Witnessing the impact of industrialization on the natural scenery of his hometown on Canada’s eastern coast transformed Brian Walker-Esparza into an environmentalist at an early age.
“An acrid fog in the air makes you well aware of the burdens of industry,” said Walker-Esparza, a professor of political science at UCLA.
For years, Walker-Esparza has advocated for environmentalism in a personal way ““ by leading an environmentally friendly lifestyle, especially with respect to his travel to and from UCLA.
When Walker-Esparza was studying political theory in Montreal in his early 20s, he took advantage of the public transportation system in an effort to reduce his carbon footprint, he said.
When he moved to Los Angeles, Walker-Esparza bought a car out of necessity. But the vehicle did not fit his environmentalist outlook. Being inside a car limits his perception of the city, he said.
About 10 years ago, he exchanged driving for bicycling and using public transportation.
Walker-Esparza’s 9.5-mile bicycle commute from Venice to UCLA takes 45 minutes.
While he likes the idea of following in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau in taking a two-wheeled stand for the environment, he admits that the time commitment involved can be trying on days when he is teaching an 8 a.m. class.
“I do gripe about my 45-minute commute,” said Walker-Esparza, adding that he recently bought an electric bike to shave about 20 minutes off the trip.
In recent years, Walker-Esparza stopped traveling by plane except in emergency situations. He only attends local academic conferences and no longer teaches a departmental summer course that includes travel throughout Europe.
In the “era of the Internet,” Walker-Esparza said he hopes professors will take the environment into account when reconsidering the conference-based model.
“Traveling to attend conferences is an early 20th-century relic from an era when less was known about climate impact,” Walker-Esparza said.
He has also stopped teaching European summer courses because flying across the country on jets generates about 2,000 pounds of particulate matter per passenger, he said. This matter consists of small pollutant particles that are particularly toxic because of their size.
Walker-Esparza acknowledged that learning about Europe through books and media is not the same as traveling there, which does trouble him as he strives to live a more sustainable life.
Giulia Sissa, a professor of political science and classics, said she greatly admires Walker-Esparza’s actions but still prefers to travel by plane and car.
She said, however, that she understands his motivations.
“Sustainable energy is the issue of the future. We need choices that are not damaging for the world,” Sissa said. “Resources are not infinite.”
Although Walker-Esparza said he tries not to force his thoughts onto others, some of his students have been influenced by his approach to environmentalism. Third-year political science student Paige Scheckla said that after taking Walker-Esparza’s course, she plans to limit her jet travel after her previously planned trip to Belgium this summer.
“I thought that driving is bad for the environment,” Scheckla said. “But he showed me that flying is worse.”