UCLA College celebrates Earth Day

Image of Farwiza Farhan with baby elephant

Farwiza Farhan, winner of UCLA’s 2021 Pritzker Emerging Environmental Genius Award. Farhan works to protect the Leuser Ecosystem, the last place on Earth where tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans live together in the wild. 

Every year, Earth Day provides an opportunity to celebrate and renew a shared commitment to protecting the planet. Across UCLA, initiatives such as the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge are making strides toward conservation goals, both locally and globally. And in the UCLA College of Letters and Science, renowned scholars are joining forces across disciplines to advance knowledge and research, educate, advocate and lead the way to a more sustainable future. Here are just a few highlights from the 2021–22 academic year:

Championing leaders

The UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability (IoES) hosted “Celebration of Environmental Heroes,” an event highlighting progress such as Ph.D. student Dani Hoague’s work with the Better Watts Initiative, discussed here with actor, writer and producer Issa Rae. Meanwhile, the annual Pritzker Emerging Environmental Genius Award supports young leaders from around the world — most recently Farwiza Farhan, a conservationist working in Indonesia to protect one of the planet’s most biodiverse regions.

Issa Rae introduces UCLA graduate student Dani Hoague, who discusses her work with the Better Watts Initiative (BWI). The BWI team believes that a single action can make a difference in the community, and that collective action can greatly impact the world.

Community engagement

Besides providing a tranquil oasis on campus, the UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden inspires conservation through education, research and public outreach. Many events are open to the public, including monthly guided tours, the 2021–22 lecture series “Transplanted: Examining Contexts of Plants, People and Place,” and the Festival of Trees coming up on April 29. You can also listen to a carefully curated audio tour of the garden, featuring renowned experts highlighting its unique collections.

Environmental storytelling

At the IoES’s Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies (LENS), scholars come together across areas of study from English to anthropology to collaborate on media and communications that advance the cause of environmental science, policy and advocacy. LENS has received awards for outstanding environmental journalism and most recently partnered on the Labyrinth Project, a podcast that explores L.A.’s urban ecosystems and was created by Christopher Kelty, a member of the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics.

Images from the four episodes of Earth Focus

Images from the series “Earth Focus.” One episode earned the UCLA Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies an award from the Los Angeles Press Club. | Courtesy of KCET, LENS and Thomson Reuters Foundation

Global reach

The Congo Basin Institute, a joint initiative between UCLA and the nonprofit International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, is conducting the vitally important work of preserving the world’s second-largest rainforest. The institute recently received a major gift from the co-founder of Taylor Guitars and his wife to further ebony conservation research and restoration efforts in Cameroon. The project will support local communities, grow and plant trees, conduct ecological research and build a road map for rainforest reforestation.

Interdisciplinary research

At the newly launched UCLA Rothman Family Institute for Food Studies, scholars will conduct research to improve both human and planetary health. “Food is central to the human experience, and this new institute will play a leading role in examining aspects of our relationship with food as well as the ways in which food systems tie into larger issues like public health, sustainability and economic well-being,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block in a UCLA press release.

Learn more about the work of the UCLA College here.