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IU Environmental Resilience Institute expands climate-action program across Midwest

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The McKinney Family Foundation recently granted IU’s Environmental Resilience Institute $1.25 million to help communities across Indiana and the Midwest take climate action. 

The five-year grant will form the McKinney Midwest Climate Project. ERI, a hub for climate resilience at IU, will administer the program and place student fellows with local communities to assist in their climate and sustainability efforts. 

ERI Managing Director Sarah Mincey said the grant will expand the institute's climate program beyond Indiana to partner with cities and towns throughout the Midwest.

“What the McKinney Midwest Climate Project does is it leads climate adaptation for the Midwest, and we're doing it with student leadership in mind,” Mincey said. “Our goal is to make the Midwest more resilient and do it with our students.”

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The project will merge ERI’s Resilience Cohort program and Sustain IU’s Indiana Climate Fellows into the McKinney Climate Fellows program. The program will place Indiana students at local businesses, nonprofits and local governments in Indiana and across the Midwest for summer and year-round fellowships to work on sustainability-related projects.

By combining both programs under one administration and expanding funding, Mincey said the grant will increase fellowship opportunities for students. Students from other Indiana universities, not just IU, will be eligible for fellowships, she said. 

Mincey said she’s hopeful the McKinney Midwest Climate Project may grow into a national-level program in coming years. 

“Our sights are high because we believe using our well-trained students to support our communities in becoming more climate resilient is the best way to go,” she said. “It not only develops this effort in our communities, but it develops our students into the professionals we need working in climate resilience in the Midwest.”

South Bend Director of Sustainability Evelyn Bauman said South Bend conducted a city-wide greenhouse gas inventory through ERI’s Resilience Cohort program this summer. Bauman said the inventory found that about 60% of the city’s emissions is from energy usage in buildings, which is crucial information for the city to target emissions reductions.

“We've set an ambitious goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050, so it's really important to match that goal with data,” Bauman said. “It's very helpful to have that data on hand because then we know where to target our interventions.”

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South Bend, Indiana, is considering participating in the McKinney Climate Fellows Project in 2022 to help implement its climate action plan, Bauman said. 

“The climate crisis is very urgent and there are a lot of ways that we can be tackling mitigation and adaptation,” she said. “ERI really helps decision makers in this role ground their strategy in data and other best practices. I'm just very grateful for the Indiana-specific resource that ERI is.”

Carol Johnson, executive assistant to the mayor of Zionsville, Indiana, helps lead the city’s collaboration with ERI. With ERI’s help, Johnson said Zionsville was one of the first cities in Indiana to officially ratify a climate action plan in 2020. Johnson said ERI’s assistance has likely accelerated Zionsville’s climate action progress by a decade. 

“Having that collaboration at the local level is important for students and local governments themselves,” Johnson said. “For us, we really want students to know they can work in sustainability here in Indiana. There are roles in your home state. We’d love to have you.”

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