State on Fire:

Exploring Links Between California’s Fires and Climate Change

Prof. Steve Weissman

MC/MPA Harvard '84, JD University of California Davis '76, BA U. Michigan '72
Lecturer, Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley

Prof. Nina Oakley

MS/PhD U Nevada
Applied Meteorologist and Climatologist
Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

In conversation with:

Lily Jamali

The California Report co-host, KQED


For the last half-decade, Californians have confronted the new reality of fire seasons that begin earlier and end later with each passing year. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection calls climate change “a key driver” of this trend. These longer fire seasons have grown deadlier and more destructive than ever before. While climate change can exacerbate conditions, it doesn’t provide the spark. Many of the fires that have destroyed entire communities in California and the West have been ignited by downed power lines belonging to major utilities, including PG&E, which has sparked a series of catastrophic fires since 2015. These fires have changed the way we live, forcing citizens to rethink where they live, how they harden neighborhoods, and what measures to take to protect themselves from unhealthy wildfire smoke.

In this conversation, we’ll explore the roots of this grim new reality, approaches to adaptation, and potential solutions.

Time will be allocated for Q&A.

Cosponsored by:
  • MIT Club of Washington DC

Steve Weissman created and directed the Energy Law program at Berkeley Law, where he also taught numerous energy law and policy courses. He came to UC Berkeley from the California Public Utilities Commission where he was an administrative law judge. He also served as policy and legal advisor to three different commissioners at the PUC. He is an energy and environmental attorney, and an environmental mediator. Prior to his appointment as an administrative law judge in 1988, he was a staff attorney at the PUC, working on renewable energy and energy efficiency proceedings, as well as cases involving implementation of the California Environmental Quality Act. He has taught energy law and policy classes at Berkeley Law since 2006.

He is a former Principal Consultant to the California State Assembly's Committee on Natural Resources, where he wrote and reviewed legislation concerning energy, air quality, and solid waste management. He is a member of the mediation panel for the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, and creator of the California PUC's alternative dispute resolution program. In addition, he served as Legal Director for the Local Government Commission, an environmental and social policy think tank providing assistance to local governments. At the Local Government Commission, he wrote policy guidebooks concerning toxic air pollutants, recycling, and land use. He drafted the Ahwahnee Principles, a description of important elements of transit-oriented and pedestrian-oriented development, prepared in collaboration with some of today's most influential architects and planners.

In the City of Berkeley, Steve Weissman has chaired the Parks and Recreation Commission, and the Solid Waste Commission. In addition, he was a member of the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee, which worked with the university to create a new development plan for downtown Berkeley. He is Vice Chair of the American Bar Association's Publication Committee for the Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources. He also teaches energy courses at Vermont Law School and at Lewis and Clark. He was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship which enabled him to teach during the Fall of 2013 at Universitat Rovira i Virgili near Barcelona. He was recently appointed to the roster of Fulbright Specialists.


Nina Oakley is an applied meteorologist and climatologist with the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E) at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. She has over a decade of experience studying the weather and climate of California, how it relates to natural resource and land management, and climate change impacts. Her current research focuses on understanding and forecasting post-wildfire debris flows, such as the January 2018 post-fire debris flow that killed 23 people in Montecito, California. Prior to joining CW3E, Nina held the position of Regional Climatologist and California Climate Specialist at the Western Regional Climate Center at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada. This position focused on the provision of climate data and development of tools to support all sectors with their climate information needs, with particular attention to supporting resource management. As part of the NOAA California-Nevada Climate Applications Program, Nina worked on understanding climate change and pathways for resilience in California and Nevada, which included the development of a climate change assessment for Ventura County, California.

Nina holds M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Atmospheric Science from the University of Nevada, Reno, a secondary science teaching credential from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and a B.A. in Geography and Spanish from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She recently completed her wildland firefighter certification and will begin training with USFS Burned Area Emergency Response teams this autumn to inform her research on post-fire hydrologic hazards.

Lily Jamali is co-host of KQED’s The California Report, which airs on NPR stations throughout the state. She also serves as a correspondent for the show. The program covers a wide range of topics that matter to Californians, including the economy, education, and immigration. She has closely followed the unfolding story of PG&E’s bankruptcy. Her work is shaped by her reporting on the 2018 Camp Fire while it was still burning in Butte County, a region she first covered as a local television reporter from 2004 to 2006.

Prior to joining The California Report, Lily was the anchor of Bloomberg Markets: Canada, where she steered editorial coverage for her hour-long daily news program covering financial markets, economics, and politics. She also reported for the Bloomberg Terminal, coordinating with the editorial team to break stories on-air and writing enterprise stories focused on impacts of the Trump administration’s immigration policy on the Canadian economy.

Lily holds an M.B.A. in Finance from New York University’s Stern School of Business, a Master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and a Bachelor’s degree in English from UCLA.



October 20, 2021 at 6:30pm - 8pm


Washington, DC
United States

Miyako Yerick


Will you come?