Undergraduate students find green opportunities
UCLA offers resources for students to get involved and understand environmental issues
By Lucy Benz-Rogers
Originally published in The Daily Bruin
The moment when the issue of climate change first hit home for Natalie Gaber was during her freshman cluster course on the environment.
After learning more about the far-reaching consequences of global warming, she decided that she needed to get involved somehow.
“I wasn’t really passionate about it until I took this class and learned how dire these circumstances are,” said the third-year communications studies student. “I’m going be the one dealing with the fallout from all of this, and my children, so that kind of spurred me into action.”
While others interested in climate change may choose to get involved for different reasons or in different ways, one thing has become clear: UCLA has become an important hub for those working toward solutions.
For Gaber, getting involved meant joining the environmental student group Ecology, Economy and Equity, or E3, and even monitoring dining hall food waste in an effort to make the university’s dining services more sustainable. UCLA also boasts more than two dozen different environmental centers, according to Paul Bunje, Executive Director of the UCLA Center for Climate Change Solutions, as well as a three-year old undergraduate program in environmental science and new government partnerships and funding for researchers.
“There are so many things already happening. (We’re) harnessing and leveraging all of this great momentum,” Bunje said. “There are lots of people moving in the right direction, and UCLA is in the right place to make a difference. It’s a place where things can happen – and already are.”
Bunje said his office has a three-pronged approach: to facilitate new research and partnerships, to communicate new information and solutions to those who can utilize them and to educate people about the issues related to climate change. This includes bringing researchers from different disciplines together and helping them find funding, creating an online climate change portal and holding public forums like the recent climate change forum held on August 21 with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and State Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills).
Proving that climate change is truly a broad and interdisciplinary issue, UCLA Law has also established the Emmett Center on Climate Change and students interested in environmental law are getting hands-on experience in the field.
“I’m amazed at how much is happening at UCLA regarding climate change, and the quality of in-house research,” said Cara Horowitz, Executive Director of the Emmett Center. “The list is impressive and the depth that they show is really helpful for us in the Law School as we try to work to find interdisciplinary solutions to the climate change.”
UCLA Law students are able to get hands-on experience through the Frank Wells Environmental Law Clinic, where they get to work on real cases, some of which pertain to climate change.
Horowitz and a group of six students will also be traveling to Copenhagen this year to attend the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a meeting of the international body that created the Kyoto Protocol.
“I wanted to work in environmental law and make positive changes in environmental law and policy, and that’s what I’ve gotten to do already,” said Maya Kuttan, one of the UCLA Law students who will be going to Copenhagen and a participant in the environmental law clinic.
“It just hits home just how much of an impact you can have doing this kind of work.”
Another important conduit for university-wide climate change research comes from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research. This office has helped support the development of a number of large proposals to the federal government on behalf of the UCLA faculty, said Executive Director of Strategic Research Initiatives Michael Swords, and has developed a number of partnerships with other nearby universities and local governments.
Swords said there are plans to develop a hydrogen fueling station for the campus, and that UCLA may soon become a test bed for new smart-grid technology.
Another major project his office is involved in, Swords said, is addressing the city’s need for clean, alternative technologies through a new program, CleanTech Los Angeles. It is a collaborative effort between the City of Los Angeles, UCLA, USC, Caltech, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and local business organizations.
“There is a race right now between regions around country and world to capitalize on the development of the clean tech revolution,” Swords said. “Our government … (is) currently providing policy that is providing direct financial support for the clean tech sector and regulations to promote reduction of emissions.”
Even undergraduates are able to get involved, thanks to dozens of student groups focused on environmental issues and programs like the Education for Sustainable Living Program, a student-run and student-led course that helps those interested educate themselves about issues of sustainability.
Gaber, a participant in ESLP, said she believes that understanding climate change is important because it as an umbrella issue that encompasses many others, from social justice to public health.
Indeed, despite their different backgrounds, one thing that those working on climate change seem to agree on is that it is an issue that cannot wait, and will require great cooperation while offering a myriad of benefits.
“It’s the time to be entering this field. There is already so much need for people with environmental experience in really any sector, whether providing expertise to businesses in becoming sustainable to knowing the different environmental statutes,” Kuttan said.
“I think when you start to realize the implications of climate change, the opportunities there, it’s hard for me to imagine anyone not wanting to get involved and not wanting to be a part of it.”
Published: Thursday, September 10, 2009