Sustainability in the Time of COVID-19

Campus Sustainability Office April 10, 2020
Cartoon of earth but with appendages to look like the COVID-19 virus
We are in a period of uncertainty, anxiety, and confusion. How do we come together to support each other, stay productive, and stay safe? How do we continue to advance our values of environmental and social justice? How do we make good decisions and not let fear drive us apart from our care for the earth and each other? | Image: Miroslava Chrienova from Pixabay 

We are in a period of uncertainty, anxiety, and confusion. How do we come together to support each other, stay productive, and stay safe? How do we continue to advance our values of environmental and social justice? How do we make good decisions and not let fear drive us apart from our care for the earth and each other?

For those in the Cornell community that are still seeking opportunities to work on sustainability and justice, we’ve collected these resources.

Hopefully, there are some ideas you may not have considered, and some others you are already doing. If you have other ideas to add, please contact us at sustainability@cornell.edu and we can update this list.

Be well,
The Campus Sustainability Office Team


Home office set-up in front of a window

Working / from Home

If you are an essential worker still working to a physical job site, understand that the most important "sustainability" action you can take is to protect the health wellbeing of yourself and your family.  Help those you work with understand the key actions needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 that have been outlined by the CDC.

For those now remote-working or using online services to get your work done, congratulations, you are already reducing your footprint! Tele-commuting can cut down on transportation miles and often the technology provider is powered by clean energy (see Microsoft, Adobe, and Google).  

Our Green Office program and Sustainability Life Recipes may help you at home if you are looking for ways to go green or save money. Join or start a Green Team from home, too!

Cornell University libraries are still available to support sustainability academic work. Visit this resource page or contact them directly.


Signs in a front yard read "don't give up," "you are not alone"

Physical distancing, not social distancing

One of the things that make societies resilient is our social infrastructure. Our network of friends and family help us in difficult times so reach out, connect, but do it in a safe manner. This article has a number of creative ideas to connect and avoid undue risk. 

Care for ourselves and others is at the core of our Cornell values during COVID-19.  Spend ten minutes a day tending to your own mental wellbeing, or that of someone else.  Cornell HR has many mental wellbeing resources to consider.

Feeling alone? Well, you're not alone. Consider volunteering your time to help others. Tompkins County Mutual Aid is helping neighbors help each other and has many ways you can participate, even from your own home.

Here are some other ideas from the New York Times on how to think about your impact while maintaining changed behavior.


Woman walking in Cascadilla Gorge

Get outdoors

Just because we have to reduce exposure, doesn’t mean we need to be trapped inside. If you are feeling well and the weather allows, go for a walk, run, or bike ride. The Cornell Botanic Gardens and Sustainable Landscape Trail are open on campus.

Birds and wildlife are starting to awaken from the winter and it’s a great time to get out and soak up some sun.  GoFingerLakes.org is a terrific resource for finding hikes near you. Ithaca is fortunate to have an exceptional Urban Forest you might enjoy.

Now is also a great time to start victory gardening; Cornell Cooperative Extension Events has online classes on how to build a raised garden bed, start your compost at home, and much more. You can talk to a real gardener using Ask the Growline

Starting plants from seed? This Seed Starting Academy is free.


Tomatoes at a farmers market

Eat Healthy

Buying local will keep our economy thriving, and can help you provide nourishing food for your family while avoiding crowded grocery stores. 

Support local farmers or try Buy Local NY.org  for more than 400 farms and producers in Tompkins, Tioga, Schuyler, Chemung and Cortland Counties with pick-up & delivery. 

The Ithaca Farmers Market has re-opened on Saturdays at Steamboat landing with new COVID-19 hours and rules

If you are able, consider ordering take out once a week to help keep local restaurants afloat while business is slowed. Directory of Tompkins County Restaurants is a great resource, as is the Tompkins County Delivery & Takeout Options Facebook Page.


Earth Day ecochallenge poster

Celebrate Sustainability Month

April is Sustainability Month at Cornell, and this year, the University is joining in national celebrations for the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day by encouraging all community members to take the EarthDay EcoChallenge.  Get started by selecting actions you can commit to - they have all been tailored to be COVID-19 friendly.

There are lots of other virtual events to join, too!


Aerial photo of earth

Climate Change & COVID-19

We are seeing an environmental impact from the spread of this virus. Air travel has been vastly reduced. Industries have closed and air quality in these areas has benefitted. At the same time work to address climate, from research to installing clean energy has been negatively impacted. So what should we learn about climate change in understanding this public health emergency?

  1. Earlier action leads to less impact and less cost. Communities that take aggressive action on Coronavirus can “flatten the curve” saving lives and allowing more capacity to tend to those that get sick. This is exactly like climate change, in that if we would have addressed our emissions when we knew of the problem this would not only have reduced the impacts, it would have given us more options in the solutions available to address a changing climate. This chart shows the impacts of delaying action in meeting the 2 degree Celsius target in the Paris Accord, and is a stark reminder of the challenge facing us to avert major climate catastrophe.

  2. A disregard for science leads to poor outcomes. This article in Science is a call for decision-makers that listen to scientists on managing infectious disease and include it in their policy-making and public communication. This has been a long-time criticism of inaction on climate change. The science of climate change has been settled for some time and yet policy-makers have been influenced by the politicization and efforts by entrenched entities.

  3. Human psychology has a difficult time dealing with uncertain risk. The challenges and solutions are clearly understood and yet the actions can seem disconnected and far off. Find ways to simplify the issue of climate change and take actions that you can feel confident are making a positive impact. This article has 17 straightforward questions and answers on climate change that can help you get to work. Take control of your understanding of the issue and engage those around you to decrease doubt and increase action.

 

What other ideas do you have about what sustainability looks like during this time?  If you have other ideas to add, please contact us at sustainability@cornell.edu and we can update this list.

Other resources from Cornell University

COVID 19 - Cornell University Community Resources

Cornell University Statements on Coronavirus