Snapshot: Arlene Blum, scientist, author, climber, activist

Arlene Blum. All photos: Pete Rosos

Arlene Blum PhD, biophysical chemist, author, and mountaineer, is a Visiting Scholar at UC Berkeley’s Department of Chemistry, and also Executive Director of the Green Science Policy Institute. Blum led the first American­ all-women’s ­ascent of Annapurna I, considered one of the world’s most dangerous and difficult mountains, and is the founder of the annual Berkeley Himalayan Fair. Blum’s current “mountain,” which she considers her life’s most challenging and important, is to change policy worldwide to protect global health and environment from toxic chemicals in consumer products. (For more information, visit the Green Science Policy Institute website.)

When did you arrive in Berkeley?
I first came to Berkeley in the fall of 1967 and walked into a quantum mechanics class where I was a teaching assistant. Bob Harris, the professor said “Class is canceled, we’re going to the Oakland induction center,” and that was my introduction to Berkeley.

What’s your hood?
I live in the Berkeley hills near the Lawrence Hall of Science. I love it because I’m near Tilden Park, but I’d also like to be walking distance from shops. So I’m torn about living in the hills.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a child I wanted to be a chemist like my beloved uncle Sy. Amazingly, I did  become a chemist, but one who cares more about protecting the health of the world from toxic chemicals than working in a lab.


Where and when are you happiest?
I’m totally happy outdoors, anywhere outside, in the mountains, by the ocean, in the forest. I never like being indoors no matter what. And, from having grown up in Chicago, I like being outdoors when it’s cold and blizzarding, which doesn’t happen so often in Berkeley.

Which living person do you most admire?
I really admire Art Rosenfeld, former Commissioner of the California Energy Commission. Art began to use his scientific skills to increase energy efficiency and  help prevent climate change. He has made a huge contribution to California having half the carbon footprint of other states. I am inspired by Art. He is a great scientist, a great environmentalist, and works to protect the health and happiness of all of us.

What drives you mad?
I like to solve problems and work with people who think rationally. When I’m working with a team I get driven mad by people who aren’t logical or only want their own idea to be implemented. I don’t care whose idea it is as long as the problem is solved and the solution is logical.

If you could change something about yourself, what would it be?
I tend to suffer from acute indecision. I see every side of a problem and make a decision and change it and then worry if I made the right decision. So, indecision is my problem

Who, or what, is the love of your life?
The love of my life is my daughter Annalise who is 24 and passionately wants to make the world a better place. She graduated from Stanford in environmental engineering and political science and wants to improve water and sanitation in urban slum areas in developing countries. She has a very kind heart and  I’m very proud of her.


What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Whenever I get a vision, I have to try to make it a reality. When I was 25 years old I wanted to climb all the mountains in the world. But I was a graduate student here in Berkeley with no money. Then I saw the movie The Endless Summer with the Beach Boys going round the world looking for the perfect wave, and I decided I would do an “Endless Winter” of climbing mountains all over the world for a year and a half, and somehow that is just what I did. I talk about it in my memoir “Breaking Trail a Climbing Life”.

What three things would you take to a desert island?
Well, to survive you need food, water and entertainment. So I would take lots of seeds to plant for food. I would take some kind of water purifier/desalinator, whatever I needed to get water. And I would take a computer attached to a satellite so that I could read everything I wanted and learn everything and communicate and maybe get rescued when I was ready.

What does Berkeley mean to you?
I love Berkeley. I love the diversity, the people from all over the world, that everybody can speak their mind. If only the rest of America was more like Berkeley, the world would be such a better place.

If you didn’t live in Berkeley, where would you live?
I’d live in Katmandu. I love Katmandu also. It couldn’t be more different from Berkeley. In Berkeley we’re always in a hurry, we’ve got so many things going on. In Katmandu it all slows down. You can live a more tranquil life.

Berkeleyside’s “Snapshot” column, inspired by the Proust Questionnaire, is an occasional series by Pete Rosos in which we take a moment to get to know some of Berkeley’s most interesting people. Rosos is a freelance photographer, husband, and father of two who lives in south Berkeley. Previous Snapshots: Urban Ore founder Dan KnappJessica Williams, owner of Brushstrokes Studio; Doris Moskowitz, owner, Moe’s Books; songwriter and writer David Berkeley; Heyday Books founder Malcolm Margolin, and Angus Powelson, owner of Oceanworks. Let us know in the Comments who you would like to see featured here.


Related:
Trek in the Himalayas led to Berkeley’s Himalaya Fair [05.27.10]