SEI Reports

February, 2020

A publication of the Sustainable Environment Institute
Activists protest outside of COP25 in Madrid
Failure in Madrid; European Green Deal Adopted

If you missed the story in December on the United Nations COP25 climate talks in Madrid, don’t be too hard on yourself. With the exception of our major newspapers, the American media have a terrible record for covering the climate emergency. And with their focus on the House vote on impeachment, even the NY Times and Washington Post gave little attention to the story. The LA Times put it on page three.

In the event, there was very little encouraging news coming out of the 25th “Conference of the Parties,” even though 27,000 delegates worked over two weeks. The conference leaders had set two major tasks for the gathering. The first, to finalize a “rule book” on the implementation of the Paris 2015 accord, was blocked by the usual obstructionists-- the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Australia--joined this year by Brazil.

The second task was to send a signal to the world that the UN process remained relevant and that the gap between what n eeds to be done and what has been agreed to could be reduced. Here too, Madrid was a sharp disappointment. While the major emitters were not expected to announce increases in their pledged reductions, it was hoped that they would announce promises to do so next year at COP26 in Glasgow, when all countries are obligated to report on their progress. That did not happen. 

Greta Thunberg and young supporters protest the failure of COP25 and Davos
CCC Board of Governors Endorse Climate Change, Sustainability Goals

The California Community College Board of Governors passed a climate change and sustainability resolution last May, with recommended goals for the entire community college system. It was intended to bring the system in line with existing state mandates (specifically, the California Global Warming Solutions Act from 2006 and subsequent scoping plans).

The BOG resolution addresses seven areas and sets goals in each. They cover a wide range of climate change drivers, including greenhouse gas emissions, transportation, renewable energy, zero net energy buildings, and sustainable procurement. It calls for emissions to be reduced 30% below 1990 levels by 2025 and 40% by 2030 and for renewable energy consumption to increase to 25% of the total by 2025 and then to 50% by 2030. In general, the goals are relatively modest, given the scale of the climate emergency.

Doomsday Clock Set at 100 Seconds to Midnight

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was established in 1945 by University of Chicago physicists who had worked on the Manhattan Project. Two years later its editors created the Doomsday Clock, a graphic means to indicate “threats to humanity and the planet.” Every year the clock is reset, as dangers are reassessed by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board, in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes some thirteen Nobel laureates.

The clock was first set at seven minutes to midnight, then moved up to three minutes when the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear devices in 1949. In 1991, our best year ever, it was set at 17 minutes, after the US and Russia substantially reduced their nuclear arsenals at the end of the Cold War. By 2002, it was back to seven minutes, in part due to the increasing threat of nuclear terrorism. 

Faculty at ELAC working on the weather station network
SEI Proposes Network of Weather/Air Quality Stations

The district’s first combination weather/air quality station is being installed at East LA College. John Grimmer (Environmental Science) and Eddie Villanueva (Engineering) began the work last May. Pierce College has had a very sophisticated weather station since 1949 (long used by the National Weather Service), but East’s will be a much more modest operation. What makes it distinctive are the air quality sensors. Once fully operational, the station will record not only changes in temperature, wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, et al, but also the formation and persistence of photochemical smog and other forms of air pollution. To do that, it will measure the amount of volatile organic compounds, course and fine particulates, and nitrogen oxide in the air. It will also record noise level and light intensity variations.

Air Pollution Worsening in Los Angeles Region

Ask anyone who was here in the sixties and seventies, and she’ll be quick to tell you just how much better the air quality is today. It’s true. The federal Clean Air Act of 1970 and the work of the California Air Resources Board, which requires even stricter emission controls than the EPA, have l ed to a dramatic improvement in the air we breathe. The air is far cleaner than forty or fifty years ago. That said, we still have worse smog than anywhere else in the nation, and in recent years we’ve regressed, along with the rest of the country. Experts predict that Trump administration policies will lead to a continuing decline in the immediate future.

Aris Hovasapian from BuildLACCD with the new climate fellow at City, Chloe Ney
New Climate Corps Fellow at City College

The Climate Corps Fellowship places recent college graduates who have an interest in sustainability in government, educational institutions, and private companies, where they receive on-the-job, practical experience. This semester, thanks to a grant from the DWP, LACCD is hosting its second Climate Corps Fellow.

Chloe Ney, a recent UCLA graduate in Geography and Environmental Studies, will be assigned to LA City College to work with stakeholders there and in surrounding communities on ways to increase energy efficiency, water conservation, and other sustainability practices. Her work will include hosting workshops, organizing events, presenting at student group meetings, and perhaps coordinating an energy saving competition on campus.

Carleton College
In the Classroom:
Resources from Carleton College 

By Randy Adsit

We’ve all been there—you need something to jazz up a lesson, or maybe you just need an entire lesson! So you search online, hoping…

I recommend that you start your search at SERC — the Science Education Resource Center is a grant-funded office at Carleton College (Minnesota) founded to improve education in the Earth Sciences and beyond. By “beyond” they mean they have material for all the earth sciences, plus astronomy, biology, economics, math, political science, philosophy, and more.

Because SERC is grant funded, it could disappear in the future, when the grant runs out. Wouldn’t it be great if the Department of Education recognized the value of something like this, and funded it permanently?

But I digress. The web address for SERC is: < >. You can search by topic, place, type of lesson, etc. You can also focus on one of the projects hosted by SERC.

UC Certificate for Citizen Scientists

By Steve Tarnoff

The California Naturalist Program is a certificate program of the University of California (Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources) designed to “introduce Californians to the wonders of our unique ecology and engage the public in study and stewardship” of natural resources. It’s designed for teachers of all grade levels, but also for natural resource professionals, docents, and just plain nature enthusiasts.

CalNat, as it’s called, is both academic and community based. Participants enroll in a course with one of forty-five partners, which range from environmental organizations to community colleges and universities. CalNat provides materials, training curriculum and guidelines, as well as a website where activities and projects can be shared. The path to certification entails forty plus hours of combined classroom and field experience in “science, problem-solving, communication training, and community service.”

  • Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, an asset-management firm with $7 trillion in holdings, told his investors in mid-January that climate change has now put us "on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance," indicating the firm's intention to start redirecting its investments away from fossil fuels. Given BlackRock's enormous influence, this could be a very consequential development. (See related news in lead article.)

  • West LA College has created a district-first Conservation Education non-credit certificate. It's a two-course program that provides students with the knowledge of local ecology, conservation and restoration needed for internships and entry-level jobs in conservation and public education organizations. An emphasis is placed on the role of urban parks in relation to ecological health and the well-being of city residents, and key characteristics of local ecology are taught. The classes take place at the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area and Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. For more information, please contact Vered Mirmovitch (

  • Scripps Research Institute is partnering with Alan Alda to teach scientists and medical professionals better communication skills. Scripps will become the famed story-teller/science educator's West Coast home for his Alda Communication Training, which relies heavily on improvisational theater techniques. His center at Stony Brook University has already trained 15,000 scientists.

About Us

Special thanks to Randy Adsit and Steve Tarnoff, both of East La College, for their contributions to this issue. Both are long-time members of the SEI Steering Committee.

Thanks also to John Grimmer and Jenna Cole for their assistance.

Our Steering Committee has doubled in size since September, but we are still looking for additional members, especially from Southwest, Harbor, and Trade, which are currently unrepresented.

For more about SEI and our recent activities, please visit our website. We look forward to hearing from you!

--George Leddy and David Beaulieu, editors