This unsigned editorial was originally published in the January 20 issue of the student-run Daily Cal at the University of California at Berkeley.
News on the environmental front is not good. According to a leaked draft of a UN environmental report, the world’s efforts to mitigate disastrous climate change have been insufficient.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN panel that provides comprehensive assessments of information about climate change, found countries’ delay in battling climate change and cutting greenhouse gas emissions has increased the risk of future economic damage and reduced the likelihood that warming levels will remain below a predetermined critical benchmark level of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels.
Closer to home, California is in the midst of one of its worst droughts on record. In response to the state’s third consecutive year of severely dry conditions—snowpack water content in California is only about 20 percent of its average level at this time of year—Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency last week and asked all Californians to voluntarily cut their water consumption by 20 percent.
As the UN report makes obvious, inaction has put the world on a trajectory toward an environmental maelstrom. Brown’s proclamation, then, is a welcome move.
As a conglomerate of research institutions with immense scientific understanding and capacity for technological development, the UC system and UC Berkeley are obligated to take a leadership role in tackling the dire environmental challenges of the twenty-first century. With her January 16 announcement that the university will seek to reduce its per capita water consumption by 20 percent of its current level by 2020, University of California President Janet Napolitano affirmed that the UC system is willing to embrace that role and that it is doing its part to combat challenges such as drought and climate change, which will become catastrophic as a result of complacency. The university’s approach to conservation is better than Brown’s, and students should be proud that their system’s leadership has adopted these practical goals.
UC Berkeley’s own efforts to reduce its water usage, aside from helping reduce the state’s water deficit, are important because they encourage students to conserve on their own. The campus is on track to meet former chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s 2011 goal of reducing potable water use by 10 percent below 2008 levels by 2020. But on top of just replacing old showerheads and toilets in the residence halls with more efficient ones, campus campaigns, such as those promoted through Facebook and fliering, allow students to become aware of their water use and thus adapt to using less water consciously. This will increase water conservation even when students move out of the dorms and into off-campus living.
Overcoming the vexing environmental challenges before us requires determination, accountability and action. We hope other individuals and organizations will follow the lead of the campus and the university.