Government & Business

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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

California’s Farm Belt Didn’t Dodge the Summer Heat Wave

Abnormally warm summer temperatures were felt across much of interior California

By Nicholas Christen and Craig Miller

Craig Miller / KQED

Even tomatoes can only take so much heat. A belt from Bakersfield to the northern Sacramento Valley produces a third of the nation's canning tomatoes.

Autumn is here, so says the calendar. Living on the coast, it might be easy to think that California escaped the heat wave suffered by much of the nation this summer. While that may be true for most of the large coastal population centers, it was a different story for much of the state’s interior farm belt.

Throughout June and July, even Central Valley spots escaped much of the heat felt by the Great Plains, though Cal Expo officials blamed the heat, in part, for tamping down attendance at the state fair. Then things heated up quickly — especially in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys — through August and into September.  Valley towns including Redding, Red Bluff, Sacramento, Merced, Madera, Fresno, and Bakersfield, have been on the order of three-to-five degrees above normal for the duration of August and September. Continue reading

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

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

Studies: Offshore Wind Potential is Huge

Harnessing wind offshore and at higher altitude could meet all electricity needs — theoretically

NC State University

The U.S. has lagged behind other developed countries in capturing offshore wind for electricity..

The U.S. has lagged behind European countries in capturing offshore wind for electricity, but a spate of recent studies suggest that a bigger push might be in order.

The latest, from Stanford civil & environmental engineer Mark Jacobson concludes that off the East Coast alone is enough moving air to meet a third of the entire nation’s energy needs.

Running out the string quite a bit further, studies from Stanford and Lawrence Livermore National Lab point to a breezy bounty offshore and at higher altitudes that could theoretically power the planet, perhaps as soon as 2030.

Of course, that would take four million powerful turbines. Continue reading

NAS Study Calls for ‘Next Generation’ of Climate Models

Report reflects shift in climate research toward news you can use

National Center for Atmospheric Research

A new study from the National Academy of Sciences advocates for more detailed and interconnected climate models.

In the effort to better understand the dynamics of the Earth’s changing climate, a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences calls for scientists to collaborate on a “new generation” of highly detailed and integrated climate change models.

According to the NAS release:

With changes in climate and weather . . . past weather data are no longer adequate predictors of future extremes. Advanced modeling capabilities could potentially provide useful predictions and projections of extreme environments.

Those “useful predictions and projections,” according to the report, could come in various forms — supplying farmers with better information about what to plant, year-to-year, say, or giving local officials greater insights into future flood risk, or providing climatologists with better information about specific parts of the country most susceptible to extreme heat. 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

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

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

California Powers Up Plan for Waste-to-Watts

Energy from trash and fewer catastrophic fires? What’s the catch?

California Energy Commission

A wood-burning power plant in Northern California. In 2007, "biomass" energy accounted for roughly 2.1 percent of California energy production. A new state bioenergy plan seeks to substantially increase that percentage.

Wood scraps, animal manure, household garbage and other wastes may soon fuel a sweeping “clean energy” initiative in California, if the collective vision of several state agencies comes to pass.

This week, the state announced its 2012 Bioenergy Action Plan [PDF], which promotes an array of organic materials as a large and untapped fuel source for an energy-hungry state.

“Swift action on bioenergy will create jobs, increase local clean energy supplies, and help businesses grow in California,” said resources agency secretary John Laird in a Department of Natural Resources release. Currently, the bioenergy sector employs roughly 5,000 people and contributes $575 million to the state economy; the agency estimates the new plan could create an additional 4,000 jobs statewide. Continue reading