Climate Change Hits Home


(Image credit: flickr user heidi.nutters, via SPUR)

A recent report by SPUR entitled “Climate change hits home” addresses how we should plan to adapt to climate change in the Bay Area. The report includes a number of strategies to help local communities to be more resilient to the impacts of climate change. Some of the key impacts discussed in the report include:

  1. Higher average temperatures,
  2. Increased number of heat waves,
  3. Water uncertainty: droughts, extreme storms, flooding,
  4. An increased risk of wildfire, and
  5. Sea level rise.

The SPUR task force responsible for the report then considered how these impacts would affect various areas of planning in the Bay Area and proposed strategies to adapt to them.

The goal of the report is to get local agencies to begin to talk to one another to coordinate responses to climate change. Many of the adaptation strategies proposed in the report will also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – a real “win-win” overall.

A copy of the report is available for download from the SPUR website.

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Some Shameless Self-Promotion


I am a contributing author to Energy, Sustainability and the Environment: Technology, Incentives, Behavior. The book was just released by Elsevier, and you can find it on Amazon here.

Many thanks to friends and mentors Nick Rajkovich and Bill Miller for all their work on the chapter we wrote together.

I got my copy from the publisher in the mail last night.

California’s Clean Energy Future, Part 1


On Tuesday, January 25, I was in the audience at the SPUR Urban Center in San Francisco as Panama Bartholomy, California Energy Commission (CEC), and Emma Wendt, PG&E, gave presentation about California’s clean energy future.

The post below consists of Part 1 of my record of the presentation – the first part of Panama Bartholomy’s presentation. All portions are included in chronological order.

An ellipsis (…) indicates that I was not able to capture the words or thoughts skipped. The presentation is transcribed as accurately as possible – punctuation choices are mine. I also added any photos or images.

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The speakers were introduced by Raphael Sperry and Geoff Danker.

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Panama Bartholomy

I’m honored to be here… Obviously, I’m a bureaucrat. All my life I’ve wanted to be a bureaucrat. It’s true… … So I have achieved my dreams – I work for the state of California… I am here to talk about what I hope are some of our shared goals… building a  future that’s healthy for our economy, our environment, and our communities… …

I was supposed to talk about, and will talk about, California’s Clean Energy Future…  big ambitious goals. A massive document describes the process of how we’re all going to reach these goals… and how the agencies are going to work on it. In brief, it outlines very ambitious energy goals. It calls for zero net energy buildings… ways to shave peak demand… want to build carbon capture and storage in California by 2020… also want 1 million electric vehicles in California by 2020. So these are the goals. So I’m going to talk about the programs and activities behind the goals to make them a reality…

… … …

I have to give some background, then talk about efficiency…  then major market barriers around energy efficiency and what’s stopping a strong retrofit market, then renewables. Finally, I’ll talk about what’s coming from the Brown administration… …

So some energy context… I’m only going to talk about electricity and natural gas… One of the jobs of the CEC is to measure energy demand and project demand into the future… [looking at a chart] Here, you can see impacts of downturns in the economy… We’re expecting that the economy will pick up later this year or early next, then we will see about 1.2% growth in demand a year. Much of that is from the building sector… We expect to see continued increases in demand, especially from the commercial and residential sectors.

So we have several options. Do nothing. Then we get demand exceeding supply. Or we can build power plants. Or we can find ways to reduce demand… Efficiency is by far our most cost-effective choice in terms of how to meet demand.

Going back to natural gas… California only produces 13% percent of our own natural gas – the rest comes from other areas. We are at the end of the line when it comes to natural gas delivery. We are starting to compete more and more with Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico… …

Overarching a lot of activity on energy efficiency, I have to talk about California’s new climate policy… … AB 32 calls for us to reduce our economy-wide emissions levels to 1990 levels by 2020. This is about a 25-30% reduction in GHG emissions… The big player is transportation. Also, we have to look at electricity generation. The 1/4 of our electricity that we import is equal in GHG emissions to the 3/4 that we produce in-state. The built environment is the second largest wedge when we add the bits together. The built environment dictates how we need to get around, so it has a big impact… We have some work to do…

(Image credit: CA Climate Change Portal)

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Part 2 and Part 3 will be posted soon.

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Environmental Impacts of the World Cup

 Infographic by EU Infrastructure

As far as major international sporting events go, short of the Olympics, it doesn’t get much bigger than the World Cup. Massive international travel, infrastructure upgrades to accommodate the influx of visitors, building or renovation of stadiums, and the large amounts of waste generated by spectators are all part of the preparation and running of such a massive event.

This got us thinking, just how big is the carbon footprint of something like the World Cup? And what sorts of mitigation strategies are already in practice?

The answer to the carbon footprint question is: BIG. According to a pre-event study estimate by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in conjunction with the area Norwegian embassy, the carbon footprint for the event is 2.8 million tons. To quote Mike Berners-Lee, posting on the UK Guardian’s Green Living blog, “(that) is roughly equivalent to 6,000 space shuttle fights, three quiet years for Mount Etna, or 20 cheeseburgers for every man, woman and child in the UK.”

Levity aside, it is important to note that estimates of the impact vary widely, and what is important is to look at the overall pattern. Without question, the lion’s share of emissions are associated with athlete and spectator travel. This can make it hard for a more remote locale such as South Africa to remain competitively “green” compared to an event such as Germany’s 2006  World Cup event, which drew many of its participants via Europe’s centralized rail systems.

To the second question we posed, what are the best practices already in place for mega sporting events?

It is heartening to note that the problem of lessening impacts of major international sporting events is being taken seriously as a factor in weighing bids to host events. The bar was set by the the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) for the Lillehammer winter Olympic games in 1994, which incorporated sustainability dimensions in its planning. Incorporating sustainability concerns was then supported formally the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and has been a consideration of LOC’s at all subsequent Olympic games (Sebake & Gibberd, 2007). The bar was raised for the World Cup event by Germany’s 2006 LOC in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and the Oko-Institut, who together developed a “Green Goal Initiative”.

Read More

World Cup 2010 Fun Fact:

SABMiller and Crown developed a full aperture beer can for the event that allows the patron to fully remove the lid and use the can as a drinking cup. This will cut down on the waste from plastic concession cups.

Ixtoc I and ESI Maps


News sources and commentators have been comparing the size of the current oil spill in the Gulf to that of the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. There are of course numerous differences between the spills – the Exxon Valdez spill was in an isolated area in Alaska, for example, and the maximum volume of the spill was known at the beginning of the crisis. The boat could only spill as much oil as it could hold. And the Exxon Valdez spill occurred at the surface – oil was not rising from the bottom of the ocean, becoming emulsified and harder to clean up.

A better comparison for the current Gulf spill might be the Ixtoc I spill of 1979, the worst offshore spill in North American history.

After the well blowout on June 3, 1979, it took more than nine months to cap the well. Nine months. During that time, the well was spewing roughly 10,000 to 30,000 barrels of oil a day into the Bay of Campeche in the Gulf of Mexico. 3 million barrels of oil wound up in the Gulf.

As a result of this major spill, new procedures were instituted, existing procedures were revised, and new information was gathered. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) developed Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) sensitivity maps, which plot information about the shoreline and biological and human-use resources. This helps responders identify risks and develop priorities quickly. An example  of an ESI map of San Diego Bay (from NOAA’s website) is below.

An overview of the “anatomy” of ESI maps can be found here. ESI maps can be downloaded here.

Current Events – The Cost of Energy Production


There have been many analyses of the financial cost of energy production – in this post I am focused on the human and environmental costs.

It can seem like a huge practical joke – the fossil fuels that we have become so dependent on are tucked away into all kinds of inaccessible corners of the planet. And the more we need them to keep up with increasing demand, the harder and harder they are to find and to safely extract.

This issue of “safe” extraction has been in the news and on my mind a lot lately.

First, there was explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia that killed 29 workers.

Then, the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion that is presumed to have killed 11 workers. The estimates of the size of the resulting oil spill are being revised upwards (again).

There have been numerous other disasters over the years, both in the United States and the rest of the world.

There is always initial shock and outrage at these disasters, of course. But the focus of the outrage is on whether proper permits were acquired and safety procedures followed. Doubt is and will be expressed at company management and government for their oversight and handling of the crisis.

But there is little shock and outrage over the potential long-term human and environmental cost of extracting these fossil fuels, and over how little we seem to value the resulting energy. There is real risk involved in getting energy from the source, into a usable format, and transporting it to the location where it will be used.

While we should absolutely improve oversight and regulation of these enterprises, a major lesson of these disasters is that we need to rethink why we really need this energy in the first place and to use this precious commodity with increased care.