The Climate Crisis: Justice and Solutions

A graphic that shows the UC Berkeley campus and the East Bay, with a large, ominous orange circle encompassing it.

A new Berkeley News series will explore how UC Berkeley staff, faculty and students are creating innovative climate solutions and working to ensure a more just and equitable future for our planet. (credit: Neil Freese)

Climate change is no longer a future threat: Today, humans and ecosystems are already suffering its impacts, from a dramatic uptick in extreme weather events and catastrophic wildfires to drought, floods and species extinctions. 

Yet, despite the grim findings of the latest U.N. Climate Report, UC Berkeley associate adjunct professor and report lead author Patrick Gonzalez expresses a “science-based optimism” about humanity’s ability to cut carbon emissions and limit the worst projected impacts of climate change. The task won’t be easy: Success will require not only the latest technological fixes, but also a fundamental transformation of many of our core societal practices and beliefs.

In a new series, Berkeley News will explore the many ways that UC Berkeley faculty, staff and students are creating innovative climate solutions and implementing them in ways that ensure a more just and equitable future for our planet. 

A graphic with the words "The Climate Crisis: Justice and Solutions"

A new Berkeley News series will examine how the campus community is confronting the climate crisis.

“We are in such an amazing individual and collective squeeze point,” said Erica “Bree” Rosenblum, a professor of environmental science, policy and management at Berkeley. “It’s not easy, it’s not comfortable, and … we don’t get the assurance that it’s all going to have a happy ending. But there is a phenomenal amount of creative potential for change in this moment, because it calls on us to do something differently.”

Many in the campus community are already leaders in climate-related fields. Through news stories, videos, podcasts and profiles, the series will cover their work both on and off campus. Upcoming stories will describe new research on how Indigenous burning helped maintain California’s forests through historical periods of climate variability, a lab in the Central Sierra that monitors how climate change impacts the state’s snowfall and water availability, and a project exploring the potential for geothermal energy storage beneath the campus.

In addition, the series will explore how researchers in many disciplines are working to combat climate misinformation and to initiate the cultural and societal shifts necessary to address climate change. As part of “The Climate Crisis: Justice and Solutions,” the Berkeley Voices podcast will feature a talk with Rosenblum about her work helping students move beyond feeling doom and despair about climate change, so they can stay engaged with environmental and climate research. 

‘We cannot address climate change without climate justice’

According to climate consultant Bruce Riordan, who is working with Berkeley leadership to create a brain trust of climate work on campus, there are currently more than 250 researchers, spanning nearly every academic discipline, working on climate-related topics at Berkeley — and the list is growing. Their research includes strategies for climate change mitigation through technology, such as carbon capture and sequestration, sustainable manufacturing and the clean energy transition; and climate change resilience through wildfire reduction, managing our water resources and food systems, and many other methods. 

Even if we succeed at the most aggressive mitigation strategies, we still need significant investments in resilience to deal with the impacts of climate change in the decades ahead,” said David Ackerly, dean of the Rausser College of Natural Resources.

There are also at least 17 different courses on climate, including an English department offering,  “Climate Change Fiction,” known colloquially as “cli fi.” In addition, the first of Berkeley’s new faculty cluster hires has welcomed five early-career professors who are launching innovative research projects on climate equity and environmental justice.

We cannot address climate change without climate justice,” said Danielle Zoe Rivera, an assistant professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning at Berkeley and a member of the new Climate Equity and Environmental Justice faculty cluster. “If you look at who is emitting the most carbon into the atmosphere versus who is on the receiving end of the worst impacts of climate change, there’s no parity.” 

Berkeley has long been a leader in the field of environmental justice, which historically has focused on differential exposure to pollution in front-line communities. However, there is growing recognition of the ways that these environmental inequities may be exacerbated by both the impacts of climate change and the strategies used to address the crisis. 

Our series will highlight researchers seeking to understand these inequities and to work with impacted communities to find workable solutions. For example, many in California still lack access to safe drinking water, and ongoing drought and drawdown of groundwater sources will only serve to concentrate common contaminants. An upcoming story will cover how engineers are launching a simple, low-cost system for removing arsenic from drinking water in the Central Valley.

“Disruption does create opportunities for the radical change that we need in this world, but it also has the ability to exacerbate existing injustices,” said Meg Mills-Novoa, an assistant professor of environmental science, policy and management and another member of the  faculty cluster. “We need to continue to bring what we learned from the environmental justice movement to bear on how we respond to climate change.”