UC Berkeley community talks national climate action, sustainability during COVID-19

Photo of climate change protest
Steve Rainwater/Creative Commons

Considered one of the most pressing issues in the world, climate change has drawn the attention of scientists and activists, who have spearheaded calls for action and awareness of the issue. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, those calls seemed to be drowned out, initially impacting the movement’s momentum.

Facing limitations caused by the pandemic, such as shelter-in-place orders and a lack of in-person gatherings, climate and sustainability actions have adapted to the remote setting. Reflecting on the past year, UC Berkeley community members discussed how the pandemic has affected climate actions, organizations and national events.

Dennis Baldocchi, campus professor of biometeorology, noted the influence national authorities can have on climate action.

“The biggest change in climate action is due to the election and change in administration,” Baldocchi said in an email. “We now have one who accepts science and is using science to help guide policy and action.”

Baldocchi also expressed his happiness towards the administration’s “push” for investments to decarbonize the economy and improve energy-efficient and sustainable infrastructure.

Additionally, Baldocchi touched on the differences between climate action initiatives pre-pandemic to now. Prior to the lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders implemented by many, activists often participated in marches and protests.

Baldocchi added that although in-person events were quickly put on hold, this did not stop activists, policymakers and different groups from working toward sustainability.

UC Climate Stewards, a course under the UC California Naturalist Program, has been holding virtual excursions as part of a 40-hour training and certificate program to develop resilience in approaching climate mitigation and adaptation, according to Adina Merenlender, campus cooperative extension specialist in the environmental science policy and management department.

Merenlender wrote a book for the UC Climate Stewards that discusses the pandemic’s impact on the climate, such as the quieting of the skies and its connections to science.

“We have to bend the curve on the pandemic, we have to bend the curve on carbon emissions,” Merenlender said.

Campus student organizations have also made adjustments to their climate actions.

Berkeley Environmental Economics and Policy Students is a revitalized club on campus that provides students with online events to engage with professors, graduate students, industry professionals and researchers, according to campus senior Sarah Xu.

“It’s been really great overall because the goal was to bring together environmental economics students,” Xu said. “It’s been a really interesting time online and there are some people I work with that I’ve never met in person.”

Other organizations, such as the Students of Color Environmental Collective, have had in-person events canceled due to the shift online, according to Xu.

Xu added that to continue providing information and connecting with others, the collective hosted weekly virtual events and created resources that touch on various topics, including zero waste at Berkeley and environmental justice for students to explore.

Despite all the challenges the pandemic has posed, Annie Mitchell, co-director of the ASUC Sustainability Commission, noted that it has revealed society’s ability to come together.

“The global pandemic has shown that global governments can work together quickly for the collective good,” Mitchell said in an email. “That gives me a lot of hope that we can continue working collectively for the climate.”

Contact Aryia Dattamajumdar and Thao Nguyen at [email protected].