top of page

Pathways to Climate Neutrality

(This is for Fall 2016, but is useful for seeing what Winter 2018 will be like. Less complete Winter 2018 website is  here)


"The Pathways to Climate Neutrality class was a unique opportunity to practice real-world problem solving and team building skills. Being at a university, it's easy to isolate yourself from the problems of the world. And even if you are aware, tackling  a problem like climate change can be extremely daunting; you want to help but you don't know how. This class is how. In a very tangible way, this class helps put your skills and talents to work to solve a problem that desperately needs solutions. I am extremely glad I took this course, and would recommend it to anyone who wants to help but doesn't know where to start." -- Jessica Howard, undergraduate physics major in Fall 2016 PCN

"This class was a wonderfully unique opportunity to tackle a real-life environmental problem with an interdisciplinary group of students and has given me a better idea of careers I would like to pursue after graduation. Through our project, I built up connections with my client that have opened up new opportunities beyond the scope of the class. I wish more classes were like this" -- Rylie Ellison, graduate student in Agricultural and Environmental Chemistry in Fall 2016 PCN

"I wish more classes were like this. This class is for you if you are at all interested in climate change and/or energy efficiency. Beyond the wealth of knowledge passed on by professionals in the field, you also build invaluable project management and consulting skills by contributing to real world projects. I enjoyed this class so much that I am now pursuing an educational and career path that will allow me to continue working on finding climate change solutions." -- Bryan Miller, undergraduate physics major in Fall 2016 PCN

"Instead of clean textbook problems, we got to practice attacking real-world problems with their associated messiness. For example, we actually had to work at defining exactly what the problem was to be solved. This was really valuable for me because real-world problems typically do not arrive in a clearly-defined manner. The class changed how I approach projects (for the better!) I wish more classes were structured like this." -- Mario D'Andrea, undergraduate physics major in Fall 2016 PCN.


A Multidisciplinary Course for Upper Division, Graduate, and Professional Students


Background: The state is committed to greenhouse gas emission targets in 2020, 2030, and 2050 of 100%, 60%, and 20% of 1990 levels respectively. The California Air Resources Board , charged with developing a plan to meet these targets, is currently working on plans for reaching the 2030 target. Meanwhile the University of California’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative has committed UC to being carbon neutral[1] by 2025, and here at UC Davis a 9-month-long process of updating our campus’s climate action plan, a plan that takes us to 2025, just got underway in April. The challenges to meeting these goals require consideration of social, political, and economic factors as well as input from a broad array of scientific disciplines. [1] For “Scope 1” and “Scope 2” activities, see the Climate Action Plan for definitions.


Course Description: Students will be grouped into multidisciplinary consulting teams. Each team will work on a real-world greenhouse gas emission reduction project with a client that cares about deliverables. Students will be taught how to approach consulting work and manage a project by experienced consultants and project managers.  Project teams will define the scope of their project and its deliverables in a way that best matches their capabilities to the needs of their client. Clients are on campus, with the City of Davis, and in the California Governor's Office of Planning and Research.


Course Instructor: Professor of Physics Lloyd Knox. Professor Knox is working on the update to the climate action plan, and with Dr. Kit Batten, Executive Director of the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, the Environment, and the Economy, to connect campus expertise with the needs of policy makers in Sacramento.

Course Consultant: Adjunct Professor Kurt Kornbluth of Biological and Agricultural Engineering ( Professor Kornbluth is the Director of D-Lab and of the Program for International Energy Technologies, and is the Faculty Climate Champion. This course is based on his very successful course “A Pathways to Zero Net Energy,” now being taught in its fifth year.


(Background image is from the Campus Energy Education Dashboard).


[1] For “Scope 1” and “Scope 2” activities, see the Climate Action Plan for definitions.




Q: How "physicsy" is this?

A: This is not a physics class.  It is phys250/phy150 for bureaucratic reasons.

I expect that most students in the class will not be physics students. 


Q: Can I sign up for the graduate version but for 4 units instead of 3? 

A: No. But please let me know if the fourth unit of credit is important to you and we will find a way for you to get a fourth unit of credit (possibly by you registering for a P/NP 1-credit independent study with me).

Q: The class lists pre-reqs of Physics 9, or permission of instructor. Is this a problem for me?

A: No. This class does not actually have that pre-requisite as far as the instructor is concerned. We do not in any way build upon subject matter in Physics 9.

Fall 2016 Projects


Our students are carrying out four projects this fall quarter. Summaries are below. Three of the four final project reports can be

found here. We are waiting for clearance from the client to publish the compost project final report.

1) Incorporating climate change into state infrastructure planning


Context: In order to achieve the carbon reduction goals of Executive Order (EO) B-30-15, and to adequately take into consideration the complexity of impacts of and adaption to climate change, the governor, through the order, directed State agencies to consider climate change in all planning and investment, and to employ full life cycle cost accounting(LCCA) in infrastructure investment. The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) has been tasked with incorporating recommendations from the TechnicalAdvisory Group (TAG) to set guidelines and assist State agencies in implementing this directive.


Project: In Summer 2016, a UC Davis graduate student prepared an overview of LCCA within state agencies for the OPR. Our work will start from this overview, the California Adaptation Planning Guide 9-StepProcess, and the Cal-adapt tools and data. With additional literature review we will look more closely at how these approaches have been employed, outline a methodology to incorporate climate change considerations, and apply the methodology to a case study in infrastructure planning and investment. The product of this research will be a memo that describes the methodology and a case study, and can help guide TAG, which has been meeting since April 2016, to make recommendations and develop a guidance document for State agencies.

2) Analyzing the Appendices of a Global Subnational Climate Change Agreement

Context: The Under 2 MOU originated from a partnership between California and Baden- Württemberg out of the desire to bring together ambitious states and regions willing to make key climate change commitments to help galvanize action at the Conference of the Parties (COP) 21 and beyond. It is one of few climate change agreements that puts subnational leaders at the forefront and has such a diverse, global scope. Subnational governments (states, regions, cities) who are signatories to the Under 2 MOU commit to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 80 to 95%, or limit to 2 metric tons of CO2-equivalent per capita, by 2050. All signatories must submit an appendix, which outlines how they plan to achieve the 2050 goal. Governments who are endorsers of the Under 2 MOU (including nations) demonstrate their support of the initiative, but do not need to submit an appendix. The Under 2 MOU has garnered support from 135 subnational jurisdictions spanning 32 countries and 6 continents. Collectively, the Under 2 Coalition represents more than 783 million people and $21 trillion in GDP, equivalent to more than a quarter of the global economy.

Project: The student team will analyze 58 appendices from Under 2 MOU signatories’ in order to extract quantitative and qualitative data. Since The Governor’s Office simply offers guidelines for how to write an appendix and does not enforce a template, the appendices widely vary and are difficult to compare. The student team will identify key issues facing jurisdictions; gather climate change policies and actions; extract all measurable commitments; note any information on inventory, measurement, reporting, and verification (I/MRV); compare with Nationally

Determined Contributions (NDCs) where possible; and more.

3) Composting and Sequestering Carbon in Soil

Since carbon dioxide has a lifetime of tens of decades in the atmosphere, simply halting carbon emissions will not halt climate change. If we wish to reduce the amount of damage that current carbon dioxide levels commit us to, we must investigate methods of capturing atmospheric carbon and storing it in a form which cannot act as a greenhouse gas. The Marin Carbon Project research has shown that rangelands, when treated with a surface level of compost, have the capability to capture approximately one ton of carbon dioxide per acre per year ​[1]​. We wish to investigate how much carbon could be sequestered by spreading compost on campus grounds, as well as the environmental,legal, and logistical considerations that implementing such a project would entail. The compost used would be produced from organic waste collected on campus; using this waste on campus rather than sending it elsewhere is more consistent with the campus’s zero waste goal. We hope that the information found in this study will help determine whether such a project should be included in the campus’s climate action plan.

4) Planning an Energy Efficiency Outreach Pilot Program

Context: The City of Davis and Cool Davis are developing a community-wide campaign to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and attain carbon neutrality by 2050. One of the campaign goals is to improve Energy Efficiency (EE) related decision-making and implementation by Davis property owners. The City will soon be launching a pilot project to study efficacy of EE outreach to existing homeowners. The project will target owner-occupied single family homes, with a narrow focus on achieving proactive Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) replacement that meets or exceeds 2013 standards, and also related EE upgrade/replacement actions (such as duct sealing, window replacement, insulation upgrades, etc.). The outreach project will contact 150 homes to schedule visits from project staff and volunteers who will educate the homeowners as to their options. Since city permits are required for HVAC installations, the city permit data base can be used to target owners of homes whose systems are likely due for replacement, based on their age.


Project: The project team will assist the City in establishing baseline data and the design of this program, with a particular focus on the use of the City permit data to select the homes to target. The group will learn how to access the data, understand its non-idealities, and identify means to work around these. Preliminary investigation of the data has revealed some peculiarities: for example, 13% of homes with AC permits in a two-year period had two AC permits. Since installing two systems in two years is unlikely, this is puzzling and undermines confidence in a straightforward interpretation of the permit data.


People (Speakers, Project Clients, Project Mentors)

Camille Kirk, Assistant Director of the UC Davis Office of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability, is a Project Client and a Guest Speaker. She was the lead writer of the existing UC Davis Climate Action Plan (CAP) and is the lead writer for the update currently underway. She is preparing two projects for the course, with tentative titles, "Composting for Carbon Sequestration" and "Energy Storage Options for the UC Davis Campus." She will also speak with us about the CAP update on October 13th.

Chris Couper is a UC Davis physics alumnus, recently retired from IBM where he was a "Distinguished Engineer" consulting with PG&E. He will lead two workshops designed to make us all better consultants and problem solvers, based on IBM "Design Thinking" curriculum and his years of consulting experience. Chris will also give us a presentation about the challenges being faced, and soon to come, to the utility industry, and may serve as a mentor to one or more project groups.

Joshua Morejohn is a manager in the UC Davis Facilities Management Energy Conservation office. He will serve as project client for the physics building audit project. 

Alan Meier, UC Davis Adjunct Professor in Environmental Science and Policy, and a Senior Scientist in the Energy Technlogies Area of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Alan will present two classes on energy efficiency as well as serve as client for a project related to state policy on codes for new buildings.

Kurt Kornbluth is a UC Davis Adjunct Professor in Biological and Agricultural Engineering and our Climate Action Champion. I am modeling this course after his very successful "A Path to Zero Net Energy." Kurt serves as a consultant to me on course-related issues and will also lead one of our classes describing how he approaches projects. 

David Phillips is the University of California Associate Vice President for Energy and Sustainability. He provides strategic leadership for energy and sustainability initiatives across the University of California. A Davis resident, and former UC Davis employee, David oversaw the design and construction of our new solar farm. He will speak to us on November 10th about the UC vision for carbon neutrality by 2025.

Kerry Loux is a Sustainiability Analyst with the City of Davis Department of Community Development and Sustainability. She will serve as client for two projects with tentative titles, "Data Mining for Improved Energy Efficiency Outreach" and "An Energy Cost Information Resource for Prospective Tenants."

Tyler Otto is a UC Davis physics alumnus and the Head of Data Science at Hipmunk. He will serve as the mentor for the City of Davis Data Mining project group.

Justin Lewis is a Project Manager in UC Davis Facilities Management. He will run a workshop one class meeting about managing projects. 

Kit Batten is the Executive Director of the UC Davis Policy Institute on Energy, the Environment, and the Economy, and a UC Davis alumna with a PhD in Ecology. Dr. Batten will give a presentation about her own career trajectory from science into policy, and opportunities in policy-related work at the state and federal levels. 

Louise Bedsworth is the Deputy Director at the Governor's Office of Planning and Research (OPR). She is an "interdisciplinary environmental policy professional with over 15 years of experience working on California's climate change policy." Michael McCormick also with OPR, as well as with the Cool Davis Foundation. He is "leading a number of efforts to implement the Governors Goals around land use, climate change and organizational change." Michael and Louise will serve as clients for a project studying how to incorporate life cyle cost assessment into the state's infrastructure and investment decisions while planning for climate adaption.

Taryn Akiyama primarily serves as Project Coordinator of the Under 2 MOU, a climate change agreement between subnational governments with commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. She is the point of contact for governments spanning over 135 jurisdictions, 32 countries, and 6 continents. She has spent most of her life abroad, and only recently returned to California. Taryn earned her Bachelor’s in Environmental Analysis and Leadership Studies at Claremont McKenna College and wrote her thesis on global climate change collaboration. She will serve as client for a project with the goal of synthesizing the contents of statements from 50 sub-national governments from around the world, expressing their commitments to greenhouse gas emission reductions and the challenges they face.

Frederik Staun joined the Low Emission Capacity Building (LECB) Program of the United Nation Development Program (UNDP) in New York in 2015.  Prior to joining the LECB team, Frederik worked two years as the climate change focal point in the UNDP Country Office in Uganda overseeing the climate change portfolio. Before joining UNDP Uganda, Frederik was at the UNEP Risoe Centre in Denmark where he worked on the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) pipeline and the CDM Loan Scheme. He holds a Master’s degree in International Development Studies from Roskilde University in Denmark. He will serve as the mentor for the project with Taryn Akiyama.

Allen Doyle is a Sustainability Manager in the UC Davis Office of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability. He manages the UC Davis "Green Workplace" office and laboratory programs to promote sustainable actions in campus workplaces. Mr. Doyle brings an occupant focus to laboratory energy conservation, as he is co-founder of LabRATS at UCSB, developing a ten-module green laboratory program, a moderator of the Labs21 Energy-Efficient Laboratory Equipment Wiki, organizer of 100+ member national network, working to reduce plug load through cold storage management and the Freezer Challenge contest, and engaged in HVAC optimization through temperature relaxation and control banding. He also works on promoting green chemistry and biological sample management, and on sustainable purchasing and sustainable food systems. He is the mentor for the physics building energy audit project.

bottom of page