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California coastal waters rising in acidity at alarming rate, study finds

Rosanna Xia, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

Waters off the California coast are acidifying twice as fast as the global average, scientists found, threatening major fisheries and sounding the alarm that the ocean can absorb only so much more of the world’s carbon emissions.

A new study led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also made an unexpected connection between acidification and a climate cycle known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation — the same shifting forces that other scientists say have a played a big role in the higher and faster rates of sea level rise hitting California in recent years.

El Niño and La Niña cycles, researchers found, also add stress to these extreme changes in the ocean’s chemistry.

These findings come at a time when record amounts of emissions have already exacerbated the stress on the marine environment. When carbon dioxide mixes with seawater, it undergoes chemical reactions that increase the water’s acidity.

Across the globe, coral reefs are dying, oysters and clams are struggling to build their shells, and fish seem to be losing their sense of smell and direction. Harmful algal blooms are getting more toxic — and occurring more frequently. Researchers are barely keeping up with these new issues while still trying to understand what’s happening under the sea.

Read more at https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-12-16/ocean-acidification-california

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California considers sweeping electric truck regulation

Skip Descant, GOVERNMENT TECHNOLOGY

The most populous state in the country is poised to adopt a sweeping new set of regulations that would require medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses to transition to zero-emission vehicles.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) spent roughly four hours Thursday hearing testimony from more than 100 organizations, government officials and residents related to the proposed Advanced Clean Trucks Regulation that could require the gradual phasing of big-rig and other trucks over the next decade.

The proposal is billed as landmark in its ability to transform a major component of the transportation sector, and one that is credited with producing a disproportionate amount of air-pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is a very important, and as far as we know, groundbreaking piece,” said Mary Nichols, CARB chair, in her opening comments at the meeting. “because it focuses on the production of the vehicles, to make sure that they will be there.”

Read more at https://www.govtech.com/fs/transportation/California-Considers-Sweeping-Electric-Truck-Regulation-.html

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Sonoma County students to stage walkouts Friday for national climate strike

Chantelle Lee, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Fifteen-year-old Lola Guthrie of Sebastopol didn’t want to sit back and do nothing in the midst of the climate crisis — and it’s why she plans to join other students across the country Friday and go on strike.

“I think it’s my responsibility,” she said. “It’s almost like a duty for people in my position to take action on climate change.”

Guthrie, a sophomore at Credo High School in Rohnert Park, is one of many Sonoma County students who plan to skip classes Friday and participate in an environmental walkout, part of a nationwide, youth-led demonstration meant to coincide with world leaders gathering at the United Nation’s annual climate conference in New York.

The protest event comes in the wake of the massive global climate strike in September, during which about 2,000 people protested in downtown Santa Rosa.

The Sonoma County chapter of Sunrise Movement, a youth-led environmental organization that Guthrie is a member of, is organizing the local strike. It will be centered at Old Courthouse Square with a rally and what organizers are calling a “die-in for life,” where they plan to stage their death by lying on the ground and holding up signs that reflect the different climate-related disasters killing people around the world, including drought or starvation.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10411616-181/sonoma-county-students-to-stage

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Big atmospheric rivers are getting worse and do a lot of damage — especially in Northern California

Kurtis Alexander, THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

During the first week of January 1995, a powerful storm lashed Northern California, pushing the Russian River over its banks for seven straight days and damaging more than 4,000 properties, what scientists now say is the costliest atmospheric river the West has seen.

A first-ever economic analysis of atmospheric rivers, released Wednesday as another series of these potent weather systems emerged over the Pacific, finds that such events have caused an average of $1.1 billion of flood damage annually over 40 years. The hardest-hit place, across 11 Western states with losses, was Sonoma County.

The 1995 atmospheric river alone resulted in $3.7 billion of damage, according to the study, from a storm that had mudslides covering roads, winds toppling trees and swollen creeks inundating homes. The event, which made landfall in Southern California and moved north, contributed to the total $5.2 billion of losses that Sonoma County has sustained from atmospheric rivers during the study period — 1978 through 2017.

The authors of the report, with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, warned that atmospheric rivers will intensify as oceans warm with climate change and that the losses will only grow. They called for more study of these systems so they can be better anticipated and their effects blunted.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/environment/article/Big-atmospheric-rivers-do-a-lot-of-damage-14881960.php

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Climate change is altering migration patterns regionally and globally

Jayla Lundstrom, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS

Since at least 2014, a growing number of asylum-seekers from Central America have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border. While the response from the Obama administration raised genuine protection concerns, the Trump administration has taken the draconian and unwelcoming approach of dismantling the U.S. asylum system by restricting grounds for asylum, separating families, and illegally blocking access to ports of entry. The current administration has also adopted the “Remain in Mexico” policy and so-called safe third country agreements, which forces asylum-seekers to remain in dangerous situations.

Many individuals coming to the United States from Central America are fleeing violence, poverty, and corruption. But climate change is emerging as both a direct and an indirect driver of migration that complicates existing vulnerabilities. Persistent drought, fluctuating temperatures, and unpredictable rainfall have reduced crop yields throughout the Northern Triangle—a region that comprises El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala—challenging livelihoods and access to food in agriculturally dependent communities. By denying the reality of climate change and taking a hard-line approach to migration, the Trump administration has shown its unwillingness to address the root causes of migration in the Americas.

There is currently no international legal framework to address environmental disasters and climate change as drivers of migration. There is also no consensus on what terminology should be used to describe individuals moving due to environmental factors. The 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Refugee Protocol, multilateral agreements that define “refugee” and set states’ obligations for protection, were not crafted with the environment, climate change, or environmental disasters in mind—and therefore do not mention them as grounds for refugee protection. U.S. refugee policy, codified in the Refugee Act of 1980, is largely based on the framework outlined in these agreements and thus excludes these terms.

Read more at https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/immigration/news/2019/12/03/478014/climate-change-altering-migration-patterns-regionally-globally/

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Developers sue over Windsor’s ban on natural gas in new homes

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Windsor’s fledgling natural gas ban is under legal fire from developers who argue its new mandate will increase costs for future homeowners and fails to account for the continued potential of widespread electricity shut-offs imposed by PG&E.

Two lawsuits filed by Sonoma County developers last week ask a judge to block Windsor’s requirement that most new homes use electric appliances for cooking and heating instead of natural gas technology. The court fights could shape future development in Windsor and ripple out to Santa Rosa, where the City Council enacted a similar ban earlier this month.

The suits claim Windsor’s rule violates state environmental law, glosses over the dangers of increased generator use by residents of gas-free homes and ignores some research showing higher utility bills for those who live in all-electric homes.

The suits cite PG&E’s recent electricity shut-offs and the 2018 Camp fire in Butte County — apparently sparked by the utility’s power equipment — to bolster claims that banning natural gas is unwise.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10363925-181/lawsuits-by-developers-challenge-windsors

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A new UN report shows that we are not on track to avoid catastrophic climate change

Priya Shukla, FORBES

Yesterday, the United Nations released its Emissions Gap Report for 2019. It has been released each year since the Paris Accords were signed in 2015 and describes each country’s “emissions gap” by comparing the amount of greenhouses gasses actually being emitted to the volume of emissions necessary to avoid the impacts of climate change. This year, it revealed that global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase over the course of the past decade, despite the threat that climate change poses.

Because greenhouse gas emissions have steadily risen for so long, more severe cutbacks and changes will be needed in the future to prevent the planet from warming more than 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius beyond pre-industrial levels. The United States has emitted the most greenhouse gases since 1750 and is failing to meet the reduction targets established in the Paris Accords, which it is currently in the process of withdrawing from. However, several other countries, including Canada, Japan, Brazil, and Australia, are also not on track to meet the commitments their countries made.
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The planet is already seeing more intense wildfires, storms, and heatwaves. And, in order to avoid further impacts of climate change, the report suggests that countries must decrease their emissions by up to five times more than what they already have. Specifically, they would have to decrease by 7.6 percent annually until 2030 to prevent the planet from warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius. This sort of dramatic reduction has only been seen during the fall of the Soviet Union when emissions fell by 6 percent in the United States and Japan.

Next month, the United Nations Climate Change Conference will take place to address how countries can work together to meet these emissions targets and next year they will meet to pledge even more cutbacks, as part of the Paris Accords. But whether they follow through on those commitments remains to be seen.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/priyashukla/2019/11/27/a-new-un-report-shows-that-we-are-not-on-track-to-avoid-catastrophic-climate-change/#3812d2b82b9a

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Santa Rosa homebuilders oppose potential natural gas ban on new homes

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Homebuilders unhappy with Santa Rosa’s plans to prohibit most new homes from relying on natural gas voiced concerns Thursday that efforts to require electric appliances are moving too fast.

The city, one of dozens in California that could require new homes up to three stories to be all-electric, held a meeting to solicit feedback from local homebuilders before a City Council study session Tuesday.

The council has yet to vote on the issue, but the natural-gas ban’s inclusion in city discussions of building codes taking effect in 2020 has stirred up some in the building community who fear a hasty process could elicit negative reactions from customers who prefer gas-fueled stoves, fireplaces and heaters.

“We’re kind of assuming this is a done deal,” said Keith Christopherson, a prominent North Bay builder. “And I gotta tell you, the response that we’ve gotten from people is that they’re really P.O.’d.”

The push to ban gas appliances — a step already taken by Berkeley and being given serious consideration by other locales including Windsor, Petaluma and Cloverdale — is connected to California’s aspiration to eliminate or offset all carbon emissions by 2045. That will necessarily involve ending the use of natural gas in buildings. Eliminating its use in new homes is a first step, while retrofitting existing buildings is a distant but implicit goal.

New state building codes set to take effect Jan. 1 already include a standard requirement for new homes to include solar panel arrays.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10063618-181/santa-rosa-homebuilders-urge-city?ref=related

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Cap and trade is supposed to solve climate change, but oil and gas company emissions are up

Lisa Song, PROPUBLICA

Countries have called California’s cap-and-trade program the answer to climate change. But it is just as vulnerable to lobbying as any other legislation. The result: The state’s biggest oil and gas companies have actually polluted more since it started.

Gov. Jerry Brown took the podium at a July 2017 press conference to lingering applause after a steady stream of politicians praised him for helping to extend California’s signature climate policy for another decade. Brown, flanked by the U.S. and California flags, with a backdrop of the gleaming San Francisco Bay, credited the hard work of the VIPs seated in the crowd. “It’s people in industry, and they’re here!” he said. “Shall we mention them? People representing oil, agriculture, business, Chamber of Commerce, food processing. … Plus, we have environmentalists. …”

Diverse, bipartisan interests working together to pass climate legislation — it was the polar opposite of Washington, where the Trump administration was rolling back environmental protections established under President Barack Obama.

Brown called California’s cap-and-trade program an answer to the “existential” crisis of climate change, the most reasonable way to manage the state’s massive output of greenhouse gasses while preserving its economy, which is powered by fossil fuels. “You can’t just say overnight, ‘OK, we’re not going to have oil anymore,’” he said.

But there are growing concerns with California’s much-admired, much-imitated program, with implications that stretch far beyond the state.

California’s cap-and-trade program was one of the first in the world, and it is among the largest. It is premised on the idea that instead of using regulations to force companies to curb their emissions, polluters can be made to pay for every ton of CO₂ they emit, providing them with an incentive to lower emissions on their own. This market-based approach has gained such traction that the Paris climate agreement emphasizes it as the primary way countries can meet their goals to lower worldwide emissions. More than 50 programs have been developed across the world, many inspired by California.

But while the state’s program has helped it meet some initial, easily attained benchmarks, experts are increasingly worried that it is allowing California’s biggest polluters to conduct business as usual and even increase their emissions.

ProPublica analyzed state data in a way the state doesn’t often report to the public, isolating how emissions have grown within the oil and gas industry. The analysis shows that carbon emissions from California’s oil and gas industry actually rose 3.5% since cap and trade began. Refineries, including one owned by Marathon Petroleum and two owned by Chevron, are consistently the largest polluters in the state. Emissions from vehicles, which burn the fuels processed in refineries, are also rising.

Read more at https://www.propublica.org/article/cap-and-trade-is-supposed-to-solve-climate-change-but-oil-and-gas-company-emissions-are-up

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Santa Rosa moves forward on plan to ban natural gas in new homes

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Starting in early 2020, plans for most new Santa Rosa homes likely won’t include natural gas stoves, fireplaces, furnaces and water heaters.

The Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday voted 6-0 to require the exclusive use of electric appliances in most new residential construction below four stories. The measure, which will need a second vote of approval and the California Energy Commission’s backing in the coming weeks, will put the city in the company of Windsor, Berkeley and other local governments across California that have passed a type of natural gas ban in the name of curbing climate change.

The council’s vote came after PG&E shut off electricity to prevent wildfires four times in October, plunging thousands of Sonoma County homes into darkness and raising questions about the wisdom of eliminating natural gas from the range of possible home power sources.

But council members, who made confronting global heating a top priority earlier this year, didn’t waver from their pursuit of an all-electric requirement, which is more stringent than state law requires. Their decision was backed by supporters of climate action such as Chris Thompson, vice president of the Oakmont Democratic Club.

“We are in a state of emergency. We are running out of time,” Thompson said. “Electric homes are the future we need for ourselves, and especially for our children and our grandchildren.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10301069-181/santa-rosa-moves-forward-on