UConn Launches New Climate Change Institute

Jan 24, 2014

The Institute will be located at UConn's Avery point campus on Long Island Sound.
Credit Harriet Jones / WNPR

The University of Connecticut has launched a new institute that will focus on how the state and the nation can adapt to climate change.

The name is a mouthful -- the Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation -- but according to Senator Richard Blumenthal, the purpose is simple. "The mission of this great institute will be to save the world, so no pressure," he told a roster of the great and good who gathered at UConn's Avery Point campus in Groton to launch the new center.

The basic concept is to harness scientific research to help communities adapt to rising sea levels and changing weather patterns. Blumenthal said that mission plays to Connecticut's strengths. "In the face of monstrous storms and increasingly severe weather events that have become the new normal," he said, "doing better, planning smarter, building better structures is part of our DNA in Connecticut. It's part of what we do with Yankee ingenuity."

The center's $2.5 million seed funding comes from the settlement of a legal fight that Blumenthal launched, when he was Attorney General, against environmental violations by Unilever. There's also grant funding from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Adminstration.

Curt Spalding of the Environmental Protection Agency told the crowd that over the last 50 years, the science on climate change is undeniable, and the need for a response is urgent. "We've seen an incredible change in what's happening here in New England's climate," he said. "We see a 74 percent increase in extreme rain events, water events. This is changing who we are, what we are; and this center will help define that future for all of us." 

Governor Dannel Malloy and UConn President Susan Herbst were among those gathered to cut the ribbon on the new initiative.
Credit Harriet Jones / WNPR

Governor Dannel Malloy has been no stranger to the inside of the state's emergency operations center during a little over three years in the post. Irene, Sandy, and the October snowstorm are just the highlights of the disasters he's had to weather. "These storms threaten lives," he said, "destroy property, damage our infrastructure, and inflict billions of dollars in harm with respect to our state economy."

Malloy said that despite its academic base, he'd like to see the institute develop a strictly practical focus. "Our vision for this center," he said, "is one where people roll up their sleeves and have direct and ongoing contact with property owners and community leaders to make sure that we have tools, strategies, knowledge, and financing that they need to make the necessary steps."

In the audience to hear him were realtors, insurance agents, and municipal leaders, all of whom can attest to the economic effects of climate change on Connecticut's coastline.