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Meet California's Climate Heroes

Here are scientists and policy makers in the Sacramento region who play vital roles in the global effort to fix a warming planet.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Floods, droughts, wildfires. Rising sea levels and disappearing coastlines.

The world’s scientists have warned for decades that our planet is warming and—thanks to extreme storms like Hurricane Sandy—we finally seem prepared to believe it. A recent Rasmussen Reports poll found that 68 percent of Americans now agree that global warming is a “serious problem.”

To arrest the crisis, scientists say we need to cut back drastically on greenhouse-gas emissions that are causing our atmosphere to deteriorate and the planet to warm.

But who will lead this colossal endeavor?

As it turns out, a surprising number of scientists, politicians and policy makers based right here in the Sacramento region are taking bold action to forge the path ahead on a statewide, national and global level.

California has been on the cutting edge on climate change from the beginning, passing laws since 2002 that have pioneered limiting the emissions of greenhouse gases and one, even, that actually beckons a future low-carbon economy by putting a price on carbon. Each decree, in turn, became a rallying point for innovation, strategic policy and action to curb the emissions that are warming the planet. And as policy makers embarked on their course, nearby UC Davis began to sharpen the state’s cutting edge on the climate issue with a scientist’s blade. In the last decade, UC Davis has convened teams of scientists, industry leaders and policy makers in partnership-driven institutes—like the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies and California Lighting Technology Center—in search of real-world solutions to climate change.

Five years ago, SN&R led an effort in the alternative press that had millions of readers nationwide reading stories about the dangers global warming presented to the future. The journalism from our 2007 Kyoto Project was published on the 10th anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol, the first occasion where the Earth’s governments came together in agreement that humankind faced the giant challenge of a warming planet. Sadly, the United States never signed the Kyoto treaty, and global emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, has risen 50 percent since 1990. And the pace is quickening.

But this is not where it ends. This week, on the 15th anniversary of the now-moribund Kyoto Protocol, we bring you promise of hope.

In this issue, we’ve compiled a roster of 15 locals who are involved in essential work on mitigating greenhouse-gas emissions. (For our purposes here, we’ve chosen to focus on those involved in mitigation and not the many concerned with what is called “adaptation”—i.e., figuring out how to tolerate the effects of the warming.)

SN&R hereby presents the most impactful of those who are creating replicable models to reduce global-warming pollution. There is no doubt that these individuals stand on the frontlines of the fix to what former Vice President Al Gore calls “the crisis of our time.”

Michael Siminovitch, director, UC Davis California Lighting Technology Center

Exasperated by all the talk—whether about sustainability, greenhouse-gas pollution, energy efficiency or climate awareness—Michael Siminovitch has had enough. “There’s an enormous amount of talking on this issue,” he said. “Far too much talking!”

“Our energy intensity is so high in this country! … What we need is to start doing simple things quickly.”

Indeed, in Siminovitch’s realm of concern, small changes—like installing “smart” lighting systems and using LED, or light-emitting diode, lights—can net big results in reducing emissions. That’s because artificially illuminating our homes, workplaces and urban spaces (like streets and parking lots) accounts for nearly 30 percent of California’s electricity use. And electricity generation, in turn, makes up about 25 percent of the state’s total greenhouse-gas pollution.

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