A scholar of climate and environment justice, a restoration ecologist, an environmental anthropologist, a landscape architect, and other University of Oregon environment experts offer suggestions for climate-friendly resolutions for 2022.
Turn to Collective Knowledge to Address Environmental Issues
John Arroyo Assistant Professor in Engaging Diverse Communities, College of Design Director, Pacific Northwest Just Futures Institute for Racial and Climate Justice Faculty Fellow, Environment Initiative
Collaboration is key to building a more just future, Arroyo said. He is the director of the new Pacific Northwest Just Futures Institute for Racial and Climate Justice, which aims to be a transformational and multidisciplinary research platform to tackle racial and climate justice. Arroyo stresses the need to build – and maintain – relationships beyond university campuses, collaboratively design research projects and outcomes, and inspire research that uses collective knowledge on campuses to solve environmental problems.
"As we work towards mutual goals, the life and natural sciences can learn from the humanities and social sciences, and vice versa. Students should learn as much from applied policy reports and natural experiments as they can learn from poetry, fiction, popular journalism, and ethnographies. The future ability to identify and operationalize truly collaborative strategies for a just future will require this unique, comprehensive perspective, which is central to the core of the Pacific Northwest Just Futures Institute for Racial and Climate Justice."
Walk or Bike More, Drive Less
Lauren Hallett Assistant Professor, Department of Biology
"A car-dependent society drives both nitrogen deposition and climate change," Hallett said. She sees this damage through her work as a restoration ecologist, where she aims to conserve vulnerable species, like serpentine grasslands that support native flowers. "But nitrogen deposition from car traffic has enabled invasive grasses to enter and dominate the system," she said. Her research tests ways to deal with this issue, like how grazing and burning can remove the grasses and restore the flowers, "but it rarely addresses the underlying problem of car-dependence," she explained. So, her resolution is to work toward addressing this underlying issue, in addition to its symptoms. She plans to reduce her family's car-dependence by using an electric cargo bike to get her young son to daycare and advocate for more walkable and less car-dependent neighborhoods. "My first step will be showing up at public hearings and voicing support for effective implementation of new state-wide reforms here in Eugene."
Yekang Ko Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, College of Design Director of APRU Sustainable Cities and Landscapes Hub
"Trees provide our communities with many benefits, including combating urban heat and saving energy," said Yekang Ko, whose work focuses on the ways cities can better coexist with the natural landscapes around them. "Unfortunately, we are losing them at a faster pace through development and increasing extreme weather events driven by climate change." Plant more trees in your yards, neighborhoods, and in underserved communities, Ko said, adding that planting the right trees in the right places can maximize their benefits.
For example, she points to a "Nature Explorer" data tool that shows tree canopy is inequitably distributed, with lower tree canopy cover in low income communities. "Those houses tend to be poorly insulated; they can get the most benefit of tree shade. Research shows that planting trees on the west side of houses can improve thermal comfort and energy saving for cooling in summer," Ko said. Selecting climate-appropriate trees such as Oregon white oak and Douglas fir, she said, can better survive in drought and floods, thus providing more long term benefits.
Have Conversations with Family, Friends, and Coworkers About Emergency Preparedness
Hollie Smith Assistant Professor of Science and Environmental Communication School of Journalism and Communication
Considering the increase of catastrophic wildfires, flooding, and other disasters stemming from global warming, Hollie Smith stresses the importance of being prepared and knowing where to go for information about natural hazards in our community. "We all know that having an emergency plan is important," said Smith, a former reporter who now researches how the media portrays scientific information and how people use it to make decisions.
"But it's something that is easy to keep putting off and has been even more challenging to think about in the past two years. A critical first step, in my opinion, is learning where to go for trustworthy information. Ready.gov is a good resource for general information before an emergency. Local government agencies and other organizations are a good resource for community-level information before, during, and after an emergency. Once you have good information, you can start making a family plan, practice it, and share that information with your own network."
Incorporate Actionable Solutions into Climate Education
Sarah Stapleton Assistant Professor of Education Studies, College of Education Faculty Fellow, Environment Initiative
"I urge everyone teaching students at any level or discipline to teach about climate change and environmental justice as it relates to their content area. Research shows that it is critical to incorporate concrete, actionable solutions into climate education and communication so that students are left with hope and direction," said Sarah Stapleton, who will be working with a teacher team to develop an environmental justice curriculum for high school teachers in Oregon through her faculty fellowship with the Environment Initiative.
"Highlighting environmental actors, especially those who are Indigenous and other people of color, as well as local groups and organizations working toward environmental and climate justice, is one way to help students see actionable change and not feel alone in the work ahead." She also believes the pandemic has given everyone an opportunity to rethink things like work travel and commuting and move rapidly toward what we really value, "like more time for loved ones, free school meals for all children in K-12 public schools, more community with each other, more time outside, and more redressing of injustices."
Participate in Your Local Watershed Council
Jeremy Trombley, PhD Researcher, Department of Earth Sciences
"Councils host meetings and presentations as well as opportunities to help restore the landscape for fish and other species," said Jeremy Trombley, an anthropologist who works with Dave Sutherland's Ice and Ocean Lab and Mark Carey's Glacier Lab researching how watershed communities are responding to climate change. He urges individuals to go beyond the first step by getting more involved and asking tougher questions. "How is your watershed affected by external social, economic, and political pressures? How do these pressures keep your community from responding to climate change effectively? Finally, find out whose stolen land your watershed occupies and look to those Indigenous Nations for guidance," he said. "They are at the forefront of addressing climate change, and it's important that we pay attention and follow their lead when it comes to ensuring the long-term health and well-being of our watersheds and communities."
Each of these faculty members is affiliated with the University of Oregon's Environment Initiative, which focuses the intellectual energy and work of faculty members, students, and community partners on working toward a just and livable future through transdisciplinary research, teaching and experiential learning. It is one of the UO's five Academic Initiatives that work across disciplines, developing the next generation of leaders and problem solvers.