Recommended Readings

Readings (updated June 2021)

What are your ENVS Faculty interests, and what are they publishing?

Professor Elliott Campbell and postdoctoral researcher Brandi McKuin published a paper, “Energy and water co-benefits from covering canals with solar panels” in Nature Sustainability. Solar power development over canals is an emerging response to the energy–water–food nexus that can result in multiple benefits for water and energy infrastructure. Case studies of over-canal solar photovoltaic arrays have demonstrated enhanced photovoltaic performance due to the cooler microclimate next to the canal. In addition, shade from the photovoltaic panels has been shown to mitigate evaporation and potentially mitigate aquatic weed growth. In their research, the authors used regional hydrologic and techno-economic simulations of solar photovoltaic panels covering California’s 6,350 km canal network, the world’s largest conveyance system covering a wide range of climates, insolation rates and water costs, and found that over-canal solar could reduce annual evaporation by an average of 39 ± 12 thousand m3 per km of canal. Furthermore, the financial benefits from shading the canals outweigh the added costs of the cable-support structures required to span the canals. The net present value of over-canal solar exceeds conventional overground solar by 20–50%, challenging the convention of leaving canals uncovered and calls into question our understanding of the most economic locations for solar power. This research was also covered in the UCSC News.

Professor Greg Gilbert and Assistant Professor Kai Zhu collaborated with 48 institutions to contribute data for the recent breakthrough study, "Continent-wide tree fecundity driven by indirect climate effects.” The UCSC data was collected by student interns at the UCSC Forest Ecology Research Plot (FERP), directed by Professor Gilbert. The study, published in Nature Communications, analyzed data from hundreds of long-term forest monitoring sites across North America to document that climate change is causing declines in seed production for older, larger trees in western forests while increasing seed production for younger, smaller trees in East Coast forests. On the West Coast, these reductions in reproductive ability could limit the capacity of forests to bounce back following damages or die-backs from rising temperatures, drought, or pest infestations driven by climate change. Understanding this trend could help guide forest management practices and improve the modeling of future changes to North American forests. The project was also covered in the UCSC News.

Professor Karen Holl published an article in The Conversation, “Arbor Day should be about growing trees, not just planting them” addressing the current trend of business leaders, politicians, YouTubers and celebrities to call for the planting of millions – or even trillions – of trees to slow climate change. Although trees are one part of the solution, it is impossible for humanity to plant its way out of climate change. For trees to produce benefits, they need to be planted correctly, which often is not the case. Scientific assessments show that avoiding the worst consequences of climate change will require governments, businesses and individuals around the globe to make rapid and drastic efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Professor Holl was recently awarded the MacArthur Foundation Chair at UC Santa Cruz for her work to increase the effectiveness of forest restoration efforts in combating climate change.

Associate Professor Sikina Jinnah co-authored a paper Splitting geoengineering governance: How problem structure shapes institutional design” in Global Policy. The article adds conceptual discipline to a well‐rehearsed but largely intuitive argument within the climate engineering community that carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and solar radiation management (SRM) should be treated separately – ‘split’ rather than ‘lumped’ – in policy discussions. The authors build the first theoretically derived argument for ‘splitting,’ and through analyzing their problem structures demonstrate that SRM and CDR are different in ways that are likely to yield different state preferences for institutional design. They posit that policy proposals that split SRM and CDR are more likely to be adopted by states and construct a theoretical argument for ‘splitting’ SRM and CDR governance in global policy discussions.

Associate Professor Jinnah also published the introduction to a 30th anniversary issue of Environmental Politics. The special issue, co-authored by the editorial team, commemorates the anniversary of the journal, reflects on the state of the field, and identifies future research directions.  

Professor Michael Loik co-authored new study, “Tropicalization of temperate ecosystems in North America: The northward range expansion of tropical organisms in response to warming winter temperatures,” showing how parts of the US will ‘tropicalize’ as climate changes. In this study, published in Global Change Biology, a team of 16 scientists led by U.S. Geological Survey ecologist Michael Osland examines the influence of extreme cold events on the northward range limits of a diverse group of tropical organisms, including terrestrial plants, coastal wetland plants, coastal fishes, sea turtles, terrestrial reptiles, amphibians, manatees, and insects. For these organisms, extreme cold events can lead to major physiological damage or landscape-scale mass mortality. Conversely, the absence of extreme cold events can foster population growth, range expansion, and ecological regime shifts. In the 21st century, climate change-induced decreases in the frequency and intensity of extreme cold events are expected to facilitate the poleward range expansion of many tropical species. This study highlights critical knowledge gaps for advancing understanding of the ecological implications of the tropicalization of temperate ecosystems in North America. This work was also featured in the UCSC News.

Professor Flora Lu, in collaboration with the National Science Foundation/Belmont Forum/NORFACE international research team, published “Transformations to groundwater sustainability: From individuals and pumps to communities and aquifers” in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. In the article, the authors posit that if current practices of agricultural intensification relying on the depletion of aquifers and exploitation of (female) labor continue, transformations to groundwater sustainability will be impossible to achieve. Thus, the development of new groundwater imaginaries, based on alternative ways of organizing society-water relations is of critical importance. The paper argues that a comparative documentation of grass-roots initiatives to care for, share or recharge aquifers in places with acute resource pressures provides an important source of inspiration. Using a grounded anti-colonial and feminist approach, the authors combine an ethnographic documentation of groundwater practices with hydrogeological and engineering insights to enunciate, normatively assess and jointly learn from the knowledges, technologies and institutions that characterize such initiatives. Doing this usefully shifts the focus of planned efforts to regulate and govern groundwater away from government efforts to control individual pumping behaviors, to the identification of possibilities to anchor transformations to sustainability in collective action. Environmental Studies graduate students Aysha Peterson and Michelaina Johnson, are co-authors, as well as Adjunct Assistant Professor Linnea Beckett at Colleges Nine and Ten, representing a linkage between a department and the colleges in the Social Sciences Division. Information about the Salinas Valley was also shared in the supplementary material. 

Postdoctoral researcher Brandi McKuin was the lead author of a study, “Rethinking sustainability in seafoodSynergies and trade-offs between fisheries and climate change” published in Elementa. In this study, researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz and NOAA examines traditional aspects of seafood sustainability alongside greenhouse gas emissions to better understand the “carbon footprint” of U.S. tuna fisheries. Sustainability is a common goal and catchphrase used in conjunction with seafood, but the metrics used to determine the level of sustainability are poorly defined. Although the conservation statuses of target or nontarget fish stocks associated with fisheries have been scrutinized, the relative climate impacts of different fisheries are often overlooked. An increasing body of research seeks to understand and mitigate the climate forcing associated with different fisheries, but little effort has sought to integrate these disparate disciplines to examine the synergies and trade-offs between conservation efforts and efforts to reduce climate impacts. In this study, the authors quantified the climate forcing per unit of fish protein associated with several different U.S. tuna fishing fleets, among the most important capture fisheries by both volume and value in order to consider the unintended consequences on fisheries conservation. The study was also covered in the UCSC News.

Assistant Professor Maywa Montenegro de Wit published a paper, “What grows from a pandemic? Toward an abolitionist agroecology,” in The Journal of Peasant Studies, that examines how COVID-19 has exposed racialized vulnerabilities in the dominant agrifood system. In contrast, Agroecology has the potential to heal manifold metabolic rifts through which a series of breakdowns, from pandemic ecologies to uncontrolled infection among meatpacking workers, arise. Ecologically, it offers biodiversity-based agriculture to maintain landscape complexity and buffer viral spillovers. Socially, intentional work is needed to center racism in the original accumulations through which metabolic rifts emerge. Specifically, agroecologists can mobilize lessons from abolition, a strategy premised on dismantling exploitative systems through growing relationships and institutions that affirm life.

Lecturer and Director of the Center for Integrated Spatial Research (CISR) Barry Nickel and Professor Chris Wilmers published “Energetics and fear of humans constrain the spatial ecology of pumas” in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their paper describes how the physical landscape and the need to avoid predation risk both exert costs on animal movement. How these fundamental factors interact to ultimately determine wildlife space use remains unknown, leaving open the question of how short-term movement costs drive long-term processes such as home range formation. Using data from collared pumas (Puma concolor) to integrate the costs of physical terrain and predation risk (from humans) in a common currency, energy, the authors show that both factors affect short-term movement costs and that, cumulatively, short-term costs constrain long-term space use (e.g., home range area). The relatively greater short- and long-term energetic cost of avoiding human-induced risk highlights the important role that risk plays in shaping an animal’s “energy landscape.”

Professor Chris Wilmers co-authored a study, “Disturbance type and species life history predict mammal responses to humans” published in the journal Global Change Biology. Analyzing data from 3,212 camera traps the team compiled detection data for 24 mammal species from 61 populations across North America to quantify the effects of (1) the direct presence of people and (2) the human footprint (landscape modification) on mammal occurrence and activity levels. Thirty-three percent of mammal species exhibited a net negative response (i.e., reduced occurrence or activity) to increasing human presence and/or footprint across populations, whereas 58% of species were positively associated with increasing disturbance. Apparent benefits of human presence and footprint tended to decrease or disappear at higher disturbance levels, indicative of thresholds in mammal species’ capacity to tolerate disturbance or exploit human-dominated landscapes. Species ecological and life history traits were strong predictors of their responses to human footprint, with increasing footprint favoring smaller, less carnivorous, faster-reproducing species. Differential responses by some species to human presence and human footprint highlight the importance of considering these two forms of human disturbance separately when estimating anthropogenic impacts on wildlife. This approach provides insights into the complex mechanisms through which human activities shape mammal communities globally, revealing the drivers of the loss of larger predators in human-modified landscapes.

Professor Wilmers also published a study in Current Biology, “COVID-19 suppression of human mobility releases mountain lions from a landscape of fear,” which shows how the quiet of pandemic-era lockdowns allowed pumas to venture closer to urban areas. Based on tracking data, a 50% decline in human mobility due to shelter-in-place orders in the Bay Area resulted in a relaxation of mountain lion aversion to urban areas. Rapid changes in human mobility thus appear to act quickly on food web functions - suggesting an important pathway by which emerging infectious diseases will impact not only human health but ecosystems as well.

Assistant Professor Kai Zhu published a new study, “Montane species track rising temperatures better in the tropics than in the temperate zone,” in Ecology Letters showing how rising temperatures resulting from climate change are affecting where plants and animals can live in mountain regions around the globe. The researchers found that tropical species are shifting their ranges up mountain slopes at a rate that’s 2.1 to 2.4 times faster than their temperate counterparts, and tropical forests, in particular, are undergoing these changes 10 times faster than temperate forests. These findings contribute new insight into how species survival outcomes—and potential conservation strategies—may vary by geography as our world warms. This study was also featured in the UCSC News.

Environmental, Economic, Historical and Sociological Readings for the Times We Are Living In

Robin Kelley - Freedom Dreams

Isabel Wilkerson - Caste

The Political Mine by George Lakoff

Pedagogy of the Oppressed - Paulo Freire

People's Guide to Capitalism - Hadas Thier

Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression

The Souls of Black Folk - W. E. B. Du Bois

Our Revolution, Bernie Sanders

Maurizio Lazarato, Capital Hates Everyone

The Combahee River Collective Statement

People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn (freely available through History is a Weapon)

Winning the Green New Deal

Mutual Aide, Dean Spade

Blueprint for the Revolution - Srđa Popović

The New Jim Crow - Michelle Alexander

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa - Walter Rodney

Communism For Kids - Bini Adamczak

Manufacturing Consent - Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky

Bigger than Bernie - Megan Day and Micah Uetricht

The Socialist Manifesto - Bhaskar Sunkara

The Shock Doctrine - Naomi Klein

Why Marx was Right - Terry Eagleton

Critique of the Gotha Program - Karl Marx (Free PDF)

The Deficit Myth - Stephanie Kelton

The Case for Job Guarantee - Pavlina R. Tcherneva

Understanding Modern Money - Randall Wray

Debt - David Graeber

Declarations of Dependence: Money, Aesthetics, and the Politics of Care -  Scott Ferguson

Further Reading


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