Author Archives: Katrina Schwartz

Katrina Schwartz is a journalist based in San Francisco. She's worked at KPCC public radio in LA and has reported, produced and blogged on health, climate change and local news for KQED in San Francisco.

Californians Stand By Call for Climate Action

…though most remain clueless about the state’s imminent cap-and-trade program

Craig Miller / KQED

Wind turbines in Solano County. 78% of Californians polled favor federal support for renewable energy.

Much has been made lately of Berkeley physicist Richard Muller’s recent “conversion” to the position that global warming is both happening and stoked by human activity.* But it turns out that the controversial scientist and author has been playing catch-up.

In a statewide survey released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), 60% of Californians polled said that the effects of global warming have already begun. Asking the question in a slightly different way, both the Brookings Institution and the Pew Center for People & the Press found that in 2011, 60% and 63% of Americans, respectively, believed that there was solid evidence that global warming is happening.

Californians took it a step further, however, with nearly three-in-four of the 2,500 participants responding that government should take steps to “counter the effects of global warming right away.” PPIC conducted the survey in July and it includes responses in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. Continue reading

California Delays First Cap & Trade Permit Auction

State will start with a dry run while questions remain about how to spend the money

Getty Images

Starting next year, industries will have to track their greenhouse gas emissions and some will have to pay for carbon pollution rights.

Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board (ARB) announced at a state senate hearing that the first carbon permit auction will be pushed back to November 14th.

The surprise announcement came at a hearing called to discuss what to do with proceeds from the sale of permits to emit greenhouse gases, the first of which is expected to flow into state coffers late this year.

Nichols’ announcement stole the headlines, though she said that the new auction date will not affect the overall timeline for implementation and that August will now be a “practice auction.”

“We’ll give everybody a free round in August where the auction won’t really count,” Nichol told me. “So that gives all the stakeholders, including of course, all the companies that are going to have to be purchasing allowances at the beginning an opportunity to see how the system will actually work.” Continue reading

Doctors Expect Climate Change to Worsen Lung Diseases

In some parts of California air quality is already a big issue

This post originally appeared on KQED’s State of Health blog.

Getty Images

Farming in the Central Valley contributes to the poor air quality there.

As if there wasn’t already enough to worry about, now doctors are predicting that climate change will harm people’s respiratory health. The American Thoracic Society is so concerned it filed a report with two goals. The Society not only wants to raise awareness with doctors so they can take preventive measures with their patients but also is enticing researchers to take on the question for further study. They found that climate change has a direct impact on air quality. A hotter climate, wildfires, more pollen in the air and rates of airborne diseases are worsening respiratory health worldwide.

Climate change will likely affect different places in different ways, but in California it could mean hotter summers and more wildfires. The itchy eyes and sneeze-inducing allergies that plague many people during pollen season could also hang around longer if weather patterns continue to change. All of that is bad for asthmatics, children and the elderly, but also for poor people – as it turns out.

“It was really an eye opener for us,” said Kent Pinkerton, a professor of pediatrics at UC Davis and the lead author on the report. “We were really not aware of the implications of change in temperature on respiratory health. But it really is a global issue. It’s not just a concern for here in our country,” he added. In some parts of Africa and Turkey desertification and increased particulates in the air have already forced people to relocate, often into cramped conditions, which further heightens their risk for respiratory diseases.

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State Analyst: Cap & Trade Plan Good as Far as it Goes

But what happens after 2020?

A non-partisan analysis of California’s recently approved cap-and-trade program says state regulators at the Air Resources Board (CARB) did a decent job of balancing competing directives, but warns that legislators need to start thinking about what happens after the program runs its course, less than a decade from now.

Craig Miller

“The legislature and the Air Board need to provide some certainty of what the regulatory landscape will look like after 2020, so that the regulated community can start planning and making appropriate investments,” Mark Newton of the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) told me in a telephone interview. The state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction law, AB 32, sets a goal of reducing California’s emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. “AB 32 leaves open the door to changes being made,” said Newton, “but it doesn’t provide any specificity about a new goal that you’ll be reaching after the 2020 goals are met.”

In other words, industries regulated under the program have no idea what will happen after 2020, although the legislative intent — and California environmental history — points to further regulation. It took regulators a solid four years to get their carbon trading plan off the ground, so planning ahead seems prudent.

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California’s “Clean Car” Rules: A Historical Perspective

A leading transportation expert weighs in on California’s tough new emissions standards

Craig Miller/KQED

California's new emission standards would mandate a 15% increase in zero-emission-vehicles by 2025.

UPDATE: Today, California air regulators approved a package of “Clean Car” standards that many are calling historic. But there’s nothing new about that. California’s been out front in the clean car derby for decades.

In her recent story on QUEST, Lauren Sommer unpacks the proposed emissions standards. As part of her reporting she spoke with Dan Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, and a member of California’s Air Resources Board. Sperling puts the state’s new emissions standards in historical perspective, arguing that since the 1960s virtually all innovation in automotive emissions controls can be traced back to California. Here’s a snippet of Sommer’s conversation with Sperling. Continue reading

New Map for Gardeners Won’t Help California’s Green Thumbs

The USDA updates its plant hardiness map to 21st century standards

Getty

Gardeners in California may not learn much from the USDA's new Plant Hardiness Zone Map, but warmer winter averages elsewhere may allow for new additions to gardens across the country.

It’s been more than two decades since the U.S. Department of Agriculture updated its Plant Hardiness Zones Map, used by gardeners across the country to determine what will grow in their yards. The new GIS-enabled map unveiled this week is a boost to people who live in places that get a lot of cold weather and may be seeing slightly warmer average winters now. But in California, Sunset’s western zones guide has always been the gardener’s bible.

Kim Kaplan, a spokesperson for the USDA’s in-house research service stopped short of conceding that the revamped map was a nod to climate change. “In some cases you do see a warmer or colder zone, but there’s no way to ascribe that change just to the [30] new years of weather data we’ve added,” she told me, adding that the changes were driven more by updated technology. “The sophisticated algorithm that was created for how to draw the zones between where we have actual data points is something that was never done before” she said. Point taken. The new map shouldn’t be compared to the old map.

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Feds Likely to Catch Up to California on Fuel Economy Standards

The EPA is pushing new nationwide fuel economy standards that would bring the nation up to California’s strict standards.

Spencer Platt/Getty

Consumer groups say the EPA's proposed fuel economy standard will mean you'll pay less at the pump.

At a public hearing in San Francisco today a diverse group of stakeholders lined up to support the EPA’s proposal to increase the fuel efficiency standard for cars and light trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon. As we’ve reported here, the rule would affect models between 2017 and 2025 and will likely be adopted by the end of the summer.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) worked closely with the EPA to develop the standard and testified that if the rule can be finalized as proposed, California will be willing to accept the national standard. CARB has been taking heat for this collaboration from Orange County Congressional Representative Darrell Issa, who has accused the state of meddling in national regulatory affairs.

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State Joins Suit against San Diego Regional Transportation Plan

Critics say long-term, San Diego’s plan will add greenhouse gas emissions, not reduce them

Craig Miller/KQED

Critics say that San Diego's regional transportation plan focuses too much on freeways.

The spotlight is on San Diego to lead the way on regional transportation planning that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. But critics say that the regional planning agency’s proposal is anything but a model for sustainable planning.

San Diego’s regional planning agency, SANDAG, is the first to develop a plan since California passed a law requiring that regions try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through land use and transit planning. The law, SB 375, went into effect in 2010, and falls under the Air Resources Board’s Sustainable Communities program. The ARB approved SANDAG’s plan when it was submitted in November of 2011, saying it would meet short-term greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2020-2035. Continue reading

The Latest Breakthrough in Biofuels: Seaweed?

Berkeley scientists bring seaweed biofuels one step closer to the marketplace

nat haru/Flickr

Seaweed farms off the coast of Bali. According to one estimate, using just three percent of the Earth's coastal waters to grow seaweed could produce 60 billion gallons of ethanol.

The newest biofuel making a splash is seaweed.

Researchers at Berkeley-based Bio Architecture Lab (BAL) have discovered a way to genetically manufacture a microbe that can break down the sugars in seaweed, so that it can be used as a fuel source. Biofuels from sources other than corn have generated a lot of hype but so far not the large-scale production necessary for them to be considered an integral part of the U.S. energy future (see Lauren Sommer’s recent biofuels “reality check,” for KQED’s QUEST).

There are many kinds of algae. The ones that have received most attention are microalgaes that grow in freshwater ponds. The US Department of Energy has invested heavily in research on microalgaes. Defense officials are looking to oil extracted from the freshwater scum to fuel military machinery. Last week a California Report story highlighted the efforts of researchers in San Diego to scale up production of oil from algae, in order to bring down the cost and make it viable on the energy market. Continue reading

Help Document Bay Area High Tides

King tides return to the Bay Area, augmented by a long-awaited winter storm.

Jack Gregg

High tide at Pier 14 in San Francisco during the winter of 2011.

No one knows exactly how much sea level rise the San Francisco Bay Area can expect from climate change, but king tides — extremely high seasonal tides — may give insight into what could be normal in the future.

Starting today and continuing through Sunday, king tides are expected in the morning hours around the Bay Area. Recent rainstorms and the accompanying runoff will likely make these tides even bigger. The California King Tides Initiative is again asking for citizens to document the visual effects of king tides and add them to a Flickr photo pool to help give a perspective on how sea level rise might change local landscapes.

Sea levels have risen about eight inches in the last century and the San Francisco Bay Conservation & Development Commission (BCDC) has warned that the area should be ready for 16 inches of sea level rise by mid-century.