. They will steer the committee to support innovative projects led by students, staff and faculty across campus, ranging from sustainable gardens to food-focused courses and cooking workshops, to outdoor recreation trips and active transportation.

“We are thrilled to partner across our campus to continue our move toward the healthiest campus,” said Marcus. “The habits formed in college—including what they eat and how much physical activity they get—can last a lifetime.”

Committee members will include representatives from:

HUMANS OF THE U: DEBOLINA BANERJEE

Originally posted on @theU on March 1, 2019.

“Having lived in India, Hong Kong and now Utah, public transportation has always been a huge part of my life. I’ve seen the difference infrastructure makes from country to country and the impacts it has on people’s travel behaviors. Coming from a highly dense megalopolis where the sheer number of people heightens traffic congestion so much so, it’s almost a relief to access public transportation. Utah’s a welcome change with its TRAX lines, protected bike lanes and other numerous public and active transit systems.

Coming from India, I cannot help but compare the poor driving conditions coupled with high fuel prices and other affordability issues, forces people to take the public transit. While here in the U.S. improved roadways, affordable car loans and low fuel prices encourage higher vehicle ownership and driving behaviors.

The two main reasons to take public transport in India are extreme traffic congestion and a huge percentage of daily workers who cannot afford their own vehicles. Public transport is a necessity not a choice. This high demand coupled with the government’s inability to supply cheap public transit also highlights the reality, the public transportation fleet needs upgrading and is not always an enjoyable ride. Whereas, in Utah, the bus and train fleet are modernized which guarantees a comfortable ride.

Being a user of public transit all my life, I see the numerous potentials here in Utah. What’s lacking here is the ‘necessity’ factor. People feel more in control of their schedule with driving. Ways to make mass transit more convenient could be; increasing the frequency of bus and TRAX, expanded routes to cover more neighborhoods, installing all-weather bus stop shelters and better integrating active transportation facilities with existing public transit, like bike racks at TRAX stops and building ‘floating’ bus stops.

While not my field of study in City and Metropolitan Planning, I know my colleagues are working on long-lasting solutions. They are thinking of unique ways to make the system so convenient that people want to ride a bus or train.

I’ve never owned a car. And I don’t think I’ll need to while I’m part of the U community. Thanks in large part to the TRAX and UTA benefit, my daily commute is taken care of.”

—Debolina Banerjee, doctoral student, Department of City and Metropolitan Planning and research assistant, Center for Ecological Planning + Design, LEED AP

Banerjee is just one member of the U whose commuting behavior is complex. Transportation mode choices depend on multiple factors, including weather, time of day, cost, proximity and convenience. Many commute trips involve more than one mode of transportation. Source: U. Office of Sustainability

HUMANS OF THE U: LISA MCMURTREY

Originally posted on @theU on Feb. 22, 2019.

“I started taking public transit around the time of the Olympics—so since 2002. It’s a 60-minute commute and then I have a five-minute walk to the Burn Center at University of Utah Hospital.

I care about the environment. I want to be a better steward of what we have been given. I started taking public transit because I wanted to do my part and save money on gasoline. I personally don’t like to drive. I enjoy being chauffeured and taking public transit can be relaxing and is cost effective. I don’t have to deal with traffic, inclement weather or other transportation difficulties.

I encourage people to use public transportation, knowing that it does take a certain mindset. If you can find a route that is fairly efficient and you’re using the time effectively, then it can work for anyone. I’m fortunate because it does work for me. I probably only drive to work two-to-three times a year. I don’t even have a parking pass.

I work sometimes on my commute, but in actuality, I use that time for self-care. I’m reading, listening to music, podcasts, a meditation app, taking a nap or just clearing my head during that time.

I think the type of work that I do requires self-care, but in general, I like to build in a balance of work and relaxation into my daily life. Using public transportation helps me achieve that balance.”

—Lisa McMurtrey, Clinical Nurse Coordinator, University of Utah Hospital Burn Outpatient Clinic