One of Three Mile Island’s two nuclear reactors melted down in 1979, just three months after going online. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to obfuscate is to be evasive, unclear or confusing. Other synonyms include cloud, muddy, fog, blur, obscure, divert, complicate, and confound.
On May 26, Voice of OC published an opinion piece from professor emeritus Roger Johnson which explains why California rightfully decided in 1976 to ban construction of new nuclear power plants and why recent calls, to both extend the operating license of Diablo Canyon, the state’s last operating nuclear plant, and to build new ones nationwide, are seriously misguided. His reasoning includes that “nuclear power is the most expensive, the most unreliable, the most dangerous, and the most environmentally unfriendly form of energy production.”
John Dobken is a spokesperson for Southern California Edison, the operator of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Clemente which was shuttered in 2013 following radiation releases caused by steam generator failure. His rebuttal to Johnson, published in the Voice of OC on June 6, is a lesson in the art of obfuscation.
In his opening salvo, Dobken’s examples of “new supporters” for nuclear energy are a Brazilian model, an advocacy group headed by a singer-turned-nuclear-enthusiast, California voters identified in an online poll, and unnamed “various community members who value service through membership in civic groups.” The listing intentionally obscures the fact that no nuclear experts are cited. Omitted, for example, is the blockbuster joint statement issued in January by nuclear authorities from the United States, France, Germany and Great Britain detailing strong opposition to any expansion of nuclear power as a strategy to combat climate change.
Appeared: E-The Environmental Magazine, 10-May, 2022 Irvine Community News & Views, 12-May, 2022 Fullerton Observer, Mid-May, 2022 Times of San Diego, 16-May, 2022 SoCal Water Wars, 13 June, 2022
Former nuclear regulatory top dogs from the United States, France, Germany and Great Britain issued a joint statement in January strenuously opposing any expansion of nuclear power as a strategy to combat climate change. Why? There is not a single good reason to build new nuclear plants. Here are ten solid reasons not to.
Nuclear is too slow to tackle climate change. The new generation of proposed commercial nuclear plants, so called Advanced and Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), are at best decades away in designing and building. The latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change makes clear that limiting global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) means “achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions globally in the early 2050s.” Wind and solar farms can be up and running in just a few months or years. Renewables can power the world by 2050, according to financial think tank Carbon Tracker.
Nuclear energy is too costly. Renewables like wind and solar are already the world’s cheapest form of energy, and their prices continue to tumble. By 2019, utility-scale renewable energy prices had already fallen to less than half that of nuclear. Together with lower natural gas prices, there’s been little momentum in the United States to construct new nuclear plants for decades. Expanding nuclear power would translate into higher energy costs for consumers.
Nuclear is neither carbon-free nor non-polluting. While it’s true that the electricity produced by an operating nuclear plant doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, mining and enrichment of uranium are carbon intensive and pollute the air with potent greenhouse gases called chlorofluorocarbons. Radioactivity releases into air and water from nuclear plants are routine. And, the United States has already accumulated 85,000 metric tons of highly radioactive commercial spent fuel waste, the most dangerous pollutant known to man.
The problem of permanent disposal of nuclear waste remains technically unsolvable for the short or long term. Though the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 mandated construction of a permanent deep geologic repository to safely isolate nuclear waste for a million+ years, four decades hence there is literally no progress. Consequently, the nation’s commercial nuclear plants are, for the foreseeable future, de facto nuclear waste dumps.
Nuclear is non-renewable. Like coal, oil and natural gas, uranium is a finite resource. The United States imports nearly half its uranium from Russia and its two close allies, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Uranium was not included in the Biden administration’s recent ban on energy imports from Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
Proposals for constructing “temporary” storage solutions—so-called consolidated interim storage sites (CIS)—are a diversion from the fact that a proven geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel doesn’t exist anywhere on earth. Governors of Texas and New Mexico are fighting against CIS facilities in their states for fear of becoming permanent dumps. Moving nuclear waste all across the country to CIS facilities creates risks of radiation accidents along transportation corridors.
The nuclearwaste dry storage canisters used throughout most of the United States are thin-walled (1/2 to 5/8 inch)and unsafe for storage or for off-site transport. They are susceptible to short-term cracking but can’t be inspected for cracks or monitored to prevent radiation releases. Other countries use thick-walled (10 to 19 inch) metal casks which are designed to prevent cracking, can be monitored, and survived the 9.0 Fukushima earthquake.
The nuclear meltdowns at Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Three Mile Island demonstratedthere is no room for human erroror natural disasterswhen it comes to anything nuclear. Moreover, human civilizations come and go: The Roman Empire lasted short of 1,000 years. Humanity can’t guarantee the safety of even our current nuclear reactors let alone ensure that future civilizations will stay clear of nuclear waste dumps for the next million+ years.
Nuclear plants are sitting ducks for terrorist attacks, whether still operating or storing nuclear waste. Dry storage canisters are stored onsite in the wide open in so-called Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installations. Vulnerability to malfeasance was driven home recently by the ease with which Russia captured both the Chernobyl site and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant early in the invasion of Ukraine.
The idea that Advanced and Small Modular Reactors can save the day is magical thinking, as they’re a completely unproven concept. On the order of ten thousand SMRs would be needed to impact climate change in time. This would create thousands more radioactive dump sites and as many opportunities for both nuclear accidents from human error or natural disasters and weapons proliferation from the plutonium generated by nuclear reactors.
Getting to net zero carbon emissions by the early 2050s requires the greatest reduction in carbon emissions in the shortest time and at the lowest cost. That nuclear can’t deliver on this and should be banned is the outspoken position of the former head of the Nuclear Regulatory commission, Gregory Jazcko.
The “all hands on deck” approach espoused by too many politicians to explain support for new nuclear is blatantly faulty, given that every dollar misspent on new nuclear is a dollar not invested in energy efficiency and faster, cheaper renewables. Expanding nuclear will assuredly retard progress on solving the climate crisis.
Versions appeared: Voice of OC, 01-Feb, 2022 Fullerton Observer, Early Feb Edition (p.20), 2022 Irvine Community News & Views, 28-Jan, 2022 Times of San Diego, 26-Jan, 2022 E-The Environmental Magazine, 24-Jan, 2022
Humans have demonstrated seemingly unlimited capacity for innovation. We’ve mastered flight, mapped our own genome, and invented the telescope and internet. So why are we so lackadaisical, so inept, at tackling the climate crisis, the greatest existential threat we’ve ever faced?
It’s not because we’ve lost the knack for innovation. Clever minds, for example, have recently figured out how to make clothing from cotton engineered to perform like and replace petroleum-derived polyester synthetics which are polluting our air, water, food and bodies with non-biodegrading plastic microfibers.
Nor is it because we don’t know what needs to be done: Stop dumping carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
So, what’s at the root of humanity’s incompetence when it comes to solving the climate crisis?
For a while it was easy to invoke the “slow boil” explanation, that climate change is such a slowly evolving threat that humans behave like the frog thrown into a cool pot of water heated up so gradually the frog doesn’t notice it’s being cooked alive. Certainly, this explanation is no longer credible given that essentially every region of the world is experiencing increasingly frequent, record-shattering climate extremes like wildfires, droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, melting glaciers and rising sea level.
That heads of state, climate experts and climate activists have been convening annually for 26 straight years to address the climate crisis (the so-called Conference of the Parties, or COP) is further evidence that the slow boil hypothesis has worn thin. In fact, COP 26 just concluded in November with the unhappy news that even the unenforceable pledges for cutting greenhouse emissions of the nearly 200 attending countries will fall short of the reductions needed to prevent the worst impacts of global warming.
The fundamental reasons for our failure to tackle climate change are two-fold: unbridled corporate capitalism and the failure of governments to act in the public interest.
Appeared: SoCalWaterWars, Aug 19, 2021 E-The Environmental Magazine, Aug 19, 2021 Irvine Community News & Views, Aug 23, 2021 Times of San Diego, Sept 4, 2021 OB Rag, Sept 8, 2021 Fullerton Observer, Sept 9. 2021 Voice of OC, Sept 16, 2021
Beachfront location of SONGS (Photo: Southern California Edison)
If you live in Orange or San Diego County, hopefully you’re aware of plans to allow San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) to remain a nuclear waste dump for the foreseeable future. Regardless of your global location, you’re wise to be tracking domestic and foreign moves to increase reliance on nuclear energy.
Three quarters of a century ago the United States ushered in the atomic age by dropping a uranium bomb on Hiroshima and a plutonium bomb on Nagasaki. We now have 3.6 million pounds of these and other lethal radioactive elements sitting on the beach at SONGS in temporary canisters, scheduled to remain here indefinitely.
While the world might be waking up to the urgency of the climate crisis, no one has figured out how to safely dispose of deadly nuclear waste. Yet, the United States and the world propose to create more of it by extending the life of nuclear power plants and building new ones. Has the world learned nothing from the catastrophes of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima? Read the rest of this entry »
Versions appeared in: Natural Life Magazine, 04-Apr, 2019 E-The Environmental Magazine, 04-Apr, 2019 Fullerton Observer, Mid-Apr, 2019 (p.20) Times of San Diego, 18-Apr, 2019 Escondido Grapevine, 20-Apr, 2019 Irvine Community News & Views, Summer, 2019
The next U.S. presidential election is being transformed because children everywhere, watching in disbelief as grownups fail to address the climate crisis, are launching their own climate movements.
In contrast to the 2016 election – where exactly zero questions about global warming were posed during the general election debates – the lineup of presidential candidates are already being pressured to do something about the climate threat, and it’s our kids doing it.
Of the two largest youth climate movements in the United States, one originated here and one abroad.
The Sunrise Movement is a student-led political organization which sprang up prior to the mid-term elections to advocate for transitioning to renewable energy. Half of the 20 candidates Sunrise supported for refusing to accept fossil fuel money won election.
Now, Sunrise is aggressively promoting the Green New Deal (GND), a congressional resolution outlining an ambitious economic stimulus package to drive down greenhouse gas emissions while creating green jobs and addressing income inequality. It’s nothing short of an economic and social revolution.
That children confronting an elected official for not supporting the GND can deliver a powerful political gut punch was driven home when Senator Diane Feinstein’s condescending response to young activists went viral.
Versions Appeared: E–TheEnvironmental Magazine, 19-Mar, 2019 Escondido Grapevine, 27-Mar, 2019 Times of San Diego, 30-Mar, 2019 Voice of OC, 08-Apr, 2019 Irvine Community News & Views, 08-Apr, 2019
Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act addresses the climate crisis head on.
A bipartisan bill introduced January in the House of Representatives inspires hope that our children and grandchildren can be saved from what scientists tell us is an ongoing and growing climate disaster.
The evidence is incontrovertible that the climate is in crisis and that burning fossil fuels is the primary cause. A recognized global authority on climate change has warned that there is precious little time left, just 12 years, to drastically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions enough to avert the worst effects of climate change. By putting a price on carbon emissions, TheEnergy Innovation and Carbon DividendAct (H.R.763) shines a spotlight directly on the hidden costs of burning fossil fuels and very swiftly reins in GHG emissions. Here’s how it would work and how it’s a win-win for the public and industry.
A steadily rising price is placed on the carbon content of fossil fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas – when they enter the economy. It starts low ($15/ton of CO2-equivalent emissions) and increases yearly by $10/ton until GHG emissions are reduced by 90 percent. The predictable increases in fossil energy prices stimulate the market-driven innovation needed to transition to renewable energy sources, all without government intervention: no subsidies and no new rules and regulations.
Appeared: E-The Environmental Magazine, 17-Oct, 2018 San Diego Free Press, 24-Oct, 2018 Natural Life Magazine, 24-Oct, 2018 The Sunbury News, 26-Oct, 2018 Fullerton Observer, Early Nov, 2018 (p.17) Times of San Diego, 04-Nov, 2018 The Escondido Grapevine, 13-Nov, 2018 Voice of OC, 16-Nov, 2018 Irvine Community News & Views, 14-Dec, 2018
Mankind has only 12 years left to make unprecedented cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions if we want to stave off unimaginably catastrophic effects of runaway global warming. This is the warning detailed in October’s report from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the recognized global climate authority which represents the investigations of hundreds of climate scientists and 195 participating nations.
A 2.0 degree Celsius average global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels was previously viewed by the IPCC as the tipping point beyond which global warming would spiral out of control with incomprehensibly negative consequences for humanity and the planet. We are fully half way to this cut-off, but more to the point is the revised projection by the IPCC that the worst effects will emerge with a smaller temperature rise of just 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Preventing the 1.5 degree rise necessitates, by 2030, a 45 percent reduction in GHG emissions compared to 2010 levels, with “net zero emissions by 2050” which means all emissions need be balanced by removal of an equivalent amount from the air.
If GHG emissions continue instead at the current rate, the 1.5 degree mark will be reached in 2040, producing environmental havoc that effectively ensures the end of civilization as we know it. Picture a future defined by poverty, food shortages, coastal flooding, mass migrations, ferocious storms, bigger and more intense wildfires, plus unrelenting heat that makes parts of the world unlivable.
Hearing this, Americans should be screaming from the rooftops, demanding to know how our government will prevent this very real existential threat to our own and our children’s future.
Appeared in various versions: Times of San Diego, 12-Jul, 2018 San Diego Free Press, 16-Jul, 2018 Natural Life Magazine, 16-Jul, 2018
OB Rag, 18-Jul, 2018 E-The Environmental Magazine, 27-Jul, 2018 Voice of OC, 02-Aug, 2018 Fullerton Observer, Aug, 2018 (p.2)
Photo credit: Sander van der Wel
How often do we talk about climate change to family, friends or coworkers? Probably next to never if we’re like most people.
Yale’s national polling reveals that the majority of Americans accept that global warming is happening (73 percent) and are worried about it (63 percent). Even more want carbon dioxide, or CO2, regulated as a pollutant (81 percent).
Given these stats and the warning of scientists that the time window to prevent the worst impacts of climate change is closing fast, what keeps us from openly discussing it?
The answer is complex. For starters, many of us were raised in a bygone era where talking politics (and religion) was considered simply impolite. That climate change has become such a politically divisive issue adds weight to the interpersonal risk people naturally experience in bringing up any sensitive topic, even with intimates.
There is also the fact that humanity is ill equipped to respond to the kind of threat posed by a warming planet. Addressing climate change demands an approach to problem solving outside our past experience as a species. Humans are quite adept at addressing “here and now” challenges like putting out a forest fire. However, human history has not prepared us to respond to, or even easily comprehend, a long-term global problem like climate change because it unfolds so gradually over time and in the form of exacerbation of happenings not completely new to us.
Appeared: Irvine Community News & Views, July 2018 (p. 9)
California Congressional District 45
The California Primary contest for the “top two” candidates in Congressional District 45 is over. On November 5, incumbent Rep. Mimi Walters will be facing UCI law professor Katie Porter. The City of Irvine lies entirely within District 45, and the fact that Irvine residents comprise 40 percent of the district’s population means Irvine voters are extremely important to determining who will win.
The voters whom both Walters and Porter need to attract are increasingly concerned about climate change. Fully 73 percent of registered voters believe that climate change is happening, and 59 percent believe it is mostly caused by human activities, according to the latest national poll. At the constituent level – even if not in the halls of Congress – climate change has become noticeably less “political.” Belief in human-caused climate change is still strongest among Democrats, but now includes a significant majority of liberal/moderate Republicans as well as voters with no party preference (small “i” independents). “Worry” about climate change has even increased by 7 points among conservative Republicans since just last October.
Mimi Walters serves the 45th Congressional District which includes Irvine, Tustin, North Tustin, Villa Park, Laguna Hills, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Rancho Santa Margarita, Mission Viejo, the Canyons and parts of Anaheim Hills, Coto de Caza and Orange.
Appeared: Voice of OC, 27-Mar, 2018 Irvine Community News & Views, Apr, 2018 (p.9)
In November, residents within California’s 45th Congressional District will be deciding whether to entrust Mimi Walters with a 3rd term in the House of Representatives. She is facing a tough reelection battle, so in a race where every vote counts, it’s incumbent upon voters to take a serious look at her performance record before entering the polls.
Because the projected impacts of unchecked global warming are so dire, climate change has become the number one challenge facing humanity. Worsening storms, droughts and wildfires, catastrophic sea level rise, mass species extinction, disrupted food supplies and political and social unrest are all in the offing if we fail to transition from a fossil fuel economy to one based on renewable energy sources.
Though poorer communities and nations will be impacted most, material wealth cannot guarantee that our children and grandchildren will be spared serious consequences.
The years 2016 and 2017 were the first and third hottest on record, respectively. Many residents of Orange County have personal stories of how climate change is already touching their lives.
The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication tracks public opinions on climate change, down to the individual district level. It turns out that California’s 45th is very much in step with the nation as a whole: 71 percent in the district believe climate change is happening, 74 percent want carbon dioxide regulated as a pollutant, and 72 percent believe future generations will be harmed.
As a public servant, Mimi Walters is obligated to represent the views of her constituents, especially on an issue as vital to public security and prosperity as climate change. But, does she?
Versions have appeared: Escondido Grapevine, 05-Dec, 2017 Fullerton Observer, Mid-Nov, 2017 (p.17) Algalita Marine Research Foundation Blog, 05-Nov, 2017 Daily Pilot, 03-Nov, 2017 Voice of OC, 02-Nov, 2017 San Diego Free Press, 02-Nov., 2017 Times of San Diego, 31-Oct, 2017 E-The Environmental Magazine, 27-Oct, 2017
Tiny lanternfish is vital to carbon sequestration in ocean.
Though burning fossil fuels is the primary cause of global warming, fossil fuels could also be driving climate change via a completely different mechanism involving ocean plastic debris and tiny, bioluminescent fish living hundreds of meters beneath the ocean’s surface.
Lanternfish (aka myctophids) are only a few inches long typically but so ubiquitous that they account for over half the ocean’s total fish-mass. They are vital to the ocean’s ability to sequester more carbon than all the world’s forests do on land through a daily mass migration that plays out in all seven seas.
By day, lanternfish avoid predators in deep, dimly lit waters, but they ascend nightly to the surface to gorge on carbon-rich plankton before descending back down where they deposit their carbon-rich poop. They also sequester carbon when eaten by larger fish.
Carbon sequestration by lanternfish is central to the overall role of marine environments in reducing human-caused CO2 emissions in the atmosphere – by an estimated 20-35 percent.
Thus, anything harmful to lanternfish could hinder the ocean’s capacity to act as a carbon sink. Alarming evidence that small bits of floating plastic debris resemble the plankton lanternfish feast on could spell trouble for them and, consequently, the climate. Read the rest of this entry »
Appeared: Escondido Grapevine, 05-Sep, 2017
Fullerton Observer,Early Sept, 2017, p.3 Center for Global Development, 31-Aug, 2017 Daily Pilot,31-Aug, 2017 San Diego Free Press, 31-Aug, 2017 Coronado Times,30-Aug, 2017 Times of San Diego, 30-Aug, 2017 EarthTalk, 29-Aug, 2017
Average annual global temperatures since 1880 compared to the average across the last century. Blue years are below the average and red years are above. (Source NOAA)
I fancy myself an environmentalist. I recycle, backyard compost, have rooftop solar, rarely use AC or heat, drive a hybrid, don’t have a lawn and eat vegetarian.
Yet the truth is I am as responsible for climate change as the next guy. Here’s why.
Doing those things definitely makes me feel good about myself, but none of my personal actions move the world measurably closer to solving the climate crisis. My journey to this conclusion started by first looking into my personal carbon footprint using readily available online tools.
The U.S. EPA’s carbon footprint calculator, for example, looks at three sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: home utilities for heating, cooling and cooking; vehicle fuel efficiency and miles driven; and waste generation. In these areas, my carbon footprint was roughly half that of other people living in my zip code, suggesting my eco-conscious efforts are paying off.
However, it’s eye-opening that roughly two-thirds of Americans’ GHG emissions are embedded in so-called “indirect” emissions released during the production or manufacture of other things we consume, such as food, household supplies, apparel, air travel, and services of all types, according to an in-depth analysis by the Center for Global Development, a non-profit policy research organization. Another way to understand indirect emissions is to think of the money spent on everything not included in the EPA’s more limited carbon footprint calculator.
Various versions have appeared: Irvine Community News & Views, 14-Aug, 2017 Times of San Diego, 04-Aug, 2017 Fullerton Observer, Aug, 2017 (p.2) The Daily Pilot,26-Jul, 2017
Coronado Times, 24-Jul, 2017 Escondido Grapevine, 19-Jul, 2017 San Diego Free Press, 11-Jul, 2017
EarthTalk, 06-Jul, 2017
Though President Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, this is no time for the 70 percent of Americans who believe climate change is happening to recoil in defeat. Rather, we should feel empowered that a 2016 post-election poll of registered voters found that majorities of Democrats (86%), Independents (61%) and Republicans (51%) alike wanted the United States to participate in the accord and that two out of three voters said the U.S. should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do.
Thus, it is exactly the time to speak out against the misguided actions of The White House by taking decisive steps well within our reach as individual citizens and communities. After all, the Paris Agreement is only a broad-stroke commitment from participating countries to collectively limit global warming to 1.5 to 2.0 degrees Celsius (°C) compared to preindustrial levels. It has always been true that only Congress and legislative bodies at the state and local level, not the President, can enact laws that can move us from a fossil fuel to a sustainable energy economy.
Here’s what’s happening at various jurisdictions around the nation already.
Irvine led on restoring the ozone layer and should lead now on climate change.
By Sarah “Steve” Mosko
Appeared: Irvine Community News & Views,02-Jun, 2017
Ozone Depletion: The First Global Environmental Crisis
The depletion of the protective ozone layer in the Earth’s atmosphere by man-made chemicals was the global community’s first environmental crisis. Today, climate change, largely attributable to greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, is the second and far more frightening crisis.
The people of Irvine can be proud that actions taken by the City Council in 1989 were instrumental in creating a blueprint at the local level for carrying out the aspirations set forth in the 1987 Montreal protocol, the international agreement to restore the ozone layer. It is widely hailed as the most successful global environmental treaty ever. As the global community today faces the reality that unchecked global warming could unleash catastrophic effects impacting all future generations, Irvine can and should resurrect the same purpose and determination that inspired the City to make a difference back then.
In 1974, scientists at UC Irvine, led by Nobel laureates (1995) F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario J. Molina, predicted that the Earth’s protective ozone layer would be seriously diminished by the rampant use of halogens — chemicals, such as CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and other ozone-depleting compounds then used as refrigerants, spray can propellants, and solvents. The ozone layer acts as a shield, preventing the most harmful ultraviolet radiation in sunlight (UVB) from reaching the Earth’s surface. Excessive exposure to UVB is known to cause not only sunburn, skin cancers and cataracts but also damage to crops and reduction of plankton populations vital to the ocean food web.
It wasn’t until 1985 that the infamous hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica was discovered, as Rowland and Molina predicted. That triggered the international alarm that led to the Montreal Protocol. Because action at the federal level was painfully slow in coming, the Irvine City Council, then led by Mayor Larry Agran and City Councilmember Cameron Cosgrove, boldly passed the most far-reaching, legally enforceable measure anywhere to eliminate CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances. This remarkable ordinance prohibited using CFCs and other targeted halogens in most industrial processes in the City of Irvine.
The City Council, in taking responsible action at the local level, believed that other jurisdictions would be empowered to use Irvine’s ordinance as a model. That is exactly what happened in many cities and counties across America and throughout the world, and today we know that the hole in the ozone layer is shrinking and we have overcome that global environmental crisis. Read the rest of this entry »
Various versions appeared: Dana Point Times, 31-Jul, 2017 Fullerton Observer, Early Apr, 2017, p.12 Escondido Grapevine, 04 Apr, 2017 The Coronado Times, 04 Apr, 2017 San Diego Free Press, 05 Apr, 2017 Times of San Diego, 11-Apr, 2017 EarthTalk.org, 17-Apr, 2017 San Clemente Times, 20-Apr, 2017 Capistrano Dispatch, 24-Apr, 2017
Within moments of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the White House web page on climate change was purged, and on March 28 Trump ordered the dismantling of the Clean Power Plan which was designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Many members of Congress are still openly climate change skeptics or deniers.
In a representative democracy such as ours, one might conclude that most Americans don’t believe in or are unconcerned about climate change. Two recent polls reveal how wrong this is.
Seventy percent of Americans believe global warming is happening, according to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication which used a national survey of over 18,000 adults spanning 2008 to 2016. Fully 75% favor regulating CO2 as a pollutant.
Consistent with this, 62% of Americans responded “no” when asked if President Trump should “remove specific regulation intended to combat climate change” in a nationwide poll just released on March 8 by Quinnipiac University. Furthermore, a Yale Project post-election poll of Trump voters found that more than six in ten support taxing and/or regulating the pollution that causes global warming.
An obvious next question is whether these national averages are masking major state-to-state variations in public opinion. The answer is no. The Yale Project concluded that in all 50 states a solid majority of the public both believe global warming is happening (between 60% and 78%) and favor regulating CO2 as a pollutant (66%-81%). Majorities in every state also believe global warming will harm future generations.
Appeared: Irvine Community News & Views, Aug, 2017 PopularResistance.org, 10 Apr, 2017 Fullerton Observer, mid Feb, 2017 (p. 20) San Diego Free Press, 03 Feb, 2017
EarthTalk, 02 Feb, 2017
Luckier Americans are insulated from many everyday worries, like struggling to pay the rent or mortgage on time. Some even enjoy life in gated communities, fine dining and first-class travel. But, just as money is no guarantee of happiness, neither is it assurance of protection against all of the frightening impacts of unchecked global warming.
2016 was the third straight year that the Earth’s temperature was the hottest on record. Contrary to what one might hear in politicized discourse, climate scientists are nearly unanimous in concluding climate change is happening and is the result of burning fossil fuels for energy.
The United Nations and scientific organizations worldwide warn that effects of climate change are already being felt and that the Earth is more than half the way to a temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius, beyond which runaway global warming will produce irreversible, catastrophic effects. Even worse, if global greenhouse gas emissions remain on their current trajectory, children living today can expect to experience the fallouts of a temperature increase topping 4 degrees Celsius by end of this century.
Despite such dire predictions, Americans, rich and poor, overwhelmingly believe climate change is not a threat to them personally. In a nationwide, county-by-county poll conducted in 2015, in not a single county did the majority of respondents believe climate change will affect them personally, though majorities in 99% of counties felt future generations would be.
The difficulty Americans have in understanding their own vulnerability to climate change stems in part from failing to see beyond the direct effects of climate change – heatwaves, droughts, storms and floods – to appreciate all the indirect effects on health and safety from air pollution, spread of infectious diseases, food and water shortages, population migrations and conflicts.
These indirect effects of climate change place everyone at risk.
Published: Algalita Marine Research Institute Blog, 03 May, 2016 San Diego Free Press, 09 May, 2016 EarthTalk, 09 May, 2016 Fullerton Observer, mid-May, 2016, p.8
Global mean surface temperature change from 1880 to 2014, relative to the 1951–1980 mean. Source: NASA GISS.
For more than half a century, cheaply-priced fossil fuels have come to define the American dream. We travel freely in gasoline powered vehicles and rely on coal, oil and natural gas for heating, cooling and operating electrical devices.
In addition, everything possible is now fashioned from plastic polymers derived from petroleum or natural gas. We’ve abandoned the “reuse and repair it” mindset of the pre-WWII era and embraced instead a “throw away” plastic consumer culture.
The most urgent environmental crises today are undeniably global climate change and the buildup of plastic waste in the world’s oceans. Both are harmful externalities of the fossil fuel industry: impacts, like pollution, not reflected in the cost of the products but paid for instead by some third party.
In this case, the third party is the global public that suffers the health and monetary consequences of both climate change and ocean plastic pollution.
Appeared: Fullerton Observer, Mid Mar, 2016, p. 18 EarthTalk, 26 Feb, 2016 PopularResistance.org, 22 Feb, 2016 San Diego Free Press, 19 Feb, 2016 OB Rag, 19 Feb, 2016
Earth’s history recorded in sedimentary stratifications
By mid-twentieth century, humans had altered the Earth to such an extent as to mark the start of a new geologic epoch named the Anthropocene, concluded an international consortium of researchers in a January issue of the preeminent journal Science.
Scientists divide Earth’s 4.5 billion year history into so-called epochs or time units based on major shifts in the composition and state of the planet as recorded in distinct stratifications in rocks, sediments and glacier ice. Previous transitions from one geologic epoch to the next were triggered by either cyclical drivers of climate change, like variations in the Earth’s orbit or solar radiation, or irregular events like volcanic eruptions. The most recent epoch for example, the Holocene, spanned ~12,000 years and was ushered in by a period of interglacial global warming.
Transition to the Anthropocene, in contrast, is driven by an unprecedented rate of change to the global environment caused by a convergence of three human factors: rapid rises in population growth, technological development and resources consumption, starting about 1950. So although Homo sapiens first emerged as a species about 200,000 years ago, it wasn’t until last century that their numbers and impact were sufficient to drive the permanent changes we now see to the Earth’s system.
Appeared: San Diego Free Press, 25-Sep, 2015 E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 25-Sep, 2015 Val-E-Vents (Sierra Club, San Fernando Valley), Nov, 2015
Halting global warming is the chief environmental challenge of our time.
While heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) is not the only greenhouse gas (GHG), it’s the most abundant and longest-lived in the atmosphere and contributes the most to global warming. In March, atmospheric CO2 content reached a new high of 400 parts per million, already past the 350 limit many scientists believe is a safe level above which we risk triggering irreversible consequences out of human control.
Second only to China as the largest CO2 emitter, it’s incumbent on the United States to lead the world in addressing global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the window of time to avoid the worst effects is just a few decades. Yet the United States has not adopted even a nationwide strategy.
Neither producers nor consumers of energy from fossil fuels pay for the environmental and social damages wrought. These so-called externalized costs are shouldered by the public through illness, droughts, violent storms, coastal community destruction, international conflicts, etc. Externalizing the costs of fossil fuels keeps their market price low, de-incentivizing society to move to renewable energy sources.
Current strategies to wean off fossil fuels fall into four categories.* Each attempts to internalize the actual costs of burning fossil fuels through incentives to convert to cleaner energy. Read the rest of this entry »
Appeared in: Southern Sierran, 21-July, 2015 E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 09-July, 2015 San Diego Free Press, 14-July, 2015 OB Rag, 15-July, 2015
More and more Americans are taking responsibility for their personal contribution to global climate change by driving fuel efficient cars, insulating their homes and switching to energy efficient lighting and household appliances.
However, even someone that’s gone to the extremes of traveling only on foot or bicycle and forsaking home heating, cooling, lighting, food refrigeration and cooking will likely shrink their carbon footprint by only about a third. That’s because roughly two-thirds of Americans’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are embedded instead in consumption of other goods and services, according to a recent analysis by the Center for Global Development (CGD), a non-profit policy research organization.
Most of us attribute our GHG footprint to the easily discerned energy we consume for personal transportation and home utilities. Yet these so-called “direct” emissions account for just 36% of the average American’s annual GHG emissions which are equivalent to 21.8 tons of CO2.
The remaining 64% of GHG emissions are “indirect” and produced during the manufacture and production of literally everything else we consume, such as food, shelter, clothing, furniture, cars, bicycles, appliances, electronics, pets, toys, tools, cleaning supplies, medications, toiletries, entertainment and air travel. The fact that indirect emissions typically take place somewhere distant and out of our sight, like in a factory overseas and during transport of products to the point of sale, underlies our lack of connection to them.
Appeared: San Diego Free Press, 27 Mar, 2015 E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 28 Mar, 2015 Fullerton Observer, Early Apr, 2015 (p. 10) PopularResistance.Org, 02 Apr, 2015
Source: Wikipedia Commons
Studies abound linking the increase in extreme weather-related catastrophes in recent decades, like droughts, floods, hurricanes and blizzards, to global climate change.
Climate experts stress the urgency of addressing the problem now, predicting cascading economic and political, social and environmental upheavals worldwide if action is delayed. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, the CO2 content of earth’s atmosphere has shot up from 275 ppm to over 400 ppm, already well above the 350 ppm limit some scientists believe is a safe level above which we risk triggering irreversible consequences out of human control.
Most Americans agree with the climatologists who believe that climate change is happening and likely caused by greenhouse gases produced by the burning of carbon-based fossil fuels. Asked if “the federal government should act to limit the amount of greenhouse gases U.S. businesses put out,” 78% said yes in a national poll which appeared January 20 in The New York Times. This reflects 60% of Republicans and 87% of Democrats polled.
Yet Congress is still home to a cadre of climate change deniers. Even among the majority in Congress that don’t dispute it, previous legislative proposals to price carbon emissions can be counted on two hands and all died in committee, revealing a glaring lack of political will to tackle this perceived global threat. This comes as no surprise given that fossil fuel industry lobbyists are well represented among the paid lobbyists on Capitol Hill which outnumber members of Congress 4-to-1.
Enter the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization populated by volunteer citizens with a single mission: Create the political will in Congress to pass a real solution to climate change, palatable to politicians across the political spectrum.
A plant-based diet beats a traditional meat-based one hands down when it comes to trimming one’s contribution to greenhouse gases, but not everyone is willing to plunge head-long into a life of tofu dogs and bean burgers.
No doubt there are even plenty self-proclaimed vegetarians out there who guiltily sneak in some fried chicken, pork chops or a tuna melt from time to time and face self-recriminations afterward for satisfying such cravings at the expense of a warming planet.
The good news for either lapsed vegetarians or meat eaters with an environmental conscience is that meats and dairy products are not all created equal when it comes to the quantity of greenhouse gases (GHG) produced. In fact, a study just released by the non-profit organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) and titled “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health” reveals that by avoiding just the three worst GHG offenders – lamb, beef and cheese – even hardcore meat eaters can make a sizable dent in their diet’s climate change footprint.
EWG, in partnership with CleanMetrics, an environmental analysis firm, examined the “cradle to grave” lifecycle, from farm to retail to plate to disposal, of 20 popular foods in four categories – meats, fish, dairy and vegetable protein – and compared the GHG produced by each.
If all Californians used clotheslines, one nuclear power plant could be shut down.
During the Leave-It-to Beaver era of the late 1950s, most homes certainly had a clothesline and probably no one thought much about whether it offended their neighbors. It’s a safe assumption that June Cleaver, the perfect homemaker, would have taken issue with anyone even hinting her clothesline was an eyesore.
Then fast forward a half century to the present where the majority of Americans have abandoned the clothesline in favor of electric or gas dryers and homeowners associations (HOAs) routinely prohibit clotheslines or impose such restrictions as to effectively ban them. One can only guess what June would have said to that, even absent her knowing about the threats from global climate change and the pressing need to reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Few today will dispute that tossing a load of wet clothes into a clothes dryer is more convenient than pinning up clothes, one by one, and surveys confirm that most people living in communities governed by HOAs have no problem abiding by the restrictions on clotheslines from the standpoint of curb appeal or property values.
However, interest in reducing the oversized energy footprint of Americans – twice that of people living in the European Union – has given rise in a handful of states to so-called “right-to-dry” laws that rein in restrictions HOAs or other entities can impose on residents’ freedom to use clotheslines. California is not among them, however, despite its sunny weather and reputation for environmental progressiveness.
Huntington Beach is recognized by National Resources Defense Council for energy efficiency
Residents of Huntington Beach (HB) can take pride in being the only Orange County city that landed a spot this year on a list of 22 ‘Smarter Cities’ nationwide being recognized by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for setting good examples for the rest of nation in the areas of green power, energy efficiency and conservation.
The announcement came at the end of July, and Long Beach is the only other city in southern California earning this distinction. The NRDC extended initial consideration to all 655 U.S. municipalities with populations of at least 50,000.
HB and other Orange County cities made an initial cut because the county’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, as measured for 2002 by a North American monitoring program called Project Vulcan, averaged 1.8 tons per capita which met the qualifying per capita cut off of less than 2.5 tons. That HB alone made the final list reflects both the city’s record in improving the energy efficiency of its city facilities and its community outreach efforts to empower residents to save energy and money.
Recharge solar lanterns and small electronics with solar rechargers
Does the prospect of spending a weekend away from your favorite e-gadgets (cell phone, laptop, iPod or PDA) stir up separation anxiety? Around our house we’ve dubbed this e-angst, and it can kill enthusiasm for an otherwise welcome family camping vacation.
For teens or adults similarly infected with e-angst, a diversity of devices are on the market which let you bring your e-gadgets along with you camping and also trim your carbon footprint because they utilize only sunshine for power.
Solar chargers An assortment of portable solar-powered chargers is available that adapt to virtually any handheld electronic appliance including digital cameras and GPS units. Most rely on photovoltaic silicon cell technology akin to what is used on rooftop solar panels. Many are small enough to fit in a back pocket or certainly a glove box so can travel with you virtually anywhere. The cost is as little as $15 on up to $150 depending on the capacity. Because rechargeable batteries are incorporated, gadgets can be recharged even after the sun goes down. Small electronics generally charge in 2-4 hours.
There’s no shortage of finger-pointing as the now worst oil spill in U.S. history continues its assault on the Gulf Coast’s ecology and economy.
A USA TODAY/Gallop Poll taken in late May, for example, found that 73 percent of Americans feel that BP (British Petroleum) is doing a ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ job of handling the crisis, and 60 percent evaluated the federal government’s response in the same unfavorable terms.
Confronted with images of birds swathed in crude oil and prognostications that the Gulf region’s fishing and tourism industries might never recover, the urge to form a posse, so to speak, to rout out those responsible and hold them accountable is all too human.
But are we Americans shocked enough yet by the enormity of this calamity to own up to our personal role in it? After all, it’s ultimately our nation’s energy-intense lifestyle and attachment to fossil fuels that gives companies like BP and our government the implicit go-ahead to pursue oil at the risk of the very kind of disaster now ensuing.
Unless you’re a physicist or energy wonk of some sort, hearing that the average yearly per capita energy consumption in the United States in 2008 was 337 million Btu probably tells you little about your energy footprint. Knowing that a Btu is an energy standard equivalent to 252 calories – about what’s contained in a Snickers candy bar – is probably of little help either.
That’s why Professor of Physics Richard Wolfson of Middlebury College has been giving demonstrations for the last decade which impart a real gut-level, hands-on feel for the energy it takes to support the typical American lifestyle.
His demonstration is simple but ingenious. A volunteer is asked to turn a hand crank which, through a geared system, drives an electric generator connected to two 100-watt incandescent light bulbs.
Appeared in Orange Coast Voice as Solar Energy Made Simple: How technology uses the sun’s power, September 2007, page 10.
Grabbing Some Rays or Solar Made Simple
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
Installing solar panels on a little less than 30 million homes and businesses could power the entire nation.
There is a wellspring of hope that 2007 is the tipping point in the fight against global warming.
This is the year that the hundreds of experts on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded, with near certainty, that global warming is for real. It is the year Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth turned “greenhouse gases” into an everyday household expression.
With the finger of blame pointing squarely at the reckless burning of fossil fuels, renewable energy has become the hottest of topics. Whereas renewables of every ilk will most likely fill important energy niches, solar energy dwarfs all others in ultimate potential because of the sheer abundance of sunlight.
Global energy consumption in the year 2004 averaged about 15 trillion watts (terawatts, TW), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The amount of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface (120,000 TW) literally exceeds this global demand thousands of times over. In fact, Read the rest of this entry »
Appeared in San Fernando Valley Sierra Club newsletter in July 2007.
What Smells About Ethanol Fuel
Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
Pick your poison — ethanol pollutes the air and MBTE pollutes underground water. Illustration by Willis Simms.
From President Bush on down, it seems everyone is talking up “biofuels”, especially corn-grain ethanol, as the panacea to the country’s energy woes… global warming, air pollution, increasing prices at the pump and dependence on foreign oil.
Automakers are promoting flex-fuel cars that run on either E85, a gasoline mixture that is 85% ethanol, or straight gasoline. Agribusiness giants like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland are trumpeting their ethanol, fermented and distilled from corn, as they boost production to meet rising domestic demand. However, just because a fuel can be made from plants does not make it inherently “green” or ever plentiful enough to replace gasoline.
A reputable analysis concluded that conversion of all U.S. cropland to produce corn strictly for ethanol would not suffice to fuel the current fleet of American autos.1
San Fernando Valley Sierra Club newsletter in two parts in July and September 2008.
Southern Sierran in August 2007.
Orange Coast Voice newspaper as It’s No Bull, Beef production creates global warming in June 2007, page 2.
A Beef About Beef
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
The connection between our meal choices and global warming might be another “inconvenient truth” that is particularly hard to swallow. Illustration by Willis Simms.
Global warming is on the tip of many tongues these days, but so are hamburgers, pork chops, and fried chicken. As hybrid car sales are up and SUV sales on the decline, it seems Americans might be waking up to the reality that each of us bears some responsibility for climate change through our everyday consumer choices. John Robbins, the once heir-apparent of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream company, has authored bestsellers, such as The Food Revolution, detailing the detrimental environmental impacts of a meat-based diet. He and other experts make a strong case that food choices rank right up there with what car you drive in determining your personal contribution to global warming. A quick look inside the hamburger bun easily makes the point.
Massive Fossil Fuels Consumed to Produce Beef
Most U.S. beef comes from cows raised on factory farms where hordes of animals are crowded onto concrete lots and fed grains, mostly corn. The grains are also grown using industrial farming methods that rely heavily on application of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides manufactured from Read the rest of this entry »
Driving on Sunshine
Ethanol: Starve While You Drive Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
From President Bush on down, it seems everyone is talking up “biofuels”, especially corn-grain ethanol and soy-diesel, as the panacea to the country’s energy woes . . . global warming, air pollution, increasing prices at the pump and dependence on foreign oil.
Automakers are promoting flex-fuel cars that run on either E85, a gasoline mixture that is 85% ethanol, or straight gasoline. Agribusiness giants like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland are trumpeting their ethanol, Read the rest of this entry »