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A portrait of Clara Pratte.

Tribal leader Clara Pratte wins Pritzker Award for young environmental innovators

A portrait of Clara Pratte.

Clara Pratte: “There’s a Navajo saying that when there’s a world to heal, there’s going to be a mother to do it — a woman to do it.” (Photo Courtesy of Clara Pratte)

The UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability presented the 2020 Pritzker Emerging Environmental Genius Award to Clara Pratte, a Navajo advocate for tribal communities and a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team who focuses on tribal engagement.

Pratte advises tribes across the United States on economic development issues, with the goals of alleviating poverty and advancing tribal sovereignty. She founded Strongbow Strategies, a firm that assists tribal and government clients with business and technical issues, in 2013. She is also part of the leadership team of Navajo Power, a public benefit corporation that transitions tribal lands from extractive energy industries such as coal to large-scale solar energy.

The annual award carries a prize of $100,000, which is funded through a portion of a $20 million gift to UCLA from the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation. It is the field’s first major honor specifically for innovators under the age of 40 — those whose work stands to benefit most from the prize money and the prestige it conveys.

Pratte said the award, which was presented Dec. 16 in an online ceremony, brought to mind traditional wisdom.

“There’s a Navajo saying that when there’s a world to heal, there’s going to be a mother to do it — a woman to do it,” Pratte said.

A screen shot of Pratte reacting to the announcement of her selection as the 2020 winner of the Pritzker Emerging Environmental Genius Award.

Pratte reacts to the announcement of her selection as the 2020 winner of the Pritzker Emerging Environmental Genius Award. (Photo Credit: UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability)

Through her work with Navajo Power, Pratte gathers input to make sure prospective clean energy projects serve the community’s needs. In many cases, she said, companies trying to work on Native lands fail because they lack an understanding of the everyday realities facing residents. They often communicate only with tribal leadership, which may not understand the needs of each individual community. The results create injustices, such as power lines that run over homes lacking electricity. Navajo Power makes sure that’s not the case on its projects.

The company reinvests its profits in the community — reimbursing people for the use of their land and making sure every home has electricity and water.

“I was born and raised in the Navajo community with no water or electricity, thinking that the only way we could survive is to join the capitalist community we’re part of,” Pratte said. “We destigmatize and demystify what it’s like to work on tribal lands.”

The Pritzker Award is open to anyone working to solve environmental challenges through any lens — from science to advocacy and entrepreneurism. For the second straight year, the winner represents an indigenous group and, for the third consecutive year, all three finalists were women.

In addition to Pratte, the finalists were Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, a Marshallese poet and climate activist who performed at the United Nations Climate Summit, and Leah Penniman, who co-founded a community farm centered on Black and Indigenous people that aims to end racism and injustice in the food system. A panel of UCLA faculty members selected the finalists from among 20 candidates who were nominated by an international group of environmental leaders.

Pratte was chosen as winner by a panel of four distinguished judges: Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPrize Foundation; Kevin de León, Los Angeles City Councilmember; Lori Garver, CEO of Earthrise Alliance; and Kara Hurst, head of worldwide sustainability at Amazon.

“I don’t need to convince this crowd that climate change is an existential threat,” de León said. “We cannot solve it unless all individuals can access the latest and greatest energy technologies and live in a sustainable community.”

The announcement of Pratte as the winner was made by Tony Pritzker, who founded the award and is a member of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability’s advisory board. He praised all of the nominees for their practical efforts during a difficult time.

“2020 obviously has been a different sort of year,” Pritzker said. “The word that I have in my mind is ‘grateful.’ I’m grateful for my health and the health of my family in a way I’ve never appreciated before. I’m grateful for your perseverance and dedication to the Earth and its various environmental needs. You’re all working toward solutions that can make this a better place to live.”

This article, written by David Colgan, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom

Divers survey submersible cages used to farm cobia off the coast of Puerto Rico. UCLA researchers conducted the first country-by-country evaluation of the potential for marine aquaculture under current policies and practices.

Will ocean seafood farming sink or swim? UCLA study evaluates its potential

Divers survey submersible cages used to farm cobia off the coast of Puerto Rico. UCLA researchers conducted the first country-by-country evaluation of the potential for marine aquaculture under current policies and practices.

Divers survey submersible cages used to farm cobia off the coast of Puerto Rico. UCLA researchers conducted the first country-by-country evaluation of the potential for marine aquaculture under current policies and practices.

 

Seafood farming in the ocean — or marine aquaculture — is the fastest growing sector of the global food system, and it shows no sign of slowing. Open-ocean farms have vast space for expansion, and consumer demand continues to rise.

As with many young industries, there’s a lot to figure out, from underlying science and engineering to investment and regulations.

In a study published in the journal Marine Policy, UCLA researchers report that they have conducted the first country-by-country evaluation of the potential for marine aquaculture under current governance, policy and capital patterns. They discovered a patchwork of opportunities and pitfalls.

Peter Kareiva, one of the study’s authors and director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, said sustainable food systems are an important part of the fight against climate change.

“Like many environmental scientists, I see marine aquaculture as the future food system for a carbon neutral world,” Kareiva said. “But whether we get that future and a healthy ocean depends on governance and regulations — and we all know how sketchy those can be at times.”

In 2017, Kareiva’s research found that a tiny fraction of the world’s oceans, farmed sustainably — just 0.015 percent — could satisfy the entire world’s fish demand.

The new study categorizes 144 countries into three groups based on their capacity for aquaculture growth in the industry: “goldilocks,” “potential at-risk” and “non-optimized producer.” The categories are based on quality of government institutions and regulations, potential for investment and how suitable the biological and physical environment are for farming seafood in the ocean.

Sixty-seven countries fell in the goldilocks category for either finfish or bivalves, like mussels and clams — meaning conditions there are favorable for marine aquaculture. According to lead author Ian Davies, who conducted research for the study at Kareiva’s UCLA lab, the industry could help address social challenges in these places.

“There is a lot of potential in food-insecure countries, including island states in the Pacific and Caribbean,” Davies said. “They have limited resources and quickly growing populations. But these are also the countries with the most productive waters in the world.”

Twenty-four countries were identified as non-optimized producers, which lack highly productive waters but still engage in aquaculture, usually because of better access to investment. This group includes countries around the Persian Gulf and Black Sea, South Korea, Italy, Canada and Norway.

Finally, the paper categorized 77 countries as potential at-risk. These countries have suitable waters but poor access to capital and unstable, corrupt or ineffective governance systems. Despite such problems, 16 are currently farming fish in the ocean, often harming ecosystems or causing other problems in the process. China is by far the largest producer of ocean-farmed seafood, owing to strong financial capacity and political will, but was found to have poor oversight — which could pose problems for the industry in the future.

“The more robust regulation you have, the more you can ensure the industry will be around for longer, and that it will be able to produce fish at a reasonable cost with minimal input,” Davies said. “There is a palpable feeling among planners, researchers and aquaculture operators that we have the ability to do this right before the industry gets too big. Let’s put the regulations in place.”

Ineffective regulation often leads to ecosystem damage. In the 1990s, there was a shrimp farming boom in Southeast Asia. Operations added too much shrimp and feed to mangroves, destroying many in the process. The impact was also felt by humans. Mangroves serve as barriers that reduce storm surge and flooding, and many small aquaculture operators quickly found themselves out of business. More recently, unregulated fish farming led to disease outbreaks in northern Vietnamese waters.

In other observations, the study found that while lack of regulation poses problems, so can regulation that is too burdensome. In Ireland the licensing process takes years, making it impossible for operators to qualify for European Union grants. There are other country-specific barriers, too. New Zealand is a goldilocks country, but opposition from local communities and vocal stakeholders, including fishermen, has slowed marine development.

China is the largest marine aquaculture producer by far, but its waters are only moderately good and its governance was listed as low quality. The industry has succeeded there because of political will and access to capital. China isn’t alone. Excluding outliers, the study notes, less suitable countries produce almost six times as much fish as optimal countries. Capital-driven aquaculture in less suitable waters carries the risk of being less effective and more damaging.

Marine aquaculture is seen as promising compared to high-polluting inland operations. The open ocean disperses its impact, leading to fewer environmental problems. Meanwhile, according to the United Nations, nearly 90 percent of the world’s marine stocks are depleted, with many fisheries on the verge of collapse. Sustainably farming oceans could allow wild populations to rebound while serving as a crucial source of protein and economic benefits to humans.

Photo of Justin Caram, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the UCLA College, and graduate student Dayanni Bhagwandin.

New UCLA fellowship aims to make environmental science more inclusive

Photo of Justin Caram, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the UCLA College, and graduate student Dayanni Bhagwandin.

Justin Caram, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the UCLA College, and graduate student Dayanni Bhagwandin.

 

Climate change touches every life on the planet — so why are so many environmental scientists white men?

Last year, UCLA became the first university to launch a center for diversity in environmental science to counter the problem. Its goal: to inspire a generation of leaders that actually matches the demographics of the U.S. population.

This year, the Center for Diverse Leadership in Science’s first class of fellows takes flight, building a critical mass to ensure students and faculty of diverse backgrounds have what they’ll need to succeed, from funding to a supportive community of scientists with similar backgrounds.

“With challenges like climate change, the stakes have never been higher for ensuring we have scientific literacy coupled with representation and innovation,” said Aradhna Tripati, the center’s founder and a UCLA climate scientist. “We need every person’s imagination to overcome some of the greatest challenges our society has faced.”

Karen McKinnon, a professor in the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability knows only too well how that sense of isolation affects a student. As one of just a few women in her doctoral program, McKinnon experienced first-hand what it’s like to be a minority in an academic setting.

“The experience of having only a small number of female peers was challenging because you always felt just a little bit out of place,” said McKinnon, who is also a professor of statistics. “It was a visual reminder that I was not the ‘typical’ scientist.”

In the United States, 86 percent of the environmental science workforce is white and 70 percent is male, despite the fact that the EPA found in a 2018 study that non-white communities had a 28 percent higher health burden from environmental issues. Those under the poverty line had a 35 percent higher health burden.

The inaugural fellows class consists of 47 high school, undergraduate students, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, along with 22 faculty fellows from UCLA. The students will work in groups on research and outreach campaigns while the faculty fellows serve as mentors and role models.

Photo of Postdoctoral scientist Adeyemi Adebiyi and Jasper Kok, associate professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences.

Postdoctoral scientist Adeyemi Adebiyi and Jasper Kok, associate professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences.

The fellows aim to break barriers that prevent women and minorities from pursuing academic careers in the sciences through group collaboration, workshop training sessions and community outreach. Students are paid for their work with financial support from the National Science Foundation and private donations.

The fellows aim to break barriers that prevent women and minorities — including people of various gender identities and sexual orientations — from pursuing academic careers in the sciences through group collaboration, workshop training sessions and community outreach. Students are paid for their work with financial support from the National Science Foundation and private donations.

Ronald Thompson, a second-year environmental science student from Sacramento, said he is one of few black students in most of his classes.

“Diversity provides comfort in a work environment and shows that you can do anything despite your race, religious beliefs or sexuality,” said Thompson, who wants to pursue a research career in conservation biology. “It lets you be comfortable with what you’re doing and makes you feel like you’re not being judged or looked at differently.”

For his research component of the fellowship, Thompson works with other undergraduates in a group overseen by a doctoral candidate to analyze sediment from ancient lakes across the western United States. Their research aims to discover how those lakes persisted through past changes in climate — and how they might react to modern climate change. While the work is fulfilling, Thompson said the best part is working with others just as passionate as himself about the environment.

“People go above and beyond what is required of them out of pure passion for the work they do,” Thompson said. “Everyone wants to be a part of the change that promotes a better future.”

Next year, Thompson will be paired with a faculty fellow for one-on-one mentorship, a cornerstone of the fellowship program.

Tripati said that having a continuum of scientists at all levels — from high school students to professors — is an effective strategy to build professional communities that are inclusive of all forms of diversity: gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, race and ethnicity.

Lack of diversity in such programs can have global implications when it comes to environmental issues, she added.

“If you don’t have women in science, you’re missing some of that talent pool,” McKinnon said. “There remain a lot of fundamental questions to answer about how the climate system responds to human influence.”

One way to make students more comfortable in class is to encourage teachers to embrace inclusive teaching techniques, said Jasper Kok, who is one of the faculty fellows and an associate professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences in the UCLA College. Every class includes a 10-minute exercise during which students work with their neighbors.

“Techniques that engage students and let them work collaboratively help those students who feel like they don’t belong feel more at home and more likely to stay in that field,” he said.

For student fellow Thompson, the benefits are more personal.

“It’s an opportunity to give back to communities and be a role model to other college students, high school students and middle school students,” he said.