From Engineering to Public Affairs, from the School of Law to Arts and Architecture, schools from across the UCLA campus have sprouted centers that examine climate change from every angle, creating a wealth of specialized, in-depth research. But sometimes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Environmental centers throughout the university are teaming up more than ever to tackle the problem of saving the planet. Each group can fill in gaps for the others, said Professor Cara Horowitz, executive director of the Emmet Center on Climate Change and the Environment
at the School of Law, the nation’s first law school center focused exclusively on climate change.
"The campus has incredible depth in a variety of climate-change related research areas," Horowitz said. "On a problem as complex as climate change, it's particularly important that we take advantage of each other's differing strengths. No one discipline can come up with the solution. A solution can only happen if all these different disciplines work together, and that's what we're trying to do at UCLA."
The Institute of the Environment
(IOE) hosts six of UCLA's environmental research centers, and works to connect the 20 or more other research centers across campus, said IOE director Glen MacDonald.
"Because this is such a large, nebulous campus with a plethora of environmental research, it can be a challenge just keeping track of what's going on," MacDonald said. "The IOE is here to enhance the environmental research capabilities on campus by fostering communication and synergy."
Friday, Aug. 21, marked one of the larger collaborations to date, when California Congressman Henry Waxman and State Senator Fran Pavley came to campus to host a forum on climate change. The Emmet Center, along with the Center for Climate Change Solutions
, the Institute of the Environment, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research
, and the Office of Government and Community Relations
sponsored the event, which focused on California's role as a national leader on climate policies and its impact on state and federal regulatory efforts.
Interest in the event, the Climate Change Forum: Creating Security and Prosperity for the 21st Century
, quickly surpassed the number of seats available, building on the popularity of a similar conference
in March exploring how California businesses and agencies plan to meet strict greenhouse-gas-reduction requirements.
"I think this was really the biggest collaboration to date by far," Horowitz said. "It's through working with the other centers that I've learned about all the fabulous research at UCLA, the cutting-edge climate science and all the terrific resources for us here in the law school. They have strengths we don't have, and on the law and policy side, we can be a resource for them."
Working together, both among campus research centers and with elected officials, helps make UCLA a better resource for the community, said Mike Swords, UCLA's executive director of strategic research initiatives.
"There's a lot of misinformation out there, and it's part of our mission to educate the public. We can do that directly, or by educating the electeds and their staff," Swords said. "It's important to keep UCLA at the forefront of the climate discussion. UCLA researchers have been working on these issues for decades and have a wealth of information that's vital to these policy debates."
More such collaborations are in the works. The Emmet Center is working with the Anderson School's Ziman Center for Real Estate to host a forum on California's water crisis and how it will affect the growth of new communities. UCLA could also host an October event supporting CleanTech Los Angeles
, an effort to make the city the global capital of clean technology. The event would be a place where stakeholders – businesses, universities, government agencies and others – can network, said Swords. The Canadian government contacted MacDonald last month in search of environmental nanotechnology research, enabling him to link officials to one of UCLA's newest groups, the Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology
As links among environmental centers increase, so, too, do the number of centers, MacDonald noted.
"It's no surprise that this is such a burgeoning field," he said. "This is one of the pressing issues of the 20th
century. Environmental sustainability and climate change are huge opportunities for university researchers, not just to get resources for their campuses, but to make a difference."
From the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences' local maps of predicted climate change, to the law school's trend-setting examination of the legal implications of climate change, the campus is a major resource for the community, MacDonald said.
"There's not really an appreciation for what a powerhouse UCLA is, because our efforts are scattered across campus," MacDonald said. "But UCLA is a great resource in tackling environmental change."