Speaker Biographies

Keynote Speaker

August White

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August White is an environmental and human rights activist, photojournalist and videographer. Taking an alternate path, August withdrew from his studies in Environmental Biology at the University of Colorado and set out to see what he could learn from traveling around the world. His involvement in fighting for both indigenous and environmental rights was prompted by an emergency appendicitis in the Bolivian Amazon. His life was saved by the efforts of the indigenous people of the Bolivian Amazon and a capable surgeon in a small town hospital in Trinidad, Bolivia. This experience drastically changed his life, setting him on his current trajectory of exploration and involvement with the indigenous rights movement. For the last six moths, August has been working as a visual storyteller on the frontier of the Dakota Access Pipeline resistance movement that started in Standing Rock, North Dakota. August believes indigenous people’s issues are a key starting point for social justice and the fight against climate change throughout the world.


David Sedlak


David Sedlak is the Malozemoff Professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at UC Berkeley, Co-Director of the Berkeley Water Center and Deputy Director of the NSF engineering research center for Reinventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt).  Professor Sedlak’s research addresses the use of natural and engineered systems to improve water quality and new approaches for increasing the sustainability and resiliency of urban water systems.  He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and recipient of numerous awards including the NSF CAREER Award, the Paul Busch Award for Innovation in Applied Water Quality Research and the Clarke Prize for Excellence in Water Research.  Sedlak is the author of Water 4.0: The Past, Present and Future of the World’s Most Vital Resource and serves as editor-in-chief of the American Chemical Society journal, Environmental Science & Technology.

Eric Wesselman

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Eric Wesselman serves as the Executive Director of Friends of the River (FOR) – a statewide organization founded in 1973 to protect and restore California rivers by influencing public policy and inspiring citizen action. Before coming to FOR in 2014, Eric served as the Executive Director for the Tuolumne River Trust for eight years and was a convener for the California Urban Water Conservation Council. He has also worked for the Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C.

Ryan Sabalow



 Nathanael Johnson


Nathanael Johnson is a journalist who lives in Berkeley, California with his wife and two daughters. He is the food writer for Grist, and has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism. He was an editor at Meatpaper. He’s written two books: All Natural and Unseen City. He grew up in Nevada City, California.

Lauren Ornelas


Lauren Ornelas is F.E.P.’s founder and serves as the group’s executive director. Lauren has been active in the animal rights movement for more than 30 years. She is the former executive director of Viva!USA, a national nonprofit vegan advocacy organization that Viva!UK asked her to start in 1999. While Lauren was the director of Viva!USA, she investigated factory farms and ran consumer campaigns. In cooperation with activists across the country, she persuaded Trader Joe’s to stop selling all duck meat and achieved corporate changes within Whole Foods Market, Pier 1 Imports, and others, and she helped halt the construction of an industrial dairy operation in California. Lauren was also the spark that got the founder of Whole Foods Market to become a vegan. In addition, she served as campaign director with the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition for six years. Watch lauren’s TEDx talk on The Power of Our Food Choices. Learn more about F.E.P.’s work at foodispower.org and veganmexicanfood.com

Climate Change

John Chiang


John Chiang is Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley, and also currently serves as co-Chief Editor of the Journal of Climate. He earned an M.S. in Physics at Cornell University, and a Ph.D. (awarded with distinction) in Earth and Environmental Sciences at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. After a two-year stint as a NOAA Climate and Global Change postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington, he started his current faculty position at UC Berkeley. Dr. Chiang is a climate scientist specializing on the climate dynamics of the global atmosphere and its interactions with the ocean and land systems. He works on both contemporary and paleoclimate research questions, and with a focus on understanding mechanisms of tropical rainfall changes. His teaching interests include climate and atmospheric dynamics, and the science and implications of climate change.

Alison Hawkes

Alison Hawkes is a longtime science journalist who finds joy in engaging non-technical audiences with science using techniques in nonfiction storytelling. She is a contributing editor at Bay Nature magazine in Berkeley and the managing editor of Astrobiology Magazine, a NASA-sponsored online popular science magazine that is the top site for topics relating to the search for life in the Universe. She has a master’s in science journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Third speaker is August White