Author Archives: Climate Watch Correspondent

Hospital, Heal Thy High-Carbon Self

Kaiser, UCSF and Stanford University Medical Center are all looking for ways to get greener

By Kamal Menghrajani

Kaiser Permanente

Solar panels on the roof of Kaiser's hospital in Modesto will help the Oakland-based health care provider reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

All across California, people are looking for ways to be more eco-friendly: composting, recycling, driving less, and turning out the lights. Now it looks like hospitals in the area are following suit, as Kaiser Permanente announced new ‘green’ initiatives this week.

The Oakland-based health care provider is installing fuel cells and solar panels at its hospitals and clinics throughout the state. The huge non-profit is also turning to green building techniques for new construction projects and to save energy where possible in existing facilities.

The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30%, or a total of 264,000 metric tons, by the year 2020. Continue reading

Golden Gate National Recreation Area Gets Wind Turbines Spinning

The National Park Service is expanding its renewable energy efforts

By Thibault Worth

Alison Taggart-Barone/National Park Service

Frank Dean, General Superintendent of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, speaks in front of one of the new wind turbines at Crissy Field.

The Crissy Field Center, an environmental education center operated by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the Park Service and the Presidio Trust, erected three out of an eventual five wind turbines Wednesday. The event highlighted the expanding mission of the National Park Service to use more renewable energy in powering park facilities.

While the Center’s turbines will be used for mostly educational purposes, the ceremony took place on the same day that the National Park Service reached an interconnection agreement with Southern California Edison to bring 20 dormant renewable energy projects in California online.

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Climate Adaptation and Unintended Consequences

Radio documentary explores the social and economic impacts of adapting to climate change

Rising seas will irrevocably change life near the San Francisco Bay. That’s the premise of RISE: Climate Change and Coastal Communities, a three-part documentary by independent producer Claire Schoen. The final part, “Chuey’s Story,” airs this evening at 8 pm on KQED 88.5 FM.

By Claire Schoen

Jan Sturmann

Chuey Cazares works as a fisherman out of the South Bay town of Alviso. Adapting to climate change may save his town, but it's having unintended consequences for his livelihood.

There’s an old adage that goes something like this: “The human capacity to create technology exceeds our capacity to understand its impact.”

Lots of people have referred to this idea, Einstein perhaps most famously when he said, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” Splitting the atom certainly brought us the promise of unlimited energy to run industry and military might to protect the world from Hitler. It also brought us a nuclear North Korea and Fukushima.

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California, Clean Energy, and the Obama Promise

What does the President’s vow not to “walk away from the promise of clean energy” mean for California?

By Alison van Diggelen

President Obama made a strong State of the Union commitment not to walk away from the promise of clean energy. Was it a shrewd long-term strategy or a political liability that will result in even more “Solyndras” here in California?

On the one hand, Obama’s clean energy focus has helped expand the clean energy job market, into a sector with more than 2.7 million jobs, with investments in smart power grid, energy efficiency, electric cars and renewable power. In 2011, the federal clean energy push led to a remarkable $56 billion investment in the sector, surpassing even China’s. Continue reading

Coffee House Goes for “Zero” Carbon in Your Cup

An Oakland cafe designed to have a “zero” carbon footprint

Kennejima/Flickr

Noble Cafe in Oakland serves coffee with a conscientious bent.

By Caitlin Esch

Dimitri Thompson says he’s calculated every kilowatt his Noble Cafe will use, from the motion-sensor-controlled, low-energy lighting system to his high-end Italian coffee machine. He’s pinned down the biggest electricity hogs in most cafes, “One: coffee machine, on all the time. Two: fridges, on all the time.”

Thompson has a couple of standard restaurant fridges, but he’ll use special cold packs for display goods that need to be kept cool. He plans to buy his electricity from a wind and solar company and has an on-site composting system.

Thompson doesn’t stop there. He includes other factors like how his employees get to work and where his products come from to estimate his total carbon footprint using a website designed to help businesses make that calculation. When all is said and done, Thompson says he will still need to make monthly payments to offset some of his carbon usage. He has chosen to funnel that cash into supporting Oakland’s parks.

Climate Change and Coastal Communities: Facing the Rising Tide

As the water rises, a documentary maker ponders why people aren’t more concerned

Rising seas will irrevocably change life near the San Francisco Bay. That’s the premise of RISE: Climate Change and Coastal Communities, a three-part documentary by producer Claire Schoen. The second part, “Facing the Rising Tide,” airs this evening at 8 pm on KQED Public Radio.

Opinion by Claire Schoen

Jan Sturmann

Steve Mello's family has been farming this land in the Delta for generations. Climate change may prevent his son from carrying on the family legacy.

I recently dug out an old letter which I had written to my Dad back in 1982. “Have you heard about this thing called Global Warming?” I asked.

Back in the 80’s, I was already aware of what is now referred to as “climate change.” So why is it that so few Americans understand this threat today?

In fact, America is in retreat on the subject. According to Pew Research, the number of Americans who believe the planet is warming dropped by 20 percent from 2006 (79%) to 2010 (59%). “Believe.” As if this scientific phenomenon were a belief system, a question of faith.

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Sounding the Waters: Is the Bay Area Prepared for Sea Level Rise?

A new documentary attempts to find the answer

Sea level rise will irrevocably change life near the San Francisco Bay. That’s the premise of RISE: Climate Change and Coastal Communities, a documentary that starts airing this week on KQED Public Radio. Producer Claire Schoen sets the stage on a personal note.

Jan Sturmann

Climate scientists predict that sea level rise and extreme weather will cause flooding of San Francisco's Financial District by 2050.

By Claire Schoen

“Mom, can you please can it with the climate change lecture  – just for once,” my children complained. At ages 22 and 26, my politically correct, Berkeley-raised kids are well educated in all things scientific and political. But… “Enough already,” they cry.

And I confess that their complaint has some validity: I can bring up the topic of climate change in pretty much any conversation.

But really, what other topic is there?

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San Francisco Plans for Sea Level Rise

Ocean Beach could be in big trouble without some serious planning

Andrew Whalley

By Jon Brooks

As more warnings go out to coastal communities about rising sea levels, local planners are starting to sharpen their pencils. Hence the Ocean Beach Master Plan. The San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association (SPUR) is facilitating a coordinated effort among multiple agencies to create a “sustainable long-range plan” for San Francisco’s shoreline. Why do we need a plan? Because erosion of the beach and anticipated rising sea levels may necessitate major changes in the infrastructure that serves the area.

In September, economist Philip King of San Francisco State University unveiled a study aimed at putting estimated price tags on potential economic losses from sea level rise, a study in which San Francisco’s Ocean Beach emerged as a major potential loser. Continue reading

Still Worried After All These Years: Paul Ehrlich on a Planet with 7 Billion People

Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich still sees runaway population growth as a threat to the planet, but is hopeful that humans can avoid the first catastrophic collapse of a global civilization.

Stanford News Service

Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich points to population and consumption as equally responsible for producing environmental damage.

By Sarah Jane Keller
Stanford News Service

Today’s the day that, according to a United Nations tally, world population reaches seven billion — and could top ten billion by the end of the century.

In his 1968 book, The Population Bomb, Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich warned of the threat of unchecked human population growth. Over the past four decades, the book has brought attention to the question of how many individuals our planet can sustain. Today, Ehrlich reflects on what the four decades since have taught him. Continue reading

Snow in Tahoe Already: How Weird is That?

Meteorologists say it’s the shortest Sierra “summer” in four decades

Matthew Green

An early snow in the Grouse Lakes area of the Sierra Nevada

By Matthew Green

For months now, I had reserved the second weekend in October for my annual grand finale “summertime” backpacking trip. Culminating an unusually short warm season, this was to be the ceremonial final alpine lake swim, the last mosquito bloodletting until well after next year’s thaw. Which is why, as my partner and I proceeded to pitch our tent in about 10 inches of snow last Friday evening, I couldn’t help but feel I’d been had.

Last week’s storm, which swept across the northern half of California early Wednesday, dumped up to a foot of snow in the Sierra’s high peaks, with accumulation as low as 5,000 feet. According to the Central Sierra Snow Lab, this is the first snowstorm in 96 days – since July 1 – marking the shortest duration between storms in the Sierra since 1969. Continue reading