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)

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

Friday, June 10, 2016

Forging A Policy

The Democratic National Committee is holding a series of hearings around the country this summer to collect input for the Democratic Party platform. In a joint statement on Friday June 3, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, chairman of the Platform Drafting Committee for the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, announced hearings in Washington, Phoenix, St. Louis and Orlando, Florida, in early June and early July. The goal of the public hearings, the two Democrats said, is to solicit input from policy experts and regular Democrats. These hearings are being broadcast on C-Span, both on cable access and web streaming.

The Democratic National Committee has allowed Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to appoint five members to the committee that authors the party’s platform. Democrats said Clinton was allowed to pick six while Sanders picked five, based on the number of popular votes they have each won to date. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz will choose four members. Sanders chose the scholar and racial justice activist Cornel West; leading environmentalist and co-founder Bill McKibben; Native American activist Deborah Parker; Minnesota Congressmember Keith Ellison, who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus; and Palestinian rights activist and scholar James Zogby, who founded the Arab American Institute.

Janet Redman directs the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies. She testified at the DNC Platform Committee Hearing on June 9 in Washington, D.C. for a non-military response to the potentially catastrophic security risk posed by climate change. Her conclusion is as follows:

"The security risks posed by climate change to the United States and global populations are real, imminent and potentially catastrophic. The most critical responses to the curb the threat global warming poses to the American public and global stability are non-military. We must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions at home and support a just transition to clean energy, climate resilient economies in developing countries.

Finding the innovative ways to pay for it could be part and parcel of strengthening our economy. In addition to a progressive carbon tax, two options stand out. First,some of the revenue of a Wall Street speculation tax (also known as a financial transaction tax) could be used to support climate action. Second, military spending on outdated or obsolete weapons and programs could be redirected to program combating climate change abroad. Currently, U.S. spending is skewed 30:1 in favor of military over climate security (our nearest “peer competitor” spends 1.2:1).To confront the global threat risk that climate change poses, we have to take a holistic approach to security spending."

The full transcript is here.

Monday, May 23, 2016

California May Day!

"Attempts to encourage journeys to be switched to rail from the more carbon dioxide emitting air and car forms of travel have largely failed as the characteristics and attractions of all carbon-based modes – including those claimed to be justified on the grounds that per passenger-kilometre they are more energy efficient – have simply led to more travel, especially in long-distance journeys."

- Mayer Hillman, Senior Fellow Emeritus since 1992 at the Policy Studies Institute, University of Westminster, UK

The traffic planners all understand this problem of adding highway capacity to existing networks - they simply add to traffic problems because more traffic shows up to clog the network. So planning has started to focus on becoming more efficient with automobile transit design and highway expansions. But it hasn't solved the underlying problem of traffic jams and increased pollution; same story. And sadly that's the fundamental, unidentified problem: carbon emissions. Tinkering around the edges with electric engines and trains doesn't solve it.

By the same token, the switching of the physical issue of transport from air travel to rail, or highway to rail, avoids solving the problem itself, which is that moving bodies and cargo around are the basic drivers of energy consumption. This, of course creates more "value" attributable on accounting spreadsheets as an increase in GDP. But it's obviously a false metric if the environmental damages of this human behavior aren't accounted for. Once all the factors are examined vs. the amounts of money required to build and maintain these massive systems, it doesn't actually pay back or even make much sense. Its only "advantage" is that public dollars are used to offset and conceal the actual impact of these systems. It's the equivalent to the old factory stacks that dumped pollution into the air without accounting for its effects because "the commons" was assumed to be free to all for use. And that's the Tragedy. This problem could use some good economists.

"Impressive though recent efficiency gains are, switching to energy renewables and low-carbon developments makesno contribution to reducing the concentrationof emissions. It can only reduce the rate at which the concentration continues to rise." - Mayer Hillman

Part of the UN-level discussion on GHG emissions includes the analysis by Mayer Hillman, which is a very strong position that supposedly more efficient travel systems leads to MORE travel and more emissions, not less. Especially considering that something like the proposed California High Speed Rail (HSR) is in *ADDITION TO* all the other existing systems of travel, all of which continue to dump GHG's into the atmosphere. It's an appeal to the engineering and large infrastructure industry. Hence the discussion of California's completely inadequate HSR concept which spends billions of dollars to basically no effect, except to create more emissions and higher populations and makes the whole problem worse. The concept was politically designed (not engineered) over a decade ago on outdated policy information, as was cap-and-trade.

We're seeing this in California with Governor Brown's pet project, the HSR, a boondoggle if there ever was one. It doesn't even work at a basic engineering level, but the massive AEC firm (Parsons Brinkerhoff) that is running the project has to "feed the monster" to stay in business. It doesn't actually work as High Speed Rail anymore because of this configuration wandering around the Central Valley instead of directly connecting SF and LA. Its inception was a political deal to link together the small cities in the Central Valley to feed growth, of course, and get millions of "housing units" built in the hottest area of California that is currently agricultural. Its water supplies are diminishing, the aquifers are collapsing from overdrafting, and large areas are ruined for agriculture because irrigation and fertilization has rendered the soil unusable from the accumulated salts, particularly on the west side of the Central Valley. Not to mention that the crops are now almond trees and the product is shipped to China in heavily polluting tankers.

It gets better. Governor Brown is using a good portion of the funds from the Cap and Trade program (!!!) to try to pay for this HSR project, since the Federal Government and private industry won't step up to the plate. It doesn't pencil out, and there is massive public objection to this whole thing (for good reason). The fact that this whole HSR doesn't actually have any demand for travel - we have several highways, a metro train and LOTS of air travel between LA and SF - seems to be irrelevant to the politicos who planned this whole fiasco. It's just about populating the Central Valley and getting more GDP out of it now that agriculture seems to have maxed out. Everybody wants revenue and the real estate industry has always been the answer to that in this state, it's very nineteenth century. California is only about 150 years old in terms of its settlement history; it's not like Europe. The plumbing that makes the Central Valley possible is only about 50 years old, it's all imported from the northern part of the state with giant pumps and aqueducts built since about 1960, and we're seeing the immense problems created by only a half century of re-engineering the state. It's becoming increasingly apparent that the "solutions" to the population explosion in the cities of southern California has drastically amplified the potential damages to the environment and to the huge population of people living here; setting itself up for disaster because none of this is really sustainable in a warming planet that's cutting off the rain.

Now let's add the ports of Los Angeles, San Pedro, San Diego and San Francisco, which are the biggest emitters of pollution from cargo transit on the west coast. Air quality in LA is the worst in the nation because of the shipping which depends on oil, and the dirty trucks that are used on the highways to get the stuff to inland warehouses before it's put on rail to the midwest and east coast. Naturally, China has the dirtiest shipping industry on the planet and a big chunk of it comes here, along with all that stuff that's no longer manufactured in this country but ends up in our landfills. Or actually the cars end up in Mexico and South America for the last third of their useful life; Mexico City is swarming with old Volkswagens and used Japanese Hondas.

So the whole thing feeds on itself because more transit and shipping begats more GDP, and therefore the "demand" is the quantifiable metric but not the energy consumption and pollution because its impact is hidden in "the commons". That's why this emissions framework has got to be tied to the equity of the commons, because that's the only benchmark that accounts for the impacts. The political assumptions driving this destructive development and expansion are actually quite delusional, yet it's the basis for public policy in this country, as well as in China, which has been building empty cities connected with high speed rail (which is counted by China as GDP even though nobody's bought the stuff yet).

We're going to drive ourselves to extinction because of our collective insanity, that's all there is to it. We could stop it tomorrow if we could just wake up and recognize the problem we're creating. So a framework for dramatic change has to be implemented, using the carbon tax as a tool. It's the only way we're going to be able to deal with the reality that carbon emissions must stop almost immediately. By itself a carbon tax doesn't work fast enough, it's just a lever. This approach is now under serious discussion at the World Bank and IMF, so there is yet hope that the world can take the steps needed to address climate change, in spite of our proclivity for "growth" at all cost.

Update 5/24/16: A projection of land-use change in California - urbanization will be the primary cause of greater water demand in the state. Precisely what the HSR is designed to do.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Governor Brown Fail

Our so-called "environmental" governor here in California has shown his true stripes with his loving embrace of the oil and gas industry. In addition to the lax response to the massive Porter Ranch methane leak, Governor Brown has shunned calls to move toward reducing the state’s oil production, and while he has supported strict regulation of hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, he has opposed a ban on the technique.

Daily Kos has traced more oil industry connections to Brown. More details on these industry lobbying connections are recorded here. As Governor Jerry Brown reels from a series of scandals involving the capture of the regulatory apparatus in California under his administration, Brown announced the resignation of his head oil regulator, Steven Bohlen, on November 30, 2015. This becomes even more dire as one sees the regulatory capture of public agencies meant to protect the public from destructive industry practices.  Two public agencies have been gutted with implicit support from the Governor's office; there have been damaging coups at these two vital state agencies.

First, the unwarranted dismissal of Charles Lester, the respected head of the California Coastal Commission, was simply about money and power. Subsequently, a coalition of environmental organizations has submitted a resolution asking the state to renew its commitment to comply with these laws. The formal reply to the Director's ouster, from the Governor's office, was that “They made it clear they were very angry about the selection process and the fact that they were not conferred with before we hired Charles Lester,” said Mary K. Shallenberger, who was chairwoman of the commission in 2011. This despite clear moves that indicate that it was Brown's appointees that led the way to Lester's firing. This situation has also prompted a bill from the California State Assembly to enact legislation to require people who lobby the commission to register with the state and disclose their clients with business pending before the powerful land-use agency.

The other takeover, from the Republican side of the industry, involved the ouster of the longtime executive officer of the AQMD under a new Republican majority on the Board. It's a move by the Western States Petroleum Association to undermine regulatory emissions controls over their industry. Again, this has led to legislative efforts by Kevin deLeon in the State Senate to counteract industry encroachment by introducing legislation to add three new members to the South Coast Air Quality Management District board — one public health expert and two environmental justice members — to represent communities suffering from pollution. An objection to the AQMD action was also filed by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetii. There is also now a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the environmental law nonprofit Earthjustice against the industry-weakened pollution standards.

All this during a global climate emergency, as California prepares for the extreme effects of climate change that exacerbates the severe 4-year drought that the state is in.

Update 4/16/16: CCC now subject to political manipulation from Sacramento

Update 4/17/16: The Governor's Shocking CEQA Exemption Proposal

Update 4/25/16: CCC and conflict of interest

Update 5/9/16: Environmental Leader or Liar?

Update 5/14/16: The backstory on David Evans (a.k.a. U2 guitarist “The Edge”) vs Coastal Commission

Update 6/4/16: Surreptitious sell-out to condo the coast 

Update 6/20/16: CCC Road Trip & Legislative Reform

Update 6/21/16: Governor Brown's Attack on CEQA will be a Disaster

Update 8/3/16:  California reform bill SB 1190 stalled in Assembly committee

Update 8/5/16:  Jerry Brown pushes SB 734 which wipes out CEQA

Update 8/11/16:  Big Energy Companies Gave Big $ and Got Big Favors From Brown

Update 8/15/16: Vote YES on Prop 53, Stop Blank Checks

Update 8/28/16: Pushback - California Legislature Passes Major Climate Bills

Update 9/1/16:  CLCV Commends Calif Legislature for Passage of Climate Laws today

Update 9/30/16: Gov. Brown vetoes bill aimed at improving bullet train oversight (funded by cap-and-trade revenue)

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Aftermath

On January 29, 2016 at IEA Headquarters, Paris, a Big IdEAs panel was held to discuss “Towards decarbonising the global economy: the direction of travel after COP21”. Sir David King is the permanent UK Special Representative for Climate Change and was the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor from 2000 to 2007, during which time he raised awareness of the need for governments to act on climate change and was instrumental in creating the Energy Technologies Institute. He made his presentation on this panel based using the established Key Points developed at COP21 (graphic above). The video of the presentation is here.

Sir King also discussed a risk assessment he conducted for climate change impacts undertaken with China, USA, Britain and India. Each country posed its worst case scenario, and the analysis is that risks go way beyond the impacts assumed in earlier analyses; they increase exponentially as the temperature goes up. The risk assessment was informed by a series of meetings, held at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts in November 2014; Tsinghua University in Beijing in January 2015; the Council on Energy, Environment and Water in Delhi in March 2015; and Lancaster House in London in April 2015. These were attended by experts in energy policy, climate science, technology, finance, international security, politics and economics.

He also noted that "A new low-carbon sector is emerging. The fastest-growing sector in our economy outside of the service sector is the new low-carbon sector. The new clean energy sector is going to 30 percent in the last 3 years." He is one of the authors of a white paper, "A Global Apollo Programme To Combat Climate Change". It has subsequently become a Mission Innovation in Paris, led by Obama, Modi, Hollande and Cameron. They have gotten David Attenborough involved with the Apollo Program and its forward mission to rapidly implement clean power systems. A Breakthrough Energy Coalition, organized by Bill Gates, announced contributions of up to $20bn venture capital total over the next 10 years to spin out potential markets facing clean energy solutions. This is targeted for June 16, 2016 implementation because of a meeting for clean energy development at that time in San Francisco, California.

Sir King supported his conclusions with an analysis of the problem under the Contraction and Convergence framework. Further examination and comparison of the numbers offered in Paris clearly shows that the countries and the corporations of the world are responsible for the planet heading for catastrophic climate change if they don't make realistic commitments to bring carbon emissions to zero almost immediately.

The problem right now is that the pledges made by countries ahead of the COP21 talks on how they would reduce their emissions “do not add up to 2 degrees,” said Christina Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Update 3/9/16: It will take at least three decades to completely leave behind fossil fuels. But we can do it. And the first step is to start with the easy stuff.

Update 3/24/16: Shut down fracking ASAP. Bill McKibben's Terrifying New Chemistry

Update 3/28/16: As planet burns hot, new report shows Paris a relic of historic failure

Update 4/13/16:  Avoid misallocated investments

Update 4/19/16: France 24 special debate on climate change:  
                              Turning the Paris agreement into action (part 1)
                              France 24 special debate on climate change:  
                              Turning the Paris agreement into action (part 2)

Update 4/24/16: Carbon pricing under discussion by the World Bank and IMF

Update 5/5/16: Carbon Pricing Panel emerges from the World Bank