Yosemite’s Disappearing Glaciers

By Jennifer Mu

My husband and I spent a week in Yosemite National Park in April. It had been two decades since our last trip to Yosemite.

A week before we left home, I heard on the radio that Yosemite’s last two glaciers are fast disappearing. I went to the National Park’s website, and it predicted that Lyell’s Glacier could completely disappear in 2020. I thought this could be our last chance to see it, or whatever is left of it.

Melting glaciers are not news. It has been happening all over the world. From Himalaya to Peru, from the Arctic to Antarctica, glaciers are fast retreating. For years I’ve had this sense of urgency to see glaciers before they have all melted away.

We drove to the Canadian Glacier National Park in British Columbia years ago and there was not much there. On a tour to the Arctic, we saw retreating glaciers and chunks and chunks of floating ice with beautiful blue hues. We still haven’t made it to the Glacier National Park in Montana, but have read articles about its shrinking glaciers. The melting glaciers in Yosemite are too close to home to not check them out in person.

Yosemite’s Glaciers

Studies of Yosemite’s glaciers began in 1872. John Muir drove pine stakes into an ice field on Mount Maclure to measure its movement. He eventually convinced the world glaciers carved Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite's disappearing glaciers
Yosemite’s majesty is inspirational in all seasons, yet we are ruining its ecosystem.

After it was designated a national park, Yosemite’s scientists continued the regular survey of the two remaining glaciers, Lyell and Maclure. The most recent data indicated that the glaciers’ surface has shrunk from 300 acres to 60 acres, an 80% loss of glacier ice, since 1883 when they were first mapped and photographed. The Lyell Glacier has completely stopped moving, so it’s no longer a glacier by definition. In other words, it’s dead. Yosemite’s geologist, who was interviewed on the NPR program that I was listening to, described today’s Lyell Glacier as “a stagnant ice patch.”

Glaciers have come and gone with nature’s cycles, advancing and retreating about every 100,000 years. Scientists agree the current accelerated melting of Earth’s glaciers is due to the warmer temperatures caused by human activities. I don’t need to repeat here the consequences of melted glaciers, rising sea levels and warmer sea surface temperatures; we are already living some of them now.

Theoretically, more snow in the winter and colder temperatures could restore the glaciers. But the Earth is already in such deep trouble that I don’t know how to stay optimistic. There were news reports a Russian town near the entrance to the Arctic Ocean registered a record high 84 degrees on one weekend in May this year. The town’s average high temperature is normally around 54 degrees that time of year. During the same weekend Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory registered the highest concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in human history.

The Importance of Yosemite’s Glaciers

Yosemite's disappearing glaciers
A calf from a glacier casts a blue shadow on the ocean.

According to Yosemite Park’s geologist, even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases today, it would be too late for Lyell and Maclure. Click here to see photos demonstrating the retreating glaciers. This is not something we can just feel a brief moment of sadness about and forget. The effect of their disappearance will touch each of us in the Bay Area in our lifetime.

These two glaciers provide for the headwaters of the Tuolumne River, keeping it flowing during summer and fall. The river is the primary source of drinking water for San Francisco. It also provides irrigation water for parts of the Central Valley. The glacier’s deaths will bring drastic changes in the ecosystem – that we are part of – for centuries. The lifestyle we know, and take for granted, will be no more.

It also means future generations will only learn about these glaciers, and their significance to the ecosystems and communities relying on them, in the park museum.

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, July 10, 2019.  Email Jennifer Mu at barnhartmu8833@gmail.com

Single Use Plastic – 450 Years or More

By Dale J. Harrington

All of us have read and heard about why we should stop using single-use plastic water bottles. While a mind-boggling number of them are recycled, too many of them still go unrecycled.

I decided to check on how long it can take a plastic bottle to decompose; if it is not recycled and instead placed in landfill. The answer – 450 years or more, according to an article on the Balance Small Business website. Even worse, the plastic bags we use in our everyday life can take 10 to 1,000 years to decompose.

These figures should cause all of us to reconsider when we use plastic and certainly how we dispose of it.

Decomposition: Organics versus Plastics

single use plastic
Unless recycled, plastic degrades into micro particles in sunlight and enters the earth’s ecosystems.

This same site explained why plastic takes so long to decompose. It’s “because petroleum-based plastics like PET don’t decompose the same way organic material does. … This kind of decomposition requires sunlight, not bacteria. When UV rays strike plastic, they break the bonds holding the long molecular chain together.”

By comparison, vegetables take five (5) days to one (1) month, aluminum cans 80 to 100 years, glass bottles one (1) million years and Styrofoam cups 500 years to forever.

Plastics will degrade into small pieces until you can’t see them anymore (so small you’d need a microscope or better to see them). But, do plastics fully go away? Most commonly used plastics do not mineralize (or go away) in the ocean. Instead, plastics break down into smaller and smaller pieces.

How many animals die from six-pack rings? Plastic rings have been available for four decades, and they are now more heavily regulated than they were when first produced. In 1987, the Associated Press reported six-pack rings kill one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals every year.

Another article, on the website Sciencing, noted it takes 100 years for a flashlight battery to decompose.

Rossmoor’s Compostable Alternative

single use plastic
Single use plastic is ubiquitous in today’s marketplace: straws, pens, product wrapping, and all types of bottles and bags.

With composting now available in Rossmoor, it is a good idea to look for items that are compostable when having a picnic, such as eating utensils, plates, cups, napkins, etc.

My wife and I recently hosted a family reunion here in Rossmoor and we used compostable utensils, plates, and napkins. To avoid confusion for the guests, we had containers with notes that listed the items for disposal. They included recycling, landfill and compost items. However, instead of listing these words on the labels, we provided a list of the items for each, such as cans and bottles, utensils, plates, cups, pizza boxes and napkins.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, June 26, 2019.  Email Dale Harrington at dalejharrington@gmail.com.

September Movie: THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM

SR Movie in September:  THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM

When: Wednesday, September 11, 7 PM    Location: Peacock Hall

This multiple-award-winning film is a testament to the immense complexity of nature as it follows two dreamers and a dog on an odyssey to bring harmony to both their lives and to farm the land. Emmy-winning wildlife filmmaker John Chester and his wife Molly, a chef, leave their apartment in Santa Monica to discover what restorative farming could do for 200 acres of abused, barren land. Through unflagging perseverance and embracing the opportunity provided by nature’s conflicts, the Chester’s unlock and uncover a bio-diverse design for living that exists far beyond their farm, its seasons, and our wildest imagination.
This film features breathtaking cinematography, a wide variety of animals, and an urgent message to heed Mother Nature’s call. It provides us all a vital blueprint for better living and a healthier planet.
The farm’s residents came to include pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, guinea hens, horses, highland cattle, Emma the pig, and  Maggie the brown swiss dairy cow. The land consists of biodynamic certified avocado and lemon orchards, a vegetable garden, pastures, and over 75 varieties of stone fruit.
 
The film is 92 minutes. 
It has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 
No captions
The writer/director, John Chester, is interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s FRESH AIR, on May 6, 2019. 13 minutes.
“… the documentary does show that an eco-conscious farm is viable and sustainable, even in the dust bowl of drought-parched California. That the Chesters’ spread is exceptionally picturesque is just a bonus.”   https://www.npr.org/2019/05/08/721464968/documentary-offers-eco-conscious-farm-wisdom-biggest-little-farm 

Trees and Climate Change – It’s Complicated

By Anne Foreman

How is climate change affecting our forests?

Telltale signs that forests are changing are everywhere. Warmer winters and drier summers with unpredictable rainfall are bringing more intense insect plagues. These plagues can kill trees in just a few years. Link to information about the mountain pine beetle.  Droughts leave forests more and more susceptible to wildfires.

The Case of Maple Syrup

climate change affecting forests
Maple syrup production has decreased as moderate winter temperatures have increased.

Climate Change is already affecting maple syrup. Maple tree owners boil maple sap to make maple syrup. Native Americans invented maple syrup long before Europeans arrived in the Americas. It is now a signature crop in Canada.

Maple trees require specific temperature conditions to produce sap that flows – daytime highs above freezing with nighttime lows below freezing. These conditions have historically occurred for 6 to 8 weeks, two times a year – when winter turns to spring, and again when fall turns to winter.

The Fulton family is seeing big changes in sap yield.  The Fultons are fourth generation maple syrup producers in Ontario, Canada. In 2012, for example, the sap in their maple trees flowed for just 13 days instead of 6 to 8 weeks because the temperatures weren’t right.

The Case of Forest Profiteers

Most wood sellers aren’t putting careful thought into the effects of climate change, according to Chris Swanston of the U.S. Forest Service. He says real-estate investment trusts and other financial entities own a majority of today’s timberland. These investors are more interested in short-term profits than sustainability. As a result, profit now trumps long-term forest health.

Putting Foresight over Profit

One forest owner is thinking about the future. John Rajala owns 22,000 acres of northern pine and hardwoods in Minnesota. He has a “300-year plan” for managing his trees. Rajala leaves a lot of trees on the land to reseed the forests with good genetic stock. He also plants a variety of trees as a hedge for a warmer climate in the future. Rajala reasons that if some species do badly in a warmer tomorrow, others will flourish.

climate change affecting forests
As global temperatures rise, forest fires have grew in size and frequency.

The U.S. Forest Service is also thinking about how climate change is affecting forests. Four years ago, the Service began running experiments at five sites around the country to try to answer the question of how best to help woodlands adapt to climate change. 

Four approaches are being tested: (1) passively letting nature take its course; (2) thinning and managing mostly native trees along traditional lines; (3) growing a mix of native species with some coming from 100 miles to the south; and (4) the most radical one, bringing in non-native trees from warmer, drier areas in nearby states. This fourth experiment is basically what Rajala is doing in Minnesota. For more information about adaptation approaches.

What’s the “Right” Answer? Well….

So, is planting non-native trees the answer, trying to anticipate future climates? Most trees can migrate only as fast as their seeds disperse. There is no way that trees can “outrun” climate change.

The scientific community is divided about the wisdom of planting non-native trees in any environment. No one knows the unintended consequences might be of shuffling trees around. Moving species is the equivalent of ecological gambling, some scientists say. Other scientists say we can’t wait to try experimenting until we know everything.

So, what’s the bottom line for ensuring forests for future generations? Well … it’s complicated.

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, June 12, 2019.  Email Anne Foreman at anneforeman60@gmail.com.

Big Oil & The Bay: Why Particulate Matter Matters, and Other Burning Issues

SR Presentation

The Bay Area is widely known as a center of environmental progressivism, but with its multiple refineries and export terminals it is also an important nexus for the fossil fuel industry. On Thursday, August 29th at 2 pm in the Club Room, Shoshana Wechsler will speak on Big Oil & The Bay: Why Particulate Matter Matters, and Other Burning Issues. This talk is sponsored by Sustainable Rossmoor.

Local Refineries

The Chevron refinery in Richmond is the world’s largest single stationary source of greenhouse gas production. Chevron is only one for four refineries in our county. In total, these refineries produce 94% of the county’s greenhouse gases, and are seriously under-regulated. These facilities are being expanded to increase the refining of tar sands crude oil, the world’s most carbon-intensive and polluting of fuel sources. At times, it seems that Big Oil has a stranglehold on our local politics. As you’ll learn in this talk, the more immediate health harm comes from other invisible forms of air pollution.

What You Can Do

What exactly is going on here, what are the climate and health impacts, and what can we do about it? Hear about fossil fuel resistance in our own region, and how you can get involved.

Speaker

Shoshana Wechsler is a founding member of the Sunflower Alliance, an East Bay climate justice organization working for a rapid transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to environmental renewal and social equity.  She serves on the Policy Team for 350 Bay Area, and is an alternate District 1 representative on the Contra Costa County Sustainability Commission.  A native Californian, she was born and raised in Solano and Contra Costa counties, and educated at U.C. and Stanford in literature and cultural studies.

Free Refinery Primer

Fighting Pollution of Bay Area Refineries, For Our Health, For Our Future — free, illustrated 16-page primer summarizes the environmental and climate impacts of the Bay Area’s five oil refineries,
http://www.sunflower-alliance.org/refinery-primer/

Let’s Pull Some Levers to Create Change

By James Ware

We are running out of time. There are levers to battle the increasing effects of climate change.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment Report states our civilization is facing an irreversible tipping point in less than 12 years. The Report was published last December.

If we don’t act now to change the path we are on, we face a bleak future. Sea levels are rising.  Severe weather events are increasing, as are devastating wildfires. Such conditions have already created massive cost increases for safety, environmental mitigation, restoration and property insurance.

We face challenges on so many fronts it is tempting to throw up our hands in despair and just give up. However, no matter how dire the threat of climate change appears to be, there are constructive actions we can – and must – take, both individually and collectively.

Climate Crusaders

climate crusader toolkit
Climate crusaders need a toolkit of levers to combat climate change.

Becoming an effective “Climate Crusader” means assembling an effective toolkit for driving large-scale social change. The good news is that if we learn to apply the right tools – even just some of them – we can have an impact on our future well beyond what most of us think is possible.

Just consider for a moment the many life-changing transformations in mindsets and practices we have experienced in our own lifetimes: the adoption of automobile seat belts; the campaign to make smoking seriously unpopular; the explosion of interest in healthy foods and physical fitness; our increasing reliance on social media for communications and relationships; and the rapid shift from shopping malls to online retailers. We can learn a great deal by analyzing how and why these transformations took place.

Nora Silver, a professor at the Haas School of Business at University of California Berkeley, has studied more than 200 examples of large-scale social change. Her research unearthed seven specific “levers” that can produce meaningful, wide-spread and long-lasting change in both behaviors and beliefs.

Becoming an effective “Climate Crusader” means assembling an effective toolkit for driving large scale social change.

Seven Levers to Drive Large Scale Change

Be smart, use levers to create change. Here, briefly, are Silver’s magnificent seven: 

Grassroots Organizing

The eruption, out of deep-seated beliefs and frustrations, of bottoms-up movements seeking to redress a grievance or con-front a challenge. Think of the #metoo movement, Black Lives Matter, and #neveragain.

Coalitions

The coming together of multiple groups that share a common interest. To co-opt a slogan familiar to Golden State Warriors fans, there is a “Strength in Numbers” that aggregates resources and leverages relationships to generate both power and impact.

Single Organizations

Sometimes a single organization produces fundamental change. Consider, for example, the impact of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD); and Planned Parenthood, even in the face of withering political pressure.

levers create change
Technology

Harnessing the power of social media is an obvious way to reach large numbers of people. Whether it is cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, television, the Internet, or even plain old snail-mailed letters, technology enables us to leverage ideas and calls to action like no other tool.

Finance

The power of the purse often overwhelms everything else. Just consider how the divestment movement helped end apartheid in South Africa, or how subsidies, incentives and tax breaks impact our purchasing decisions about cars, electricity, gasoline, lightbulbs and food.

The Law

When all else fails, legislation can certainly change behaviors (if not beliefs). Just think of smoke-free restaurants, marriage equality and the end of segregated public schools.

Communication

Establishing brand images, using humor, generating television coverage of protests. The way your messages are framed and perceived can have an unbelievable impact on their effectiveness.

Clearly, these seven levers are not mutually exclusive. I believe they have the biggest impact when used in combination with each other. In my view, we Climate Crusaders should pull as many of these levers as we can in all of our campaigns to combat climate change.

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, May 29, 2019.  Email James Ware, PhD, at jim@jimware.com.

SR Movie August: ONCE WAS WATER

SR Movie in August: ONCE WAS WATER

When: Wednesday August 14, 7 pm.  Location: Peacock Hall

Las Vegas, in the middle of the Desert, is the driest city in America, yet it leads the United States in sustainable water conservation. The efforts of Las Vegas, in its search for sustainability, have produced promising solutions–technological, political, and financial–providing an on-going global model for any city creating their own sustainable water system.

The filmmaker, Christopher Beaver, will introduce the film and be available for Q&A afterward.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/298288587

Award-winning filmmaker, Christopher Beaver specializes in environmental films, and focuses on to the human experience of the world around us. He will share his fascination with and knowledge of California’s water systems. His other films on the subject include Treasures of the Greenbelt and San Francisco Bay, Tales of the San Joaquin – A River Journey, and Tulare – The Phantom Lake.

 

 

Sustainable Rossmoor showed another of his films in 2017, Racing to Zero: in Pursuit of Zero Waste which won him an Emmy and was broadcast more than 600 times. He also won the Sundance Grand Prize Documentary for his film Dark Circle about nuclear proliferation. Christopher teaches documentary and narrative film production, cinematography, and digital journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

Putting a Price on Carbon – a Time for Action

by Joy Danzig

A bill called the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividends Act is a bold, forward-looking initiative. It would reduce greenhouse gases and pay all US households a monthly dividend.

There is increasing urgency for nations to curtail greenhouse gases, primarily carbon, and increase reforestation, among other courses of action, to diminish and capture carbon in the atmosphere.

We in the U.S. have a reason for optimism in the form of a bill, the Energy Innovation & Carbon Dividends Act, H.R. 763, introduced by Rep. Theodore E. Deutch (D-Florida) in the House of Representatives on Jan. 24. It has growing bipartisan support in Congress, including sponsorship by Congressman Mark DeSaulnier of our local district. The latest action in the House was a referral on Feb. 12 to the Subcommittee on Energy.

Progress of this bill may be monitored online at EnergyInnovationAct.org.

The Citizens Climate Lobby

A key organization lending its support to this bill is the Citizens Climate Lobby (www.citizensclimate lobby.org), an international grassroots environmental group that trains and supports volunteers in building relationships with their elected representatives in order to influence climate policy. It has a local chapter in Contra Costa County.

Write or call the offices of Senators Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris asking for their support of this bill. Another action is to ask friends and family, especially those in states other than California, to contact their senators and congressional representatives requesting their support. 

The CCL website offers clear information about the bill and concrete steps to take in its support.

Benefits of the Energy Innovations and Carbon Dividends Act
Energy Innovation Carbon Dividends
Pollution spewing from fossil fuel stacks

What exactly does H.R. 763 do? This bill imposes a fee on the carbon content of fuels, including crude oil, natural gas, coal or any other product derived from those fuels emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 

It puts a price of $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions, starting in 2019. Importantly, the fee increases by $10 per year and then to $15 per year if the previous year’s emissions goals are not reached. It includes exemptions for fuels used for agricultural or non-emitting purposes, exemptions for fuels used by the Armed Forces and rebates for facilities that capture and sequester carbon dioxide.

It also includes border adjustment provisions requiring certain fees or refunds for carbon-intensive products that are imported or exported. The fee is collected at the refinery, coal mine or natural gas transmission system level.

Everyone Would Receive a Carbon Dividend
Energy Innovation Carbon Dividends
wind turbines overlook a mining operation

H.R. 763 requires 100% of the revenue go into a “Carbon Dividend Trust Fund” maintained in the U.S. Treasury.  Consequently, the Treasury would then distribute the revenue as a dividend to all U.S. households. Each adult with a Social Security number or Taxpayer Identification Number would receive a pro-rata share. Each child would receive a half-share. The dividends are not taxable as income and won’t factor into the determination of other federal assistance programs, especially helpful for families and individuals receiving such assistance.

One analysis of carbon emissions indicates that, without the passage of H.R. 763, emissions by 2035 would be over 5,000 million metric tons. Were the bill to take effect, the emissions by 2035 would be well under 3,000 million metric tons.

The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividends Act would likely reduce carbon emissions by at least 40% in twelve (12) years. Additionally, studies show the Act’s passage would add 2.1 million jobs to the American economy. The time for action is now.

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, May 15, 2019.  Email Joy Danzig at joyfuld@gmail.com.

It’s Time to Move Toward a Plant-Based Diet

By Brad Waite

It’s time to move toward a plant-based diet.

Today, many recognize the health benefits of eating a diet consisting mostly of plant-based foods, rather than flesh. Many people also recognize the moral and ethical reasons for eating less, or no, meat.

Today, however, I want to talk about the environmental reasons for moving seriously in this direction. If you’re like the vast majority of Americans, you believe climate change is an extremely serious threat to our planet. You also believe mankind is primarily responsible, due to the drastic increase we have caused in the release and accumulation of green house gases (GHG) in our atmosphere.

The Affluent Diet

One of the biggest contributors to that accumulation is also something that we all can readily influence, which is our diet. In particular, it is the accelerating adoption of what’s called the Affluent Diet. The Affluent Diet is heavily meat centric. Historically the eating of meat and other flesh foods has always been much more expensive than a diet based on plant-based foods, thus it required someone to be Affluent to be able to afford to eat that way.

Today almost everyone choses to eat that way and can afford to, especially in our country. The cost of meat at the market doesn’t reflect the cost of the environmental damage in its production.

Hidden Costs of Meat Production

What are some of those costs? Well, I’m glad you asked.

First, in a 2006 report, the United Nations said raising animals for food generates more GHG than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. https://news.un.org/en/story/2006/11/201222-rearing-cattle-produces-more-greenhouse-gases-driving-cars-un-report-warns

Cows and sheep produce 37% of the world’s methane

Second, cows and sheep produce 37 percent of the total methane gas generated by human activity.  Methane is 28 times more warming than carbon dioxide, the largest GHG by volume. 

Third, raising and processing meat consumes radically more water than the equivalent calorie content of plant-based foods (PBF).

Fourth, huge factory farms produce most meat and poultry.  The farms are notorious for inhumanely confining their animals. These Concentrated Animal Feed Operations (CAFO) are huge polluters. For example, each cow produces 70 pounds of manure a day, which ends up polluting ground water, nearby streams rivers and air.

Fifth, to satisfy the increasing demand for meat, vast swaths of valuable forests are cleared for grazing, meaning these trees are no longer pulling carbon dioxide out of the air and storing it in the soil. Raising farmed animals uses thirty percent (30%)of the earth’s entire land surface. I could go on and list at least four more costs, but you get the message.

Change Your Habits Gradually

But what can and should we do about this? Is it time to move to a plant-based diet? Again, I’m glad you asked.

In an ideal world, we would all quickly stop eating all flesh and any products derived from animals, including all dairy and eggs. However, I’ll confess that I’m not quite ready to take this plunge today. I certainly don’t want to forever forgo eating pizza with a few meat toppings.

Many factory farms raise animals in inhumane conditions.

Isn’t there a way I can sneak up on this lifestyle? Actually, there certainly is. The first baby step might be to commit to having one day a week that is completely free of flesh and anything from animals. From there, keep adding more days as you learn that this really isn’t so difficult or burdensome.

Another alternative is to pick a flesh-based food item that you consume a lot of and cut the amount in half, either by portion size or frequency, then pick another food item and repeat the process. The most important thing is that you at least start and try eating this way.

You might even come to realize you prefer these days. And you’ll very likely feel better physically and emotionally, while the environment will thank you. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, April 17, 2019.  Email Brad Waite at bradwaite@comcast.net.