Author Archives: Craig Miller

Craig is KQED's science editor, specializing in weather, climate, water & energy issues, with a little seismology thrown in just to shake things up. Prior to his current position, he launched and led the station's award-winning multimedia project, Climate Watch. Craig is also an accomplished writer/producer of television documentaries, with a focus on natural resource issues.

Quick Link: “6 Ways California Is Planning to Adapt to Climate Change”

This is a distillation from California’s latest official climate assessment, which is intended to inform an updated climate adaptation strategy this fall. More on the report in our post from last week.


North Carolina is dealing with sea level rise by banning science. California is doing something else: actually making plans. The Golden State has made itself a leader on climate change in recent years, with initiatives to slash greenhouse gas emissions and amp up renewable energy, and has now just released a hefty report on global warming’s impacts on the state and how it plans to adapt to a hot new West.

Read more at: www.motherjones.com

No Relief in Latest California Climate Assessment

But hope persists that we can blunt the worst impacts, if not slow down the warming

Craig Miller

The new normal? A temperature display in the Kern County town of Taft shows 105 degrees on a late afternoon in July.

Granted, it’s been a relatively cool summer in many parts of California. But state officials are saying, “Don’t get used to it.” How would you like to see the number of “extremely hot” days (105 or hotter) in Sacramento increase fivefold in the next few decades? That’s just one of many new projections from the state’s latest official climate assessment.

One hundred-twenty scientists worked on the report, entitled California’s Changing Climate (PDF). Funded by the California Energy Commission, it’s actually a portfolio of studies and contains some of the most specific warnings we’ve seen. For instance, it projects that going forward, average temperatures in the state will warm at three times last century’s pace. It’ll mean heat waves happening more often and lasting longer. Continue reading

Precipitation Trends Reveal a New North-South Split in California

“Extreme” rain and snow events happening more often in the south, less often up north

Craig Miller

Rare summer rain clouds approach a farming valley near the Coast Range, west of Bakersfield.

A new report suggests that global warming is playing out quite differently in California, depending on whether it’s north or south of San Francisco Bay.

The project, by the Environment California Research & Policy Center, studied precipitation trends between 1948 and 2011, with an eye on “extreme” events — storms that dumped unusual amounts of rain or snow on the state.

They found a dichotomy in California — but not the usual “north has all the water” split. It turns out that north of San Francisco Bay, the extreme precipitation events were happening 26% less often, but south of the Bay, they were happening 35% more often. The authors calculate that a storm that used to come along once a year on average, is happening more like once every nine months to the south, which includes the Central Coast. In fact, Santa Barbara showed the biggest increase in frequency, 72% since 1948. Continue reading

Combatants in New CA Water War Dig In

 Opponents call Governor’s Delta plan “plumbing before policy” and “a wink and a promise”

Craig Miller

Opponents to Governor Brown's Delta plan were gathered on the Capitol steps within an hour of the announcement.

You can hear a one-hour discussion of the proposed Delta plan on KQED’s Forum.

“You’ve launched a war. We’ll fight the battle,” was the rallying cry from congressman John Garamendi, within hours of the announcement of Governor Jerry Brown’s revised plan for California’s already embattled Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Brown was flanked by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and officials of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration in rolling out a plan which Brown’s Natural Resources Agency says, “will undergo a rigorous public environmental review.” The plan’s centerpiece is a long-debated tunnel to shuttle water from the Sacramento River, north of the Delta, to the vast plumbing system that carries water to farms in the San Joaquin Valley and cities in Southern California. The conveyance is touted as a way to protect fish from the voracious pumps that fill the canals heading south. Continue reading

Quick Link: “California debates $23.7 billion water tunnel system”

A briefing from KQED’s Lauren Sommer on the upcoming plan for a pair of multi-billion-dollar tunnels designed to shuttle water from the Sacramento River across the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. If you’ve got six minutes, it’s a good backgrounder on the long-debated idea.


Tomorrow, Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to announce plans to build a pair of enormous tunnels to move water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta region, and flow into canals run by the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project.

Read more at: www.scpr.org

Quick Link: “How droughts will reshape the United States”

Including some useful perspective on recent comparisons to the 1930s Dust Bowl.

More than half of the continental United States is currently suffering through the worst drought in 50 years, with heat and a lack of rain rippling through the middle of the country. Crops are wilting, soils are cracked, and some dried-out forests are catching fire. U.S. corn production in particular is dwindling.

Read more at: www.washingtonpost.com

Is Hydroelectric Power a ‘Renewable’ Energy Source?

Most California hydro doesn’t count toward utilities’ renewable energy mandates. Should it?

Craig Miller

Tricky waters: a kayaker navigates the surge at the outlet of the Oxbow Powerhouse on the upper American River.

It’s a fair question and one that a reader posed during our recent series on “Water and Power” in California. Hydro has its virtues. It’s clean, once it’s built; producing hydropower creates no significant greenhouse gas or other emissions. And it’s certainly “renewable” as long as the water flows. But it’s not without its environmental impacts, especially where large “terminal” dams are involved (the kind that fish can’t get past).

In fact, state regulators divide the resource into “large” and “small” hydro, the latter being defined as anything producing 30 megawatts of power or less. Utilities can count small hydro toward their mandated Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) but not the bigger operations. But why? Continue reading

Hydropower With a Shrinking Snowpack

And why that could show up in your electric bill

We’ve mapped all of California’s hydropower dams as part of our series on “Water and Power.”

Craig Miller

PCWA's Ralston Powerhouse on the Rubicon River in Placer County. California typically gets about 15% of its electricity from hydro facilities inside the state..

While much is uncertain about California’s warming climate, there is little doubt that it’s already changing the fundamentals of how most of us get our water. In fact, the Bureau of Reclamation has estimated that the Sierra snowpack could be reduced by half as soon as a decade from now.

And that has some far-reaching implications that could even show up on your electric bill.

“When you hear people talk about a depleted snowpack, it’s because of warmer temperatures and the snow just cannot stay in the hills,” says Robert Shibatani, a hydrologist and consultant to numerous government agencies. He says the “hydrograph” for California — the “usual” pattern of precipitation and runoff — is already changing. “There’s no question about it,” he told me in a recent interview. “That’s not an if. It’s not even a when, because I can tell you the when. It’s happening now.” Continue reading

Richard Muller: Yep, Still Skeptical

Tagged by some as a “convert” to global warming, the Berkeley physicist talks about his work, some of its controversial funding, and his views on renewable energy

KQED

While Richard Muller has come around on global warming, he remains skeptical toward many aspects of climate science.

The outcome of Richard Muller’s sweeping independent audit of temperature data surprised a lot of people — including him. Known as the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study, or BEST, the project was rooted in Muller’s own skepticism toward some of the key data underlying conclusions that the UN’s influential climate panel has drawn about global warming.

The author of two books worth of science advice “for future presidents” now concedes that “global warming is real,” but he remains skeptical about a lot of things, like:

  • The objectivity of some of his colleagues
  • The link between climate change and severe weather
  • The future of some renewable energy sources, like solar thermal and geothermal

In the video clip (below), Muller talks about the perils of accepting scientific findings at face value.

Here are some more excerpts from our recent conversation: Continue reading

Muller on Climate: It’s All About China

Forget California, says the outspoken Berkeley physicist. It’s what China does that matters

American Association of Physics Teachers

Richard Muller

Despite some well-publicized recent conversions on climate matters, Richard Muller’s reputation as a climate skeptic is well earned. In two books, one published and one forthcoming, the UC Berkeley physicist offers counsel on physics and Energy for Future Presidents.

One thing Muller is highly skeptical of is California’s legislated climate strategy, a perspective that he laid out for me in a recent interview at his home in the Berkeley Hils. What matters, he says, is what China does. And little else:

CM: The point here is, and you’ve written about this, is that California can’t save the world in terms of cutting emissions, that no matter what we do, what matters is what China’s doing.

RM: Certainly, California is far too small a part of the global warming problem that anything we do here cannot really help. Even setting an example is something that, I think, is not something we are going to do. But if we can develop an industry that lowers the price of solar cells that lowers the price of wind, that makes nuclear safe, if we can do those things, then that could have a real impact on the future. Continue reading