June 2020
The past weeks and months have starkly highlighted the systemic racism and racial injustice interwoven into the fabric of this country. We must not only condemn it; we must act to change it. 

This university has a public interest mission; the legal profession is responsible for seeking justice; and our center and our program are focused on ensuring a sustainable world for all. Working at the intersection of those values, we must humbly look inside and examine if we are doing all we can to combat systemic racism, because the answer is almost certainly no. Yet we cannot successfully combat climate change and environmental degradation without addressing the inextricably linked roots and consequences of systemic racial injustice. 

Because words without actions ring hollow, we are engaging in a process to develop a concrete action plan addressing our research, program, and curriculum. We will reach outside our organization for diverse input in order to finalize our action plan this summer and move immediately to implementation. 

With coronavirus, what is the future of public transportation?

Across the world, individuals and industries are modifying their behavior and operations in response to coronavirus. The public transportation sector is no exception, and has been hit especially hard with reduced ridership due to shelter-in-place orders and fear of contamination. But for many, public transportation is an essential service, and it also is one of the more sustainable transportation solutions for reducing carbon emissions.

What does the future hold for public transportation? We asked Berkeley Law experts Ethan Elkind and Ken Alex  to weigh in. 

How is coronavirus reshaping public transportation ridership? Can we expect to see some long-lasting shifts in the industry?

KA: In the short term, public transportation is at great risk: funding will be cut and ridership will be down. Some transportation systems will likely fail. But in the medium and longer term, communities and governments can rethink public transportation and build more resilient and effective systems.  

EE: For riders who have a choice to drive or telecommute, they are unlikely to come back to the system in any large numbers as long as the virus persists and remains untreatable and without a vaccine. Worse, social distancing makes transit highly inefficient, given the tight quarters in rail cars or buses. And it might be impossible in some cases.

How could this affect California's climate goals?

KA: It would not be shocking to see a sharp rise in vehicle miles traveled as people return to work and shun public transit. But, again, with some vision and planning, communities can increase active transportation options, help promote zero emission vehicles, and integrate different approaches to mobility that reduce the need for cars. As usual, it is up to us: more cars, traffic, GHG emissions, or some vision, planning, investment, and change.

EE: Generally, a decline in transit ridership is damaging to California's climate goals. Transportation emissions comprise almost half the state's carbon footprint when factoring in oil refinery emissions, so part of the solution is reducing the amount of driving miles per capita (along with deployment of zero-emission vehicles). So if transit riders now drive more, that will greatly hurt our climate progress. However, if those riders instead end up telecommuting more from home, and they don't take a lot of extra driving trips during the day for errands, we could actually net out positively on emissions overall from reduced driving.

Are there any promising eco-alternatives while public transit ridership remains low?

KA: Clearly, many people and companies are embracing work from home. This development seems like it may last, reducing not just VMT but air travel as well. E-bikes and other transportation options are starting to increase significantly, at least in good weather. We need to think through what constitutes a resilient community - one that improves public health in a viral age but also reduces air emissions and the impacts of climate change. Can we get the state's 18 Metropolitan Planning Organizations to at least model very different approaches? It seems like a good time to do so.  

EE: Telecommuting is the big eco-alternative to transit ridership, and going forward it may be the default option for employees and their employers post-COVID. But for people who need to commute, we're seeing an uptick in e-scooters and e-bikes, which require social distancing by definition and are a form of zero-emission travel. Cities can encourage this use by dedicating more streets exclusively to non-automobile travel (the "slow streets" movement that we're seeing in places like Oakland and San Francisco). There may also be long-term promise in smaller zero-emission shuttles, perhaps even of the autonomous variety.

Environmental Law Clinic

Earlier this month was a  big moment  f or Berkeley Law's Environmental Law Clinic. The ELC won a case against the EPA that will require a national contingency plan in response to oil spills and potentially limit the use of dispersants. 

H ear from director Claudia Polsky about the work ELC staff and students are undertaking  in the  Spring Newsletter
Upcoming Virtual Events

The Role of Natural Gas in California
Tuesday, June 23, 12:00 - 1:00 pm PT
Please register here

J oin us for a Lunch & Learn with PUC Commission er Cliff Rechtschaffen and Ken Alex, Director of CLEE's Project Climate. Ken will ask Cliff about the role of natural gas in California, including the impacts of Covid-19 on the progress of clean energy efforts going forward.

We're hiring! 

The California-China Climate Institute (CCCI) is hiring  two Research Fellows to work  on climate change policy issues in California, China and beyond. Their focus will be on long-term climate goal-setting, actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build resilience, and projects that may also cover multi-state and international topics.

Apply by  Thursday, June 25  to ensure full consideration by the committee.

For the full description of the positions and to apply, please  click here.

During this challenging time,  many people are suffering and facing increased financial, food, and housing insecurities. If you want to support Berkeley students, please consider donating to Berkeley's COVID-19 crowdfunding efforts. You can find more information about the ways campus is supporting students here.