Samantha B. Bonar

Andy Lipkis, founder and president of TreePeople and a national leader in the environmental movement, spoke on the Occidental College campus on Tuesday, April 21 as the inaugural Antoinette and Vincent Dungan Lecturer on Energy and the Environment.


Lipkis spoke on "Adapting Los Angeles for a Resilient, Climate-Safe Future: Engaging Nature and Community" as part of Earth Day observations on campus.

"Right now, every piece of land in our city is extracting from the environment -- taking energy and water and generating trash and pollution," Lipkis says. "Instead of overtaxing the land -- our basic life support system -- we can transform even the most urbanized areas of our city to be restorative and productive, resilient and climate-safe. We can choose to start taking action today."

Explaining that trees conserve more water than they use, Lipkis said his goal is to see "a functioning community forest in every neighborhood" in Los Angeles. He also pointed out that Los Angeles has a "dis-integrated" approach to water conservation, with the city spending millions on flood control while throwing away 7.6 billion gallons of water per inch of rain. "That’s at least half the water we need," he said.

Trees, he explained, trap rainwater and funnel it down to the groundwater level, where it can be used. Right now, TreePeople is building self-sustaining watersheds at Los Angeles public schools and in Sun Valley, which has a chronic flooding problem. Lipkis said he’d like to see every home retrofitted to produce much of its own water supply. Such projects not only conserve water, beautify spaces and clean the air, they create jobs, helping the economy, he said.

Founded in 1973, TreePeople is a nonprofit organization that has been serving the Los Angeles area for more than three decades by helping nature heal cities. It offers sustainable solutions to urban ecosystem problems, focusing on three areas: training and supporting communities to plant and care for trees, educating schoolchildren and adults about the environment, and working with government agencies on critical water issues.

The Antoinette and Vincent Dungan Lectureship on Energy and the Environment was established by Occidental alumna Louise Edgerton ’67 and her husband Bradford Edgerton in honor of Louise’s parents. The Edgerton Foundation is interested in exploring new ideas to deal with one of our most pressing environmental issues: how to utilize energy wisely while  preventing damage to the environment and climate.

The foundation believes there is a crucial role for leading colleges to contribute to the debate, drawing from disciplines including atmospheric chemistry, biology, ecology, engineering, economics, and political science. The Dungan Lectureship is envisioned as an opportunity for leading experts on the environment to lead dialogues with the larger Occidental community as well as participate in meaningful discussions with smaller groups of faculty and students.