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FOCUS ON CLIMATE CHANGE: Campus energized for historic, ‘largest ever’ teach-in

By Clifton B. Parker on February 8, 2008 in University News

From early in the morning to well after dark on Jan. 31, the UC Davis community focused much of its attention on global climate change, joining nearly 1,800 other schools around the country for Focus the Nation.

Founder Eban Goodstein, an economics professor at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., called Focus the Nation the largest teach-in in history, estimating that the event reached close to 1 million students and others, through the efforts of some 10,000 volunteers.

At UC Davis' Sustainability Summit last April, Goodstein cheered the university's forthcoming participation — and, indeed, UC Davis assembled one of the largest Focus the Nation programs in the country.

The day's agenda included a daylong teach-in and poster fair, 21 special speakers, tours of campus sustainability efforts, a green bag lunch and entertainment.

Nearly 800 students, staff and faculty swore off car transit for the day, and many people ended up at the Bike Barn, where they wheeled their bicycles for preventive maintenance.

A daylong Idea Fair drew some 1,500 people to Freeborn Hall, and in late afternoon the fair morphed into the World of Ideas Cafe, with professors, staff, students and others meeting at roundtables to promote climate change solutions.

Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef proclaimed to the cafe's 13 teams: "The future is yours, and I want you to claim it!"

Davis Net Impact, a student group in the Graduate School of Management, showed off a computer program whereby households can easily measure the carbon output from their energy use. Then, after taking simple steps to cut back on the consumption of electricity and natural gas, people can measure again monthly to see their progress at reducing their carbon footprints.

"People want to help," said Tai Stillwater, an emerging ventures analyst at the GSM's Energy Efficiency Center, "but they keep asking, 'Where's the tool to measure the change?'"

Graduate student Ebrima Ceesay talked up a system whereby every item in grocery store computers would not only have a price attached, but a value for the amount of carbon that went into the product and getting it to market. Your receipt would tally up your carbon cost — and, if you wanted to lower it, you could make changes in your buying habits.

Focus the Nation organizers asked people at the World of Ideas Cafe to vote for their favorite projects in three categories, based on the projects' potential on a large scale, medium scale or small scale. The winners:

  • Waste to Energy, showcasing a dairy manure digester — first place in all three categories.
  • Eco-Neighborhoods, promoting higher-density, mixed-use in-fill projects with ecologically based infrastructure — second place in medium and large scale, and third place in small scale.
  • Gimme Shelter, promoting green buildings — third place in large scale.
  • Cool Eaters, building local food systems, and Mode Shifters, sustainable modes of transportation — tie for third place in medium scale.
  • Green Flush, biotoilet and water conservation, and SLOW (Sustainable Living … On Weekends), a transportation project — tie for second place in small scale.

Suanne Klahorst, program coordinator for Focus the Nation at UC Davis, said the day's volunteers impressed her the most, especially those who participated in the World of Ideas Cafe.

"At least 62 incredibly scheduled people rearranged their lives to spend hours working on how they might effectively communicate their solutions to policymakers and voters," said Klahorst, a writer for UC Davis' John Muir Institute of the Environment.

Eight of those policymakers joined a World of Ideas Cafe panel discussion to talk about sustainability efforts by the state, Yolo County and the city of Davis.

As the noisy brainstorming came to an end, the participants turned their attention to the panel. "You could hear a pin drop, people listened that intently," Klahorst said.

The policymakers were all smiles at the intense interest in programs and projects that begin to address the climate crisis.

"It was a rare feel-good moment in what is normally a doomsday topic, as the teams and guests realized that for this point in time, they were all on the same page in terms of what could be done to treat this global ailment," Klahorst said.

Similarly, Focus the Nation project coordinator Camille Kirk, an associate planner in the Office of Resource Management and Planning, commented on "the remarkable connections and conversations" that could help contribute to a reversal of global warming.

After seeing so many ideas and solutions in the making, Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who joined the policymakers panel at the World of Ideas Cafe, told the audience: "What we see here is what will get us out of this."


In January, which concluded with Focus the Nation, the campus's sustainability Web site logged 5,156 visitors, up nearly 544 percent from December (801 visitors).

Media contact(s)

Clifton B. Parker, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,