Author Archives: Molly Samuel

Molly Samuel joined KQED as an intern in 2007, and since then has worked here as a reporter, producer, director and blogger. Before becoming KQED Science’s Multimedia Producer, she was a producer for Climate Watch. Molly has also reported for NPR, KALW and High Country News, and has produced audio stories for The Encyclopedia of Life and the Oakland Museum of California. She was a fellow with the Middlebury Fellowships in Environmental Journalism and a journalist-in-residence at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. Molly has a degree in Ancient Greek from Oberlin College and is a co-founder of the record label True Panther Sounds.

Heat and Harvest: Calif. Farms on a Climate Collision Course

The Midwestern corn belt isn’t the only place threatened by climate change

New pests, a shrinking water supply and rising temperatures will alter agriculture in California.

Craig Miller

Tightening water supplies, encroaching pests and dwindling winter "chill hours," vital to many crops, are just some of the climate challenges facing California farmers.

Heat and Harvest, a new series from KQED Science and the Center for Investigative Reporting looks at the multiple climate challenges confronting California farmers. It’s no trivial matter. California’s Central Valley is widely known as “the nation’s salad bowl,” and there’s more than bragging rights at stake. Ag contributes more than $30 billion a year to the state’s economy.

Previously, Climate Watch has focused on efforts in the ag sector to conserve water or lower the carbon footprint. Some farmers are trying new technologies, others are experimenting with renewable energy. But meeting climate challenges on multiple fronts will, for some farmers and ranchers, be a matter of survival.

Here are links to some previous reporting from Climate Watch, from ag’s potential role in California’s emerging cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions, to innovation on the renewable energy front and new conflicts over land use. Continue reading

West Nile Virus and the Future of Once-Tropical Diseases

Midwest outbreak is the worst in U.S. history — and may be a sign of things to come

Molly Samuel/KQED

Mosquitoes under a microscope at the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District.

William Reisen began studying tropical diseases when he was drafted in the Vietnam War. He’d studied insects in school, so he worked as an entomologist for the Air Force. Eventually, his career led him to California, where he now heads UC Davis’s Center for Vectorborne Diseases. But even with his professional experience with mosquito-borne diseases, he says he never expected to see West Nile virus in the United States.

“Everybody was surprised,” he says. “If you were a betting person, and you wanted to guess the next virus that would cause trouble from abroad in North America, I think few of us would have expected West Nile.”

West Nile, a disease carried by birds and spread by mosquitoes, first made inroads in the U.S. in 1999, in New York. By 2003, it had reached California. In 2004 and 2005, there were hundreds of human cases; in those two years combined, 48 people in California died. Continue reading

Quick Link: Extreme Weather Drives Up Food Prices

Officials at the World Bank and the UN say countries should prepare for a spike in food prices after this summer’s droughts in the Midwest, Russia and Brazil. But it’s not only a short-term problem. A report from Oxfam warns that extreme weather caused by climate change will make food prices even more volatile in the future.


The directors of three major United Nations food and agriculture programs sounded the alarm both on the immediate problem of high food prices and the “long-term issue of how we produce, trade and consume food in an age of increasing population, demand and climate change.”

Read more at: www.nytimes.com

California Examines the Health Effects of Extreme Heat

A new report looks at how to prepare for — and adapt to — a warmer world

State agencies are bracing for the public health threat from extreme heat. Heatwaves can have devastating effects on public health; in a 2006 heatwave in California, hundreds of people died [PDF]. And scientists predict in the future, heat waves will be longer, hotter and more frequent.

In the future, heat waves will be longer, hotter and more frequent.

To try to keep the health costs to a minimum, the California Climate Action Team, led by the California Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Public Health, is developing a plan to prepare for extreme heat[PDF].

The state’s plan addresses building codes and urban planning, state and local emergency response plans, health care system preparedness and worker safety. The recommendations include making sure the most vulnerable people can be protected from high temperatures, protecting key parts of the power grid from air-conditioner overload and planting more trees in cities. Continue reading

Why Wildfires Are Burning Bigger and Hotter

A century of fire suppression means there are more trees to burn, and they burn more dramatically

This has been a devastating wildfire season. Nationwide, more acres have burned this summer than at this time in any other year on record. In May and June, New Mexico weathered the largest fire in its history. Hundreds of homes and tens of thousands of acres have burned in Colorado. As the summer wears on, fire season has moved west — as it tends to do – and now the Ponderosa Fire is raging near Redding.

Has it always been like this? A new NPR series by Christopher Joyce explores what a century of fire suppression has meant for forests in the Southwest.


Continue reading

Quick Link: Romney Rolls Out His Plan for Energy Independence

Plays up North American oil production, plays down everything else

Mitt Romney’s energy plan calls for increasing offshore drilling, letting states oversee energy production–rather than the federal government–and building the Keystone XL pipeline.


Mitt Romney will unveil an energy plan Thursday that he says will allow North America to be energy independent by 2020 and decrease costs to consumers by increasing domestic production. The plan, released to reporters Wednesday, includes approving the Keystone XL pipeline bringing oil from Canada to Texas – President Obama has put off a decision until after the election – and increasing domestic production to spur job growth.

Read more at: www.latimes.com

Shifting Sands: San Francisco Begins Huge Erosion-Control Project

Ocean Beach has too much sand on one end, too little on the other

Molly Samuel/KQED

Trucks are moving sand from the north end of Ocean Beach to the south end.

Portions of San Francisco’s historic Great Highway are closed for a massive sand-moving project, part of an effort to slow erosion along the stretch of Pacific coastline known as Ocean Beach. By the end of the project, trucks will have moved about 100,000 cubic yards of sand.

“It’s the equivalent of 31 Olympic-sized swimming pools,” said Tyrone Jue, spokesman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. “It’s a lot of sand that we’re having to move in a short period of time and that’s why we’re closing down the lanes of the Great Highway to accommodate the truck traffic.” Continue reading

Quick Link: Hydro Proposal Raises Alarm With Salmon Advocates

The Yuba River, like many rivers in California, has dams, diversion, tunnels and turbines up and down its course, only more-so. The Yuba, in the Sierra foothills northeast of Sacramento, contains the most complex hydropower project in the state (I reported on that project for our Water and Power series). And on top of that project, which is made up of facilities owned by PG&E and the Nevada Irrigation District, there are other dams owned and operated by the Yuba County Water Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Sacramento Bee is reporting, there’s a proposal for a new hydroelectric facility, which would piggyback on one of the Army Corps of Engineers dams, and it’s drawing fire from salmon advocates and government agencies.


A Canadian company’s surprise proposal to build a hydroelectric generation facility on the Yuba River has raised alarm among government agencies and nonprofits working to restore salmon runs on the river. Archon Energy of Calgary, in a July 18 application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, proposes to build a 3-megawatt energy generation facility adjacent to Daguerre Point Dam.

Read more at: www.sacbee.com

Renters in California May Gain Access to More Renewable Energy

Proposed legislation would make renewable energy available to millions more Californians

Craig Miller/KQED

Most Californians can't install rooftop solar panels.

California’s big utilities are working toward the goal of generating 33% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, but some people want more renewable power, sooner. And there’s a solution to that: generate your own. But for most Californians — those who rent, who live in condos, whose property isn’t suitable for solar or wind installations or who just can’t afford it — that solution isn’t really an option.

Senator Lois Wolk, from Davis, has written legislation with a new solution. If Senate Bill 843 passes, customers of one of California’s big three investor-owned utilities, Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison or San Diego Gas and Electric, would be allowed to purchase renewable energy directly from small, independent producers. Those producers send energy into the grid, then customers get credits on their regular utility bills. Continue reading

Heat Wave: California Takes its Turn

Forecast for inland temperatures to stay in the triple-digits this week

High temperatures in the Central Valley are expected to last through the end of the week.

America’s heat wave has caught up with California — at least the inland areas.

Sacramento has had six consecutive days above 100 degrees; an excessive heat warning is in effect from Merced to Bakersfield; and on Saturday Modesto tied its record for highest temperature for the date, at 105 degrees.

“In general, we’re about ten-to-fifteen degrees above normal for this time of year,” Holly Osborne, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento told me. “Today will be our sixth day of 100 or above in Sacramento, and we’re looking at temperatures being 100 or above for the rest of the week.” Osborne expects things to cool off, “moving into the weekend.” Continue reading