Whendee Silver might not think of herself as an action hero, but the professor of environmental science, policy and management today was named UC Berkeley’s first Faculty Climate Action Champion.
The honor, for outstanding teaching, research and public service in the areas of climate change solutions, action and broad engagement, is part of a new pilot program that supports UC President Janet Napolitano’s UC 2025 Carbon Neutrality Initiative.
One faculty member per campus will receive the award, which is designed to help meet and focus student demand for climate-action education and to inspire other faculty members to help achieve carbon neutrality through engaged research and education. Each campus has its own timeline for announcing a winner.
In an effort to increase the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide absorbed by ecosystems, Silver devises and tests viable approaches to slowing climate change with a focus on soils. Soils are the second-largest pool of carbon on Earth’s surface – they store three times more carbon than does the atmosphere or vegetation. But overgrazing and crop cultivation have led to widespread soil carbon losses.
Silver’s group is working to reverse this trend and to lower greenhouse gas emissions in the process. For example, Silver is a founding member and lead scientist for the Marin Carbon Project, which showed that composted organic material – food waste, agricultural waste and green waste – as an amendment to grasslands enhances carbon uptake and storage in soils and plants while also lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
“It is critical that we translate science into action,” says Silver. One way Silver has accomplished this is by helping to build a carbon mitigation partnership, bringing together a wide variety of people including landowners, nonprofit organizations and government agencies. “I have also met repeatedly with the media, and with policy makers in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., to help make our science more accessible. Students, of course, have been a fundamental component of all aspects of this work.”
Silver says she is proud of collaborating with several nonprofit groups to incorporate her science into a carbon-offset protocol. That protocol recently was approved at a national level for carbon credits, which she says will be “important incentives for landowners to adopt this practice.”