Five Key Lessons

Bettering the future for California environmentally will take a lot of work but there is hope.


Worsening drought, heat waves, and severe wildfires are just a few of the ways in which climate change is already affecting California. Last spring, environmental science, policy, and management professor Whendee Silver teamed up with David Ackerly (integrative biology), David Sedlak (civil and environmental engineering), and Steve Weissman (law and policy) to provide students with an interdisciplinary perspective on this increasingly pressing issue. They examined existing and potential impacts to the state’s environment, inhabitants, and economy and considered solutions that could reduce the rate and magnitude of climate change, as well as the severity of its impacts.

  1. The challenge is multidisciplinary. Concentrating on California exemplifies how all the important ideas—from the fundamentals of physical science to public policy and governance—are intertwined.
  2. Global challenges, local response. Understanding place-specific geology, microclimates, precipitation patterns, groundwater resources, plant populations, community values, and institutional structures is critical to crafting effective climate mitigation and adapting to changing conditions.
  3. It takes a village—or several villages. Issues such as sea-level rise cannot be solved by a single community. Achieving the right level of regional coordination requires an understanding of the powers and limitations of existing governmental institutions and the opportunities to build stronger bonds between them.
  4. Focus on solutions. We’ve all heard the dire predictions, and more bad news doesn’t help anyone. Progress is being made on many fronts: Engineers are advancing new technologies in the realms of renewable energy, electric cars, and water recycling, while our leaders are reforming the roles that governments at city, county, state, and federal levels play in tackling different aspects of the problem.
  5. Hope lives in California. The state is an economic power and home to Silicon Valley, excellent universities, cultural diversity, and many natural wonders. Californians value environmental responsibility, and our politicians are among the world’s leaders in acting to meet the challenges of climate change.