The Paris Agreement

COP 21 was able to reach their main goal in coming to a consensus on an agreement to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius (which they hope to limit even more to 1.5 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement was able to address that and more: including all of the crucial areas that the more than 40,000 delegates from 195 countries identified as essential to achieving their goals.

  • Reducing emissions that contribute to temperature rise, with a goal of reaching the global peak of GHG emissions as soon as possible.
  • Establishing a transparency system throughout the globe to account for climate action nation to nation.
  • Increasing adaptability of nations as we deal with the already occurring and future impacts of climate change.
  • Strengthening nations so they can recover from already occurring and future damages of climate change.
  • Establishing a network of support, including finance, to build a clean and resilient future for the globe.

Climate change is an issue that the world will have to face together, and in Paris, we saw an example of how we can do that.  According to Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, the Paris Agreement serves as a message to the people of the world that “a low-carbon, resilient future is now the chosen course for humanity in this century.”  There is still a great deal of work to do,  but it’s worth it – we don’t have a back up plan!

For more information on COP 21 and the UNFCCC, check out our earlier post.  For more information on the Paris Agreement, check out the UNFCCC’s article.

Green Holidays

Trees are green, lights are green, wreaths and garlands and holiday-themed wrapping paper are green – but they aren’t always green in the sense of sustainability.  The winter holidays tend to promote traditions like abundant feasts, elaborate decor, and gratuitous indulgences.  All of these things tend to not be environmentally-friendly, though that’s not to say that they can’t be.  Last year, we focused on how to avoid waste during the winter holidays, so this year we wanted to focus on other things that can save your money, save your time, and save our environment!

When decorating this season, rethink your lights.  There’s nothing quite like seeing all of the houses lit up and twinkling during the winter holidays, but then again, there isn’t much like the accompanying electricity bill either.  Use more LED and other energy efficient lighting when decking your doorstep.  They require 1/50th of the electricity required by conventional lights, and last for decades to come (if you can get them untangled year after year!).  You can also lessen your footprint by putting your lights on a timer or turning them off when no one is home.

For those of you who celebrate Christmas, consider using a real tree!  Plastic trees can be reused from year to year, but they’re often made from non-renewable resources, and they also find their way into a landfill after a few years (where they’ll live for many centuries to come).  Living trees are a renewable resource that not only support our nation’s farms and economy, but also improve our air quality.  Not to mention live trees can be broken down into mulch, or even replanted if you get a potted tree.

The holidays are about family and friends, which translates into a lot of travelling, gift giving, and feasting. There are ways to engage in these traditions without breaking the bank or filling the landfills with trash and un-re-gift-able presents.  When gift-giving this season, consider giving things like experiences (tickets to an event or a place that they love), your time (babysitting, cooking, helping out), or a charitable donation.  When visiting your friends and family, avoid the traffic by using more sustainable forms of transit, like public transportation, carpooling, and simply lessening your time behind the wheel and clearing unnecessary traffic.  Remember, 50 people in 50 cars takes up a lot more road than 50 people on a bus, walking or riding bikes, or carpooling together!

Winter holidays are full of warm traditions, nostalgia, and gratefulness.  Incorporating more sustainable practices into your traditions will ensure that we’ll have this great earth to share with our future generations for years to come.

Happy holidays to you and yours,

UT Knoxville’s Office of Sustainability

PS:  If you haven’t already, you can download December’s Make Orange Green Calendar (pictured above) for your phone or your computer here!

UT Charged to Develop Cutting-Edge Classes in Power Electronics

The US Department of Energy selected UT as one of two institutions to receive almost $6 million in combined funding for the development of postgraduate courses and studies in power electronics.

Because of the university’s close ties to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), investment in the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), and programs like the Center for Ultra-Wide-Wrea Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT), UT has established itself as a major player in the field.  The university really hopes to help in this national cause, churning out research and trained engineering professionals to better our nation’s future through technological advancements in energy efficiency.

Classes and training programs supported by the DOE funds are to begin in the fall semester of 2016.  For more information on this honor, check out TN Today’s article.

COP 21 Coming to a Close This Week

This week, the fall semester will come to a close, and so will the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference.  If you haven’t been keeping up with the news, here’s a little rundown of what you missed.

  • The Climate Conference is officially the 21st Conference of Parties (which explains why the trending hashtag is COP21). The Conference of Parties is an annual meeting of all 195 nations that participate in the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  These meetings serve to assess the nations’ response to climate change, and can also negotiate agreements and goals for the nations’ to better combat this pressing issue.  This meeting will see more than 40,000 delegates from 195 countries, and is the largest conference that the French government has ever organized.
  • The specific goal of this year’s conference is for the nations’ to come to a consensus on a legally binding agreement that aims to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (which is the threshold that scientists agree would have disastrous effects on the habitability of the planet).  Some argue that the limit should be lower.  Regardless, we are set to reach 1 degree Celsius this year, so something must be done.  With significant reductions on emissions, especially from the United States and China (the largest emitters), and support for sustainable development in all countries, we may be able to avoid crossing that threshold.
  • This final week of negotiations will address proposed compromises, make revisions and edits as necessary, and ideally be finished by Thursday, December 10th, in order for legal verification and translation to the six official UN languages (English, French, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish) to take place so that the agreement can be officially adopted on Friday, December 11th, at the closing session.

It’s important for this conference to achieve it’s goal.  Without this agreement, there won’t be anything regulating greenhouse gas emissions or sustainable development practices after 2020 (when the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement established at at COP 7, will run out).  Without these regulations, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the planet will cross the 2 degree Celsius threshold.  With that, we can expect changes in weather (hot and cold), changes in agriculture and food supply, and general strife as an unprepared planet is faced with an unpredictable environment.  We can all take steps to fight against climate change by reducing our carbon footprint through sustainable practices in our transportation, our energy use, and even the things we buy day to day.

For more information on the Paris Climate Conference, keep an eye on our Twitter and Facebook, and pay attention to #COP21!

UT to West TN Winter Break Trip

Heading to West Tennessee for Winter Break? Off-Campus and Commuter Services has you covered with a bus trip to take you home. Making stops in Jackson and Memphis, TN, the buses will leave from UTK campus on Friday, December 11th, at 9 AM eastern time. The return trip will leave from Memphis, TN (making a stop in Jackson again), on Sunday, January 10th, at 2 PM central time. The cost for the trip is $55 for both ways.

For more information or to register, follow this link, or get in touch with Off-Campus and Commuter Services (email: commuter@utk.edu, phone: 865 974 4546, twitter: @commuterVOLs). Registration for the trip is open now!

Water Distribution Project Honored by American Institute of Architects

The UT College of Architecture and Design was recognized by the East Tennessee Chapter of the American Institute of Architects at its annual design awards program where two educators and a design project were honored at the program.

Marleen Davis, Distinguished Professor of Architecture, was honored with the 2015 Gold Medal Award, and Bill Shell, retired UT architecture professor, received the organization’s Award of Merit.

The design project, a water kiosk project involving the design and build of a water distribution structure that provides clean drinking water for 9,000 families, earned a Design Award of Merit. The project was led by John McRae, professor of architecture, and carried out by faculty and students from the college’s schools of Architecture, Interior Design, and Landscape Architecture, as well as students from UT’s Colleges of Nursing and Engineering and the UT Law Enforcement Innovation Center.  The structure was fabricated over a three-month period and constructed on site in Kentucky during a one-week period last spring.  Funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services, it contains two water dispensers, a covered area for a farmers’ market, and a cistern to collect rainwater for use in an adjacent greenhouse.

For more information, check out the TN Today article.

Learning is Getting Your Feet Wet

Civil and environmental engineering senior, Brandy Manka, has been working as a part of the storm water analysis project (supported by the Green Fee) to study the flow and water quality parameters of Second Creek during storm events. She finds the hands-on experiential learning valuable, because it enables her to put the things she learns in the classroom to use. She was encouraged to engage in research during her freshman year by the RISER program (Research and Instructional Strategies for Engineering Retention)—a program that works to attract and retain students (primarily women) in engineering at UT.

To see the whole story, check out TN Today’s full feature.

The Green Fee, officially known as the Student Environmental Initiatives Fee, provides funds for student, faculty, and staff ideas for projects that contribute to a more sustainable UT. The Green Fee Committee meets once monthly, and the November meeting is coming up on Tuesday, November 24th, at 1 PM in Facilities Services Conference Room 110. For more information and directions to the meeting, go here.

Student Positions in UT Recycling

UT Recycling is hiring students for several positions, some immediately available, others opening up in the coming Spring Semester. If you’re available for work study through financial aid, that’s a plus – though not a requirement. They’re looking for a number of different roles to be filled—including, but not limited to:

  • Graphic Design
  • Recycling Education (communications, marketing, advertising, etc.)
  • Compost Collection
  • Pallet Collection
  • Bin Inventory/Analysis
  • Special Projects

For more information or to apply, contact Jay Price, Recycling Manager, at jayprice@utk.edu. Include a brief introduction, resumé, and references when applying.

Professor Developing Methods to Understand, Stop Algal Bloom Damage

UT professor, Steven Wilhelm, is working to develop methods that could help scientists understand and stop massive algal blooms that destroy marine habitat along the US Eastern Seaboard. He is one of more than 100 scientists across thirty-three institutions worldwide who are being supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Marine Microbiology Initiative—a two-year, $8 million investment aimed at accelerating the development of methods that will bring experimental model systems to the ocean and other areas of marine microbial ecology.

Wilhelm is leading a team that includes UT faculty (Tim Sparer, Erik Zinser, and Todd Reynolds), and the director of the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science in the UK (Willie Wilson). The team plans to develop a genetic system for Aureococcus anophagefferens—the alaga that causes brown tides and destroys marine habitat along the US eastern seaboard, causing losses of more than $50 million per year. They hope to modify the organism’s genes in order to gain understanding of the alga’s ecology and evolution in order to provide potential for biotechnical advances such as biofuels.  They will use their share of the grant (about $165,000) to support a postdoctoral student, a part-time graduate student, and a part-time technician for a year.

For the full story, check out the TN Today article.

Reduce Your Food Waste

If you’re living in an apartment or house and sharing a refrigerator with three, four, or maybe even five other people, keeping your food organized can be a bit of a challenge. Sharing food can be complicated, so everyone buys their own milk, eggs, bread, cereal, and so on. But is this really the most efficient way to use everyone’s money? How often do you finish your quart of 2% milk before it expires in the fridge next to your other roommates’ separate, yet identical, quarts of milk? How often have you come across the last half of your forgotten loaf of bread that had turned stale, or worse, moldy, because it was behind your roommates’ 12 grain? What can you do with sour milk and moldy bread? You can’t eat them, you can’t really cook with them, and unless you have an industrial sized compost pile, you can’t compost it either. Trash can it is.

Studies show that American households waste 25% of the food they buy each year. That’s a lot. During your time in college, you aren’t necessarily a typical household, so while these numbers might not be as accurate for you, food waste still affects you (and I’d argue even more so!). Food waste isn’t just about the wasted food, though. Every bit of food that goes to waste is the same as the money you spent on it going into the trash. Money is hard to come by as a college student, and even more difficult to keep – why throw it away?

There are better ways to manage your money and your food in a communal living situation. Everyone has their preferences, and no one is asking you to share everything, but you should talk with your roommates about going in together on the staples that you all enjoy. Sharing is caring, and sustainable! For your wallet and the environment!