Republicans Fall Flat Attempting to Loosen Regulations

peter getty delta smeltDelta Smelt, the small endangered species of fish that inhabits the upper Sacramento-San Joaquin Estuary, must be worried about the next Congress, which takes office January 6th.

A message to environmentalists and California Democrats that the water wars are far from over, Congress passed a California drought bill Tuesday designed to loosen regulations that protect a number of species. Dressed up as relief for farmers who have suffered the most from the years-long drought, the bill is just the latest battle in the ongoing work of House Republicans to help California agribusiness loosen regulations that negatively impact their bottom line.

House Republican Doc Hastings denounced the regulations during floor debate, remarking that they “have diverted water supplies in order to help a 3-inch fish.”

Can we assume that if the endangered fish were larger, it would be more worthy of surviving? Imagine if Hastings learned that the average Delta Smelt comes in well under 3 inches!

The Congressman doesn’t get all of his math wrong, though. Over his 15+ year career, he has received $1.25m from Agribusiness, far and away his leading source of campaign funds. That adds up to a lot of support for companies looking to reduce or eliminate regulations like those designed to prevent extinction at our own hands.

It turns out that Agribusiness may have spent all that money in vain. Last week, President Obama vowed to veto the bill, which faces major opposition from state Democrats (including Diane Feinstein & Jerry Brown) and environmental groups too.

In a tirade, Central Valley Republican Devin Nunes compared Democrats to communists. He said that “this is about San Francisco and Los Angeles getting all of their water, never giving up one drop, and they have taken the water from our communities.” His extensive research of communist bureaucracy must have left little time to figure out that Los Angeles no longer receives delta water.

This attempted show of power doesn’t look so strong from this group.

Visualize the California Drought

Though I’ve written a good deal about California’s three-year-strong drought and its various devastating consequences, sometimes the best way to really understand an event is visually. We can discuss the threat to animal life and ecosystems, the struggle to deal with challenges both politically and socially, and even present ideas for long-term water and energy sustainability goals.

But what could be more moving than simply looking at these before and after shots of Lake Oroville…

peter getty before

 

peter getty after

 

 

Depending on the chart-maker’s whim, the drought may be communicated with varying degrees of alert, but there’s no denying the one-year increase in intensity before January 2014, when Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state-wide emergency.

peter getty one year change

 

Inexplicably, there are drought naysayers who point to the worse drought in the 1920s in order to block any action in the present. But pay careful attention the very right side of this 100+ year chart of statewide precipitation. Is this a trend we’d like to see continue?

peter getty historic precipitation

 

And keep in mind that the above chart is state-wide. But the brunt of the drought is being felt much more in the south of the state.

peter getty regional

 

And finally, a sobering satellite shot from space, a before and after of the current drought.

peter getty satellite before

 

peter getty satellite after

 

Affordable Planet Saving

peter getty climateA central argument against moving to renewable energy sources, or even combating climate change in general, is that it would be too costly. According to a recent report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, the costs aren’t as high as most people would imagine. Hopefully this will help shift some worldviews of those who are inexplicably still believe that the economy couldn’t handle a shift in the energy sector.

The report looked at the generally accepted estimation that there will be about ninety trillion dollars invested in infrastructure around the world. To implement a complete transition to renewable energy sources over those same years, the cost would be four trillion dollars. That’s not much of an increase at all. One of the reasons the costs are so low is because of the dropping costs of renewable energy, which I’ve reported on here before.

Of course, there are many benefits to spending this extra capital than just saving the planet. It also means that the rapid rate of deforestation wouldn’t be a part of our energy system anymore. And the potential for job creation, innovation, and economic growth are really endless.

Is it possible, though? Getting countries on board with the plan, including our own, will be a political minefield. And a 15-year plan might be affordable, but it would still be hard work and require a number of agencies and private companies working very efficiently to pull it off. There’s a reason to be hopeful, particularly as we hear more and more about realistic solutions that can help change the tide of public opinion.

Solar Power Becoming More Efficient

For many of us, solar energy has always made sense. Decades ago, the technology was criticized for being too inefficient to be considered at scale. These days, the technology has advanced so much, it’s clear that soon solar energy will be a major part of our renewable energy plan. I discuss this in more detail in my most recent Huffington Post article.

The International Energy Agency has made a prediction that solar power will be the largest source of electricity within the next forty years. A recent study from Cambridge says that we’re ready to smash the solar efficiency ceiling. So what changed?

Traditional solar cells have consisted of inorganic semi-conductors, like silicon. Silicon conductors only stimulate one electron. But now, we’re figuring out how to harness organic materials like pentacene to be used as semi-conductors. These conductors double the electron stimulation, and therefore energy output, of its inorganic counterparts. Cells are already being built using a hybrid of both semi-conductors.

Wind and hydro-electric power have together dominated the alternative energy industry. Solar is about to enter the ring with renewed gusto. This new competition is expected to help bring prices down, decrease the overall environmental impact of energy production, and increase efficiency.

When we look at Los Angeles amidst this drought, it is evident how important it is to create more efficient ways to create power. The heat wave from last week caused city-wide blackouts. Could there be a future where we can avoid that? Solar energy produces energy with little cost. That’s a renewable energy source worth pursuing.

Climate Protection – Sense & Cents

My recent Huffington Post article, Climate Protection: A Portfolio of Good Sense and Cents for Our Planet, points out that the argument that it isn’t financially feasible to move toward renewable energy sources no longer holds water. There are just too many studies out now that find the exact opposite to be true. Unfortunately, the right wing and general climate change deniers are mongering on fear of hurting the fragile economy.

Low-carbon energy has huge potential for growth as an industry. Sweden has closed coal plants in favor of factories that convert trash into fuel, saving their marine life, itself the cornerstone of another important industry for the country.

Unfortunately, it makes sense that some sit on the fence on this issue. There is a lot of misinformation being disseminated by anti-environmentalists and self-interest groups. The more informed we get, however, the more we are beginning to realize collectively that the environment is as important a priority as the economy…maybe more so, long-term. And we can prioritize both the economy and the environment successfully. Going green can add profit to business when properly handled. As more and more success stories unfold, eventually the positive will drown the negative.

The fact of the matter is that our very future depends on the decisions we’re making now. It’s important to enact some economically stable sustainability measures now.

Is Extinction Extinct?

Peter Getty de-extinctionDe-extinction is the idea of cloning animals and plants from preserved DNA, and it’s the subject of an increasing number of conversations about climate change. As we move into an era where prevention may not be possible, de-extinction is being offered as a solution to trying to protect wildlife and ecosystems. It’s a viable option, and is worth a shot. If extinction happens at our hands, we ought to try and do everything we can to revive a given species.

The challenges are big. Reintroducing an extinct species into a new or different ecosystem has all the potential for disaster as introducing an existing species. And we wouldn’t want to grow a societal feeling that we wouldn’t have to worry about extinction because we could ‘just bring it back.’ But bringing back a species isn’t ‘playing God’ any more than enforcing our will generally in any number of other arenas of science and society. There would be mistakes along the way, but rehabilitating a failed ecosystem is worth it.

Napa Earthquake : Drought :: Apples : Oranges

peter getty drought earthquakesEver since the Napa Quake, which thankfully didn’t claim any lives, there has been a lot of chatter regarding what could have caused it. Some are writing that it could be linked to the California drought and the groundwater depletion that goes along with it. Since I don’t think this thinking will likely be enough to tip the scales and cause a major political & social charge to conserve water in a more concerted way, it’s best we just dispel this pure rumor now.

It’s likely we’ll never now the direct cause, because it’s basically impossible to name the cause of an earthquake at all. In fact, we don’t yet know if the earthquake was due to the San Andreas fault lines, responsible for the 1906 quake that destroyed early San Francisco, or the Franklin Fault. That crack has been dormant 1,600,000 years.

The argument for the drought-causes-earthquake theory is that the lack of water causes stress to fault lines. What scientists are pointing out, however, is that the stress is equal to the daily stress of typical plate movement. Additionally, plate tectonics are not affected by climate change – a happy piece of mother nature that escapes the fallout.

There were earthquakes before the drought, and were the drought to end in a year, there could still be more. California has a long history of earthquakes. Napa’s was the biggest earthquake in northern California since 1989.

It’s best we completely separate the causes of earthquakes and the causes of drought; we can’t do anything about the former, and it’s up to us to rectify the latter.

Pulse Flow

peter getty pulse flowThe average Californian probably wouldn’t know what a pulse flow is. Thanks to a cooperative joint effort by the US and Mexico, pulse flows may have a major positive environmental impact on the entire southwest region.

Let’s start with the problem – the Colorado River is supposed to flow into the Gulf of California. Thanks to years of drought, the 1,450 mile journey has been cut short by about 100 miles. The Colorado is not alone. Other major rivers in the world are experiencing similar droughts, including the Ganges, the Nile, and the Yellow rivers.

The Colorado River Delta, which used to benefit from the presence of flowing water, has been decimated. The dry landscape, once filled with lush vegetation, now features mostly dry & prickly tamarisk shrubs. The effect on wildlife has been astronomical, even affecting migratory patterns of hundreds of species of birds. This area was once a resting location for the arduous journey across the Sonora Desert.

Here’s where pulse flows come in. Though the ground of the Colorado River Delta is dry and cracked, it’s not quite dead yet. In fact, there’s reason to believe that much of the delta could be restored with even modest renewal programs. Realizing this, Mexico and the US came together in an agreement called Minute 319, back in November of 2012. In March of 2013, work began.

Pulse flows are basically simulated flooding. They’re designed to replicate spring floods that used to occur in the region. The results, more than a year later, have been very promising. Sites of water making its way for the first time in years along the old path of the river and the beginnings of wildlife and vegetation are hinting that ecologists were correct – it’s possible to bring it back. As long as the modest funding continues, there’s a chance we could even restore the region.

What’s even more exciting is that the US and Mexico have come together on a project of the exclusive benefit of the environment. That’s a landmark in an age of tight budgets and a lack of political capital for environmental and sustainability issues. In a time of great drought like this, it’s important to celebrate when we get things right. Remember that even in times of trouble, the health of our environment is still a top priority.

Brown Lawns In A Dry State

peter getty lawnCalifornia is experiencing record-breaking drought. A neighbor’s lawn has gone unwatered. What’s more important?

In Glendora, California, a couple was facing a fine of $500 for conserving water. The eyesore, some brown grass, was apparently reported to authorities. The entire ordeal is an embarrassment, and an example of how our priorities are often very mixed up.

It’s easy to understand how it happened. There are a number of community laws and standards to enforce. Everyone agreed to live under these guidelines. And in a neighborhood of green lawns, most of us would probably think a little lower of the one house on the block with a brown lawn.

Here’s the thing. California’s water supply is running low. Most of it is used for massive agricultural use, but a quarter of it is for personal use. This includes drinking water, washing cars, and yes – watering lawns.

Years into the drought, there are now ‘water cops’ on the prowl, seeking Californians who might be wasting the most precious natural resource, water. Neighbors are calling the cops on each other when they catch them washing their car.

These restrictions are running up against community standards. Allowing your yard to go brown for more than two months results in a $500 ticket. Jerry Brown recently signed an exemption into law that excused people who were choosing not to water their lawns in an attempt to lower their water footprint.

With no end in sight, it’s time to educate the people of the state about the severity of the drought, and some of the changes that will be coming along with it. Finding potential solutions also needs to be a more prevalent topic of conversation, much more so than fines.

Hysteria and finger-pointing doesn’t help.

Migration Protection – a pipe dream

peter getty pronghornI recently wrote a piece for the Huffington Post regarding wildlife sanctuaries. The idea behind preserved areas for wildlife are to provide space for animals to live. It was a good effort, born under Theodore Roosevelt, when the first federally protected sanctuaries were created.

The problem is that animals aren’t humans. In addition to the land where they live, animals also require regular migration routes. Migratory patterns have been destroyed for many species in North America. Not only do highways, fences, and the spread of urban sprawl directly intrude on land previously a part of essential migration pathways, but light pollution is interfering with nighttime navigation for birds.

Animals are increasingly losing their lives due to the effects of climate change. When they also lose their ability to migrate, it becomes a two-pronged attack on their species.

Though solutions would be complex, involving many landowners and the cooperation of governments from the local to the federal levels, it is possible. Wyoming has become a trailblazer, protecting animal migration more than any other state for the Pronghorn. This was a relatively easy project, as the Pronghorn has a predictable and trackable migration pattern. It will take a real effort to save other species.

Because of the political element any solution will require, it’s hard to have hope at the present moment that action will be taken anytime soon. While citizens clamor for pipeline construction (like the Keystone XL), preservation of migration patterns falls into the shadows. Each project requires the same amount of collaboration and government management – which do you think will be addressed first?