environment

The Planet Is Suffering. How Do We Write About It?

Here’s the thing: The climate is warming, our population is growing, resource consumption is surging, and it isn’t looking so great for us—or our fellow earth-dwelling organisms. Speaking of which, the UN just released a report warning of “unprecedented” decline in environmental health and the threat of imminent extinction for some 1 million species.

I know, you’ve heard it a thousand times. Those environmental journalists just won’t leave you alone!

To Hell and Back: A Paradise Educator Reckons with the Fire

That day started out as any other for Ambrosia Krinsky. She woke up in her Chico home, dropped her four-year-old off at day-care, then drove up The Skyway, the road that connects Chico to the smaller city of Paradise. Even before she got into town, she knew something was amiss: The sky was turning red. Paradise was burning. She sped to the town’s high school, where she teaches biology and English.

Q&A: The Most Toxic Town in America

Located in the high desert of eastern Washington along the Columbia River, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation has played a crucial role in global war and peace for more than half a century. It’s also the most heavily contaminated nuclear site in the country—one that few people know about.

One Woman’s Idea to Save a Whale, and Aid a Community

Katherina Audley is afflicted by fish fever, but she didn’t contract the dire malady from sautéing a flounder. She was born in Alaska, where the five varieties of Pacific salmon flourish, and all are totemic species for the locals. Alaskans spend what Lower forty-eighters may consider an inordinate amount of time catching, preserving, preparing, eating and thinking about fish. And not just salmon, but halibut, rockfish, grayling, steelhead and rainbow trout, char, northern pike, and whitefish.

Berkeley Engineers Catch Waves for Clean Energy

If you’ve ever been knocked over by a breaking wave, you’ve felt the ocean’s power, but did you ever imagine it could be turned into electricity?

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), waves, tidal currents, and thermal gradients along American coastlines could potentially generate some 2,640 terawatt-hours (TWh) a year. That’s more than half the total U.S. production—enough to power as many as 200 million American households—emissions free.

From the Spring 2017 Virtue and Vice issue of California.

Go Fly a Kite! Or, Zen and the Art of Kite Maintenance

Drone use has taken off in recent years for landscape and environmental photography, and it has photo-enthusiasts aflutter with the question: Will drones knock kite aerial photography (KAP) off the map? For Charles Benton, a UC Berkeley architecture professor known for making KAP into a well-respected (if niche) art form, the answer is: nah.

American Mastadon: Did Forests Edge Out Megafauna, Or the Other Way Around?

Why does North America have so many trees and so few elephants?

One of the many mysteries in the fossil record is the late-Quaternary extinction, that wholesale shift of plant and animal life as the Ice Age ended at the close of the Pleistocene and the beginning of the Holocene, a die-off that included about half of the world’s large-bodied animals. Forests grew up, and into the tar pit went the saber-tooth tiger, giant horses, five-ton sloths, and honking big mammoths and mastodons.

From the Spring 2016 War Stories issue of California.

Straw Into Gold: New Way to Retrieve CO2 From Air and Recycle It Into Useful Products

Turning an undesirable substance into something valuable seems like the plot of an old fable, but UC Berkeley researchers Chris Chang and Omar Yaghi may have done just that. Their invention, covalent organic frameworks, or COFs, can transform atmospheric carbon dioxide into a useful building block for biodegradable plastics, fuel, and more.

Chang likens COFs to TinkerToys, though at a nano scale. They consist of strings of carbon crystals that are special in their unique porosity, as they can be custom tailored to capture the chemical of choice.

From the Winter 2015 Breaking News issue of California.

Berkeley Econ Study: No Keystone XL Pipeline Keeps a Billion Oil Barrels Underground

For avid watchers of the political saga known as Keystone, it’s another cliffhanger.

Last Friday, the U.S. State Department announced it would kick the can on deciding whether to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, blowing past its prior May deadline and ensuring that the project will endure as a partisan talking point until well after the November midterm election.

Igniting Protest: Will UC Make History By Pulling the Plug on Fossil Fuel Investments?

When 29-year-old UC Berkeley student Ophir Bruck spotted Sherry Lansing, the former CEO of Paramount Pictures, on her way to a University of California Regents meeting, he was holding on to a key that he hoped she wouldn’t refuse.

“We’re here to call on the UC Regents to take bold action on climate change,” Bruck told Lansing last May, as she walked past 58 chanting students chained to two homemade structures designed to represent oil drilling rigs. “Will you symbolically unlock us from a future of fossil fuel dependence and climate chaos?”

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