Guest Columns Archives

Reason to be optimistic

Yesterday I had the opportunity to listen to Max Auffhammer, a UC Berkeley Ag and Resource Economics professor (College of Natural Resources). His talk was entitled "Climate Change: One economists Perspective.

I tend to avoid conversations about "climate change" because it always seems to boil down to some argument over causation. Max did a great job of clarifying there is no way to determine "causation" unless we can create a second earth as a control and not have human activity and see what happens. He then said his department didn't have the budget for that experiment. It was quite a light moment.

Anyway, through all his calculations studying all this data, his conclusions in accord with some of the scientific communities is the best guess for global climate change, with no changes to any circumstances and their expected growth, is a 2.5 degree C (4 degree F) by the year 2100. His work though, was not to calculate the climate change but to calculate "at what cost to society". In this case, his work produced a 1% loss to global GDP. He left it up to the individual to determine whether that was a lot or a little.

Then he got to the fun part. He showed an image of Mission Control in Houston on July 20, 1969, the day we landed on the moon. At the time, few people knew anything about this scientific endeavor so NASA had hired many, many younger people in order to achieve the "within this decade" goal that JFK had set back in 1961. The point......the resulting average age in the room at Mission Control watching the moon landing was 28 years old. What that means is that when JFK set the goal, the average person who would see that goal achieved was only 20 years old!!!

Climate change, figuring out what might be done and adjusting to the changes we will see this century will likely all be addressed by people who are just now in college. I know from my own studies at UC Berkeley almost 30 years ago, that we (society) have been pretty indifferent to any environmental compromises to the planet and always willing to write a check to cover it. By contrast, the air quality in Los Angeles is far, far, far better than 30 years ago. And, if a bunch of young people can put multiple men on the moon in less than a decade, then there is much hope. I left a pessimistic probability with an optimistic hopefulness. Maybe I'll even be willing to engage people on this subject now. That must be why Max won a "Distinguished Teaching Award" last year.

Tom Larsen
posted July 14, 2010 6:07 AM

UYAG Development Center - Agroforestry Project

UYAG Development Center (UDC) is an integrated and sustainable agroforestry project in Barrio Cebuano, province of South Cotobato on the island of Mindano in the Philippines. The purpose of the project is to use the facility and surrounding area as a demonstration farm and teaching center for agriculture students from Mindanao State University in General Santos and for local farmers cultivating similar land areas. The group emphasizes an agroforestry technique that incorporates Sloping Agriculture Land Technology (SALT) to stabilize the steep and easily erodible hillsides so they can eventually be farmed safely and productively.

I had the opportunity to spend two days with the project leader, Mr. Craig Gustafson, and with the center director, Mr. Joseph Nerredo and lead technician, Mr. Daniel Gorzen. They openly shared what they knew about UDC while I learned about the installation, their strategy and mission, and discussed the operations. I also reviewed the infrastructure and water supply, and walked the highlands seeing SALT in practice and the affects of slash and burn agriculture on the quality of crop yields and on the soil erosion it caused. I then advised them on the agronomic aspects of the project and worked with them to improve the productivity of their vermiculture and horticulture operations.

Phase one of the project incorporated SALT techniques planting hedgerows of four legume tree species along contours of the steep slopes at intervals of one meter drop in elevation. UDC staff hadn’t measured the actual slopes but they are estimated at up to 30% to 40% on most locations and higher in some locations. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Soil Capability Classes of upland landscapes would classify them as VIIIe, having severe limitations of slope and susceptible to severe erosion. They can only be considered for use mainly as pasture or range, woodland, or wildlife food cover. SALT allows the above but with the stable soils; cereals and vegetables are also planted without severe consequences. The legume varieties planted for the hedgerows consist of species of Calliandra, Flemingia, Desmodium and Indigofera.

Within a short period of time, mini terraces form behind the hedgerows from soil washing down within the contours and catching behind the base of the bushes in the branches and stems placed to act as an erosion barrier. The mini terraces later become the platform for the planting of various crops to be grown sustainably for food, fodder or fuel.

Branches of the maturely growing legumes are high in protein and provide feed daily to a herd of Nubian goats. Because the steep slopes make it very difficult to transport the cut branches to the goat pens located on the more gentle downhill slopes, the workers use a zip line to move the feed from the highest points of the property to the goat complex below. The goats are caged in very high quality, covered bamboo structures with slatted floors where the manure and urine pass through the floors to the ground below. The goat manure and urine are collected and layered with banana stalks and leaves or with other green vegetation in two to three cubic meter bins and mixed with earthworms to make vermicompost.

continue reading "UYAG Development Center - Agroforestry Project" »

John Casazza
posted July 6, 2010 12:08 PM

Live from Copenhagen

Rachel Barge, Conservation and Resource Studies '08, is attending Copenhagen and keeping everyone updated via her blog at the Business Council on Climate Change.

Rachel won the 2007 Brower Youth Award for her work to build the campus Green Initiative Fund.

Eva St. Clair
posted December 10, 2009 9:57 PM

Inspiring evolution through eco design? What does that mean?

Last week, we finally selected a phrase that describes our Company; Inspiring evolution through eco design. Knowing that this type of phrase has the ability to excite as well as turn-off, I thought I’d take a moment to help define what we mean.

Of course, any phrase like this needs to be rooted in a philosophy. We have one: people, product, planet, and we wrestled with how to convert the practices we utilize in operating our business, into a different statement that describes what that process means for the Brand and for the consumer.

Our Brand lives in a world of products that we think up, produce and sell. Through that process, we’ve created a certain set of “new” considerations as to what we are willing to create and what we are willing to produce. That process is what constitutes our whole people, product, planet philosophy. Adding this layer to our already long design consideration of what is possible, reasonable, realistic and sellable, makes the process somewhat more cumbersome. It also becomes more exhilarating, knowing we’re working harder to create even more deeply thoughtful products. This is the essence of eco design – design with an awareness of the eco consequences, both social and environmental, of the decisions inherent in the design.

We see this as the evolution of the process of design. This process is most vividly seen in LEED certifications of buildings. Take the concept of landscaped roofs as seen on the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Putting pots with plants on a roof is a wonderful idea and has been done for centuries. Integrating a full landscape on a roof for all the energy and other possible advantages is a very different story. Just accommodating the added weight, ongoing maintenance, overall roof access, is a significant change to standard considerations for a roof.

And if the design is strong, and the execution is done well, that building will serve to inspire people who visit or even see it. Not that they go home and re-think their roof, that’s extreme. But, maybe they come away with a greater appreciation of what is possible. Maybe a solar panel, maybe a rain barrel, maybe they think differently about storm drain runoff. Who knows, but, the point is, by stretching the boundaries of design, the building acts as a longstanding symbol of changing norms.

Changing norms are what evolution is all about. We do the same thing with our bags. Twenty years ago, who would have thought we could grind up plastic, make it into fabric and make great looking products? Twenty years ago, I bet there weren’t even enough plastic bottles to matter. Now, the volume of bottles staggers the mind, not just in the U.S. either.

Twenty years ago, who would have said Google (what started as a search engine only) would turn out to be part of an online evolution (and a verb, no less). They accomplished that task through design, not just what we see, but, the code they wrote to make it happen. GreenSmart is writing that same type of code, in the work that we do, for bags. We’re applying different thought processes to how we source and create, how we execute and manufacture and finally, how we tell our story. We sincerely hope our work inspires others. It inspires us, and maybe that’s all that matters.


Tom Larsen
posted October 27, 2009 12:06 PM

What I Gained from CNR

When I first came to UC Berkeley I had no idea what I was doing. I was an out of state student from a suburb in Georgia and I had only visited the campus once before. Like many freshmen, I was enrolled in the College of Letters and Science, intended MCB. I didn’t know much about what classes to take and I just chose some of the pre-med requisite courses somewhat blindly. I was pretty disillusioned throughout my first semester. Constantly going in and out of huge classes of 500+ students made me feel like I was just “going through the motions.”

After getting settled in, I gradually took some more initiative in figuring out what I wanted. Fortunately, I learned about the College of Natural Resources (CNR) from a friend in the Molecular Environmental Biology (MEB) major. After spending time in Mulford Hall and the CNR side of campus, I realized that it offered a lot of the benefits I was looking for. Some of the features of CNR that I found particularly appealing were the smaller size, a greater focus on crafting a personalized major, and opportunities for independent research through the CNR Honors Program. I quickly transferred to CNR to become an MEB major and found new enthusiasm for my college experience.

One additional obligation for me as an out–of-state student was the cost of tuition. My CNR advisor helped me plan my class schedule around my part-time employment and condense my workload such that I was able to complete my degree with an honors thesis in three years. When it came time to find a job, I made use of the resources at the CNR and received a lot of guidance from my thesis mentor. I immediately found that there were many opportunities within my interests that I never knew about. For example, I had always been under the false impression that if I was interested in science then my only options were to either become a doctor or a professor. However, the resources at CNR opened my eyes to opportunities ranging from science policy, administration, conservation, ecology, public health, and medicine.

After graduating I knew I was broadly interested in biomedical research and public health, but I felt I needed professional experience before deciding if I wanted to pursue a graduate or professional degree. I found the perfect post-baccalaureate job in biomedical research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, GA, formally called the Emerging Infectious Disease (EID) Fellowship. I was a competitive applicant to the program primarily because of the independent research experience I gained in the CNR honors program. My project, "The Labellum of Costus (Zingiberales) and the ABC Model of Floral Development," was supported by a grant from CNR's Sponsored Projects for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) program, and I was able to work closely with a faculty mentor, Professor Chelsea Specht.

Over the past two years I have worked on a number of different projects, each of which contributes directly to global malaria control efforts. One of my projects entails the use of molecular epidemiology to track the prevalence and genetic history of drug resistant malaria-causing parasites in various parts of the world. As part of this project, I have had the privilege of learning powerful molecular techniques and have trained guest researchers from collaborating labs in Pakistan, India, Thailand, Tanzania, Ghana, Nicaragua, Peru, and Brazil.

Another one of my objectives in the lab is to improve low cost malaria diagnostics, since malaria tends to be a problem in economically distressed parts of the world. Last year, I helped develop an instrument for this purpose and traveled to a rural health clinic in India to personally work with local physicians and carry out its first field trial. The data gained from this trial and other techniques that I have optimized in the lab have lead to the development of a quality control system for malaria diagnostics, which we hope to implement throughout East Africa early next year.

Although I feel I have had many opportunities, the learning curve in a professional environment can be slow. It took me two years to really get off the ground and gain the sense of autonomy that I have always sought in my career. Looking back, I feel that my experience at CNR did not just help me get my foot in the door with my first post-baccalaureate job; it also helped me excel in a professional environment.

For example, CNR helped me cultivate principles of conservation and sustainability in whatever I do. In fact, one of the first major contributions that I made to my lab at the CDC was in optimizing a laboratory technique that I used during my honors thesis. That optimization cut the cost of the technique by over two-fold and will save our lab thousands of dollars in the long run that can go towards valuable research efforts.

Several CNR classes also helped me develop skills in written composition and oral presentation that I now find essential when conveying my work through lab meetings, grants, publications, and conferences. I recently helped write a grant proposal for a $20 million clinical trial in India using skills I first gained at CNR when I wrote a Sponsored Projects for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) grant proposal for my thesis project. On a more abstract level, the culturally and academically diverse environment at CNR prepared me to work with people from all around the world.

If you had asked me what I would have envisioned myself doing in 5 years, back when I started at CNR, I would have never guessed that this is where I would be. I also don’t think my experience at CNR necessarily dictated what I would be doing either. Rather, I feel that CNR gave me the fundamental skills to pursue my personal interests and appreciate the opportunities, instead of fearing the uncertainties, which come with a future that isn’t clearly written out. I look forward to continuing my career in research and my goal is to ultimately investigate host-pathogen interactions in infectious disease as a physician-scientist. I am currently applying to MD/PhD programs and I hope that my future professional training will be as formative as the experience I gained at CNR.

Sankar Sridaran
Research Technician
Genetics and Immunology Laboratory

Sankar Sridaran
posted October 27, 2009 9:31 AM

Vote Andaman Discoveries for the BBC World Challenge!

Hi CNR Students and Alums,

I started a non-profit in Thailand back in 2005, and it has gone on to do great things. Recently, we were chosen as a finalist for the BBC World Challenge. If you can, please take 30 seconds to vote for us at their website, so we can keep up the good work! The website is The BBC World Challenge.

Our connection to the villages comes from rebuilding our lives together, and our projects focus on the big picture, empowering people to define their own future. This means that, along with responsible tourism, we also support scholarships for 120 kids, reforestation, a community development network, and a lot more. Pardon the spiel if you've already heard it, but it's the real deal.

Winning the World Challenge would mean a lot: the award will underwrite our projects, and the publicity will help us spread our message, which is always a challenge with a miniscule PR budget :) If you are excited by all this, feel free to post this message on your facebook account, blog, or email lists.

With thousands of nominations annually, the World Challenge recognizes innovative business projects that increase investment into the local community and take a responsible approach to the environment in which they are operating. We were chosen by a jury of high-level executives from Shell, BBC World, the World Bank, IUCN, and Newsweek.

So, if you could be so kind as to follow the link and vote for us, it would be of great service to our projects and the people they serve.

Bodhi Garrett
Director, Andaman Discoveries
Coordinator, IUCN North Andaman Network
Founder, North Andaman Tsunami Relief

Link to Andaman Discoveries on the BBC World Challenge

Press Release (PDF)

Bodhi Garrett
posted October 14, 2009 8:27 AM

Shoutout from Alaska!

Hello alumni from the past, and I mean some time ago. As I near 60 years old, I give myself a chance to see what has changed over the years in Forestry, Plant Pathology, and Entomology I am truly amazed. Many old buddies have retired or are thinking of it and others like me with a second family (X and Y generations) are still going strong, maybe not as strong as they used to. I still get out in the woods in Alaska. This year was busy with felling hazardous trees, doing bark beetle projects, and climbing over downfall. I pride myself in knowing how to put a rudimentary GIS layer together, make what I can out of communicating on facebook and twitter, and sending a letter now and again. Best wishes to the graduates of '72.

Mark E. Schultz
posted October 1, 2009 8:46 PM

From CRS to Chocolate, and so much in between!

A lot has happened since graduating from Cal in 1999. I was one of those re-entry students when I arrived at Cal in 1997 and had been involved with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’ s park restoration program and had also been deeply involved in City College of San Francisco’s biology and ecology departments. At one point I was the college liaison for the Park Service, conducting class presentations in order to entice students to volunteer for restoration activities in the Marin Headlands. It helped that some instructors offered extra credit for such noble activities. Not to mention that views of the city from the Headlands were amazing!

After arriving at Cal, I immersed myself in classes and campus life, enjoying the fact that I did not have to work while going to school full-time-wow what a concept. My two years at Cal went very quickly and I often found myself wishing that I could have been there for the full four years - but I guess there is always graduate school. I was part of the well known CRS program (Conservation and Resource Studies) and was able to construct my own curriculum around my passion at the time, which was wetlands and wetland restoration.

During my last semester, I took a class taught by some outside environmental consultants that focused on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). I liked the fact that the class focused on various aspects of the environmental world, including policy, permitting, planning, and various environmental resource areas.


Upon graduation, I hit the ground running trying to find an entry-level job in the environmental consulting field. I eventually landed a job with a small consulting firm in Oakland that was working closely with the Navy on clean-up activities at various Navy facilities in the Bay Area. I quickly learned that not all environmental consulting was created equal. This particular firm focused on health and risk management-which meant lots of number crunching, something I did not find very interesting. Several months later I left after taking a job with yet another firm, doing more of the type of work I was interested in - my first project included working with US Coast Guard.

Fast forward several years and I found myself feeling unchallenged creatively; much of consulting work includes reviewing documents written by specialists in other fields (e.g. traffic specialists, geologists, hydrologists, etc) and incorporating that information into a document that will ultimately be used by lawmakers to approve or deny a project.

I ultimately figured out that I needed to find something creative in order to balance out the more cerebral part of my life. I started baking, something I used to do when I was a kid, in the kitchen with my grandmother. I also started taking classes in baking thinking that I might want to become a pastry chef. Somewhere along the way, I also began incorporating chocolate into the recipes and was constantly asked by friends to provide the chocolate desserts for their special events.

continue reading "From CRS to Chocolate, and so much in between!" »

Dennis Kearney
posted September 23, 2009 10:15 PM

What I Learned From Training Farmers in Tanzania

We read a lot about sustainable agriculture on our multi-acre farms in the USA and the rest of the developed world. What makes them sustainable? The most common farm inputs and farm capital assets tied into sustainability are

But there is nothing more sustainable than a small farmer managing to eke out a living by producing food and a bit of cash for the family on one to two acres in a sub-tropical highland in the mountains of Eastern Tanzania.

Take a look at this picture of a randomly planted tract, straddling a small creek and looking like a dense and healthy backyard garden. It's a bit hard to pick out all the crops, but there are bananas, pineapple, mango, taro, cassava, chick peas, coconut, cloves and oranges. Their produce is either consumed over the year by the farmer and family or sold for cash to local brokers. It's been recently weeded so the fertile, dark red, volcanic soil is readily exposed.

continue reading "What I Learned From Training Farmers in Tanzania" »

John Casazza
posted August 7, 2009 9:18 PM

Shoutout from Utah!

Thanks to all of you who have posted your thoughts and comments on this blog. Your enthusiasm for your chosen fields is contagious! I'm particularly impressed by those of you who have such clear focus about your direction. I never had such clarity, but my life has become a series of miraculous and wonderful experiences nonetheless.

Park City Real Estate Guide Copyright 2008

On my final day of work at Golden Gate fields (my first post-graduation job -- hey, the economy was tough back in '92 too!) I took a mental snapshot of the postcard outside my window -- boats on the bay, golden gate, etc, and said goodbye. It feels like yesterday, but this week marks the 15 year anniversary of my departure from living the good life in California--something I swore would never sacrifice. The next day I bought a rusty pickup truck and moved to Utah, where I worked as a biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources for a few years.

continue reading "Shoutout from Utah!" »

Erik Asarian
posted August 3, 2009 9:37 PM

Environmental Law via CRS

After graduation (CRS, '99), I worked for Governor Davis for a year doing environmental legislation and land use work. Realizing that I enjoyed working with environmental issues at the state government level but that I was too far from my own native state, I returned to New York for law school at Pace Law School. Pace has one of the best environmental law programs in the country, and it was a great fit for me. Surprisingly, I was the first Cal grad to come through the school.

I've been with the New York State Attorney General's office for four years now, in the Environmental Protection Bureau. My job pulls on my science background, as I work with hazardous waste remediation issues, and also the policy background which was part of my curriculum in CRS. If anyone out there is considering a career in environmental law, I'd be happy to chat about it!

Janice Dean
posted June 13, 2009 8:33 PM

From ES to Oxford

Hello interested blog readers. I was asked to give a quick profile of what I've done since graduating.


continue reading "From ES to Oxford" »

Josh Fisher
posted June 9, 2009 11:46 AM

37 years at Cal and Still Chasing Bugs

Most of my youth was spent is Minneapolis, Minnesota. However, I also have roots in California; my mother was born in Los Angeles. I remember those long train rides back and forth during summer to visit grand parents. Yes, I spent many summers in Fresno, and winters in Minneapolis. Now you can appreciate why I live in the Bay Area, great weather!

In 1968, a high school counselor in Minneapolis told me I was not good enough to go to college. Never being one to blindly accept a single opinion, I asked what was the best university in the country. I was told Berkeley! I had no idea where Berkeley was, but defiantly said, “I will go there.”

continue reading "37 years at Cal and Still Chasing Bugs" »

Vernard Lewis
posted October 22, 2008 3:25 PM

I never imagined what a degree in CNR would lead to in my career!

All through my youth I had a passion for the natural sciences and I wanted to follow it in college. During my first two years at Cal I took the prerequisite courses for Biology major, which were just about the same as for any science degree. When trying to decide on what major to declare I looked within the life sciences and earth sciences departments and within the College of Natural Resources (CNR). What attracted me to CNR was the opportunity to learn in a small class setting and have more contact with the professors, and be associated with the college that through its programs was studying the science issues of the day; like the energy crisis, food safety and security and environmental degradation and pollution. Sound familiar! I chose the Soils and Plant Nutrition major because of its overlap with both the life and earth sciences. So in 1977 I graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.S degree in Soils and Plant Nutrition from the College of Natural Resources.

How did my years at Berkeley prepare me for the future? Besides the courses within the major, like soil classification, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, and plant physiology and biochemistry, I was able to take courses in geology, forest influences and forest soils, ecology, botany, mycology and ag economics. All of the courses included classroom lectures and either lab or field work or both.

One of the best courses offered in the department was a summer field course. Over a six week quarter, UC Berkeley and UC Davis professors covered the study of soils within many of the environments of California for students from both schools. The major offered opportunities for independent study where I worked on the impacts of fluoridated water on the environment in conjunction with the Sierra Club, and the issue of herbicide usage in the Viet Nam war. I conducted trials in the Oxford Tract greenhouse and I worked at the Oxford Tract organic garden. Because of the close contacts with the department and its professors we could access their latest analytical equipment for our work and study. I even found time to work at the US Forest Service Labs in Berkeley and had a small landscaping business in the community. It was a great time to be a student at Berkeley.

continue reading "I never imagined what a degree in CNR would lead to in my career!" »

John Casazza
posted July 14, 2008 3:34 PM

My Future in Renewable Energy

Since October of 2007, I have been involved in a green marketing campaign. My passion lies in creating and using technology to solve problems, but after graduating from UC Berkeley, I decided that it would be an important first step to understand how people perceive environmental problems and how to reach them with solutions. My focus over the last two years developing and marketing an internet startup and a green marketing campaign has brought me to a point where I feel confident that I have developed a solid core of marketing knowledge and experience.

Now I find myself considering the future of the United States, and what I see are two possible scenarios:

  1. Maintain the status-quo:
    We as a nation proceed in the same direction we have been for decades now, and continue to be a nation focused on irresponsibly mass-consuming, and relying on foreign sources of oil. Given that the marginal cost of extracting additional quantities of fossil fuels will continue to climb along with global demand, this scenario results in the United States and its citizens essentially going bankrupt. We are already seeing the first signs of this scenario manifest in rising energy and product prices. If this happens, pretty much any career path has a dismal future, and we will find ourselves scrambling desperately to keep the country running.

  2. Become energy-independent:
    It is no mystery that the American lifestyle is highly dependent on oil - in the united States, we consume the energy equivalent of 8 tons of oil per person per year, while countries like Japan use about half that amount, and Peruvians use just 1/16th what the average US citizen does (Earthtrends). Every day, we import about 13 million of the 21 million barrels of the oil we consume, and at current prices a basic calculation shows we are sending about (13,000,000 barrels * $130/barrell) = $1,690,000,000 dollars abroad each day (CIA world fact book)!
  3. Beyond the pure insanity of how much money we are sending away, using oil contributes to a whole host of environmental problems, not the least of which is global climate change. So in this scenario, we wake up as a country, and elect leaders with the vision and determination to make the United States energy independent. In this future, developing renewable sources of energy like solar and wind become the major drivers of our economy. We simplify our lives and come to realize that we can live great lives without buying and consuming endlessly. I don’t know about you, but this future sounds pretty good, and full of opportunity.

continue reading "My Future in Renewable Energy" »

Nick Harris
posted June 20, 2008 3:40 PM