MU takes action on climate

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U.S. greenhouse gas emissions rose by 6.2% last year compared with 2020. With climate change continuing to impact society, humans can find an example from an unexpected source, honeybees.

Chelsea Cook, assistant professor of biology at Marquette, research honeybees and how they interpret information from the environment and accomplish jobs as a group and relates it to climate change.

Cook said, “I think all research on climate change is important, but I do think that one area. That is not being super considered or studied as intensely is how are large societies or groups of animals potentially going to be impacted by climate change, and how might those groups be more resilient to the climate change.”

Within the colony of honeybees, there are subgroups, and one of them is called fanning bees. These bees are responsible for circulating air and cooling the colony down.

“We actually study this behavior that’s exactly associated with how hot the environment is. How is their gene expression potentially changing based on the environment? How is their physiology changing based on the temperature they’re experiencing? How do they sense temperatures?” Cook said.

Fanning bees sense the temperature, but they usually do the fanning behavior in groups. It is rare to see a fanning bee fan alone.

“So, honeybees, Physiology could also change based on their temperature, but they also have this group dynamic that they could use to work together to potentially buffer. So, we think that this is important because groups may actually be more resilient than individuals when it comes to climate change,” Cook said.

There are many parallels between honeybees and humans. Both build their own environment and actively mitigate and manage the environment.

Cook said, “When the environment changes and if we have these shifts in temperature or shifts in extreme climate events, I think we can learn a lot from how honeybees manage their environment and how they may change their built environment and how we may be able may be able to replicate that as well.

Sustainability & Energy Management Coordinator, Chelsea Malacara, coordinates the sustainability efforts that occur on campus.

Marquette is actively working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from operations. In 2015, WE Energy Valley Power began using natural gas which lower the annual emissions by 18%, and is also using two solar arrays. The lighting in parking structures on campus were converted from incandescent bulbs to LED bulbs.

“We are beyond stopping or preventing climate change. It’s happening and according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report (2021), for the next thirty years at least, we will continue to experience extreme weather events, droughts, heat waves, and more. However, it is not a futile endeavor to implement efforts that decrease greenhouse gases and further reduce the temperature of our planet. Doing so will have a positive impact on public health and on our planet,” Malacara said.

The sustainability efforts are also incorporated in the new constructions and renovations that occur on campus.

“The project management team that oversees renovation, remodels, and new construction projects use green building frameworks such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) to improve the building design process, incorporate building efficiency measures, and reduce operational costs,” Malacara said.

Noelle Brigham is a professor of practice in the College of Engineering and works in the Graduate School at Marquette. In the Graduate School, Brigham works under the program, Master’s Across Boundaries.

Two certificates from the program are Renewable Energy Technology and Integration, and Environment Engineering.

Brigham said, “I think these certificates are helping create that pipeline of talented, innovative students that can help with that energy transition. One unique thing about our curriculum and renewable energy is we offer courses that bring interdisciplinary perspectives to the classroom.

This interdisciplinary approach is allowing students to become aware of these issues and how they can make a difference with they reach the workforce, Brigham said.

To help save the environment, Brigham said that she encourages students to conserve by reducing electricity and water use, creating less waste, and finding alternatives that are better for the environment.

Malacara said that she views her work through the lens of how to better prepare students with basic sustainability literacy and knowledge about climate change. No one can stop climate change, but we can build resilient communities, she said.

“We can also hold major polluters, corporations, and lawmakers accountable for being complicit in continuing to pollute our atmosphere and resisting the implementation of resilient systems that can change the current paradigm we are living in.  Be an active citizen, vote, pay attention, sign up to volunteer for an organization you believe in, and continue to care. Yes, the small habit changes count too, and we also need large-scale accountability and structural changes to build a more resilient world,” Malacara said in an email.

This story was written by Hannah Hernandez. She can be reached at hannah.hernandez@marquette.edu.