Thursday, December 03, 2009

Invitation to meet the U of I Environmental Change Institute

Invitation to meet the U of I Environmental Change Institute

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A few years back Chicago attorney Joel Friedman picked up a copy of a book called The Weather Makers by Australian scientist Tim Flannery as he awaited a flight out of London’s Heathrow airport. By the time Friedman’s plane touched down at O’Hare, he had come to understand climate change as a significant issue, and was determined to learn more about it. The more he learned, the more he was convinced of the need to act on a large scale.

With the input of long-standing connections at the University of Illinois, Friedman followed through on his conviction by channeling resources from the Alvin H. Baum Family Fund, of which he is president, into the creation of a unit on the UI campus that would enhance understanding of climate change and speed the dissemination of solutions to the problems it entails from the academy to the wider world. This new unit, the Environmental Change Institute (ECI), was constituted in early 2008 with matching funds from the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, the College of Business and the College of Law. [Photo: some of the people who make up ECI--left to right, Wes Jarrell, Rob Kanter, Jen Nelson, John Marlin, Lori Spencer, Matt Luedtke, Willie Dong, Bill Kruidenier, Eric Jackson, Crystal Bartanen]. As Wes Jarrell, who is interim director of ECI as well as a professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences explains, “The complexity of challenges related to environmental change makes it essential that policy, science, and business work together to address and solve these challenges.”

The mission of ECI is to advance understanding of global environmental change and offer solutions to avoid, mitigate, or adapt to its effects through support of scholarly research, innovative teaching, and public outreach.

In specific terms, ECI currently funds twelve research projects, which are led by investigators from across campus. Among these, the project with the potential to be most visible is the Integrated Sustainable Homestead being developed on the South Farms. This project will demonstrate the workability of an integrated local organic food, energy and water system for Illinois. At the Integrated Sustainable Farm students will learn about where food comes from, how energy can be conserved and produced at the home scale, and how water can be used efficiently and sustainably, all through hands-on experience.

The Environmental Change Institute has also awarded grants to help UI faculty develop six new courses that will enable students to better help humanity mitigate and cope with environmental change. Among these are courses on energy law, biofuels and green roofs. Perhaps the most ambitious of the courses ECI has supported is the Illini Carbon Registry, which promotes a culture of sustainability on campus by encouraging local investment in carbon offsetting projects. The carbon offsetting projects this class has investigated are all sponsored by the fees UI students assess themselves to promote sustainability, and they include the purchase and installation of sensor-based lighting systems for classrooms, energy efficient computers for administrative offices, and a student-run farm to produce food for dining halls.

Beyond research and teaching, ECI has also sponsored or co-sponsored numerous presentations designed to engage people from on and off campus in responding to environmental change.

If you are interested in learning more about the work of the Environmental Change Institute please join us for our annual symposium, which is free and open to the public. The symposium will take place tomorrow, December 4, from 9:00 a.m. until noon at the Beckman Institute on the UI campus in Urbana. Details are available at