Category Archives: Earth Matters

Some Surprising Facts About the Importance of Recycling – Part 1

All of us are aware that the main reason recycling is so important is that products that can be recycled do not end up in landfills, thereby reserving landfills for material that has no redeemable value. All of us know about products we use that were created from recyclable materials. However, there might be some that you did not know about.

In this article, I will identify some of them and in a later article I will include some others. Here is a list of some products that come from recycled material: recycled paper shopping bags; compostable soup containers; eco-friendly takeout containers; disposable cups – hot/cold; sugarcane and bamboo plates; clear food containers; wastebasket; writing paper; two-ply bathroom tissue; paper towel rolls; and custom cup tops.

However, there are products you might be surprised to learn that are made using recycled material. Here are some of those products. It is possible some of the following will be new information to you.

Keen’s Harvest Wallet and Bags: Keen makes the bags, totes and wallets, which comprise its Harvest Collections, out of pre-consumer automobile side airbags. The leftover, excess or obsolete airbags are shipped from the manufacturers to a recycler in Salt Lake City, where they’re sorted before being shipped to a facility in Chico. There, the bags are cut into bag pattern pieces either by hand (using a rotary knife) or with a die-cut machine. Crafters sew the product together; when completed, each item is hand numbered and signed by the person who made it.

Looptworks Leather iPad Covers: Looptworks is no stranger to using recycled materials. The company previously crafted items from neoprene wetsuit fabric, cotton jersey, Italian wool, hemp, nylon, vinyl and recycled polyester—but these upcycled iPad cases are its first foray into leather. The cases are made from scraps of excess shoe leather eliminated because it had natural blemishes. This discarded material can amount to 4,500 pounds per day from just one factory.

Cardboard FM Radio: This radio, made mostly from recycled cardboard, can also be recycled at the end of its life. It’s powered by four AAA batteries and catches FM signals with its antenna, but you can plug your iPod in to listen to your own music, too.

Moving Comfort Active wear: The grounds used to create your daily jolt of caffeine have to end up somewhere—namely, a landfill. Many pieces in Moving Comfort’s active wear line incorporate a fabric called S. Cafe, which uses a patented process to remove the phenol, ester and oil from coffee grounds and turn them into yarn. That yarn is incorporated into a fabric that, thanks to the coffee, is naturally odor repellant, protects from UV rays and dries quickly.

Skateback iPhone back: Each week, skateboard factories create enough waste to fill a city bus—so Grove and Maple xo collaborated to make iPhone backs out of the discarded post-industrial skateboard material. The backs are each milled and finished by hand, so no two are alike; they attach to the back of the phone with a 3M adhesive.

Wonderful Wizard of Oz iPad Cover: Put the “book” back into ebooks with this awesome iPad cover, which looks just like the first edition of Frank L. Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” available in the mental floss store. They’ve also got “The Great Gatsby” and “Pride and Prejudice.” All of the covers are made of 30 percent recycled materials.

Courtesy of July 3, 2018 edition of the Rossmoor News. Author Dale Harrington can be emailed at dalejharrington@gmail.com

Fossil-Free California: Fabulous Nonprofit Organization

Last October I spent two weeks in London, and while I enjoyed my visit immensely, the air pollution was a nasty surprise. An inversion layer of low clouds kept diesel emissions near the ground making breathing most unpleasant. A metallic taste was always in my mouth. I had forgotten that most of Europe still relies on diesel fuel for cars and trucks.

What a relief it was to come back to California and breathe fresh air. I feel so grateful to live in a state that has done more than most states to clean up air pollution, from stringent requirements on controlling gas emissions to promoting clean energy sources – solar, wind and geothermal.

California benefits from the work of many volunteer citizens who are making our state a better place to live. During Earth Awareness Week in Rossmoor, I learned about a wonderful nonprofit organization called Fossil-Free California. This nonprofit was formed in 2015 and has three main goals: 1) to encourage investment entities – pension funds, banks, private equity firms – as well as individuals, to divest their funds from fossil fuel investments (coal, oil, and gas); 2) to promote legislation that encourages clean, renewable energy rather than fossil fuels; and 3) to use litigation to stop polluting practices of companies and governmental agencies.

Fossil-Free California volunteers are currently lobbying for two bills in the state legislature. Senate bill 964 (sponsored by Senator Ben Allen of Santa Monica) would require CalPERS and CalSTRS to consider climate risk in their investment decisions and to stop making new investments in coal, oil and gas by 2020. These two public pension funds together control a huge amount of money – nearly $500 billion. If these two entities stopped investing in fossil fuels, the belief is that banks and private equity funds might follow. This bill has passed in the Senate and is currently under consideration in the Assembly.

The second bill that Fossil-Free California is supporting is SB100 sponsored by Senator Kevin de Leon (24th District of Los Angeles). This bill would set a 2045 target date for 100 percent clean electricity for California.

Whenever I get discouraged by climate change deniers, I take heart from thinking about the fabulous volunteers in California who are giving so much of their time and energy to improve life for all of us. To become a member of Fossil-Free California or to volunteer, visit the website fossilfreeca.org.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, June 20, 2018 edition. Anne Foreman can be emailed at anneforeman60@gmail.com.

I am a Scientist and I Do Not Believe in Global Warming…!


Various people in Rossmoor have told me they do not believe in global warming. Normally I courteously respect diversity in religious beliefs. Scientists, however, do not do “belief,” they do “verifiable,” “hypothesis” and “theory.”

To scientists, the word “verifiable” connotes observations, measurements or experiments clearly explained and that can be repeated by other observers. That places a substantial burden on scientists. It requires a report in public writing with sufficient detail of both the results of an observation or experiment and how those experiments were performed, so that others can repeat the process. This is the modern view of how to investigate the world. With some minor exceptions, it did not occur to “philosophers” until the time of Galileo. Prior to then, philosophers and charlatans kept their methods and observations secret, reporting only conclusions. Absent such information, their conclusions were unverifiable.

“Hypothesis” is almost a secret code of scientists and mathematicians. Why it remains secret is not clear; most folks take mathematics courses in school. Mathematics begins with an hypothesis; if the hypothesis can be logically proved, it generates a new theorem. Notice the similarly to “theory.” A body of hypotheses and theorems constitutes a field of mathematics: geometry or algebra or topology. Proof can be complicated or difficult. Some great hypotheses of mathematics remained unproved for years; some are still unproved.

In experimental science, one also begins with an hypothesis. A scientist uses an hypothesis to design experiments to test an idea. Such experimental tests are not as exact as a mathematical proof and often end up demonstrating the hypothesis holds for some limited conditions, but point to other conditions for which the hypothesis may be modified. This was true for Newton’s grand concept of mechanics. He proposed the concept of energy and determined that the energy of a moving body equaled half its weight multiplied by the square of its speed. He also invented a concept called “gravity,” which was a property of mass.

Newton’s mechanics enabled the great exploration of the motion of planets and, today, still governs routine calculations for space travel. In the late 1800s, however, astronomers found a minor but real exception to Newton’s equations. Some 30 years later, Einstein developed a new theory that more precisely explained the effect of massive bodies on the behavior of light. In his general theory of relativity, he dispensed with the concept of “gravity,” replacing it with the concept that the geometry of space changes in the vicinity of an object according to the mass of the object.

Newton was not “wrong,” he just did not have the data that Einstein did. Newton was part of the early scientific awakening. At about the same time, other curious folks began to observe and think seriously about the geological objects around them, such as mountains, oceans, glaciers, layers of different kinds of rocks and mineral deposits. Geology is a much more complicated study than Newton’s mechanics, so their progress was slower to generate widely accepted theories.

Basically, however, the first geological “theory” was that in an area where different kinds of rocks are stacked in layers, the lower layers are older than the higher layers. And, as they begin to understand the conditions that could generate the different kinds of mineral “formations,” they realized that various atmospheric conditions had to exist. For example, thick layers of coal required oxygen and higher temperatures. Other formations could only be explained by lower average temperatures. Along with this came the realization that the earth was millions of years old and had gone through many changes. For various reasons, these geologists concluded that the earth should now be getting slightly cooler. Then Louis Agassiz pointed out that in Switzerland glaciers were melting and growing smaller. This did not fit the hypothesis.

Subsequent 20th-century calculations, based on the relationship between the earth and the sun, showed that, indeed, the earth should be getting cooler, not warming. At the same time, scientists who studied how various gases affected atmospheric temperature realized that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere forced warming, not cooling.

It was around this time that scientists began to continuously measure the atmospheric and ocean temperature. These data, traced forward to today, show that the average ocean and atmospheric temperature are both increasing.

At the same time, studies and time-lapse video showed that large ice formations all over the world are melting. These studies have been published in scientific journals. The methods of study are fully described. The data are shown. You or any other person can read how these conclusions were reached. You can read their detailed reports and, if you want, go there and verify their measurements. This is not belief, it is very ordinary science.

Like virtually all scientists, I have read, understood and accept their well-documented measurements and experiments. Scientists do not “believe” in global warming – they have reviewed the measurements and experiments and accept that these folks honestly reported their procedures and data. Many of the measurements have been repeated and confirmed by others in different places around the world, from the North Pole to the deserts to the rain forests to oceans and down to the South Pole. The findings are verified and consistent. Global warming has nothing do with “belief.” It is a verified part of science.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, June 6, 2018 edition. Author Wayne Lanier can be emailed at waynelanier-phd@gmail.com.

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Those words open “A Tale of Two Cities,” Charles Dickens’ classic novel that so eloquently described the turmoil and tragedy surrounding the French Revolution. While our political, economic and cultural struggles today sometimes seem mild in comparison to that violent time, they are just as revolutionary and just as central to the future of our planet.

In 2018, hardly a day passes without a news story about the conflicts between the defenders and the critics of fossil fuels – whether it is over the federal subsidies supporting the coal and oil industries, the tariffs on solar panels being imported from China or the demand for electric vehicle charging stations around the state of California.

In parallel, we witness mega-mergers among telecommunications giants like Sprint and T-Mobile, and continuing audience wars between cable television broadcasters and Internet-based services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and YouTube.

We are living through a classic battle between old and new sources of energy and old and new forms of communication. It can be confusing for consumers like us caught in the middle, but it means life and death for companies like Chevron, Mobil, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time-Warner, General Motors and Tesla.

If you are as confused and confounded as I am by these battles and the resulting uncertainties about our future, you might find Jeremy Rifkin’s 2013 book, “The Third Industrial Revolution,” helpful. Rifkin, an economist and economic historian, has produced the clearest explanation I have seen anywhere about the profound transformations we are currently experiencing in how we generate, distribute and apply energy, and how we communicate with each other.

Rifkin’s book, which is subtitled “How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World,” is a powerful, sweeping analysis of economic, technological and cultural history as well as an inspiring vision of where we are headed. I had the privilege of hearing Rifkin speak at a conference in October 2017. I found his explanation of what is happening to us today, and how it parallels the first Industrial Revolution, to be nothing short of brilliant.

Rifkin’s basic thesis is that economic revolutions become inevitable when society experiences simultaneous disruptive transformations in three sectors: energy, communications and transportation. The three “industrial” revolutions we have experienced in the last 200 years have each resulted from the convergence of order-of-magnitude – but highly disruptive – improvements in how we generate and apply energy, how we communicate with each other and how we transport people and things.

The first Industrial Revolution, which took place between about 1780 and 1850, was driven by the invention of the steam engine, which turned the combustion of coal into power that could drive machines and propel locomotives, turning an agricultural economy into an industrial one. Manufacturing was no longer dependent on water power and goods could be transported farther, faster and far less expensively by the “iron horse” than by real ones.

At the same time, a steam-powered printing press enabled the mass printing of inexpensive newspapers and books that, in combination with public schools, created a literate population capable of working in the factories. It was a multi-dimensional, mutually-reinforcing transformation of the entire way of life in the “industrialized” nations of the world. And it totally transformed society.

In Rifkin’s view, the second Industrial Revolution occurred in the early 1900s, when the combination of electricity and oil transformed the economy once again. The oil-based energy sector led directly to the automobile and the airplane, while electricity and electric motors produced highly efficient factories along with the telephone, the radio and eventually television. The dominant form of communication during the 20th century was broadcasting: one-to-many.

Eventually the United States had three major television and radio networks, and we all listened to the same news from the same few sources at the same time (6 p.m.) every evening. Knowledge and political power was largely centralized, a reality that we have only recently begun to recognize was artificially created by the very nature of the energy and communication technologies that drove the economy.

Now, in 2018, we are in the middle of what Rifkin calls the third Industrial Revolution. As he puts it, the fossil fuel economy is dying; renewable energy sources, like solar, wind and geothermal, are already significantly cheaper (to say nothing of cleaner and healthier) than fossil fuels like coal and oil. And we now have the Internet that enables many-to-many communication. Today each of us can communicate directly with almost anyone else anywhere on the planet, at almost zero incremental cost.

What makes this current revolution particularly important and disruptive is that in both energy and communication the sources of power and information are no longer centralized. Oil and coal resources are located in specific places on the planet and thus subject to political boundaries and control; sunshine and wind are everywhere, and they are freely available to anyone who has the technology to capture and apply them.

Rifkin’s vision of our future includes an energy grid based on exactly the same underlying technology as the communication Internet; it will distribute energy from anywhere to anywhere, as it is needed. Clearly, getting from here – our current energy infrastructure – to Rifkin’s vision of an energy internet – is a long journey that will require massive investments in new technologies like energy storage and transmission. However, making that transition will lead not only to a cleaner, healthier planet, but to a vibrant new economy. “

The jobs that will be created to build local solar, wind and geothermal power sources will all be local; they can’t really be outsourced. Nor can the efforts to retrofit all the commercial and residential buildings across the United States, making them not only energy-efficient, but energy sources in their own right. A cornerstone of Rifkin’s vision is “every building a mini-power plant” because the sun shines everywhere, and the wind blows everywhere too.

The year 2018 may feel like the worst of times, but we are on the verge of an incredibly exciting and sustainable future.

This article courtesy of the Rossmoor News, May 23, 2018. Author James Ware can be emailed at jim@jimware.com

Link to Jeremy Rifkin’s book, Amazon

100 Percent Renewable Energy

Did you know 100 percent of your electricity could come from renewable sources with the click of your cursor? Or a phone call. Did you know you already are getting more clean energy than customers of PG&E?

Let’s first answer the question, who cares? You are saving money if you are getting your energy from MCE Clean Energy – just like 88 percent of the other residents of Walnut Creek do. PG&E charges more for their dirtier energy. Hard to believe, I know. Clean energy is from renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass. Unless you took a special step to “opt out” of MCE, you are likely getting 50 percent clean energy at a rate 2-5 percent lower than PG&E’s 33 percent clean energy.

It might be confusing because you’re still getting a bill from PG&E. But, look at the one tiny line item that reads “electricity generation” and you’ll see MCE’s generation charge has replaced PG&E’s generation charge. This started in September 2016, but you probably didn’t notice. Ever since then, you’ve been saving money and getting cleaner energy coming to your home.

All about MCE

But the story gets better. MCE Clean Energy is a not-for-profit public agency without shareholders. Its governing board is made up of one elected council member from each participating city and one elected supervisor from each county in its jurisdiction (Contra Costa, Solano, Napa and Marin). All its meetings are open to the public and video-recordings are archived online. Revenue has been invested in a training center for green jobs, building local solar farms, energy efficiency programs, solar rebates for low-income residents and an extra benefit to customers with their own rooftop solar. In sum, MCE is both adding more clean energy to the grid and contributing to the local economy.

Maybe the most important reason to care about the cleaner energy option is because it helps us to reduce greenhouse gases. The basic MCE plan that everyone gets is the Light Green plan, but for an extra 1 cent per kilowatt-hour, anyone can “opt up” to MCE’s Deep Green plan, which provides electricity from 100 percent renewable sources. This costs the average homeowner $4.50/month but will vary depending on how much electricity you use.

Importantly, a person can “opt down” to Light Green (50 percent renewable) anytime one wants – maybe if one’s finances become tight. A Deep Green home reduces by over 1 metric ton the amount of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere each year; that’s equivalent to driving 2,437 fewer miles using gasoline. The impact is even more impressive for those if us in Rossmoor who have all-electric manors.

But that’s just one home. A city council can vote to opt up its municipal accounts from 50 percent to 100 percent clean energy. It sets an important example for residents; in fact, when other cities have opted up their municipal accounts, the number of residents who do the same doubles within a few months, on average. It’s called the multiplier effect. Every city in the MCE service area opted up their municipal accounts last year, except Walnut Creek. Tsk. Tsk. And the statistics correlate.

Walnut Creek

Jenna Famular, MCE’s community development manager, showed a chart during Earth Awareness Week that revealed Larkspur had the most number of residents who had opted up, over 8 percent higher than any other city. Sadly, Walnut Creek is one of the lowest in the region at 1.3 percent. Our neighbor, Lafayette, with whom Walnut Creek City Council sometimes tries to compete in “greenness,” has 3.6 percent residents who are Deep Green customers. But behold! We in Rossmoor have 2.3 percent of our residents who have opted up to 100 percent clean energy. We are setting an example to others in our city. This is where you can help.

Request the Walnut Creek City Council to opt up its municipal accounts. This month, our city council will vote on a budget that could include opting up its municipal accounts. There’s a surplus on the city’s coffers that will more than cover this. It’s a small item for a city with a total budget of over $110,000,000. Write a letter to the city clerk at: lechuga@walnut-crerek.org and ask it to be distributed to all the council members.

UPDATE:  On May 15, 2018, the Walnut Creek City Council voted unanimously to opt up all the municipal accounts to 100% renewable energy!

The right thing to do

In addition to the multiplier effect, the city has made a promise to us. In its 2012 climate action plan (CAP), one of several environmental goals the council set was to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Opting up is the most cost-effective method to city can use to reach their goal for 2020. Furthermore, every year the city delays, increases the pollution. All these are the reasons every other city in MCE’s territory has opted up. We just celebrated Earth Day – it’s the right thing to do.

In addition, you don’t have to be a Sustainable Rossmoor member to join a delegation to appear at the council meeting in person. Contact me below to join a carpool.

What else can you do? Opt up to the Deep Green plan if you can afford it, even for a few months and join the Sustainable Rossmoor Living Lightly team: http://mcecleanenergy.org/livinglightly. Again, you don’t need to be a Sustainable Rossmoor member. Take a look at the website and see how we lead the region. This website allows you to click on “Enroll in Deep Green.” Scroll down to join the Sustainable Rossmoor Living Lightly team even if you opted up sometime ago – you too can join the team. Or call: 1-888-632-3674. This gives us more than bragging rights – it makes our air cleaner. It’s one simple way to reduce pollution, and reduce our health risks and those of our children and grandchildren.

This article first appeared in the May 9, 2018 edition of the Rossmoor News. Author Carol Weed can be emailed at: carol4ofa@gmail.co

How You Can Save the Planet

Since this column will be appearing in the middle of Rossmoor’s Earth Awareness Week, Managing Editor Maureen O’Rourke suggested that I devote the space to letting the readers know how they can contribute to the goal of living lightly on planet Earth. Although our actions are for the most part small in the big picture….as you well know….little things add up. There are many ways the average person can make his or her daily routines more eco-friendly. I will suggest a few, and then toss in some suggestions from Pope Francis.

Action One: Cut back on car use. Look for alternatives such as biking, walking or public transportation. Carpool. Combine several errands into one trip. When you are driving, brake and accelerate less; drive at a moderate speed.

Action Two: Make good food choices. In the United States, we throw out about 40 percent of our food each year. When possible, buy local food. The farmers’ markets will be open soon. Learn to love leftovers. Don’t be shy about asking for a “doggie bag.” Most restaurant meals are more food than we need and the take-home box can save you having to cook tomorrow.

Action Three: Reduce your waste. Reduce, reuse and recycle. Our local thrift stores do a great job and have lots of bargains. Their profits support good causes. Avoid disposable plastic water bottles, plates, cups and silverware. Reuse plastic sacks.

Action Four: Conserve water. Take short showers. Use low-flow shower heads. Turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth. Wash your car with a bucket of water and not the hose.

Action Five: Save energy. Instead of turning on the heater, put on a sweater. This summer, open all of the windows each morning to cool down your home, then close up tight as the outside air heats up. Maybe you won’t need that air conditioner today. Obviously, make a habit of turning off the lights when you leave a room (that goes for Rossmoor meeting rooms, also). Unplug appliances when they aren’t needed. Give some consideration to buying solar panels or a fuel-efficient car. Have someone from Walnut Creek Saves visit your place and do an energy audit, which is a free service. Buying a new appliance? Look for the Energy Star rating.

Action Six: Give financial support to nonprofit groups working for the environment. Some to consider: the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, 350.org, Union of Concerned Scientists and Earth Justice.

Even Pope Francis is calling on his followers to help save the environment. A few of his practical tips include: 1. Transition to renewable energy resources. 2. Protect biodiversity. 3. Be aware that synthetic pesticides and herbicides will hurt birds and helpful insects. 4. Get back to nature. 5. Stop needless consumption. 6. Protect vulnerable species.

I part company with him when he says “Stop blaming problems on population growth.” But not even the pope can be expected to get everything right. Have a great Earth Awareness Week. Do your part to save our beautiful planet.

This article first appeared in the April 18, 2018 edition of the Rossmoor News. Author Bob Hanson can be emailed at doctoroutdoors@ comcast.net.

The Making of a Pessimist

One of my main tasks as publicity chairman for Sustainable Rossmoor is to see to it that an Earth Matters column gets submitted twice a month. Several other club members have been helpful by submitting columns from time to time. But when no one sends me a column, I have to come up with something. I can assure you that writing about environmental issues isn’t a happy job. Most of the material I am able to find by research is bad news.

Almost every day, I read of another anti-science crony being appointed to an important position in the Environmental Protection Agency or some other federal government bureau. It is painful to read about the United States pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement and the concessions being given to the coal, gas and petroleum industries.

Most scientists are in agreement that the earth is unraveling due to human caused global warming. The current extinction rate of species is 1,000 times the historical level. Global wildlife populations have decreased nearly 60 percent since 1970. Coral reefs are dying and the oceans could be completely free of fish by 2048 due to climate disruption, overfishing, pollution and habitat loss. The great Pacific garbage patch is now several times as large as the state of California. Many fish mistake small bits of plastic for food with awful consequences.

In spite of what we are being told by the anti-scientists in Washington, D.C., climate change is proceeding dramatically and abruptly. Hurricane Harvey led to the single largest rain event in U.S. history, which was followed by Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever recorded. In Canada, rapidly melting permafrost is already releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This in turn causes warming, which increases the thaw further. Meanwhile, our forests are being cut down and/or burned. Anyone who has driven to Lake Tahoe has noticed the massive numbers of dead or dying trees. Some of this is caused by draught and much more by the bark beetles, which are pretty much out of control. Dying and burning trees, of course, release tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and the cycle feeds on itself.

Now I read that the melting Arctic Sea ice is impacting the Atlantic Ocean water circulation system. Predicted sea level rise will cause devastation for the 145 million folks living on lands less than three feet above sea level. One author suggests that there will likely be 200 million climate refugees from sea level rise by 2050. Authorities are talking about possible sea level rise of 55 feet.

The Trump administration continues to work feverishly to scrub any mention of climate change from government websites. I tend to be a pretty optimistic person, but with regard to the future of the planet, I don’t see much to look forward to. We Depression babies and baby boomers have enjoyed a very good life. It is looking more and more like we have lived in the “best of times.” It may be all downhill from here on out.

Some experts are hinting that if humans continue adding carbon to the air and oceans, a global mass extinction event could be triggered by 2100. I hope they are wrong for the sake of our grandchildren and great grandchildren, but I sure wouldn’t bet any money on it.

This article first appeared in the April 4, 2018 edition of the Rossmoor News. Author Bob Hanson can be emailed at doctoroutdoors@comcast.net.

What’s the Big Deal About Plastic Straws?

Plastic drinking straws seem like such a small thing. Why do I find myself reading about them so often these days? Why are some cities banning the use of plastic straws? What’s going on here?

According to a CNN news story, nearly eight million tons of plastic waste makes its way into oceans and waterways each year. It is estimated that by the year 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. Plastic straws are a single-use item.

Every day, Americans throw away 500 million plastic straws, enough to circle the earth twice. These straws are made of a petroleum by-product, polypropylene. It does not biodegrade naturally. When in the ocean, it floats until it’s consumed by some form of ocean life or else it makes its way to one of the floating ocean garbage dumps.

The Plastics Pollution Coalition states “Every bit of plastic that has ever been created still exists, including the small amount that has been incinerated and has become toxic particulate matter.” While the straws do not degrade, they do break into smaller pieces. These pieces act like sponges absorbing chemical compounds like PCB and DDT that are in the water.

The small pieces are eaten by sea animals and then become part of their bodies. They make their way up the food chain, eventually to be consumed by humans. Straws that don’t end up in the ocean cause other kinds of problems. Since they don’t biodegrade, those that are in landfill site are there forever.

Another negative consequence is that they go down storm drains adding to the build-up of debris that causes property damage when streets flood. These single use plastic straws are among the top five items removed from the sand when beach cleanups are held. The Ocean Conservancy has shared the following: Millions of plastic straws pollute our ocean where endangered animals like sea turtles can choke on them.

The average American eats out four times a week and almost everyone gets a straw (or two). If we get 25,000 people to skip the straw at restaurants every time, we can keep 5 million plastic straws out of our ocean and landfills in just one year. Take the Last Straw Challenge: When eating out, ask your waiter or waitress to skip the straw.

People have good reasons for using straws. What I am talking about is single-use plastic straws that restaurants routinely place in drink orders. There are alternatives to these. Paper straws are biodegradable. If you need to use straws at home, consider these or reusable straws made of glass, stainless steel, bamboo or other that can be washed and reused. While I don’t believe a ban on plastic straws will end the plastic pollution problem, it is a place to start.

For information, go to thelastplasticstraw.org.

This article first appeared in the Rossmoor News, March 21, 2018. Author Linda Walonen is a member of Sustainable Rossmoor’s Trash Talkers Team. She can be emailed at lsw923@comcast.net.

Day Zero: Lessons From Cape Town’s Crisis

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists of Feb. 16 featured an interview by journalist Dan Drollette Jr. of Peter Gleick, recipient of a MacArthur “genius” fellowship and founder of the Pacific Institute, on the water crisis in Cape Town, South Africa. Gleick explained that for the first time a major city is on the verge of literally turning off its municipal water supply system because of a lack of water. Whether or not it actually happens will depend on whether they’re able to implement programs that reduce enough demand and whether it starts to rain.

Although there are still enormous disparities, South Africa has been a world leader since apartheid ended in addressing previously unmet needs for water and sanitation. The problem is a combination of population growth and absolute limits on new supply. They’re running into peak water constraints and the new reality of climate change.

Previously, water planners and managers had assumed that the climate was variable but stable, that there would be wet years and dry years but that it wouldn’t be changing over time in the long run. That’s no longer true.

We know that humans are causing climate change and we know that some of the worst impacts will be manifested in changes in the hydrologic cycle and changes in water availability and demand. Cape Town is at the limits of getting any new supply. Cape Town is over-tapping its rivers and over-pumping groundwater. The population continues to grow and demands for water continue to grow. Higher temperatures worsen the severity of the drought by increasing the demand for water and the loss of water from soils and reservoirs.

Even though water is a renewable resource, there are limits to how much we can take and use. When the entire flow of rivers, such as the Colorado or Yangtze or Yellow, has been taken a peak constraint occurs. In addition, as much as a third of all the groundwater that’s pumped worldwide now comes from non-renewable groundwater resources. That’s a peak limit as well. More and more regions of the world are reaching peak water. Pumping from ever deeper and deeper levels becomes economically infeasible.

The Ogallala Aquifer is a good example of a peak limit. It is a fossil aquifer that underlies Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas and several other states. It was laid down over tens of thousands of years, but it is being pumped out in decades. Other examples of peak limits are happening in the Middle East, Northern China, parts of Indian and in parts of the Central Valley of California.

Fortunately, the United States has the economic and technical ability to shift water from one user to another, to implement conservation programs that reduce demand–to do the things that Cape Town is doing now–but to do them more effectively. Places like Jakarta or Tehran, or places in the developing world where they don’t have alternatives, where they don’t have the economic ability to use treated wastewater or to desalinate water, and where they don’t have the management ability to implement smart and effective conservation programs are more threatened.

In the 1980s, engineers in Boston plugged a lot of leaks and upgraded all the pipes in the city’s water supply system and reduced water consumption by 40 percent. The cheapest source of new water is not actually new water – it’s spending money on conservation and efficiency programs that let us save water we’re already using.

The smartest thing we can do is make our water use more efficient, to grow more food with less water, to flush our toilets and wash our clothes with less water, to keep the benefits of our water use while reducing the volume of water required to satisfy those benefits.

In the fourth of five years of the California drought, the state imposed a mandatory reduction in urban water use of 25 percent. This was accomplished through a mix of programs. People were offered money to remove lawns and replace them with “xeriscaped” or drought-resistant gardens. Utilities offered rebates on efficient toilets and washing machines. There were restrictions on the timing and the amount of outdoor landscaping. There were changes in rate structures that encouraged people to save money by saving water. Penalties were imposed on high water users.

In the long run, we’re moving toward a sustainable future for water or the soft path for water. It involves alternative sources of supply, like using treated wastewater and capturing more storm water; improving the way we use water and becoming more efficient; smart economic policies and better management. It involves accepting the reality of climate change and integrating the risks of climate change into the way we plan and manage our water systems.

This article first appeared in the March 14, 2018 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author Judith Schumacher-Jennings can be emailed at sjmadrone@sonic.net.

Global Warming, Rising Sea Levels and What Can be Done

Well folks, I hate to be a “messenger of doom,” but the long-term health of our mother Earth doesn’t look very good, even if we do manage to avoid a nuclear war. I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading on the subject of global warming – more precisely sea level rise – and things don’t look promising. Scientists agree that 2017 was the warmest year in recorded history, eclipsing the temperatures of the previous high in 2016. When the air heats up, the ocean temperatures heat up, which they predictably have been doing. As I’m sure you remember from high school physics class…warm water expands.

A second cause of rising seas is melting glaciers and polar ice caps. You have probably heard that Glacier National Park probably won’t have any glaciers by the end of this century, but even more alarming is the loss of ice from Greenland and Antarctica. The Arctic Ocean is now almost ice free each summer and every so often a hunk of ice the size of Rhode Island slips loose from Antarctica into the sea to melt. Sea level rise has only been 4 to 8 inches in the last 100 years, but the rate at which it is rising has doubled this past decade.

A recent study by the University of Melbourne found that unless coal burning is halted entirely by 2050, melting of Antarctica’s ice alone will cause the oceans to rise 1.3 meters. Another recent study showed that the Totten Ice Field in Eastern Antarctica is melting at an accelerated rate. This glacier alone has enough ice to raise sea levels 11-13 feet, submerging many of our coastal cities. Many of the citizens of South Pacific Island nations are already starting to migrate as their homelands gradually disappear. Millions of people will likely have to emigrate from Bangladesh, a good part of which is only a few feet above sea level.

Sea level rise, of course, isn’t the only problem with global warming. We have seen quite a few growing problems lately: wildfires, hurricanes, major droughts, etc. Now, I realize that the burning of fossil fuels isn’t the only factor in global warming. Volcanic eruptions and wildfires put plenty of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, there is little we can do to prevent forest fires and nothing at all to stop volcanoes. So, we must do the common sense things that we can do…drive our cars less, drive cars that get good mileage, turn off lights when not needed, invest in solar panels, turn down the thermostat, etc.

Most of us probably won’t live to see the worst effects of rising world temperatures. But I just became a grandparent for the 5th time a couple of weeks ago, and I am concerned about the world that little girl will be living in 50 years from now. When she grows up, I don’t want her to be asking why I didn’t do something about climate change.

In the meantime, here are a few tips: Don’t even think about buying a waterfront home in Stinson Beach. Invest in corporations making concrete… it’s going to take lots of it to build the sea walls and dikes we will need to protect our coastal cities. Invest in land in Northern Saskatchewan…they may be growing rice and oranges up there soon. Be the first one in your entry to drive an all-electric car. The best solution to the problem would be a global carbon tax. This tax would cause everyone to reduce fossil fuel consumption. The proceeds could be used to end the world’s poverty.

But until we get a federal world government, that isn’t going to happen. So, let’s do what we can as individuals and be glad we live in an environmentally aware state like California. If we are lucky, the climate change deniers in Washington, D.C., will be out of office soon and we can re-join the rest of the civilized world in working for a solution.

This article first appeared in the February 21, 2018 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author Bob Hanson can be emailed at doctoroutdoors@ comcast.net