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

No Relief in Latest California Climate Assessment

But hope persists that we can blunt the worst impacts, if not slow down the warming

Craig Miller

The new normal? A temperature display in the Kern County town of Taft shows 105 degrees on a late afternoon in July.

Granted, it’s been a relatively cool summer in many parts of California. But state officials are saying, “Don’t get used to it.” How would you like to see the number of “extremely hot” days (105 or hotter) in Sacramento increase fivefold in the next few decades? That’s just one of many new projections from the state’s latest official climate assessment.

One hundred-twenty scientists worked on the report, entitled California’s Changing Climate (PDF). Funded by the California Energy Commission, it’s actually a portfolio of studies and contains some of the most specific warnings we’ve seen. For instance, it projects that going forward, average temperatures in the state will warm at three times last century’s pace. It’ll mean heat waves happening more often and lasting longer. Continue reading

Precipitation Trends Reveal a New North-South Split in California

“Extreme” rain and snow events happening more often in the south, less often up north

Craig Miller

Rare summer rain clouds approach a farming valley near the Coast Range, west of Bakersfield.

A new report suggests that global warming is playing out quite differently in California, depending on whether it’s north or south of San Francisco Bay.

The project, by the Environment California Research & Policy Center, studied precipitation trends between 1948 and 2011, with an eye on “extreme” events — storms that dumped unusual amounts of rain or snow on the state.

They found a dichotomy in California — but not the usual “north has all the water” split. It turns out that north of San Francisco Bay, the extreme precipitation events were happening 26% less often, but south of the Bay, they were happening 35% more often. The authors calculate that a storm that used to come along once a year on average, is happening more like once every nine months to the south, which includes the Central Coast. In fact, Santa Barbara showed the biggest increase in frequency, 72% since 1948. Continue reading

Rising Seas Threaten California’s Coastal Past

Higher tides and increased erosion will wipe out archaeological sites

Hear the radio version of this story from KQED’s The California Report.

Mike Newland

A site with evidence of more than 1,000 years of occupation is eroding due to high tides hitting the base of the cliff.

On a sunny day earlier this summer at Point Reyes National Seashore, I scrambled behind Mike Newland as he clambered across gullies and bushwhacked through thigh-high lupine. Once we got to the spot he was aiming for, on the edge of a sandy beach-side cliff, he stopped and started to pick through shells and stones.

“You can see, we’ve got sort of a handful of little guys here, popping out of the ground,” he noted. Some of these that we’re going to see, they weren’t here a year ago, when I came here last time.”

Newland, an archaeologist at Sonoma State University and the president of the Society for California Archaeology, was hunting for Native American artifacts, clues about what life was like in coastal California before Europeans arrived. It was easy for him to find them; wind, rain and tides have eroded these cliffs and exposed the ancient trash piles and stone tools.

This site and these cultural resources — some of them a thousand years old or more — might not be around for much longer. These pieces of California’s history are in danger of disappearing as the Pacific Ocean claws at the base of this cliff. Sea level rise is accelerating the problem. Continue reading

Can a Bullet Train Shrink California’s Carbon Footprint?

A Berkeley study says it just might — but not right away

By Roger Rudick

Near Antwerp, Belgium, there’s a two-mile section of high-speed rail (HSR) line with solar panels over the tracks to help power the system. That kind of technology is essential to maximizing environmental benefits from California’s proposed bullet train, according to a new study co-authored by Berkeley’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. California is poised to begin construction of an HSR line from San Francisco to Los Angeles early next year.

CA High Speed Rail Authority

How "green" California's bullet train is depends in part on how electricity for it is being produced.

But before the electrically powered trains start cleaning up California’s air, they have to make it dirtier. That’s because the construction generates pollution. “We calculated after ground breaking, so the net benefits come at best 10 years after the system starts running,” said Mikhail Chester, a professor at Arizona State and a study author.

And some of that depends on how quickly people switch from driving and flying to using the train, he added. According to the study, entitled “High-speed rail with emerging automobiles and aircraft can reduce environmental impacts in California’s future,” 67% of the construction pollution for HSR comes from making cement.  “But construction is a one-time cost…the benefits continue for the life of the system,” he said. Continue reading

Understanding the U.S. Drought and Heatwave: Five Good Visuals

As the drought drags on, these graphics and interactives explain what’s happening

Scott Olson/Getty Images

1. “Drought’s Footprint”The New York Times

In June, more than half of the U.S. was experiencing moderate to extreme drought. How does that compare to other years? The Times’ graphic lays it out.

2. “Dried Out: Confronting the Texas Drought” — NPR, KUT and KUHF

The drought began in Texas in October of last year. Watch it grow over time, and explore a timeline that explains the root causes of the drought and how communities are responding.

3. “Flash Drought in U.S. Explained in 14 Seconds”Climate Central

Watch an animation showing the spread of the drought, from Texas and Georgia in March, to most of the Midwest and West by June.

4. Drought Impact Reporter — The National Drought Mitigation Center

This is “the nation’s first comprehensive database of drought impacts.” Submit reports of how the drought affects you, and search for drought impacts by state, whether they’re to agriculture, industry, public health or wildlife.

5. “Historic heat wave in hindsight: Hottest on record in Washington D.C., hotter than 1930″Washington Post

From the Post’s weather blog, a local, numbers-heavy analysis of the heatwave that hit Washington. With stats like “Longest period at or above 100: 7 hours on July 7 (tie with July 6, 2010 and July 21, 1930),” it’s like a Guinness Book of World Records for D.C.’s summer, and holds my usually California-focused attention.

Turning the Tide at Ocean Beach

Pencil-ready: Funding comes through for Ocean Beach adaptation studies

Molly Samuel/KQED

At San Francisco's Ocean Beach, erosion and sea level rise threaten infrastructure.

As an Army Corps of Engineers dredge dumped sand offshore, a crowd of politicians, representatives from local and federal agencies, business owners and volunteers gathered in a crumbling parking lot on Thursday to voice their support for the Ocean Beach Master Plan, a sweeping project to prepare for sea level rise and stem erosion on San Francisco’s western shore.

Project manager Benjamin Grant said that with more than a million dollars in grants now secured, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) is ready to get down to the nitty-gritty details of how to implement the plan, which was officially released in June.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into taking something from a big visionary idea to a project that’s actually in the pipeline at a public agency,” Grant said. Continue reading

Combatants in New CA Water War Dig In

 Opponents call Governor’s Delta plan “plumbing before policy” and “a wink and a promise”

Craig Miller

Opponents to Governor Brown's Delta plan were gathered on the Capitol steps within an hour of the announcement.

You can hear a one-hour discussion of the proposed Delta plan on KQED’s Forum.

“You’ve launched a war. We’ll fight the battle,” was the rallying cry from congressman John Garamendi, within hours of the announcement of Governor Jerry Brown’s revised plan for California’s already embattled Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Brown was flanked by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and officials of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration in rolling out a plan which Brown’s Natural Resources Agency says, “will undergo a rigorous public environmental review.” The plan’s centerpiece is a long-debated tunnel to shuttle water from the Sacramento River, north of the Delta, to the vast plumbing system that carries water to farms in the San Joaquin Valley and cities in Southern California. The conveyance is touted as a way to protect fish from the voracious pumps that fill the canals heading south. Continue reading

Water Wars May Reignite Over Massive Delta Plan

Battle lines are forming as Governor Brown prepares to roll out his proposal for the Delta

Josh Cassidy/KQED

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta plays a crucial role in the state’s water supply.

On Wednesday, Governor Jerry Brown and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar are expected to announce a multi-billion dollar plan designed to fix California’s longstanding water war in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Their proposal for a 35-mile water tunnel is set to reignite the fight over how water is exported from the Delta. The announcement comes just months after federal and state wildlife agencies warned that the proposed version of the project could have dramatic impacts on Delta fish.

Political wrangling over the governor’s announcement has already begun. Continue reading

Quick Link: “California debates $23.7 billion water tunnel system”

A briefing from KQED’s Lauren Sommer on the upcoming plan for a pair of multi-billion-dollar tunnels designed to shuttle water from the Sacramento River across the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. If you’ve got six minutes, it’s a good backgrounder on the long-debated idea.


Tomorrow, Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to announce plans to build a pair of enormous tunnels to move water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta region, and flow into canals run by the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project.

Read more at: www.scpr.org