Category Archives: The Difference We Are Making

The Future Is Now

How does that old saying go? You’ve come a long way baby! Really amazing the changes we have experienced during our lifetime. I remember when I was growing up on a farm in North Dakota, we were the only family I knew who had electricity. We had it because my folks were daring and bought a wind charger and set of big black batteries. We were unusual… Everyone else lit their kerosene lamps when the sun went down.

In the near future, all new homes will be built with solar panels installed on the roofs and the internal combustion engine will be on the way out. Many of us in Rossmoor are already driving electric cars and never have to visit a gas station.

Already, half a dozen United States cities get all of their electricity from renewable sources. San Diego, eighth largest city in the country, has voted to go 100 percent green energy. Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer says the plan will create new jobs in the renewable energy sector, improve public health and air quality, conserve water and save the government money.

President Trump may have pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement, but the green revolution is proceeding without his blessing. This is partly because most people are concerned about global warming, but also because it makes economic sense. Many progressive cities and states are pledging to pick-up the slack created by an administration beholden to the fossil fuel industries.

Experts are saying that each of us will soon become energy producers and managers in addition to consumers. A California company is now selling what it calls a Home Energy Solution, which integrates solar panels, batteries, a smart thermostat and a software platform that enables homeowners to monitor and manage their energy use. Smart phones allow this to be accomplished from a distance if you should be out of town on business or vacation.

With most new energy in this area being produced by solar panels, battery technology takes on a new urgency. Tesla sees a huge market here and is putting as much emphasis on home storage batteries as it is on electric cars. It is investing about $2 billion in its new battery factory near Reno.

Anyone who thinks about it must realize that it will only be a matter of time until fossil fuels will be gone anyway and will have to be replaced by renewable energy. It’s either sooner or later. I suggest that sooner is much to be preferred, giving us cleaner air and a chance to slow climate change to the point where future generations can avoid the worst results of global warming. Let’s error on the side of caution and leave most of the remaining coal and petroleum in the ground where it belongs. We need a high carbon tax now to speed up the switch to renewable energy.

This article was first published in the June 14, 2017 issue of the Rossmoor News, author Bob Hanson.

In Celebration of Earth Day

Earth Day, 1970

All of us here in Rossmoor are old enough to remember the first Earth Day.  Like many other institutions, it had its founding here in Northern California, which is often called the birthplace of the environmental movement.    In 1969, there was a UNESCO conference in San Francisco at which a peace activist named John McConnell proposed a day to honor the earth.  The idea was picked-up by then Senator Gaylord Nelson as a day for environmental teach-ins.  April 22, 1970 was selected to be the day.  Denis Hays was the first organizer, working out of Senator Nelson’s D.C. office.

Prior to 1970, environmental concerns were growing, but the political establishment had not paid much attention.  Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” was a wake-up call for many of us.

April 22 was selected as the date for the event…largely because it was free from conflicts with spring vacation and college finals weeks.  It was soon discovered that the day happened to be the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vladimer Lenin.  Some suspected that this was not a coincidence and that this was a “communist trick.”  The Daughters of the American Revolution and the FBI picked-up on the possibility and all of the 1970 organizers were carefully scrutinized.

In spite of J. Edgar Hoover’s doubts, the event was exceptionally successful.  Two thousand colleges and universities and about 10,000 public schools took part.  It brought 20 million Americans out into the sunshine to   see peaceful demonstrations on how to live more lightly on the earth.

It is interesting to note that many of the speakers at the first Earth Day were not very optimistic about the future of the planet.  Here are some of their predictions:

  • Denis Hayes, the chief organizer wrote: “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation.”
  • Dr. Dillon Ripley, head of the Smithsonian Institute believed that within 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 per cent of all species of living animals  will be extinct.
  • Paul Ehrlich, a prominent Stanford biologist, wrote that between 1980 and 1989, 4 billion people, including 65 million Americans will starve to death.
  • Ecologist Kenneth Watt stated, “the   world has been chilling sharply for about 20 years.  If present trends continue, the earth will be 11 degrees colder by the year 2000.” (Note: I have been unable to verify this and Mr. Watt cannot be located.  He is probably in hiding somewhere.)
  • Life Magazine wrote: By 1085 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight hitting the earth by one-half.

Thankfully, these learned men were a bit off the  mark.  Maybe their stern warnings were a wake-up call to Americans and actually   helped prevent the predictions from coming true, or maybe it is just tough to predict the future.

Rossmoor’s Earth Day, 2016

From this humble start, the celebration has grown into the largest secular holiday on earth.  By 1990, the event was observed in over 140 nations, and now that number has grown to over 190..virtually every nation on the globe.  Over a billion people participate each year.  Not all Earth Day events actually happen on April 22.  For example, Sustainable Rossmoor will be sponsoring the First Annual Rossmoor Earth Day on April 15…a day more often associated with tax returns than energy conservation.

Plans for the event here are still being worked on, but this columnist can guarantee that it will be a day you won’t want to miss, with exhibits on everything from electric cars to organic wine. There will be movies, speakers, food, commercial exhibitors and a chance for our environmental clubs to show off their programs.  Mark your calendars.

This article originally ran in the Rossmoor News on February 2nd, 2016 authored by Bob Hanson.

Eco-Angst to Eco-Therapy

Eco-angst has been defined as a dread of the effects of climate change–a feeling many of us share when reading about yet another piece of evidence that climate change is already having a serious impact somewhere, including close to home. Eco-therapy offers the hope of diminishing this sense of overwhelm. It’s an alternative to denial. What I find therapeutic is to take action–to do something that makes a dint.

Stepping Out of Angst

First, I started small–within my own walls. When I moved to Rossmoor two years ago, while I had the asbestos removed from my ceilings, I had fans installed. As a result, I’ve never needed my air conditioner and they’ve paid for themselves. When my water heater died, I replaced it with an energy-efficient one.

I also found some eco-therapy beyond my own walls. I joined Sustainable Rossmoor; then it was still called Solar Powered Rossmoor. It’s inspiring that several different committees are tackling projects and addressing very real things we can do in our neighborhood. Some are amazingly simple. Most save money.

Eco-Therapy

And then I learned of a truly exciting eco-therapy: community choice energy (CCE). It’s easy. It markedly reduces greenhouse emissions and it saves money. Also called community choice aggregation, CCA is the choice a county has to form a nonprofit agency to provide more renewable energy (50 to 100 percent) than is provided by Pacific Gas and Electric (28 percent). A CCE is both a competitor and a partner with PG&E. The CCE buys local clean energy (usually solar or wind) and supplies it to the public grid; PG&E transmits it as usual. It’s a choice a user can decline. Nothing goes on your roof. You don’t buy anything.

Every other county in the Bay Area has already started planning a CCE. Marin and Sonoma have operational CCEs; between 80 and 90 percent of their residents belong. It’s sort of an energy club–but regulated. CCEs operate under all the same Public Utilities Commission and state regulations as any utility. Finally, this October our Contra Costa Board of Supervisors took its first tentative step. Three Contra Costa cities couldn’t wait; Richmond, El Cerrito and San Pablo have already joined Marin Clean Energy (MCE).

MCE was the first CCE in California – it began in 2010. Since then, it’s saved over 60,000 tons of carbon pollution and last year it saved its customers over $6 million. Walnut Creek must make a choice soon. It has started its application to MCE while at the same time it’s keeping an eye on Contra Costa County’s action. You can thank 12 members of Sustainable Rossmoor for some of this local progress; they spoke in support of CCE at a Walnut Creek City Council meeting a year ago. All the other six Bay Area county CCEs will soon want to buy huge amounts of locally produced renewable energy. CCEs emphasize buying their energy locally, which is more efficient scientifically, but also creates more local jobs and provides a continuous environmentally sustainable revenue stream. If Contra Costa County forms its own CCE, we can more quickly scale up to meet not only our own clean energy demands, but also sell to our neighbors. Contra Costa has more sun, more wind, more unemployed or underemployed workers and more buildable brownfield sites than the other counties. Brownfields are areas contaminated by low-level hazardous waste that prevents habitation. Examples are many hundreds of acres along the refinery corridor by the Delta and also the Concord Naval Weapons Depot. CCE can change an eyesore into a taxpaying revenue producer.

A CCE Enthusiast

At the same time that CCEs speed the transition to a cleaner, more efficient energy supply, they also address social justice by providing better rates than PG&E does to low-income households, hiring veterans and disabled workers and developing green job training centers. MCE offers better reimbursement to owners of rooftop solar than PG&E, subsidizes electric vehicle charging stations and is building a 10.5 megawatt solar array on a brownfield site in Richmond using 80 percent local union labor. Lastly, a CCE doesn’t increase the size of government– it’s revenue-based–not taxpayer subsidized and is governed by a joint powers authority–a nonprofit agency with local representation. It has no shareholders, unlike PG&E.

Maybe you can understand why I’ve become a CCE enthusiast. To join me and others helping to build support for a CCE here, become a volunteer in the Contra Costa Clean Energy Alliance. It’s free. For information about CCE, check out the DVD from the Rossmoor Library that Channel 28 recorded of a presentation made here: “CCA: Greener Energy.” Or, a very good short three-minute video.  Good websites are: mcecleanenergy.org or leanenergyus.org.

This article first appeared in the December 16, 2015 Earth Matters column of the Rossmoor News, authored by Carol Weed.