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Op-Ed: Upset about the plastic crisis? Stop trying so hard

Roland Geyer, THE GUARDIAN

id you ever decide to get off a jammed freeway and take the backroads even though deep down you knew that it wouldn’t be any faster? Are you constantly switching to the faster lane on a busy freeway even though you notice that cars sticking to their lanes keep catching up with you?

Both are examples of action bias, the phenomenon in which people prefer doing something over doing nothing, even if the likely outcome of the action is worse than the outcome of inaction. Research has shown that actively managed portfolios tend to do worse than passive investments. And one study found that soccer goalkeepers prefer to jump left or right during a penalty-kick, even though the best thing would be to stay put in the middle.

A prime case study of how action bias gets in the way of solving environmental problems is plastic in the oceans. The discovery of the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch alerted the world to the issue of plastic marine debris. It turned out to be everywhere, not just in that specific patch or any of the other large circulating ocean currents known as gyres. In fact, there is growing consensus that only a minute fraction of all ocean plastic is on the surface, and that the vast majority is probably on the ocean floor. This has not stopped a growing number of ocean plastic action heroes from wanting to clean up the gyres.

The best known of them, The Ocean Cleanup, last year launched a 2,000ft-long boom, made of plastic, to gather plastic in the North Pacific Gyre. Unfortunately, the boom didn’t work, broke apart and had to be towed back onshore. Even if we also somehow figured out how to vacuum plastics from the ocean floor, these technologies would not stop new plastic from constantly entering the oceans.

The cheapest and most effective solution to ocean plastic is strangely also the one that is least talked about.

It is this: making and using less plastic.

Virtually everyone I know is genuinely upset about plastic pollution in the oceans, and at parties I am routinely cornered in the kitchen with questions about which of the myriad of single-use plastic items on open display can be recycled, and whether they actually will be recycled if thrown into the recycling bin.

Yet while people put enormous effort and hope into recycling, they don’t give source reduction much thought at all. The west used to send much of its recycling to China for processing, and China’s recent decision to no longer accept it because of environmental concerns has sparked an intense debate about how to fix our obviously broken recycling system. It would be so much easier and more effective to make and use less, and thus reduce our need to recycle in the first place.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jun/23/upset-about-the-plastic-crisis-stop-trying-so-hard

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Sebastopol bans Styrofoam food containers amid growing alarm about single-use plastics

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sebastopol is forging ahead with a ban on polystyrene foam food and beverage containers, taking the lead in Sonoma County amid a nationwide concern about single-use plastics and a mounting global crisis over consumer waste.

The new ordinance, the first of its kind in Sonoma County, prohibits the sale or use of disposable cups, burger boxes, clamshell containers and even cheap ice chests made of expanded polystyrene in Sebastopol come Nov. 19. The regulation is based on a model intended for adoption around the county.

Among numerous other provisions, the wide-ranging measure also requires vendors to ditch single-use containers, bowls, plates, cups, straws, stirrers, utensils, napkins and other products of any material when viable compostable or recyclable alternatives are commercially available. Customers who want to-go condiments, cup lids, cutlery or straws will have to ask for them, as well.

The ordinance encourages food providers to credit customers 25 cents for bringing their own reusable to-go containers and charge a takeout fee up to 10 cents to defray the costs associated with cups, lids, straws or utensils.

The ordinance also governs packaging for prepared foods. Blown polystyrene egg cartons and food and meat trays are exempt.

The Sebastopol City Council adopted the model ordinance in March but delayed its enforcement to allow restaurants and vendors to use up any remaining foam stock they might have on hand and to give the rest of Sonoma County time to catch up.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9715098-181/sebastopol-bans-styrofoam-food-containers

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Sonoma County restricts use of Roundup, other synthetic pesticides

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County this week became the fourth local government agency in the country to restrict use of synthetic pesticides on public land, joining a wave of cities and counties across the nation that are banning a chemical deemed by some to cause cancer.

Santa Rosa, Windsor and Sonoma have previously precluded application of synthetic weedkillers on public property, with Sonoma specifically targeting glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, the widely used herbicide manufactured by Monsanto.

At least 38 California cities and counties in California have now adopted bans on synthetic pesticides, along with jurisdictions in 22 other states from coast to coast, according to Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, a Los Angeles-based law firm that has won three cases against Monsanto with $2.4 billion in damages.

The pesticide rebellion gained momentum in 2017, when glyphosate was added to California’s Proposition 65 list of cancer-causing chemicals.

Megan Kaun, a Sebastopol resident who developed the county measure in collaboration with Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, began her campaign in 2015 when she found out glyphosate was being sprayed on a playground near her former home in Santa Rosa. Last August, the city prohibited use of synthetic weedkillers at dozens of parks, buildings and medians.

Windsor banned synthetic pesticides from public property last year, and the town of Sonoma barred use of glyphosate in April.

The newest regulation applies to lands maintained by county agencies, including water, parks, roads and the open space district, requiring them to eliminate use of synthetic herbicides, insecticides and fungicides to the “maximum extent practicable.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9668404-181/sonoma-county-restricts-use-of

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Our love of almonds is seriously jeopardizing honeybees

Paige Embrey, HUFF POST

In January, with the almond bloom in California’s orchards a month away, beekeepers across the country were fretting over their hives. A lot of their bees were dead or sick. Beekeepers reported losing as much as half their hives over the winter.

Jack Brumley, a California beekeeper, said he’d heard of people losing 80% of their bees. Denise Qualls, a bee broker who connects keepers with growers, said she was seeing “a lot more panic occurring earlier.”

Rumors swirled of a potential shortage; almond growers scrambled to ensure they had enough bees to pollinate their valuable crop, reaching out to beekeepers as far away as Florida, striking deals with mom-and-pop operations that kept no more than a few hundred bees. NPR’s “All Things Considered” aired a segment on the looming crisis in the almond groves.

By May, it was clear that California’s almond growers — who supply 80% of the world’s almonds — had successfully negotiated the threat of a bee shortage and were expected to produce a record crop of 2.5 billion pounds, up 10% from last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But the panic, it turns out, was justified. The results of this year’s annual Bee Informed Partnership survey, a collaboration by leading research labs released Wednesday, found that winter colony losses were nearly 38%, the highest rate since the survey began 13 years ago and almost 9% higher than the average loss.

The panic underscored a fundamental problem with the relationship between almonds and bees: Every year, the almond industry expands while the population of honeybees, beset by a host of afflictions, struggles to keep pace.

Read more at https://www.huffpost.com/entry/honey-bee-census-almonds_n_5d0a8726e4b0f7b7442b3aaa?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly9uZXdzLmdvb2dsZS5jb20v&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAGJJBiDGRCve7o6jN4qUrECrkbbhGDnhUcRQUW1kZcFn7P04RMyb9W9JKjmXY3Wk3I_uT-5O6weQrkuir5KZs5KJMF__gto7nuGAd6lTmxupeKBzyVN4YWJ1DlV_8QtfZpy72-bVD4mVdod1i9-3iaoZ5y7ZWFQ6GSHHbMRm0CFU

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As deaths mount on Santa Rosa’s Stony Point Road, city is pressed to do more for safety

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The city’s own master plan for bicycling and pedestrian upgrades has singled out the area as exceptionally dangerous. It is one of three areas citywide known as a “high-injury network” — where people walking or riding bikes are most often injured or killed — according to the updated bike plan.

Jennell Davies was almost home.

On a cool, clear night last October, the 39-year-old preschool teacher was walking home from dinner. It was about 9:50 p.m. when she tried to cross Stony Point Road, one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares — and one of its deadliest for pedestrians and cyclists.

She and her boyfriend approached the intersection of Stony Point with Occidental Road, also a busy route for motorists driving through west Santa Rosa. They were at the intersection’s northwestern corner and were heading east across Stony Point.

She must have crossed there hundreds of times before, her father, Tom Davies, said he thought to himself on a recent visit to the site. An Oliver’s Market grocery store and a KFC fast-food restaurant are right there, a quick stroll from the apartment where she’d lived for more than a decade.

But that fateful night last year, Davies was more than halfway through the crosswalk when she was struck by a northbound pickup, throwing her body about 70 feet north along the eastern side of Stony Point. Her boyfriend had stopped on a concrete median that abuts the crosswalk. He could only watch, helpless.

She died after a police officer and then fire and medical crews could not revive her.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9440594-181/as-deaths-mount-on-santa

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Sonoma plans new traffic, bike lanes on Broadway

Christian Kallen, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

If Sonoma Public Works Director Colleen Ferguson has her way, the route of Broadway from MacArthur to the Plaza will have room for more parking, bike paths in each direction, and encourage foot traffic to support local businesses – without costing the city an extra dime.

“The city’s planning documents definitely show bike lanes on both sides of Broadway,” said Ferguson. “And it’s clear that the volumes of traffic on Broadway now can be accommodated by one travel lane until you get to the Plaza – you don’t need two lanes like we have now.”

What would it take to bring Ferguson’s vision to fruition? Apparently just some paint, thanks to the planned repaving of Broadway – aka Highway 12 – by Caltrans slated to begin next summer.

The majestic street, the so-called “gateway” to historic Sonoma, is far wider than it needs to be (and without the military rationale Napoleon needed to build the Champs de l’Elysee, a similarly over-wide boulevard in Paris).

That’s one reason there’s almost never a traffic jam on Broadway – though the T intersection at the Plaza where it runs into Napa Street can be congested.

“It’s 70 feet from curb to curb,” said Frank Penry of GHD, the city’s consultant for the Broadway Streetscape Enhancements & Traffic Circulation Project, part of the city’s annual budget currently under review.

Read more at https://www.sonomanews.com/news/9696161-181/sonoma-plans-new-traffic-bike

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New plan to safeguard Russian River targets contamination from human and animal waste

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

An on-again, off-again effort by state regulators to better protect the Russian River and its tributaries against failing septic systems, livestock waste and other potential sources of bacterial contamination is in its final stages, with hopes that an action plan for the entire watershed will be approved this August and go into effect next year.

The move, controversial and closely watched in years past, could impose stricter regulations and mandatory septic system upgrades on thousands of landowners with properties near the river or its connected waterways.

Opportunities still exist for residents to weigh in on the complicated, far-reaching strategy designed to safeguard the region’s recreational hub and main source of drinking water, with bacterial threats ranging from everyday pet waste to rain-swollen sewage holding ponds and homeless encampments.

Now in its third iteration since 2015, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board’s new draft action plan is out for public review and comment through 5 p.m. June 24.

The board’s staff will host a public workshop at its Santa Rosa offices on Thursday afternoon, and a public hearing will be held during the board’s regular meeting Aug. 14 and 15, when it considers adopting the plan.

The water quality control program is required under the federal Clean Water Act as well as state regulations designed to ensure that people swimming, wading, fishing or otherwise recreating in the river and tributary creeks aren’t exposed to bacteria from human or animal waste — a problem in waterways around California, state officials say.

Key concerns include aging, under-equipped and potentially faulty septic systems and cesspools installed decades ago on steep slopes with too little soil to provide adequate percolation. Testing also shows livestock grazing in close proximity to waterways is a problem in many areas.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9693049-181/new-plan-to-safeguard-russian

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Animal welfare activists protest at Sonoma County Jail, courthouse

Nashelly Chavez, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Animal welfare activists gathered in front of the Sonoma County Jail on Tuesday, protesting the arrest of about 80 people who demonstrated a day earlier at a west Petaluma duck farm.

Tuesday’s action drew about 50 members of Direct Action Everywhere. The group organized the protest at Reichardt Duck Farm that included at least 300 demonstrators and prompted a response of more than 50 local and state law enforcement officers.

Monday’s arrests mostly involved suspected trespassing and felony conspiring to commit a crime, Sonoma County Sheriff’s spokesman Spencer Crum said. Protesters were given the option to be cited out of jail, though many refused to sign the citation form, he said.

“We’re calling upon Sonoma County authorities to prosecute criminal animal cruelty, not the whistleblowers,” said Cassie King, who took part in both protests.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9667427-181/animal-welfare-activists-protest-at

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Nearly 100 protesters arrested outside Petaluma duck farm

Andrew Beale and Randi Rossman, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Nearly 100 animal welfare protesters were arrested Monday, hours after descending onto a west Petaluma duck farm as part of an organized demonstration, authorities said.

Hundreds of activists with the Direct Action Everywhere animal rights group arrived by the busloads at Reichardt Duck Farm on Middle Two Rock Road around 10 a.m., some chaining themselves together by the neck at the main gate of the property.

Local and state police made a show of force with more than 50 officers, including about three dozen in riot gear, stationed around the property. They arrested 10 demonstrators who walked onto the farm to remove birds, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said.

By about 4 p.m., deputies had made 88 more arrests, mostly for trespassing. Wilmar firefighters had to cut the farm’s gate to remove some of the protesters.

The animal rights group came prepared with water, food and music, with the bulk of protesters staying on the property until around 5 p.m.

Cassie King, a group organizer currently facing seven felony charges in Sonoma County related to previous animal-rights protests, said the demonstration was intended to spur Sonoma County authorities to take action against the farm for alleged animal cruelty.

“Whistleblower footage has come forward from this facility (showing) clear animal cruelty,” she said. “Authorities in Sonoma County have ignored those reports, so activists have come together to take matters into their own hands.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9664193-181/protesters-flood-petalumaarea-duck-farm

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Sonoma County supervisors eye pesticide restrictions on public land

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors are scheduled to consider a proposal Tuesday to ban synthetic pesticides on county property open to public use and in other “no synthetic spray zones” to be determined this year.

The proposal specifically precludes use of synthetic herbicides, insecticides and fungicides on county agency campuses, sidewalks, plazas, playing fields, playgrounds and county-maintained libraries.

It also would apply to Sonoma Water, the Agricultural and Open Space District, the Community Development Commission and the Transportation and Public Works Department, requiring them to eliminate pesticide use “to the maximum extent practicable.”

The Transportation and Public Works Department is experimenting with organic alternatives to manage roadside vegetation that poses a safety risk or can contribute to flooding, said Dan Virkstis, a department spokesman.

Private land would be exempt from the ban. The county is prohibited from regulating pesticide use on private property, a county staff report said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9664243-181/sonoma-county-supervisors-eye-pesticide