Category Archives: Earth Matters

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.

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.

A Closer Look at the Green New Deal

By Judith Schumacher-Jennings

Shortly after Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced the Green New Deal, Donald Trump tweeted:

“I think it is very important for the Democrats to press forward with their Green New Deal. It would be great for the so-called ‘Carbon Footprint’ to permanently eliminate all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military – even if no other country would do the same. Brilliant!”

The Green New Deal resolution begins:

“Whereas the October 2018 report entitled ‘Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C’ by the (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the November 2018 Fourth National Climate Assessment report (mandated by the Global Change Research Act of 1990 signed into law by President George H.W. Bush) found that – human activity is the dominant cause of observed climate change over the past century.

“A changing climate is causing sea levels to rise and an increase in wildfires, severe storms, droughts, and other extreme weather events that threaten human life, healthy communities, and critical infrastructure.  Global warming at or above two (2) degrees Celsius beyond pre-industrialized levels will cause mass migration from the regions most affected by climate change; more than $500 billion in lost annual economic output in the United States by the year 2100.

“Wildfires that, by 2050, will annually burn at least twice as much forest area in the western United States than was typically burned by wildfires in the years preceding 2019; a loss of more than 99 percent of all coral reefs on Earth.  More than 350 million more people to be exposed globally to deadly heat stress by 2050, and a risk of damage to $1 trillion of public infrastructure and coastal real estate in the United States…”

The Green New Deal proposes:

• building resiliency against climate change-related disasters

• repairing and upgrading the infrastructure in the United States

• meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources

• upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximum energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort and durability

• spurring massive growth in clean manufacturing in the United States and removing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing and industry as much as is technologically feasible

• working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible

• overhauling transportation systems in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible

• removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and reducing pollution by restoring natural ecosystems through proven low-tech solutions that increase soil carbon storage, such as land preservation and reforestation

• restoring and protecting threatened, endangered and fragile ecosystems through locally appropriate and science-based projects that enhance biodiversity and support climate resiliency

• cleaning up existing hazardous waste and abandoned sites, ensuring economic development and sustainability on those sites

• promoting the international exchange of technology, expertise, products, funding and services, with the aim of making the United States the international leader on climate action, and to help other countries achieve a Green New Deal

Mark Z. Jacobson is a Stanford University civil and environmental engineering professor and co-founder of The Solutions Project and 100.org. He said 100 percent renewable goals for energy are technically and economically possible to achieve. The major obstacles are social and political.

Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg

A 15-year-old Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, addressed the United Nations COP24 conference in Poland last December. She said, “You say you love your children above all else.  Yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes. Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what’s politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis.”

In January, she addressed conferees at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. She said, “At places like Davos, people like to tell success stories. But their financial success has come with an unthinkable price tag.”

Thunberg added, “Yes, we are failing, but there is still time to turn everything around — we can still fix this. I want you to act as if the house was on fire. Because it is.”

A Few Political Reactions

A group of young people visited Senator Diane Feinstein in February asking for her support of the Green New Deal.

Feinstein told them: “You know what’s interesting about this group? I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I know what I’m doing. You come in here, and it has to be my way or the highway. I don’t respond to that. I’ve gotten elected. I just ran. I was elected by almost a million-vote plurality. I know what I’m doing. So, maybe people should listen a little bit.” Further she pointed out that she has seven grandchildren.

2020 Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren support the Green New Deal.

Gillibrand said, “The way I see a green economy is this: I think we need a moonshot.”

Courtesy of Rossmoor News March 27, 2019.  Email Judith Schumacher-Jennings at sjmadrone@sonic.net

Environmental Impacts of Cruise Ships

By Jennifer Mu

Many people I know have taken at least one vacation onboard a cruise ship in their lifetime. Some of our friends vacation on cruise ships only. Why not? On a single cruise, you can have all the luxury of a resort hotel while visiting many exotic destinations. You can also avoid the headache of packing and unpacking every other day.

Ocean cruises are becoming ever more popular with vacationers worldwide. Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) projected a six percent (6%) increase in cruises in 2019.  It estimated 30 million travelers onboard oceangoing cruise ships.

As the popularity of ocean cruises grows, so have the number and size of cruise ships. The cruise industry added nine new oceangoing ships to its fleet in 2018.  The industry reports 50 more ships are on order between 2018 and 2025. The average passenger capacity of ocean liners is around 3,000 guests; the largest ship in 2018 has a maximum capacity of 6,680 passengers and 2,200 crew members.

Cruise Ship Waste Streams

Wherever humans travel, they generate waste. Large cruise ships are often referred to as “floating cities.” The ships produce waste amounts equivalent to a small city. According to a 2008 USEPA report, an average cruise ship with 3,000 passengers produces about 21,000 gallons of sewage a day.

Using USEPA data, Friends of the Earth (FOE) estimates cruise ships dump more than one billion gallons of sewage annually. FOE says the estimate is conservative because the newer ships are significantly larger in capacity.

Cruise ship waste streams include sewage (black water), gray water, bilge water, ballast water, solid waste (food waste and garbage), hazardous waste (including medical waste) and air emissions. Ships also burn garbage using onboard incinerators, contributing to smog in coastal communities and on the ocean. The ashes adversely impact both water and air quality. The “luxury” factor also generates waste. For example, some ships offer teeth whitening services, acne treatments or detox body wraps.

Large vessels are required to have Marine Sanitation Devices onboard to treat both sewage and graywater to required standards before discharging into state waters. Outside the state waters, ships can dump untreated sewage anywhere except areas designated as “No Discharge Zones.” In 2012, USEPA approved California’s petition to ban all sewage discharges from large cruise ships and other oceangoing ships to the state’s marine waters and surrounding major islands.

Environmental and Health Concerns

Cruise ships often operate in pristine coastal waters and sensitive marine ecosystems. But the very character of these marine waters that attract cruise ship passengers also can be harmed by pollution from these ships.

As the number of cruises increased, cruise ships’ waste management practices have increasingly become a public concern. We’ve heard stories of oil spills and deliberate dumping of waste into the ocean. More recently, in 2016, Princess Cruise Lines pled guilty to seven felony charges and paid $40 million in fines for deliberately dumping graywater and oily bilge water into the ocean from 2005 through 2013 and lying to cover it up.

Increased ship size has resulted in more waste

Air pollution by cruise ships took center stage in 2018. An international coalition of environmental groups launched a global “Clean Up Carnival” campaign, calling the company to stop using heavy fuel oil to power their ships traveling in fragile Arctic and sub-Arctic waters. A German environmental watchdog, Nabu, also called on European ports to ban cruise ships that burn heavy fuel oil.

In January 2019, an undercover study found the decks of four Carnival cruise ships as polluted as smog-ridden cities such as Beijing and Santiago, containing toxics that are harmful to passengers. Stand.earth, an international environmental group, commissioned the study.  It was conducted by a faculty member at John Hopkins University.  Stand.earth is currently campaigning to get Carnival to stop using heavy fuel oil. Carnival accused Stand.earth of creating “fake tests” for fundraising purposes.

Cruise Industry’s Green Efforts

Cruise lines are keenly aware of the importance of a greener image. CLIA has developed its own environmental standards. As a result, it now promotes recycling and waste management programs, cleaner fuels and boosting the efficiency of onboard sewage and gray-water treatment systems. There are ships that burn excess cooking oil to help power engines, separate and sort recyclables onboard, use environmentally friendly cleaning products, employ low flow toilets and connect to shore power to avoid fuel burning in port.

So, when you plan a vacation onboard an ocean-going cruise ship, consider an eco-friendly ship to enhance your enjoyment. Friends of the Earth periodically publishes a Cruise Ship Report Card. It grades the cruise lines in four categories – sewage treatment technology, air pollution reduction, water quality compliance and transparency. You can get it on FOE’s website.

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News March 6, 2019. Email Jennifer Mu at barnhartmu8833@gmail.com

Tips on Helping the Environment and Yourself

By Dale J. Harrington

I recently found the following quote: “Environmental sustainability doesn’t mean living without luxuries, but rather being aware of your resource consumption and reducing unnecessary waste.” (Author Unknown) The main focus in this article relates to “resource consumption and reducing unnecessary waste.”

Some of the ideas include reducing household energy use, disposing of disposables, recycling, donating items, saving water and drinking from the tap instead of from single use plastic containers. If you do not like the flavor of your tap water, get a filtration system.

Reduce Use of Single Use Plastics

I believe most of us have used single-use forks, spoons, knives, cups, bags and food storage containers. We rarely wash these for future use. Therefore, they often end up in landfill. Most of the containers we get from a restaurant for our “take home” extra food items end up in the landfill. I have a sister-in-law who takes her own reusable container to a restaurant for her leftover food.

When you make purchases, consider the item’s life expectancy: How long can you use the item? Keep in mind that stamped dates are often conservative estimates. Will it have more than one use? When you’re done with it, will it end up in landfill? Start investing in reusable containers to replace items you most often throw away.

Although some plastic bags we get in the grocery store may be recyclable, use reusable cloth or netting bags (or at least look for biodegradable bags) when purchasing fruits and vegetables.

Recycle Clothes You No Longer Need

Consider donating clothing to a not-for-proit organization such as Goodwill, Salvation Army or American Cancer Society. There are four Goodwill stores in our area. They are in Walnut Creek, Moraga, Pleasant Hill and Concord. There is a Salvation Army store in Pleasant Hill. Throwing a useable clothing item in the trash deprives someone who could benefit from it.

Conserve Water

Water conservation can involve low-flow shower heads, water-efficient toilets and running shower water into a container until it is warm, rather than letting it go down the drain. My wife and I have a plastic bucket in the shower, and we use the water for outside plants or to flush a toilet. Take shorter showers. Turn the water off while brushing your teeth. Use your clothes washer or dishwasher only when you have a full load.

Some of these suggestions may seem like they could not make much of an impact, but we need to think beyond our self. If everyone in a community were to take these steps, the impact could be significant.

Winter Considerations

On cold days wearing a jacket or sweater in the house enables us to set the thermostat at a lower temperature. Use dimmer switches for lights to save energy and money on your utility bills.

Not burning wood in a fireplace helps keep the air cleaner. Several years ago, I lived in Benicia and drove to San Jose on Interstate 680 every day. During the winter, when I got to Danville, I could smell fireplace smoke in my car even though my windows were closed. In fact, there were times I could even see the smoke.

This problem was even more prevalent when I was young and I lived with my parents in West Sacramento. Not only did many people burn wood in their fireplace, but during the fall, leaves from trees were piled in the gutter next to the curb and then burned. At least we do not have that problem in the East Bay.

More about Plastics

Many food containers retain part of the product on the inside when we have used what we want. Two examples are peanut butter containers and mayonnaise containers. These containers can be processed more easily and efficiently by the recycling center if we thoroughly wash the containers and dry them before putting them in the recycling bin.

Brad Waite wrote a comprehensive article about plastics and their effect on the environment. The Rossmoor News published it on Dec. 12, 2018. Read it here, in the Earth Matters blog, on March 20, 2019. The article reminded me when I was young, the milkman delivered bottles to our house. When we were to receive a new delivery, my parents would place the empty bottles out on our porch to be retrieved when the new full bottles were delivered.

This was so different from now, when we dispose of our milk containers. Even recycling causes processing issues.

Present day recycling of paper, cardboard, metal cans and plastic containers is an improvement over what existed many years ago. When I think of all of the present-day recycled items that used to go to landfill, I shake my head.

Thank goodness we have made progress and continue to do so.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, February 27, 2019. Email Dale J. Harrington at: dalejharrington@gmail.com

PG&E Bankruptcy – Who Will Win or Lose?

By Anne Foreman

PG&E filed for bankruptcy on Jan. 29. What does this mean for California ratepayers? How will it affect California’s goal to have 100 percent of electricity come from renewable sources of energy (wind, solar and geothermal) by 2045? The short answer is “nobody knows yet.”

First, some background: PG&E already filed for bankruptcy in 2001 due to the Enron debacle. That settlement allowed PG&E to pass on about $7 billion in costs to California ratepayers via increased rates.

Now, PG&E has filed for bankruptcy again, this time because of the wildfires in 2017 and 2018 caused by its equipment. The company estimates it has $30 billion in wildfire claims. However, on Jan. 25, PG&E was cleared of liability for the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County, which could have amounted to $8 billion in damages. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection found that private electrical equipment at a home was responsible for that fire, not PG&E.

Wild Fires Are Adding Up

In addition, the cause of the disastrous Camp Fire in Paradise that killed 86 people is still under investigation. It could be months more before officials reach a conclusion on that fire.

Even without liability for the Tubbs Fire and possibly without liability for the Camp Fire, PG&E estimates it is liable for tens of billions of dollars for other wildfires in 2017 and 2018. California officials say PG&E’s equipment caused at least 17 of 21 major fires in the state in 2017.

Is PG&E Approaching a Crossroads?

At the end of last September, the company’s assets exceeded its debt by about $20 billion and yet it claims that bankruptcy is its “only viable option.” PG&E is investor-owned and one has to wonder whose interests the company favors – its investors, or its ratepayers. PG&E doesn’t pay dividends, but its investors have “equity value” so anything that hurts its stock value hurts investors.

High Voltage Transmission Lines

Although investor-owned, PG&E is regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission. The Commission has proposed some interesting options: One is to break up PG&E into smaller companies; another is to convert PG&E into a public utility.

Some might cry “socialism” at this proposal, but, in my opinion, the safety and wellbeing of the residents is paramount and should be a higher priority than the interests of investors. A crucial need like electricity shouldn’t be hostage to the profit motive. I think converting PG&E into a public utility deserves serious consideration.

New California Governor Gavin Newsom has a vacancy to fill on the commission. He could make his appointee its president. So doing, he potentially determining whether the agency will tilt toward consumers or the utilities in its approach. In any case, PG&E will need the Commission’s approval for any bankruptcy plan that would impose new costs on ratepayers.

Bankruptcy’s Potential Losers

So, who are potential losers in this bankruptcy? Solar companies that supply electricity to PG&E are nervous because the bankruptcy could allow PG&E to renegotiate their contracts, paying them less than the original contracts stipulated. According to a California Solar & Storage Association spokesperson, a number of solar companies are in discussions with Newsom, stating their concerns about losing out in the bankruptcy settlement.

Other potential losers in the bankruptcy are PG&E’s workers, who could face pension losses, and, of course, ratepayers who could see their electricity bills skyrocket. Wildfire claimants may not get what they are owed, either.

Bankruptcy’s Potential Winners

On the winners’ side, PG&E has asked the bankruptcy court to approve roughly $130 million of 2018 bonus payments to employees, who stand to get $5,000 to $90,000 each. This does not include the bonuses for 12 senior PG&E executives. The company has not yet asked the court to approve payments to executives. Yet it noted that senior officers are typically eligible to receive bonuses in bankruptcy.

Also benefitting will be the lawyers, bankers and consultants who will work on the bankruptcy execution. PG&E’s last bankruptcy in 2001 cost more than $400 million in fees. The current case could cost a lot more, because lawyers’ hourly rates have gone up a lot since then.

Looking Forward

And on top of everything, climate change is here.

Rising global temperatures, driven by man-made greenhouse gas emissions are drying out California’s forests. In the future, wildfires will be even more intense and long-burning. Droughts, heat waves, rising seas and fiercer storms will put more stress on PG&E’s infrastructure. Undergrounding power lines, cutting back trees from power lines, installing insulated wiring, replacing aging equipment – all these mitigation measures cost money.

How the bankruptcy plays out will be a crucial test for Newsom. He promised to “ensure Californians have access to safe, reliable and affordable service.”  At the same time, he’s pledged continuing “forward progress on our climate change goals.”  Let’s hope he succeeds. So much depends on it.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News Feb. 13, 2019.  Email Anne Foreman at: anneforeman60@gmail.com

Sustainable Passenger Air Travel

by Wayne Lanier 

Sustainable air travel is on its way. Electric aircraft have not only been built and flown, but they are expected to inherit the same advantages found in electric automobiles.

Greater efficiency, greater reliability, quieter operation and lower cost in volume production, operation, and maintenance. So, how would all this work and how do we get from this concept to a passenger fleet of such airplanes?

Electric Flight “Comes of Age”

Traditionally, new aircraft designs “come of age” with a successful flight around the world. In July 2016, the Solar Impulse landed in Abu Dhabi after a 26,000-mile flight around the world.  Four solar-powered electric motors turned Solar Impulse’s propellers.

Solar powered plane ‘Solar Impulse 2’, piloted by Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard, flys over the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, after a flight from Hawaii (Photo by Jean Revillard via Getty Images)

For those who were out to see it, the Solar Impulse flew over the Golden Gate Bridge on its way east from Hawaii. I saw it from the end of Pier 39, at a great distance through my binoculars.

Certainly, this experimental phase of sustainable flight has been successful. But don’t pack your bags for a sustainable passenger flight just yet. The average speed of the Solar Impulse was just 45 mph. It is, essentially, a giant propeller-driven glider.

Small, privately-owned aircraft have been successfully converted to electric power for many years. For example, consider the very popular Piper J-3 Cub. Its gasoline engine is 65 horsepower and runs at 2,350 rpm. Piper Aircraft built over 20,000 J-3 Cubs between 1937 and 1947.  Most are still in service (the result of strict FAA requirements for very regular maintenance).

The Piper gasoline engine weighs 170 pounds. GE and other companies make DC (direct current) electric motors in the horsepower and rpm range of the Piper’s engine. The physical design is simpler. The engines weigh less than the Piper gasoline engine, and they are far more reliable. So, as you might expect, with modest engineering, electric motors can replace the original engines of this and similar small aircraft. And, among the experimental aircraft folks, they have been.

The Barrier to Sustainable Flight: A Potent Alternative Fuel Source

There are, however, three big problems standing in the way of sustainable passenger flights: fuel, fuel and fuel.

First, aviation fuel is, essentially, cheap kerosene. It has an enormous energy content per unit of weight; a 20-to-1 advantage over present-day rechargeable batteries. At issue is not “bang for the buck,” but “bang for the fuel volume/weight.”

Second, as the plane burns its fuel it gets lighter, and weight is everything in aircraft efficiency. This decrease in weight shapes all aspects of aviation, from take-off issues to high-altitude flight advantages and to the construction of landing runways. Indeed, if the landing weight of large passenger aircraft becomes the same as the take-off weight, all landing runways would have to be rebuilt to stronger and more expensive construction standards.

Turbojet Engine

Third, the most efficient aircraft engine for high speed flight is the turbojet. The turbojet compresses a fuel-air mixture and burns it at the front-end to spin the turbine. The turbine then drives the resulting compressed carbon dioxide (CO²) out the back of the jet to push the airplane. Designs of an equivalent electric motor driven compressor/jet are still “in the works.”

So, how much CO² does a turbojet spit out into the atmosphere? Using a standard calculation of passenger-space share in this carbon exhaust, every economy passenger taking a round-trip flight from San Francisco to New York and back is responsible for 2.32 metric tons of atmospheric CO². When you fly first class, the cost triples to almost seven (7) tons of CO² (since you take up more space and space equals weight). By comparison, the average total yearly household carbon footprint in California is about 21.5 metric tons of CO².

Sustainable Air Travel Is On the Horizon

Is there any hope at all for regular, practical, sustainable passenger flight? Well, Forbes Magazine recently published the following article: “Hybrid-Electric Passenger Jet Gets 100-Plane Launch Order from JetSuite.” See the article: https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelgoldstein/2018/05/22/hybrid-electric-passenger-jet-gets-100-plane-launch-order-from-jetsuite/#70d3bb435c08

Production orders are not made on the basis of vague hope. The concept behind this order is a sort of “air hybrid,” with a hybrid electric/gas turbine powertrain, which they expect to upgrade to full electric as the technology improves.

Apparently, they will pack the batteries in the wings and use a hybrid power unit generating 1,300 horsepower (1,000-kilowatts), driving two ducted fan engines, along with something called a “range extender” gas-only turbine mounted in the rear of the aircraft. This aircraft will carry 12 passengers and the delivery date is 2022. The cruise speed specified is 340 mph and the range is 1,000-miles. The estimated seat-cost per mile will be about 8-cents.

JetSuite claims they have been working with FAA for the last three years on small commercial passenger electric aircraft standards for certification.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, January 30, 2019. Email Wayne Lanier at waynelanier-phd@gmail.com

STEMming the Tide


By James Ware

It’s hard to be an optimist these days.

The United States is mired in cultural division, dissension and downright anger. The Trump Administration has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord.  Administration appointees seem intent on attacking our environment just about every day.  The Administration is trying to allow oil companies to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It is gutting anti-pollution regulations put in place to prevent the dumping of toxic waste into our rivers and lakes and the emission of toxic gasses into the air we breathe.

Yet, I remain hopeful. I believe we will see meaningful changes in Washington in 2019.  I also believe deeply in the creativity and commitment of our younger citizens. These youthful activists are increasingly applying their energy to environmental causes. They are also demanding racial justice, gender equality and gun safety.

The STEM Initiative

Perhaps the biggest contributor to this new level of environmental awareness is the educational initiative known as STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The STEM focus began with President Barack Obama’s 2011 State of the Union speech.  He called for upgrading science and mathematics education programs as “…our generation’s Sputnik moment.”

STEM skills promote practical solutions

Why is STEM so important? For me, it is the fact that STEM initiatives are not just about teaching more science and math courses. STEM’s goal is to integrate the scientific method and critical thinking into every curriculum area.  This includes history, biology, social studies and even the arts.

In fact, there is now a more recent movement to include the arts explicitly into STEM curriculum planning.  Some now call the initiative the STEAM program, because it adds “fuzzy” topics like creativity and design thinking to the skills students are encouraged to develop.

The STEM/STEAM approach is really about making science and math interesting and fun.  It does this by applying critical and innovative thinking to real-world problems. STEM students don’t just learn the periodic tables or conduct dull laboratory experiments. Their teachers encourage them to tackle significant challenges outside their classrooms and to develop creative solutions that actually can make a difference in the quality of human life.

Two STEM Successes

Consider these two examples of how young students are applying their STEM skills to solve real problems:

Microplastics

Melanie Quan is currently a sophomore at Los Lomas High School in Walnut Creek. Last year, as a freshman, she was the national winner of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award” for her project that developed a simple way to remove microplastic particles from water using an electrostatic filter (for a detailed discussion of plastic pollution, see Brad Waite’s “Earth Matters” column: https://sustainablerossmoor.org/wp-admin/post.php?post=2446&action=edit

Ms. Quan described her project at a Sustainable Rossmoor members’ meeting last August. We were all impressed not only with the quality of her solution to the significant pollution coming from microplastics, but also with her maturity and her presentation skills. If she is at all typical of her peers, the planet will be in good hands when her generation takes charge of our future.

Styrofoam

And for a second example, take a look at this TED talk from March 2017 by Ashton Cofer, then an 8th-grader at Gahanna East Middle School in Ohio: http://www.ted.com/speakers/ashton_cofer

It upset Cofer and several classmates to see so much Styrofoam waste littering beaches and garbage dumps.  They knew Styrofoam essentially does not decompose. However, when they learned Styrofoam, or polystyrene, is over 90 percent carbon, they got an idea. They figured out that heating and treating styrofoam with simple chemicals would turn the trash into an activated charcoal filter that could be used to purify water.

Now that is a double win if ever there was one!

Ashton and his team won the Scientific American Innovators Award, sponsored by Google. Not only that, they have received several patents for their design.  They’ve been awarded grants in excess of $25,000 to continue their research and turn those patents into viable products. And they were only 14 years old.

The Future Is in All Our Hands
STEM transfers lab skills to address real world issues and problems

“Kids are born scientists,” says Scientific American Editor-in-Chief Mariette DiChristina, “They ask great questions, and we should foster their efforts to learn the answers firsthand.”

I find these stories both inspiring and humbling. We are fortunate that young people today not only care about the environment but are actively tackling such globally important problems. These kinds of stories make me an optimist, in spite of the recent reports that we are running out of time to prevent a global climate disaster.

However, the kids can’t stave off disaster by themselves. Solving our global climate crisis is going to take a whole lot more than brilliant teenagers applying their STEM education. We have much to do, and many miles to travel before we can sleep in peace. STEM is helping, but every one of us has to contribute our own creativity and design thinking to everything we do, every day, if we are to survive another 20 years.

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, Jan. 16, 2019.  Email Jim Ware at: jim@jimware.com

How Can We Be Sure Our Food Is Safe?

By Joy Danzig

Is the food we buy safe to eat?  Is food containing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) really safe for consumption?  Are organically grown foods worth the additional cost?  Why aren’t food producers required to disclose GMO related information on food labels?

There is an on-going debate around the subject of GMOs.  GMO proponents emphasize the advantages of GMOs, e.g. increased crop yields, resistance to herbicides and pesticides.  Skeptics question whether such “benefits” are worth the trade-offs.  A significant factor in the debate centers around crops genetically modified to be impervious to glyphosate pesticides, such as Roundup.

The Background

Characterization of a genetic modification

An organism is genetically modified when genetic material from another organism is injected into its DNA. Both organisms are typically unrelated to each other.  Genetic engineers must force the DNA from one organism into another, because of natural barriers typically prevent transfer of DNA.  This is done by using viruses or bacteria to “infect” animal or plant cells with new DNA, or by firing the foreign DNA into a target cell with a special gun.

The rationale for growing GM crops is herbicides, such as Roundup, control weeds on a large scale. and the crops had to resist the herbicide to flourish.  Monsanto developed “Roundup Ready” seeds to sell to farmers.  Unlike traditionally cultivated seeds, farmers must purchase GMO modified seeds annually.

Monsanto’s Monopoly

By 2007, Monsanto established a virtual monopoly.  Its American Seeds, Inc. sold the most crop seeds in the United States.  The biochemical industry claimed GM crops, easily grown on a large scale, would provide enough food for ever-growing worldwide demand.  Critics say global food production is sufficient, but distribution is inadequate.  As with other commodities, corrupted agents disrupted the distribution of food.

As weeds mutate, growing stronger, resisting Roundup, they require more powerful, more toxic herbicides. A similar pattern occurs in insects, requiring more powerful, toxic pesticides.

Biotech companies, however, have not acknowledged the effects these modified foods have on human and animal consumption.  A GM Monsanto corn was found to have high concentrations of a neurotoxin.  Monsanto withdrew an application for its approval in Europe in 2009, after regulators raised safety questions.  No such withdrawal happened in the United States. Crops most often modified are soy, corn, canola (largely Canadian), sugar beets and alfalfa.  GMO soy, corn and alfalfa, used as animal feed, have resulted in GMO-contaminated meat and milk.  GM soy and corn derivatives contain additives in foods commonly consumed.

Concern Is Growing

The film “Modified” depicts an avid gardener’s concern that Canada and the United States do not require GMO labels on foods with GMO additives.  Worldwide, 64 countries require GMO labeling.  Her daughter contacted Health Canada repeatedly.  Sadly, the agency didn’t respond.  Sustainable Rossmoor featured the film in Rossmoor on Nov. 27, 2018.  In case you missed it, here’s a link: http://www.modifiedthefilm.com

Annie Taylor, a biology major at Middlebury College in Vermont, investigated Monsanto’s apparent evasion of regulatory oversight.  She attributes some of Monsanto’s success to the “revolving door” of employment between Monsanto and agencies regulating its products.  The regulatory agencies include: the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Notably, the Federal Government invalidated Vermont’s GMO labeling law, effective July 1, 2016.  The Federal Government required all states abide by its guidelines, which are confusing and inconsistent.  They also substitute the term “bioengineered” (BE) for “genetically modified” (GM).  Taylor’s paper, “The Evolution of Monsanto” by can be found on Middlebury’s Political Ecology of GMOs blog site: http://sites.middlebury.edu/politicalecologyofgmos/

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), based in the United States, recently published information concerning Roundup (primarily glyphosate).  EWG reported finding glyphosate in virtually all non-organic oat-containing foods.  The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined glyphosate is a likely cause of cancer. Information about the effects of genetically modified foods on human and animal health is growing, and documentation linking GM crops and chronic diseases is growing. For EWG’s website: https://www.ewg.org

Medical Concerns

Recently, physicians linked a growing number of diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease and other digestive disorders, to GM foods.  Children are especially vulnerable.  Researchers also report dangerous food allergies, asthma, eczema, neurodevelopmental diseases, such as autistic spectrum disorder, and obesity.

Developing internal organs in children are more susceptible to damage

In a 2018 GMO Science article, “We Can Turn Children’s Health Around,” Dr. Michelle Perro, an integrative (holistic) pediatrician practicing for over 37 years, wrote, “A staggering 1 in 2 American children now has a potentially lifelong disease. For the first time in modern history, children will be less healthy than their parents and will most likely live shorter lives.”  To access the GMO Science website: https://www.gmoscience.org

In 2017, Dr. Perro and medical anthropologist Vincanne Adams co-authored, “What is Making Our Children Sick? How Industrial Food is Causing an Epidemic of Chronic Illness and What Parents (and Doctors) Can Do About It.”  For more information about Dr. Perro: https://www.gordonmedical.com/team/michelle-perro-m-d/

In an interview, available online, with Jeffrey Smith, author, filmmaker and founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology (https://responsibletechnology.org/), Perro details her treatments and their results in patients and their families.  Perro also explains how toxins in GM foods pass into the circulatory system, due to intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”).   From the circulatory system, toxins may pass through the blood-brain barrier, leading to mental and emotional syndromes.  Her first-line treatment is for families to maintain an organic diet, which often produces immediate relief.  Smith’s extensive research corroborates much of Dr. Perro’s findings.

With awareness regarding GM foods, often containing glyphosate, reading labels, choosing organic, we can achieve food safety for ourselves, family and friends.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, January 2, 2019.  Email Joy Danzig at joyfuld@gmail.com