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What's blooming on the citizen science front


Coffee House Goes for “Zero” Carbon in Your Cup

An Oakland cafe designed to have a “zero” carbon footprint

Noble Cafe in Oakland serves coffee with a conscientious bent.

By Caitlin Esch

Dimitri Thompson says he’s calculated every kilowatt his Noble Cafe will use, from the motion-sensor-controlled, low-energy lighting system to his high-end Italian coffee machine. He’s pinned down the biggest electricity hogs in most cafes, “One: coffee machine, on all the time. Two: fridges, on all the time.”

Thompson has a couple of standard restaurant fridges, but he’ll use special cold packs for display goods that need to be kept cool. He plans to buy his electricity from a wind and solar company and has an on-site composting system.

Thompson doesn’t stop there. He includes other factors like how his employees get to work and where his products come from to estimate his total carbon footprint using a website designed to help businesses make that calculation. When all is said and done, Thompson says he will still need to make monthly payments to offset some of his carbon usage. He has chosen to funnel that cash into supporting Oakland’s parks.

American Pika Gets Another Shot at Endangered Status

The American pika can only survive within a narrow temperature band and can suffer heat stroke at temperatures as mild as 80 degrees.

The California Fish and Game Commission is asking for public input on the status of the American pika. The small, alpine mammal has been at the center of a prolonged debate over whether to list it under the Endangered Species Act. If the pika ultimately wins endangered status it would be the first species to do so with climate change cited as a major factor contributing to its decline. The Center for Biological Diversity originally petitioned for the pika to receive protected status, considering it to be a bellwether for climate change in California. Continue reading

Poll: Indy Californians Still Support Climate Action

Independent-voter survey says two-thirds consider themselves “conservationists”

Independent California voters are feeling the heat from climate change, according to a new poll.

The nearly unanimous rejection of climate science by Republican presidential candidates has not swayed most independent voters in California, according to a new poll.

The survey, commissioned by the California League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, finds that nearly two-in-three (63%) voters who decline to state a party affiliation, agree that “climate change is occurring and is a major problem that needs to be addressed.” Thirty-one percent said that climate change is not an issue worth addressing, as the science is still unclear. Continue reading

Six Books that Shed Light on Our Water Future

Festive reading? Water fears are fueling a publishing frenzy

Blue is the new black. It’s not the latest fashion marketing campaign, but a realization about natural resources: water is the new oil.

It’s essential to life, it’s becoming ever more scarce and people are already fighting to control its access. In case you had any doubt, just check out’s cascade of books, reports and studies published this year. (When you sort out the ones on Fukushima, there are about 70.)

Here’s a brief look at just a few that have drifted through our offices of late. Continue reading

A Year-Long Sky Journal as Video Mosaic

A motion mosaic of our ever-changing, endlessly fascinating atmosphere

Detail from Ken Murphy's video sky mosaic

About two years ago, Ken Murphy set up a tripod on the roof of San Francisco’s Exploratorium science museum and aimed his video camera at a particular patch of sky. He’s spent the two years since shooting time-lapse sequences from his makeshift observatory and has stitched them together into this wonderful visual tableau.

Murphy, who is a web developer at KQED and a former artist-in-residence at the Exploratorium, says the project grew out of — well — boredom. He became restless with his experimentation with art works using LED lights. He says he was looking for more natural movement. So Murphy went dumpster-diving for parts and cobbled together a computer-controlled camera that would record the same sky segment every ten seconds, around the clock. He says it took two years of shooting to stitch together one full year of images. Eventually he found himself sorting through three million video frames for the mosaic. Continue reading

Pacific Islanders Dance for Sea Rise Awareness

“Just for you to hear our voices…This is our only hope.”

Traditional dancers from Kiribati, which is threatened by the rising Pacific

In Pacific island cultures, dance can be a form of prayer — which may be why three dozen people from the disappearing coral atolls of Tuvalu, Kiribati and Tokelau are on a fourteen-city US tour with what they see as their futures at stake.

The message: that what we in the United States do here, affects them there. It’s a performance and educational campaign called “Water Is Rising.”

Instead of looking at bar graphs, we heard the beat of sticks on large biscuit tins. No Power Point here, just artfully synchronized hands and hips, fingers and bare feet. Continue reading

Blame My Driving Habits on that Parking Spot

Being the true confessions of a solo driver in L.A.

Hear Krissy Clark’s companion radio feature from The California Report.

Afternoon rush hour with a mostly-empty HOV lane

I’m a Bay Area native who has about evenly divided my adult life between San Francisco and Los Angeles. So, I have a schizophrenic relationship to driving. Which is to say, I have the same kind of relationship that California as a whole has to driving.

Here’s what I’ve learned during my intra-state sojourns: my transportation habits have very little to do with how environmentally conscious I am as a person, and have a lot to do with parking spots.

When I lived in San Francisco, my daily life was 90% car-free. I owned a car but aside from moving it on street sweeping days (or trying to remember to), I barely thought about the thing unless I was leaving for a weekend trip. My bike, my feet, the bus, BART and the transbay ferries were my chariots. Some of it had to do with the city’s human-scaled streets and efficient public transit. But mostly, it was just too damn time-consuming–or expensive–to find a parking spot most of the places I wanted to go. I couldn’t be bothered to drive. 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

A Climate Convergence in San Francisco

Organizers call San Francisco “flagship” event for worldwide campaign

Moving Planet rally crowd

More than a thousand people marched down Market Street in San Francisco for the Moving Planet rally.

About a thousand people marched in San Francisco on Saturday, chanting slogans, carrying signs and wearing costumes. But unlike many demonstrations that frequent the City by the Bay, the Moving Planet rally was one of hundreds around the world, calling for action and awareness to halt global climate change.

Organized by, the non-profit founded by author and activist Bill McKibben, the San Francisco rally brought together some predictable allies, such as the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and the Berkeley-based Ecology Center, but it also included groups with broader aims, such as the National Organization for Women, Food Not Bombs and 100,000 Poets for Peace. McKibben’s group is devoted to reducing carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere to 350 parts per million (from the current 390 ppm), a number that some scientists estimate could stave off catastrophic effects of climate change. Continue reading

Bill McKibben: On the Front Lines of the Climate Fight

Author and climate activist Bill McKibben says that if we want to put the brakes on global warming, it’s time to put our bodies on the line.

(Photo: Nancie Battaglia)

Today McKibben dropped by KQED for a discussion on Forum with entrepreneur and fellow environmentalist Paul Hawken about the fight for a coherent national climate policy.  McKibben is the founder of the environmental group and was among the hundreds of people arrested near the White House last week during a protest over a controversial oil pipeline that has been proposed to run from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Afterward, I sat down with McKibben and asked him about the role of civil disobedience in the fight against climate change. Continue reading