Prop 23

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Taking Climate Education to the Streets

Science museums, aquariums and other “informal educators” walk a tightrope when it comes to climate change.

By Marjorie Sun

The California Academy of Sciences and the Monterey Bay Aquarium have a big advantage that some educational institutions in other parts of the country don’t: most of their visitors — who tend to be Californians — believe that climate change is real. That means their global warming exhibits can focus on solutions, for example, rather than laying out the basics of atmospheric science.

Californians’ concern about climate change has translated into political support for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. According to survey results released in July by the Public Policy Institute of California, two-thirds of Californians strongly back the pioneering state law known as AB 32. The law requires a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. And the recent defeat of Proposition 23 by 22 percentage points would appear to affirm that support.

Californians appear to buck some national trends on climate change issues. A declining number of Americans say there is solid evidence that the world is warming. The number dropped from 79% in 2006, when AB 32 was passed, to 59% this year, according to a survey just released by the Pew Research Center.  The number who think scientists agree that the world is warming due to human activity fell from 59% to 44% over the same period. Even more telling, perhaps, is that the ratio of “yes” to “no” answers to the latter question for Republicans (30:58) is almost the mirror image of that for Democrats (59:32).

New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer details in a recent, in-depth article that billionaires David and Charles Koch, titans of the oil industry, have been spending millions of dollars waging a covert disinformation campaign to thwart climate change legislation in the United States.

Aboard the Bio-Bus

A local organization has launched a mobile counter-offensive. The Alliance for Climate Education, a non-profit based in Oakland, has created a hip, multi-media presentation spiced with animation and rock music to reach teens. Think An Inconvenient Truth goes MTV. The alliance has shown it to more than 420,000 high schoolers across the nation in the past year. The presentation teaches teens the basics about climate change and urges them to “do one thing” to fight it.

Alliance staffers also have tricked out an old school bus with clean tech, driving it to schools and museums to showcase renewable technology. The blue bio-bus runs on used cooking oil collected from restaurants. Solar panels on the bus charge cell phones and computers on board.

Unmasking the Cow

The model cow in the Monterey Bay Aquarium climate change exhibit originally appeared with a gas mask, which has since been removed. (Photo: Craig Miller)

Meanwhile, keeping the climate change exhibits up-to-date scientifically is a concern for the museums. At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, outfitting a life-size model cow with a gas mask was prompted in part by a 2006 study by the Food and Agriculture Organization. The FAO study said that industrial production of livestock in general, including cattle, pigs, and poultry, accounts for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions. But another FAO study released in April — about the same time the climate change exhibit opened — examined the GHG emissions for the dairy industry alone, not beef production. It concluded that dairy production contributes just four percent of emissions. The study (PDF download), along with howls of protests from the local dairy industry, helped convince the aquarium to unmask the Holstein.

One last tidbit about interactive exhibits: One of the most popular — common to the Academy and the Monterey Bay Aquarium — is surprisingly low-tech. Thousands of visitors write on comment cards about what they can do to fight climate change and hang them on display boards there. One of them, in a child’s handwriting, read “Reduce, reuse, recycle and homework is bad for the environment.”

Hear Marjorie’s companion radio feature on KQED’s Quest radio program, Monday morning. A version of this post also appears on the Quest blog.

The Next Battle Front for AB 32

California’s Proposition 23 has failed at the polls, so now either the “second Industrial Revolution” may proceed or it’s the end of free enterprise as we know it, or we simply move on to the next front in the assault on California’s emerging carbon regulations.

(Photo: Craig Miller)

The $40 million fight over Prop 23 presented two opposing themes: (a) AB 32 will wreck the economy, or (b) AB 32 will save the economy. Both visions for California’s climate law were hyperbolic. It would be fascinating to be able to tap into some parallel universe where it did pass, just to see what would really happen. More than likely some middle ground would prevail, as it will now, in this Universe. Continue reading

Prop 23 Lands With a Thud

Voters reject a measure to set aside California’s landmark climate law.

California’s chief air regulator was jubilant: “They didn’t know who they were messing with,” said Mary Nichols, when the first numbers came in from the polls.

Nichols, who chairs the state’s Air Resources Board, was reveling in the 20-point trouncing that voters gave the statewide ballot measure to freeze the state’s greenhouse gas law, known as AB 32. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger seized the World Series moment and the locale, adjacent to the San Francisco Giants’ ballpark, to take a swing at the oil companies that financed Prop 23: “Less than 24 hrs later, we are beating Texas again,” proclaimed the Governor, who has made the state’s 2006 climate law a tent pole of his legacy. Continue reading

Climate News that Went By in a Blur

Some of the week’s energy, climate, and emissions developments in California, that may have been overshadowed by other news:

Largest Solar-Thermal Project Breaks Ground
Officials broke ground on the first large-scale solar-thermal plant to be built in the United States in 20 years. BrightSource Energy says its $2 billion, 10,000-MW Ivanpah project, located in the Mojave Desert, will be the largest solar thermal project in the world.  (More from KQED’s The California Report and The New York Times)

Prop. 23 Funding
Opponents of Proposition 23 have contributed three times as much money to the campaign as those in favor of the measure that would suspend California’s climate change legislation.  As of October 29, the “No” campaign had raised more than $30 million, while the “Yes” campaign had raised just over $10 million, mostly from out-of-state oil refiners Valero and Tesoro.  (More from maplight.org, and to see where across the US the money is coming from, check out Climate Watch‘s interactive map that tracks the major funders.) Continue reading

Water and Power

Two recent events provide a timely backdrop for this conversation, the water level in Lake Mead, the huge reservoir on the Colorado River, reached a record low — and the National Center for Atmospheric Research released a new report on projected drought impacts, worldwide, described as “possibly reaching a scale in some regions by the end of the century that has rarely, if ever, been observed in modern times.”  — Ed.

David Nahai on at the Los Angeles River in 2006 (Photo: Ilse Setziol)

David Nahai was CEO and General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) from 2007 to 2009. On Nahai’s watch, the utility amped up renewable energy projects and launched new outdoor water restrictions that resulted in Angelenos cutting their consumption by more than 20%.

 I first met Nahai a decade ago when he and other members of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board were grappling with what was arguably the nation’s worst urban runoff problem.
 Currently he’s a green-tech consultant and advisor to the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI).

 I sat down with him in his little corner of a Century City high rise. He started by reminding me that opinions expressed in our discussion were his alone, not those of CCI: Continue reading

Prop 23: No’s Rally, Pros Retreat?

In what might signal a final push by Silicon Valley, an environmentally-oriented investor group today released a manifesto from 66 “leading investors” opposed to California’s Proposition 23. The group is said to manage more than $400 billion in assets.

In a conference call with reporters, venture capitalist Alan Salzman called clean technology the “next industrial revolution,” and that “California is at the epicenter.” To prove his point, Salzman pointed to $9 billion invested in “clean-tech” since 2006, in California alone, and he called Prop 23 “antithetical” to the transition that global industry is now undergoing, claiming that 20% of total venture capital funding is flowing to clean-tech, of late. Continue reading

Prop 23: The View from Valero

Carbon dioxide is “not pollution,” say engineers for the nation’s biggest refiner.

Listen to Rachael Myrow’s radio feature on The California Report.

Valero's Benicia refinery in Solano County. (Photo: Craig Miller)

Last week, as the campaign rhetoric for and against Proposition 23 was heating up, The California Report host Rachael Myrow and I spent an afternoon with three of Valero’s environmental specialists at the company’s refinery in Benicia, up the Sacramento River from San Francisco Bay. They briefed us on the refining process in some detail and drove us around the 400-acre refinery site, near the Carquinez Strait in Solano County.
Continue reading

Prop 23 Money Trail

It’s not just big oil with big money in the game.

Prop 23 has backing from oil & gas interests in Texas, Kansas, Ohio, and Colorado, among other places.

True, most of the money backing Proposition 23 on California’s November ballot has come from two big oil refiners, both headquartered in San Antonio, Texas. But the opposition has some high rollers in the game, as well. High-profile venture capitalists and tech investors have lined up against the measure with open wallets. In fact, a tally released this week by the California Fair Political Practices Commission reveals that opponents of Prop 23 are outspending proponents by almost a two-to-one margin. According to the Commission, ten different committees have marshaled more than $13 million to defeat the measure, “mainly from individuals.” Continue reading

Candidates Question Climate Science

Third-party candidates for governor call the science of global warming “junk science” and “a scam at worst.”

Photo: Craig Miller

While Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown debate the pros and cons of the state’s global warming law (AB 32) and the ballot initiative that would suspend it (Proposition 23), two of the four “alternative” candidates interviewed this morning on KQED’s Forum program, attacked the science behind California’s climate change policy.

“I’ve become convinced that the whole thing is an exaggeration at best, and a scam at worst,” said Dale Odgen, the Libertarian Party candidate.  “The science has been fudged in order to get grants for people.  People like Al Gore have used it to become even more wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.” Continue reading

Schwarzenegger Blasts Oil Companies

(Archival Photo: Angela George)

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger used his appearance at the Commonwealth Club in Santa Clara today to “put a spotlight” on what he called the “self-serving greed” of oil companies Valero, Tesoro, and Koch Industries. These companies, two of which he described as among the state’s top polluters, are bankrolling Proposition 23 for their own gain, while trying to hide behind a false claim that the initiative would be good for the state’s economy, said the Governor. Prop 23 would suspend California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, AB 32, which authorizes incentives and regulations for reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Schwarzenegger’s speech was timed to the fourth anniversary of the law.

Proponents of the ballot measure claim that allowing AB 32 to be fully implemented would drive businesses from the state and could potentially cost the state more than a million jobs, a figure which has been challenged in several studies. Continue reading