Peter Kareiva takes helm at UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability

by Phil Hampton and Alison Hewitt

Peter Kareiva, a leading environmental scientist and vocal advocate for using multiple disciplines to inform conservation, is the new director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

Kareiva, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has published more than 100 widely cited papers on a range of topics and co-authored a textbook on new approaches in conservation science. He will be a professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology in the UCLA College.

Prior to joining UCLA, Kareiva was chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy, where he developed and carried out conservation programs for the world’s largest environmental non-profit organization and forged partnerships with government, non-profit and private-sector partners. In a career spanning more than 20 years, he also has directed regional fisheries conservation programs for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and taught at several universities, including Brown, Stanford, and the universities of Virginia and Washington.

“Peter is superbly qualified to direct the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability because of his outstanding scholarship and teaching, his impressive administrative skills and his passionate commitment to civic engagement,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh.

“We need to inspire the next generation to take up the environmental crusade,” said Kareiva, who is trained as a biologist. “But biology and ecology are not enough. We need environmentalism that attacks problems with engineering, technology, economics, politics, history, psychology, and the humanities and the arts.”

Kareiva said he was attracted by the opportunity at UCLA to help shape future environmental innovators and apply a holistic approach to addressing major environmental challenges.

Kareiva’s approach dovetails with the Sustainable L.A. Grand Challenge, a UCLA-wide research initiative to develop solutions to help the Los Angeles region transition to 100 percent renewable energy, 100 percent local water, and enhanced ecosystem health by 2050.

Part of his focus at UCLA will include research into urban conservation, improving environmental communications, and exploring the role of consumer choices in pushing businesses to go green.

Environmental solutions are best forged in urban areas, where most people live, Kareiva said, and UCLA is uniquely positioned as a top public research university in a large metropolitan area to partner with government leaders, non-profit groups and the general public to develop solutions. “If we can figure out sustainability in Los Angeles, Los Angeles can lead the world to sustainability,” he said.

Kareiva will continue as a leader at the Nature Conservancy as the senior science advisor to President and CEO Mark Tercek. In this capacity, he will help guide and mentor a new team of world-class lead scientists by chairing the conservancy’s Science Cabinet. This Cabinet has been created to provide high-level science aimed at the global challenges conservation now faces. He will also serve on two key advisory boards for the conservancy: its Science Council and the board for the Science for Nature and People (SNAP) partnership. Through the conservancy, select UCLA students will become NatureNet Science Fellows, as well as become working-group members in the SNAP collaboration.

“We are excited to strengthen our collaboration with a world-class university like UCLA,” Tercek said. “Peter’s new role will be a great opportunity to accelerate innovation in the NGO world while elevating the real-world application of academic research.”

Kareiva is the co-author of the textbook “Conservation Science: Balancing the Needs of People and Nature.” His scientific papers — on topics ranging from global climate change and biotechnology to mathematical ecology, fisheries science and population viability analysis — have been cited nearly 25,000 times. Kareiva’s most recent work has focused on the interplay of human land-use and biodiversity, marine conservation, and the resilience of human and natural systems to global warming and other environmental shocks.

Kareiva fell in love with science and nature as a teenager, and even in high school his interest went beyond the classroom. He participated in the first Earth Day, and explored Canada on a week-long backpacking and canoeing trip. He went on to receive a master’s degree in environmental biology from UC Irvine and a doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology from Cornell University.

At UCLA, he directs an institute with more than 80 faculty members from academic departments across campus. Research is focused on environmental challenges such as climate change, air and water quality, biodiversity and conservation, energy, coastal and water resources, urban sustainability, corporate sustainability and environmental economics, with much of it coordinated through eight research centers. The institute offers a bachelor of science degree in environmental science, and a minor in environmental systems and society. It also offers a doctorate degree in environmental science and engineering.