Saturday, December 24, 2016

What Might Have Been

The Bach/Gounod Ave Maria is a paean to the Virgin Mary, beseeching forgiveness for sins committed unto death. The sins against people, and against life on earth. That which we could have forestalled, in grace as put forth in Laudato Si, to protect and care for our home.

Hail, Mary, full of grace
the lord is with thee,
blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus
pray for us sinners, now, and at
the hour of our death.

Not that the effort wasn't made in the USA. The Bernie Sanders program and policy on Climate Change issues, incorporated into the DNC platform in July of this year was to drastically cut carbon pollution, create a clean energy workforce, and impose a carbon tax. The Democratic platform ultimately called for a WWII-Scale Mobilization to solve the climate crisis, which involved the leadership of Bill McKibben in framing the platform.

Yet that was not to be. So, on Dec. 13, 2016 about 400 scientists and environmental activists gathered at Jessie Square Outside Moscone Center in San Francisco to stand up to Trump's position on climate change:

Science is under attack. President-elect Donald Trump is packing his cabinet with unapologetic climate change deniers with close ties to the fossil fuel industry. Last week, Trump falsely claimed that “nobody really knows” if climate change is happening, and then a member of his transition team actually compared modern climate science to the Flat-earth theory.  He has also made it clear that he wants to hand over our public lands and waters to the fossil fuel industry.

And in an unprecedented move, the Trump transition team sent out a questionnaire seeking the names of federal employees who helped implement President Obama’s climate change goals -- a move some called a witch hunt. Meanwhile, climate scientists are furiously working to archive public data because of the concern that it all could be erased under the incoming Trump administration.

Scientists aren’t usually ones to rally in the streets. As Naomi Oreskes, Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University, said at the rally, "We don't want to be here...we want to be in our labs, we want to be in the field, doing the work that we were trained and educated to do...We are at a moment in time, a moment in history, where we have to do something else as well. And that's stand up and be counted."

So we stand on the edge of a tragic precipice, from which we don't seem to have the ability to engage our vision or embrace our humanity.

Updates 12/26/16:

An open letter to President-Elect Trump and the 115th Congress was sent by more than 2,300 scientists, Nov. 30, 2016

In the aftermath of the election results, a group of 500 women in the sciences has banded together to speak out, Nov. 17, 2016

376 members of the National Academy of Sciences published an open letter to draw attention to the serious risks of climate change, Sept. 20, 2016

Update 12/29/16: Are Climate Scientists Ready for Trump? Maybe not.

Update 12/31/16: Scientists at the plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican on Nov 29, 2016

Sunday, December 18, 2016

An Eighth Year - Some Rain

We've had a recent winter rainstorm now, they're very infrequent in Southern California these days. Finally a series of cool days but not like there used to be. The winters are definitely changing, and this is creating issues around the globe. There's a dialogue emerging in Britain because climate change threatens ability of insurers to manage risk. Earlier this month, ClimateWise, a global network of 29 insurance industry organisations which is convened by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, has warned of the urgent need to address the growing $100 billion annual climate risk 'protection gap' in two new reports; Investing for Resilience and the ClimateWise Principles Independent Review 2016.

Bank of England chief Mark Carney is very clear that he has warned that the fight against climate change will be jeopardized unless companies with big carbon footprints come clean about their exposure to global warming risks.Carney, writing jointly with the former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said citizens, consumers, businesses, governments and international organizations were all taking action in response to extreme weather events. Bloomberg’s Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures has published its recommendations for a voluntary disclosure code. It will cover four areas considered by Carney and Bloomberg to be vital to how businesses operate – governance, strategy, risk management and metrics:

The FSB Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) will develop voluntary, consistent climate-related financial risk disclosures for use by companies in providing information to investors, lenders, insurers, and other stakeholders.

The Task Force will consider the physical, liability and transition risks associated with climate change and what constitutes effective financial disclosures across industries.

The work and recommendations of the Task Force will help companies understand what financial markets want from disclosure in order to measure and respond to climate change risks, and encourage firms to align their disclosures with investors’ needs.

Financial disclosure is essential to a market-based solution to climate change. A properly functioning market will price in the risks associated with climate change and reward firms that mitigate them. As its impact becomes more commonplace and public policy responses more active, climate change has become a material risk that isn’t properly disclosed. The areas America could abandon first is discussed by Bloomberg with respect to a managed withdrawal from disaster-prone areas that require frequent financial assistance from FEMA. It's becoming necessary even for the Federal government to limit its exposure to climate change events.

A broader discussion comes from an article published last year in the Financial Times about what's needed to tackle climate change. In his book Why Are We Waiting?, Nicholas Stern, author of the Stern Review on the economics of climate change, lays out the challenges and opportunities with clarity and passion. Again, it's about the cost of not facing this most devastating issue of our time.

Update 12/18/16:  Why Doesn't It Snow in L.A. Anymore?

Update 12/31/16: Projected Sea Level rise in Los Angeles 2100

Update 1/1/2017:  Miami, as we know it today, is not going to exist

Friday, December 2, 2016

It Comes into Force

The Christian season of Advent countenances expectation, hope, joy and purity in the lighting of candles, culminating in a moment of reverence on Christmas Day. The hopes and expectations of the future during this century are now focused on the climate crisis of our time. The Paris climate change deal became international law on November 4, 2016. This milestone comes to pass as we are already approaching the 1.5C limit, and forests across the world are now burning. Glaciers are disappearing along with the water supply for many land-bound countries, and the polar caps are now collapsing and melting at unprecedented rates.

COP22 in Marrakech concluded in early December with a remarkable resolve by many nations to act on climate change issues, particularly fossil fuel emissions. Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Patricia Espinosa, summed up the central outcomes of the UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, along with outlining the next steps for international, national and local climate action. The Marrakech talks may not have tackled the actual gap between global climate goals and fossil fuel production, but individual governments don’t need to wait to show leadership.This means that it's incumbent upon countries, cities and states to do all they possibly can as soon as possible to reach zero emissions. It brings a focus to local governments to act on this policy.

California has been experiencing severe environmental impacts as a result of climate change that exacerbates the drought and reduces water supplies. It has been struggling to maintain water supplies throughout the state. The way water distribution works in California is that the water is pumped from the Bay area via several main aqueducts into the dry metropolitan areas in Southern California. Water allocations from the State Water Project go from there to the southern portion of the state. In addition there's the Colorado River Aqueduct from Lake Mead near Las Vegas, Arizona and also the City of Los Angeles which takes its water from the Owens Valley aqueduct. The allocations for this water are adjudicated by Department of Water Resources in Sacramento among the various water agencies. Their approach has shifted to significant conservation strategies.

Working to make water conservation a way of life, state agencies have released a draft plan for achieving long-term efficient water use and meeting drought preparedness goals that reflect California’s diverse climate, landscape, and demographic conditions. Here's a graphic record of our reservoir levels that are used by many agencies and individuals to track our water reserves. This year, the heavy rains in Northern California helped fill the reservoirs up north, but also allowed the water agencies to start filling the reservoirs in Southern California with a reserve supply via the aqueducts because it's not getting much rain. This system keeps the large coastal cities alive: San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, although they are all now looking at severely restricted water supplies.

Another serious impact has been the health of our forests. The drought and climate change has had a devastating effect on California's forests. After 70 million tree deaths, the worst is "still to come" (as of August 2015). In November 2016, an astounding 102 million trees are now dead in California. There are no easy answers for what to do with them, or how to preserve what's left. And also, what's to become of the giant sequoias? Forest ecologists talk about the unprecedented die-off: "In more than 30 years of studying these trees Stephenson had only seen two die on their feet. Five years into the current drought, he’s now seen dozens of standing dead." Looking to the future of these forests, X-ray technology reveals that California's forests are in for a radical transformation, as well as a future of more forest fires which contribute large quantities of carbon and soot.

Because of these horrible conditions, we come to a reality check: California is about to find out what a truly radical climate policy looks like, as a result of the impact of climate change on the state. SB-32 is a new state law which will now mandate an additional 40 percent cut in emissions by 2030, the most restrictive emissions law in the country. So California, with the sixth largest economy on the planet, out of necessity will be providing leadership to the US and also the other developed countries of the world. And it's just the beginning.

Update 12/2/16:  California climate leadership at COP 22 Marrakech

Update 12/3/16:  Trump campaign is a direct threat to California citizens

Update 12/4/16:  Trump victory is a threat to California's natural resources

Update 12/13/16:   Bill Gates/University of California joint announcement about the start of a billion-dollar fund to invest in transformative energy research and development to reduce the emissions that cause climate change.

Update 12/14/16: California forest dieoff is turning tree-cutters into millionaires

Update 12/15/16: A Tale of two droughts in California

Update 12/15/16:  The last five years were the driest ever documented in downtown L.A. since official records started 140 years ago.

Update 12/20/16: New California Law Recognizes Meadows, Streams As “Green Infrastructure”, Eligible For Public Works Funding

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Stranger in a Strange Land

The outline above from the President-elect clearly shows that his motive is purely short-term profit on old dinosaur energy investments, protecting that industry for as long as possible. It would result in the immolation of our earth and its life. It's the whip-and-buggy approach to critical global contemporary energy issues.

"Stranger in a Strange Land" is a 1961 science fiction novel by American author Robert A. Heinlein. It tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human who comes to Earth in early adulthood after being born on the planet Mars and raised by Martians. The novel explores his interaction with—and eventual transformation of—terrestrial culture. It is eerily similar in construct to the man who fell into the Presidency two weeks ago. However, Valentine Michael Smith had the intelligence to adapt to his new circumstances, unlike Trump, as well as a similar vast wealth and childlike naïveté.

In December 2015, in Paris, parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on ClimateChange (UNFCCC) adopted the Paris Agreement (UNFCCC, 2015a). Parties agreed to keepthe increase in global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels,and to pursue efforts to stay below 1.5 °C. The agreement officially entered into force on 4 November 2016. Commitment to the Paris Agreement is now stronger than ever; there is an action agenda.

The Obama administration has renewed its commitments to the Paris agreement in the waning days of its tenure,announcing additional commitments to The American Business Act on Climate Pledge. And here's how the Obama administration proposes to reduce greenhouse gases.

Barack Obama's comments on the new media ecosystem: “Ideally, in a democracy, everybody would agree that climate change is the consequence of man-made behavior, because that’s what ninety-nine per cent of scientists tell us,” he said. “And then we would have a debate about how to fix it. That’s how, in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, you had Republicans supporting the Clean Air Act and you had a market-based fix for acid rain rather than a command-and-control approach. So you’d argue about means, but there was a baseline of facts that we could all work off of. And now we just don’t have that.”

And now France and the UN tell Trump that action on climate change is unstoppable.

So, this is a portrait of a man who knows nothing about climate change. His typical word salad has to be read to be believed...

Yes, raised by Martians.

Update 11/27/16:

On Capitol Hill: Blasting Trump's Climate Denialsim

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and cofounder of the Senate Climate Action Task Force

Senator Bernie Sanders, leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus

Senator Barbara Boxer, Ranking Member, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is retiring

Senator Tom Carper will be the new Ranking Member on the Environment and Public Works Committee

Historic Senate Action on the climate issue

Update 11/29/16: Mediaworld - Trump realizes that when you step outside those limits, you can manipulate the media at will because their normal ways of doing things are inadequate to the task. You can take any idea, no matter how preposterous, and make half the country believe it. And when journalists push back, it’ll only make your supporters more firm in their loyalty. 

Update 12/13/16: Echoes of Galileo in the populist retreat from reason: Trump established his anti-science credentials by declaring climate change a Chinese hoax.

Update 12/22/16:  Dr. Peter Carter: A Trump presidency would be the end of the world for the whole world and the end of any future for civilization and the human race.

Update 1/3/17:  Rex Tillerson, Exxon's CEO and Trump’s choice to lead the State Department, is frightening

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Eye of the Needle

This is one of the original main entry doors for the San Gabriel Mission in southern California. Like most ancient fortresses, hilltowns, churches and synagogues that were places of refuge in early human history, it was crafted with a small-scale entry door just big enough for one person to slip through at night when the big doors were shut for safety. The smaller door, known as a page’s passage, was set into one of the wings of the main door, to provide easy access, as the main portals remained closed for security reasons.The simplest doors were decorated with rows of metal bosses, strips, and knockers. The bosses, placed in double rows on the upper and lower sections of the door, helped to prevent the wooden panels from cracking.

In the middle east, for example, it was designed for security reasons so that enemies could not simply ride into the city on their camels and attack. The gate was so small that a man would have to unload his camel of all that it was carrying and then carefully lead his camel through this small gate. It was a slow and quite difficult task. It means releasing all of the baggage and squeezing through the opening, generally on the camel's knees. Thus it's the parable for letting go of everything except the essential self, which in the biblical parable the rich man was not able to do.

We are facing a similar paradigm with our changing climate: how do we make it through the impossibly small aperture of the necessary drastic reduction in carbon emissions in time to preserve our future on this planet? Do we discover, like King Midas, that all that's vital to our existence cannot be frozen in gold and that there's no going back with the help of a mysterious, powerful stranger? And ironically, tragically, "money" has no meaning in the real world of living dynamics and natural processes.

We are in a vise of our own making. Per Paul Gilding, the global economy is in deep and serious trouble. Growth in the current model is grinding to a halt. Inequality and the lack of progress of the Western middle class has laid the foundation for political extremism, xenophobia and isolationism. It has thus brought us phenomena like Trump, Brexit and other political movements that further threaten the global economy. Policies to address this sluggish growth have led to both increased financial system risks and an enormous debt load — one there is no realistic way to pay back, just because growth is so sluggish. The resulting instability forms the shaky foundation on which the impacts of uncontrolled climate change will land — creating an economic and social crisis that will likely tip the system over the edge.

According to Bill McKibben, even if every nation in the world complies with the Paris Agreement, the world will heat up by as much as 3.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 — not the 1.5 to 2 degrees promised in the pact’s preamble.  Clinton’s advisers originally promised there would be a “climate war room” in her White House, but then corrected the record: It would actually be a “climate map room,” which has the effect of a hollow promise. Which means "business as usual" and an utter failure to come to grips with the real and self-inflicted issues threatening our planet. He has written about why he feels that climate emergency mobilization is the only rational way forward at this point. His organization is working with a "Victory Plan" by Ezra Silk with the Climate Mobilization group that is assembling an approach to a global mobilization on many fronts. There's a discussion forum on this plan online, which calls for reworking the government and economy even more thoroughly than during World War II, in order to cut America’s net greenhouse emissions down to zero by 2025 while also reversing degradation of ecosystems and halting the mass extinction of species. In keeping with examining our options at this point, a new study released by Oil Change International, in partnership with 14 organizations from around the world, scientifically grounds the growing movement to keep carbon in the ground by revealing the need to stop all new fossil fuel infrastructure and industry expansion

But the way to survive this coming ordeal is not just the mechanics of rapid restructuring and regeneration of our desiccated ecological systems, but also a common purpose shared by human civilizations. This consensus and coordination is necessary to ensure that all efforts are willingly taken to make these immense changes in an effective way. The consensus is achieved with a global agreement at the UN level, one that establishes a framework that is essentially fair and achievable, and relies upon simple benchmarks such as emissions. Since these actions will upend the entire economy, it makes no sense to build a framework in dollars or money, but purely upon the necessary carbon reductions that our global cities and countries must undertake. This can be measured and monitored no matter what kind of economy emerges from the coming restructuring that we will have to do in spite of the chaos we will have to face.

Update 10/19/16: Economics is a form of brain damage: "Externalities" by David Suzuki (2013)

Update 12/21/16: Another view: for the past thirty-six years, humanity has been moving through the eye of the needle.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

FLLW: Nature is my manifestation of God

An article from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change discusses the means by which we could now limit climate change to 1.5°C , employing the chart shown above. It shows six carbon dioxide removal strategies, including afforestation and reforestation. It will be a major struggle to pull it off without employing some form of technological carbon capture. So in other words, we not only need to leave all the fossil fuels in the ground, starting immediately, but also absorb most of the carbon we've released in the last 50 years. But according to the latest issue of Science magazine, which is devoted to forest health, every major forest biome is struggling. While each region suffers from unique pressures, the underlying thread that connects them all is undeniably human activity. Deforestation is changing our climate.

We need to immediately stop the destruction of forests and watersheds, and find ways to restore them. Understanding how they work as an ecosystem is an important first step. Scientists that study biology and horticulture know that plants talk to each other and communicate using an internet of fungus. “Mother Trees” use fungal communication systems to preserve forests in a mutual cooperation strategy. Suzanne Simard has developed this approach for decades. Her TED Talk, How Trees Talk To Each Other, is here.

We also need to provide for a diversity of the forest ecosystem, which is an important component of its system resiliency. Biodiversity and complexity are anti-entropic. Science Magazine examines this in a special issue: "Forest health in a changing world." Preservation of global ecology and a Green New Deal will be critical to drastically reducing the global carbon emissions.

Regeneration and expansion of our urban forests can be another key approach to creating carbon sinks. Provide landscaped environments in places where the land has been paved over and the forests plowed under. Restoration of functional green areas and watersheds in the urban heart of a city can be key to its financial regeneration as well, such as the Master Plan for the Los Angeles River Revitalization currently underway.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Growth at All Cost

The growth model that's imperiling our planet with climate change impacts has not only continued unabated, but is also endangering our body of law and policy.

The Southern California Association of Governments' 2008 Regional Comprehensive Plan that is supposed to be our regional blueprint takes its cue on climate change from the IPCC, the UN body that is setting global policy: "The body of scientific evidence shows that our global climate is heating up at unprecedented rates that threaten life as we know it (Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2007:Synthesis Report, November 2007). The vast Southern California region has contributed to the highest CO2 emissions levels in recorded history. This threatens to impact all aspects of our communities, whether it’s reducedwater supplies, habitat loss, increased air pollution,or public health impacts. The secondary effects of climate change are almost as troubling; for example, hotter cities need more cooling, which increases power plant usage that contributes further to the vicious cycle."

Note: this cited source is now the IPCC AR5 report, issued in 2015, which is even more emphatic about the climate change impacts of carbon emissions. A special report in April of this year is becoming urgent about the absolute necessity to reverse the impacts human development on the planet.

Yet the growth mantra continues unabated in the Southern California region despite policies that recognize the historic impact of uncontrolled expansion and development. For example, Los Angeles County has allowed expansion of suburban development in its unincorporated areas with only an eye towards profit, even in supposedly protected natural areas. Development in the Santa Monica Mountains has been spurred by the LA County Supervisors for decades, putting the natural terrain in peril. In most cases, the developers who benefited from the extra homes had contributed to the campaign coffers of Mike Antonovich...In all, Antonovich's campaigns received $225,000 from those seeking to exceed mountain growth limits.

In the outlying county areas, the developments are even being allowed to go forward inasmuch as there's no water or infrastructure to support the construction of housing and commercial areas. Antonivich has even proposed allowing development to use hauled-in water that deeply concerns environmentalists. Damon Nagami, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said he worried the proposal would “open the door to urban sprawl in areas with extreme water scarcity.” Supervisor Antonovich has gone so far as to introduce the Hauled Water proposal at the September 4, 2012 Board meeting.

These efforts to unravel the regional policies established at the SCAG level in favor of a few pockebooks is the kind of patronage that has no place in a region that is fighting for survival as the ongoing drought and water scarcity threaten even the existing fabric of developed tracts and urban areas. It's time for a new era of conservation, cooperation and marshalling of resources that restores our environmental legacy and provides new measures of urban existence that contain the boundaries of development and consumption in a sustainable way.

Update 8/1/16: LA Times Opinion: Don't keep on trucking water

Update 8/5/16: Hostile takeover of the SCAQMD as a gift to the Ports of LA

Update 11/19/16: Chickens come home to roost

Update 12/12/16: Bye bye Antonovich, Kuehl now leads SCAQMD so we can breathe again