State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Closing the Loop: Technology and Sustainability Event

By Parisa Mahdad

Ever wonder what happens to your computer after you drop it, crash it, or spill on it? On Thursday, April 25, from 7-10 p.m. in Altschul Auditorium, the Earth Institute Student Advisory Council is organizing a panel discussion on the consequences of e-waste followed by a screening of Terra Blight, a documentary tracking the life cycle of electronics from creation to disposal.

A panel discussion followed by a question and answer session will be held before the documentary screening. Steve Cohen, the executive director of the Earth Institute, will be moderating the discussion. Speakers include Lisa Sachs, director of the Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment, Marc Levy, deputy director for International Earth Science Information Network, Caroline Kruse, development director at the Lower East Side Ecology Center, Steven Brautigam, assistant commissioner of environmental affairs for the NYC Department of Sanitation, and Vasilis Fthenakis, founder and director of the Center for Life Cycle Analysis, professor of earth and environmental engineering, Columbia University. Panelists will discuss the repercussions that mineral and material extraction used in the manufacturing process have on the environment, human rights and armed conflicts.

Terra Blight follows the life cycle of computers and other electronics from creation to disposal. The 55-minute documentary places emphasis on the hazardous consequences of rapid consumption of technology products.

“We ultimately decided on Terra Blight because of the combined quality of production, engaging questions, and choice of subject matter,” said Elsa Ordway, a M.A. candidate in conservation biology and an Earth Institute Student Advisory Council member who  is helping to coordinate the event. “These issues are as widespread, complex and potentially harmful as any other major international issue, such as climate change,” she said. “More than anything, we are hoping to inform and educate, and inspire interest and action.”

The Earth Institute Student Advisory Council comprises 24 student representatives interested in sustainability from most of Columbia’s different schools. As part of an effort to engage the Columbia community with the Earth Institute, the council raises awareness of sustainability issues, promotes sustainability events and connects students, faculty and staff. “[The council] is really an effort to partner with the Columbia community in further advancing sustainability on campus. We hope that our spring event will be a successful step towards this,” said Hanna Helsingen, council president and an MPA candidate in environmental science and policy at the School of International and Public Affairs.

For more information or to RSVP, click here. You can also email Nathan Rudder at with any questions.

Parisa Mahdad is an MPA candidate in environmental science and policy.


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Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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