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 Mixed in with the keynotes and panel discussions were student-led breakout sessions on a variety of warming-related topics, from the best ways to reduce individuals' carbon footprints to the presidential candidates best-equipped to tackle global climate change. (James Block photo)

Berkeley joins the nation in turning the spotlight on climate change
Last week the campus participated with other colleges and universities across America to 'Focus the Nation' on global warming

| 06 February 2008

When President George H.W. Bush called on Americans in 1991 to devote themselves to "a shining purpose, the illumination of a thousand points of light," he could never have dreamed the illumination would come from a thousand-plus colleges and universities, or that the shining purpose would be to mobilize the citizenry to stem the tide of global warming.

Nor could he have predicted that the intransigence of his own son, President George W. Bush, in addressing global climate change would one day contribute to a nationwide forum to discuss the crisis and to demand swift action from policymakers, including - and perhaps especially - those at the federal level.

Nonetheless, that day arrived Thursday, Jan. 31.

Berkeley, joining with campuses (including the other nine UC campuses) across America, took part Thursday in a daylong "Focus the Nation" event, gathering hundreds of listeners at International House to hear and question panelists including staff and faculty experts, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, former three-term Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, the head of Norway's environment ministry, and the executive producer of Blood Diamond and thirtysomething. Many at I-House participated in student-led breakout sessions to discuss policy and local action, while on campus, instructors were working climate change into their lectures.

For Berkeley, the event also served as a chance to highlight the campus's commitment to reducing its carbon footprint to 1990 levels by 2014, six years before the statewide 2020 target set by the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which directs the California Air Resources Board to develop a comprehensive program of regulatory and market mechanisms to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.


Vice Chancellor Brostrom welcomed "Focus the Nation" participants to the daylong discussion. (James Block photo)
 

Pavley, who co-wrote that bill before being termed out of the Assembly in 2006 - and whom Professor Dan Kammen, a respected energy expert and the event's moderator, jokingly nominated as a write-in candidate for EPA administrator - ticked off a litany of positive steps being taken in California on the global-warming front, from campuses to local governments and venture capitalists investing in green technologies. She added, however, "We all know that's not enough."

Now a climate adviser for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Pavley castigated the Bush administration's current EPA administrator, Steve Johnson, for denying the state's request for a waiver from federal law in order to implement the stringent emissions limits established under another bill she authored. That bill, AB 1493, mandates tougher tailpipe-emissions standards than does recently passed fuel-efficiency legislation - standards more than a dozen other states have already adopted. California, along with 14 other states and five environmental groups, filed suit in January to reverse the EPA decision. Yet even if the suit is successful, Pavley said, the EPA ruling means "another year delay" in tackling the problem.

Bad news/good news

It was, in many ways, a bad news/good news kind of day. A panel of Berkeley faculty kicked off the morning with a grim look at the science of climate change, featuring satellite images of the planet - "a living organism," in Professor of Atmospheric Science Inez Fung's metaphor, that "has a fever" - and computer models showing the past, present, and future of climate change.

"Wet areas will get wetter, dry areas will get drier," summed up John Chiang, Fung's colleague in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science, who also warned of "possible Dust Bowl-like conditions" in the Southwest.

"All the models, without exception, show that we will be living in warmer climate," observed the department's William Collins. But he added: "The more we control emissions, the more we can head off that future."

Later, a "solutions panel" explored ways of doing just that. Campus sustainability specialist Fahmida Ahmed spoke of the need to "transform behavior" in the wake of an emissions-reduction feasibility study undertaken in 2006 by Cal Climate Action Partnership (CalCAP) at the behest of Chancellor Birgeneau. UC Berkeley is now engaged in a comprehensive effort to create a carbon-emissions inventory for campus activities, identify mitigation projects, and, as Ahmed put it, "educate by example."

Norway's environment minister, Erik Solheim - a "special guest" who arrived with a retinue - made a pitch for U.S. leadership, as did others over the course of the day. Solheim, who attended the recent Bali conference on global warming, said "the debate is over" on whether the problem is real, adding that "we lost 10 years on that debate."

"What do we do? That is the discussion," he said. "What we need now is leadership."

Solheim had kind words for California in that regard. "Just think of it," he said. "If any of you, in the year 2000 . had spent one dollar on a bet that Arnold Schwarzenegger would be the environmental icon of the world, you would be multibillionaires today."

Producer and director Marshall Herskovitz, citing "a lack of articulate, clear messaging on what needs to be done," took the opportunity to promote his Internet series quarterlife, a youth-oriented drama set to begin airing soon on NBC. A short clip sent the message that social commitment is sexy, and Herskovitz called for young people to join in a "societal mobilization such as has not been seen since World War II."

"This is about a movement, folks," declared Herskovitz. He urged those under the age of 30 to "leave the campus" to mobilize others around the issue of climate change. "It's on you guys."

Others taking part in Berkeley's "Focus the Nation" event included Vice Chancellor for Administration Nathan Brostrom, Vice Provost Cathy Koshland, and Nobel laureate Steven Chu, director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The campus event was sponsored by the Berkeley Institute of the Environment and Cal Climate Action Partnership, and co-sponsored by Students for a Greener Berkeley, California Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Berkeley Energy and Resources Collaborative (BERC), the Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Sustainability, and the Center for Environmental Public Policy.

It was Kammen, a professor in the Energy and Resources Group and the Goldman School of Public Policy and director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, who may have best captured the spirit of the daylong forum.

"This energy crisis is not like your grandmother or grandfather's, or your father or mother's energy crisis," he noted. "Hopefully, events like this will give politicians the backing and the courage to make a new energy and climate policy part of the agenda."