New extended study in Chile connects with campus climate initiative

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(Editor’s note: The following story is by Pamela Gramlich, Colgate Office of Sustainability program coordinator.)

Colgate University’s Off-Campus Study Committee and Dean’s Advisory Council have approved an extended study trip to Patagonia for January 2018.

The 22-day, half-credit trip will be part of an environmental studies class focusing on natural resource conservation. Directed by Associate Professor of Biology Eddie Watkins and Sustainability Director John Pumilio, it will give students the opportunity to learn about forest conservation efforts and visit the Colgate Forest — a reforestation plot established as part of Colgate’s carbon-offsetting agreement with Patagonia Sur in Chile’s Aysén Region of Patagonia.

“Part of preparing students to think and develop ideas related to conservation is exposing them to the diversity of models that are employed,” Watkins said. “Few students are familiar with for-profit conservation models like those developed by Patagonia Sur.”

The Colgate Forest sequesters 5,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere annually and plays an important role in helping Colgate to mitigate its impact on climate change and achieve carbon neutrality.

In March of 2016, Pumilio and Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Tim McCay visited the site to review the ongoing reforestation and carbon sequestration project. They realized that the region, forest, and offset project promised an experience rich in learning and research.

Next fall, students will use class time to explore various aspects of conservation biology, including carbon sequestration techniques, ecosystem function, and biodiversity assessments.

“On the ground in Patagonia Sur, we will examine their conservation model first hand,” Watkins said.

Students will visit the Colgate Forest, conduct independent research projects, and may help to plant trees as a part of reforestation efforts. Multi-day excursions will expose students to the broader social context within Patagonian Chile. Perhaps most importantly, students will witness first-hand both the effects of and the solutions to climate change.

“Our world is changing and our students are going to be on the front lines to deal with this change,” said Watkins.

Patagonia Sur FAQ

What is Patagonia Sur?

Patagonia Sur is a for-profit conservation organization that sells carbon offsets, planting trees to counter carbon emissions, and sells land for permanent conservation efforts, utilizing about 60,000 acres in Chile.

Colgate purchases offsets from Patagonia Sur to sequester about 5,000 tons of carbon per year, which accounts for nearly all of the university’s air and employee commuting travel. Now in its fifth year working with the company, Colgate has been responsible for planting more than 50,000 trees in their Valle California Preserve. In addition, alumni traveling to reunion have been offered the option to offset their carbon emissions through the company.

Why Chile?

When Colgate was putting together its 2011 Sustainability and Climate Action Plan for carbon neutrality by 2019, the Sustainability Council learned that developing a new offset program at that time was exceedingly expensive, laborious, and would require managerial oversight. Furthermore, students in environmental studies concluded, after semester-long research, that developing a local project to offset more than 5,000 tons of carbon per year would require more than $1 million per year. Additionally, there were no local sequestration options that adhered to rigorous third-party certification from the most respected offset certification programs: Verified Carbon Standard and Gold Standard.

The committee liked Patagonia Sur’s new and unique approach. Beyond simply sequestering carbon, Patagonia Sur created jobs, focused on ecosystem restoration using native species, and presented educational opportunities that were more in depth than domestic options. In addition, Patagonia Sur’s option made more fiscal and environmental sense when compared to other high-quality carbon offset projects.

Were native Chileans displaced through this project?

No. The land was mostly unsettled and not suitable for farming or other commercial uses. The handful of property owners on the land purchased by Patagonia Sur all sold their properties willingly, and many of those individuals, who know the land best, now work for the company.

Prior to this project, Chile also did not have options for conservation easements. As a side project, Patagonia Sur created an avenue, in conjunction with the Chilean government, by which people can place their land into permanent conservation — much like the “forever wild” preserves of New York State.

Will the Patagonia Sur carbon offset program lead Colgate to carbon neutrality?

No. The Patagonia Sur project offsets approximately one-third of Colgate’s total carbon footprint. In the months ahead, members of the Sustainability Council will be exploring additional offset options with a special interest in local or regional projects.

For more information about the program, please contact Pamela Gramlich at 315-228-6360.