Cooperative Extension Specialists: Incubating Climate Change Solutions
In conversation with three Cooperative Extension specialists who are tackling climate change's impacts on Californians.
Founded in 1914 in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the nationwide land-grant university system, the Cooperative Extension System supports research and community outreach programs in agriculture, the environment, health, natural resource management and conservation, and other fields. UC Berkeley was California’s first land-grant institution, and today the Rausser College of Natural Resources is home to 18 Cooperative Extension (CE) specialists in four departments. Our specialists and more than 100 others in the UC system constitute a core program within the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
They conduct both applied research and public outreach, working with communities and decision makers to foster land stewardship across the state. Three of our newest CE specialists are using their scientific expertise and communication skills to provide practical, research-based advice to Californians on issues related to climate change. Each of them holds one or more degrees from the University of California, and all see their work as a natural extension of the public university’s mission.
Ted Grantham researches the intersection of hydrology and ecology in rivers and streams. Photo by Jim Block.
Theodore (Ted) Grantham
Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist, Adjunct Professor
Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
Ted Grantham’s research examines the relationships between hydrology and ecology in rivers and streams. His outreach seeks to translate this research into sustainable, cost-effective solutions for managing water and the environment.
What is the intersection between your work and climate change? How much is data analytics, and how much is working in the field?
My research is framed around the effects of human activity and climate change on freshwater ecosystems, particularly California’s rivers and streams. For example, in the future, California is going to become a much less hospitable place for salmon. If current trends continue, about three-quarters of our 31 salmon and trout species could disappear by the end of the century. Much of my research explores approaches to water management that will protect salmon and other sensitive species while also satisfying human needs.
Some of my work involves hydrologic modeling, such as simulating natural stream-flow patterns. But my lab also conducts field studies to understand how sensitive stream ecosystems are to change. At one study site, we are able to artificially modify flow in a stream by controlling the release of water from a reservoir. We observe how those changes in flow affect the growth, health, and survival of juvenile salmon; what we learn can be used to guide management actions.
Why is your work so well suited for Cooperative Extension?
Climate change is already impacting our state and beyond, and we urgently need solutions that are scientifically sound but also work for communities. At Cooperative Extension, we cultivate and sustain lines of communication between UC and the public. By tackling real-world problems in a collaborative manner, our work has the potential to make a big difference.
Why do you think such outreach is so important?
The Cooperative Extension model is a two-way exchange of information. We’re moving the science beyond academia, working closely with a network of boots-on-the-ground practitioners and decision makers to translate knowledge into action. At the same time, theirs are the voices that inspire and guide our work, so that the research we conduct is relevant.
As CE specialists, we have limited teaching responsibilities, and much of our time is spent engaging with stakeholders, observing social and environmental conditions, and learning how our science can best serve others. It’s a real privilege to have the time and license to do such outreach.
Ellen Bruno examines water policy, its impact on farmers, and drought mitigation. Photo by Jim Block.
Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist
Agricultural and Resource Economics
Ellen Bruno’s research examines water-related policies and their impacts on farmers. Her work as an extension economist centers on water use, with a particular focus on strategies to mitigate the economic costs of drought and climate change.
As an economist, how do you interact with the external community?
I engage with farmers, engineers, water utility practitioners, environmental groups, and policy makers to gather data and understand the issues in the real world. For example, one current study looks at how farmers respond to water prices, whether by reducing water use, fallowing fields, or switching crops. I examine the data, using historical water-usage patterns and past price changes to build models of agricultural land use. Finally, I share my research findings through lectures, conferences, and outreach articles. I try to align my research agenda with state priorities; there’s a lot of potential for reforming past water-use inefficiencies.
How does your work lend itself to Cooperative Extension?
For my research to be focused on real-world problems, it has to be informed by stakeholders and their needs. For example, my doctoral research was inspired by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014, a law regulating California’s groundwater. Today, public concern about the economic impacts of this legislation is prevalent.
How does CE advance UC’s mission as a public university system, and why is that so important?
Taking research out of academia’s ivory tower is fundamental to UC’s mission. In order to discover and advance new practical knowledge, we need people who are dedicated to understanding the state’s policy needs while translating their work for a wider audience. Cooperative Extension helps broaden the University’s impact, better conveying its research to Californians who could benefit.
It’s no coincidence that I got my degrees at UC San Diego and UC Davis, then came to work in Cooperative Extension at Berkeley. I grew up in California, so I looked to my state’s public university system as my first option for a quality education. After having the chance to participate in research as an undergraduate, I was inspired to get my graduate degrees in agricultural and resource economics. As a grad student, I worked with a CE specialist and met a lot of people fulfilling the land-grant mission. Now I feel so lucky to conduct and disseminate applied research through this position.
Daniel Sanchez's carbon sequestration research involves encouraging the use of forest waste biomass for construction of buildings, transportation fuels, or other high-value chemicals. This photo was taken in the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, which is an example of mass timber construction. Photo by Jim Block.
Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist
Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
Daniel Sanchez is an engineer and energy-systems analyst whose Carbon Removal Lab studies the use and commercialization of energy technologies that remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. He also works with policy makers and technologists on issues involving bioenergy, forest management, wood utilization, and climate policy.
How does your work on sustainable negative-emissions technologies tie into the energy and industrial sectors?
I research a broad range of technologies and products that remove CO2 from the atmosphere. For example, through my work with the California Joint Institute for Wood Products Innovation, I help develop new wood products that create value and sequester carbon from the air. We aim to collect low-value and waste biomass from our forests and lumber industries and transform it into new structural wood products (including buildings up to 18 stories tall), transportation fuels, or other high-value chemicals. Right now, most of this wood is left to decompose or is burned in large piles in the forest.
Other parts of my work focus on designing and deploying bioenergy technologies—operating off of grasses, plants, trees, or other waste—to help California reach its climate goals. By running energy-systems models, my collaborators and I learn where the biomass is, how much the technology costs, and where and how we might use it. We hope that California can take the lead in developing negative- emissions technologies, which would help the state meet its goal of being “net carbon neutral” by or before 2045.
Why is Cooperative Extension the best outlet for your work?
As UC Agriculture and Natural Resources vice president Glenda Humiston often says, Cooperative Extension is the original incubator, moving ideas from the research lab to wide-scale adoption across the state. We work to promote and scale up new technologies.
California takes climate change seriously and is on the leading edge of combatting the issue. We really need the land sector—farmers, ranchers, forest managers—to play a role in fighting climate change, and CE is engaging in a proactive knowledge transfer to introduce new technologies and products. CE has historically been about translating science to solve natural resource problems, but tackling climate change now needs to be addressed and scaled across the country.
How do you see CE as part of UC’s mission as a public university system?
The whole land-grant mission is absolutely central to Cooperative Extension. A place like Berkeley is essential to training not only scientists but also technology-adept policy makers. Personally, I believe that there would be a benefit if most faculty positions across campus had an outreach component—not just in the agricultural and natural resource sectors but across public health, engineering, chemistry, law, and design.