Category Archives: Earth Matters

Be Idle-Free

Be Idle-free. Drive-through service windows can be hazardous to your health. Air pollution is the culprit; if the car in front of you is idling, you are inhaling a concoction of toxins. The air intake in your car is near the tailpipe of the car idling in front of you, which quite normally produces carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, and to a lesser extent soot, sulfur dioxide, benzene, formaldehyde and polycyclic hydrocarbons. All of these pollutants are heavier than air. In idling traffic, these toxins have been proven to be 10 times higher inside your car than outside. Exhaust from diesel-powered vehicles is worse, including bio-diesel.

The toxins in vehicle exhaust, especially nitrogen dioxide, very significantly increase asthma and other lung diseases, heart disease and diabetes. Recent studies also show they decrease alertness and accumulatively lead to an increased rate of dementia. They cause an increased rate of lung and breast cancer in adults and leukemia, ovarian, testicular and retinal cancers in children – this includes exposure in the womb. Car exhaust also produces ground-level ozone, which is very harmful to eyes and lungs, unlike atmosphere ozone, which protects us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.

Exhaust from an idling vehicle is not just bad for humans; it’s bad for the Earth. Researchers estimate that unnecessary idling by personal vehicles in the United States produces 30,000,000 tons of CO2 every year. That’s the equivalent of 5 million extra cars on the road.

Modern cars don’t need to idle. Idling more than 10 seconds uses more fuel and produces more emissions that contribute to smog and climate change than stopping and restarting your engine. Idling 2 minutes uses enough gas to go one mile. It adds to engine wear and can damage some engine components. Exhaust coming from a tailpipe is considerably cleaner than it otherwise would be due to a catalytic converter, but the converter reduces emissions much more effectively when a car is moving than when it is idling. The useful life of a catalytic converter averages 100,000 miles. Your car’s air filter removes some dust and pollen, but is not protection from gaseous toxins. Hybrid cars automatically stop idling when not moving.

Because the concentration of these pollutants is maximal close to the ground, it makes them especially hazardous to children standing at the curb waiting for a school bus or parent at the pickup line after school or a sporting event. Children’s lungs are more than twice as vulnerable to air pollution as adults – with the exception of adults who have lung conditions. Asthma is the leading cause of hospitalization among children under the age of 15, is the most common chronic illness among children, and is the leading cause of most school absences. That’s why idle-free zones have been instituted at many schools. Schools encourage parents and others to sign an Idle-Free Pledge.

Both the Pittsburg and Martinez Unified Schools Districts have had idle-free zones for over three years. These were facilitated by parents, Boy Scout troops and other student organizations. The Mt. Diablo and Walnut Creek Unified Schools Districts are beginning such plans. Head Start Centers and Sustainable Contra Costa have been publicizing the idle-free campaign, as have public libraries. The Contra Costa Board of Supervisors very publicly signed the IdleFree Pledge in April, with many employees signing, too. Walnut Creek is considering putting an idle-free campaign on the agenda for future discussion by the council. So far, no local planning departments have incorporated signage in their permitting processes. Terry Tallen, owner of the Rossmoor Shopping Center where several drive-through service windows are planned, was not aware of this issue, but has the project manager Dwight Belden looking into it.

Some states and cities have laws against unnecessary idling. You can be subject to a fine in New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont, Hawaii and some cities in California, Colorado, Ohio and Utah. A few U.S. cities have even outlawed drive-through service windows.

Individually, we can save money, improve fuel efficiency and reduce engine wear while at the same time reducing air pollution by avoiding idling more than 10 seconds. We can avoid drive-through service windows in case the car in front hasn’t gotten the message.

Collectively we can take additional steps. Ask a merchant with a drive-through service window to post a sign and have employees remind customers. Encourage your grandchild’s school to establish idle-free zones at pickup areas if they don’t exist. Spread the word: Talk to your family, friends and neighbors about the benefits of reduced idling. We’ll all breathe easier when more vehicles are fossil-fuel free. For information, go to: Save your health. Save the planet. Save money. Idle less.

This article first appeared in the January 10, 2018 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author Carol Weed can be emailed at

A Landmark California Plan To Recharge Groundwater

An article by Matt Weiser in the Oct. 10 edition of News Deeply explains how a century of levee building has confined the state’s major rivers to narrow channels. A new policy aims to free them up again. The Yolo Bypass near Sacramento is a massive floodplain that only fills with water when the Sacramento River is running high. It helps divert floodwaters away from urban levees while also creating valuable fishery habitat. The state hopes to encourage more such projects. On Aug. 25, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board adopted the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan. It clears the way for the state to embrace projects that allow rivers to inundate historic floodplains for the first time in a century, thereby recharging groundwater.

The plan identifies $20 billion worth of flood-protection projects and priority locations for their construction. Many are focused on existing levees that are in poor condition or in locations vulnerable to increased flood flows likely to be caused by climate change. The plan does not require anything to be built and it does not include any construction money. The plan itself is an investment strategy according to Mike Mierzwa, chief of the office of flood planning at the California Department of Water Resources. “It outlines what it is we hope to achieve in both the Sacramento and San Joaquin basins (the largest in the state) within the next 30 years.”

In California, most of the levee maintenance and improvement is done by more than 50 small levee districts. Each oversees a local levee network that is part of the larger whole in the flood-prone Central Valley. Small property tax surcharges collected from local landowners are usually just enough to keep up with regular levee maintenance. These local agencies rely on state and federal dollars to build larger projects, such as reconstructing a levee or building new levees. The Central Valley Flood Protection Board oversees many of these decisions and is in a position to facilitate the implementation of new projects.

The timing coincides with two other major state programs. The first awards bond money from Proposition 1 for new water storage projects. The law allows for the California Water Commission to allocate the money only on the basis of the “public benefits” of new water storage projects, which can include things like flood protection and wildlife habitat. The second is the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which requires every aquifer in the state to be managed such that it does not suffer chronic depletion. The requirement means many groundwater management agencies will be looking for new ways to recharge their aquifers, which could include allowing floodwaters to inundate farm fields or dedicated floodplains.

California’s efforts have been partly inspired by the Netherlands, which launched its Room for the River Program years ago. The program recognizes that confining rivers to narrow, levied channels is risky because levees will always be vulnerable to decay, climate change and other threats. By moving the levees farther apart, water elevation between the levees is reduced, and a wider, more natural river channel is created.

The San Joaquin River region is a primary target of the state’s efforts because it suffers from severe groundwater depletion. This has caused major land subsidence that is damaging infrastructure, including levees and flood channels, which reduces their water-carrying capacity and increases flood risk. The San Luis Canal Company, a farm irrigation district based in Dos Palos, Calif., delivers surface water to a group of farms on the west side of the San Joaquin River. They are affected by land subsidence caused by another group of farmers outside their service area.

So the canal company, led by general manager Chase Hurley, approached the east side farmers about trying a groundwater recharge project. One farmer decided to sign on, agreeing not to plant almond and pistachio trees on a portion of his land, so it can be used instead to store floodwaters for aquifer recharge. The farmer plowed up berms around the recharge field to hold floodwaters diverted from the Fresno River and the Eastside Bypass, a flood control channel. It took two years before there was enough runoff to test the project.

But finally last winter, the rivers rose and the field could be flooded. Just in this one basin the ground took in over 30,000 acre-feet, recharging shallow aquifers and halting land subsidence caused by pumping from deep aquifers. As a result his neighbors started an organized effort to build similar structures. The new Central Valley Flood Protection Plan will make more of these projects possible. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act is motivating property owners. The result will be recharged aquifers, stabilized ground levels, increased habitat, less stressed urban levees and less urban flooding.

This article first appeared in the December 27, 2017 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author Judith Schumacher-Jennings can be emailed at

Next Time Take the Train

I like trains. I have great memories of traveling across Canada with my then two-year-old granddaughter; traveling through the Alps on a swift, quiet Swiss train; taking the snow train to Reno, etc. I have never taken the Coast Starlight to the Pacific Northwest, but hear it’s a beautiful ride and may do so later this month.

But, scenery isn’t the only thing that rail travel has in its favor. A person’s energy footprint is much lighter riding a train than on either air or auto travel. Amtrak has announced forthcoming eco-friendly trains that will offer a 90 percent reduction in emissions as well as require two-thirds less fuel than the traditional trains.

You probably read recently that Cal Train, which runs from San Jose to San Francisco, will soon be converted from diesel to electricity benefiting Bay Area air quality and noise level. The next big thing in the evolution of trains may be a shift to fuel cells. Trains started off burning wood, then shifted to coal before switching again to diesel and electricity. Fuel cell autos haven’t caught on yet, probably because of lack of filling stations carrying hydrogen. This is not a big hurdle for rail lines and Germany expects most of its trains to be converted from diesel to hydrogen in the next 10 to 15 years. As I’m sure you know, when hydrogen is combusted the bi-product is water….not smoke or smog.

According to the manufacturer, the new fuel cell trains will travel at up to 100 miles per hour and cover a distance of up to 1,000 km between refueling stops. I don’t know about you, but I’m pulling for Jerry Brown’s high-speed train from San Francisco to San Diego. It’s frustrating that the cost keeps going up, giving the Republicans a strong argument for canceling the project.

I can’t believe that China and many other countries are capable of economically building bullet trains, but we aren’t. Maybe if our national priorities were stronger on transportation and less on weapons of war, we could lead the world on train transportation instead of aircraft carriers and fighter jets. The United States has the best engineering brains in the world. Let’s put those brains to work making a more livable world. Trains will be an important part of that world.

This article first appeared in the December 13, 2017 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author Bob Hanson can be emailed at doctoroutdoors@

Residential Solar in Hawaii

My husband and I were vacationing on the island of Molokai last month when the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (HPUC) approved two new solar programs for residents who are interested in installing rooftop solar panels and energy storage systems. These new programs were intended to expand opportunities for residential rooftop solar, which were diminished after the HPUC ended the state’s Net Energy Metering (NEM) program in 2015.

A few months ago, the New York Times reported that several states, including Hawaii, had rolled back their solar incentives in response to efforts by a powerful and well-funded lobbying campaign by traditional utilities. I remember wondering how could this happen in Hawaii, a state that requires 100 percent renewable energy sources no later than 2045 – the most aggressive renewable energy targets in the nation. On the way from the Molokai airport to our vacation rental, I noticed many homes with solar panels on their roofs. Our driver, who is a Molokai native, told us that the island’s power company no longer allows new residential rooftop solar hookups because they unstabilize the grid. To satisfy my own curiosity, I got online and did a little digging.

Prior to HPUC’s 2015 landmark decision, Hawaii’s NEM customers were paid retail value for the excess power their system generated and exported to the utility grid. This and other state and federal incentives, plus the fact that Hawaii’s electricity rates are the highest in the United States., have made rooftop solar an attractive option to many residents who wish to lower their energy bills. The number of rooftop solar installations skyrocketed. According to a Greentech Media report, in 2015 Hawaii had more rooftop solar per customer than any other state – one of nine Hawaiian residences were photovoltaic (PV) powered.

But the high volume of rooftop solar systems interconnected to the grid has caused concerns about the reliability of Hawaii’s physically-limited electric grids. Island utilities began to delay approval of already-submitted applications and stopped accepting new applications. By 2015 thousands of customers of Hawaiian Electric, the state’s dominant utility, were waiting for approval to interconnect to the grid. Customer frustration was high.

In January 2015, Hawaiian Electric filed an application with the HPUC to end the state’s NEM program. In October the same year, the HPUC issued an order to shut down the NEM program to new customers and replace it with an interim program until regulators could come up with a more permanent solution that incentivizes adoption of new technology. The interim program gave permitting priority to solar systems with storage and reduced the compensation rates for power exported to the grid. Instead of retail prices, customers were paid much lower wholesale rates. The interim program quickly and drastically reduced the demand for residential solar. As Hawaii’s solar industry continued to lose jobs and the caps were maxed out, solar companies pressured the HPUC to raise caps, while the utilities tried to push customers to choose the more costly option with storage system.

HPUC’s new decision last month heavily favors technology. For example, it launched a Smart Export program that allows customers to store energy within batteries during off-peak hours and export that energy to the grid during peak hours. It also adopted a Controllable Customer Grid Supply program for non-storage systems, which requires advanced equipment to allow the utility to manage power from a customer’s PV system.

We’ve heard about potential grid overload that could happen in California sometime in the future, and about the emerging storage technology. At this point, storage systems don’t seem to make economic sense for many people because of their high cost. In Hawaii, during the two-year run of HPUC’s interim program, only 166 systems with storage have been energized, according to the Hawaii Solar Energy Association. However, like all new technologies, price for storage systems will eventually come down, and hopefully residents here in California who are interested in solar energy can take advantage of the advanced technology before we reach the point of grid overload.

This article first appeared in the November 29, 2017 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author Jennifer Mu can be emailed at

What About Chicken?

What About Chicken? Some of you readers with memories better than mine may recall that about a year ago I wrote a column for Earth Matters where I declared to the world that I was giving up eating beef because of the enormous amount of methane produced by cows and the effect of methane on global warming. I’m happy to say that I have been able to live up to that pledge pretty well and also have forsaken cow’s milk in favor of almond milk. My friend, Gene Gordon, and other members of the Vegan Club would like me to also give up all other animal products, but I’m not ready to take that step.

I do plan on paying more attention to how the chicken I eat was raised. In 2008, California voters passed legislation requiring that chickens be given room to move around. Sadly, chickens raised in other states and shipped into California are not covered by that legislation. Chickens raised and slaughtered in Georgia and other states in the South are still being kept in very un-humane conditions.

But my biggest concern is related to the use of antibiotics. Many chicken farmers routinely feed their birds doses of antibiotics nearly every day of their lives. These drugs turn a skittish, active backyard bird into a fast-growing, docile block of protein that can hardly move around. About 126 million pounds of antibiotics are fed to meat animals each year…not to cure illness, but to prevent it and promote growth. This naturally leads to germs that are antibiotic resistant. So when you and I come down with a disease, more and more drugs are proving to be ineffective. This is a grave threat and getting worse. Eighty percent of the antibiotics sold in this country each year are used for animals not humans.

Drug resistant infections have no celebrity spokesmen, little political support and few patients’ organizations advocating for solutions to the problem. These infections are a vast and growing problem for children in day care, people in nursing homes and anyone who goes to the gym. They are reportedly responsible for 700,000 deaths around the world each year.

For a long time, it was assumed the antibiotic resistance was due to misuse of the drugs… parents begging for the drugs even though their children had viral illnesses that antibiotics could not help; physicians miss-prescribing, etc. We now know that agricultural use of the drugs is the main problem.

While there have been many attempts to prohibit adding antibiotics to animal feed, the farm lobby so far seems to have defeated these efforts. Hopefully, these legislative efforts will continue, but until then, each of us should be asking our grocers about whether antibiotics were fed to the animals which produced the meat they sell, and look for meat which came from animals not fed the drugs, even though it may mean paying more for it.

This article first appeared in the November 15, 2017 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author Bob Hanson can be emailed at

Cap and Trade: Boon or Boondoggle

I am not a fan of the new Cap and Trade Extension Law, so just know that this column does not praise the signing into law of AB 398 as most of the popular press has done since July. I am in good company in my concerns that California’s green future is in jeopardy because of it. Over 50 environmental organizations fought this version of a Cap and Trade Extension, including Food and Water Watch, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth,, the California Environmental Justice Alliance, the Courage Campaign, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Interfaith Climate Action Network, Consumer Watchdog and Citizens Climate Lobby.

The California Cap and Trade Program began in 2012 and is due to expire in 2020. It allows polluters to keep polluting as long as they pay a fee to the state in the form of buying carbon credits at quarterly auctions. Since 2012, California has enjoyed a slight decrease in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. At least 80 percent of this reduction can be attributed to enacting regulations, not to the Cap and Trade Program. These regulations have included mandates to increase renewable energy and improve fuel efficiency standards. Environmentalists were enthusiastic about SB775, a competing Cap and Trade Extension bill that would have put a higher price on carbon, mandating significant curbs on polluting and providing environmental justice for frontline communities suffering disproportionately from its effects. Industry and business did not share this enthusiasm; SB775 was never brought up for discussion in its first committee.

Major big supporters of AB398 included the Western States Petroleum Association (Big Oil), the Chamber of Commerce and enough Republicans to provide a challenge-proof two-thirds vote. Several amendments accepted at the last minute made it more palatable to cash-strapped Central Valley counties, big agriculture and others. Governor Jerry Brown pushed hard for AB398; it got tense at times with backroom deals and nasty threats.

The new Cap and Trade Law will take effect in 2020 and extend until 2030. One concern is that polluters will be provided more free carbon credits than in the current program. Calculations show that instead of providing any “cap,” GHG emissions may rise. Already it seems that carbon auctions have not generated the promised windfall of cash. In February only 16 percent were sold; in May only 2 percent were sold. Industries had enough free credits to meet their caps and didn’t need to buy any. Also, companies may bank credits, meaning that previously accrued credits can be carried forward, which enables increased pollution.

The legislature has already planned how they will spend future profits that may be imaginary. Whether the money will actually be collected to pay for the governor’s $1.5 billion green spending plan is seriously in doubt. Even if the legislature’s budgetary assumptions turn out to be accurate, is allowing the state to be bought off by polluters really a good bargain?

Another concern is the inherent unfairness of “carbon offsets.” The number of offsets has been increased in the new law. For example, a corporation such as Chevron (the largest stationary emitter of GHGs in California) is allowed to plant trees in the central valley while exposing the residents of Richmond to increasing amounts of pollution including nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide, as well as particulate air pollution, These have caused an increase in the rates of asthma, heart disease and cancer among people living near these refineries – people who are disproportionately people of color. It’s worth noting that 75 percent of the crude oil imported into the United States is refined here and then exported for sale abroad.

As if this all isn’t bad enough, another provision of the law removes the regulation of air pollution from local control to the state. The state’s California Air Resources Board (CARB) has already prevented the refinery caps that were about to be passed this September by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD). Due to state control, Chevron is now permitted to expand its operations, making way for the import and refining of much dirtier forms of oil, for exam for example, tar sands crude.

If you are wondering why two-thirds of both the Assembly and the California Senate passed this bill, it could be called political compromise, or corporate money’s impact on politics. Or racism. Or if you were sitting in the Senate Energy Committee chamber as I was, you would have seen Governor Brown scowling throughout the entire proceedings, imaginary whip in hand. He can be a scary fellow.

This article first appeared in the October 25, 2017 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author Carol Weed can be emailed at


How Much Does Global Warming Increase the Power of Hurricanes?

Readers can actually estimate the impact of global warming on hurricanes for themselves. Here we use kitchen measure rather than metric.

In his New York Times editorial of Sept. 12, “Irma, and the Rise of Extreme Rain,” columnist David Leonhardt published a graph of global yearly average surface temperature from 1905 to today. These averages were taken from actual measurements around the world (some scientists, for example Dr. Charles Keeling at the Mauna Loa Observatory, actually spent a lifetime measuring temperature and other atmospheric and ocean data).

Converting Leonhardt’s graph data to Fahrenheit, the ocean surface temperature has increased just a little over 2-degF in the hundred years between 1917 and 2017. The graph is bumpy, but none of the bumps or dips are at all far off the line gradually moving upward.

Now as all of us who watched MSNBC or public television learned during this 2017 rather impressive hurricane season, the energy of a hurricane is gained by heat-transferred from the water over which it travels. This is a dynamic and complex phenomenon, but the weather folks, using super-computers, can model this process sufficiently to reasonably accurately predict the path, the strength and the behavior of a hurricane.

Yes, there were slight corrections that had to be made as the various hurricanes proceeded this August and September across the Gulf and Atlantic to landfall, but the predictions were startlingly accurate. Here we will not attempt anything that complicated. We will simply ask one question: For a 150-mile diameter hurricane, how much difference does an extra 2-degF make in its power?

A water heater measures heat in British Thermal Units (BTU). One Btu is the energy required to raise 1-pound of water 1-degF. If you have a gas water heater, you get your bill in dollars-per-therm, the cost of gas to produce 100,000 BTU. If you have an electric water heater, your bill is the cost of the number of kilowatt hours to do the same work. Here we only consider the extra energy 2-degF warmer water adds to the hurricane. So that comes to 2-BTU for every pound of water at the surface of the ocean.

When scientists make simplifying assumptions, they always simplify in the opposite direction of what they want to show. We know that the ocean also adds heat from below the surface layer, but that requires complicated heat transfer equations and we would need a powerful computer. So we will consider only the surface transfer of heat. Now a pound of water is, the world around, a pint of water. And the volume of a pint is 0.0167-cubic feet. Which tells us that if we consider the top 0.0167-ft (about 1-quarter-inch) of ocean water, 1-square-foot in area, as the source of heat energy for the hurricane – we can roughly estimate the average extra energy gained from every square foot of today’s 2-degF warmer water as 2-BTU extra energy per square foot of hurricane. For a small 150-mile diameter hurricane, that comes to around 500,000,000,000-BTU.

That is a big number, but energy can be expressed in all sorts of ways. If you look around on the Internet, you can find a conversion of energy in BTU to energy in kilotons of TNT explosion. I ran the conversion and came up with 126-kilotons. The Hiroshima bomb, called “Little Boy,” was estimated as 15-kilotons TNT. So the extra energy gain from 2-degF water warming a 150-mile hurricane is roughly the equivalent of eight atom bombs.

Of course, hurricanes do not stay in one place. They move across the water slowly. So if we stay with our simple model, every 150 miles a 150-mile diameter hurricane moves adds another extra eight atom bombs of destructive power.

This article first appeared in the October 11, 2017 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author Wayne Lanier can be emailed at

The End of Fossil Fuels Is Near

The Trump administration is planning on radical actions to advance a dirty energy agenda. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has issued a report stating that nuclear and coal are vital to our national security.

For decades, dirty energy promoters have tried to sell their products under the banner of “energy independence.” Three mile island, Chernobyl and Fukushima should make all of us leery of nuclear power. For good reasons, all of California’s nuclear power plants have been shut down except Diablo Canyon, and its days are numbered.

Coal, natural gas and petroleum are still rather abundant on planet Earth, but because of the threat of climate change, most scientists believe that their use should be greatly reduced. It is common sense that at some point in the future they will be gone anyway, because they aren’t being produced any more and the supply is finite.

Wind power and solar power are growing by leaps and bounds as alternatives to fossil fuels, but have limitations: The wind doesn’t always blow 24 hours a day and solar power isn’t produced at night. Improved storage capacity is part of the answer here, but I believe that future generations will rely more on a power source yet largely undeveloped…the heat from the core of the Earth. Here is a power source that is non-polluting, goes 24 hours a day, won’t ever run out and is virtually unlimited.

A small amount of the electricity we use each day is produced at geo-thermal wells here in Northern California. The area we live in has many hot springs and even a few geysers, which is an indication that the core earth heat is closer to the surface here than in most places. Geo-thermal wells have been utilized in Lake County to produce electricity for the past 40 to 50 years.

What has been done up until now has merely scratched the surface of the Earth. The heat at the Earth’s core exists in huge amounts, is completely renewable and emits no carbon dioxide. This heat at the core of the Earth has two sources: About a third of it has been stored there since the planet was formed. The other two-thirds have their origin in the decay of radioactive isotopes in the Earth’s crust.

This process produces heat where temperatures rise the deeper one goes. The process involves pouring water into the deep hole and harnessing the steam that comes back up to power turbines.The reason geo-thermal hasn’t advanced more rapidly than it has is due to the fact that the hot rocks needed are far below the Earth’s surface. Even in most of the western United States the drilling must reach depths of 5,000 feet or more. In the east, the wells must be even deeper. The limiting factor so far has been developing drilling systems what are capable of reaching the needed depths.

Fortunately, the Norwegians, Germans and Swedes are working on developing drill bits that are up to the task. The bits must be capable of drilling through bedrock which is much harder than what we have had to contend with in most petroleum recovery areas. One Norwegian company is developing an electric percussion rotary drill that crushes rock by hammer-like blows while the drill-bit turns.

Government funded research into geo-thermal was active in the 1970s and 80s, but greatly reduced when oil prices dropped. Maybe it’s time to put some money into this again, instead of continuing to subsidize oil and nuclear projects. Other potential energy sources that badly need research dollars are tidal energy and wave energy. Let’s say goodbye to oil and coal.

This article first appeared in the September 27, 2017 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author, Bob Hanson, can be emailed at doctoroutdoors@

The Dangers of Roundup In Food and the Environment

Ever wonder why so many people prefer to eat organic food and are even willing to pay more for it? Or why so many people are suddenly gluten sensitive when they eat wheat or other grains which contain gluten? And, why are there such increases in the rates of allergies, asthma, auto-immune diseases, cancers, autism, dementia and other modern diseases of the western world?

Human beings, along with all living things and our environment, have never before in history been exposed to so many different synthetic chemicals nor in such large amounts. Some scientists think of it as a grand experiment. This exponential increase in chemical use parallels the increases in modern diseases.

The use of so many chemicals in our daily lives started after World War II when large chemical companies that had manufactured chemical weapons, nerve gas and mustard gas no longer had a market for their products. So, they diluted their products and sold them to the public to use as pesticides, (an umbrella term that includes herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and rodenticides).

One of these companies, Monsanto, produced an herbicide called Roundup. Roundup has become the most heavily used herbicides in history. There’s a good chance that when you sit on a park bench, walk along the pavement or lean on a fence, you’ll come into contact with Roundup.

Because Monsanto has been so successful in claiming it is very safe, it is sometimes used indiscriminately, sloshed all over sidewalks, parks and landscaping. It is also heavily used by farmers, particularly those in large industrial agriculture.

On July 7, 2017, Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, was listed on the Proposition 65 list as, “known to the state of California to cause cancer.” It had already been listed as a “probable carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health organization.

Scientists have found Roundups’ glyphosate is a unique chemical that destroys the beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract thus allowing the pathogenic bacteria to overgrow. Many scientists think that is why it is capable of causing so many different types of diseases.

Our “good” gut bacteria is very important to our ability to stay healthy. Because Roundup and other glyphosate based herbicides are the most widely used in the world and have been used for decades, despite Monsanto’s claims of safety, many people worldwide have discovered its negative effects.

Roundup Ingredient Label

Many countries, cities and localities around the world have either banned glyphosate based herbicides like Roundup or greatly restricted its use. It is banned in the Netherlands, Sri Lanka and Malta. Sri Lanka banned it because it was linked to a fivefold increase in chronic kidney disease resulting in roughly 20,000 deaths in Sri Lanka’s farming communities.

Another reason we are exposed to so much glyphosate (it is in our air, soil, water and in the bodies of 99.6 percent of us), is because of genetically engineered food crops. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are food crops or animals that have had a gene from another completely different organism, plant or animal, forced into them through genetic engineering. This has been done to corn, soy, canola, sugar beets and a handful of other widely used crops.

Monsanto has developed these genetically engineered foods for the express purpose of making them “Roundup ready,” which means, capable of withstanding massive amounts of Roundup without dying. Because Monsanto has patented these seeds, it not only makes money on the patent, it sells more and more Roundup, not only because the crops can withstand more, but also because “superweeds” have developed which are also capable of withstanding more Roundup.

In 1996, New York’s attorney general won a lawsuit against Monsanto for using “false and misleading advertising” in claiming it was, “safer than table salt,” “practically nontoxic” and “stayed where you put it.”

Monsanto has also claimed that genetically engineered food will produce higher yields, and, thus, “feed the world,” but this claim has proven untrue.

An environmental group, also in New York, is suing the Environmental Protection Agency for ignoring the dangers of glyphosate, which it claims has caused the demise of the Monarch butterfly population. Glyphosate has also been linked to harming honeybees and contributing to colony collapse disorder.

An article titled, “Roundup Revealed – Glyphosate in our Food System” says, “The modern industrial food system, which heavily uses herbicide-resistant GE crops, is increasingly understood to be unsustainable. Investors, companies and communities will all benefit from a more sustainable food system that will feed the planet today and for generations to come with reduced human and environmental impact.” We cannot afford the health consequences or the environmental damage caused by the use of Roundup and other toxic chemicals.

This article first appeared in the September 6, 2017 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author Karen Perkins can be emailed at

The Solar Eclipse: What Happens to Solar Energy?

On Monday, Aug. 21, the Great American Total Solar Eclipse will be seen only in the United States, the first such exclusive event in the nation’s history. The moon will pass in front of the sun; the sky will become dark and the air temperature will drop.

There will be a total eclipse with the moon covering all of the sun if viewed from a 70 miles wide “path of totality” as the duo pass over northern Oregon, travel east and exit land over South Carolina. The trip will take most of the day and the sky will be darkened for many hours, but in any one location the total eclipse lasts less than three minutes.

The total eclipse reveals the sun’s corona (the sun’s outer atmosphere) as well as bright stars and planets. The last time a total eclipse could be viewed in United States was in 1979; the last time it passed from coast to coast was 1918.

If you think you’ll now read advice about not looking directly at the sun, even during an eclipse, you’re correct. This is especially true for seniors because our retinas and optic nerves are already affected by age. The safest way to view an eclipse is on TV or streaming online. Sunglasses are not protective and neither is viewing it through a camera or binoculars.

There’s another precaution to take: Avoid using electricity as much as possible. California currently gets about 10 percent of its energy from the sun – more than six times as much as the next ranking state, North Carolina, followed closely by Arizona and Nevada. In the Bay Area, MCE Clean Energy includes 9 percent solar in its energy mix for basic Light Green customers and 25 percent solar for customers who opt up to the Deep Green (100 percent renewables). PG&E includes 13 percent solar energy in its standard mix. But both these energy providers as well as 80 percent of utilities in California put their energy on the grid. So do most owners of rooftop solar. Owners of solar panels who are “living off the grid” have backup storage or generators in preparation for sunless periods far more extreme than a solar eclipse.

The problem is timing; California’s 10 percent solar energy is an average over all the hours in a year – day and night, summer and winter. The eclipse will darken our skies during a time when solar power can account for as much as 40 percent of the load on the statewide electricity grid.

Power experts believe as much as two-thirds of that clean energy will be lost as the moon’s shadow rolls across the state. But, Cal-ISO says it’s ready. The California Independent System Operator (CAISO), nicknamed Cal-ISO, says it’s ready for the solar eclipse. It manages California’s electrical grid – that complex interconnected network of cables, transformers and other infrastructure that delivers electricity from producers to consumers.

In fact, solar is the easiest portion of the energy mix for it to adjust, either up or down. It’s done just that when there was too much solar power on the grid, as there was several days already this year. CAL-ISO will compensate for the lack of solar power during the eclipse the same way it does any night of the week. However, at night, a large part of the population reduces electricity use substantially.

It’s anticipated that during the eclipse up to 6,000 megawatts of power will be lost in CA, an amount that by itself could supply about 4 million homes. So CAL-ISO is asking people to be thoughtful about energy use all day on Monday, Aug. 21. Lower or turn off your air conditioning and fans; remember it’ll be cooler without full sunlight. If possible, avoid cooking, washing clothes or using hot water. In fact, you could turn off your hot water heater (if you know how). Unplug appliances, including electronics not in use.

Amazingly, 23 percent of the electricity used to power homes is consumed while electronic devices are turned off. That’s right – turned off. So if you want to save 23 percent on your electricity bill, unplug electronic devices every day and night when not in use.

On the fun side, there will be many street festivals and celebrations throughout the country, including San Francisco’s Embarcadero, the Lindsay Wildlife Experience in Walnut Creek, the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley and the Chabot Space and Science Center on Skyline Boulevard in Oakland.

In 2024, the next total eclipse will travel in an almost opposite diagonal from Maine to Texas. Want to see a 100 percent total eclipse from San Francisco? It’s going to be a while . . . you’ll have to wait until Dec. 31, 2252.

This article first appeared in the August 16, 2017 issue of the Rossmoor News. Author, Carol Weed can be emailed at carol4ofa@ This column relies on information from NASA,, the Solar Energy Industries Association, the Press Enterprise,, the Mercury News and the Pleasanton Patch.