ucla professor to lead environmental bike expedition along california’s coast


UCLA professor to lead environmental bike expedition along California’s coast

climate change, law & policy

Bicycling is one of the most sustainable ways to get around. That's why Alex Hall often pedals the five miles between his home and UCLA, where he works as a climate scientist and educator.

He’s about to take that commitment to a whole new level.

This July, UCLA is partnering with the nonprofit organization OnePulse for the California Climate Expedition, a three-week, 1,000-mile bike ride. Forty riders will get a chance to cruise the coastline and meet top environmental experts and locations affected by climate change — places like the San Francisco Bay delta, through which much of the state’s water resources flow, and Santa Barbara County, which was ravaged by the Thomas Fire and subsequent mudslides that killed 21. 


“I’m hoping the ride can really help us in our efforts to engage people who are making decisions about how to plan for climate change,” Hall said.

Hall, who is a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences and a member of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, is serious about putting science in the hands of people who can use it, from policymakers to residents of communities affected by climate change.

As part of his ongoing research into the impacts of climate change in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Hall spent the past year travelling the state from Sacramento to San Diego to present his findings to elected officials and representatives from agencies such as the state air and water resources boards.

His efforts took on new urgency in 2017, the third-warmest recorded year on record and the hottest ever in terms of ocean temperatures. The year also saw severe climate-related events ravage the state, country and world. In addition to wildfires in both northern and southern California, hurricanes devastated places such as Puerto Rico and Houston. Record-setting heat waves hit cities around the world, and floods inundated Sierra Leone, Peru and China.

Extreme weather events are expected to become more severe and common with climate change, Hall said.

“We’ve had a devastating year in terms of weather events that have been very destructive and probably each have some kind of a link to a changing climate,” he said.

In response, Hall is hitting the road, representing the UCLA Center for Climate Science on a mission of education, discovery and public engagement.

The ride will begin in Arcata, California, about 90 miles south of the state’s border with Oregon, and follow the coast south to Los Angeles. Subject matter experts from government, nonprofit organizations and universities will join the ride to engage in dialogues about the effects of climate change, from concerns about water resources to effects on local ecosystems. Hall plans to talk about his own findings, as well.

In the process, riders will raise funds for the UCLA Center for Climate Science’s future research, which in turn will help the state prepare for future challenges. Each rider is responsible for raising $3,600 — donations that will be matched by UCLA.

OnePulse was founded by Eric McQuesten to take important causes like health care, education and water sustainability directly to people in a way that benefits the organizations it partners with, the riders and the communities they visit. He has coordinated rides across the United States and in Africa.

“The name OnePulse shows how we can come together to energize efforts to solve global issues,” McQuesten said. “Climate change is a big one, and we’re bringing people from different communities together to tackle this issue head on.”

McQuesten said he knows from a recent expedition in Malawi that the experience can be life-changing — riders saw first-hand how communities struggle for basic health care and formed tight bonds with the rest of the participants. It was in Malawi that McQuesten was inspired to do a ride on climate.

“Climate issues are everywhere around the world,” he said. “And you would see they are burning plastic … or you would ride through an area where deforestation is commonplace.”

McQuesten approached Hall after finding his research online. Hall is an avid cyclist who rides his collapsible bike to campus, so it was a good fit. Hall said he was impressed by the fact that McQuesten was able to organize a successful ride in Malawi from his nonprofit organization’s home base in California.

“Eric is such a solid guy,” Hall said. “If I fall down on that bike ride there’s somebody experienced who can help out. I felt like he would be a great person to lead the expedition.”

The ride is not all about education. Its relatively leisurely pace will allow riders to take in California’s iconic coastline, including the redwoods of Mendocino County, the jagged rocks and sea caves of Big Sur, and the endangered wetlands of Morro Bay — seeing things people driving might miss.

Bixby Bridge at Big Sur. | Photo by Gustavo Gerdel.
Bixby Bridge at Big Sur. | Photo by Gustavo Gerdel.

“There’s nothing like being on a bicycle to experience the world around you,” Hall said. “You’ve got the wind in your face. You can see the things that are around you and really be in your environment.”

Though it’s a long journey, McQuesten stressed that it’s not just for hardcore cyclists.

“We welcome new riders,” he said. “It’s a chance to push yourself out of your comfort zone, but it’s not a race.”

For his part, Hall hopes the ride will inspire and inform his future work.

“Seeing these areas that have been devastated by wildfire, I think that will really bring it home to us that our research is really having an impact and a lot of the projections we have made are beginning to come true,” Hall said. “Seeing first-hand how climate change affects ecosystems and people on the ground is something that might shape the research we end up doing.”

Details on joining the California Climate Ride are available on the OnePulse website.

TOP IMAGE: Alex Hall using his preferred mode of getting around town. | Photo via UCLA Broadcast Studio.