Saving Energy in Hot Weather

We are fortunate to live in a place with a moderate climate. Days over 95 degrees are unusual, and even when it does get hot, the humidity is low and the evenings are cool. Therefore, the use of air conditioning is not as necessary here as it is in much of the country. Many people in Walnut Creek either don’t have air conditioning or seldom use it. By avoiding running your AC, you not only save a great deal on your PG&E bill, but are doing your part to slow down global warming. (Unless, of course, you are a climate change denier, in which case, you are just saving money.)

Tips for Warm Days

On hot days, it is wise to keep your unit sealed up tight with windows and doors closed, shades, shutters or drapes closed. In late afternoon, as the air outside cools down, open up the windows and hopefully a breeze will circulate through. By morning, the inside air temperature should be down to around 60 to 65 degrees. Time to put on a sweater and close the place up. Several factors come into play on how fast your inside space will warm up … how well your building is insulated, whether or not you are under a large shade tree, whether you live in an upper or lower unit and how many appliances you are running. Most of the places in Rossmoor will stay cool until late afternoon if we keep them closed up.

Year-Round Tips

Here are some other tips for saving on your power bill:

  • Wash full loads of clothes on either cold or warm water settings. With modern detergents, hot water isn’t necessary. Ninety percent of the energy used in clothes washing is from heating the water.
  • Turn off and unplug appliances that are not being used. They use electricity even in the off mode.
  • We turn off our water heater when we leave for vacation. No need to keep your water hot while you are in Hawaii. I leave myself a note to turn it back on when I get home.
  • Take shorter showers and save both energy and water. Don’t let the hot water run while rinsing dishes or brushing teeth.
  • Run your garbage disposal with cold water instead of hot.
  • Avoid using your oven on hot days. Use the microwave or grill outside.
  • If your place is heating up, this might be a good time to take in a movie at an air-conditioned theater or head for the Hillside pool.
  • When was the last time you changed the filter in your AC system? A clogged filter reduces the efficiency of the system.
  • Buying a new major appliance? Be sure to look for the ENERGY STAR label.
  • If you already haven’t done so, be sure to replace all of your incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescents (good) or LEDs (better). They last longer and use less juice.

Community Wide Tips

In addition to holding down our own electric bills, each of us should feel responsible for helping hold down the utility bills for Golden Rain. How many times have you gone past an empty meeting room with the lights on? Anyone of us can step inside and throw the light switch. Of course it would have been better if the folks who were using the room had turned off the lights when they left, but that is no reason we shouldn’t take action. People often block open an outside door to a meeting room when the air conditioning is on and it is blazing hot outside, or in cold weather when the heat is on and heat is pouring out through the open door. Saving energy is everyone’s responsibility.

Ben Franklin once said “a penny saved is a penny earned.” Today, he would say, a kilowatt saved is a dollar earned.”

Have you considered installing solar panels and putting that sunlight to work for you?

This article first appeared in the June 1, 2016 issue of the Rossmoor News, author Bob Hanson

Fracking Must Cease

Just what we need….something new to lose sleep over. Those of us who listen to the scientists and are concerned about not messing up the earth have been working to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Now evidence is piling up that while carbon dioxide is bad, an even worse problem is methane. It turns out that methane is much worse at trapping heat than carbon dioxide is.

Methane Gas: A Bi-product of Fracking

Methane gets into the atmosphere a number of ways. It comes from swamps and wetlands; it escapes from the bottom of the ocean and vegetarians point out that cattle belch up huge quantities of the gas. But what we are now realizing is that fracking releases enormous amounts of it, most of which escapes while drilling for oil and natural gas in the. A lot of attention is being devoted to sealing wells to prevent leaks, but this is proving to be very hard to do.

Until recently, natural gas was being touted as a panacea, in that it produces much less carbon dioxide when burned than coal does. Most new power generating facilities use natural gas because it is cheap and clean-burning. What’s new is the realization that in the process of capturing the gas from underground shale formations, huge amounts escape into the atmosphere.

Harvard scientists have discovered that methane emissions increased 30 per cent between 2002 and 2014.

A recent study found that if as little as three per cent of the methane escapes during drilling operations, then methane from drilling will do more climate damage than burning coal has. Preliminary data indicates somewhere between 3.6% and 7.9% of the gas actually escapes into the atmosphere.

There are other problems with fracking. Remember the farmers in Pennsylvania who discovered that the water coming out of their faucets would burn when lit by a match? In the process of breaking apart shale rock formations, it is almost inevitable that some of the released gas will make its way into the water table. Earthquakes seem to be getting much more common in areas where fracking is going on. For the first time, Oklahoma is now earthquake country. Here in California where water conservation has been a big issue, fracking requires huge amounts of the precious resource.

In November, President Obama announced that he was rejecting the Keystone pipeline. He said “if we are going to prevent large parts of this earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release dangerous pollution in the sky.” Now that we know unburned methane is much worse than the carbon dioxide formed by combustion, there is even more reason to leave the fossil fuels in the ground.

The political considerations of this are tremendous. Everyone likes cheap gas. The coal miners in West Virginia want to keep their jobs. The farmer in North Dakota who knows he has oil under his soil wants to be able to retire from it. Those of us who have Exxon stocks in our portfolio hate to see them lose value. But our problems will seem small as we watch rising sea levels displace half of the population of Bangladesh and submerge the homelands of the Pacific Islanders. Bernie Sanders is the only presidential candidate admitting concern about global warming.

Unless we are looking forward to Rossmoor Parkway becoming oceanfront property, we should be promoting efforts to develop wind power, sun power and other renewable energy sources as the alternative to fossil fuels -especially methane.

Major fossil fuel companies have known about the science of global warming for decades. However, instead of addressing the harm they knew their products were causing, these companies chose a course of public denial and deception. It’s payback time for them.

New York state recently banned all fracking operations in that state. Environmentalists in California are trying to enact a similar ban here. Sounds like a good idea to me.

This article first appeared in the April 20, 2016 issue of the Rossmoor News, author Bob Hanson.

Study Predicts Rise in Sea Level

A group of eight scientists, supported by NASA and several university institutes, have been studying two glaciers in northern Greenland since 1975. They have used the most sophisticated radar technology to measure glacier volume, glacier movement and glacier melt.

Zachariae Isstrom

As they report in the Dec. 11, 2015 issue of the journal Science, one of these glaciers, named Zachariae Isstrom, abruptly accelerated in its melting and frequency of “calving” in 1987. This glacier, alone, contains sufficient frozen water to raise the earth’s sea level 1.6-feet if it completely melts. It covers some 35,000-square-miles of Greenland and is roughly half-a-mile at its greatest height.

So, is this a “plot” by scientists to get more grant money? Is it all “just a theory”? How precise are their measuring techniques, and do they really know what they are doing?

Simply reading through the article in Science, just over three pages packed with data and conclusions, is both difficult and not sufficient to answer these questions. Their article is only the final summary and conclusions of a long program of detailed study, spelled out over some 25 earlier articles referenced.

In a moment of nostalgia, I miss the early days of my graduate education. Papers had fewer authors, often only one. Papers were longer and presented everything in detail, usually over some 30 pages. The language was comfortable prose rather than the terse, telegraphic writing in today’s reports. Tracing the course of this massive study has been more like an archeological dig, carefully sifting the pages and making sure the layers are in order. No wonder our politicians do not get it! The real problem is that many authors bring many areas of special expertise. Terse writing enables journals to more rapidly present ongoing research.

The first thing I did was consult with a friend who works for the U.S. Navy building really weird and expensive ships. He immediately identified the radar used and confirmed that it does, indeed, measure stuff down to an accuracy of 0.5 inch. They fly it in satellites and on airplanes. They also use sensitive gravity meters (actually called gravimeters) to determine mass.

So the graph in Science, which shows the progressive loss in size and mass of the glacier Zachariae Isstrom over 25 years, is quite accurate. Even to showing a brief period when melting slowed completely between 2002 and 2004. Moreover, we know why it is melting faster. Much of it is actually below sea level, but it is held in place by a “sill” over which it must slide to escape to the sea. Large ocean-going icebergs calve off at the sill and float out to sea. As this happens, the remaining glacier is pushed up on the sill.

Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden

These measurements also explain how and why the other glacier, Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden, which is connected to it, is not melting so fast. Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden is on much higher ground, with a higher sill. The water run-off, measured in gigatonnes (Gt = millions of metric tonnes), is about the same for both glaciers. The calving, however, occurs at a much lower rate for Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden. Still, both glaciers together contain 3.6 feet of ocean rise. All of this is within the scientific meaning of the word “theory.” First, a “hypothesis” is an informed “guess” about cause, but even so, it must make testable predictions. If these predictions are sufficiently tested and come “true,” then it becomes a “theory,” which is a statement of causes that makes verifiable, practical predictions. Relativity is often cited by “deniers” as “just a theory” – meaning some impractical thought stuff unconnected with our real world. Well, when you fly from London to San Francisco, it’s relativity that gets you here. Because your pilot depends on the GPS satellites, which move so fast that relativity is required for them to determine each other’s actual time and actual position.

So if it is “just a theory,” then you may be for a swim in the ice-free polar ocean (which is still very, very cold). What we have seen here is that polar melt is complex and requires very accurate and long-term measurement to understand. The road is bumpy, but the trend is very certain. Climate change does exist; it results in predictions that can be verified with long-term study. Denying it, or hoping for an unexpected change in the theory, is of little comfort. Note: You can get further information, and pictures, about all this if you Google “another major glacier comes undone JPL.”

This article first appeared in the April 06, 2016 issue of the Rossmoor News, author Wayne Lanier.

Freqently Asked Questions About Solar

In December, world leaders met in Paris to put the world on a path toward ending fossil fuels consumption. The world is now adding more power from renewable sources than from oil, coal and natural gas combined. The United States has tripled the amount of energy obtained from wind and solar since 2008. Prices for solar panels have fallen each year – almost 45 percent drop between 2010 and 2014. Especially for those of us living in all-electric homes, going solar is a smart investment. For those residents who have not gotten around to studying what is involved in going solar, the following questions and answers may be helpful:

Why should I buy a solar system?

The main reason for most of us to go solar is to save money. Once the system is paid for, the homeowners are making money every time the sun is shining. Some of us also enjoy the warm, fuzzy feeling we get from knowing that we are doing something good for the environment. The cost of energy from the utility company continues to go up making this a hedge against inflation.

Didn’t the renewable energy investment tax credit just get extended?

Yes, we are happy to report that the 30 percent federal tax credit will be available until 2019.

How does solar work?

The solar panels are made up of tiny cells made of treated silicon. Each one collects solar radiation and converts it into an electric current. The panels are wired together to create an array and the output travels through wires and conduit to an inverter. The inverter converts the direct current to alternating current, which is used to run appliances, lighting, etc. Once this AC current is wired into the breaker box, the homeowner is harvesting the power of the sun. If you are using less than you are producing at any given moment, the excess goes back into the grid as your meter literally spins backward.

Is my home a good place for a photo-voltaic system?

A well designed solar system needs clear access to the sun during the middle of the day. If your south-facing roof is shaded by a huge pine tree, this probably isn’t for you. If your roof will need to be replaced soon, it may be smart to wait until the roofing job is done to install the panels.

What is the permit process like?

The city of Walnut Creek will require a permit, but the cost is small and the solar installer will handle it for the homeowner. The installer will also handle the paperwork with PG&E.

Is it proven technology?

The technology has been around for over 50 years and some of the initial cells are still operating today. The panels come with a 25-year warranty. The efficiency and cost has significantly improved in the last five years. There are no moving parts to break or wear out.

Should I buy or lease the system?

Some companies offer plans that involve no money down and guaranteed lower electric bills. While the homeowner can’t lose with one of these plans, unless the homeowner plans on owning the home for the next 20 years, owning the system may make more sense. Home improvement loans at low interest are readily available for those homeowners who don’t have the cash. There is also a program called the PACE program that allows payments to be included as part of the homeowner’s property tax bill. The solar companies will be able to discuss the pros and cons of buying versus leasing and options for financing.

April 15 is Earth Day event here at Rossmoor. As part of that event, four or five solar companies will be here to show their wares and talk with residents about the specifics of what will be involved in considering the possibility of going solar. Now may be the time.

The article first appeared in the March 16, 2016 issue of the Rossmoor News, authored by Bob Hanson and Kent Steele

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.

Save Our Bees

Bees pollinate a significant majority of the world’s food. One of every three bites of our food we eat is pollinated by bees and these vital pollinators are in serious trouble. In America alone, honey bees pollinate nearly 95 fruits and nuts, including almonds, cranberries and apples. In year 2000, the total value of crops dependent upon bee pollination was estimated to exceed $15 billion.

The War on Bees

Worldwide, honey bees yield about $200 billion of pollination services. Bees are playing a critical role in maintaining natural plant communities and ensuring production of seeds and most flowers. Pollination is needed for plants to reproduce and so many plants depend on bees or other insects as pollinators. Bees and other pollinators are reaching a tipping point with beekeepers reporting annual losses of a third or more in recent years. It was reported that there were a total of 2.44 million honey-producing hives in the United States in 2008, down from 4.5 million in 1980 and 5.9 million in 1947.

Unfortunately it seems like our civilization has declared war on honey bees. Overdevelopment, habitat destruction, mites and diminishing plant diversity have all negatively impacted our native bee population. But neonicotinoid pesticide is probably the biggest factor in killing bees.

The studies in the United States and Europe have shown that extremely low doses of neonicotinoid – both alone and in combination with other pesticides – can cause impaired communication, disorientation, difficulty to return to hive, decreased longevity, suppressed immunity and disruption of brood cycles in honeybees, making them less productivity in gathering food. Some pesticides are killing bees directly when bees are on flowers. Neonicotinoid pesticides have been used for 20 years to control a variety of pests. As a result of a campaign by   Friends of the Earth, Home Depot and other stores have agreed to stop selling these poisons.

Colony collapse disorder is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear. While this is not an entirely new happening, recent years have seen a dramatic rise in the occurrence. In the six years leading up to 2013, more than 10 million beehives were lost.

Save the Bees

Bees need our help! Bee communities, both wild and managed, have been declining over the last half century as pesticide use in agricultural and urban areas increases. Changes in land use have resulted in patchy distribution of food and nesting resources. This has many growers concerned about how they will continue to be able to pollinate their crops. Now more than ever, it is critical to consider practices that will benefit pollinators by providing habitats free of pesticides, with ample potential nesting resources.

After five years of review, California officials have not only failed to complete an evaluation of neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics), they continue to allow more and more of the bee-harming chemicals on the market. The International Body of Scientists released a comprehensive global assessment of the harm that pesticides do to bees. A new report shows that these very same pesticides are found in many backyard plants at levels of concern.

Pesticides touch every aspect of our lives. Pesticides cause severe abnormalities in children like autism, diabetes and cancer; a startling number of children’s diseases and disorders are on the rise; many allergies people did not suffer when natural fertilizers were used. Children are sicker today than they ever were a generation ago. Science leaves little room for doubt. Children exposed to pesticides in utero or during other critical periods may have lower IQs, birth defects, development delays and face higher risk of autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and cancer.

During the spring of 2015, President Obama unveiled the first national strategy for improving the health of bees and other pollinators. The plan calls for restoring 7 million acres of bee habitat. The administration is also proposing $82.5 million for honeybee research.

Neonics are the most heavily used class of insecticides in the United States. People all over the world are seeking healthier alternatives in their own lives and taking collective action to create real change in our food and farming system.

What You Can Do

You, too, can help. Take one of these actions:

  1. Write a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency demanding that they pull these bee killing pesticides from the U.S. market. Our planet and food supplies depend on it.
  2. Cut down or quit using strong, synthetic fertilizers and sprays on your plants and garden.
  3. Volunteer for projects to restore natural habitats. This is a great way to help native bees that are part of our ecosystem.
  4. Buy local honey because this will support your local beekeeper and also help the native bees.
  5. Urge Congress to protect our bee pollinators.
  6. Attend the next meeting of Sustainable Rossmoor (Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 7 p.m. in the Vista Room at Hillside) when pesticides and how to reduce dependency on them will be discussed.

Source of information from PAN/Pesticide Action Network.

This article first appeared in the January 20, 2016 issue of the Rossmoor News, author Klaudia Sikora.