Deep Decarbonization News

Nuclear Power Plant

Public’s Dread of Nuclear Power Limits its Use

New research suggests fear of the zero-carbon energy source diminishes its potential contribution to decarbonization

In the ongoing effort to decarbonize U.S. energy production, there is one energy source that often attracts great controversy. Nuclear power has been a part of the American energy portfolio since the 1950s and still generates one in every five kilowatt-hours of electricity produced in the country. Still, for a number of reasons, including the association between radiation and cancer, the general public has long felt a significant dread about it. And this fear, suggest Carnegie Mellon University Department of Engineering and Public Policy Assistant Research Professor Parth Vaishnav, and Ahmed Abdulla of the University of California San Diego School of Global and Strategy, may cause people to want less of this zero-carbon energy source in the nation’s electricity generation mix than they otherwise would.

In their peer-reviewed paper, “Limits to deployment of nuclear power for decarbonization: Insights from public opinion,” published in Energy Policy, Vaishnav and Abdulla set out to quantify just how much this sense of dread is negatively impacting decision making around nuclear power.

To do this, the team asked a sample of over 1,200 U.S. respondents, to build their own power generation portfolio, aimed at cutting CO2 emissions. These respondents were split into two groups: half of the sample was shown the power sources they could choose from by label (solar, natural gas, nuclear, etc.), while the other half was shown how much environmental and accidental risk the technology posed. Crucially, the researchers showed all respondents information about the number of deaths that had historically occurred in the worst accident associated with the technology. This is important for nuclear power, since accidents are rare but can have dire consequences if they do occur.

“Despite decades of analysis focused on public attitudes about nuclear power, there remains a gulf in understanding the difference between the technology’s actuarial risks and the dread it evokes,” the team writes in the paper. “Experts often emphasize actuarial risk levels—for example, the often-cited claim that radiation releases from the Fukushima nuclear accident didn’t kill anyone—with the hope that better public awareness will yield greater political support for the technology.”

The results of their research, however, suggest that engineering efforts to make the technology safer and communicate this improvement to the public, while admirable, will not by themselves persuade people to choose more nuclear power. The respondents who were shown the names of the energy sources consistently deployed less nuclear energy than those who were only shown the risks. This occurred despite the fact that both groups had the same statistical information. This suggests that respondents’ anxiety around nuclear energy caused them to shy away from its use.

“Our results suggest,” the team writes in the paper, “that dread about nuclear power leads respondents to choose 40 percent less nuclear generation in 2050 than they would have chosen in the absence of this dread.”

With these results, the team hopes to be able to quantify just how much nuclear power the American public might be willing to accept, if the fear associated with it could be reduced or eliminated. While the researchers note that the study only focuses on nuclear power, the methods by which they use survey to disentangle the root causes of public opinion are more widely generalizable to other important decarbonization technologies, such as carbon capture and sequestration.

For more information about UC San Diego's efforts to help guide a transition in the global economy toward net-zero carbon emissions, go to the Deep Decarbonization Initiative website.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Switching to a Home Battery Won’t Help Save the World from Climate Change

Nuclear Power PlantAt least until utilities charge less for energy coming from renewable power sources

Home battery systems might save you money, but under current policies, they would also often increase carbon emissions. That is the conclusion reached by a team of researchers at the University of California San Diego in a study published recently in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Conventional wisdom may suggest that household batteries, such as the Tesla Powerwall, could be instrumental in weaning ourselves off greenhouse gas-emitting energy sources. But deploying them today, without making fundamental policy and regulatory reforms, risks increasing emissions instead.

If residents use these systems to reduce their electricity bills, the batteries would buy energy when it is cheapest. And because utilities don’t structure how much they charge with the goal of lowering emissions, the cheapest power often comes from power sources that emit carbon, such as coal. In addition, batteries do not operate at 100 percent efficiency: as a result, households that use them draw more power from the electric grid than they actually need.

For the systems to actually reduce carbon emissions, utilities need to change their tariff structures substantially to account for emissions from different power sources. They would need to make energy cheaper for consumers when the grid is generating low-carbon electricity, researchers said.

The first-of-its-kind study, conducted by a research team from UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy and Jacobs School of Engineering, modeled how residential energy storage systems would operate in the real world. The study modeled deployment across a wide range of regions, utilities and battery operation modes, accounting for a large proportion of U.S. households.

“We sought to answer: what if consumers on their own or in response to policy pressure adopt these systems? Would greenhouse gas emissions from the electric power system go down, and at what economic cost?” said lead author Oytun Babacan, a postdoctoral scholar at the School of Global Policy and Strategy.

The systems are so new that they are not in many homes. But this year saw a substantial increase in installations, with sales tripling from January to September of 2018.

When the systems are set up to operate with the goal of cutting emissions, they can indeed reduce average household emissions by 2.2 to 6.4 percent. Researchers found that the incentive required by utility companies to encourage customers to adopt this emission minimization objective is equivalent to anything from $180 to $5,160 per metric ton of carbon dioxide avoided by consumers—making these batteries an expensive strategy for directly reducing emissions.

“Most households adopting energy storage are likely to choose equipment vendors and operation modes that allow them to minimize electricity costs, leading to increased emissions,” Babacan said. “Thus, policymakers should be careful about assuming that decentralization will clean the electric power system, especially if it proceeds without carbon-mindful tariff reforms that aim to reduce residential energy bills and energy consumption associated CO2 emissions.”

What happens without tariff reform?

Absent tariff reform, policymakers could still encourage environmentally beneficial operation of the devices by ensuring that system developers and equipment vendors favor clean energy use by tracking and adjusting to variations in marginal emissions across the bulk grid, the authors noted.

Although the systems do not encourage cost-effective emissions control at the moment, authors were quick to note that the advantages of batteries should not be overlooked.

“There is an enormous upside to these systems in terms of flexibility and saving households money,” the authors said. “While the increase in home batteries deployment is underway, we need to work on multiple fronts to ensure that their adoption is carbon minded.”

Researchers selected 16 of the largest utilities companies in the country and dug into their tariff structure, carrying out the first systematic analysis of how much utility companies charge residential customers to forecast the economic and environmental impact of these systems, if they were to be widely deployed across the country.

The residential energy storage systems market

Residential energy storage systems present a promising avenue for policymakers and companies such as Tesla seeking to decentralize electric power systems, reducing costs to consumers in the process.

In addition to Tesla, companies such as Evolve have invested heavily in residential energy storage systems. There also is an increasing interest in states such as New York and California to decentralize energy, both to empower consumers with greater control over their energy choices, and to create competition in a sector traditionally structured around regulated monopolies. With energy storage widely expected to play an integral role in efforts to deeply decarbonize the electric power system, organizations like the California Energy Commission are also actively advocating for their use.

Co-authors of the study include Ahmed Abdulla from the Center for Energy Research and fellow at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, Ryan Hanna, a postdoctoral scholar from the School of Global Policy and Strategy as well as professors Jan Kleissl from the Jacobs School of Engineering and David G. Victor from the School of Global Policy and Strategy.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

U.S. Nuclear Power: The Vanishing Low-Carbon Wedge

BatteryU.S. Nuclear Power: The Vanishing Low-Carbon Wedge

Could nuclear power make a significant contribution to decarbonizing the U.S. energy system over the next three or four decades? The answer: probably not and that’s cause for major concern, according to a recently published paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

Authored by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Engineering and Public Policy (EPP) and Ahmed Abdulla, fellow at the University of California San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy, the “U.S. nuclear power: The vanishing low-carbon wedge,” paper examined the current U.S. nuclear fleet, which is made up of large light water nuclear reactors (LWRs). While for three decades, approximately 20 percent of U.S. power generation has come from these LWRs, these plants are aging, and the cost of maintaining and updating them along with competition from low cost natural gas, makes them less and less competitive in today’s power markets. 

In place of these LWRs, the team asked whether advanced reactor designs might play a significant role in U.S. energy markets in the next few decades. They concluded that they probably would not. Then, the team examined the viability of developing and deploying a fleet of factory manufactured smaller light water reactors, known as small modular reactors (SMRs). The team examined several ways in which a large enough market might be developed to support such an SMR industry, including using them to back up wind and solar and desalinate water, produce heat for industrial processes, or serve military bases. Again, given the current market and policy environments, they concluded that the prospects for this occurrence do not look good.

In the article’s conclusion, the team writes, “It should be a source of profound concern for all who care about climate change that, for entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy, over the next few decades.” 

Lead author on the paper was M Granger Morgan, Hamerschlag University Professor of Engineering at Carnegie Mellon. He was joined by Ahmed Abdulla, Adjunct Assistant Professor in EPP and Research Scientist at the University of California San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy; along with recent EPP Ph.D. graduate Michael J. Ford (U.S. Navy Retired), now a Postdoctoral Researcher at Harvard; and current EPP Ph.D. student Michael Rath.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Battery storage at the center of energy policy

BatteryGPS students look at battery storage options in Florida in a study designed to solve real-world problems

During spring quarter Professor David Victor and Professor of Practice James Lambright co-teach Advanced Energy Systems and Policy at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS). A vital component of the capstone course is producing consulting projects for real-world clients in the energy sector.

“We want students to gain practical experience working with real clients on strategic problems,” said Victor. “At GPS, we give students tremendous technical and analytical skills. But real-world application of those skills requires a lot more.” 

Students form teams over the quarter to focus on these consulting projects. This past year, GPS students Daniel Falk, Rick Ferrera, Travis Lindsay and Taylor Marvin, joined by David Larson from Jacobs School of Engineering, produced a public report that allowed the team to get a glimpse inside the process and outcomes of energy policy.

Titled “Battery Energy Storage in Florida: Value, Challenges, and Opportunities”, this report explores new strategies for the transformation of the electric power grid. Research studies routinely look at renewable power like solar and wind, however energy storage is a growing need for the low carbon energy ecosystem.

“I came to GPS aspiring to work in the energy space, and this project was a valuable part of my energy coursework,” said Marvin. “I’m enthusiastic about how GPS is improving its energy curriculum, offering a competitive advantage in energy over many other international affairs and public policy programs.”

Read the full story on the School of Global Policy and Strategy news center.

Getting to a Zero Carbon Future

Meng Lab

Avoiding the worst consequences of climate change by reducing global carbon emissions to as close to zero as possible is one of humanity’s most pressing challenges. The University of California San Diego has launched the Deep Decarbonization Initiative to do just that. And they plan to do so in the real world — where costs matter.

Meng LabThe initiative is a collaborative effort of UC San Diego faculty from across campus working at the intersection of science, technology and policy. It embeds the study of modern societies — economics, politics and social organization — within expert technical research on energy systems. The goal is to understand not just how energy systems function, but also how policy and social movements can transform energy and protect the planet.

UC San Diego researchers are working to radically re-invent the electric power grid, one of the central challenges to decarbonization. They’re exploring alternative fuels and battery storage for the entire transportation system. And they’re addressing the ever-increasing demand of providing clean energy for the entire planet, helping to grow access to fuel while drastically cutting pollution.

“UC San Diego is stepping up to help guide the difficult process of decarbonizing world energy and transportation systems in a way that is inclusive and comprehensive, and also feasible,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “This is exactly the kind of pressing, boundary-breaking work that defines UC San Diego.”

Deep Decarbonization Research & Education

Through the Deep Decarbonization Initiative, UC San Diego will leverage its tremendous research strengths across campus to serve as an academic hub, connecting students and faculty who are working on issues relevant for decarbonization from different perspectives.

Leading the initiative are George R. Tynan of the Jacobs School of Engineering and David G. Victor of the School of Global Policy and Strategy. Tynan, an associate dean and professor of mechanical engineering, is the head of the PISCES Research Program focusing on nuclear fusion as an energy source. Victor is a political science and policy expert, and co-directs the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation that studies how international laws actually work in the real world.

Transportation“I could see us building a new kind of model that allows us to understand not just how technically you decarbonize, but also the social and political constraints and opportunities,” Victor said. “UC San Diego also has a phenomenal micro-grid that is a demonstration case for some of the world’s most interesting and advanced energy systems, and a test bed orchestrated by Byron Washom, Bill Torre and others who have deep expertise in the energy system.”

The aim is to help real societies link the best science and technology with politically realistic strategies that put new energy systems—electricity, wind, plant-based, nuclear, to name only a few—into place on the scale required to make a difference in global carbon emissions. At the same time, this needs to be done while meeting the increasing energy needs of the world.

“How do we drive the costs of low-carbon or zero-carbon energy technologies down to the point where they become competitive with, or perhaps even cheaper than, the fossil fuels? That is one of the challenges in front of the engineers,” Tynan said. “The questions for policy folks are ‘What are those costs?’ and ‘Where are the policy knobs that can be turned to try to enhance or speed that transition?’”

What's at work at UC San Diego

As part of the Deep Decarbonization Initiative, faculty members from across the UC San Diego campus will bring their expertise to help governments and experts around the world meet that daunting challenge.

For example, nanoengineer Ying Shirley Meng of the Jacobs School and Oleg Shpyrko of the Department of Physics work together through the Sustainable Power and Energy Center to solve key technical challenges in generating and storing energy. Their energy-storage research has implications for many areas including electric vehicles, wind turbines and wearable power devices.

Mayfield LabAt the Center for Energy Research, currently led by Jacobs School professors Farhat Beg, Carlos Coimbra and Jan Kleissl, teams of researchers are advancing fusion energy, solar-energy forecasting and advanced energy storage. They are also developing fuel cells, which are devices that produce energy through chemical reactions that don’t result in as much pollution as burning coal or gasoline.

Stephen Mayfield of the Division of Biological Sciences leads Food & Fuel for the 21st Century, a research unit on campus developing innovative and sustainable solutions for renewable-energy production using green plants and algae. Mayfield, a world-renowned researcher in biofuel production, is also director of the California Center for Algae Biotechnology.

Verification will also play a key role in emerging global carbon-emission reduction efforts. For decades, researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography have been leaders in measuring concentrations of CO2, trace gases and aerosols that contribute to global warming, led by atmospheric scientists Ralph Keeling, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Kim Prather and Ray Weiss. Keeling is director of the Scripps CO2 Program, home of the famous Keeling Curve that continues to track carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. He and Weiss lead an effort to look at how data already being collected about greenhouse gases can be used to verify international commitments that countries are making to cut those emissions.

“One goal is for everyone to learn about how other researchers in other disciplines think about what’s going on in the world,” Victor said. “From here, we can start to see interdisciplinary collaborations emerge.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Seventy Percent of Climate Pact Signatories Include Oceans in Their Climate Change Action Plans

Negotiators at a 2015 UNFCCCSmall island countries score highest in new survey; large countries including U.S. do not mention oceans in plans

On the eve of international climate talks taking place in Bonn, Germany, a new study led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego evaluates the extent to which parties to the historic Paris Agreement on climate have considered the oceans in their plans to address climate change.

The study shows that while many countries include the oceans, a striking number do not.

In 2015, under the terms of the Paris Agreement, nearly 200 countries made commitments to manage climate change through a series of measures known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Scripps Oceanography PhD student Natalya Gallo and colleagues created a metric to quantify the extent to which protection of the oceans is addressed in those commitments. The researchers found that 70 percent of the countries that filed their NDCs mention the oceans in their commitments.

Using the metric they created, called a marine focus factor, they found that small island developing states worldwide – from the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean to St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean and Kiribati in the South Pacific – were most concerned with ocean issues in their NDCs.

“The purpose of the analysis is to better understand the current political landscape of how marine issues are recognized in national climate plans and to identify gaps that could be remedied during the subsequent revision of NDCs,” said Gallo.

Gallo said another goal of the research was to understand what drives the observed differences in marine focus across NDCs. The study tested an array of explanatory variables, including those pertaining to the amount of national marine territory, sea-level rise vulnerabilities, fisheries value, and others, to determine their ability to explain differences in marine focus. The results showed that countries more vulnerable to sea-level rise had a stronger marine focus. Political negotiating affiliation (whether the country is a highly developed country or a small island developing state) is also an important factor.

“Climate negotiators need to understand the role of the oceans in what they are trying to achieve, not only from the standpoint of the impact of emissions on the ocean, but more importantly the role of the oceans in determining the success of actions,” said Scripps Oceanography Director Margaret Leinen, who leads the delegation that represents the University of California at COPs. “This study is a step in the right direction as it allows us to understand how countries are currently considering oceans in their climate plans.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

New climate risk classification created to account for potential ‘Existential’ threats

Projected warmingResearchers identify a one-in-20 chance of temperature increase causing catastrophic damage or worse by 2050

A new study evaluating models of future climate scenarios has led to the creation of the new risk categories “catastrophic” and “unknown” to characterize the range of threats posed by rapid global warming. Researchers propose that unknown risks imply existential threats to the survival of humanity.

These categories describe two low-probability but statistically significant scenarios that could play out by century’s end, in a new study by Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a distinguished professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, and his former Scripps graduate student Yangyang Xu, now an assistant professor at Texas A&M University.

The risk assessment stems from the objective stated in the 2015 Paris Agreement regarding climate change that society keep average global temperatures “well below” a 2°C (3.6°F) increase from what they were before the Industrial Revolution.

Even if that objective is met, a global temperature increase of 1.5°C (2.7°F) is still categorized as “dangerous,” meaning it could create substantial damage to human and natural systems. A temperature increase greater than 3°C (5.4°F) could lead to what the researchers term “catastrophic” effects, and an increase greater than 5°C (9°F) could lead to “unknown” consequences which they describe as beyond catastrophic including potentially existential threats.

The specter of existential threats is raised to reflect the grave risks to human health and species extinction from warming beyond 5°C, which has not been experienced for at least the past 20 million years.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Facilitating a ‘family affair’

How Jeff Rector ’97 is making a point to involve the School of Global Policy and Strategy in a new venture erecting energy microgrids in off-grid communities of Sub-Saharan Africa

Dust can settle on a lot of things over 20 years, but as Jeff Rector ’97 can attest, quantitative training from the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy is not one of them.

“This is the most exciting thing I’ve done in my career, and it took 20 years to be able to say that.” — Jeff Rector ’97

Jeff RectorIt’s probably why the statistic that two out of three Sub-Saharan Africans lack access to electricity startled him so.

“That’s roughly 600 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Rector enlightened. “A large portion of them can be most economically or sustainably served with clean energy microgrids. We don’t need some technological breakthrough for this to work. Renewable energy is finally cheaper than conventional energy. We know that. So why aren’t these being built? They should be.

“Lack of affordable financing is the primary barrier to deployment of this technology — and throughout my career I have learned the techniques that can be applied to facilitate the flow of cheaper debt and equity finance into frontier markets. I can see a solution to this complex problem that few others can and even fewer will act on. In a way, I feel responsibility to do something.”

And so he has, launching Millennium Microgrid this spring.

Running on Rector’s decades-honed adeptness in advising on development and financing for energy and other infrastructure projects, the company develops decentralized clean energy microgrids in Sub-Saharan Africa and arranges long-term debt and equity financing for them.

Big-picture impacts of Millennium Microgrid aside, the company also serves as a memento to Rector’s commitments to the School of Global Policy and Strategy and his education.

“Now is a very interesting and auspicious time for an initiative like this … changing the world by leveraging private capital, which is abundant, and focusing on new technologies for important social purposes,” said Deep Decarbonization Initiative co-founder David Victor, who also is a formal adviser for Millennium Microgrid. “What Jeff is trying to do is a beautiful combination of technology, smart schemes for finance and development.”

Read the full story at the School of Global Policy and Strategy.

Solar Fuels Conference Comes to Campus

Despite progress in the renewable energy sector, U.S. researchers brace for a 70 percent cut in federal support

More than 300 researchers from around the world will travel to UC San Diego next month for an international meeting designed to showcase new biological and chemical approaches to utilizing solar energy for direct fuel production.

Officially billed as the second biannual International Solar Fuels conference, the scientific meeting is being held on U.S. soil for the first time.

Organizers of the first conference, held two years ago in Uppsala, Sweden, chose UC San Diego as the venue for the second solar fuels conference because of its leadership in algae biofuels and artificial photosynthesis research — specifically the work of Stephen Mayfield, a professor of biology, and Clifford Kubiak, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Both Mayfield and Kubiak are affiliates of the UC San Diego Deep Decarbonization Initiative.

“This meeting is about jobs, the thousands of jobs that will come from the technologies that will be described in this meeting,” said Mayfield. “This meeting is about the development of technologies that will turn sunlight and CO2 into valuable products—products like fuels, feeds and even food. Products like renewable plastics, medicines and even clean water.”

More information about the conference, which will run from July 6 to 10, as well as a July 9 public lecture on “Creating CO2-based Products,” can be obtained at

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Nuvve and UC San Diego to Demonstrate Vehicle-to-Grid Technology Through Energy Commission Grant

The United States is home to more than half a million electric vehicles. What if all those vehicles could be turned into virtual power plants, feeding energy back into the grid while connected via a charger? Thanks to a $4.2 million grant from the California Energy Commission, San Diego-based Nuvve Corporation will demonstrate how this technology could work on a large-scale with help from UC San Diego. Nuvve and its partners will provide additional funding to cover the $7.9 million total project cost.

Nuvve will deploy its “Vehicle to Grid” charging platforms on 50 new UC San Diego electric vehicle chargers. Vehicle to Grid technology allows a parked electric vehicle to become part of an electric grid – you can charge your vehicle at night, drive it to work in the morning and then charge the energy back into the grid when you park. Charging and discharging is flexible and based on real-time requests from the grid operator. Drivers would be paid every time the grid operator uses energy from their cars while still being guaranteed the expected level of charge needed to operate the vehicle.

“After successfully commercializing our services in Denmark, we are delighted to launch our NUVVEgives™ technology platform in California with the support of the California Energy Commission,” said Gregory Poilasne, Nuvve CEO. “We are going to tailor our platform to California’s specific needs and, with our partners, we will demonstrate the strong benefits generated by Vehicle to Grid technology.”

As part of the demonstration project, Nuvve will also use UC San Diego’s solar forecasting technology to inform its electric vehicle charging schedule. This technology includes weather models, machine learning tools and sky imagers – fish-eye lenses that capture a 360-degree view of the horizon and generate a 3-D model of the clouds they observe. The devices are connected to a sophisticated forecasting system that uses what it observes to predict solar power output in 15-minute increments.

“If the morning is cloudy, but the afternoon is forecast to be clear then charging will be delayed so that solar energy can be used directly,” explained Jan Kleissl, an environmental engineering professor at UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering and Deep Decarbonization Initiative affiliate who created the sky imagers and their algorithms. “Integrating solar forecasts into the charging schedule will allow Nuvve and the electric vehicle owner to make more informed decisions about when to charge or provide energy to the grid.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Advanced Technology and the 'Energy Revolution'

UC San Diego energy expert outlines new trends in global production, advocates for policy change to provide benefits for all

Three years ago, oil prices crashed from more than $100 per barrel to about half that, and a growing number of experts and analysts think prices will stay lower for longer. But why are oil prices so low?

A central answer to this question is technology, says energy expert David G. Victor of the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy. Some of the most profound effects of advanced technology will actually be felt in the traditional energy industries, most notably oil and gas. Similar changes are also transforming the electric power industry.

Victor expands on this argument in the new essay “The Next Energy Revolution: The Promise and Peril of High-Tech Innovation.” Coauthored by Kassia Yanosek, associate partner in McKinsey & Company’s Global Energy and Materials practice, the essay appears in the July/August 2017 issue of Foreign Affairs, available online June 13 and in print June 20.

The authors focus on the impacts of advanced technology in unlocking new supplies of oil and gas. The effects will be most profound, they argue, in countries whose polices are inviting to innovation — in particular, the United States.

“The coming transformation of the energy industry is, for the most, good news for the world,” they write. “But as the revolution unfolds, it will profoundly change politics, economics, and the environment. Policymakers and business leaders will need to tread carefully.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Investing in Carbon-free Energy Systems

George Tynan and Ahmed Abdulla from the UC San Diego Deep Decarbonization Initiative recently wrote an opinion article in the San Diego Union-Tribune titled “California should rethink everything when it comes to climate change.” The article discusses, among other issues, the need to rethink and invest in safer, new nuclear power, and a series of related issues. The article, linked above, ran on April 28, 2017.

George Tynan is associate dean of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, where he is a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Tynan is co-director of the UC San Diego Deep Decarbonization Initiative and a member of the UC San Diego Center for Energy Research. Ahmed Abdulla is Jacobs post-doctoral fellow at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy.

Scientists Complete First EPA-Approved Outdoor Field Trial for Genetically Engineered Algae

Experiment pushes toward the promise of algae as a clean, renewable food and fuel source

Scientists at the University of California San Diego and Sapphire Energy have successfully completed the first outdoor field trial sanctioned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for genetically engineered algae.

In a series of experiments funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the researchers tested a genetically engineered strain of algae in outdoor ponds under real-world conditions. As reported in the journal Algal Research, the researchers conclude that genetically engineered algae can be successfully cultivated outdoors while maintaining engineered traits, and, most importantly, without adversely impacting native algae populations.

“Just as agricultural experts for decades have used targeted genetic engineering to produce robust food crops that provide human food security, this study is the first step to demonstrate that we can do the same with genetically engineered algae,” said Stephen Mayfield, a professor of biology and an algae geneticist at UC San Diego. Mayfield is an affiliate of the Deep Decarbonization Initiative.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Economists Price BP Oil Spill Damage to Natural Resources at $17.2 Billion

BP oil SpillStudy published in Science improves valuation techniques that drive policy decisions

The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was the largest maritime oil spill in U.S. history. Almost seven years to the day after the start of the environmental disaster, researchers have published a price tag of the damage done to natural resources: $17.2 billion.

The paper, in the April 21, 2017 issue of Science, puts a monetary value on injuries to natural assets that don’t have a market price, caused by the April 20, 2010 accident on the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform. Before the blowout on the well was capped in August of that year, it released 134 million gallons of oil into the ocean, polluting the water, soiling beaches and marshes, and killing marine life.

CarsonEnvironmental economist Richard Carson of the University of California San Diego was one of the principal investigators on the valuation study.

“This is the biggest research project ever done in environmental economics and defines the state-of-the-art for valuating ecosystem services,” said Carson, a professor and former chair of the Department of Economics in the UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences. Carson is an affiliate of the Deep Decarbonization Initiative.

The study was undertaken on behalf of state and federal trustees of the Gulf’s natural resources and conducted under the guidance of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It was initiated in May 2010 and ran concurrently with assessments by natural scientists. Estimates from the valuation study, Carson said, were available in advance of the settlement reached out of court in 2016.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Research to Help Mitigate Future Shocks to State’s Water, Food and Energy Supplies

Photo by Lance Cheung/USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.The California drought may be unofficially over, but that doesn’t mean it won’t return. Policymakers, businesses and the agriculture industry can best prepare for that possibility by applying what they have learned from past droughts to future events.

UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy professor and Deep Decarbonization Initiative affiliate Jennifer Burney aims to help. She, along with researchers at UC Irvine and UC Davis, want to offer guidance to mitigate severe, future shocks to the state’s water, food and energy supplies — three key sectors, or “systems,” that they say are increasingly interdependent.

Jennifer Burney“California represents a critical opportunity for us to discover how to model, monitor and manage these three systems,” Burney said. In addition to Burney, principal investigators on the project include Steven Davis, Amir AghaKouchak and Jack Brouwer of UC Irvine, and Frances Moore of UC Davis.

The researchers received a combined five-year, $2.72 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and National Science Foundation (NSF) to study “The California Crucible: Monitoring and Managing Food, Energy and Water Systems Under Stress.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Center for Energy Research Shares $13.5M Grant for Campus-National Lab Collaborations

The Center for Energy Research (CER), an organized research unit at the University of California San Diego, will share a $13.5 million, three-year University of California grant to encourage collaboration between the UC campuses and the Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories.

BegFarhat N. Beg, professor of engineering physics at UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering, CER Director and Principal Investigator for the university’s High-Energy-Density Physics (HEDP) Group, will use the UC funding on projects involving research at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Los Angeles, UC Santa Cruz, Lawrence Livermore, and Los Alamos. The CER’s share of the grant is $4.1 million over three years.

“The Center for Energy Research has been among the nation’s leaders in forward-looking energy research,” said Sandra Brown, Vice Chancellor for Research at UC San Diego, who oversees the university’s organized research units, including the CER. “The UC investment will help ensure that our nation continues to develop technologies with powerful promise for improving lives.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Understanding and Protecting the Planet Town Hall

As part of the broad goals set out in the university's strategic plan cultivating collaborative research, the Understanding and Protecting the Planet (UPP) coordinating committee sponsored a Town Hall to showcase interdisciplinary UC San Diego within the UPP focus area. The talks featured at the town hall reported on some of the efforts that were funded last Spring in response to our call for interdisciplinary efforts in UPP as well as other efforts developed by faculty and researchers.

The recording of the Oct. 24 Town Hall may be accessed at:

Read the original UC San Diego campus notice.

Creating a New Kind of Climate Warrior

Scripps researchers help rural women in India improve health and slow global warming through clean cookstove use

Project SFor several months out of the year, a band of brown haze almost a mile thick blankets northern India, trapped there by the Himalayas. It produces smog dense enough to be visible indoors in Delhi and other urban centers.

And daily, Indian women who are among the world’s poorest people add mass to the choking pollution cloud when they feed kindling to homemade stoves. They spend several hours a day preparing meals huddled over the fire, breathing in smoke and increasing their risk of respiratory illness.

Now, a multiyear experiment launched nearly a decade ago by a researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego may have hit upon just the right combination of technology and financial incentive to thin the haze and lift the lid on a problem causing societal ills on multiple levels.

Project Surya, introduced by Scripps climate scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan, found that women in poor Indian villages would more readily replace traditional polluting cookstoves with new clean-burning ones if the women could be more easily compensated for using such stoves and the stoves were easier to repair. If the use of cleaner stoves were scaled up, a very large but relatively short-lived contributor to global warming could be substantially diminished.

The discovery of what works and what doesn’t “opens the door for rewarding rural women for becoming climate warriors,” Ramanathan said.

An analysis by Ramanathan and others appeared in the journal Nature Climate Change on Oct. 31.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

UC San Diego Scientists Advocate Combining Technical and Social Expertise to Combat Climate Change

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Less than two weeks before global leaders meet in Marrakech, Morocco at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, scientists from the University of California San Diego offer their expert advice: bring scientists and policy makers together now to help ensure success in combating climate change in the future.

Charles F. Kennel of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and David G. Victor of the School of Global Policy and Strategy say combining science and policy is the answer to the world’s most pressing problem. Their article “Making climate science more relevant,” coauthored by Stephen Briggs of the European Space Agency and European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications, appears in the Oct. 28 issue of Science magazine.

Scince magazine“With the 2015 Paris Agreement [on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions], governments launched a process that can move beyond setting agendas to coordinating national policies to manage the climate,” the authors write in Science. “Managing this complex, highly decentralized process must engage all levels of government and the private sector.”

Calling for better indicators for climate risk management, the authors see great opportunity in combining expertise. Assessments of physical climate change risks and more profound systemic risks are more successful when scientists have a seat at the table.

“The scientific community should judge its relevance by whether it helps these decentralized actors and its processes craft and implement more effective policies,” they write.

Kennel, director of Scripps Oceanography from 1998 to 2006, is an expert in climate science, with research focused on the California environment, global change and global environmental monitoring. He said the time is right to develop new analytical tools and methods needed to manage climate risk.

“Climate science can help diplomats keep track of the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but beyond that, it can help policy makers understand the risks to economies and societies,” Kennel said. “By grappling with the great diversity of regional climate change impacts, and understanding the needs of communities and industries, it can deliver relevant knowledge to a huge variety of decision makers.”

Victor, a political scientist and author of “Global Warming Gridlock: Creating More Effective Strategies for Protecting the Planet,” said the time is now for the scientific community to play a large political and policy-relevant role. He co-directs the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, and is a leader in the newly formed Deep Decarbonization Initiative at UC San Diego, a combined effort of engineers, climate scientists, and physical and social scientists across UC San Diego working to help cut global emissions of warming gases given very real technology, economic and political constraints that exist.

“The real potential for scientists lies with helping policy makers address climate change in ways that will have a tangible, actual effect. Decision makers need the hard science to understand how their actions work, and scientists need governments, businesses and other important societal actors to implement their work,” Victor said.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

'Climate change may speed democratic turnover'

UC San Diego News CenterWhile writing his Ph.D. dissertation at UC San Diego’s Department of Political Science and affiliated with faculty from the Deep Decarbonization Initiative, Nick Obradovich researched the political effects of extreme weather in electoral democracies. Looking at elections across 19 countries since 1925, he found that voters used extreme weather as a cue that politicians were not performing adequately.

His work, published in the leading field journal Climatic Change, builds on a long tradition in political science that explores how voters obtain information about whether their elected leaders are doing their jobs. Most of what elected leaders do is not visible to voters who must rely, instead, on proxies for behavior — the Obradovich work suggests that in the future, one of those proxies might be extreme weather, including weather triggered by climate change.

Read Obradovich's "Climate change may speed democratic turnover" in Climatic Change.

Read the UC San Diego News Center article on Obradovich's additional work, "How to Talk About Climate Change So People Will Act."

New California Law to Curb Climate Pollutant Emissions Based on Scripps Science

Meng LabCalifornia Governor Edmund “Jerry” Brown signed into law today new state restrictions on the emissions of so-called short-lived climate pollutants such as methane, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in refrigeration, and soot and other forms of black carbon. The new law was inspired by decades of research by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego Climate and Atmospheric Scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan. The work uncovered the potential for such curbs to have a nearly immediate effect in slowing the pace of global warming.

Ramanathan attended the ceremony in Long Beach at which Brown signed state Senate Bill 1383, which requires a 40-percent reduction of HFCs and methane, and a 50-percent reduction of black carbon below 2013 levels by 2030.

“Through SB 1383, the State of California has thrown a lifeline for its people and to the 7 billion people on the planet,” Ramanathan said. “The policies that California is implementing, if achieved worldwide, would cut the expected rate of global warming in half by 2050, save millions of lives, avoid millions of tons of crop losses per year, and slow down dangerous climate feedbacks such as melting ice caps and rising sea levels. The cost benefits of such a policy can far exceed the cost of enacting it.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

UC San Diego part of new DOE consortium to revolutionize electric car battery performance

Meng LabResearchers at the University of California San Diego are part of the new Battery500 consortium led by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) aiming to almost triple the energy packed in electric car batteries and make them smaller, lighter and less expensive. This would allow manufacturers to make more affordable electric vehicles that can travel two to three times farther.

The consortium will receive up to $10 million a year over five years from the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy and Renewable Energy, the White House recently announced.

“Our goal is to extract every available drop of energy from battery materials, while also producing a high-performance battery that is reliable, safe and less expensive,” said consortium director and PNNL materials scientist Jun Liu. “Through our multi-institutional partnership, which includes some of the world’s most innovative energy storage leaders, the Battery500 consortium will examine the best options to create the most powerful next-generation lithium batteries for electric cars.”

“We are excited to partner with some of the leaders in the battery research community to develop the next generation of battery technologies,” said nanoengineering professor Ping Liu, the principal investigator of the UC San Diego team, which is comprised of researchers from the university’s Sustainable Power and Energy Center (SPEC). “We’ll be taking advantage of our different areas of expertise to try to reach this project’s aggressive goal and timeline.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Largest university solar power project pushes UC toward carbon neutrality

FivePoints locationA ribbon-cutting in Fresno County Aug. 18 marks the opening of the Five Points Solar Park, a 60-megawatt solar power installation built to supply renewable energy to the University of California. The power supplied by the new solar farm represents roughly 14 percent of the total UC system’s electricity usage, and is a key step toward the university’s goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2025.

An additional 20-megawatt installation is set to come online by mid-2017, for a total of 80 megawatts, the largest solar purchase by any university in the U.S. The full output from these two power projects will be going to UC under a 25-year power purchase agreement with project developer Centaurus Renewable Energy.

Nearly a quarter of the solar power will go to UC Davis, while the remainder will be shared among the other UC campuses and medical centers served by the university’s Wholesale Power Program. In addition to helping the university reach its goal under the Carbon Neutrality Initiative, the new solar power installations will also provide research and education opportunities for UC faculty, students and staff.

“As a national leader in sustainability, the University of California is taking on bold, new goals and transforming our approach to procuring and using energy in more sustainable ways,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. “Our partnership with Centaurus Renewable Energy will ensure that UC has a steady supply of cost-effective, climate-neutral electricity.”

Read the full story at University of California News.

Downtown Change Makers event features ‘professor algae’ Stephen Mayfield

Stephen MayfieldUC San Diego’s Professor Stephen Mayfield, a pioneer in exploring the uses of algae for fuels, medicine, food and other purposes, is the featured speaker at the inaugural launch of the “Change Makers” series, set for 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 24 at the Downtown San Diego Partnership, 401 B St., Suite 100.

Registration is free, and the public is invited to attend.

Mayfield will speak on engineering algae for the production of therapeutic proteins and biofuels, as well as photosynthetic bio-manufacturing in his address, titled “Algae, Food and Fuel for the 21st Century.”

The Collaboratory for Downtown Innovation and Cleantech San Diego are co-sponsoring the event.

“The Collaboratory for Downtown Innovation is the first step in strengthening the connection between the Torrey Pines Mesa and Downtown’s emerging tech ecosystem,” said the Collaboratory’s Kris Mitchell. “We are thrilled to host Professor Stephen Mayfield for this inaugural Change Makers event.”

Mayfield, recently featured in Forbes magazine in an article titled “How Scientists Are Engineering Algae to Fuel Your Car and Cure Cancer,” says the humble aquatic weed “offers tremendous potential for the large-scale production of bio-products, as algae require only sunlight as an energy source and sequester CO2 during the production of biomass, and algae can be much more efficient than terrestrial plants in fixing CO2 and producing biomass.”

Using custom-designed photosynthetic microorganisms, he says, “we have the opportunity to develop a production platform for fuel, food, and biomaterials that has unmatched efficiencies and productivities. In order to fully exploit the productivities of algae we need to develop the biological and engineering processes that will enable algae as a commercial bio-products platform.”

The Collaboratory for Downtown Innovation, a partnership between UC San Diego and the Downtown San Diego Partnership, is designed to deliver the resources needed to ensure that entrepreneurs and downtown innovators are connected with the research and development that is shaping new economic opportunities and promoting the growth of this burgeoning urban innovation ecosystem.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

UC San Diego named SDG&E energy champion

Award reflects university’s commitment to achieve energy innovation and efficiency

The University of California San Diego was honored as an Energy Champion of Higher Education at SDG&E’s 11th annual Energy Showcase. UC San Diego, along with 10 other local organizations, was commended for its “remarkable commitment to sustainability, energy efficiency and conservation.” The university was recognized for its continued search for innovative and diverse energy sources to support the needs of its residents, laboratories and learning and medical facilities as part of the University of California System’s larger mission to be carbon neutral by 2025.

“We are honored to receive this award,” said Gary C. Matthews, vice chancellor for Resource Management and Planning. “SDG&E’s recognition of UC San Diego’s commitment to energy efficiency highlights the university’s role as a living laboratory in the world of energy, promoting the principles of research and innovation to find novel and varied sources of energy.”

Supporting approximately 45,000 employees and students and 16 million square feet of buildings, UC San Diego requires a strong energy infrastructure to support the needs of its community. Though the university already generates approximately 85 percent of its energy onsite, it is still a net importer of peak electricity. With the help of SDG&E incentives, the campus has implemented a series of energy retrofits and technological advancements to reduce its reliance on expensive and inefficient energy.

This story first appeared on the UC San Diego News Center.

New ocean current simulations alter view of climate change impacts

SDSC’s ‘Gordon’ used to model dynamics of California current

California CoastA “more realistic” computer model, created with the aid of Gordon at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at UC San Diego, paints a new picture of global warming’s impact on the complex processes that drive ocean mixing in the vast eddies swirling off the California coast.

The new model, published in the July issue of Nature Geosciences, more accurately describes how global warming affects the winds and circulation in the California Current system that runs parallel to the coast, and how previous models, based largely on offshore winds generated by global warming, misrepresented what was actually happening.

Information like this is critical since the California Current provides a habitat for one of the most populous and species-diverse regions in the world, while providing a bounty of seafood and tourism jobs for the state.

“Climate change could intensify coastal winds, but that does not imply it would increase the production of nutrients,” said Lionel Renault, an atmospheric and oceanic sciences researcher with UCLA, and lead author of the paper. “This research gives us a more realistic overview of the different ‘upwelling’ systems, the mechanisms that drives productivity (of nutrients), and how climate change can impact those mechanisms and productivity.”

‘Upwelling’ is a condition in which winds push surface water offshore and are replaced by deep waters, circulating nitrates, phosphates, and trace metals from below where they provide nutrients for the marine food chain.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Researchers improve performance of cathode material by controlling oxygen activity

GSIR modified cathode materialAn international team of researchers has demonstrated a new way to increase the robustness and energy storage capability of a particular class of “lithium-rich” cathode materials—by using a carbon dioxide-based gas mixture to create oxygen vacancies at the material’s surface. Researchers said the treatment improved the energy density—the amount of energy stored per unit mass—of the cathode material by up to 30 to 40 percent.

The discovery sheds light on how changing the oxygen composition of lithium-rich cathode materials could improve battery performance, particularly in high-energy applications such as electric vehicles. The findings were published July 1 in Nature Communications.

“We’ve uncovered a new mechanism at play in this class of lithium-rich cathode materials. With this study, we want to open a new pathway to explore more battery materials in which we can control oxygen activity,” said Shirley Meng, nanoengineering professor at the University of California San Diego and one of the principal investigators of the study.

Meng leads the Laboratory for Energy Storage and Conversion and is the director of the Sustainable Power and Energy Center, both at UC San Diego. A hallmark of her group’s research efforts is understanding the science behind battery materials—at the level of single atoms and molecules, and at the interfaces. Her group is one of the first to focus on the activity of oxygen atoms in battery materials. Typically, the focus has centered on lithium and transition metal atoms. “Now we’re showing that oxygen also plays a significant role in battery performance,” Meng said.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Insights from UC San Diego Sustainable Power and Energy Center research summit

Student specialistThe Sustainable Power and Energy Center (SPEC) at the University of California San Diego recently held a Research Summit for interested industry partners. Attendees from a variety of industry sectors gathered at UC San Diego to interact with faculty and graduate students, tour the UC San Diego microgrid and attend the Jacobs School’s Research Expo in the afternoon.

“Our center is quite unique in the sense that it includes engineering, physical sciences and social sciences,” said Shirley Meng, the faculty director of the Sustainable Power and Energy Center and a nanoengineering professor at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. “We are working to engage public policy experts on campus as well, so that together we can work on sustainable power and energy from different angles.”

Center faculty are also training and mentoring tomorrow’s workforce for green and advanced energy.

“Our graduate students are often hired before they have even graduated,” said Meng. “Why is this happening? Because innovation in energy storage and conversion requires rigorous training in things like advanced materials chemistry and physics.”

Some of this rigorous training was on display at the summit when graduate students gave their 90-second research presentations during the summit’s fast break poster pitch competition.

First prize went to nanoengineering PhD student Shen Wang for his pitch on additives in solar cells. Wang is part of Shirley Meng’s Laboratory for Energy Storage and Conversion.

Wang used the analogy of a human heart to explain his research. “We can control the efficiency and stability of solar cells with additives, much like doctors use tools to improve the function of a human heart.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Stretchable, flexible, wearable solar cells take top prize at Research Expo 2016

Expo WinnersSolar cells that are stretchable, flexible and wearable won the day and the best poster award from a pool of 215 at Research Expo 2016 April 14 at the University of California San Diego. The winning nanoengineering researchers aim to manufacture small, flexible devices that can power watches, LEDs and wearable sensors. The ultimate goal is to design and build much bigger flexible solar cells that could be used as power sources and shelter in natural disasters and other emergencies.

Research Expo is an annual showcase of top graduate research projects for the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego. During the poster session, graduate students are judged on the quality of their work and how well they articulate the significance of their research to society. Judges from industry, who often are alumni, pick the winners for each department. A group of faculty judges picks the overall winner from the six department winners.

This year, in addition to solar cells, judges recognized efforts to develop 3D skeletal muscle on a chip; a better way to alleviate congestion in data center networks; a nano-scale all-optical sensor; fiber optic strain sensors for structural health monitoring; and a way to predict earthquake damage in freestanding structural systems.

Students are chosen both for the quality of their research and their ability to communicate their work clearly, said George Tynan, associate dean of the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego. “It’s not enough to have great ideas and great solutions,” he said. “You have to be able to communicate the impact of your work.”

Timothy O’Connor, a nanoengineering Ph.D. student in the research group of professor Darren Lipomi, and winner of the overall best poster award, certainly did that during an interview after the poster sessions. “The greatest challenge of our time is the way that we acquire and distribute energy,” he said. “I honestly believe that if the human race doesn’t get a grip on the way in which we do this, we’re going to play the end game for all of us.”

O’Connor is part of a team of researchers in Lipomi’s lab that is working to create extremely cheap but still efficient solar cells that can be printed roll-to-roll, much like a newspaper, and can easily be deployed on everything from solar farms, to buildings, to clothes and even the human body.

To make the solar cells, O’Connor first needed to determine the best recipe to get optimal electronic performance and flexibility in the same material. He and colleagues discovered a series of rules for molecular design that allowed them to develop solar cells capable of producing 1000 microWatts of power over more than 1000 cycles. That is enough to power a digital watch and LEDs, as well as other wearable biomedical devices. By contrast, the lab’s previous version of these cells could only function for five to 10 cycles.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Cutting Aerosols will help secure world’s water supply

UC San Diego scientists outline policy solutions to reduce atmospheric dimming

A landmark accord was reached at the United Nations 2015 Paris Climate Conference. Now comes the difficult process of implementation. Countries must find ways to cut emissions that cause climate change, and then prepare to adapt directly to the large number of changes that will inevitably occur.

As countries grapple with the practical realities of the Paris process, they must also recognize that pollution has many distinct effects. For there is more to climate change than higher temperatures, say UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy political scientist David G. Victor and Scripps Institution of Oceanography climate and atmospheric scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan in the essay “The Next Front on Climate Change: How to Avoid a Dimmer, Drier World.”

Coauthored by Jessica Seddon, founder and managing director of the India-based Okapi Research and Advisory, the essay appears in the March/April 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs, available in print Feb. 23.

“Whereas greenhouse gas emissions will bring about relatively distant and diffuse danger, aerosols cause immediate and localized harm,” the authors write. “As states sharpen their pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years, they should also make distinct pledges to cut aerosols.”

They explain how many of the pollutants that affect the climate also dim the planet. Some of these pollution particles — known as aerosols — reflect sunlight back to space. Others absorb sunlight before it reaches the Earth’s surface. Dimming has a profound effect on the water cycle, leading to decreased rainfall and even drought. In societies that depend heavily on agriculture, much of which is fed by natural rainfall, the result can be threats to food security and increased poverty.

“Many of the activities that cause greenhouse gas emissions … also yield ultra-small particles known as aerosols, which blanket vast areas in a haze that blocks and scatters sunlight,” the authors write. “By reducing the solar energy that reaches the earth’s surface, aerosols reduce evaporation and slow the water cycle that governs where, when, and how much rain falls.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

UC San Diego’s big ideas for 2016 — and beyond

Replace petroleum-based plastics with biodegradable plastics made from algae

Stephen MayfieldStephen Mayfield, professor of biology, director of the California Center for Algae Biotechnology

“Algae are the most important photosynthetic organisms on Earth,” Mayfield says. “They capture more solar energy and produce more oxygen than the sum of the rest of the plants on our planet.” Mayfield’s lab has been developing strains of algae that can produce sustainable transportation fuels capable of replacing fossil fuels in the future. Earlier this year, in partnership with Oceanside-based Arctic Foam, the largest surfboard blank manufacturer in North America, the researchers developed the world’s first sustainable algae-based surfboard using oil from algae. “But let’s not stop there,” he says. “Let’s replace all of our petroleum-based plastics with sustainable biodegradable plastics made from algae. Surfboards are just the start!”

Read all 14 visionary ideas from across campus on the UC San Diego News Center.

Jennifer Burney: Change agent

Professor and National Geographic ‘Emerging Explorer’ sets out to address food production’s footprint on global climate change

BurneyWhat are some unforeseen damages caused by air pollution? How do we solve the problems of climate change? How do we feed the billions of people suffering from chronic hunger, and do it without causing further harm to the environment? These are just some of the questions that drive Jennifer Burney.

Burney, a professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, conducts research that focuses on simultaneously achieving global food security and mitigating climate change.

“We are a world of plenty, but 800 million or so people still go to bed hungry every night,” she says. “At the same time, the way we produce, distribute and cook food contributes tremendously to climate change. Finding a way to lift the world out of perpetual hunger without creating an even worse climate crisis is an intricate, interwoven problem.”

Burney studies the environmental impacts of food production and consumption and climate impacts on agriculture. A physicist by training, she designs, implements and evaluates technologies for poverty alleviation and agricultural adaptation. Much of her current research focuses on the developing world.

A trailblazer in the field

Fieldwork has led Burney to develop technologies to help farmers in Africa and Brazil adapt to climate change. “Having more money is not the only thing they need; we have to explore what adaptation looks like,” she says.

In lands baked by sun, Burney makes sunshine the answer. She helped develop solar irrigation systems that enable African and Brazilian farmers to grow more fruits and vegetables year round, boosting nutrition and income. Unlike motorized systems powered by fuel that’s too costly and unreliable, the systems Burney studies require no batteries, gas or kerosene.

In addition to devising methods to help improve food production, which only solves part of the climate equation, Burney looks at how cooking also contributes to the problem. “Cooking uses about 8 percent of global energies,” Burney says. “The biggest footprint comes from developing nations.” To study this often forgotten impact and how to reduce it, she worked on a project in India when she was post doctoral fellow at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Burney and a team of scholars from Scripps replaced highly inefficient, traditional cook stoves in Uttar Pradesh with new more eco-friendly stoves and conducted a series of tests to understand how emissions changed, and how they were linked to larger-scale impacts.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.