Author Archives: Nate Seltenrich

Reality Check: California’s Ultra-Low-Greenhouse Gas Future

What will it really take to meet the state’s aggressive carbon reduction goals?

As the centerpiece of California’s climate strategy, the law known as AB 32 gets all the attention. But a little-known component of the state’s plan to mitigate climate change, Executive Order S-3-05, is even more ambitious. A new report from the independent California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) takes aim at its aggressive greenhouse-gas-reduction goal for 2050, and shows just how difficult it will be to reach it.

Signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in June 2005, EO S-3-05 calls for the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 (a target also written into AB 32 and passed the following year), and to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 — effectively a 90% per-capita decrease when population growth is factored in. The 2020 goal sounds easy enough — especially if a third of our electricity generation is renewable by then — but existing efforts, including cap-and-trade, still won’t be enough. In other words, the state has got to come up with even more reductions in the next eight years. Continue reading

New Atmospheric Compound Impacts Climate, Human Health

Role in aerosol formation could aid modeling of Central Valley temps, air quality

NASA Earth Observatory

Aerosols—and clouds seeded by them—reflect about a quarter of the Sun’s energy back to space.

For all we know about climate change and the Earth’s atmosphere, it’s amazing how much more there is to learn. Earlier this month, a team of researchers led by University of Colorado’s Roy “Lee” Mauldin III announced the discovery of a brand new atmospheric compound tied to both climate change and human health.

Above certain parts of the earth, they found, the new compound is at least as prevalent as OH, also called the hydroxyl radical, long thought to be the primary oxidant responsible for turning sulfur dioxide, an industrial pollutant, into sulfuric acid. The new compound, it turns out, can play an equally important role. Sulfuric acid contributes to acid rain and results in the formation of aerosols, airborne particulates associated with a variety of respiratory illnesses in humans and known to seed the formation of clouds. Continue reading

Filling the Gaps in Oakland’s Climate Plan

Study could help city prepare for impacts already on the way

Craig Miller

Oakland aims to shrink its carbon footprint by more than a third. But what about preparing for impacts already on the way?

The City of Oakland is forging a comprehensive Energy and Climate Action Plan aimed at mitigating climate change. Even by California standards; it’s ambitious, calling for a 36% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2020 (statewide emissions decreased 5.3% between 2005 and 2009, the most recent year for which numbers are available). It also lays out the policies and programs needed to make it happen. What the plan doesn’t answer is how the city will cope with the climate change that has already been set in motion.

Enter a study prepared by Oakland’s Pacific Institute for the California Energy Commission, published in July but not widely circulated until this month. It fills in the holes in the city’s approach by advancing “climate adaptation planning,” in which local governments prepare for dealing with climate change on a short-and-long-term basis and across all segments of the population. Continue reading

Planting the Seeds for ‘Greener’ Farms

Sustainable ag makes its bid for cap & trade revenues

Craig Miller

Reducing tillage is one technique farmers are trying out to cut carbon emissions.

Supporters of sustainable agriculture are looking forward to some “sustenance” of their own, after an eleventh-hour win in Sacramento. Just as the state’s last legislative session was drawing to a close, Assembly Bill 1532 passed by a vote of 51-28, sending to the governor’s desk a system for allocating cap-and-trade auction revenues, which are expected to reach into the billions of dollars by the end of next year.

AB 1532, authored by Assembly Speaker John Pérez, lays out an approach for ensuring that all proceeds from the sale of permits be used to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Among the eligible activities identified in the bill are farming and ranching practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon, such as reducing soil tillage, improving energy and water efficiency, and reducing synthetic fertilizer use through compost, cover crops, and crop rotation. Continue reading

Grand Plan May Settle the Solar Siting Paradox

Remote deserts would seem to be the ideal place for Big Solar — were it only that simple

Can threatened tortoises and utility-scale solar plants coexist in the California desert? Since the solar rush began a few years ago, results have been discouraging. But an ambitious new plan aims to strike a long-lasting compromise. Northern Californians get a chance to weigh in on the process at a public meeting in Sacramento on Wednesday, September 5.

BrightSource Energy

The sprawling Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is scheduled to go online next year.

The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan — just call it the DRECP — is designed to establish habitat protection guidelines for dozens of species, not just the elusive desert tortoise, across an incredible 22.5 million acres of desert caught in the crossfire between conservation and clean energy. Continue reading

California Air Board Relents on College Carbon Credits

Universities could be getting some last-minute relief from cap-and-trade

Many state college campuses have "cogeneration" facilities subject to fees under cap & trade.

California universities appear to be in line for some relief from the state’s imminent carbon pollution fees.

Implementation of California’s controversial cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases is only four months away, meaning it’s crunch time for the state’s Air Resources Board. On Thursday, the board will stage a dry run offering likely participants an opportunity to practice bidding on California carbon allowances — and allowing the ARB a chance to test its platform.

Not like it doesn’t already have its hands full. For months, cap-and-trade-eligible emitters including private businesses, military bases, universities, and waste-to-energy power-plant operators have been crying for exemptions under AB 32, arguing that they would suffer undue financial hardships. Continue reading

Study: Urban Water Use Will Outpace Efficiency Gains

But returning to “Hollywood” showers will just make things worse

Craig Miller

Californians may want to rethink the long-established tradition of watering the sidewalk.

You installed a low-flow toilet. You take fast showers. Your yard is water-wise and drought-tolerant. And even if everyone in California were just like you, which they’re not — yet — the state would still see a significant bump in urban water demand by the end of the century. The culprit: warmer temperatures caused by climate change.

An innovative new model developed by researchers at Oakland’s Pacific Institute shows that even if California meets its current goal of reducing per-capita water usage 20 percent by 2020 — and continues to improve water efficiency at a similar rate through the end of the century — still, by 2100 the state’s urban water demand will increase by eight percent, or roughly one million acre-feet (with all other factors held constant). That’s a lot of water: enough to satisfy the current household needs of 6.7 million Californians. Continue reading