Thursday, July 29, 2010

Climate Change Impacts Water Supply

From the Planning and Conservation League, a notice of a new report on anticipated future water supplies and solutions.

A new report by the consulting firm Tetra Tech reveals the impact climate change will have on water supply reliability in the United States and clearly demonstrates that urgent action is needed to move California toward more sustainable water supplies. You'll note in the chart from their report above (click to enlarge) that the water issues in Southern California are in extreme risk to water sustainability conditions under climate change.

As part of its analysis, Tetra Tech used an index to assess risks to water supply reliability on a county-by-county basis. Fully one-third of all counties in the lower 48 states will face high risks of water shortage by 2050, and nearly half of those will face extremely high risks of water shortage. Water use in some of these high-risk areas like the Great Plains and the Southwest is already unsustainable. As climate change affects temperature and precipitation levels, the number of counties facing high water shortage risks will increase, and areas like the Great Plains and the Southwest may not have any available precipitation at all.

Higher temperatures mean less water for two principal reasons. First, a changing climate means shifts in precipitation, including a change in how much, where, and when rain falls. In California, we are likely to see more rain and less snow, for example. Second, warmer temperatures cause an increase in evaporation both from ground surfaces like lakes and reservoirs and through vegetation.

In the report Tetra Tech took into account an increase in water demand over the coming decades, estimating that total water demand in the United States may grow as much as 12.3% by 2050. Their analysis shows that climate change will have a significant effect on future water supplies, particularly in places like California that already contends with shortages. The Tetra Tech report can be downloaded here.

The PCL has produced a paper on solutions to the water issues that address these problems in a new way, particularly with respect to the damage that a peripheral canal solution would have on the entire Bay Delta region. Their solution consists of a much smaller tunnel instead of a canal, and a series of projects that restore the hydraulic functioning of the Bay Delta and preserve the fish populations that have collapsed recently. That report can be downloaded here.

There has been a long discussion by many parties across the state regarding the problem solutions to the Bay Delta. The whole dialogue seems to finally be coming around to the necessity of restoring the natural processes and conserving water wherever possible, and implementing reclaimed water strategies in order to replenish local aquifers and rivers. The next order of business is to manage growth and change its form to accommodate the realities of the future that's rapidly descending upon us. Which means changing the whole "growth" mantra into a sustainable economic model as well.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Critique

Here's an open letter to everybody. I've been posting since 2007 on environmental issue research and public policy development. I hope my research, posted online, is of value to everyone, but the "lone voice in the wilderness" thing gets old.

I'm going to cut back a little and focus on the important issues. Let me know (link in sidebar) if you've got issues that need review and discussion. I'm going to take a little more time to drill down into important sustainable urban issues. I'm linked into a very big network of local nonprofits that are trying to implement pieces of the nonprofit puzzle. My focus, of course, is true sustainability in urban and protected natural regions. Check out the nonprofit I'm involved with, North East Trees.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Equitable Kingdom

This is about an important article in Miller-McCune this last May/June, describing the impact of diminishing biodiversity due to human impact.

It's the idea of true stewardship by humanity using a different vision of the nature of life on earth. Not the idealized "Peaceable Kingdom" of religious belief and our way of rendering places ideally habitable and subsuming nature, or the wild kingdom that flourished thousands of years ago .The Earth is undergoing the sixth major mass extinction of life in its long history, because of human encroachment. As the average number of species found declines, its biomass diminishes, its systemic inertia disappears and its contribution to a stable, life-supporting biosphere will become far less able to counter the human activity that is devouring its systems.
The article has an excellent discussion of how biomimicry and reverse engineering of systems can teach us the critical lessons we need to understand.
The geochemistry of earth depends upon biological processes. The ecological impact of diminishing biomass in the natural environments due to fossil fuels, agriculture, land development and other things humanity has done to shift the patterns of life on this planet are immense. Our planetary systems rely upon diversity to absorb the carbon dioxide, in balance with its natural production. It's been found that more biodiversity in ecosystems leads to greater absorption of carbon dioxide. This concept is key to ecological coexistence, examples of which can be found in various places around the globe.
This need for conservation and preservation of wild lands is critical to the balance of our ecosphere, and there's been some mapping of resource areas that must be preserved and enhanced, lest we lose the very thing that provides us with the things the earth's life system depends upon.
The online article has some excellent graphics, Last of the Wild and Human Influence Index maps. It closes with this:
But the Equitable Kingdom is not just a new form of environmental activism; it is a new way of ordering the world, one that reveals the extraordinary significance of our species — a significance we always believed we had but couldn’t envision clearly. We saw ourselves as the paragon species in Eden and the Peaceable Kingdom as a matter of divine ordination, but such beliefs are not scientifically tenable and swayed only those who subscribed to the faiths that promoted them. To become the paragon of species in an Equitable Kingdom — a kingdom in which biodiversity serves as the foundation for environmental sustainability — is not only an achievable goal but a critical one if humans are to reform and in many ways dismantle a Domesticated Kingdom that has no inherent ability to ensure environmental equanimity. The biosphere lacked any central organizing force, leadership or stewards. By assuming the responsibilities of the paragon position it has always yearned for as a species, humanity can become the steward the Earth has never had.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Algae - A solution?

Algae fuel is a biofuel that has a lot of potential as an alternative to oil, since its efficiency in converting energy to fuel is close to that of petroleum without the carbon output. Its high cost at the moment keep it from being a significant source of energy. It's being researched in other countries as well as in the US. There's also a very interesting report available from the Oilgae site, which goes into the feasibility, costs and business model development for algae fuel.

However, research published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, found that algae production can be energy intensive and can end up emitting more greenhouse gases than it sequesters. This science is in its infancy, and this report is attacked by the Algal Biomass Association as being based upon outdated information. A recently-issued DOE road map marks a return to research on a source of fuel that was once thought too costly; it comes with Federal funding for research, as well.

Not to be left out, ExxonMobil is investing $300 million in Synthetic Genomics to develop algae biofuel. The private sector is definitely moving into this possible energy source in a big way, and teaming up with research labs to move the development of this potential fuel source to the front of the line. This could be a major industrial profit center that would move the United States off of its oil dependency.

Nevertheless, it is possible to obtain instructions for do-it-yourself algae biodiesel at home. A considerable step past composting and greywater; grow your own gas!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


What's the measure of constructive ecological processes? A hierarchical structure of listings for various methods? Or, to use a tool from philosophy and logic, apply the heuristics of value.

Rather than judge the options for various technologies to liberate ourselves from the carbon cycle, it rather works better to apply the logic of "do no harm" to the various scenarios for obtaining the energy required to drive our civilization. In an article by Carl Pope, the chairman of the Sierra Club, the process is outlined as a rule of thumb approach to energy systems. In this way, nuclear power and especially coal power are ruled out.

What about the emerging technologies that address energy solutions? They have to be evaluated on their track record, which right now is painfully short. Many missteps will occur along the path to successful energy production with minimal costs to the environment. But I believe over the long haul that very rapid moves to viable alternate sources of energy and power will prove beneficial to the ecosphere as well as provide human culture with the means to develop energy systems that work in tandem with natural processes, not against them.

Biomimicry, or the "reverse engineering of nature" is a relatively new and untested approach that doesn't lend itself to reductionist analysis. So a slow and measured implementation of numerous simple strategies becomes the most rational approach to our energy problem. Think of the process as akin to the evolution of software. We'll have energy systems v4.0 issued by university research and adopted incrementally by governments based upon pilot projects carried out by the private sector. As opposed to our system of legislation now that is in bed with the big polluting industries, and getting worse as the corporations and lobbyists increasingly write the regulations and standards for the politicians.

Which is why she's got more of an expression these days.

Monday, July 19, 2010

It Roars Again

Sierra Madre residents have just won another battle with those who would like to devastate its character for profit. The current City Council, with the lone exception of MaryAnn MacGillivray - the past Mayor - has attempted to push a significant water rate increase through without justifying these increases or the scope of the water system repairs and upgrades. Through a manipulation of the process, the Council attempted to make it seemingly impossible for residents to engage in a process of protest. However, the citizenry has once again pushed back at these tactics by mounting a successful walking campaign to get far more than the sufficient required protests lodged with the City Clerk. On Sunday July 18, the local Tattler blog posted the press release from the City Clerk, certifying that the protest was successfully carried out.

Interestingly, the Tattler also records this comment:

The City Clerk did not have access to the Assessor's Parcel Numbers List/Owner's Names. If this list is made available to her, she will be happy to check the list again.

Which was a bone of contention throughout the entire process, and seems to have been withheld from everyone. This may become the grounds for some kind of City Council challenge by the residents to the whole intentionally obfuscated process. It's a shocking demonstration of how developers are seeking to control a city for the opportunity to build large projects that require more water allocation. So much for regional control and coordination of local needs and resource allocation, that's simply a development steamroller. It seems to have set in motion again the citizen revolt that resulted in the earlier Measure V which halted planned major development in Sierra Madre's downtown, another local resistance to the building industry honchos vested in Sacramento.

The mouse is a dangerous beast.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lessons from China

California's Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory's China Energy Group has been developing an integrated building life-cycle assessment to measure all aspects of urban form energy use, including embodied energy. This tool will be critical in managing energy and waste in the proposed vast new cities that are to be built in China, where a cooperative venture is being established. It's a simulation tool that has tremendous potential for accurately modeling all forms of GHG's in the United States as well.

Unfortunately, the fact that energy efficiency upgrades are often profitable while providing environmental benefits doesn't guarantee that they'll get made. The United States is a stunning case in point. LBNL's own analysis has shown that American industry could profitably recycle its own waste byproducts, including heat, gases, and pressure, to reduce the national carbon footprint by 20 percent. What's more alarming is that these missed opportunities to capture efficiency add up to a stunning $50 billion in lost potential profits to American companies, according to figures from the McKinsey Global Institute.

The Top-1000 Model being applied in Shangdong that is using LBNL's analytic capabilities to reduce energy waste in materials production, particularly concrete, is also providing documented cost savings as well as energy efficiency. This model has now expanded considerably beyond its initial pilot project status, and is being widely implemented in China due to its effectiveness.

The author of the article goes on to point out:

And while I'd gone to China to see what was happening in Shandong, I ended up thinking a lot about the Top-1000's implications for the United States. Decades of policies favoring cheap energy have allowed U.S. industry to compete with only incremental gains in energy efficiency. If China's Top-1000 succeeds on the scale that China is hoping for, U.S. industry will have to change its strategy to compete. Traditional American barriers between government and industry, regulators and the regulated may need to be torn down, to create something more cooperative and flexible. Something oddly, more like China.

As it turned out, while I was in China, California's Public Utilities Commission announced an industrial energy efficiency program based on voluntary agreements between industry and the regulator. When Lynn Price got the news she ran off to find Jiang Yun, the propagandist, to see if she might consider doing a fellowship at LBNL, teaching Californians how China gets the word out.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Climate Change Debate Resolved

An independent commission in Britain cleared climate-change researchers of charges of academic misconduct in early July, completing an inquiry begun after hundreds of e-mails from the scientists were released to the public. This created a fabricated scandal, "Climate-gate" that had accused researchers of violating academic protocols to spin the climate analysis. The commission, chaired by a Scottish university administrator, found no evidence for this. The world community has established that global warming is real, and caused by human activity. An editorial on this is at the New York Times, along with a link to a series on Climate Change.

Having clearly established that our capitalism is destructive to the natural processes that everything relies upon to live, the connection becomes obvious. As well as alarming. Our reliance upon mechanized processes driven by oil consumption and paper capital investments are driving an unsustainable destruction of the natural capital that generates true wealth and habitability on this planet. Joe Bageant seizes the moment to lay out a rant on this plunder of nature and the impact it has on all of us.

What remains to be accomplished by human societies - in a relative twinkling of an eye - is to radically change these mechanistic practices and our way of building environments that rely on machines to be habitable. "Energy Star" appliances are simply a way of staying hooked on this lifestyle rather than building sustainably, and this allows the construction of insulated boxes for shelter that are not habitable otherwise. They also give rise to mold issues from humidity, as well as "sick building syndrome" since these boxes are sealed tight. This gives the homes built prior to 1950 a huge advantage, since they're designed to use natural air circulation and the properties of the site and materials to remain temperate.

To quote an article from Yes! magazine:

Cultural historian Morris Berman points out that since the dawn of the scientific revolution we have gradually adopted a “mechanical philosophy” that “insists on a rigid distinction between observer and observed” and assumes that our personal well-being is contingent upon acquiring personal wealth through the exploitation of natural resources.

Our attempt to isolate the welfare of the human species from the health of the rest of the biotic community is a direct outgrowth of this worldview. And perceiving water as if it were a separate entity, a thing, a commodity, is part and parcel of this same compartmentalized scientific culture.
But we now know that nature is not a collection of objects. It is not a machine. We are not the end point of evolution. And we are not, as environmentalist Aldo Leopold reminded us, “conquerors” of the land community, we are simply “plain members and citizens of it.”

It's about taking action, as Greenpeace International moves to "Planet Three", for example. Their world-changing view has been going on for decades now, and is kicking into high gear for advocacy of fundamental change.

Change is going to start to mean something else - an imperative move towards low-energy strategies and following those flows of natural energy and water. Long life, low energy, loose fit.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Unique Passing

I was sorry to hear about the passing of the Reverend Paul Sawyer, a UU Minister who believed fully in the advocacy of social justice, at great personal sacrifice. He was a critic of the consolidation of media, an opposer of the death penalty, and outspoken against the war in Afghanistan; an in-depth article is here at the Pasadena Weekly. I worked with him on a Committee for a year or so at Throop Church in Pasadena. It was a memorable experience. Never one to follow the conventional pathway, he took to the fullest extent the Unitarian Universalist tenet for the ministry, "deeds not creeds" and the principle that a minister challenges congregational complacency as abdicating the real "work" that a congregation has to do in growing together religiously.

This philosophical approach is very much akin to the Zen Buddhist framework, and is outlined in books such as "Our Chosen Faith" by John A. Buehrens and F. Forrester Church, as well as " A New Machiavellian View of the Ministry" by Rev. Brandy Lovely.

Paul was one of those very authentic individuals who did not run with the herd, sometimes to the detriment of his ministry. It led to some turbulence, but also framed the issues of seeking the important ethical values and the inclusion of people from all walks of life. He lived his ministry about as close to its passionate truth as any minister I've encountered. His progressive approach incorporated the Transcendentalist vein of UU theology promoted by Theodore Parker, and was that of religious individualism, and the spoken word. As well as a deep appreciation for Jazz music!

He'll be missed.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Despite all the talk of moving towards clean fuels and renewable energy sources, the actual policies in place by first-world economies and its leading institutions result in funding the worst of the old fossil fuels practices. This reliance on oil and coal despite its devastation to the environment indicates clearly that the balance sheet for the biggest players on the globe do not account for the costs of the damage paid by humanity and the environment all over the world. From the Bretton Woods Project:

Despite recent attempts to restyle itself as a green institution, the World Bank's energy lending suggests that it remains wedded to fossil fuels. Meanwhile, independent evaluators and civil society groups have raised serious concerns about the developmental benefits of the Bank's approach to energy efficiency and renewables.

The US itself has created an entire economy based upon destructive practices that remain off the balance sheet. I've been on the National Priorities Project site, and I got into the dataset and generated a report on US gov't expenditure on housing in California 1983 - 2009, chart above (click to enlarge).

Since 2001, there has been an astronomical level of Federal funding pushed into housing. This, along with the repeal of Glass-Steagall at the end of Clinton's term in 2000, generated the entire housing bubble, leveraged by the banking sector. Why was this done? To create "consumer demand" with easy credit, create an artificial asset (nonexistent home equity) that drives sales, employment, development, everything. As well as creating an empire of debt, not real equity. All of this takes a lot of oil, naturally, in energy (power) as well as production of goods and their transportation. More houses, more traffic. And on and on. None of the costs of this are on the corporate or governmental books.

US business has off shored everything else and doesn't create anything of significant value in this country any more. Foreign investment and corporations fund a lot of the industrial and service business that we do have here. It's not local capital, and it's managed outside of this country. The artificial bubble was created to prop up the economy, but as any short-term investment strategy does, there's a big balloon payment at the end of the cycle. The asset is not real, hence there's no way to get out of the bubble except to pop it. Iceland found that out the hard way, as has Ireland, Greece and Spain. It's called "Disaster Capitalism".

While the US Government was fueling a huge real estate bubble as de facto policy, it is also, in the meantime, putting legislation in place to deal with greenhouse gasses under pressure from the global community. Since the government couldn't attack its main engine for creating "wealth", its regulations targeted emissions from traffic, power plants, manufacturing, etc. which produces visible carbon emissions. This policy does not address the embodied energy used to build, produce and furnish new real estate as is accounted for in the LEED energy standard, which emerged from the design and planning community. The GHG emission standards focus on pollution (rightly so) but leave out the biggest cumulative generator of GHG emissions, real estate development. That's not even counting the subsequent demands that this burdens the local environment with, specifically water, power, fuel, traffic, increased trash and other municipal services. So there's a very myopic view of the entire picture of the carbon cycle and its resulting impact, which fails to address the true flaws of unbridled growth. Deliberately. Don't wanna look at it, right?

So California is simply a subset of this whole fiasco, still trying to pump money out of a dry well, once again using Federal money and rerouting state funds to create more of a housing market. Just pushing an already failed strategy that burns oil to stay alive and costs significant tax dollars so that development can claim a profit.

That explains why trying to implement conservation strategies and sustainable design practices is so difficult and happening on a state-by-state basis. The Federal government, including its world institutions, isn't walking its talk.

This current administration is more open to setting guidelines and policies on a national level that reflects the true scope of the energy and resource issues, as well as conservation. Until the sustainability movement can establish concrete returns on investment, it will be difficult to change the Federal policies that put us into our current economic crisis. The global development guidelines will have to change the accounting system, incorporating natural capitalism and social networking to leverage investment, rather than the old accounting tricks that have brought the global community to the brink of fiscal and environmental disaster. When this kind of reform is implemented, then the new technologies and practices will be able to move rapidly to invoke system-changing paradigms and move the economy and our environmental impacts in a constructive direction.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Get Political

I wanted to take a minute today to tip my hat to the Hahamongna Blog Day that's being staged with leadership from Petrea Burchard. It's doing pretty well, a good portion of the blogger list is following through. I even learned about the JPL Superfund site from West Coast Grrlie Blather.

Having attended and spoken out in public hearing about this issue, I feel that it's important to take several avenues of resistance to this irrational land planning activity coming from the City itself; all public hearings over the last decade have recorded tremendous public opposition to placing "public facilities" in this natural watershed. My blogs on this matter are here and here.

But most importantly, I've raised a question regarding the source of the ongoing "push" to pour concrete over our watershed resources and destroy its wetlands function that provides critical open space in our Arroyo as well. Should this be investigated? Leave that to the "thorny rose" Friends of Hahamongna?

This is echoed on the Save Hahamongna site:
Apparently strong pressure is being exerted on Mayor Bogaard and Councilmembers to ignore the request from the Hahamongna Watershed Park Advisory Committee and the Environmental Advisory Commission to reconsider a 2003 plan to place two soccer fields and a parking lot in the middle of the Hahamongna flood basin.

This calls for more than just public awareness and raising issues that the City will not deal with directly. The July 12th, Pasadena City Council meeting must be a strong and final blow to these development plans that have been repeatedly shot down in public hearing over the last decade. Get political!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


A lot of what makes human societies work is the way in which things are balanced against each other, in a democratic process. This concept is central to our Declaration of Independence and the amendments to the first Constitution, the Bill of Rights. We've celebrated this on the Fourth of July for over 235 years, now.

It's hard for us to remember some of these fundamental things in these days of corporate takeover of the United States government and its states, not to mention its local and regional governments. The most recent example of this is the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of the limits on campaign financing by corporations. It's now essentially unlimited in its influence on politics.

How do these corporate structures impact local governments in California? This control is exerted via the regional organizations through their connections in Sacramento. In order to goose development in Southern California, regardless of the lack of demand or the limits of resources, the regional agencies are railroading a housing requirement in order to capture funding via AB 32 and SB 375. This is the RHNA formula, which local cities are not allowed to contest in any kind of legal forum. It forces development into cities that can sometimes exceed 150% of the supportable city resources, essentially an unfunded mandate for development, dictated by specious "population projections". This creates a burden for the local cities that drains their resources for infrastructure and public services (Police and Fire), and obliterates local planning that addresses the needs of the residents. It's a State takeover for profits for developers and more revenue under the Proposition 13 formula that exempts established businesses from fair-share property taxes. It also generates the greatest impact of greenhouse gasses from construction development, while trying to sell a reduction in vehicle miles traveled as the greenwash in all of this.

A prime example of how this is manipulated at the local level is laid out here at the Sierra Madre Tattler. It gets pretty ugly.

Control of local governance paves the way to the takeover of the General Plan and regional planning by these County and regional agencies in order to generate development revenue out of monies available from State and Federal Government funding sources. Regardless of need, regardless of the lack of capacity to supply the needed infrastructure and water, regardless of the environmental decimation that this creates.

This goes hand in hand with the undermining of CEQA being proposed by both parties, under the leadership of Schwarzenegger and Senate President Pro Tem leader Darrell Steinberg, author of SB 375. Developers and corporations in the driver's seat as usual. Can Justice prevail?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Goat Reprise

Urban Goats are an expanding movement, as I noted about a year ago. They're being used again at Bunker Hill in Los Angeles to clear weeds and shrubs on a steep vacant lot. Becoming more popular and economical, besides being eco-friendly, these critters are a very sustainable solution when they're managed correctly. Environmental Land Management in San Diego will rent them to you for a fee.

In other areas of the country, they become a source of meat, as well. The USDA has an entire program devoted to critters and urban agriculture.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Rite of Spring

The Faust theme, that of risking eternal damnation by selling one’s soul to the devil in exchange for magical powers, can be found in nearly every genre of music as well as in the arts and literature. This is a biblical theme examining humanity’s place in the universe and the struggle between good and evil. It plays out in technology as well, in the energy that enables us to generate heat and light, to fly and race over the globe, and use powerful machines to move the earth, as well as broadcast the beams of information, music, images and ideas across the globe. This magic is powered by that black energy from deep in the earth, coal and oil. Burn that, and you've got the Faustian bargain of carbon loading in the biosphere and the horrific toll that pollution and climate change is taking on planetary systems.

Looking at this issue mythically may help us create a vision of redemption that can be used to trick the devil in the final stretch. Listening to the notorious music by Stravinsky in the ballet by Diaghilev, which created an uproar over its expression of primitive power and seductive entrapment, we can see that there's a way out of the trap. This theme has been re-imagined over and over, the music emerging more recently again in Bob Fosse's choreography in that 1955 play about the Yankees losing the pennant: Damn Yankees. Gwen Verdon does it all justice in "Whatever Lola Wants", the great seduction number.

Myth, metaphor, philosophy and wisdom can go beyond the bounds of everyday vision and inspire a collaborative, focused goal of reintegrating with the natural processes and leaving the dark fuels behind. It relies on making the social connections and valuing the smaller, more intimate and ultimately most effective systems and lifestyles. Out of that vision emerges the strategies and solutions that return life to the earth in the manner in which we found it. It's a choice we can make as the inhabitants of this planet - the devil's bargain can be broken. Joe did slam that ball out of the park and with Lola's help, he made it back home to Meg.