Author Archives: Gretchen Weber

California Stakes Out New Ground with its Latest Fuel Standard

The White House proposes a strict new national fuel standard, but California still leads the way

On Wednesday, just as the Obama Administration proposed strict new fuel efficiency standards for 2017-2025-model cars and light trucks, the California Air Resources Board leapfrogged Washington with its own package of regulations designed to further reduce emissions from passenger vehicles.

The proposed “Advanced Clean Cars” regulations package has four components, including a greenhouse gas emissions standard that matches the new federal one, which isn’t surprising since California played a key role in drafting the new federal proposal. Continue reading

Global Warming, in Color

Berkeley Earth

The head of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) study, Richard Muller, a Berkeley physicist previously known for his skeptical views on anthropogenic warming, appeared on Capitol Hill Monday, for the first time since the release of the study’s results.

As we’ve reported, the study found that the Earth is warming. Surface temperatures have increased about one degree Celsius since the mid 1950s, according to the study, which relied on a database of 1.6 billion records. Continue reading

New Federal Fuel Rules Expected Soon, California Poised to Benefit

Stricter fuel standards for cars and light trucks could bring tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to the Golden State, one report says.

In July, when the Obama Administration announced a plan for strict new fuel efficiency standards that would require a fleet-wide average for cars and light trucks of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, the sustainable business non-profit CERES reported the move would create nearly 500,000 new jobs nationwide.

“The new jobs will be related directly to the auto industry, and there will be additional jobs because consumers will have more money to spend because they will be saving on fuel,” said Carol Lee Rawn, director of the transportation program at CERES. Continue reading

Can a Changing Climate Make You Fat?

Anna's Humminbird

Maybe… if you’re a bird.  

You may have heard that climate change is affecting the size of habitats, but did you know that it may also be changing the size of organisms themselves?

A new study finds that songbirds in central California are getting bigger.

The report, published this month in the journal Global Change Biology, looked at the wingspan and weight of thousands of small birds in the region, such as finches, robins, swallows and hummingbirds, and found that over the last 30 years size has increased from .02 percent to .1 percent annually.

Researchers at PRBO Conservation Science looked at data for 73 species, combing 40 years of data from Point Reyes National Seashore and nearly 30 years of data from Milpitas. Continue reading

New Satellite Launched to Watch Climate, Weather

Agencies hope the next-generation satellite will serve as a bridge between the nation’s aging satellite fleet and the new ones yet to come.

Launch of the NPP satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Friday.

In a joint effort to improve observations of the Earth from space, NASA and NOAA launched a new satellite on Friday from Vandenberg Air Force base near Lompoc, CA. The satellite carries with it a suite of next-generation technologies and tools that the agencies say will enable scientists to continue monitoring climate change and weather patterns as many existing Earth-observing satellites are reaching the outer edge of their life expectancies.

The new satellite is part of the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP), which aims to monitor the entire planet, collecting and processing data on the Earth’s weather, atmosphere, oceans, land, and near-space environment.  The agencies say this data will not only help with monitoring climate change, but also with natural disaster prediction and planning, and military strategies.  NASA describes the NPP as a bridge between the aging Earth Observation System (EOS) satellites and the “forthcoming” Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) satellites, which are scheduled to begin launching in 2016. Continue reading

A Source of CO2 That Might Surprise You

That babbling brook out back has been holding out on you

A satellite view of the Mississippi River shows a mosaic of riverbank land-use patterns.

Rivers and streams in the United States are releasing a lot more CO2 into the atmosphere than scientists previously thought, according to a new study by scientists at Yale. In fact, American waterways are discharging the gas into the atmosphere at a rate of 100 million metric tons per year, an amount equal to a car burning 40 billion gallons of gas, researchers say.

The study, conducted by David Butman and Peter Raymond of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, looked at water chemistry data from more than 4,000 rivers and streams. The authors say identifying this significant source of CO2 could change the way scientists model the movement of carbon through ecosystems and the atmosphere.

“These rivers breathe a lot of carbon,” said Butman in a press release from the National Science Foundation, one of the study’s funders. “They are a source of carbon dioxide, just like we breathe out carbon dioxide and like smokestacks emit carbon dioxide.”

The study is published in the current issue of Nature Geoscience.

NOAA Chief: The Climate Crisis the Media is Missing

Carbon Emissions and Osteoporosis of the Sea

Ocean Acidification topped the list of concerns for a panel of marine scientists opening the annual Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Miami this week.

The topic was oceans, and when moderator Nancy Baron of the science education group, COMPASS asked the scientists to “Tell us how it is, really,” panelist and top NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco said that rapidly rising acidity in the ocean is a “huge challenge.”

“It’s the most important under-reported global environmental story today,” she said. “The ocean has become 30% more acidic over the last century, and this massive change is likely to have serious impacts, and it’s likely to get worse.” Continue reading

California’s Dirty Secret: The Five Coal Plants Supplying Our Electricity

The “invisible” fossil fuel that may be powering your lifestyle

The Navajo Generating Station is coal-fired power plant in Arizona, just outside the Grand Canyon National Park. It's one of two coal plants that supplies more than 40% of Los Angeles' power.

Here in California, you hear a lot about our “green” reputation.  We have one of the most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals in the country, and the state is certainly a hotbed for new solar and wind energy investments and installations. We also have a law that says electricity providers have to get 33% of their power from renewable sources by 2020.

So… you might be surprised to hear that coal — that’s right, dirty ol’ coal — is still very much a part of the power supply in parts of Southern California. If you’re one of the 1.4 million residents of Los Angeles who gets power from the city’s Department of Water and Power, about 40% of your electricity comes from coal.

But how’s that possible?  Here in California, we don’t have much in the way of coal deposits, and no significant coal power plants. But we do have several public utilities that own portions of out-of-state coal power plants, and that entitles them to lots of less-than-clean, coal-fired energy. Continue reading

Should California Put Hybrids Back in the Carpool Lane?

You’d think that kicking thousands of solo drivers out of the carpool lane would make traffic move faster…at least for carpoolers. But you’d be wrong, according to researchers from UC Berkeley.

In 2005, California granted drivers of hybrid vehicles access to carpool lanes (regardless of the number of riders) as a way to spur adoption of low-emissions vehicles. But that program ended this summer, after critics argued that the 85,000 cars that had qualified for special lane access were too many, and all the new hybrid drivers were clogging things up for carpoolers. Continue reading

Snapping Snakes for Science — with your iPhone

An innovative citizen science project gains momentum, sprouts new branches

Tad Arensmeier photographed this Yellow-Blotched Palm-Pitviper for iNaturalist.

The organizers of a new effort to catalog the world’s reptiles want to enlist you and your iPhone for their cause. The Global Reptile Bioblitz launched last month and aims to collect amateur observations of every species of reptile on Earth — all 9,413 of them. The project is the sister effort of the Global Amphibian Bioblitz which launched earlier this summer and, thanks to submissions from citizen scientists around the world, has already collected photos of more than 700 of the nearly 7,000 known amphibian species on the planet.

The observations are all logged at, an online citizen science community with more than 2,000 members who’ve cumulatively logged more than 30,000 field observations of species ranging from redwoods to coyotes.Observations can be uploaded to the site directly, or through an iPhone app, also called iNaturalist, which was launched earlier this year. Since we first reported on it back in January, the app has been downloaded more than 3,000 times, according to its developer Ken-ichi Ueda. Continue reading