I had wanted to see a giant sequoia ever since learning about them in my 7th grade science class because a) they are the biggest trees in the world by volume, and b) “sequoia” has all five vowels mashed into a relatively short word, which is pretty neat. Earlier this summer I finally drove up to Sequoia National Park for a camping trip and to meet General Sherman – the single largest tree in the world. As I stood beneath this giant, 7th grade Jay completely took over, putting a ridiculous grin on my face as I gazed up in wonder… only to have grown-up Bren-student Jay ruin the moment by thinking aloud, “I wonder how much carbon dioxide this massive organism has sequestered in its 2,500 year lifetime.”*
I blame this partly on my internship. This summer I have been working for the TomKat UC Carbon Neutrality Project, an undertaking to identify and implement solutions that allow University of California to fulfill its Carbon Neutrality Initiative (CNI) and make a substantial contribution towards mitigating climate change. The immediate goal of the CNI is for UC to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible before purchasing offsets, like tree-planting programs, to make up for the emissions that it cannot eliminate before 2025. This means that in the next 9 years UC must effectively decrease its greenhouse gas emissions by over one million metric tons – the same amount that comes from burning more than one billion pounds of coal.
The TomKat project is tackling two challenges: 1) developing pathways for transitioning away from natural gas use and towards a more sustainable future, and 2) ensuring that these solutions are supported and implemented through strategic engagement and communication. I’ve had the opportunity to work on both of these challenges with some brilliant people this summer, and I will continue to do so throughout the next school year.
I could tell you about the valuable experiences that my internship is giving me – performing literature reviews, mining and synthesizing data, and working as part of a team to achieve a larger goal. But the real reason I care about this project is much simpler than that.
Natural places like giant sequoia groves make me feel like an awestruck child again with their beauty and grandeur, and climate change is posing a significant threat to their future. Helping to address climate change will help to preserve these natural places; this is what makes me excited about my internship and this project. Because if the University of California can prioritize climate change mitigation and succeed in achieving carbon neutrality, then who’s to say that other universities, the state of California, or even the nation as a whole cannot follow this example?
* If you were curious about this, and to better understand the magnitude of UC’s initiative, consider the following: General Sherman has sequestered an estimated 1,440 metric tons of CO2 in its multi-millennia lifetime. It would, therefore, take more than one thousand additional giant sequoias, all as big and as old as the largest tree on the planet, to sequester the total annual emissions from University of California.
Jay McConagha is a second-year MESM student specializing in Energy & Climate and working in sunny Santa Barbara as an intern with the TomKat Carbon Neutrality Project. When not working this summer he has spent time exploring beaches, playing recreational sports, and catching up on non-school-related reading.