Wednesday, December 23, 2009

California and China -1

Not too many people know that Oakland, a port city, is a sister city with Dalian, China's 3rd largest port.
[Dalian (near Korea) is located quite close to where Japan destroyed the Russian fleet in 1905 at what was called Port Arthur, the northern most ice-free, strategically important port in what was then Manchuria. Today, Dalian is home to 4-5 MM people, the site of major new Intel fab plant, plus a major software park with tenants like IBM, HP, British Telecom, Citibank and with ambitious plans to compete with Bangalore. ]

Likewise, not too many people know that California and Jiangsu Province, 1 hour west of Shanghai, are also sisters.
[Nanjing, site of mass killings during WWII and once China's capital, is Jiangsu's capital and Suzhou is known for silk products, canals, and gardens. "Heaven is above, but on earth there is Suzhou and Hangzhou," another nearby city.] Suzhou is now known more for booming Singapore-Suzhou industrial park, home to companies like Delphi, AMD, cosmetics and, unfortunately, polluted canals. More on Jiangsu.

I know a bit about Suzhou because when I had just arrived in China, a complete greenhorn, a new Chinese friend took me on a bicycle trip - past the unversity, past the endless crowds, road building, dust and construction cranes, past the relatively tranquil, orderly industrial park and finally to a lake on the city's edge. To her, this was a nature break from a hot, noisy, teaming city to a place where you could see the (polluted) sky. To me, it reminicent of teenage bicycle rides to the New Jersey meadowlands, on 'oasis' of tall weeds, with unfettered polluted swamps, surrounded industrial New Jersey but yes, you could also see "sky."

At the very edge of Suzhou, by a lake, on a bicycle, in 2003, I began to count the high voltage lines converging, from every direction. "Power - a lot of power," it looked like industrial New Jersey.

Just a few months later in southeastern China, I talked to a Hong Kong businessman whose mainland factory had closed for the day. "There is no electricity." In 2003, like a thin hyper-active teenager, China could not seem to get enough power.

China - always a paradox to westerners - is a country in vast transition, a place where you can see "all the continents - the best of North America and Europe in parts of Shanghai; and the poverty of Africa in the countryside". China is filled with energy efficiency ( no kitchen ovens, wearing coats in-door, bicycles, "sun-dried" clothing, ubiquitous elevator-free 7 story residential buildings, almost no "to go" food, hot water "only on demand" systems) and energy inefficiency (buses belching clouds of black smoke, cold or unheated libraries and classrooms where students insist on an open window for "fresh air", insulation so poor that "To heat up your room in Shanghai, you first need to heat up all of Shanghai" and new portable electric heaters, crumpling State Owned Enterprises in need of captial, technology and new ideas, kept alive solely to prevent thousands from becoming unemployed.)

The "new China" began in 1949. What we see now is the "new, new China"; one which changes daily and a generation is 5 years. A place where for decades but 1 bridge spanned a river, now adjacent to one or even two new ones simultaneously under construction.

"We don't have time to plan everything. We have to build a new building as fast as we can; and then we must build another one - right away. We are behind and we need to catchup, " one Government official told me.

Just as California has led the way in US efficiency, with policies to keep electricity use per capita flat or to reduce automobile pollution, so too California has lead the way in engaging China.

In following posts, I will attempt to outline some of groups working with China and write about California's October 2009 agreement with Jiangsu Province, an important "sub-national" agreement. Universities or NGOs like the China Energy Group at Lawrence Berkeley Lab (LBL) or NGO Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have been in China for years and done extraordinary work below the 'radar screen.'

I also want to follow developments at the national level: China-US Energy Clean Energy Council (CERC), announced during President Obama's Beijing visit in November, 2009. And along the way, I want to try to answer the question, "Why help China with energy and energy-efficiency?", which I believe is very important that Americans consider.

Friday, December 18, 2009

CaliforniaFirst - Financing Efficiency/Solar

The Santa Cruz Sentinel published an article this past week about Santa Cruz County's plan to join a financing district. Here is my letter to the reporter, Kurtis Alexander.

Hi Kurtis:
cc: Allison Endert, Board of Supervisors

From what I know about municipal financed district for solar/energy efficiency is a good idea. Certainly has worked elsewhere.

Still, I have questions that neither the Board of Supervisors nor Commission on the Environment would answer.

I posted these questions on Sentinel website ( and below.

But (3) is a topic I have many concerns about, as you probably know. I'm afraid it's often a bit beyond my ability to discern which hat an individual is wearing at given moment. 45.1 51
[Full disclosure: I have sent the District Attorney two complaints re: COE about Brown Act, Conflicts-of-Interest].

I hope you'll report on the the contract for managing the energy efficiency/solar program and then monitor compliance. As I think we all agree, it is very important for the public to have all the information it needs to make decisions. Likewise, public and private interests must never be confused.

FYI, as you may know, the County spent 19 months with funding to do a mobile GHG emissions study and, from what people have told me, did "nothing." Ecology Action is on that contract. I have asked the County how many other contracts are "languishing." This is another area I hope you will consider writing about.

I have gotten no answer from the Board of Supervisors.

All in favor of more solar, efficiency cost savings etc. but I hope to clarify some things in my mind:

(1) Market need?
Given the dropping solar panel prices, loans now on the market, the PG&E savings now, etc., how many ADDITIONAL homeowners be motivated to act? Has anyone estimated the EXTRA energy/electricity and CO2 reduction this program will achieve vs. with out it? (If so, I haven't seen.) Because I want to compare that to the cost to taxpayers.(i.e. cost/benefit)

(2) Efficiency 1st?
Before installing new hardware, how does this program ensure that homeowners do PG&E audits, "cool roofs", insulation, think efficiency - preferably, right now?

(3) Program Mgmt
Again, all in favor of jobs. But we also want to stimulate a new industry (renewables) and sustainable real job growth - not just rely on Government handouts.

I am curious about the final statement.
"Santa Cruz County-based Ecology Action is leading the statewide push for the money. Executive Director Virginia Johnson says the proposal is compelling and the chances are good."

Is private Ecology Action just being a good citizen cheerleader or have an undisclosed financial interest we should know about?

By the way, I did ask County's Commission on the Environment these questions, but never got an answer.

Friday, December 11, 2009

'Plan B' - California Preparing to Adapt?

In early December, pre-Copenhagen, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a lead story about California's efforts to plan for - not mitigate - the results of climate change.

Following a recommendation of the new report "California Climate Change Adaption Strategy - 2009" , the Governor in December created a new 23-person State's Climate Change Advisory Panel (CCAP) to make specific suggestions and recommendations in 6 months, by July 2010, especially to prepare for:

  1. Increased wildfires and extended fire seasons.
  2. Rising sea levels along 1,100 miles of coastline.
  3. Reduced availability of water with reduced snow pack in the Sierras and extended periods of drought.

To visualize climate risks in the State, Google is preparing "Cal-Adapt" (prototype for Windows or Mac only)

Downtown Santa Cruz, built on a flood plain, was singled out as an area of risk in the released report (page 68)

"For example, the City of Santa Cruz has a levee system that protects some low-lying parts of the city against a 100-year flood. With a sea-level rise of approximately one foot, the anticipated 100-year flood event in Santa Cruz is expected to occur every 10 years, increasing the likelihood of storm-related inundation."
"... By 2050, sea level rise, relative to the 2000 level, ranges from 30 cm to 45 cm. As sea level rises, there will be an increased rate of extreme high sea level events (Figure 19 and Table 7), which occur during high tides, often when accompanied by winter storms and sometimes exacerbated by El Niño occurrences (Cayan et al. 2008c). Importantly, as decades proceed, these simulations also contain an increasing tendency for heightened sea level events to persist for more hours, which would seem to imply a greater threat of coastal erosion and other damage. Virtually all of the increase in frequency and magnitude of sea level exceedances can be ascribed to the underlying secular increase in mean sea level.... "]

Also a blog report here from Legal Planet (UC Berkeley and UCLA - Law Schools)

Useful Reading:
FAQ (from past summer) - best thing to read - note: SFO underwater
A number of very useful, interactive maps (Pacific Institute)
And a Pacific Institute Report on Sea level rise. Full Report

SC 100 year flood: (Pacific Institute)

What we can do - events this weekend

What we can do...

A few environmental events this weekend:

  1. "Flow" Coastal-Watershed Council - Free Environmental Film Series -- 6:30 PM Friday Dec. 11 in the Santa Cruz Harbor Community Meeting Room, 365 Lake Ave. (harbor side)

  2. Candle Light Vigil - Sat Dec 12 - 4 pm - Clock Tower

  3. Sounds of 350 - Sun Dec 13 - Interlight Service (Soquel)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

California Energy Commission stands up to lobbyists, 5-0

Despite strong lobbying and opposition from the Consumer Electronics Association, the California Energy Commission (CEC) voted to require TV manufacturers sell sets in 2011 33% more efficient then now and by 2013 49% more efficient. The rules apply to sets smaller than 58 inches. (Regulations will be coming for sets larger than 58").

Almost 1000 TV models now comply with the 2011 standard, and even 300 sets comply with the 2013 rules; some argue the standard is really targeting the laggards.

Many CEC energy efficiency regulations have been adopted by other states over the years. California is a leader in efficiency and one reason by electricity use per capita has been flat, given the state's generally robust growth since the 1970s.

The new regulations will:
  • reduce energy use (i.e. save us money)
  • encourage other states and federal government to follow
  • encourage the industry to innovate
Even some of these new TVs still use over 200 watts. (Can you cook an egg?)

Californians replace their 35MM TVs about once every 9 years.

More information in this SJ Mercury Article. and one from Sacramento Bee.

Here's a guide to TVs from NRDC.

And here is a video from Newsy TV, which presents a few viewpoints:

By the way, who is the California Energy Commission? Can you give one fact: During the 1970s energy crisis, Arthur Rosenfield, now a Commissioner, walked around Lawrence Berkeley Labs at night turning off the lights and discovered one of the golden rules of energy savings: conservation.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

PG&E and Renewable Energy

While on the subject of California electricity, this is a particularly useful Cleantech article on status of PG&E's renewable sourcing, officially known as RPS (renewal portfolio standard).

-using compressed air for storage ??
-pumping water to higher levels at night ??

PG&E says it is now at 14% renewable and will make its 20% goal, just not by 2010.

And is anyone familiar with Marin Clean Energy ?

A Tale of California Electricity

In 40 minutes, Ron Hofmann gave a good introduction to the players, recent history and a few of the problems facing California electric utilities and consumers, at the last Citris talk of the UC semester.

The 1970s oil shock gave rise to the California Energy Commission (CEC) which helped put into place policies and programs that enabled California to have flat per capita electricity use since, with economic and population growth, while the US had an increase of about 2% per year.

But deregulation in 1996 was not so successful as 'gamers' - legal or otherwise, and just Enron - quickly took advantage of new separation of wholesale (supply-side) market. Previously, the electricity industry had been a "vertically integrated industry" (production, distribution, transmission). Hofmann described the rolling blackouts in 2000-1 as deliberate lack of supply, i.e. withholding of capacity.

California's energy load, of course, peaks with summer air-conditioning load - at about 50% above the year round average (i.e. an additional 40,000 MW) which requires inefficient, dirty "peaker" plants be brought online.

This is hardly a new problem but technology now exists to manage this load - it is "low-lying fruit."

Pre-deregulation utilities offered customers incentives to allow the utility to control supply to each home. (Anyone know more about this?) After deregulation, this could not be done.

The technology the industry now wants to implement is called "Demand-Response or (DR)" and uses pricing and signals (e.g. smart meters) to manage load, summer or not. "In crisis, people cooperate, but is not sustainable," said Hofmann, who added "the process must be automated." With prices and signals (DR), the price of electricity will rise on hot afternoons.

The customer will decide (in advance) what should happen next. With smart meters now going in (PG&E for example expects to finish the change over by 2012), the hardware, software, protocols now need to be created.

There are plenty of stakeholders in the electricity industry: regulators (federal, state), the energy suppliers (Calpine?), the grid operator (Cal ISO), the utilities and, oh yes, us. Hofmann said regulators should decide the WHAT (the rules for DR) and the utilities decide HOW to implement the rules. Unfortunately, the "us" is not so well represented. With DR or generally.

What he is referring to is the software, hardware, wires etc. from the smart meter to the appliance (washing machine) or thermostat in your house, part of the demand-response apparatus. [It sounds a bit like the 1980s when we tried to add fax and answering machines to our home telephone line and AT&T said, "whoa, that's our equipment - you can NOT just plug stuff into it."]

The electric industry is promoting a proprietary DR protocol and hardware called "Zigbee" for connecting appliances to the smart meter. Hofmann, however, spoke highly of open source alternative from PIER (the research arm of California Energy Commission) which is developing open source openADR and wifi for interconnections between appliances and meter.

Please don't misunderstand - this is about hardware, software,wires, how two machines talk to each other and the size or shape of the plugs. In Demand-Response (DR), the customer still decides - but in advance - what will happen during peak times, but DR is the way process is then automated. If you decide, in advance, you want to run the washing machine and air conditioner when it is 100 degrees, you still can - you will just pay a lot more for it. If, on the other hand, you decide allow the utility to control when the washing machine goes on, that too will happen, and you will pay less for it.

We will see how Demand-Response evolves and the appliances in our homes are operated.

More on Ron Hofmann:
Please join us for the next CITRIS I4energy lecture at the Banatao Institute at Berkeley this semester:

"A Perspective on Energy Challenges in California"
Ron Hofmann [Senior Advisor, CIEE]

12:00 p.m., Friday, November 20
Banatao Auditorium, 3rd floor, Sutardja Dai Hall, UC Berkeley

The full seminar schedule for the fall can be found at As always, these talks are free, open to the public and broadcast live online at mms://, and questions can be sent via Yahoo IM to username: citrisevents.

In 1996, California deregulated its wholesale electricity market and left it up to the regulated investor-owned utilities to manage retail electricity costs for consumers.

Four years later, this paradigm fell apart in large measure because consumers had no incentive and timely mechanisms to reduce load when electricity supply prices began to rise.

Mr. Hofmann will provide a brief overview of the California electricity crisis of 2000-2001, a history of what the PIER program has been funding in demand response over the past 8 years, and a perspective on California's energy challenges going forward.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors: 0; Planet Earth -19 on Vehicle GHG

Despite a February 2008 grant and signed agreement with the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District (MBUAPCD), today the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors (BOS) voted unanimously, with negligible debate, to walk away. The grant and project is to determine County mobile GHG emissions and devise 'policies and programs' to reduce or eliminate them. The RTC will now perform the study. It apparently took the County 19 months to realize they couldn't do it. BOS: 0; Earth -19.

According to John Presleigh of the SCC Public Works Department the reason was that MBUAPCD had awarded a $10,000 grant for a project that would cost Ecology Action, a partner on the project, $50,000 to do. He did not know the reason for 19 month delay.

However, upon examining public information later made available by the Public Works Department, a slightly different story is presented. For the County, Thomas Bolich of SCC signed the "Grant Acceptance Agreement" with MBUAPD which had these features:

-"total cost" $23,250; $10,000 from the grant with remaining $13,250 that "Grantee attests having secured the balance of $13,250"

-though a 2 year grant, the document specifies the project should have ended 3/31/09

-Attachment 1 "Sources of Other Secured Funds, $13,250 - Ecology Action" ($12,750 for "personnel" and $500 for "grant administration")

-Attachment 2 "Grantee has secured all other funds necessary to implement the Project"

I was also shown a 6/24/08 MBUAPCD letter informing the County and CEO of Ecology Action that the agreement would be extended the agreement by 3 months through 4/30/10 because of fires and smoky conditions.

To a non-lawyer it is clear that the funds were in place; a deal had been made; partners in place; and now the County wants to walk away.

The Public Works Department had no further information. Attempts to reach Supervisors Coonerty and Stone, or John Presleigh were unsuccessful. Questions submitted in advance to the BOS meeting were not answered. The RTC staff I spoke with were only vaguely aware that this project was coming their way and had no further details.

  • Is this a breakdown of so-called "public-private partnershp"?
  • A BOS abdication of responsibility for acting on climate change?
  • A failure of government oversight?
  • Is this why the Commission on the Environment, chaired by Ecology Action CEO Johnson, would not answer questions about specific GHG emissions, targets, policies - despite knowing EA,a private organization, had exactly this obligation (and couldn't do it)?

We look forward to the answers.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Toshiba - Corporate Shift on Climate Change?

As a followup to one of Dr. Nielsen's points Friday at Citris, namely the rapid shift in corporation thinking toward the view that climate change is a strategic risk and also "business opportunity", the Financial Times today ran an article about Toshiba's new strategy to invest in stable, secure green technology and lessen its reliance on low margin "flashy consumer gadgets."

The company's new president, Norio Sasaki, who came rose to the top from the company's nuclear division, wants to double investment in its 'energy business' over the next 3 years.

This includes large systems for hydro, high-efficiency "clean coal" technologies, solar, efficient electricity transmission, and promising lithium-ion batteries for cars. And, yes, nuclear power, which Toshiba has considerable expertise.

[You didn't think Toshiba was doing this for 'social responsibility,' did you?]

[Update] Here's an SJ Mercury article, suggested by Steve Terry, about a new corporate based initiative to push the US toward 14 million electric vehicles by 2020, Nissan, FedEx, PG&E . (Americans have 250 MM cars; about 1 MM are hybrids.)

Full Story

Open Letter to Santa Cruz City Council

November 16, 2009

Dear City Council Members:

At the last meeting, I inquired about the status of a few items related to climate change, reducing energy consumption, vehicle miles traveled, etc.

When I ran out of time, Mayor Mathews suggested I submit some of the questions which I did.

With the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference fast approaching, and our Congress ineffectual, the world will soon take full notice of our "... abandonment of moral responsibility...." [Rajendra Pashauri, Chair of IPCC].

As I do, many Santa Cruz citizens want to know what measures the City is taking, now, to reduce CO2 and energy in accord with the latest science.

Where are we on joining the UK's 10:10, for example? Where I can read the 2008 GHG Inventory report, promised in September? Which ideas are we implementing from the blue chip "Moving Cooler study?

Thank you.

Jim Rothstein

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Optimism .... Despite No Climate Treaty?

Speaking Friday in Berkeley after the announcement that a binding treaty would not be signed in Copenhagen, Dr. Niels Christian Nielsen gave a thoughtful but cautiously optimistic talk about recent trends that may mitigate climate change. However, he also pointed out there will be "winners and losers" and one loser may be the United States.

Citris is "Center for Information Technology and Research in the Interest of Society", a partnership industry and between UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz. Its goal is to spur research developments into viable companies and industries. One of Citris' main themes is "Energy and the Environment".

Dr. Nielsen is a leading worldwide expert on energy and climate change policy. The title of his talk was "Issues and Challenges Leading up to COP-15: The U.N. Summit on Climate Change." His logic is simple but compelling:

First, several parts of the world have already embraced renewable energy and built economies around it. Not mega solar or wind projects, just enough to be sustainable and encourage economic growth. He described a poor area in southeastern Anatolia (Turkey) that wanted wind powered electricity for villages. The Turkish government ordered enough new mid-size (75kW) high-performance turbines and asked the manufacturer to build some of the turbines in region. The manufacturer agreed.

The Turkish government ordered solar-powered pumps for drip-irrigation, and asked the manufacturer to build some of the pumps in region. A manufacturer again agreed. Next, the government asked textile makers if they wanted organic cotton and partnered with them.

Dr. Nielson's point is Turkey is a first adopter and is making economic progress while being committed to renewable. Parts of Chile and Argentina have similar programs to build their economies.

And in his native Denmark, if today every Dane had an electric car, the country now has sufficient wind energy infrastructure to recharge all the car batteries - at night and without adding one more turbine.

These areas could be the 'winners.'

His second reason for optimism is a shift in corporate thinking about climate change. Rather than sending lobbyists to Washington, corporations are now seeing a greater strategic 'risk' in the climate change 'uncertainty.'

This is not about 'corporate responsibility;' it is about a giant insurance company worrying about its core liability. Or about Siemens and GE, which joined in the past few weeks in a call for climate 'clarification' because they can not do long-term strategic planning. Dr. Nielson sits on 12 boards and said this trend is isn't just Google or Ben & Jerry's; it is new and about companies like IBM, Intel, BP, Shell, i.e. mainstream corporations. And, of course, the companies see opportunities in renewables.

The third reason for optimism of global action is China. They have been a 'brilliant' negotiator, in solidarity with developing countries and in solidarity with BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China):

We in the US use 5 times the energy per capita as the Chinese (and twice EU or Japan). Are we going to cut consumption or is China going to cut growth?

There are some 170 countries who are already to make a treaty, many simultaneously preparing their infrastructures, but they will sign only if the developed countries who made this mess act first.

Dr. Nielsen didn't say it, but the implication is the worldwide pressure on the US is going to become intense.

Which brings this to the final point, winners and losers. Turkey, Chile, Argentina, Denmark and others who make the leap to renewable sources will be poised to grow economically. And China.

China has 'gotten religion.' They certainly do have a polluted country; they are opening a new coal-fired electric plant almost once per week and they do make mistakes, but they are also committed - at the highest levels - to developing a leadership position in batteries, electric cars, smart grid and renewables. By leadership, Dr. Nielsen means they may come to dominate whole industries in the way the US dominates in IT: jobs (white, blue & green), investment, expertise, markets, marketing, security, research and development - but manufacturing alone.

The United States is "playing a weak hand very badly." Every day that Congress does not act on climate treaty, or developing renewable infrastructure, or stimulating demand for non-fossil fuels is a day we will not get back.

On the one hand, he is optimistic a fundamental change is underway with renewables and corporate attitudes climate change. But, on the other hand, there will be "winners and losers." Where do you think the new Texas turbines are being built? (Ask me about Shenyang, China.)

We are close to the 'tipping point' where the US will not be able to catch up and the ramifications for this country will be enormous.

Citris Events

Video of Dr. Nielsen's talk

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Brown Act, Conflicts - Filed Against County Environmental Commission

Press Release (11/12/09)

Brown Act, Conflicts Complaint Filed Against: Santa Cruz County - Commission on the Environment

For additional information:
Jim Rothstein

Today an environmental citizen filed a complaint against Santa Cruz County's Commission on the Environment (COE), alleging violations of the California Brown Act (open meetings and documents) and County's Conflict-of-Interest Laws. In accordance with the Brown Act, the filing was submitted to the County District Attorney office for review and possible civil and criminal action.

"All citizens deserve timely information about the latest science and policy alternatives in regard to the environment and climate change, free from any conflict of interests" said Jim Rothstein who filed the complaint on behalf of Santa Cruz County citizens. Several of the Commissions have a funding relationship with local government, or wish to.

"On the surface, the [COE's] meetings seem to be open, even polite, but as soon as you ask to read the documents, seek data or ask to attend a working group an invisible wall goes up, for example they'll say meetings listed on the agenda are private 'internal staff planning meetings' " he added. "They hadn't even updated the agenda or minutes in the 5 months before I called about an August 26 meeting." "Several times the Chair would tell me I have 'good questions' and they'll answer it in a future document, but refuse to give a release date. Another time I asked the same question at two meetings; only to told each time it would answered at the next meeting - but it wasn't. When I asked what COE to do in preparation for UN's Copenhagen Conference they made a joke out it before answering 'no plans.' This is all a disservice to the public which empowers the COE."

The Brown Act was originally enacted in 1953 and has been updated since. It places the burden on government to prove why a meeting must be shielded from public participation. Like all laws, enforcement is the key.

The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.

The District Attorney's office receives 5-10 Brown Act complaints each year and decides which to pursue. But, Robin Giysin, the DA Civil Affairs coordinator said "We've never filed a Brown Act suit."

Acknowledging this, Rothstein said "The Board of Supervisors created this Commission and ultimately they are responsible; I've told them about the problems." Rothstein said his original intent in attending COE meetings was to "do something" about climate change and environment. He wasn't surprised to learn the COE felt exempt from County's conflict-of-interest rules, but stunned that they'd actually admit it. He hopes the COE will be able to focus on public service, but he wants to return to working on environmental issues and policy. He feels the County needs a strong independent group, based on science and community, to provide policy guidance. "We have wonderful scientific organizations in this County; we need to listen and act accordingly."

The Commission on the Environment meets monthly and the public may attend. The Chair is Virginia Johnson, CEO of Ecology Action. COE staff is Nancy Gordon, a senior level staff member with Santa Cruz County.

More on Brown Act and Santa Cruz County Codes:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cash for Appliance Clunkers, Clothes Lines in Santa Cruz

Rebates for Energy Efficient Home Appliances
Beginning next April, California expects to receive about $35MM under the ARRA (stimulus) Act to offer rebates for purchasing energy efficient home appliances. It will be first come, first served, with $100 for new washing machines, $75 new refrigerators (sorry, no wine coolers) and no dryers (more below). Manufacturers can add additional rebates. You must recycle your old one. New appliances must meet the EPA's Energy Star rating and possibly even higher state requirements. (Note: $35MM means about 375,000 appliances; 1 for every 32 households in California; we have 10MM households)
More from the California Energy Commission.

No Dryers - Back to the Clothes Line
Why no dryers? Dryers are energy hogs, using 6-10% of household electricity.
Here is a SJ Mercury News article about a Santa Cruz woman claimed to reduce her monthly electric bill from $100 to $40 just by using the clothes line. [But, um, she does 14 loads a week!]

1000 flags
Digress to China for a moment, where everyone is buying new energy efficient washing machines, air conditioners, but no dryers. Everywhere I went in that country, north or south, east or west, I got the same answer: "We like the fresh smell." In fact, almost all Chinese apartment buildings have some kind of terrace (open in the south, enclosed in the north) that is always filled with laundry. That's laundry hanging over the side or handing in the hallway, rooms, everywhere.

When I said to one friend that terraces are often considered a luxery in the US, she immediately burst out: "Where do you dry the clothes??" (Needless to say, few outdoor BBQ in China.) By the way, Chinese rinse clothes nightly and never wear torn or dirty clothes. (I didn't say they were designer clothes.)

Giant TVs and California Energy Commission
Good news (?) is you can have a big TV, but the bad news is only if it uses less than 142 watts. [Depending on your viewpoint you might not see any good or bad there.] In any event, the Consumer Electronics Association, with 5 minutes before the deadline, submitted a request for a review, thus halting a vote (NRDC) by the California Energy Commission on this energy saving measure. 142 watts is doable, would save us money but the CEA is an example of an industry doing everything in its power to turn "back the clock."

Here's an interested Blog on No Impact Week
When DOE Secretary Chu talks about low-lying fruit sitting on the ground, he's probably referring to turning hot water from 140F to 120F (saving 500 lb of CO2); replacing incandescent bulbs with CFL (or LED); checking insulation - all of which SAVE money, as well as reduce energy use per captia in this country which is 4 times EU or Japan! This NRDC Blog is more interesting and useful than I am.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lead, UCSC and the Sublities of Life

[I write about this because (1) it's interesting (2) it happening in Santa Cruz, UCSC and (3) in era of climate change we need our scientists and their clarity, precision, intellectual honesty more than ever before.]

Never thought I'd find seminars like "How Bacteria Breathe Arsenic" interesting, but after reading Toxic Truth (the fight against the scientists who fought against lead) or Ecological Intelligence (the full lifecycle impact of food and products we create and use) or reading about certain plants that can absorb the heavy metals in a brownfield (or, um, urban gardens), I have become very curious about the interplay of biology, chemistry and the environment and our health. A subject studied at UCSC's Microbiology and Environmental Toxicology Department.

[I was educated in a prior century where physics and then electronics seemed to be the key.]

"Toxic Truth" also describes a young scientist probing for environmental lead, A. Russell Flegal, who later joined UCSC's faculty. So when I heard about a public lecture honoring the 10th anniversary of UCSC's Microbiology and Environmental Toxicology Deptartment, I couldn't resist.

Dr. Howard Hu gave the talk last Tuesday:
"Lead Toxicity: Twenty Years of Research on the Poison that Keeps on Poisoning

Lead is just one of the thousands of toxins we've put into the environment. It is a "success" story because scientists and doctors got it out of paint, cosmetics, gasoline and out of our blood stream - only after decades of fighting corporations. (A little bit like climate change? Or smoking?) Thousands of other toxins have never been studied.

The amount of lead in our bodies, yours and mine, is "low" but still far above what pre-industrial revolution man had in his/her body. How "low" is safe? Maybe no level.

Unfortunately, the lead is now in our bones, in "low" doses, because the body is tricked into thinking lead is calcium. So we all now have "low" levels of lead - in our bones, if not blood. And what does "low" levels of lead do?

That is what Dr. Hu reported to about 100 scientists and students, in very clear, accessable lecture.

Here's a myth for you: As we age, our arteries naturally constrict and our blood pressure tends to rise. True? Seems plausible and the data seems to support it. But it is false. Only people in industrialized societies have this pattern. People in rural societies do NOT exhibit this pattern.

And nobody knows why.

What Dr. Hu and people in his field look at amount of lead in people's bones. Of course, there is a range - some have more lead, some less, even though it is all "low" level. There are studies, over time, of groups of individuals and what diseases they contract. Turns out that people with higher lead (still "low") have much higher liklihood of also having hypertension. Again, nobody knows exactly why, but is clearly observable.

And not just hypertension, but also higher likelihood of ALS, tooth loss.

What Dr. Hu studies is the interaction of "low" does of lead and the body's chemisty and genetic makeup. Lead interferes with all kinds of processes, but it also seems to interact with certain genes, or gene variations.

In fact, Dr. Hu has raised some interesting possibilities that lead exposure at very young age, perhaps even through the mother, can result in higher incidence of disease (or is this accelerating 'aging') later in life. In the middle, we have NO signs of illness. There is NO known level of lead that is safe.

These guys are the our heroes because they are pulling away the veil of "better life through chemistry" that I grew up and moving us toward a better understanding our own planet. [Chemistry certainly can make life better, but life is simply more complicated and subtle than we all thought it would be.]

Maybe they are getting closer to sublties of life itself.

Santa Cruz Commission on Environment, Brown Act

I have attended meetings of the Santa Cruz County Commission on the Environment and have had several emails with the staff. The Environment, of course, is a vitally important subject and the public needs to be both informed and engaged.

However, I have found the workings of this Commission opaque, as well as falling short in several areas related to content, speed, possible conflicts, engagement of the public.

California has the Brown Act to make meetings open. I have notified my Supervisor (Coonerty) that though I am not a lawyer it seems quite clear to me the SCC Commission on the Environment has been operating in violation of the letter and spirit of Brown Act.

I like this part of the Act:
The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the
agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.
Here is related information in Santa Cruz County code, section 2.38.

Finally, here is the "demand letter" I sent:
(Also my September 25, 2009 letter)
November 4, 2009
Dear Nancy Gordon:
cc: Allison Endert (Supervisor Coonerty's Office)

Under 54960.1 of the Brown Act and Santa Cruz County 2.38.130, 2.38.230, 2.38.270 Chapter 2.54 plus other appropriate laws, do here and in all prior oral/electronic/written communication since August 2009 demand of the Santa Cruz County Commission on Environment:
  • full disclosure and transparency of all COE activities
  • public access and participation in all COE activities, including subcommittees, task forces, working groups etc.
  • conflict of interest policy and personal statements (section 2.38.270)
  • bylaws and resolutions authorizating subcommittees (section 2.38.130 B, 2.38.230 A)
  • correction of inaccurate minutes and omissions
  • make public: all work-in-progress, all data, all draft reports, all electronic or email correspondence; all consultant reports or drafts, all ICLEI reports or drafts, etc.
  • all other information necessary for the Board of Supervisors and citizens of Santa Cruz County be fully and timely informed the issues covered in your subject area ..."...such as energy, environmental health, business, climate change, ecological science, education, housing development, transportation, agriculture, water, biotic resources, land use planning"
I am not a lawyer. The citizens of this county need to be informed on the issues, risks, facts, related to the environment, especially reducing green house gases and reducing energy consumption. Nothing less than full disclosure, transparency, and public engagement is acceptable.
Jim Rothstein

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Climate Action, plastic bags Board of Supervisors, Nov 3

Received an email from Ross Clark, City of Santa Cruz's Climate Coordinator, the year 2008 Climate Greenhouse inventory report would be ready "any day" now.

Another report, the City's Climate Action Plan is in draft form (private?) and will available "soon after the new year."

At this morning's County Board of Supervisors Meeting most of the discussion was about Arana Gulch Master Plan, which calls for an asphalt bicycle lane that an EIR says will cause serious harm to a rare, endangered plant. The issue has divided the environmental community, but appears to have the votes to pass, Supervisor Mark Stone asked for time to review the information.

I spoke for 3 minutes during Open session re: Climate Change, thanking Supervisor Coonerty for the Oct 24 proclamation as International Day of Climate Action. But I stressed the need now for action, before the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December:
  • full disclosure/full transparency of all the data, goals, reports that the County has, even if not complete, such vehicle miles traveled, energy use, ICLEI draft reports, etc. and referred to my September 25, 2009 letter
  • Asked that by Thanksgiving, finish what they have, release whatever they have and start to act
  • By act, I refered to UK's 10:10, Bablyon, NY's 12x12, Secretary Chu's "low-lying fruit", read "Moving Cooler" report even if they don't like it
  • Also, start educating and engaging the public. If adults can not calculate the CO2 released by driving to the mall, teach our children to.
  • Other ideas (before I ran out of time): 1 day a week "no car", green roofs (not just solar) and stressed again the need to act, not send to committees, task forces, etc. the science has changed.
I was disappointed with Supervisor Stone's plastic bag initative which was sent to COE and Public Works to draft an ordinance (and return in 6 months) After the meeting ending, he said it would be better if State of California acts on this. I asked him why he couldn't write the ordinance? Is Santa Cruz so different from the other municipalities working on this? He seemed to fear "litigation."

I also asked him about banning single-use coffee cups, but he smiled and said one issue at a time.

More on plastic in Linda Fridy's Mid-County Post article.

My own thoughts:
One issue at a time? How much time does our local government think we have? 6 months to write an ordinance?? And I also thought "single-use" was an adjective, so I immediately began to think: what else is "single-use" in everyday life? After all, "single-use" is a relatively new idea. Before McDonald's, ok before Michael Jackson, we didn't throw everything away after 1 use - I can remember that.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Banning Single-Use Plastic & Paper; PG&E; LED; Energy Star; Vaclav Smil

Banning Single-Use Plastic Bags & Paper Bags
Very glad to read Supervisor Stone is planning to write legislation to ban both single-use paper bags and plastic bags in Santa Cruz.  Sounds like he's being cautious and aiming for April, 2010 and only in non-incorporated areas of Santa Cruz County.  San Jose is apparently doing a Environmental Impact Report (EIR).   Full article:

Use Social Norms!!
PG&E's "Climate Smart" program, which takes a monthly fee of less than $5 from any of its opt-in 5MM billing customers (15MM actual users) and then uses the funds to buy "offsets" which do presumably do good, has had poor subscription rates.

Many environmentals are opposed to offsets because they do not reduce total CO2 emissions and are a way to "cheat" by buying something from an unregulated second market.
PG&E should adopt a "social norm" strategy, supply usage information & neighborhood averages without charge.   This is has worked successfully in Sacramento and elsewhere to reduce energy use.

Full article in SJ Mercury News.

LED Lighting comparison
SJ Mercury

Table below came from this San Jose Mercury article on Oct 19 , which I added a few summary facts to bottom:
Full article:  LED vs. CFL Light

LED bulbs offer potential advantages over older technologies — but at a price
Compact fluorescent
Cost per bulb (approx.)
50 cents
Power use, standard bulb
60 watts
13 watts
7 watts*
Typical lifespan
1,000 hours
10,000 hours
25,000 hours*
Market share, medium-screw bulbs, 2007
77 percent
23 percent

- 20% of average household energy use is for lighting (DOE)
-LED light price is decreasing rapidly and will be new products
-DOE has offered an "L" prize to speed up LED development.
-Incandescent light bulbs may soon face bans
-CFL contains mercury and must be recycled the correct way 

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Climate Action Exihibit - at Santa Cruz Public Library

For the month of November,  the Santa Cruz Public Library will have a collection of books and information about Climate Change and how you can be involved, such as with the City's Climate Action Teams.

I just finished "Climate Solutions - What Works, What Doesn't and Why" by Peter Barnes, one of the books to be on display.  It's a small book, quite clearly written and can be read in couple of hours.  It is really about options in Carbon Caps and Trade, since Barnes dismisses a carbon tax, carbon rationing and zeroes in reasons for Carbon cap, which he does explain very clearly.

In summary, he explains the reason for a Carbon cap with all of the following, and why:
  • cap it and issue permits, the number which decreases annually
  • permits must be auctioned (not given away) to 'legacy' polluters
  • cap it "upstream", i.e. when it is first sold, not at each smokestack
  • no offsets or safety valves, or leaks, when we 'cheat' and then try to atone by purchasing something good from an unregulated market
  • cap all the carbon, including carbon emissions represented by imports
  • distribute revenue back to households to mitigate cost of increased price of carbon 
He goes a step further to talk about the idea of 'commons.'   Carbon permits can be extended worldwide, with revenue flowing back to the projects for the 'commons' or distributed to countries.  A basis must be included for the total of amount of carbon a country has put into the atmosphere, about 28% of it from the US.

Given the author's ability to communicate the issues concisely, I recommend reading the book whether you agree or not with his solutions.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

City of Santa Cruz - GHG (1996-2008)

Using the City's data, I plotted 2 graphs.

Although the City has reduced CO2 emissions since 1996, the top pie chart shows the contribution from each sector.   (Transportation has actually increased; the biggest decrease is Commerce - due to factory closing before 2000).

The second shows the relative contributions to the total.  Again, transportation with about 50% is main CO2 contributor.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

1 World, 1 Message

350 - Climate Action

Pictures from around the World  (Flickr)

Santa Cruz Sentinel today  + pictures

Story about Trial, Sail  Boats, Climate (10/24/09)

Sentinel Op-ed Piece (10/24/09)

Today: Sailboats begin at 10 am

March from Wharf at 12:30 pm

Mock Trial at 2 pm

Live Tweeting in Santa Cruz

Other links

Santa Cruz Event Summary (10/23/09)  ( Santa Cruz ) (last email)

SCC Proclamation


Facebook (Main

Facebook (350 Santa Cruz)

Flickr (350 photo stream)

Thank you
Santa Cruz 350 Coalition

Friday, October 23, 2009

Santa Cruz Rally Info (as of 1 pm - Friday)

Santa Cruz Rally Event:  (as of 1 pm - Friday)

1:00-1:50pm       Setup
2:00-2:40(5)pm    People Power Car Trial
2:45-2:55pm       Stage Relocation and Setup 
2:55-3:00pm       Letter from Bill McKibben (need reader)
3:00-3:05pm       Cynthia Reading Proclamation
3:05-3:20pm       Ross Clark
3:20-3:25pm       Mark Stone reading county proclamation 
3:25-3:30pm       Fred Keeley
3:30-3:35pm       Cheryl from Veg Meetup Groups
3:35-3:50pm       Lopa Brunjes from BioChar
3:50-4:00(5)pm    James Barsimantov, a scientist from UCSC
4:05                     Micah will end the Rally with the 'car tow'
4:15-5:00pm       Take down/Clean up

350 Santa Cruz - Less than 24 hours to go!

October 24, 2009 is becoming an historic day!  (See on Twitter, #350ppm)
Thousands of events in 174 countries - all focused on Climate Change (

In Santa Cruz, please attend the Saturday events of your choice plus the march (12:30 pm - far end of Wharf) and rally.  Please bring your children, and help make 350 Santa Cruz a NO IMPACT, zero waste day.

Why we need you?  Not all Americans understand the peril.
Thanks to the many, many people who are helping in Santa Cruz and to the 350 Santa Cruz Coalition.
Latest Info
Why 350?  McKibben's Op-ed piece in today's Boston

350 Santa Cruz: (
Facebook: 350 Santa Cruz  (
Twitter: 350SantaCruz (
Event List  (confirmed as of 10-23-09)
updates  here: (

Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, 10:00am - 5 pm, all day,
Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History invites everyone to stop by and watch some or all of the film, which will be shown through the day.
(Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, 1305 East Cliff Drive)

Hoisting The Sails to 350: An Oceanic Plea for Greenhouse Gas Reduction.
Three boats will set sail with banners displaying the number 350, between Santa Cruz Harbor and The West Cliff Lighthouse, view from end of Wharf.
(Greg Cotten and a City of Santa Cruz: Climate Action Team.)

350 and Practical Activism at UCSC, 11 am - 5 pm,

March: Wharf To Town Clock, 12:30 pm - 1:00 pm,
(Santa Cruz 350  Coalition Initiative)  Meet at far end of Wharf, bring signs.

350 Peace Flags and Drawings of the Earth, 1 pm, Town Clock,
(Santa Cruz School Children)

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint Through Diet, 2 pm - 4 pm,
(Santa Cruz Vegetarian Meetup) Emphasis on information and food choices.

Mock Trial of Internal Combustion Engine,  2 pm, Town Clock, presiding judge: Hon Fred Keeley,
(People Power)  Features Bill Monning as Bailiff to read charges leveled against defendant, Micah Posner as idealistic pro bono defense attorney.

Main Rally with Speakers, Town Clock, 2pm - 4pm,
(Santa Cruz 350 Collision Initiative) Includes Ross Clark (SC climate czar), Lupa Brunjes (, Cheryl (Lower Carbon Footprint Through Diet), James Barsimantov (Science & Government Policy; UCSC and + guests!

Potluck Dinner/Live Music/Presentations, and Movie Event, at Live Oak Grange,
Producer Maria Terezinha Vaz and Director Giovanni
Vaz Del Bello will be showing their environmental film: A
Convenient Truth: Urban Solutions from Curitibia, Brazil.
(Transitions Santa Cruz)

Simultaneously, people in every corner of the world will be taking similar action, from climbers with 350 banners high on the melting slopes of Mount Everest to government officials in the Maldive Islands holding an underwater cabinet meeting to demand action on climate change before their nation disappears.

November 1 - 30, 2009
Climate Change Book Exhibit at Santa Cruz Public Library
Press Coverage
SC Weekly
Interview Climatologist Dr. Schneider (

350 Day and Activist Bill McKibben (

GT Weekly  (

Earlier   (

And watch for the Sentinel!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Campaign for Sensible Transportation - Files Suite on Widening Highway - Sites GHG

CFST (Campaign for Sensible Transportation) Files Lawsuit:

Elerick concluded, “We expect our public officials to provide more than lip service to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation accounts for 51 percent of greenhouse gas emissions produced in the City of Santa Cruz. Despite goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they are rising. We expect our tax monies to be spent on real transportation solutions that create a brighter future for us and our children, not to enable more emissions and speed up global warming. Our lawsuit is filed on behalf of our children, the community, and Planet Earth.”


Friday, October 16, 2009

First Flush - Red Alert, a night of waiting

First came the Red Alert, Monday Oct 12 - Just before 5 pm.
If anyone can remember that far back, it rained in the early evening.   But that wasn't the real thing.

Instead, it stopped and  I got a phone call about 8 pm or so from Nancy at Coastal Watershed who said the storm was coming from the north, and they were in Aptos.   They had no one in Santa Cruz to help them "call" the event, could I help?  "Ok, sure"

THEN, Nancy explained the real storm was expected sometime between midnight and 6 am.  "Hmmm, ok, " I said.  Could I, she asked, check for rain about once each hour.  In the mean time, she said, I could watch the storm on radar.    "Ok, I said - could be fun."

I didn't mind dedicating my night's sleep to science and the environment, but unfortunately I have no internet at home.   So I got a ride to the 24 hour dinner on Ocean and explained to the manager I was hoping to stay through the night for "First Flush."    "Yeah, sure, ok", was the reply.   "We now have wi-fi internet."

So I settled in.   Ordered something expensive on the menu and a lot of coffee.   But when came time for internet and radar, the manager said, "Oh, it's new and some people have problems."  

Well, I had problems.  So, no internet, no radar, but a good meal and I did some reading.   The hours started to tick by.  A little drizzle, but not the real thing.   Nancy was watching the radar and calling me every so often.

By 2 am, it started to rain again and a little wind, but not too serious.  I stayed in touch with Nancy.

But soon after this, the night crew at the diner reminded me that the limit was 2 hours.  I tried to explain the previous manager had ok'd this and I was doing this for science.  The night manager, a small, gentle looking woman but with a no-nosense attitude  who has heard it all before, said she didn't know anything about that.

I suppose I could have stayed, but the rain and wind were just starting to kick up and I made an executive decision:   "go home, before it really rains."  

So after 3 am, I made the slow march across the river, down a very subdued and increasingly wet Pacific Avenue toward home on Beach Hill.  It was kind of nice, actually.

By 4 am, I was home - soaked and cold. But still little wind and not a hard rain, yet. In fact, it seemed to tappering off.  Nancy said it really hadn't started much in Aptos but they could see on radar it was imminent in Aptos.    Then she disappeared.

If she "called" it too early, or worse the rain stopped, then there would a lot of volunteers handing around the watershed without enough runoff to collect meaningful samples.   Call it too late and maybe too much of the gunk has already runoff and we've missed the First Flush.

By 4:15 am or so, like a fool in the rain, which had begun again,  I sent another text message.  "You, ok?"   And got the reply, "we're calling it"

In another minute, I was nearly knocked over by a gust of wind - "Hey, this is getting serious - Mother Nature is angry"  and made haste to get inside the door, and to bed.   

Lucky me because about 50 others were being awakened with a chain of phone calls - "Get up, it's raining, go to your site! This is First Flush." 

The Red Alert follows, and then the note from Nancy after it was all over:

Hello Fabulous First Flush volunteers!

This is a Red Alert: We expect the First Flush to happen tonight – see the latest note from Jason:

Get ready for a big storm, this one may actually live up to the hype.  This morning's data indicate this storm is zeroing straight in on the central coast with very strong winds and heavy rain. 

The radar looks clear so at most a few showers may go through this afternoon but nothing much.  Extrapolating satellite motion puts it in here sometime between midnight and 6am.  I would start watching the radar after midnight though.  The rain front should be pretty obvious with this one.  Importantly, rain could be slow to develop in Monterey because this area tends to be rain shadowed in southeasterly wind regimes.  Keep an eye out the window for this.  Given the strength of the storm, rain will pick up and become moderate to heavy, even in Monterey by mid morning. 

Once again be careful, this is a potentially dangerous storm.

Here are a couple of links to help you watch the weather.

Satellite: Naval Research Lab
(click on "west coast & EPAC")

Radar:  National Center for Atmospheric Research
This site also has some satellite and weather model data

National Weather Service

Jason Nachamkin
Research Scientist
Naval Research Laboratory