Letter Home from Berkeley, California

A Letter Home from students on the IHP Climate Change: The Politics of Food, Water, and Energy program:

The students on our trip come from a diverse selection of backgrounds. We come from all different types of schools and states. One of the factors that makes learning a more comprehensive experience is the different educational backgrounds we all have. Some of us have focused on more social aspects of climate change, others science, and for a few, this program is the beginning of their education about climate change. These differences provide us with extensive knowledge about multiple disciplines. Our backgrounds have created a community that allows us to view our coursework through different lenses. Furthermore, our group dynamic has been diversified by our personal views of climate change and our environment. Needless to say, we’ve had some great discussions and debates over the last three weeks.

We had many adventures in the Bay Area, and although we can’t recount every awesome exploration that we had, here are a few of the highlights:

One of our first field trips was to Richmond. We got to view the Chevron Refinery from afar, and learn about its environmental and social impacts on the local level. Azibuike Akaba led us on an eye-opening driving tour of Richmond, past one of many superfund sites and the community health center (it should be mentioned that Chevron paid for the center as a result of a lawsuit that was brought to court against the company). Our day was certainly well spent–seeing the issues in person gave us a glimpse into the complexity of Richmond’s current economic and environmental situation.

On our second Friday in Berkeley, the group split up into three sections to visit different alternative energy sites. One group headed to Altamont Pass to visit one of the largest wind farms in United States. Another group headed to downtown Oakland to visit Sungevity, where they got to speak with Danny Meyers, the CEO of the company, about the growing future of solar power. The third group got to visit the ever-enigmatic Geothermal Plant, Calpine. The details are quite complex – perhaps too much to get in to – however one interesting fact is that a staggering 40% of the country’s geothermal energy is produced there.

On Saturday we drove up to Point Reyes to visit Drakes Bay Oyster Farm.  There we met with the owners of the farm and learned about their farming practices as well as their fight with the federal government to keep their business open. FUN FACTS: Oysters are a great source of protein and Zinc and can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day!  Before we left, we all got to try some raw oysters, for some us it was our first time – slimy guys, they are!  After our visit with the farm we got to check out the Pacific Ocean, it was quite cold, we swam with the seals and jumped rope with an enormous piece of Kelp.

Another memorable day was a trip up to the UC Berkeley campus on our last week in California. We had the privilege of listening to several professors from UC Berkeley give talks about indigenous agriculture techniques and sustainability. Fueled by our passion to solve the climate crisis (and some coffee) we took diligent notes and broadened our intellectual horizons for nearly 10 hours.

A weekday field trip to Watsonville brought us to Live Earth Farm, where Tom Broz filled us in on what it’s like to be an organic farm that sells CSA (community supported agriculture) shares in the Monterey Bay. He gave an inspiring talk about his future hopes for agriculture, and a crash course in permaculture and the sustainable practices used at Live Earth Farm. Sitting on a pile of hay bales overlooking a small valley at the edge of his property, and munching on apples grown in his orchard, Tom engaged us as he spoke of a need for sustainable agriculture. Moments like this defined our time in California, as we had the opportunity to gain valuable insight from a local that was immersed in the very issues that we had read much about.

Our last full day in California we met with Kevin Danaher, the cofounder of Global Exchange, a San Francisco based Non-profit that promotes social, economic and environmental justice. Later he took us on a tour of Mission High School’s garden project. The project consists of local students working in conjunction with Global Exchange to turn a parking lot into an organic garden, where they will sell the food locally. Our visit to San Francisco was worthwhile and it left us optimistic as we set out to interview different agencies that afternoon.


– Most of the group got to see America’s Cup down at Fisherman’s Wharf–the United States won! (We’d like to think that our cheering played a role in their victory)

– The group got fairly comfortable with the Bay Area’s public transportation system

– The Berkeley YMCA was perfectly situated downtown, and some of our bedrooms even had views of the Golden Gate Bridge!

– We love our meal stipends – eating out in Berkeley was fun! Although there is a great array of ethic food in Berkeley, we held off on the Vietnamese food–why settle for Berkeley’s take on it when you can fly off to Vietnam for a taste of the real deal?

Thanks for reading and following our adventures around the world!

IHP Climate Change

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