SEI Reports

A publication of the Sustainable Environment Institute
Millions of Youth Strike in September

Something extraordinary took place this past September. On two successive Fridays at least six million young people and their supporters went on strike from school and work worldwide. Four million walked out on the 20th and two million or more on the 27th. There were over 5,800 local actions in 163 countries (1,200 in the United States). It was by far the largest climate action in history.

The particular inspiration for the walkouts was the now famous Greta Thunberg. A 16-year-old Swedish girl who anguished for years over how to respond to the climate emergency, she began striking alone every Friday last year in front of the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm. She held up a sign that read (in Swedish) “School Strike for Climate” and passed out leaflets. Her example struck a nerve, and soon other students in Sweden and then the rest of Europe joined her. By March of this year, over a million joined in “Fridays for Future.”

Expert Panel's Startling Recent Reports

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading authority on climate change, has put out several major reports since 1990. When not completely ignored by the American public, they’ve been met with a collective shrug. At least, that was the case until last year. 2018 was different. Between the startling report itself and the extraordinary number of natural disasters in the United States in recent years, the public suddenly paid closer attention.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C” as “an ear-splitting wake-up call to the world.” It stated emphatically that we must reduce our fossil fuel consumption by 45% in twelve years (from 2010 levels) and then reach “net zero” around 2050, if we want to have any chance of keeping global warming to 1.5C. That's the ideal target agreed upon in Paris in 2015, since beyond that the effects of warming are far more severe, even catastrophic, as the report made clear.

UC Fossil Fuels Divestment Largest to Date

The University of California announced September 17th that it was divesting entirely from fossil fuel companies. The decision followed six years of vigorous campaigning by Fossil Free UC, an organization of students, faculty, staff and alumni, who argued that it was immoral for the UC to continue its investments, given the climate emergency. Top UC investment officers insisted, however, that their decision was strictly financial.

To date over 40 American colleges have divested of at least some fossil fuel stocks, including Stanford, the University of Massachusetts, and Georgetown. But with its endowment of $13.4 billion and its $70 billion pension fund, the UC action will be the largest public university ever to divest, and the decision is expected to reverberate throughout the academic world and beyond. Bill McKibben, one of the founders of the international movement, said such a decision “would be one of the biggest moments in (our) seven-year history.”

West’s SAVE Protests...and Gardens

In our last issue we reported on EcoAdvocates, the student environmental group at Valley. We’re happy to report that West LA has had a similar group for four years. It’s called SAVE (Sustainability, Action, and Vision for the Environment), and under the leadership of Alan Cooper and Sarah Solis members go on hikes and camping trips, hold cleanup days on campus and participate in World CleanUp Day at the coast. For three years they organized a campus Earth Day Fair. SAVE also maintains three garden beds at West, where they grow vegetables for the school’s food pantry, and learn the basics of gardening and composting. Alan calls it “a great way to give back to those in need while also ensuring that some of the food is organically grown.” 

Aquaponics Comes to East LA College

If you’re not a science professor, the term “aquaponics” might be a bit of a head-scratcher. Aqua-culture we hear about a lot, and hydroponics a little. But aquaponics? In fact, it's just the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics in a symbiotic environment. In other words, raising fish and plants at the same time. In a traditional aquaculture system the fish excretions raise the toxicity level of the water and have to be removed as discharge, but in aquaponics the water is fed into a hydroponic system where the by-products are broken down by bacteria and then used as nutrients by the plants. The cleaned water is then circulated back to the aquaculture system. If widely practiced, aquaponics would allow for increases in food production, as the space demands of traditional agriculture are much reduced. 

SEI Fall Speaker Series:

Tree People’s Cindy Montañez Attacks Environmental Injustice 

In a spirited and informative presentation, TreePeople’s CEO, Cindy Montañez, along with associates Stephen Caesar and Cesar Hernandez, spoke at East LA College on Monday, November 4. Montañez reviewed the impressive history of Tree People , which has planted and cared for more than three million trees since it was formed 45 years ago. In doing so, it has renewed depleted landscapes in both urban and forest areas, making LA more climate-resilient as the region faces a hotter, drier future. 

Montañez and Caesar both focused on environmental justice issues, citing the many ways in which poorer communities are more adversely impacted than wealthy ones by pollution and the lack of green spaces. To partially redress this imbalance, TreePeople works all over Los Angeles, with a lot of recent work in South Los Angeles, the northeast San Fernando Valley, and Southeast LA. They expressed a strong desire to increase TreePeople work in East LA.

News Briefs:     
  • Aris Hovasapian, the district utilities program manager, presented a report to the Board on October 23rd on efforts to reduce energy consumption. In particular, he reported on the Measurement and Demand Response Project (MDR), which charts the energy consumption of new buildings. We will report further on this in our next issue.

  • Cal EPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) is charged with implementing AB 685, the 2012 legislation that declared a right to safe, clean, and affordable water for every Californian, a right that has generally not been secured for people elsewhere on the planet, or even in the United States. Their recent report shows how daunting it will be to meet that challenge in this state.  We will return to this topic also in a future issue.
  • CalTech received a pledge of $750 million in late September to fund research into environmental sustainability. Donors Steward and Lynda Resnick cited the climate crisis as a key motivation for their gift. It is the largest gift ever given for sustainability research, and the second-largest of any sort ever given to an American university.
About Us

George Leddy and David Beaulieu are the editors of SEI Reports. George teaches Environmental Science at Valley and is the director of SEI. David is a retired English professor from East and past president of the DAS. Please see our website for more information about the institute. We welcome your comments and suggestions.