FIU helps lead White House climate forum
How can universities be part of the solution?
By Rachel Costa
An FIU faculty member and a student recently helped lead a coalition of universities invited by the White House to a two-day forum on Campus and Community-Scale Climate Solutions.
“Universities should be beacons of action and show the community this is what could be done and this is what should be done in terms of long-term climate solutions,” said Todd Crowl, director of the FIU Institute of Environment, who represented FIU at the event.
FIU was one of the universities that helped coordinate the program in collaboration with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the University of Washington and the University of the District of Columbia.
The program revolved around four main themes: making campuses more sustainable, educating students to lead climate-smart industries, serving as a proving ground for climate change solutions and successfully working with local communities.
Crowl moderated the panel on “Accelerating Community Climate Solutions through Higher Education Partnerships.” He emphasized that universities can have a positive impact on their local communities. One of his proposals for South Florida was to partner up with coastal neighborhoods to replant native mangroves. The vegetation serves as a barrier to reduce flood and windstorm damage to buildings. FIU has already taken steps to replant mangroves at the Biscayne Bay Campus for this reason.
He also said that universities need to look inward and become the proving ground for proposed climate change solutions.
FIU, for example, has prioritized energy efficiency, for years earning recognition as one of the most efficient universities in Florida’s State University System. Steps such as ensuring that all new buildings are LEED certified and using LED lights, among others, have helped drastically reduce the amount of power needed to run the university. Providing shuttles between the two campuses and the Engineering Center likewise reduces emissions.
Crowl said the number one priority should be the decarbonization of the campus. “We have one of the largest solar panel fields as a research focus in the country,” he said of the solar array at the Engineering Center, which is elevated above a portion of the parking lot and is run by students and faculty in a collaboration with Florida Power & Light. Crowl hopes FIU will be able to build on that project as a means to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
Named a University of Distinction in Environmental Resilience by the State University Board of Governors, FIU has for decades led innovative studies to find ways to protect people and the planet. Working in support of Everglades restoration and state water monitoring, among two of the many projects underway, FIU has conducted more than $410 million in research to help safeguard the natural and built environments.
Equal in importance to that critical investigative work is providing students with the tools to become climate-smart professionals in all areas.
Honors College student Nayla Alcocer-Martos (pictured above), an FIU Hamilton Scholar majoring in sustainability and the environment, agrees on the need to empower young people. She was responsible for student involvement in the event. Ultimately, students from 10 universities were active facilitators.
Alcocer-Martos said that while all students know climate change is an issue, sometimes they don’t know how much power they have. “One big way students can help is to speak out on issues,” she said.
For example, those in the Honors College collaborated with other campus groups on the Plastics If You Ask campaign, which has removed lids, straws and utensils from the counters of FIU's campus eateries. That seemingly small move has the potential to save thousands of pounds of plastic waste entering landfills annually.
The White House expects a network of universities will grow as a result of the forum.
“Time is ticking,” Alcocer-Martos said. “We can't keep putting things relating to climate change on the back burner.”
FIU in Washington, D.C., showcases the impact of FIU research; provides students with engaged academic experiences and internships; and convenes national partners for meaningful conversations across a broad range of issues as it brings the magic of Miami to the nation’s capital.
Read detailed takeaways from the forum as reported by the White House.
See how an FIU student covered the event.