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Meet the Intern

23 Mar

 

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Hi! I’m Breanna Parker ’18 and am an intern in campus sustainability at Smith College. I came to Smith from a small town in Iowa. I chose to study Environmental Science and Policy because I want to work toward a future that supports the economy, the environment and society as a whole.

Smith College is committed to the ambitious goal of being carbon neutral by 2030. To accomplish this goal, the college must reduce its carbon emissions by mitigating the direct use of fossil fuels and by increasing efficiency on campus. However, other sources of carbon emissions, such as travel by students, staff and faculty, cannot feasibly be eliminated, which is why Smith is exploring the option of carbon offsets. A carbon offset is a way to invest in renewable energy, clean technology and efficiency and receive a carbon credit toward achieving full carbon neutrality.

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Currently, I’m working to develop guidelines for Smith’s innovative carbon offset program, the Community Climate Fund. The program is a collaboration with Amherst, Hampshire and Williams Colleges and the Center for EcoTechnology. The goal of the fund is to generate carbon offsets locally in western Massachusetts with co-benefits for the community and the colleges. The research phase was launched in 2015 and now the Community Climate Fund is implementing its first project to assist local businesses and institutions invest in high-efficiency heating systems by providing funding to lower the cost of the units. The additional funding provides an incentive to those organizations to invest in new heating systems. The reduction in energy use from these high-efficiency heating systems does three things: it helps the businesses save money and be more energy efficient, and it generates a carbon offset for the Community Climate Fund, which will help Smith reach its goal of being of being carbon neutral by 2030. It is very exciting to see Smith take action both on campus and in the community to support a sustainable future.

Earth Friendly Move-In Guide

23 Aug

A new year means a fresh start – for you and your environmental footprint! For many of us, coming to college is the first time we’re making completely independent decisions about our space set-up, laundry, what we buy, what we throw away, food choices, and our habits at home. Here are some ways that this transition can empower us to have a gentler impact on the environment…

Packing It All In: Getting your things where they need to go

  1. Pack fragile items by wrapping them in T-shirts or newspaper – skip those packing peanuts!
  2. If you’re taking a car, pack your items in reusable bins. You’ll be moving rooms and storing stuff a lot in college, so large, portable bins are a great investment. You can also pack clothing straight into trash bags and reuse those later!
  3. If you’ll want a power strip for plugging in many things, consider buying one with a switch or a timer, so you can make sure your electronics don’t use energy while you’re out and about.
  4. If you have a roommate, check to make sure you’re not bringing duplicates of things that could be shared!

Settling Down: On-campus tips

  1. Pick up a reusable water bottle at campus events – the first week has tons of free stuff, and buying bottled water is a waste of your precious cash.
  2. It’s easy to overbuy on room stuff and school supplies at the very beginning, but keep in mind that you can always get things later, once you more fully know what you’ll need.
  3. Ask your greeters, RA, or Eco Rep to show you where the dorm recycling is – to get any cardboard clutter away sooner rather than later!
  4. There are so many alternatives to paying big bucks for new textbooks: borrow from a housemate who has taken the class, rent from the bookstore or online, buy cheap used books online, use the textbooks on reserve at the library, or share with a classmate!

Forget-Me-Nots: Things to bring

  1. Check out Smith’s “Free and For Sale” facebook page for cool stuff from cool people – buying from other students is cheaper and prevents things like furniture and clothing from going in the trash. (Be sure to turn off notifications, or you’ll get 30 notifications daily) Another source of great clothes is your house’s Free Box! Anyone can add unwanted clothes or take nice finds!
  2. Buy green for your room: There are many environmentally friendly products at a reasonable price. Everything from shampoos to recycled school supplies! Lots of these items are available at the school bookstore or downtown.
  3. Skip the mini fridge – Personal fridges make up a significant portion of energy usage on campus. Every dorm has a full-size communal fridge! If you do need a mini one, consider sharing it with a friend you trust.
  4. Make/bring/buy/share a drying rack – laundry is expensive, (the dryer costs you $1.35-1.50! That’s a slice of pizza!) and dryers are huge energy monsters. It only takes a couple of hours for clothes to dry when you hang them up!
  5. Bring Tupperware – Smith’s dining halls are usually open for only 2½ hours for each meal- if you’re in a hurry or planning on staying up late, having Tupperware makes grabbing food much easier. And they help cut down food waste!

Once you are here, don’t forget to ask staff in Campus Sustainability about how you can get involved – they’ll have a lot of great ideas for how you can continue to green your time on campus. You can find them in CEEDS, in Wright Hall 005.

-Shelby Kim ’18 and Ellen Sulser ’18
Shelby: I will be a junior this year (how did that happen?!). Sociology major! I grew up in Los Angeles. My main interest right now: ways that making & sharing things can bring about communities that are more resilient and more fair. I will be leading a backpacking orientation group and can’t wait to meet the class of 2020!
Ellen: I’m a junior in Capen house from Saint Louis, Missouri. I’m studying environmental science and policy, reading too many books and attempting to crochet. I can’t wait to study abroad in China in the spring.

Summer Student Update: Sarina Vega ’19

15 Jul

sarina farm.JPGEco-Rep Sarina Vega ’19 is having an incredible summer. She writes: I’m currently in Portugal volunteering my time at an organic, sustainable, no-till farm in a tiny village close to Tomar called Vila do Paço. I’ve been using WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in Vermont for about 6 months now and decided to take the experience abroad. It’s been a humbling experience not knowing Portuguese. I’ve had to find other ways to connect with people, whether through caring for the plants and soil or through shared laughter at the dinner table as we convene over the meal our farm host prepared. Music is everywhere, conversation is abuzz, chicken and goat poop are under my shoes, and I’ve been wearing the same shirt for five days now–but who is counting?! When I left my hometown of San Diego, I left behind an internship at a community garden for the local high school, and when I return home I have another internship at a space called Art Produce, which is a community garden, art gallery, and tostada shop. I’m extremely intrigued with space and how we use it to bridge people, places, and time, and how community comes together. So far, the summer has been the most inspiring and eye-opening yet and I can’t wait to share my experiences with my friends back at Smith!

What are you doing this summer Smithies? We want to hear from you!

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Smith’s New Energy Director

8 Apr

Smith’s new energy director, Matt Pfannenstiel, was recently interviewed by the Gate. Matt will be working to reduce campus energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Welcome, Matt!

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Out with the Old, in with the Insulated: The Renovation of Lamont Windows

19 Feb

One might consider general upkeep around a college campus to be pretty generic work; indeed, campuses like Smith consist of countless old buildings and houses that do not perform at modern standards. As students, we rarely think about how much these improvements benefit us. Additionally, we rarely think about how much of our comfort in our built spaces is inherently connected to the preservation of energy.

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Left: (Before) Original single pane wood windows. Right: (After) New Marvin aluminum clad wood with argon insulated glass.

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Left: Low-expansion foam insulation being installed behind frames. Right: Air filtration and water penetration testing.

An example of this is the renovations to Lamont House completed this past summer. Located on upper Elm Street, Lamont had all of its traditional single-pane wood windows replaced with double-pane aluminum-clad wood windows. In addition to improving the type of window, the new windows were tested to be sure that water and moisture will not find a way in between the sashes or around the frame. The edges behind the window’s frames were fully sealed with low-expansion foam to keep warm air from leaving and cold air from entering the rooms.

The results are noteworthy. Lamont House looks better, and it should be much more energy efficient and more comfortable for student residents.  

“A lot of the houses on campus have very old windows that do not have insulated glass, or the double pane set up, so a lot of heat that would otherwise be preserved escapes.” said Karla Youngblood, project manager and assistant director of facilities management, during an interview. She recalled going into a student’s room once and seeing three thick strips of duct tape placed over the cracks around the windows. She also remembered a time when she entered a room and saw the student’s bed moved to the furthest corner away from the window.

Youngblood reported that in recent years, students complaints on the cold and lack of insulation in their rooms have been on the rise. In a campus where community and collaboration dominate the daily routines of most students at Smith, Youngblood argued, no student should ever feel uncomfortable in the one space on campus that is entirely theirs. “Even if we are certain that these new window installations will help Smith’s energy bills, my biggest priority is always occupant comfort.” she said. Youngblood said that the Lamont window project is part of an ongoing effort on campus to update and insulate all of the houses. “Recently, we insulated the roof of Dewey, which is one of our oldest buildings on campus. Lamont was on our list for this summer, but houses like Tyler are definitely due to be renovated.”  

These improvements often go unnoticed by students and faculty at Smith; however, things do not have to be this way, said Dano Weisbord, director of campus sustainability and space planning. “We want to get the word out about these projects so that we can hear feedback from students who live in Lamont, and other houses that have been renovated to be more energy efficient and comfortable.”

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Before: Lamont House, west elevation.

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After: Lamont House, west elevation.

So, Lamont students, what is the verdict? As we move through February and the nights are consistently chilly, do you feel that your rooms are warmer and better insulated? The office of Campus Sustainability would love to hear your thoughts!

-Andrea Schmid, class of 2017, is an environmental science and policy major and a recently declared climate change concentrator. She is interested in environmental journalism and the role that digital media plays in the environmental movement.  She currently works as the communications intern for the Office of Campus Sustainability.

SURFing Uncharted Waters

23 Jun

After an exploratory first year at Smith, I’m working as a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow (SURF) with Camille Washington-Ottombre, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, Dano Weisbord, Director of Campus Sustainability, and Andrea Schmid ‘17.

We are studying the resilience of Smith College.

The Resilience Alliance defines resilience as “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks.” That’s not exactly cut-and-dried, and in the face of climate change, we’re dealing with a lot of uncertainty.

I’m two weeks into my research, and the most difficult part of this project is pinning down a research question that fully encompasses and properly frames our work for the summer. The study of resilience is a fresh field of inquiry and planning. In fact, there are no published papers or case studies specifically assessing the resilience of a college or university. This is not, however, a neglected approach. Many municipalities and watersheds have applied resilience thinking to their planning. Now, after years of mitigation and management, campus sustainability planners ride the crest of a breaking wave. Academics and professionals are understanding the need for campus sustainability to evolve into a holistic systems-based approach that equips institutions with the tools to adapt to the challenges of climate change. Our work is primary research.

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We’re not simply exploring uncharted waters, we’re mapping them.

– Callie Sieh ’18J studies Environmental Science and Policy and interns in the Office of Campus Sustainability. In her free time she experiments with sound and image, talks to strangers, and explores New England.

Earth Week: The Planet and the People On It: Opening up Conversation on Campus

7 May

Like every Earth Week, we didn’t have the biggest turn out. Rain and wind forced the array of student justice and environmental organizations inside the campus center; many passersby avoided catching our eye so they could hurry on without being stopped for a signature, promise, or pamphlet.

Those who did stop, though, gave an incredible energy to the week. People proudly penned promises on up-cycled cloths, accepted challenges and asked for more information on everything from intersectionality to permeable pavements.

The week was dotted with workshops, panels, and gatherings geared towards opening up the Smith community on a variety of topics. Environmentally friendly menstrual products, labor conditions of undocumented farmworkers, indigenous land rights, and the Gaza water crisis: the College was flooded with waves of discussion on a myriad of global environmental justice issues.

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It can be hard not to feel a bit jaded when it comes to doing outreach on a campus so full of soapboxes: occasionally, it seems to me that Smithies have an attitude of “I don’t have time to listen to you talk, I’m busy saving the world”. However, unlike previous Earth Weeks, the focus this year on intersectionality really brought more of the campus together than ever before. Instead of a lecture on why we’re not doing enough to celebrate and take good care of the Planet and the People on It, it felt more like a conversation on how together, we can do more than enough.

We can’t talk about land subsidence in marginalized neighborhoods without talking about race; we can’t talk about waste crises without talking about class, and we certainly can’t talk about climate change without talking about global political power asymmetries.

I think that this past week was an important step in creating a more equitable space for discussion on campus. If we all took one step off our own soapboxes, it would lead us onto someone else’s; out of a lecture, and into a conversation.

-Lily Carlisle-Reske is a sophomore at Smith College from Alexandria, Virginia. She is studying environmental science and policy with a concentration in sustainable food and Italian. When she is not working she is probably in the kitchen stirring a pot of soup and baking bread. #veganchef

President McCartney’s Divestment Panel –

14 Apr
The article below was written as an op-ed for the Sophian in response to a February fossil fuel divestment event. That event, hosted by President Kathleen McCartney’s Office, was the third in a series of panels coordinated by CEEDS as a way to raise awareness and educate the Smith community on the topic of fossil fuel divestment. In the interest of full disclosure I want to say up front that though I am a CEEDS intern, I am also a member of the student org Divest Smith College, and one of the co-authors of the article. I hope you find it informative!  -Savannah Holden, ’16
 

On Monday, February 24th, concerned members of the Smith community literally filled the Carroll Room to discuss the relationship between the college’s endowment and the fossil fuel industry. President McCartney’s office sponsored the panel discussion in response to the growing movement on campus to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Attendees hoped to hear about the social responsibility of Smith, but the conversation focused on the financial structure of endowments. The panelists and administrators who spoke failed to place our endowment in the context of Smith’s institutional power and failed to address the political statement we are making by investing in the fossil fuel industry.

After publicly recognizing the threat of climate change, Smith created the Sustainability and Climate Action Management Plan, which details how Smith will reach carbon neutrality by 2030, although it does not mention investments. In the past, Smith recognized the political statements made by our assets and divested from companies operating in Apartheid South Africa during the 1980s, and in Sudan in 2007. By refusing to recognize the implications of investment in the fossil fuel industry, Smith is making a statement that our institution supports the harmful practices of fossil fuel companies that result in community and environmental destruction, while simultaneously perpetuating climate change.

Divest Smith College, a network of concerned students, advocates that Smith cease investing our endowment funds in the fossil fuel industry, because Smith has the responsibility to reflect institutional values in its financial decisions. This divestment campaign is backed by strong support from the student body, a third of whom have signed a petition advocating for divestment from the fossil fuel industry.

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President McCartney’s panel featured Peggy Eisen, chair of the Investment Committee on Smith’s Board of Trustees, Alice Handy, founder and CEO of Smith’s investment management firm Investure, and Bob Litterman, chairman of the risk committee of Kepos Capital. Smith is Investure’s first and largest client and because of this, enjoys a reduced fee structure, as well as Investure’s impressive returns history. Ms. Handy emphasized that the system Investure and many other management firms use is layered and complex. Funds from Smith College and 11 clients are pooled together before being given to different fund managers. These individual fund managers then invest in a wide variety of companies, but Ms. Handy stated she does not want to restrict their investment practices. Despite the fact that only 6.5% of our $1.71 billion endowment is invested in fossil fuel holdings, Ms. Handy argued that 70% of our endowment would have to be sold in order to ensure complete divestment as she doesn’t know exactly how individual fund managers are choosing to invest.

Bob Litterman rounded out the panel by addressing the issue of coal and oil sands investments within an endowment portfolio from a solely financial perspective. Mr. Litterman discussed a tactic he used a member of the investment committee of the Board of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) that lowers risk and gives an institution a vested stake in ensuring that we all begin to pay the true price of burning fossil fuels. WWF’s endowment has instituted a “total return swap” on particular fossil fuel stocks held within their investment portfolio, which is essentially a bet that current holdings will be unprofitable in comparison to a broad market index such as the S&P 500. The total return swap serves two purposes common with divestment. It lowers the risk of existing fossil fuel holdings, and, as Mr. Litterman put it, “aligns the mission of the institution of the portfolio” by ensuring a greater stake in securing a price of carbon in the near future. This is not a strategy that divests an endowment from fossil fuels, and, as he stated, is “a very simple approach; it is certainly not a comprehensive approach,” which still sends a mixed political message. Ultimately, the panel failed to address one of the most important issues that the Smith community came to hear: why does Smith continue to have an investment policy that does not align with its institutional values?

After the presentations concluded, President McCartney opened the floor to questions. Students and professors responded with concerns about the statement Smith is making by continuing to invest in the fossil fuel industry. Michael Klare, a Five Colleges professor, stated that “these [fossil fuel industry investments] are toxic assets that you’re holding on to and should be gotten rid of, not only because they will become worthless in time but because, to protect the college itself from environmental destruction, it’s necessary to send the message that everybody should divest of these companies because these companies are a threat to the survival of the planet.” Immediately, the entire room burst into applause.

It is also important to acknowledge that there is no inaction here; continuing to invest in the fossil fuel industry sends a message that conflicts with Smith’s political goal to seek solutions to climate change. Smith College has the power to draw attention to the destruction caused by the fossil fuel industry and change the way society views these companies. As a prestigious institution, Smith divesting would send a strong message that the fossil fuel industry is an unacceptable investment. When questioned, the panelists offered no plan for how Smith will pressure policymakers to institute incentives that will force fossil fuel companies to act more responsibly, although Mr. Litterman admitted that “we are wasting a scarce resource…the atmosphere’s ability to safely absorb carbon emissions…that is wrong. The way to correct that is to price emissions appropriately.” Unfortunately, those of us who follow international climate negotiations and domestic environmental politics recognize that the fossil fuel industry has powerful influence on policymakers, which impedes the creation of a price on carbon. Divestment effectively revokes the social licence of fossil fuel companies and pushes our government toward more responsible energy policies.

During the question and answer session, Ms. Eisen said that disinvestment from the fossil fuel industry is “definitely a possibility.” Ruth Constantine, our Vice President for Finance, excused Smith’s inaction because “in a way, we are waiting for the investment community to change.” Because of its advantageous position in Investure, Smith College has the unique ability to push for this change to happen now – and we cannot afford to wait. The fossil fuel industry poses an immediate and extreme threat to communities around the world. This danger only increases over time- even as Smith College’s administrators deny our tacit support of this industry and the potential that divestment has to protect our endowment while promoting a shift away from fossil fuel companies. Divest Smith College will continue to push for a socially responsible investment policy and hopes that you, as members of the Smith community, will join in this important dialogue.

Written and edited by Ellen Monroe (’15), Anna George (’17), Savannah Holden (’16), Eleanor Adachi (’17), Jessie Blum (’15), Fiona Druge (’14), Emma Swartz (’16), and Kim Lu (’17)

 

Bright Ideas: Spotlight on Monique Gagne

16 Mar

As a CEEDS intern, one of my favorite topics to blog about is students focused on the environment. It is always interesting to see how they have woven their passion for the environment into their liberal arts education. Lucky for me, this campus is filled with confident, conscious women who are well on their way to changing the world. I met Monique Gagne, ’13 on my recent trip to Washington, D.C. and was impressed by her activism and dedication to environmental challenges like stopping the expansion of the Keystone XL Pipeline. She is not shy about standing up for the environment. On the trip to D.C. she was also one of a small faction of traditional-age students, or “trads” as we Adas call them, that went out of her way to make me feel comfortable, as I didn’t really know any of the students on the excursion. I liked her immediately.

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As we talked about what fuels her passion for the environment, I learned that Monique is a former intern for the Office of Environmental Sustainability, also located here in CEEDS. Having that in common, her interview became more of a conversation. It was wonderful to chat about her experiences and how she plans on continuing to link her past, present and future to address the looming environmental concerns that face this planet.

Monique is an engineering major with a minor in landscape studies. As she began taking classes at Smith, she realized that the environmental engineering track was the one that appealed to her the most. She focused on the petroleum industry early in her studies, but was intrigued by advanced topics in water quality.  She began to delve deeper into the issue of water quality and the concerns that are certain to arise when water becomes scarce. Monique followed her new-found interest into a PRAXIS funded internship this past summer, which allowed her to work with sustainable water systems.

Ms. Gagne has already secured employment at Lutron Electronics after she graduates this year. This innovative company has been on the forefront of sustainability by using smart technology to save energy. The dimmers that Lutron creates use daylight to determine just how much light is necessary in a space. This simple element lowers energy consumption, which is a central step to creating energy efficient spaces. As we were talking, Monique pointed out Lutron technology in the lighting system above us in the Campus Center. Their energy-saving products are also in some of the other high performance buildings on campus, like Ford Hall. Monique will be able to use the know-how and environmental awareness she learned here to carry into her life after Smith.

How has her liberal arts education prepared her for her future? Monique noted that because of her Smith education she can no longer see the world through just an engineering or a landscape lens. Instead, she sees the nature of the world as multidisciplinary, which allows her to be creative as she seeks to effectively engage environmental issues– and life.  It is comforting to know that there are students like Monique here at Smith who care about the fate of the environment and who are thinking about what happens to the next generation as well.

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– Liz Wright, ‘AC

Rallying Against Climate Change

26 Feb

“Don’t be a chump.” These were the words Van Jones, a senior policy adviser at Green for All and Obama’s former Special Adviser for Green Jobs, declared on February 17, 2013 at the Stand Up for Climate Change Rally in Washington D.C. By the end of his speech, he had everyone chanting this mantra, which had the simultaneous effect of making me smile as well as conjuring up a steely resolve to stand up to climate change.

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The Smith College Green Team, with the leadership of Siiri Bigalki ’15, was able to fund and charter a bus that carried nearly fifty Smithies overnight to rally against climate change. It was not an easy trip, but we could not sit idly by and watch as others stepped out of their comfort zone to effect change. Leaving Northampton at 10:30 pm, we had to pack for overnight travel, sleep in cramped seats, and eat whatever we could carry, braving hours of frigid temperatures as we prepared to march on the nation’s capital. It was the least we could do to make our mark and represent Smith College in this peaceful demonstration. An estimated 40,000 people from all over the country joined the march on the National Mall in Washington D.C. It was by far the largest and most energetic rally for action against climate change yet.  The idea was to make Barack Obama take notice of the environmental concerns that accompany the continued extraction of fossil fuels with the specific goal of rejecting the further development of the Keystone XL Pipeline. It was not meant to be a demonstration of civil disobedience but rather a plea to our nation’s leaders to stand up to the status quo.

As one of more than two hundred and fifty colleges that attended the rally from all over the country, Smith College was invited to a youth gathering at the W Hotel blocks away from the White House. We met in the “great room” of the hotel to get energized and share information about each of our school’s environmental work. Smith’s Green Team members met with other like-minded individuals to confer about their fossil fuel divestment campaigns, and other topics like local solutions to global problems, how to keep the movement going into the summer and the most effective ways to take action now. The energy was contagious and, even though we had slept poorly on the bus the night before, we got caught up in the lively intensity created by the other rowdy college students.

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Celebrity speakers at the rally included Rosario Dawson (Sin City), Evangeline Lily (Lost), Nolan Gould (Modern Family), as well as Chief Jacqueline Thomas of the Saik’uz First Nation and Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree First Nations. Some of their standout comments were memorable and I couldn’t help but jot them down. Bill McKibben stated that “we [the activists] are the antibodies that the earth is using to fight its fever.” That was on the heels of the comment from the Cree Nation saying that “we cannot eat money and we cannot drink oil.” In essence we have to look beyond profits and death and stand up for what is going to be healthy for the earth going forward. I was proud to stand up for my country, my college and my future. Although I have to come to terms with the fact that this rally might not yield the results I am looking for, I know that I at least stood up for the planet in the face of climate uncertainty.

-Liz Wright, AC

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