Influencing the next generation of climate leaders

November 30, 2023
A group photo of five people talking while sitting in chairs.

From Left: Sharon Daraphonhdeth, Dan Kammen, Ashi Mishra, Abigail Dillen, and Valeria Espino.

For many at Rausser College of Natural Resources and UC Berkeley, participating in the environmental movement has provided important opportunities for civic engagement. Students, faculty, and staff advance research or engage in outreach and advocacy with the hope of moving the needle on climate and environmental challenges.

In early November, environmental leaders affiliated with UC Berkeley joined the Commonwealth Club of California to share stories and insights from their personal journeys working at the intersection of climate and politics. Moderated by Valeria Espino, a third-year majoring both in environmental economics and policy and society and environment, the event offered students and community members an opportunity to hear how environmentalism has impacted voting and youth turnout in recent elections.

Fourth-year Conservation and Resource Studies student Ashi Mishra recalled starting at UC Berkeley as an economics major before switching after she took a climate science class to fulfill a graduation requirement. As the daughter of subsistence farmers, Mishra spent summers running through the fields and helping her parents tend to the crops. But over the past few decades, changes in climate and precipitation patterns have altered her family’s farming operations.

“There's been changes in terms of what we’re able and not able to grow,” she said. “Having experienced that firsthand and seen how certain members of my family are struggling because of that definitely made me more interested in agriculture.”

During her time at Berkeley, Mishra—who currently serves as the eco-senator for the Associated Students of the University of California—has been involved with various sustainability initiatives including the push to electrify campus and advocacy for the Green New Deal. She hopes to address environmental inequities by advocating for change at a local level.

“Voting is a very powerful tool,” she told the audience. “Showing up in big majorities to support parties or to support the people in power who represent these issues is one of the easiest yet most powerful ways to do it.”

Energy and Resources Group professor Dan Kammen also joined the panel. With a focus on decarbonization, energy access, and climate justice, his research and advocacy have helped spur renewable energy development across the globe—as has his service to the state of California and the federal government.

At Berkeley, Kammen sees himself as someone capable of supporting the next generation of climate researchers and environmental advocates. He’s taught students who have served as leaders of utility companies, drafted material for recent climate talks between President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping, and advocated for clean and renewable energy development before state and federal lawmakers.

“Finding ways to empower [students] is, I think, the most exciting thing,” he said. “Pretty early in one's career, you think that writing papers in neat journals is great, but your biggest impact is the people you can empower along the way.”

Additional speakers included Student Environmental Resource Center director Sharon Daraphonhdeth and Earthjustice president Abigail Dillen, JD ’00. Watch the full conversation in the video below. A podcast version is also available at the Commonwealth Club website.