Climate Action Awards Support and Research on Technology and Awareness

Kornbluth Named UC Davis Climate Action Champion

November 3, 2015

Kurt Kornbluth, Founding Director of the Program for International Energy Technology (PIET) Lab and an Assistant Adjunct Professor in Biological and Agricultural Engineering, has been named the faculty Climate Action Champion for UC Davis.  Sponsored by the UC Office of the President as part of the UC Carbon Neutrality Initiative (CNI), the $25,000 Faculty Climate Action Champion Award provides institutional support for one faculty member at each UC campus to deepen climate change teaching and research. Kornbluth was selected by an interdisciplinary ad hoc faculty committee.

As Climate Action Champion, Kornbluth will advance the work of the PIET Lab toward campus carbon neutrality.  In 2011, the lab launched the Zero-Net-Energy Initiative in collaboration with the UC Davis Energy Conservation Office (ECO), with whom they are modeling scenarios and implementing projects with the goal of achieving a Zero-Net-Energy campus by 2025.  Current projects include electrifying the UNITRANS bus fleet and improving temperature regulation in campus buildings. 

The award will allow Kornbluth to identify new on-campus opportunities for carbon reduction, create a new climate-focused curriculum for graduate and undergraduate students, and collaborate with faculty from other disciplines.  His collaboration with Danish institutions will increase international student and faculty exchanges.   

Napawan, Simpson and Snyder Receive Campus Climate Award for #OurChangingClimate

Cattle grazing in a dry, yellow field in the Vacaville, CA region

Photo:  Brett Snyder, Department of Design, #OurChangingClimate

In addition to advancing technology, increasing public understanding of climate change remains a pressing issue.  “We can’t create climate change until we acknowledge that change needs to be societal as well as technological,” said Carolyn Thomas, Vice Provost and Dean for Undergraduate Education.  “The amazing research and development taking place in technological fields must be complemented by our increased awareness that unless we understand our communities and why people choose to use energy or transportation in certain ways, efforts to ameliorate climate change may be unsuccessful.  UC Davis leadership recognizes that, and has made it possible to offer an award focused on developing public understanding of the immediacy of climate change, and a sense of engagement.” 

The Provost, the Office of Research, and the CAES and HArCS deans have come together to fund a second Climate Action Champion proposal, submitted by Claire Napawan, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design, with collaborators Sheryl-Ann Simpson, Assistant Professor in Human Ecology, and Brett Snyder, Assistant Professor of Design.   

Vulnerability, Resilience, and the Imperative of Local Ownership

In addition to the physical characteristics of a given place, such as its susceptibility to flooding or desertification, social characteristics play a role in determining its vulnerability and capacity to adapt to climate change. Public health, food security, and environmental justice are all at stake according to Napawan. “There is a need to better understand the sometimes subtle, local, and everyday ways in which people are experiencing climate change, as these impacts are often uneven disproportionately impacting socially and economically vulnerable populations, in particular urban youth.”  

But environmental change can be difficult to grasp when described through regional and global effects such as species loss, ice cap melts, seasonal temperature and weather changes, and sea level rise. “Climate change is difficult to identify in the everyday, as a global phenomenon with distinct and uneven local impacts,” said Napawan.  “While academics can continue to develop technology for mitigation and adaptation, we must also support an approach that recognizes how the general public experiences and contributes to climate change vulnerability and resilience through their daily patterns and habits.”  

Outreach Through Social Media and Workshops

#OurChangingClimate is a participatory design project that aims to create a collection of digital narratives to foster understanding of the diverse experiences, values, vulnerabilities and resiliencies related California’s climate change, and to provide a resource for environmental design research. Social and digital media tools aid in the visualization of direct impacts of climate change in regions throughout the state, inviting users to contribute images and narratives to create community-generated neighborhood resilience mapping, and encouraging communities to participate in local conversations about climate change resilience. 

The project combines outreach, engagement, and education.  Funds for the project will support community workshops throughout the Central Valley to explore the geographic differences in youth perceptions of climate change, building on a pilot phase that sponsored workshops and projects in Oakland schools.  In that pilot, researchers found that students’ initial feelings that climate change was something for more educated people to worry about gave way to a greater sense of agency for change. 

 “Climate change is a particularly vexing puzzle because of the ways in which it permeates so many different areas of our lives and environment, and because its impacts and effects are felt in such distinct ways in different communities.  This project provides an important opportunity to share our differences, and provide new information and perspectives to drive forward research and support greater community resilience to climate change,” said Napawan. 

About the Climate Action Champion Program

Alternative energy: Photographer David Phillips, campus utilities director, created this photo illustration from two images: a solar farm in Gridley, positioned on the UC Davis property (south of Interstate 80) where the university will build something similar. Phillips photographed the UC Davis site looking east to the sunrise.

Our 62-acre solar project supplies about 14% of the campus electricity load.

Under the UC Carbon Neutrality Initiative, the University of California system has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2025, becoming the first major university to accomplish this achievement.

In May 2015, President Janet Napolitano invited each campus to participate in the Faculty Climate Action Champion Program, which allots $25,000 for one exceptional faculty member to deepen climate change teaching and research on campus, and focus student demand for climate action and education.  See President Napolitano's letter of May 7, 2015 announcing the program. 

Provost Hexter has charged an ad hoc committe, chaired by Vice Provost and Dean Thomas, to implement the program.  See the Faculty Climate Action Champion Program Charge of June 9, 2015. 

Undergraduate Education is proud to serve as the administrative host for the program in support the Carbon Neutrality Initiative.  UC Davis has shown consistent leadership in sustainability across the disciplines, in research, teaching, and campus practice.

-Sharon Knox

scknox@ucdavis.edu