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Top 10 Greenest Universities in America

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Sierra Club

Today Sierra magazine released its seventh annual ranking of the nation’s “Coolest Schools,” a salute to U.S. colleges that are helping to solve climate problems and making significant efforts to operate sustainably.

Sierra examined the academic institutions making a difference for the planet, seeking out campuses that are creating tangible change in all categories of greenness—from what’s served in dining halls to what’s taught in lecture halls to what’s powering the dorms. Whether it’s Cornell’s minor in climate change or American University’s new campus-wide composting program, schools across America are taking dramatic steps to help protect the planet and its resources.

“For the past seven years, Sierra magazine has ranked colleges and universities on their commitment to fighting climate disruption and making sure the future their students will inhabit has safe water, clean air and beautiful landscapes,” said Bob Sipchen, Sierra magazine’s editor-in-chief. “By showing such strong leadership on so many fronts—from energy use and transportation to the courses they offer—the best of these schools are pointing the way for other institutions.”

Sierra magazine’s top 10 schools of 2013 are:

  1. University of Connecticut (Storrs, CT)
  2. Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA)
  3. University of California, Irvine (Irvine, CA)
  4. University of California, Davis (Davis, CA)
  5. Cornell University (Ithaca, NY)
  6. Green Mountain College (Poultney, VT)
  7. Stanford University (Stanford, CA)
  8. Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA)
  9. American University (Washington, DC)
  10. University of California, Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, CA)

The University of Connecticut, Sierra’s number-one school, stands out for offering more than 600 sustainability-related classes; for having reduced its water use by 15 percent since 2005; and for, over the past two years, having retrofitted 13 buildings to prevent emitting 2,640 annual tons of carbon dioxide. In addition, more than one-quarter of the food served in dining halls is processed within 100 miles, with many ingredients harvested right on campus. UConn’s first appearance on Sierra magazine’s “Coolest Schools” list was in 2010, at number 49.

In addition to featuring Sierra’s data-based rankings, the magazine’s September/October issue includes an array of stories that examine whether colleges’ sustainability efforts really make a difference when students graduate. Such pieces include Aha Moments, which profiles three people whose lives were forever changed for the greener because of a moment (or a person) in college and The Measure of an Education, by Pulitzer winner Edward Humes, in which readers learn how schools are starting to gauge whether steeping students in environmentalism truly does create a more sustainable world.

Exclusively online is a video made by the Sierra Club’s “Best Interns,” sent on assignment to document the behind-the-scenes goings on of the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, a biannual contest during which students build futuristic solar-powered houses. Also available online is a list of the most coveted eco-scholarships, plus Sierra’s annual “20 Days of Giveaways” sweepstakes.

Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE pages for more related news on this topic.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.

Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.

SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0​

"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

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