Environment and Climate

August 22, 2013

Global Warming already impacting California

The California Environmental Protection Agency has released a somewhat depressing report describing how climate change is already impacting California. The report was issued by the he Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and evaluated 36 indicators of Climate Change in California. Among the indicators they tracked were impacts on physical systems- including sea level and Sierra Nevada snow melt, biological systems – including humans, animals and vegetation and impacts on climate change – such as average temperature and extreme heat events.

Some of the impacts California is already experiencing: reduced spring runoff from the Sierra Nevada, more acidic waters in Monterrey Bay, shorter winter chill periods required to grow fruit in the Central Valley. Ocean warming may have been responsible for a drop in Chinook salmon population during the past decade. Even insects have been effected – butterflies in the Central Valley are emerging from hiding earlier in the spring. Small mammels in the Sierra Nevada have been migrating to higher ground.

Humans are of course impacted also. Since glaciers in the Sierra Nevada have been shrinking spring runoff from snow melt has declined and this affects both Central Valley farmers and hydroelectric plants that rely on this snowmelt to produce power. The less than cheery report warns that we can expect more heat waves, wildfires and higher sea levels.

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July 25, 2013

California shark fin ban now in effect

California’s law that prohibits the sale, possession, trade, or distribution of shark fins went into full effect on the first of this month ending the Chinese custom of serving shark fin soup in California restaurants.

The legislation went into effect in January, but had exemptions allowing the sale of previously obtained shark fins until the end of June. Anyone now caught violating the law could face a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

the law caused a controversy between environmentalists, concerned about the declining shark population and some Chinese-Americans, who want to continue to honor this Chinese tradition. The soup is an expensive delicacy, has been popular in China since the Ming Dynasty, and is often served during weddings, banquets and other Asian ceremonies.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, however, it is thought that close to 73 million sharks are killed for their fins each year. Many, are obtained by the process of finning – slicing the fins from live sharks and throwing the disabled animals back into the ocean, where they drown. The market for shark meat is nowhere as great as for the fins, the Times reported, and demand for the fins has reduced some shark populations to 10% of historical levels.

Filed under Agriculture and Food, China, Environment and Climate by

October 6, 2009

Apple leaves U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Apple Inc. has quit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because the group has been too critical of proposed steps to cut pollution. This seems like a good move. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce represents many of the really huge Corporations in the U.S., but has never shown any real interest in small business concerns, or in the rest of our society for that matter. As reported in San Francisco Business Times:

The Cupertino computer and popular electronics business is just one of several businesses, including Nike Inc. and PG&E Corp., that have criticized the chamber’s stance. Nike resigned from the chamber’s board of directors but stayed as a member of the group. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce criticized proposed “cap-and-trade” legislation passed by the House of Representatives and due to come before the Senate. Apple’s vice president of worldwide government affairs, Catherine Novelli, sent a letter to Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the chamber, in which she said, “We would prefer that the Chamber take a more progressive stance on this critical issue.”

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November 24, 2008

California announces electric car network partnership

California and Bay Area Officials have announced plans for a $1 billion network of electric car recharging stations for the San Francisco Bay area highways with a goal of greatly expand the number of electric vehicles on the road. A private company – Palo Alto-based “Better Place” along with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed announced the deal, which sets out to install charging stations in homes, businesses, parking lots and government buildings by 2012. The company said it will also build mechanized battery swapping centers where robots will remove and replace the batteries in cars that are compatible with the system. These stations will allow electric car drivers to travel longer distances without recharging.

The initiative would make the Bay Area the first region in the U.S. to create an electric car network.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday supported the deal, which the company hopes to someday take statewide. “This type of public-private partnership is exactly what I envisioned when we created the first-ever low carbon fuel standard and when the state enacted the zero emissions vehicle program,” Schwarzenegger said in statement. “This partnership is proof that by working together, we can achieve our goals of creating a healthier planet while boosting our economy at the same time.”

The company also unveiled a prototype electric Nissan Rogue SUV, the second prototype developed
under Better Place’s partnership with automakers. Better Place has already struck similar deals with Israel, Denmark and Australia to create electric vehicle infrastructure in those countries.

“We put in the infrastructure, and the big carmakers make the electric cars for us,” said Joe Paluska, the company’s head of policy and communications. “This is an opportunity for California to apply its strength in technology and innovation to Michigan’s manufacturing might,” he said. “We now
need a strong national policy set by the new administration to help the U.S. revive its auto industry and it’s economy.” Until now, the knock on most electric vehicles is that they were prohibitively
expensive because the batteries cost $10,000 or more. Paluska said the new prototype vehicles solve that problem — the replaceable batteries in the prototype cars would be owned by the company, not the consumer. Better Place would charge drivers a subscription fee to use its recharging facilities.

As their part of the deal, the mayors vowed to help streamline local permitting and regulations to hasten the installation of hookups in the region, and to provide incentives for local businesses to install charging outlets for employees. “Our goal is to make the Bay Area — and eventually California — the electric-vehicle capital of the world,” Newsom said.

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November 18, 2008

California Ordered To Prepare For Sea-Level Rise

Governor Schwarzenegger has ordered ordered preparations for rising sea levels from global warming, according to a report in Reuters News Service.  Recorded sea levels rose 7 inches (18 cm) during the 20th century in San Francisco, Schwarzenegger said in the executive order for study of how much more the sea could rise, what other consequences of global warming were coming and how the state should react.  California is considered the environmental vanguard of government in the United States, with its own standards for car pollution and a law to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, the main gas contributing to global warming, the report noted.  “The longer that California delays planning and adapting to sea level rise the more expensive and difficult adaptation will be,Schwarzenegger said, ordering a report by the end of 2010.

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April 21, 2008

California signs MOU with U.N. to help China curb greenhous gasses

As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle. It certainly sounds like a good idea- afterall, California has spent a huge amount of time and money to reduce the smog and pollution in our major cities, only to find that we are now the recipients of Chinese pollution. It remains to be seen whether this agreement will be purely symbolic or not. I am especially curious as to how the State intends to “encourage private entities in California to support climate change projects in China”. The State of California has few effective business programs. Will these projects go mostly to business associates of of the Governor, or channeled through shadowy lobbying organizations such as the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy?

California’s top environmental official on Tuesday plans to sign an agreement with the United Nations to help China reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The memorandum of understanding drafted by the U.N. Development Programme pairs California with one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases. California produces more greenhouse gases than any other state but also has taken strides to significantly reduce its output. That includes attempts to roll back auto and factory emissions, while trying to institute an emissions-trading system for industry.

California promises to share policy ideas and research for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, according to the four-page agreement to be signed on Earth Day in Beijing. The state also would mobilize public agencies and encourage private entities in California to support climate change projects in China.

“I think it will help show them they can indeed reach set targets and move forward on environmental protection and maintain a strong economy as California has,” Linda Adams, California’s Environmental Protection Agency secretary, said…

California’s agreement with the development program, a subsidiary of the U.N. that promotes economic development, follows several years of international outreach by the state. In 2005, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an environmental agreement with the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau to help improve air quality and water quality. The agreement was amended in 2007 to further bolster California’s support of Beijing’s air quality programs.

Schwarzenegger also has entered agreements with other states and parts of Canada to implement a carbon-trading program. The governor has said those agreements will help California meet the goals of a 2006 law seeking to cut greenhouse gases roughly a quarter by 2020.

On Monday, Schwarzenegger said the state’s agreement with China recognizes that climate change requires a global solution. “America has to lead, and we are doing so with or without Washington,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement. “California is not waiting for the federal government to take action.”… While California is pursuing its climate change goals, state regulators and politicians are bickering over how best to implement the landmark 2006 greenhouse gas law.

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December 28, 2007

Governor plans to sue federal government over auto standards

Governor Schwarzenegger has announced plans to sue the federal government over its decision not to allow a California plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency refused the state’s request for a waiver that would have allowed it to cut emissions faster than a new federal plan that President Bush had signed into law. “It’s another example of the administration’s failure to treat global warming with the seriousness that it actually demands,” the governor said at a news conference. “Anything less than aggressive action on the greatest environmental threat of all time is inexcusable,” he said.

It has subsequently been reported that the EPA head ignored his own staff recommendation in making the decision: “California met every criteria … on the merits,” an anonymous member of the EPA staff told the Los Angeles Times. “The same criteria we have used for the last 40 years … We told him that. All the briefings we have given him laid out the facts.” It has also been reported that Vice President Cheney may have been behind the controversial decision.

Staff at the EPA said the agency’s chief went against their expert advice after car executives met Cheney, and a Chrysler executive delivered a letter to the EPA saying why the state should not be allowed to regulate greenhouse gases.

EPA staff members told the Times that the agency’s head- Bush appointee Stephen Johnson, ignored their conclusions and shut himself off from consultation in the month before the announcement. He then informed them of his decision and instructed them to provide the legal rationale for it.

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October 16, 2007

Mercedes introduces clean diesel to California

Mercedes-Benz USA has unveiled a version of its E320 BLUETEC, a diesel sedan that will immediately be available in limited numbers to California customers through a special two- year/24,000-mile lease. California’s stringent emissions requirements have kept new diesel automobiles models off the California market for the better part of a decade. “In order to be able to provide the power and economy of diesel technology throughout the world, we had to make the diesel version as clean as the gasoline model,” said Dr. Leopold Mikulic, head of powertrain development at Mercedes-Benz Cars. According to Tom Cackette, executive director for the California Air Resources Board (CARB), “This vehicle has shed the reputation of diesel as a dirty technology. And we hope California has shed its anti-diesel reputation by certifying this vehicle as the first diesel passenger car to meet the most stringent smog emission standards in the world.”

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August 1, 2007

Technology Partners Announces $300 Million Venture Fund to Invest in Clean Technology

Technology Partners, a Palo Alto, California-based venture capital firm has announced the formation of a new fund capitalized at $300 million and directed toward Cleantech and Life Science companies. Technology Partners’ Cleantech investments primarily focus on energy technology, water technology and advanced materials. Life Science investments focus on opportunities in neuroscience and lifestyle therapies—in areas ranging from aesthetics to obesity to women’s health. Teh company believe it is uniquely positioned to take advantage of convergence opportunities that require experience in both Cleantech and Life Science, such as the next generation of biofuels and biomaterials. Technology Partners’ team includes General Partners Ira Ehrenpreis, Roger Quy, Jim Glasheen and Sheila Mutter; and Ted Ardell as a Venture Partner. “Our Cleantech practice focuses on solving some of the most important problems of the 21st century,” said Ehrenpreis. “Cleantech remains one of the most revolutionary and transformative areas within the venture asset class as we begin to see innovative technologies tackle the world’s critical energy and water problems.”

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June 19, 2007

More California Pollution of Chinese origin

Excerpts from an insightful and balanced article in Mercury News about the severe environmental problems in China and how this in now impacting California.  Not covered in this article is how China is at a competitive advantage, since the costs of pollution control don’t need to be added to their products:

For China, the 21st century holds boundless possibilities. The awakening economic giant could surpass anything that has come before it. But China is also an environmental time bomb.  Its polluted air is not only choking its citizens but also spreading 6,000 miles across the Pacific, giving Californians – even those with no other ties to China – a personal stake in that country’s exploding environmental crisis.

Microscopic soot particles belched from coal-fired plants across the ocean are settling in Sierra Nevada snowpacks. Low levels of mercury from those plants are showing up in soil and water. And dust from expanding deserts in China and elsewhere in Asia can be found in the air high above the state.

Pollution migration is not new – Europeans, for example, get it from the United States. And the current levels of pollutants from Asia do not pose an urgent health or environmental threat. But experts worry about the potential increase of emissions from China as the world’s fastest-growing economy continues to expand. At the very least, pollution from China will add to the cost and difficulty of cleaning up California’s skies…

“The question of the century is: Can China industrialize in a way that does not crush the planet?” said Erik Straser, general partner in MDV-Mohr Davidow Ventures of Menlo Park and an expert in energy company investments who has consulted with Chinese officials… mounting evidence suggests China’s pollution poses problems beyond its own borders.

“It’s apparent there is a lot of pollution coming from Asia and that pollution is increasing,” said Steven Cliff, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California-Davis, whose research has detected matter he believes comes from China.  “A persistent Asian plume is evident in the air over California,” said Cliff, whose air-sampling equipment has been placed at Donner Summit, Lassen Peak and Mount Tamalpais. “It looks vaguely smoky. Generally, you see the type of pollution you might expect from large urban areas in Asia, that might be from a diesel engine or a coal-fired power plant for a cement factory.”

Much of the year, Asian pollution – including soot, ash and dust from farms, factories and coal-fired power plants – hovers high above the Golden State and is, on average, equal to a quarter of the state’s legally allowed concentrations of these particles, said Richard “Tony” VanCuren, a researcher with the California Air Resources Board.

Although China’s pollution may be a growing worry for other countries, the brunt of the harm falls on the Chinese, the article concludes, “One hundred ninety-million Chinese are drinking water that is making them sick,” observed Elizabeth Economy, director of Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of “The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China’s Future.” Growing health concerns from environmental calamities, such as industrial waste dumped into rivers that provide drinking water to rural communities, have triggered thousands of riots and protests across the countryside. “It could undermine our social stability,” said Ma Jun, a Beijing-based environmental crusader who heads the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs. “The pollution is way beyond our environmental capacity, and it’s increasing,” he added.

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June 7, 2007

Ebay Bans the Trade of Ivory

According to IFAW’s Animal Rescue Blog:

As these things happened, however, the pace picked up dramatically with the receipt of a call from one of our media contacts asking us if we could comment on some information he had received indicating that ebay would be announcing a global ivory ban. After a flurry of activity, including calling San Jose, California, speaking with journalists and confirming details, we were elated by the news that ebay had indeed (and not a moment too soon), decided to announce global policy banning sales of ivory across international borders, in compliance with CITES regulations. Their quote, regarding ivory, was a resounding ‘it’s the right thing to do,” a refrain that we have been repeating for quite some time now! The message is clear for us here in the trenches; both public opinion and commercial trends indicate a move towards decisions based on responsible conservation practices. Not bad for a day’s work (plus all the work over the course of two years; well done all of you who spearheaded this effort)!

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May 16, 2007

California sues Bush administration over fuel standards

“Monday California sued the Bush administration for “illegally adopting ‘dangerously misguided’ gas mileage rules. In a lawsuit backed by 11 states, the suit alleges that the Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s new mileage standards violate federal law by ignoring both the environment environmental impact on oil use and the country’s growing dependence on imported oil. “After years of neglect, it is unconscionable to increase vehicle mileage standards by only one mile per gallon,” said California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. outside the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where the case was argued Monday. “We are asking the court to reject this dangerously misguided policy that exacerbates global warming and enriches foreign sponsors of terrorism.” “

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May 13, 2007

31 States & 2 Provinces join California Climate Registry

“Led by California, 31 states representing more than 70% of the U.S. population announced Tuesday that they would measure and jointly track greenhouse gas emissions by major industries. The newly formed Climate Registry is the latest example of states going further than the federal government in taking steps to combat global warming. State officials, along with some industrial groups and environmentalists, say the registry is a crucial precursor to both mandatory and market-based regulation of industrial gases that contribute to warming. All agree that the most important part of the new registry is subjecting emissions statistics to third-party verification — unlike a Bush administration program that does not require verification. ‘You have to be able to count carbon pollution in order to cut carbon pollution,’ said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. The registry participants range from states that are moving aggressively to impose mandatory greenhouse gas reduction policies to others that are just beginning to examine whether to take even voluntary steps. ‘This includes a lot of deeply conservative states who have signed on that we weren’t expecting,’ said Nancy Whalen, spokeswoman for the California Climate Action Registry, the only current statewide emissions tracking system, which helped develop the multistate program… Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said of the new registry: ‘I’m proud that [it] was modeled after California’s Climate Action Registry and trust that the rest of the nation will join our fight to protect the environment and secure a sound economy.’ In addition to the 31 states, the Campo Kumeyaay Nation of Native Americans in Campo, Calif., near the Mexican border, has joined. Two Canadian provinces, British Columbia and Manitoba, also have signed on.”

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May 1, 2007

California snowpack supply seen lowest in 20 years

“California water officials said on Monday they expect the water level in the Sierra Nevada mountains snowpack this year will be the lowest in almost 20 years, crimping supplies for hydropower and other water uses and raising concern about 2008. The California Department of Water Resources will conduct its fifth and final snowpack survey of the winter season on Tuesday, but new figures point to about 29 percent of normal water content, down from 34 percent at the beginning of April. ‘The figures will be quite low, probably the lowest since 1988,’ said Don Strickland, a spokesman for DWR. That figure was 30 percent. ‘We are suggesting to water agencies that they consider what to do if 2008 is a dry year,’ Jeanine Jones, DWR’s interstate resources manager, said in a conference call with reporters. California depends on the snowpack to generate almost one-fifth of its electricity supplies, help irrigate the biggest agricultural economy in the United States, fill reservoirs, and support recreation on the state’s rivers.”

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April 16, 2007

Governor tells auto industry: "get off your butt"

Governor Schwarzenegger has been getting heavy media attention recently, including getting his picture on the cover of Newsweek, said that Michigan’s carmakers should get off their “butt” on greenhouse gases. During his presentation as featured speaker for a Global Environmental Leadership Conference at Georgetown University the Governor said:

I say, Arnold to Michigan: get off your butt and join us. California may be doing more to save U.S. automakers than anyone else. We are pushing them to make changes. If they don’t change someone else will. Only technology will ultimately save Detroit, If they don’t change, someone else will, the Japanese will, the Chinese will, the South Koreans will. In California, we are doing everything we can to tip the balance in favor of the environment, California is big. California is powerful, and what we do in California has an impact. We are sending the world a message.

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April 13, 2007

California Clean Energy Fund hires angel investment expert

“The California Clean Energy Fund (CalCEF) announced today that it has retained Susan Preston to implement its strategy to close the funding gap for promising seed and startup-stage clean energy companies. CalCEF is a $30 million nonprofit investment fund created to spur investment in California’s clean energy economy. Ms. Preston, an expert and author on angel financing, has a background and expertise that complements CalCEF’s focus on investments in seed-stage clean energy companies. Established in 2004 as a result of the PG&E bankruptcy settlement, CalCEF supports companies developing a wide range of clean energy technologies that will bring economic and environmental benefits to California and assist the state in meeting its aggressive clean energy goals.”

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April 1, 2007

Southern California may be facing a ‘perfect draught"

“Nature is pulling a triple whammy on Southern California this year. Whether it’s the Sierra, the Southland or the Colorado River Basin, every place that provides water to the region is dry. It’s a rare and troubling pattern, and if it persists it could thrust the region into what researchers have dubbed the perfect Southern California drought: when nature shortchanges every major branch of the far-flung water network that sustains 18 million people. Usually, it’s reasonably wet in at least one of those places. But not this year. The mountain snowpack vital to water imports from Northern California is at the lowest level in nearly two decades. The Los Angeles area has received record low rainfall this winter, contributing to an early wildfire season that included Friday’s blaze in the Hollywood Hills. And the Colorado River system remains in the grip of one of the worst basin droughts in centuries. ‘I have been concerned that we might be putting all the pieces in place to develop a new perfect drought,’ said UCLA geography professor Glen MacDonald, who has researched drought patterns in California and the Colorado River Basin over the last 1,000 years.”

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March 20, 2007

Governor to lead Trade Mission to Canada

Governor Schwarzenegger will lead a trade mission to Canada on May 29, 2007 and return May 31, 2007, his office announced today. The Governor will be visiting the cities of Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver, and his press release says he will focus on promoting California trade and tourism, discuss ways of reducing the effects of climate change while boosting economic growth and look at creative ways to finance infrastructure: “I am very excited to visit Canada – our state’s second largest trading partner. Californians share so much with our neighbors to the north – whether it is a desire to protect our environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions or our entrepreneurial spirit. I look forward to meeting with Canadian government officials to share the benefits of our state’s burgeoning cleantech industry, promoting California as a travel destination and encouraging Canadians to buy California’s goods and services,” Governor Schwarzenegger said. The Governor also claimed that his previous trade missions had been a success: “We have already seen great success from our past trade missions to Mexico, China and Japan, and this mission will continue on in that tradition of success”. There was no information on the Governor’s site about who will be participating in this trade mission.

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March 19, 2007

California’s soot pollution is mostly from Asia

“More than three-quarters of the West Coast’s particulate pollution in the spring is transported at high altitudes from Asian sources as soot from black carbon, according to a research team led by Professor V. Ramanathan at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego… The Asian pollution is increasing global warming researchers said, calling it a “startling finding” because of the disproportional impact that black carbon has on regional climate. ‘The soot heating of the atmosphere exceeds the surface dimming and as a result the long range transported soot amplifies the global warming due to increase in carbon dioxide,’ said Ramanathan. ‘We have to find out if this amplification is just restricted to spring time or is happening throughout the year.’ Researchers say that transported black carbon from Asian sources is equal to 77 percent of North American black carbon emissions in the troposphere during the spring. They will do a follow-up study to discover what effect the Asian black carbon is having on melt rates of the Sierra Nevada snow pack.”

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March 17, 2007

British Columbia Premier meets with Governor Schwarzenegger

“British Columbia’s policy wonk premier headed down to California Thursday where he met with Hollywood action hero Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to plant the first seeds of what’s being billed as an ambitious Pacific Coast green plan. The Los Angeles meeting between Gordon Campbell and the Terminator was a private affair where the two political leaders started to map a strategy for a green summit later this spring in British Columbia. Campbell said the two leaders want to launch a climate change initiative that could potentially include the Canadian and United States governments.”

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