Global Issues, Local Impact
Dan Kalb (BS 1982, Conservation of Natural Resources) has spent his career fighting for big issues—environmental justice, clean energy, stewardship of our natural resources—both on the public-interest-advocacy side of the equation and, more recently, as city council member for Oakland’s District One. Last November, he was reelected to a second term with an overwhelming 80 percent of the vote.
Growing up in Los Angeles, he remembers, his lungs would actually hurt from the air pollution. He also recalls the first Earth Day, in 1970, which made him aware of broader environmental issues. By high school, he’d shed his childhood ambitions of becoming an astronaut or a TV director and set his sights on environmental science.
Kalb found the College of Natural Resources after two years at UC Santa Barbara. “I wanted to look at things with a more global perspective,” he explains. The conservation of natural resources major—now known as conservation and resource studies—was exactly what he was looking for: “a balance between academic learning and real-world experience.” As a student, he interned at the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission, working on environmental and transportation policy. He also volunteered with the public watchdog group CalPIRG, contributing to state efforts to protect water resources.
Since then, Kalb has spent most of his professional life working for nonprofit advocacy organizations. “Some of these groups have carried over into other public interest causes,” he says. “But my first passion has always been environmental protection for ourselves and future generations.” His résumé includes such organizations as the Sierra Club and California Common Cause.
Implementation is critical
From 2003 to 2012, Kalb served as California policy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “I worked on a range of issues that dealt with climate change, air pollution, renewable energy, and clean transportation,” he says. “I would draft legislation and work with state legislators, regulatory agencies, and the governor’s office to enact and implement important policies that reduce California’s contribution to climate change and promote the use of clean sources of fuels. Implementation is critical: Just passing a law isn’t enough.”
While at UCS, Kalb played a leadership role in the passage of the 2011 law mandating that one-third of the state’s electricity come from clean, renewable sources by 2020. (Last year, that proportion was increased to one-half, and the deadline extended to 2030.) He also worked to reduce the number of polluting diesel vehicles on the road and to require labels on new cars for sale indicating their smog and greenhouse gas pollution rankings.
While working in public interest advocacy, Kalb interacted with hundreds of state and local elected officials. They’re the ones with the true authority, he observes, “if they choose to use it, to have a real impact and enact useful policy” on a broad scope of issues. So when a seat in his local council district opened up in 2012, he threw his hat in the ring. With endorsements from the Sierra Club and the Alameda County Labor Council, and lots of miles spent walking precincts, Kalb won, and he’s been working tirelessly ever since. “Just ask my wife,” he jokes.
A commitment to community
Kalb’s focus is still firmly on natural resources and the environment. One piece of legislation of which he’s especially proud prohibits the handling and storage of coal in Oakland. “That has a benefit locally, in terms of public health, and globally, in terms of climate change,” he says. On a similar note, he authored a resolution requiring the city to divest from all holdings in fossil fuel. He serves as president of the county-wide program Stop Waste, which recently widened a plastic bag ban, and he successfully pushed for an expansion of composting. He has also worked to add more bike lanes in Oakland and is currently engaged in creating a community-choice energy authority for Alameda County.
Oakland city council member Dan Kalb and local residents prepare for a city cleanup day.Photo courtesy of Dan Kalb.
Environmental protection may be where his passions lie, but as a council member Kalb deals with a host of other wide-ranging
issues. He ticks off a few: crime reduction and ex-offender rehabilitation; police accountability and governmental ethics; affordable housing and funding for public libraries. In recognition of his work on the latter issue, he was named California Public Library Advocates’ legislator of the year in 2015. “Oakland is a wonderful city with a rich diversity,” he says. “I love working on the challenges we face—both locally and beyond.”
Throughout his career—whether engaged in big-issue activism or talking with constituents about their real-world needs—Kalb has remembered that at the heart of all the hard work is community. And community is something he continues to appreciate about CNR and the conservation and resource studies major. “The people who have been in the program over the years and decades feel a real kinship to one another and a sense of pride because of the commitment to both academic excellence and real-world impact.” That commitment continues to fuel Kalb as he tries to help make a better region and a better world. “And with the new administration in DC,” he adds, “we must work even harder to protect our sisters and brothers and our planet.”