UC Irvine Professor’s Environmental Research Inspires Action

Steven Davis is an associate professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine.
Steven Davis, associate professor of Earth system science; Photograph by Steve Zylius/UCI

The realities of the global climate crisis can seem overwhelming. Every day, there’s new information about how the environment and human health are being threatened. And the international response to the COVID-19 pandemic has people wondering about possible parallels.

But there are plenty of Orange County residents fighting to make positive change. We highlight that great work here—from green businesses and university researchers to volunteer groups and civil servants. Passionate locals are working together to create a sustainable future; let them inspire you to take action in ways large and small.

What is your research area?
I study how human activities impact the natural world and how changes in the climate or air quality affect people, food production, water quality, and so forth. One thing we did last summer was estimate how much future (carbon dioxide) emissions will come from our existing infrastructure globally. And we (found) that unless we start closing down power plants prematurely, we will have already emitted more carbon than we have agreed to in the international Paris Agreement. So not only can we not afford to build any new power plants, but we have to phase out what we have early to limit the temperature increase (to 1.5 degrees Celsius).

Do you study alternative energy?
We do a lot of work to model what a climate-friendly energy system would look like and cost. We tinker with different hypotheticals to see which mix of solar and wind is most reliable, and we communicate that to decision-makers in Sacramento. I’m gratified that my research has inspired a state law and a congressional bill.

How has UC Irvine been a leader in climate action?
Not only doing the research, but we are demonstrating what’s possible. We were the first in the nation to use excess solar power to make hydrogen and put that into our power plant on campus to reduce the amount of natural gas needed. UCI is really pushing the envelope.

Read more from this cover story at orangecoast.com/sustainingoc.

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