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: Cap & Trade — Here Come the Pleas for Exemption

L.A.’s water managers aren’t the only ones asking for relief. Military bases and the UC system also lined up asking for exemptions during hearings on the regulation.

Southern California’s biggest water wholesaler says it faces an extra $10 million to $50 million in annual expenses to comply with California’s global warming law. Those costs will flow down to ratepayers already stressed by steeply rising bills, said the giant Metropolitan Water District, importer of most of the water used in Southern California.

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First Real Partner for California’s Cap & Trade Program

Quebec takes the plunge with California to swap carbon emissions permits

Montreal at sunset: Quebec's economy is about one-sixth that of California.

Quebec has emerged as California’s first full-blown partner in the carbon trading program that ramps up later this year. That means that, pending final approval next month, when the two governments issue their first round of greenhouse gas pollution permits in November, industrial buyers will be able to use them both interchangeably. Continue reading

Iconic Icebreaker Makes Last Voyage — to Scrapyard

A reminder of U.S. vulnerability in the polar seas?

The retired Coast Guard icebreaker Glacier prepares for its final voyage.

Glaciers are slipping away everywhere. It was tough to see this one go.

I’m talking about a ship, not an actual river of ice. This morning I watched the retired Coast Guard icebreaker Glacier cast off on what is likely to be its final voyage, from a Vallejo dry dock to a scrapyard in Brownsville, Texas. It seemed like a poignant moment, given the decline of the U.S. icebreaker fleet. Just as Arctic seas are opening up to unprecedented shipping activity, the Coast Guard is left with just one icebreaker in working order. Icebreakers are important research platforms and could play a vital role in responding to oil spills from offshore drilling in far northern waters. Continue reading

Where Climate and Energy Intersect: The Flipside

Electrical generation may be changing the climate but the reverse is also true

As temperatures rise, the power grid stands to become less efficient. Transmission lines could lose 7-8% of their peak carrying capacity by 2100.

Planners, policymakers and scientists are starting to look more closely at the crossroads of climate change and energy production in California.

For years the focus has been on how energy production affects the climate through emissions of greenhouse gases. Now the converse has come center stage: What happens to energy production in a changing climate? Some heavy-hitters in California climate and energy circles gathered at the California Energy Commission this week, to weigh the question. Some highlights: Continue reading

California Winds Up “Wet” Season on the Dry Side

But communities that depend more on rain, less on the snowpack are looking good

In mid-January, much of the Sierra remained snowless.

Despite what felt like a late-season deluge, this will go down as a dry winter in California’s record books.

The season’s final survey of the Sierra snowpack by California water officials confirms that even heavy spring rains and fresh mountain snow as recently as last week didn’t make up for a late start to the rainy season and one of the driest Decembers on record. Today’s survey finds water content of the mountain snow at just 40% of the long-term average. That puts four out of the last five years on the dry side, though last year was a gullywhumper. Continue reading

Foghorns and the Changing Coastal Soundscape

Technology and politics are changing the tune of the maritime chorus

Read the full text version of this story at KQED’s QUEST site.

East Brother Island, with the 19th-century lighthouse on the left and fog signal building on the right.

On foggy mornings, I wake up to a faint symphony of foghorns. From my condo on a windy bluff above the Mare Island Strait, the horn on the Carquinez Bridge is the bassoon in the back row, accompanied by the assorted boops and beeps of all the other fog signals within earshot of where the Sacramento River empties into San Pablo Bay.

But the orchestra plays a different tune than it did in decades past. Technology and politics are changing the navigational soundscape of coastal America. Complaints from coastal residents about the repetitive blasts of sound and modern electronic navigation aids have relegated the foghorn to a lesser role in the maritime chorus. Continue reading

Lightning, Twisters, Snow and Waterspouts (Oh My)

April arrives with a lot more than showers

We saw a little bit of everything around California last week.

Lightning strikes the Bay Bridge last Thursday evening, some of an estimate 740 "ground strikes."

On Friday, a small tornado touched down in Yuba City, sideswiping a car dealership.
A freak April snow shut down a stretch of I-5. That made local papers on the East Coast.
Waterspouts were sighted off Orange County, and a thunderstorm over San Francisco Bay spawned an extraordinary 740 lightning strikes, according to Christine Riley, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Monterey. Opportunistic photographers caught bolts connecting with iconic bridges and the Transamerica Pyramid.

There was talk on Friday of this being a “record number” but Riley says the Weather Service doesn’t actually track that. It happens that a forecaster in Monterey added up the strikes from this event that showed up on NASA’s Lightning Detection Network. Riley says that figure includes only “ground strikes,” not the bolts that travel cloud-to-cloud. Continue reading

At the Blunt End of the Hockey Stick: Q&A with Michael Mann

A reluctant combatant in the “Climate Wars” has learned to embrace the role

Michael Mann, the climate scientist, not the movie director.

Anti-intellectualism isn’t a new phenomenon in America. But the current war of words over climate science has taken on the tone of a religious war. Comments on this very blog often testify to that. As some scientists have discovered, the war has escalated beyond words, to tactics that include espionage, intimidation, and even attempts at prosecution.

For several years, Michael Mann has been on the front lines of this conflict. Though he says he finds himself a combatant more by conscription than enlistment, the Penn State climatologist has made it the subject of his recent book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. Continue reading

Pacific Institute’s Work Rises Above the Gleick Fiasco

UPDATE: Founder asks for leave of absence in the wake of impersonation scandal

Founded in 1987, the Pacific Institute is housed in this Oakland Victorian.


The old blue-and-gray Victorian in Oakland’s preservation district is familiar turf for me and other journalists on the resources beat. It’s long been a place we could rely on for solid information and interviews.

The analysts who inhabit the rabbit warren of offices at the Pacific Institute are doing honest work on issues that are critical to the future of California and the West, notably where our water will come from. There are few issues more deserving of study than that one.

So I was troubled when, in the haboob of outrage surrounding the tragic missteps of its founder, Peter Gleick, this particularly intemperate remark appeared in the comments thread of the Climate Watch blog: Continue reading

Are We Giving Up Too Soon on Carbon Capture?

California could benefit from the controversial technology behind “clean coal”

It's not just for coal: Natural Gas-fired power plants could use carbon capture technology, too.

A prominent researcher says it would be foolhardy to abandon plans to siphon off the carbon dioxide from industrial emissions and store it underground. The concept, known widely as “carbon capture and sequestration,” or CCS, has been a slow starter in the U.S. In fact, worldwide, there are only a handful of working projects.

“It never had a chance,” said Sally Benson, following a panel at a major science conference. Benson directs the Global Climate & Energy Project at Stanford University, and is a proponent of CCS — though she says companies that were leading the charge are now “wavering.” She told me that the 2010 UN climate talks in Copenhagen were a turning point; when it became apparent that governments weren’t about to put serious restrictions on carbon emissions, she says investors backed away from CCS, which is still in the pilot stage of development and very pricey. Continue reading