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Earth Day, celebrated on April 22, 2019, was special. Paris to Pittsburgh, an acclaimed National Geographic documentary on climate change, was screened at the Trabant Theatre. The event was organized by the Energy and Environmental Policy Student Association and the Climate Reality Project at UD with financial support from the Biden School, DENIN and the Office of Graduate and Professional Education. The event was attended by a total of 129 students and faculty.
The film largely focuses on climate change impacts in America including sea level rise, which could range from 3-20 feet in low lying states like Florida and Delaware, and the impacts of wild fires and large-scale displacements, such as the 300,000 residents of Puerto Rico who were forced to abandon their homes and relocate to Florida. The movie also highlighted a diversity of actors with wide ranging positions on climate change in the United States: President Trump, city officials of Pittsburg, Florida, California, and others.
Paris to Pittsburgh also underscored a wide range of activists undertaking various levels of action to address the challenge of climate change. This ranged from Casa Pueblo, a local community group distributing solar PV solutions in Puerto Rico, to Grid Alternatives, a nonprofit in California which has trained more than 30,000 people on solar PV technologies and installed thousands of solar PV systems on homes in that state. Other important actors highlighted included governors, scientists, academics, state officials, and federal agents.
The overall message was that while federal level action on climate change has significantly declined during the Trump Administration, a variety of individuals and organizations are providing momentum for climate change action that could possibly enable the U.S. to still meet its Paris Climate Agreement commitments.
A panel of UD professors discussed the film, including two from the Biden School: Jeremy Firestone, Andrea Sarzynski, and Ismat Shah. The trio engaged the audience in a wide variety of key issues arising from the film, including the importance of building climate resilience among American communities. Climate resilience is an aggregate concept that includes climate mitigation and adaptation.
The attendees were also challenged to not only wait for big grand solutions, but also to practice agency by undertaking some personal actions. For example, using more public transport (such as the UD Shuttle service), biking to and from work wherever possible, installing energy efficiency solutions at home, and practicing energy saving behaviors. These practices would not only reduce green house gas emissions that cause climate change, but also improve personal and community health and offer financial savings.
Another important issue arising from the discussions was that how has the University of Delaware contributed to meeting the Delaware State mandate that requires the state to derive 25% of its energy demand from renewable sources by 2025. There were various related matters raised including the fact that the University has not made significant effort to seek and utilize renewable energy sources. Earlier efforts faced a set of legal barriers and failed to take off. It was suggested that this could be an issue which the student and faculty community at UD could continue to explore and collaborate with partners through additional projects to expand the only renewable energy pilot, the utility-scale 2-megawatt (2-MW) wind turbine project located at the UD Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes.
Power generated from the Lewes Campus wind project together with the associated Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) are purchased by Delaware Municipal Electric Corporation (DEMEC). The proceeds support wind and renewable energy graduate student research fellowships in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE). The participants highlighted that more could be done through installation of solar PV on old and new buildings as well as promoting energy efficiency actions across campus.
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