Finding Data – WRI EarthTrends Delivered


Image from: WRI EarthTrends

World Resources Institute has a useful and interesting service called EarthTrends Delivered. By signing up for this free service you can explore dozens of data charts and maps online and receive email digests of new data as it is produced by WRI in any of the following:

-Greenhouse Gas Emission Sources and Trends

-U.S. Climate Policy

-Energy and Electricity

-Adapting to Climate Change Impacts

Upon signing up you also get a dashboard to manage your subscriptions, save data, and share data via facebook, email or tweet.

Do Green Roofs Improve Solar PV Performance?


Image: Wikimedia Commons


While attending a recent talk given by Paul Kephart, president of pioneering ecological design firm, Rana Creek, I heard an interesting assertion: Green roofs can improve the performance of solar photovoltaics by up to 30%. This would be due to the ability of the green roofs to lower the ambient temperature surrounding the panels, thereby boosting efficient operation.

Plants + solar PV may be an exciting possibility for synergistic systems on rooftops, especially in dry climates like California.

I have been looking around for studies or more information about this and came up with just a few articles that are linked below. Portland State University has a study underway on this topic.



Peter Calthorpe – Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change


Last week I saw Peter Calthorpe speak about his new book, Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change.

A highly influential planner, designer and urban thinker, Calthorpe has spent decades advancing holistic approaches to the built environment, most famously as a champion of  New Urbanism.

His latest book lays out the case that urbanism, i.e., creating more dense and livable cities, is the only real defense against climate change. If climate change is hastened by runaway carbon emissions, and carbon emissions are linked to the energy intensity of daily life, then it follows that altering the built environment and transportation patterns are key to its mitigation.

This may not be news to anyone, but Calthorpe’s book is about skillfully unpacking this data for a non-technical audience and showing how sprawl is not just a little more carbon intensive than denser urban development, but more intensive by orders of magnitude. Read it for a study of “the big picture”.

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U.C.S.B. Students Take on Zero Net Energy Goals


University of California Santa Barbara students passed a unique “Student Services Renewable Energy Initiative”, voting in a $6 per term fee, even as tuitions in the U.C. system continue to sharply increase. The resulting measure will generate $3.4 million towards campus-wide zero net energy goals.

The future electorate is at work…

Read more about the UCSB initiative here.

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Upcoming Bay Area Events, January 2011

Happy New Year Zero Resource Readers!

Below is a collection of interesting events for the month of January.

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Electric Vehicles + Smart Grid

Dian Grueneich, Former Commissioner, California Public Utilities Commission, Mark Duvall, Director of Electric Transportation and Energy Storage, Electric Power Research Institute and Ted Howes, Partner, IDEO, discuss new technologies and their implications for the future of power generation, while Anthony Eggert, Commissioner, California Energy Commission, Transportation Lead, Diane Wittenberg, Executive Director, California EV Strategic Plan, Diarmuid O’Connell, Vice President of Business Development, Tesla Motors, and Marc Geller, Co-founder, Plug-In America, discuss the future of the electric car in California. At the San Francisco Commonwealth Club, with a networking break between topics.

Thursday, January 13,  9 – 11:30 a.m.

595 Market St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA

$45 member, $65 standard, and $15 student tickets

event link


A Look Ahead at California’s Clean Energy Future

Panama Bartholomy from the CEC and Emma Wendt from PG&E discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the new report “California’s Clean Energy Future”, jointly issued by the California Air Resources Board, California Energy Commission and the California Environmental Protection Agency, among others.

SPUR Evening Forum, Tuesday January 25, 6p.m.

654 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA

free to SPUR and Association of Environmental Professionals members, $10 general admission

event link


Film, ‘ A Sea Change: Imagine A World Without Fish’

The San Francisco Public library will be hosting two free screenings of  ‘A Sea Change’.  “The documentary film A Sea Change, broadens the discussion about the dramatic changes we are seeing in the chemistry of the oceans, and conveys the urgent threat those changes pose to our survival, while surveying the steps we can take to reduce the severity of climate change.”

Wednesday, January 26, 6 p.m. and Saturday, January 29 at 2 p.m.

Koret Auditorium, Main Library, 100 Larkin St., San Francisco, CA.


event link


“Transforum” with Peter Calthorpe: ‘Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change’

Highly influential urban planner Peter Calthorpe discusses his new book, ‘Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change’.

Thursday, January 27, 6:30 p.m.

Hosted by Transform, and held at the SPUR Urban Center, 654 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA.

$15, rsvp recommended.

event link


“Save Our Caltrain!” Summit

Attend this summit to learn about and discuss the severe fiscal crisis facing Caltrain, an important Bay Area transit agency that lacks its own dedicated funding, and connect with others working to find solutions. Organized by the Friends of Caltrain.

Saturday, January 29, 8:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Samtrans Auditorium 1250 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos, CA


event link

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Cancun Climate Summit, part 2


Global Temperature Anomaly Map 2000-2009, NASA

(see my previous post for background info on the Cancun Climate Summit)

The Cancun Climate Summit, 16th Conference of the Parties (COP16) wrapped up on Saturday morning. With modest expectations widely held after the last years’ highly anticipated COP15 in Copenhagen failed to come to an accord, in the end the Cancun summit has succeeded in achieving a broad-based consensus and vision, if not a road map on how to get there.

Delegates from 194 countries remained deadlocked over the week of meetings in Cancun until a compromise was dramatically reached on the closing day. The conference did not produce another legally binding framework like 1997’s Kyoto Protocol- the terms of which expire next year- but it puts into place the building blocks for such an agreement to be forged.

Key goals include:

– Industrialized countries are charged with developing low carbon development plans and strategies and assessments to meet them.

– A Green Climate Fund will be established and administered by the United Nations in order to provide financial support to the climate change mitigation goals of developing nations. A total of $30 billion in “fast start” finance from developed nations will be secured up to 2012, with a goal of $100 billion in longterm funds to 2020.

– For the first time, a U.N. document sets the imperative that global temperatures must not rise more than 2 degrees C, based on pre-industrial levels.

– A new “Cancun Adaptation Framework” will become established to help undeveloped nations with the necessary planning and technical support to implement their climate mitigation goals.

The next U.N. Climate Change Summit will take place next winter in Durban, South Africa.


More on the outcome of the COP16 Summit:

U.N. Climate Talks End, The Wall Street Journal

Progress on Climate Fund, but Questions Remain, Mother Jones

The United Nations Framework on Climate Change website

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How Crucial is Desalination to California?


Image: View into a reverse osmosis desalination plant. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Last week I observed a panel discussion on the benefits and trade-offs of using desalination to augment the state’s water supply that was put on by the Berkeley Energy & Resources Collaborative (BERC) at U.C. Berkeley. The discussion, titled “Innovation in Desalination- An Answer to Our Water Woes”, featured commentary by water regulators, water experts, engineers, and others, all grappling with the question of when and if desalination makes sense as a water resource strategy. The takeaway message seemed to be that in California’s complex system of water rights, population, climate and location considerations, desalination emerges as one in a suite of strategies that can be used to meet an area’s water supply needs, but that it should remain at this time, something of a last resort.

Desalination is the process of removing the salt from a sea-water or brackish-water supply in order to make it potable, clean water. In a seasonally dry, coastal state like California that has a major conveyance system in order to get precious water resources from the north to the densely populated and more arid south, desalination might sound like a great idea. However, the technology comes at steep price, both financially and environmentally.

What are those costs? First, there is the financial cost; the USGS estimates that desalinated water can cost up to $1,000 per acre-foot as compared to roughly $200 per acre-foot from typical supplies. It is heavily consumptive in terms of energy use; and sea-water systems can disrupt local ecosystems at intake, as well as pollute them with the concentrated discharge at the end of the process.

Despite all of these hurdles and drawbacks, desalination has already been employed in California at a small scale for many years. Desalination will likely also become a more prominent feature of the state’s water profile as the price of the technology continues to come down. At present however, it makes sense for desalination to take a back seat to conservation, water recycling and consumer education.

Read the Pacific Institute’s report, Desalination: With a Grain of Salt

Desalination in the news:

Monterey desalination plant OKd by state PUC, SF Gate

Californians need water but desalination plants are bogged down, LA Times

KQED’s Forum featured a segment on The Cost and Benefits of Desalination, on October 25, 2010.

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Cancun Climate Summit, part 1


A crowd gathers in front of Copenhagen’s Bela Center  in 2009 where the COP15 talks took place. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The United Nations Climate Change Conference is now underway in Cancun, Mexico, from November 29 to December 10. The conference, also known as COP16/CMP6, represents the 16th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP) and the 6th Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP).


The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted in 1992 and came into force in March of 1994. It is ratified by 194 parties. The purpose of the Framework is to acknowledge among nations the shared interest in climate change mitigation and preparedness for any inevitable rises in temperature.

One outcome of the COP is 1997’s Kyoto Protocol. The Protocol went a step further than the Framework by setting legally binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions among 37 industrialized nation signatories and the European Union, representing an average pledge of five per cent reductions against 1990 levels during the five-year period 2008-2012. As of November 2010, 192 states have ratified. The United States has never ratified or put the Protocol into force, although it remains a part of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

This Year’s Conference

Expectations for the COP16 appear to be cautious, if not low. The Conference is hosting about 15,000 participants- just a fraction of the 50,000 strong delegation that turned out to Copenhagen’s COP15 in 2009. Facing down the disappointing lack of accord in the Copenhagen talks, the continued strife in the global economy and not much hype from the media, the Cancun talks have their work cut out.

Below is a link round-up of early developments and perspectives on the talks:

Cancun and the new economics of climate change,  U.K. Guardian

Cancun climate change summit: America plays tough, U.K. Guardian

Climate Change Conference begins in Mexico, Voice of America

Cancun’s First Goal: Do Better than Copenhagen, Time Magazine

Watch live and on-demand webcasts of the conference at the UNFCCC website, here.

Visit the U.K. Guardian’s Interactive Timeline of Climate Talks, here.

Blue Roofs


This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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Image: U.S. EPA

“Green roofs”, or roofs that use vegetation to retain stormwater and reduce the ‘heat island effect’ of miles of sun-absorbing rooftops, are more well-known than a related roof-type, the “blue roof”.

Blue roofs use stormwater capture devices rather than vegetation to reduce runoff levels from rooftops. Blue roofs can contribute to sustainable building design and retro-fits in a number of ways. Some blue roofs are designed to temporarily harvest and house stormwater others may divert and infiltrate  or slow-release stormwater. Since areas with large amounts of impervious paved surfaces may be subject to flooding, blue roofs can reduce the risk and associated damage and expense of localized flooding.

Blue roofs can also be employed strategically to avoid over-burdening combined sewage systems that are in danger of overflow and discharge into water bodies during storms.

New York City unveiled a new Green Infrastructure Plan in September that will employ blue roofs among its strategies to reduce sewage overage a target 40% by the year 2030.

Read an article on NYC blue roofs, here. A further definition of blue roofs can be found, here.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

Upcoming Events

Daylighted  Marin Creek (Village Creek) as it flows through U.C. Village (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

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Is Urban Stream Restoration Possible?

Ann L. Riley will present case studies from urban stream restoration projects. Riley serves as the advisor on watershed and river restoration for the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board and is the Executive Director of the Waterways Restoration Institute.

When: Wednesday, November 17, 7 p.m.

Where: Dimond Library, 3565 Fruitvale Ave. (cross street MacArthur), Oakland, CA

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Net Impact San Francisco: Climate Change Policy Update – Looking forward to the next decade globally and locally

Net Impact SF’s professional chapter’s final meeting of 2010 will focus on the status and trajectories of national, international and local policy around climate change.

When: Tuesday, December 14, 7 – 9 p.m.

Where: TBD – More details here.

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Compostmodern ’11 : Fertile Ground for Designing a Sustainable Future

Compostmodern is a two-day event at the interface of sustainable product design and industry to solve pressing sustainability and ecological  problems.   “Compostmodern engages designers, sustainability professionals, artists and entrepreneurs to collaborate in realizing a more environmentally, culturally and economically sustainable world.”

When: January 22 – 23, 2011

Where:  Day 1 – Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave at McAllister St., San Francisco, CA

Day 2 – The Academy of Art, 79 New Montgomery between Market and Mission Streets, San Francisco, CA

Early bird rates until November 30. More info here.

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