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Climate fight targeting cows may reshape California dairies

Kurtis Alexander, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Dairy farmer Bob Giacomini, 79, is ahead of his time, even if he didn’t mean to be.
Eight years ago, the North Bay native bought a custom motor, generator and pipeline to make electricity from an unusual source — cow manure — at his ranch along Tomales Bay. The hope was that the renewable energy would save him a few bucks and perhaps bolster the environmental bona fides of his family’s famed cheese, Point Reyes Original Blue.
As it turned out, the power system served another purpose. It helped do away with the potent greenhouse gas that’s at the heart of a new, first-of-its-kind climate law targeting agriculture.
Legislation signed this month by Gov. Jerry Brown requires California’s dairy industry to answer for its contribution to global warming by making a 40 percent cut in methane emissions in coming years. The gas, which heats the atmosphere 20 times faster than carbon dioxide, comes from the butts and burps of bovines.
One U.N. report blames livestock, which has largely escaped climate regulation, for 14.5 percent of the planet’s heat-trapping gases, as much as planes, trains and automobiles combined.
Read more at: Climate fight targeting cows may reshape California dairies

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Earth CO2 levels: Have we crossed a point of no return?

Weston Williams, THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

The annual low for atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide has crossed the 400 parts per million threshold, a level not seen for millions of years.

Earth may have passed a significant symbolic threshold as the global climate continues to grow warmer.Usually, September marks a low in the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. This concentration sets the bar over which levels of the greenhouse gas will fluctuate throughout the next year. But this September, CO2 levels are staying high, at around 400 parts per million, and many scientists think that we will not see levels of the greenhouse gas drop below that threshold within our lifetimes.
Earth has been steadily building up CO2 in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, but the 400 ppm landmark is creating a new normal that hasn’t been seen on this planet for millions of years.
“The last time our planet saw 400 ppm carbon dioxide in our atmosphere was about 3.5 million years ago, and global climate was distinctly different than today,” David Black, associate professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University in New York, tells The Christian Science Monitor in an email.
Read more at: Earth CO2 levels: Have we crossed a point of no return? – CSMonitor.com

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Sonoma County Climate Action 2020: Litigation over the county's Climate Action Plan

Fred Allebach, SONOMA VALLEY SUN
The County of Sonoma and it’s nine cities together are formulating a plan to collectively decrease greenhouse gas emissions. This plan is called Sonoma County Climate Action 2020, and until a lawsuit was recently filed challenging some of its underlying assumptions, the cities were prepared to sign onto the plan. This report provides background information about the plan, and where things stand today.
In 1850 the Industrial Revolution kicked off an era of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that began to accumulate in the earth’s atmosphere. As the world’s population grew by the billions, human-caused GHG emissions environmental impacts became greater and greater, especially since the 1950s.
By the mid 1980s, human-caused climate change was acknowledged as a serious problem. and precipitated the first articulation of sustainability principles. These include concepts such as the triple bottom line, full cost accounting and systems literacy.
California, being a vanguard state, in 2006 the Schwarzenegger administration began a series of measures and bills that put the state on track to reducing GHG emissions to 15% below 1990 levels by the year 2020.
Sonoma County and Individual Cities Take Local Action
Sonoma County took the ball and ran with it, each jurisdiction setting even deeper reduction goals (25% below 1990) and creating the nation’s first Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA) in 2009.  This was seen as cutting edge throughout the entire United States. The RCPA then worked to create a Climate Action 2020 plan for Sonoma County, finalized in July of 2016.
Each Sonoma County municipality was included in the Climate Action Plan (CAP), and able to choose from among a slate of possible voluntary local GHG emissions reduction measures that would be their contribution to the overall plan. A combination of the number of local measures chosen from the RCPA list, plus the overall amount of carbon reduced, added up to the percent of a city’s contribution to the CAP.
Read more at: In-Depth Report: Sonoma County Climate Action 2020 | Sonoma Sun | Sonoma, CA

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Op-Ed: Putting the ‘action’ in climate action

Jason Walsh, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE
Sonoma, meet the golden toad, a bright orange salientian – a wide-eyed rascal, slippery to the touch, and cute as a bug’s ear.
First discovered in 1964, the species has only ever been found in a remote, high-altitude region of Costa Rica, where as many as 1,500 have lived in the lower-altitude climes of an elfin cloud forest, an area less than two miles in radius. The glowing little hoppers would spend most of their 10-year lifespans in moist underground burrows, emerging for about a week in the spring to mate in pools of rainwater amid the twisted tree root. Ecologist Martha Crump, who studied them for decades, described them in her book, “In Search of the Golden Frog,” as “dazzling jewels on the forest floor.” The dazzle, however, wouldn’t last.
In 1987, during a particularly parched El Nino season, Crump observed a bitter drying of the rain pools, leaving behind “desiccated eggs… covered in mold.” Of the 43,500 eggs she counted, 29 hatched surviving tadpoles.
In 1988, fewer than a dozen toads emerged; the year after, only one. The golden toad has not been seen since – and bears the ill-fated distinction of being named in 2004 as the first species made extinct by human-caused global climate change.
The untimely demise of the golden toad would seem to have little to do with Sonoma. And yet it has everything to do with Sonoma – and all Sonomas, everywhere.
On Aug. 15, the Sonoma City Council tabled a discussion, and possible action, on the county’s Climate Action 2020, a regional plan to meet state-mandated greenhouse-gas emission reduction goals tied to eligibility for state funding.
The council on that Monday was set to consider the plan, plus eight additional Sonoma-specific GHG-lowering measures council members had previously suggested, as part of the County’s and its nine cities’ effort to achieve a 25 percent percent reduction in GHGs below 1990 levels by 2020. That’s even more ambitious than the state’s requirement to simply meet 1990 levels, as required by AB32. (Another bill in the works, SB32 would require counties to be 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.)
Read more at: Editorial: Putting the ‘action’ in climate action | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA

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How Utah coal interests helped push a secret plan to export coal through California 

Sarah Tory, HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
On June 27, hundreds of people packed the Oakland City Council meeting where a proposal to ban the transport of coal through the California city was up for a vote. Speakers on both sides of the issue delivered passionate arguments, pitting the promise of good jobs in a depressed area against concern about environmental impacts. The meeting quickly became rowdy. “There was a lot of tension,” says Rev. Ken Chambers, pastor of West Side Missionary Baptist Church in West Oakland, who spoke in support of the ban. Pro-coal supporters stationed in the audience heckled him throughout his address, and at times, Lynette Gibson McElhaney, the council president, struggled to maintain order.
“Officers,” she requested, “please escort those persons who continue to have disrespectful outbursts outside of the chamber.”
The vote came after more than a year of heated debate over plans to build a marine terminal, from which coal mined in Utah could be shipped to Asia. The proposed terminal was part of a larger redevelopment project slated for the old Oakland Army Base, located in West Oakland, a predominantly black neighborhood that’s among the region’s poorest and most polluted.
One by one, the seven council members present voted to uphold the ban on transporting coal. The decision was finalized by a second vote on July 19, leaving the proposed $250 million project in limbo.  Without coal as one of the terminal’s possible bulk commodities, proponents warned, it would be at risk of losing critical funding — depriving an economically struggling neighborhood of job opportunities. Critics of the plan, however, worried that transporting millions of tons of coal by rail  — even in covered cars — through West Oakland poses a public health and safety risk to local residents, who already experience high levels of air pollution.
The decision — and the wider controversy around it — places Oakland at the center of a growing battle over coal exports on the West Coast. From British Columbia all the way to California, plans for new export terminals are faltering, thanks to opposition from local communities concerned about climate change and the environmental impacts of fossil fuel development.
Read more at: How Utah coal interests helped push a secret plan to export coal from California — High Country News

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Crude awakening

Will Parrish, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
In recent years, oil corporations have intensified their push to make the San Francisco Bay Area and other areas of the West Coast into international hubs for refining and shipping of one of the world’s most carbon-intensive and polluting fuel sources: the Canadian tar sands.
In April, that long-standing effort spilled into Santa Rosa mailboxes. Constituents of 3rd District supervisor Shirlee Zane received a letter, addressed to Zane herself, from a group called Bay Area Refinery Workers.
“As a member of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District,” the letter read, “you’ll soon vote on a proposal that will impact our jobs, our refineries and the important work we do refining the cleanest gasoline in the world.”
It asked that Zane “please remember that the Bay Area refineries provide more good-paying union jobs than any private sector employer in the region.”
Twelve refinery employees provided signatures, but the letter was produced and mailed by an organization called the Committee for Industrial Safety, which is bankrolled by the oil giants Chevron, Shell, Tesoro and Phillips 66. According to state and federal records, each corporation annually provides the group between $100,000 and $200,000 to advocate on their behalf.
The letter’s apparent aim was to influence Zane’s upcoming vote on a little-known but potentially far-reaching Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) regulation called Refinery Rule 12-16 that’s aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If enacted, the measure would make the BAAQMD the nation’s first regional air district to go beyond state and federal mandates in regulating refinery GHG emissions, the pollutants that fuel global climate change.
Zane is one of the BAAQMD’s 24 directors, along with elected officials from nine Bay Area counties extending from Santa Clara in the South Bay to Sonoma and Napa. They will determine the measure’s fate at a yet-to-be-scheduled meeting later this year.
Staff members at BAAQMD have proposed four alternative forms of Refinery Rule 12-16. But only one has the support of a coalition of environmental groups and the unions that represent refinery employees: a quantitative limit, or cap, on GHGs.
Processing the tar sands would dramatically increase greenhouse gas pollution at the refineries under the BAAQMD’s jurisdiction, and advocates from groups like Oakland’s Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), an environmental justice organization, say an emissions cap would turn back what they call the “tar sands invasion” from the San Francisco Bay Area.
Critics warn that without the cap, the oil industry will continue pursuing new tar sands infrastructure on the West Coast at a frenetic pace. “We’ve seen them come at us at a 10 times faster rate in the last few years,” says CBE senior scientist and refinery expert Greg Karras. “Up and down the refinery belt, refineries are retooling for the tar sands and creating infrastructure for export of refined tar sands products overseas.”
Read more at: Crude Awakening | Features | North Bay Bohemian

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Report says cars are key to addressing climate change in Sonoma County

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
If Sonoma County plans to follow through on its plans to combat climate change, its leaders will need to focus on gasoline burned by cars and trucks, as well as electricity and natural gas consumed by homes and offices.
A new report, Climate Action 2020 and Beyond, identifies transportation as the county’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, with vehicle tailpipes emitting nearly 2 million metric tons a year, about half — 52 percent — of the county’s total.
Electricity and natural gas burned to heat, cool, light and run appliances in homes, offices and other buildings generates more than 1.2 million metric tons, one-third of the county’s total annual emissions of about 3.7 million metric tons, the report said.
Statewide, greenhouse gas emissions were 459 million metric tons in 2013, according to the California Air Resources Board.
Reducing emissions, primarily carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels, “has become an environmental and societal imperative” in the campaign to forestall “the projected catastrophic effects” from global warming, the county’s report said.
The report, released by the county’s Regional Climate Protection Authority, sets a goal of reducing emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and putting the county on a path to hit 80 percent below those levels by 2050.
Source: Cars key to addressing climate change in Sonoma County

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All major economies promise to cut emissions

Dan Farber, LEGAL PLANET

With Saudia Arabia’s pledge last week to cut emission, all of the world’s major economies are now on board.  In a nutshell, here is what they are promising.

Except as noted, the target dates are all 2030.  A number of countries have subsidiary promises in terms of percentage of renewable energy or of bigger cuts premised on international aid, which aren’t included here.

DEVELOPED COUNTRIES

Australia.  26-28% (2005 baseline)

Canada. 30% (2005 baseline).

European Union. 40% (1990 baseline).

Japan. 26% (2013 baseline).

United States. 26-28% (2025 target, 2005 baseline).

———————————————–

BRIC COUNTRIES

Brazil. 37% (2005 baseline, 2025 target).

China. Peak emissions circa 2030. 

India.  33% cut in carbon intensity(2005 baseline). 

Russia. 25-30% (1990 baseline)

———————————————–

OTHERS

Argentina. 15% below business as usual (BAU).

Saudi Arabia. 130 million ton cut in annual emissions.

Indonesia. 29% (BAU baseline).

Mexico. 25% (BAU baseline).

South Africa. Peak emissions by 2025, followed by a plateau and then decline.

South Korea. 37% (BAU baseline).

Turkey. 21% (BAU baseline).

*****

You’ll notice that the EU is promising the most, both in absolute numbers 40% and in the lowest baseline (1990).  Other developed countries are pledging smaller percentages and using a higher 2005 emission level as the baseline. Among the non-developed countries, Brazil’s pledge is notable because it is promising absolute cuts in emissions, not just reductions below business as usual or setting a future peak level.  But the fact that other major  non-developed countries have made pledges is a huge advance over the Kyoto Protocol, which did not require much of anything from them. 

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California wants renewable energy for half its power by 2030 

Michael R. Blood & Judy Lin, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Gov. Jerry Brown dramatically increased California’s climate-change goals, committing the state to use renewable energy for half its electricity and make existing buildings twice as energy-efficient in just 15 years.
Brown tried for an even stronger measure that also would have enforced a 50 percent drop in petroleum use by 2030, but was defeated by oil interests. He called that a short-term setback, and insisted that the world needs to wean itself off fossil fuels as quickly as possible.
“What has been the source of our prosperity now becomes the source of our ultimate destruction, if we don’t get off it. And that is so difficult,” Brown said at a signing ceremony Wednesday at the hilltop Griffith Observatory, overlooking the haze of downtown Los Angeles.
California already has some of the world’s toughest air quality standards, and set a mandate in 2006 to derive a third of its electricity from renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal by 2020. State regulators say they already hit 25 percent last year, as huge solar farms sprouted in the desert and towering windmills went up along mountain passes.
“It’s monumental,” said Alex Jackson, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “For an economy the size of California to commit to getting half of its power needs from renewable energy resources, I think, is a game-changer.”
Read more at: California wants renewable energy for half its power by 2030 | The State

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Worst drought in 1,000 Years predicted for American West

Brian Clark Howard, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Large parts of the U.S. are in for a drought of epic proportions in the second half of this century, scientists warn in a new study that provides the highest degree of certainty yet on the impact of global warming on water supplies in the region.
The chances of a 35-year or longer “megadrought” striking the Southwest and central Great Plains by 2100 are above 80 percent if the world stays on its current trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions, scientists from NASA, Columbia University, and Cornell University report in a study published Thursday in the new open-access journal Science Advances.
If countries reduce their emissions to current “middle of the road” targets, the chances of a megadrought hitting the Great Plains drop to between 60 and 70 percent. But they remain nearly 80 percent for the Southwest.
That’s because rising temperatures spurred by the greenhouse effect result in more evaporation and less precipitation for the region, which is already relatively dry. (Read “Drying of the West” in National Geographic magazine.)
“Even at the middle-of-the-road scenario, we see enough warming and drying to push us past the worst droughts experienced in the region since the medieval era,” said Benjamin Cook, the study’s lead author and a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.
Read more via Worst Drought in 1,000 Years Predicted for American West.