GREEN BUILDING CONFERENCE PREVIEW--I was recently a Master’s Speaker at Greenbuild 2016, the world's largest conference and expo dedicated to green building. The conference held in Los Angeles last year focused on Green building performance, health and wellness, the Greening of cities, and identifying those emerging technologies that will continue to shape the 21st century. (Photo above: Streetwyze app co-founder Aekta Shah (center) inputs data with community members.)
I was invited to speak on science and technology and the power of local data. The conference was mind blowing and an important reminder that a decade ago the idea of real time data on energy efficiency, Artificial intelligence (AI), the health and wellness components of green building, and augmented reality, all seemed like stuff in comic books or science fiction movies. Not any more. Much of this stuff is now part and parcel of our everyday reality.
I start here because early in 2017 the new administration has begun to take dramatic steps to restrict access to public information. More specifically, within the first 100 days members of Congress have introduced a pair of bills aimed at rolling back the Obama administration’s fair housing reforms; and hidden in the “Local Zoning Protection Act” are stipulations that seek to curtail the production and distribution of data about racial segregation.
According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, “The bills would also prohibit federal funds from being used for the HUD database containing geospatial information regarding community racial disparities and disparities in access to affordable housing.”
The lockdown on local data raises serious questions about how local governments and nonprofits can develop neighborhood-level early warning systems that can help city leaders and community advocates combat gentrification, displacement, growing income inequality, and the increasing suburbanization of poverty. How can we foster two-way feedback loops between cities and communities to identify unique neighborhood characteristics if we are not being encouraged and supported to collect local data on race, space, place, and waste? How will we repurpose, visualize, and integrate the various municipal and external data sources to meet community needs if we constrict the role of local community driven data?
These are important questions because across the U.S., communities are aspiring to become more economically robust, resilient, equitable, sustainable, and strong. However, while there is little debate that mixed-use communities are desirable assets, few communities have found the right package of investment, suite of services, or policy interventions that can turn burned out buildings into thriving arts and commercial corridors, innovation hubs, and culturally and community responsive spaces that truly serve the needs of communities.
But what if cities and community leaders could see inequalities in real time and had an early warning system that could help produce more equitable outcomes? This is where the new mapping equity app called Streetwyze comes into play to help make the invisible visible.
How Would This Work
Streetwyze is a mobile, mapping, and SMS platform that collects local knowledge about how people are experiencing cities and turns them into actionable analytics. The power of the app is that it makes local knowledge accessible within and outside of government by creating two-way feedback loops and data visualizations between neighborhoods and cities so that they co-produce policies that help secure shared benefits. By integrating community-generated data with predictive analytics, cities and community leaders are empowered with forward-looking knowledge that can track equity indicators, identify hot spots and cool spots for equitable development, and predict future trajectories for vulnerable populations.
This work is the leading edge of a new “science of cities,” “equitable cities,” and “data-driven cities” that build upon and extends the earlier “smart cities” work of john a. powell’s Opportunity Mapping project, PolicyLink’s National Equity Atlas, the EcoDistrict protocol, Enterprise Community Partner’s Opportunity Index, as well as private businesses like Neighborland, Zillow, and Redfin’s Walkscore to name a few.
In the City of Angels, the Mapping LA project created by the LA Times in 2009, was one of the earlier attempts to include community voices by drawing boundary lines for 158 cities and unincorporated places within Los Angeles County, California, 114 neighborhoods within the City of Los Angeles and 42 unincorporated areas. The maps were then "redrawn with the help of readers who agreed or disagreed with our initial boundaries." After reviewing this collective knowledge, Times staffers adjusted more than 100 boundaries, eliminated some names and added others.
Where Has Streetwyze Been Tried, and What Have We Learned?
What is new about the Streetwyze Platform is that community groups, artists, advocates, and everyday people working to improve the neighborhoods where they live, learn, work, and play, rarely have had the opportunity to integrate their lived experience into big data sets, computer simulations, and advanced modeling techniques to improve urban patterns and help cities function more effectively.
Though still in its early stages, the Ironbound Community Corporation and New Jersey EJ Alliance are already using Streetwyze to measure air quality in Newark, New Jersey, as part of Streetwyze’s beta effort there (supported by the Kresge Foundation). Despite the fact that the initial focus of the mapping was around mapping environmental health hazards, the majority of data that has been posted by local community members is positive—over 70% of reviews are of “good stuff”. This is powerful given the public/media perception of Newark, NJ, which tends to be rather negative. Streetwyze has finally given the community a voice to narrate their own story of their community, and the story is largely positive.
This type of community driven information has perked the ears of long time innovators of creative place-making, such as the Denver Housing Authority (DHA) lead by Ismael Guerrero who, with support from U.S. Bank, is launching the Streetwyze platform to help conduct health impact assessments (HIA’s) for new low-income housing development that will serve Denver’s Mariposa neighborhood in 2017.
But the question remains: are cities ready to integrate real-time, community-generated data and predictive analytics into their decision-making and participatory planning processes? Recently Bloomberg Philanthropies launched What Works Cities and The Rockefeller Foundation launched 100 Resilient Cities to help improve the capacity of local governments to use civic tech, data democratization, and advanced simulations to improve city services, inform decision-making, and increase community engagement.
The Streetwyze app is one of many that are at the forefront of innovation, creative place-making, place-keeping, and local knowledge mobilization for cities and communities. In the future we envision this real-time, crowd-sourced, early warning system becoming a critical component of participatory planning initiatives with Green Building experts in the U.S. and beyond.
On April 20th 2017 at the 16th annual Municipal Green Building Conference and Expo (open to all), Streetwyze will bring its message of building a community driven data revolution to Los Angeles, with an explicit look at race, power, environment, gentrification, displacement, opportunity, and promoting what the Chief resiliency officer of Oakland Kiran Jain refers to as “digital resiliency.”
“Digital resiliency” for the 21st century understands that if cities are going to have community end users at an equity table as equal partners in the planning and decision-making process, cites are going to have to learn how to use mobile, mapping, and SMS apps like Streetwyze to democratize data, democratize decision-making, and reveal hidden patterns in order to be more culturally and community responsive to, and predictive of, past, present, and future community change.
(Dr. Antwi Akom is a Professor of Africana Studies and Founding Director of UCSF/SFSU’s Social Innovation Lab. He is also a faculty affiliate with UCSF’s Center for Vulnerable Populations in the Medical School. He co-founded Streetwyze, recognized by Atlantic Citylab, the Root, and Tech Crunch as one of the top new tech tools to empowering vulnerable populations.)
BEGREEN-Governor Jerry Brown signs SB 32 and AB 197 into law, adopting the nation’s strongest carbon emissions reductions in the country, surrounded by SB 32 bill author state Senator Fran Pavley and AB 197 author Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia and other legislators. (Photo via The Equation Blog/Union of Concerned Scientists)
The New Year ushers in a new U.S. presidential administration and a lot of uncertainty and angst for people who care about taking decisive action on climate change ( polls indicate that’s most of us.) It’s not clear whether the incoming administration is willing to fulfill U.S. commitments for the Paris Climate Accord and since the nominee to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has sued to overturn the Clean Power Plan, which dovetails with Trump campaign promises to kill the plan, it appears the signature federal policy actions of the last decade to tackle climate change are in grave danger.
Of course, UCS will fight hard any actions to reverse progress on climate change and we will also continue to work for further progress. But unfortunately, it looks like we’re heading into an era when climate action at the federal level will be on the defensive. Does this mean the end of U.S. climate action for the foreseeable future?
No way, would be my answer. There’s a great deal that can be and is being done by states, regions, and cities to aggressively decarbonize our economy, notably our energy and transportation systems that are the source of the majority of emissions, and these actions can be very far-reaching indeed.
As has been true for well over the last decade, some of the most comprehensive and aggressive climate action is being taken by California, currently the world’s sixth largest economy. California is not alone, as Oregon and Washington made impressive progress to address climate change last year and are poised to do more, and the three west coast states together could well be on the verge of creating a strong, prosperous regional bulwark in the national struggle to address climate change. I will address the actions and opportunities in the Pacific Northwest in future blogs.
A New Roadmap for Deep Decarbonization
In 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown created an executive order to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and last year the State Legislature passed a pair of bills, SB 32 (Pavley) and AB 197 (E. Garcia) that Governor Brown signed in September 2016, giving those targets the force of law. And now, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is about to publish the roadmap to guide California on how it will achieve and enforce those reductions.
This roadmap, called the 2030 Target Scoping Plan, covers the entire economy and includes specific sectors like energy, transportation, water, agriculture, and manufacturing. The 2030 Target Scoping Plan is enormous in its range and ambition, building on the success of California’s previous law to reduce global warming pollution emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a goal that the state is currently on track to achieve.
The 2030 Scoping Plan lays out a future where the state is powered largely by clean renewable energy, transported by electric vehicles and fueled by low-carbon and non-fossil alternatives to oil-based fuels, and where energy efficiency and sustainable water management reduce greenhouse gas emissions while saving consumers money. It ramps up requirements for the dirtiest emitters, and recommends a price on carbon (a continuation of the state’s cap-and-trade program) to help achieve some of the most difficult and expensive reductions at lower cost. And it seeks to ensure that frontline communities that have already suffered a disproportionate burden from pollution get cleaner air and tools they need to meet the threats posed by climate change.
Reducing Emissions and Growing the Economy
These are the kinds of big-picture approaches the entire country and the world will need in order to tackle climate change. Having California – with a very large and complex economy and diverse population – demonstrate successful climate action is both timely and sorely needed. Since passing its first economy-wide greenhouse gas reduction law in 2006, the state has already proven climate naysayers, who frequently oppose climate action with dire predictions of economic catastrophe, completely wrong by demonstrating that emissions can be reduced while growing the economy.
The last few years have seen disturbing signs of a dangerously changing climate, including record-breaking annual temperatures, wildfires destroying millions of acres of forests, extreme drought like the one in California, and increasingly rapid melting Arctic and Antarctic ice, which could trigger dangerous rates of sea level rise and other dire consequences for the planet. Climate change is occurring faster than some had predicted, and it is already destroying lives and property, fueling wars and civil discord, and putting severe stress on local and national economies. So the actions that California takes– bold, ambitious, and transformative– are necessary. The lessons we learn from paving the road to a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable, economy that lowers risk from climate change will have benefits far beyond the state’s borders.
Stay Tuned for Progress and Pushback
Of course, in such a large plan the devil is in the details, and with such a vast undertaking there are always improvements that can be made. UCS has sent our comments on the 2030 Scoping Plan draft to the Air Resources Board in December describing ways the draft version of the plan could be strengthened to ensure California reduces emissions and builds resilience. My UCS colleagues Laura Wisland and Don Anair with expertise in specific sectors are also writing blogs describing our vision for achieving California’s climate goals by 2030 through a clean electricity grid and better transportation.
And, as usual, we will also need to work hard to thwart the inevitable pushback from opponents of climate action, especially those in the fossil fuel industry who are profiting from the status quo. UCS will keep you apprised of when and where we need to stand up to those efforts.
We Must Seize the Moment to Achieve a Better Future
California’s climate goals present an opportunity to build a low-carbon economy that supports growth and innovation, enhances our health and quality of life, and lifts up disadvantaged communities that have suffered the most from the legacy of pollution. We now have a roadmap — it’s time to get moving. And we hope this roadmap can help inspire new journeys in other states, regions, and cities all over the nation for how we can make real and significant progress, regardless of what happens in Washington, DC.
(Adrienne Alvord is the Union of Concerned Scientists’ California and western states director)
BEGREEN--What happens when you change something as iconic as a Santa Monica beach…even just a small part of it? That’s one of the things The Bay Foundation (TBF), an environmental non-profit, in partnership with the City of Santa Monica, is eager to study as part of the newly-launched Santa Monica Beach Restoration Pilot Project. This project aims to transform an approximately three-acre section of existing sandy beach into a healthy, beautiful coastal ecosystem—a more ‘wild’ or natural beach—to address coastal hazard risks while protecting and enhancing coastal resources, such as public beach access and recreation, natural shoreline habitat, and aesthetic values.
The designated area is ocean-ward of the bike path near the water, parallel to the Beach Club, and about 1.5 miles north of the Santa Monica Pier. The wide beaches of Santa Monica provide a valuable environmental and economic resource, receiving 17 million visitors annually. Seventy-two million people visit the beaches throughout LA County in a given year.
So far this month, TBF’s staff of scientists have installed a low-lying, three-foot tall sand fence, both for protection and to designate the project area; have performed baseline monitoring for the study; and were able to take advantage of last week’s impending rain, seeding the space with native vegetation sooner than anticipated.
To transform this highly impacted beach, they seeded with native coastal strand species, such as flowering sand verbena and beach evening primrose. The project will evaluate increased protection from sea level rise and erosion for coastal infrastructure and residences, while also providing a vital refuge for locally rare coastal vegetation species, invertebrates, and birds.
The project is also meant to offer a beach aesthetic unique to the region, an opportunity to see how people in Los Angeles interact with this type of coastal ecosystem, and bird watching opportunities for visitors. One local homeowner, after learning about the project, said, “I wish it was a bigger project ending in a ribbon of natural plants…all along the beach.”
“The most exciting part of this project for me is the chance to show people what a different kind of beach can look like and what it can actually do,” states TBF Executive Director Tom Ford. “The multiple benefits of this project, if successful, are profound. This project may clearly demonstrate that the beach can again be a place for wildlife and people while providing protection from sea level rise in a very cost effective manner. In essence, we’re using Mother Nature to protect us from Mother Nature by providing Mother Nature with some space on our urban beach.”
In addition to the curved, flowing, low-lying fence lines, there is a path through the restoration area, and it is open along the water’s edge. Many of the design components were created to minimize disturbance and encourage visitors’ interaction with the beach, from normal recreation to enjoying and learning about the local native plants.
Karina Johnston, TBF’s Director of Watershed Programs, states, “We believe that the iconic beaches of Santa Monica are a beautiful and important location to test this restoration project, which uses existing sand to transform a portion of the current beach into a sustainable coastal strand and foredune habitat complex resilient to sea level rise.”
And since timing is everything, a separate but nearby project has a tangential focus. Until early January, the City of Santa Monica has a virtual reality installation on the Santa Monica Pier revealing how sea level rise will affect the Santa Monica shoreline in the not too distant future. Will its iconic beaches be underwater in 30 years? Could projects like the Santa Monica Beach Restoration Pilot Project help protect us? Inside the viewer is an immersive virtual reality display showing panoramic views of Santa Monica Beach accurate to the vantage point on the North side of the Pier, where it is mounted. The public can see how the beach and infrastructure will flood with sea level rise and big storms by the end of the century.
“Personally speaking I’m thrilled to be a part of all this!” adds Ford. “The City of Santa Monica, California State Parks and the folks neighboring the project have been so welcoming, it’s a very encouraging start. I can’t think of a better way to ring in the New Year.”
Learn more about the Santa Monica Beach Restoration Pilot Project, see beautiful artistic renderings (by Mia Lehrer + Associates), watch for volunteer and educational outreach events at http://www.santamonicabay.org/santa-monica-beach-restoration-pilot/.
(Julie Du Brow writes on behalf of The Bay Foundation. The Bay Foundation is a 501(c) 3 non-profit environmental group founded in 1990 to restore and enhance the Santa Monica Bay (from the LA-Ventura county line to the Palos Verdes Peninsula) and local coastal waters. The Foundation is the non-profit partner of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, raising and expending funds for research, education, planning, cleanup efforts and other priorities identified in the Commission’s Santa Monica Bay Restoration Plan.)
BEGREEN- The Bay Foundation (TBF) will launch in 2017 its new “Table-to-Farm Composting for Clean Air” program, made possible by an Environmental Champions Grant from Southern California Gas. Engaging the community-based Social Justice Learning Institute (SJLI) as a partner, TBF’s pilot program will address methane generated by landfills by connecting restaurants with compost hubs, urban farms, and community gardens for a multifaceted food waste reduction program in the City of Inglewood.
This waste reduction program will tackle air quality and food security issues that impact disadvantaged communities by implementing these hands-on efforts: (a) organic waste recovery and composting partnerships with South L.A. farms and gardens, and (b) outreach about local food sourcing and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
TBF will recover wasted food from restaurant kitchens, which will be composted in local, SJLI-managed community farms and gardens throughout South L.A. Currently, 25% of the produce grown by SJLI is sold through their CSA, a program where people can buy directly from farmers.
TBF will use its unique connection with restaurants to ‘feed’ this program. The Foundation’s well-established Clean Bay Certified program works with cities to inspect and certify restaurants that voluntarily implement initiatives to protect our environment. The City of Inglewood became a participating city in 2016.
Grace Lee, TBF’s Director of Outreach Programs, states, “Our Table-to-Farm Composting pilot program is so exciting to me. This adds another layer to our CBC program, which focuses on responsible restaurants that are helping address the health of Santa Monica Bay and those who use it for enjoyment or subsistence. Similarly, restaurants engaged in Table-to-Farm can help affect healthier air quality and food access in their community by minimizing food waste to landfills.”
Landfills generate a slew of environmental hazards. They release toxic gases like methane and carbon dioxide, as well as foulsmelling compounds that adversely affect neighboring communities. The U.S. EPA has identified landfills as one of the largest sources of methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide (USEPA, 2007).
Organic waste amounts to a third of the volume tossed into California's landfills. Restaurants are a significant contributor: the average restaurant discards 75 tons of garbage annually, half of which is food waste. In 2014, California's restaurant industry disposed of 3 million tons of waste. Fifty percent of that could have been diverted from landfills, dramatically cutting methane released into the atmosphere (CalRecycle, 2015). Considering there are 30,000 eateries throughout L.A., the diversion potential in this disposal stream is deeply significant.
“The partnership with Social Justice Learning Institute is an expansion of the Clean Bay Certified program and is my favorite part of this project. It enables restaurants to enhance the cultivation of food right here in LA. This project demonstrates that food waste is only truly wasted when deposited in a landfill,” states TBF Executive Director Tom Ford. “Aside from the methane offset, the reduced transport of the materials, keeping them local, also reduces emissions improving air quality and public health. I am grateful to SoCal Gas for supporting this project and I look forward to seeing the results of this partnership.”
The Southern California Gas Environmental Champions Initiative solicits grant proposals for innovative projects or programs that address clean air, clean energy and/or water conservation with a particular emphasis on supporting underserved communities.
Adds Mike Harriel, SoCal Gas Public Affairs Manager, “SoCalGas proudly supports organizations like The Bay Foundation whose deep concern for the environment and innovative programs reflect a shared commitment to the community and environment.”
(Julie Du Brow writes on behalf of The Bay Foundation. The Bay Foundation is a 501(c) 3 non-profit environmental group founded in 1990 to restore and enhance the Santa Monica Bay (from the LA-Ventura county line to the Palos Verdes Peninsula) and local coastal waters. The Foundation is the non-profit partner of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, raising and expending funds for research, education, planning, cleanup efforts and other priorities identified in the Commission’s Santa Monica Bay Restoration Plan. )
PLANET WATCH-Some people love to hate government regulations. Many believe they’re just bureaucratic barriers that waste our time. But the Food and Drug Administration just passed a new regulation that’ll actually protect us, and may save you a few bucks and an unnecessary purchase at the store.
If you’re one of the millions of Americans who buys antibacterial soaps, you’ve been, at a minimum, duped. But more importantly, you’ve been exposed to harmful chemicals.
Antibacterial soaps sound good. After all, no one wants to imagine their hands teeming with bacteria.
We are utterly covered in microorganisms. That idea grosses us out, and some of that bacteria can make us sick. Kill them all, we think.
But in reality, we couldn’t survive without beneficial bacteria, some of which help protect our immune system. And antibacterial soaps are no better at preventing disease than regular soap and water.
If you’ve ever purchased soap based on its deadliness to bacteria, you’re a victim of false advertising. But it’s not as benign as that.
You’re also a victim of the harmful chemicals used to make those soaps — triclosan and triclocarban.
In addition to the possibility of helping develop germs that are resistant to antibiotics, evidence suggests that these two chemicals may also disrupt your hormone cycles. And it’s not just your skin. Triclosan can also be found in some toothpastes.
These chemicals continue making trouble even after they’re washed down the drain. They’re released into the environment via effluent from wastewater treatment plants or sewage sludge.
While triclocarban stays intact in the environment for several years, triclosan breaks down into cancer causing dioxins.
In light of their potential harm and lack of benefits, the FDA has finally banned them in consumer products. Although, hospitals and restaurants can still use them.
According to the regulation, corporations have a year to clean up their acts. That means that you might still find these soon-to-be banned chemicals in the store. So for the next year you should still read soap labels to avoid triclocarban and triclosan.
And when you do, keep in mind that despite evidence of their harmful effects, many companies chose not to do the right thing on their own and continued to sell products that contain both chemicals.
That’s why a government regulation acting in the public interest was necessary for us to wash our hands of these toxins.
(Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. This column was provided CityWatch by OtherWords.org.)
PLANET WATCH-For the last few months, the BuildSMART trailer has had thousands of visitors traipse through, from kids playing with and touching different green building materials, to adults asking money-saving questions.
This trailer is the tool of the U.S. Green Building Council-Los Angeles Chapter (USGBC-LA) for 2016. As it visits high schools and festivals throughout the year, volunteers provide education on sustainable building to everyone—homeowners, professionals, public officials and students—by demonstrating applied sustainable building techniques and illustrating their benefits.
“Stocked with a greywater system and a modular wall with removable panels, recycled countertops, tankless water heater and grass replacements, this mobile green resource center offers the full spectrum of green building strategies in a compact and interactive space,” states Fernanda Zuin, who manages the trailer’s schedule, the USGBC-LA professional member volunteers, and the driving, set up/pack up and care of the trailer. To request the trailer at your school or event, please contact Fernanda at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Events to date have included stops at Van Nuys and Sun Valley High Schools (for their Green Festivals), AEG at LA Live and Panorama Mall (Earth Day), STEAM High School (Science/Tech Festival), LA Design Festival, One Water Festival (Pt. Dume), City of Torrance Environmental Fair, Lotus Festival (Echo Park) and Lake Balboa. Upcoming dates include:
8/6: Go Green Save Green with Cal State Institute for Sustainability in Arleta (Branford Park)
8/19 Net Zero 2016 Conference at SoCal Gas Energy Resource Center in Downey
8/20: Eastside Sol Festival in Boyle Heights
8/27: National Electric Vehicle Week event at El Camino Real High School
Other upcoming Back-to-School stops include Azusa ReStore, El Monte, Alhambra and Polytechnic High Schools, Boyle Heights Technology YouthSource Center and more.
To see each week’s regularly updated schedule, please visit the official USGBC-LA Facebook page each Monday afternoon: @U.S. Green Building Council Los Angeles Chapter.
“The BuildSMART Trailer experience is a prime example of how our chapter is a resource for everyone who is interested in a sustainable built environment,” states USGBC-LA Executive Director Dominique Hargreaves. “Our members are eager to listen to questions and share their knowledge with fellow professionals, property or home owners, neighborhood community groups, or students, the next generation…which is maybe the most important group to engage with. USGBC-LA offers lots of ways to connect, and one goes right into neighborhoods, which we love.”
This program is made possible by a Community Partner Grant funded by the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power.
REMINDER: Greenbuild International Conference & Expo is Oct. 5-7 in Los Angeles. Contact Julie Du Brow or Dominique Hargreaves for more information.
(Julie Du Brow is a communications consultant for the U.S. Green Building Council-L.A., among others. Julie is an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)
CLIMATE ECONOMICS-Californian foresters have demonstrated once again that money does grow on trees—and they are not talking about commercial orchards.
New research estimates that the pines, eucalypts, planes, palms, sequoias and magnolias that line the boulevards of the Golden State’s cities and suburbs are worth at least $1 billion a year to California taxpayers.
They clean up atmospheric pollution, conserve rainwater, help communities to economize on air conditioning, boost property values, and soak up more than 560,000 tons of carbon dioxide from traffic exhausts every year. That is pretty much the equivalent of taking 120,000 cars off the road. And it’s all net profit.
“We’ve calculated that for every $1 spent on planting or maintaining a street tree, that tree returns, on average, $5.82 in benefits,” says Greg McPherson, a research forester at the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service, who led the research. “These trees are benefiting their communities 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
Ecological importance--This latest exercise in urban arboreal accounting does not consider the value of sawn timber, flowers, nuts or fruit, in a state that makes much of its fortune from citrus, almond and other orchard plantations. Nor does it factor in the ecological importance of the urban canopy to birds, insects and mammals that live alongside humans.
It just puts a value on human amenity -- published in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening journal -- based on data from inventory from 929,823 street trees in 50 Californian cities.
This is just a sample: in 1988, the count of street trees in the state was put at 5.9 million. By 2014, there were 9.1 million -- a tree for every four residents -- but the density of planted trees had dropped from more than 65 per kilometer of pavement and sidewalk to less than 47. And there could be room for another 16 million or so trees along the city streets.
The researchers put the value of carbon storage alone at more than $10m, and at more than $18m in the removal of air pollutants. The trees intercept more than $40m worth of rainfall and make savings of energy in heating and cooling systems worth more than $100m. And their presence in a street boosts property values and home sale prices by more than $838m.
“Sometimes it’s easy to think of trees along city streets as mere aesthetics or, worse, a nuisance with falling leaves and limbs or uprooting sidewalks,” Dr McPherson says. “But what our study shows is that these trees have a real monetary benefit to the municipalities and residents who care for them.”
Abundant species--The research is not concerned overtly with climate change, which is predicted to devastate forests in the American southwest by 2100. It lists only the most abundant species from the 750 or so varieties in the whole Californian inventory.
And it aims to provide the basis for strategies for making the most of the value that street trees could deliver -- not just to Californian city dwellers, but to a much wider world. More than half of the planet’s population now lives in cities. And by 2050, it could be two-thirds.
“Municipal foresters can use data from this study to see how their trees compare to other cities in their climate zone or in the state,” Dr. McPherson says.
“It might help allocate resources, whether it be to increase planting to address low density or species diversification, increase pruning to manage predominately younger trees for structure and form, control pests and disease, or to intensively manage older trees so as to not lose them prematurely.”
(Tim Radford, a founding editor of Climate News Network, worked for The Guardian for 32 years, for most of that time as science editor. He has been covering climate change since 1988. This piece first appeared at Climate News Network. And TruthDig.com.)
Photo: Kevin Nelson via Flickr. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
PLANET WATCH--When they gather in Texas and California, respectively, for their annual shareholder meetings next week, ExxonMobil and Chevron will face increasing pressure from shareholders, environmentalists, and impacted communities to act on climate change.
The meetings, both taking place next Wednesday, come amid a concerted effort to hold Exxon and other fossil fuel corporations accountable for deceiving the general public and their shareholders about climate science.
But if history is any indication, the Big Oil giants will remain as intractable as ever, even in the face of a growing climate crisis.
Since 1990, 62 climate-related resolutions have been introduced at annual shareholder meetings, author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben writes in an op-ed on Friday. Each of them has failed.
"In 2015," he offers as an example, "shareholder activists put forward a variety of resolutions, the most important of which would have set goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Again Exxon opposed them, its CEO informing shareholders that if climate change caused any 'inclement weather' humans would 'adapt'."
Here’s what’s happened since that meeting: we’ve had 12 straight months of record-busting temperatures; this February and March were the hottest months ever recorded on our earth. We’ve seen the highest wind speeds ever recorded in the western and southern hemispheres. We’ve watched the rapid death of vast swaths of coral, as hot oceans triggered by far the largest “bleaching” event ever recorded.
Oh, and we learned, from Pulitzer-prize winning journalists, that Exxon knew about climate change in 1981 but continued to fund climate deniers for 27 more years. That while they were telling shareholders that there was too much uncertainty to take action against climate change, they were raising the decks of their facilities and rigs to withstand the sea level rise they knew was coming. That they were funding the architecture of denial that kept a phony debate alive for a quarter century.
With that as the backdrop, we approach the next Exxon annual meeting at the end of the month. Once again environmentalists are presenting the same resolutions, in a kind of rite of spring that’s likely to have the usual outcome.
It may be time to "give up the charade," McKibben argues.
"If this meeting ends with the same dismal failure as the past 25," he says, "it's time to admit the obvious: the Exxons of the world are not going to change their stripes, not voluntarily. It will be time for state treasurers and religious groups to join those students and frontline communities and climate scientists who are saying 'No more.' It will be time—past time—to get serious, divest and break free of fossil fuels once and for all."
Activists plan to hold a rally to this effect outside the Exxon shareholder meeting in Dallas Wednesday.
"Shareholders have all the evidence they need—Exxon has lied to them about the financial risks of climate change since 1977," reads the call-to-action. "Exxon robbed humanity of half a century's worth of time to fight climate change, and their core business model relies on wrecking our communities and the climate."
The Union of Concerned Scientists is also circulating a petition in advance of both meetings, specifically challenging Exxon and Chevron to sever ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the right-wing lobby group it says "peddles disinformation about climate science to policy makers and seeks to roll back the policies we need to reduce global warming emissions."
Meanwhile, renowned Indigenous leader Humberto Piaguaje of the Secoya nationality, is traveling from his jungle home in the Ecuadorian Amazon to confront Chevron CEO John Watson at his company's annual meeting on Wednesday in San Ramon, California.
Piaguaje will take Watson to task for Chevron's refusal to pay a historic $18.1 billion court judgement requiring the company atone for systematically discharging 16 billion gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways from 1964 to 1992 and abandoning more than 900 unlined waste pits in a 1,500 square mile area.
"Our leaders plan to confront Mr. Watson with judgments from multiple courts mandating the company pay its pollution bill to the people of Ecuador," said Piaguaje. "Mr. Watson needs to accept responsibility for Chevron's environmental crimes in Ecuador, apologize to the company's victims, and abide by court orders that compensation be paid."
Until that happens, Piaguaje continued, "Mr. Watson and Chevron's Board members will be considered by us to be fugitives from justice subject to arrest for crimes against humanity under principles of universal jurisdiction."
In a clear demonstration of shareholder liability, notes the Oakland-based Amazon Watch, which works with Chevron's victims, the corporation has used dozens of law firms and up to 2,000 lawyers to fight local Indigenous groups, but it continues to suffer courtroom setbacks.
Earlier this year, a report by securities lawyer Graham Erion concluded that Chevron "appears to be actively trying to hide its Ecuador risk from its investors and the markets."
Indeed, said Amazon Watch associate director Paul Paz y Miño: "Watson's refusal to clean up his toxic waste in Ecuador and his evasive approach to climate change might explain why the company is now seen as the poster child for corporate greed."
Furthermore, according to Amazon Watch:
Chevron also faces several other shareholder resolutions – one sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists – that suggest the company has fallen well behind its industry peers in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the challenges of climate change. One such resolution calls on the company to produce reports establishing company-wide goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Another asks for a change in dividend policy given that the global shift away from fossil fuels will likely lead to billions of dollars of stranded assets in the form of oil reserves. Watson and Chevron's Board oppose all of the climate change resolutions.
A protest will take place in San Ramon on the day of the shareholder's meeting, featuring Indigenous allies affected by Chevron in Ecuador as well as people from impacted communities near Richmond, California—site of a major Chevron refinery.
According to organizers, "They will all have two things in common: they all come from communities that have suffered the dire impacts of Chevron's reckless pursuit of profits, and they're all fighting back."
(Deidre Fulton writes for Common Dreams … where this piece was first posted.)
PLANET WATCH--A friend of mine is a farmer out in Montana. She’s also eight months pregnant with her first child.
Recently she looked out her window and saw a worker spraying pesticides on her neighbor’s farm. Concerned for the health of her baby, she called the neighbor about the spraying. “Oh,” the neighbor asked, “do you want him to spray your land too?”
She remained polite on the phone but was internally panicked. What had he sprayed, and how would it affect her child?
In the day that followed, she faced dilemmas like whether to take the dog in the car and walk him somewhere else, or even not to walk him at all.
Was the land around her poisoned? Could she walk anywhere without endangering her child? She became a virtual prisoner in her home.
She’s not the only one I know who lives in the country and faces issues like this.
Another friend deals with her neighbor’s cow manure, which runs off into her stream. The neighbor in this case is a nice guy, she says, but there’s a cultural divide between her and the farmers who surround her. She doesn’t see a way to approach them about issues like these to achieve any kind of good results.
Thanks to this divide, what could be a matter of common courtesy — neighbors having a reasonable conversation to keep from imposing on one another — feels impossible.
The question of “organic vs. pesticides” or “local food vs. industrial food” (or however else you want to frame it) hasn’t been a rational debate for a long time. It’s ideological. To the farmers in the two anecdotes above, it’s likely an identity issue.
That is, in farming communities, one’s stance on pesticides or so-called factory farms becomes a part of one’s identity. Anyone who disagrees with you isn’t just engaging in a reasonable disagreement — they’re attacking your very identity.
How do we shift the discourse? How can neighbors learn to have reasonable — and honest — discussions about hot-button food issues?
It can be done. I’ve done it.
I’ve also not done it.
That is, with some people, I’ve been able to have a frank conversation in which each of us is honest. We spoke as human beings, despite some fundamental disagreements.
But in other cases, we couldn’t get past talking points and slogans. Some people, for example, claimed that anyone who takes issue with pesticides or any other agricultural practice is “anti-farmer.” When that’s the case, talking to one another is a pure waste of time.
Right now, we stand at a point in history when most Americans are separated from the production of their food, but also when more and more of us are concerned about where it comes from.
Sometimes that enthusiasm gets ahead of our knowledge of farming, but that’s not a reason to dismiss anyone. It’s a reason for dialogue. Each side has something to learn and something to contribute.
We can go in two directions. Either each side can become more polarized and more entrenched in their positions, or each side can open up to discussion. Let’s take the high road.
(OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. OtherWords.org.
PLANET WATCH--Scientists in the US have identified the factors that make a tree more likely to perish in a drought, after conducting an exhaustive examination of 33 separate scientific studies of tree mortality involving 475 species and 760,000 individual trees. (Photo above: Around 12 million trees have perished in California in the last year. Credit: NoIdentity via Flickr)
The answer they come up with is that the deciding factor is how efficiently trees draw water from the ground to their leaf tips.
This is not a surprising conclusion, but scientists don’t trust the obvious: they like to check these things.
And William Anderegg, assistant professor of biology at the University of Utah, and colleagues report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on a list of 10 tree traits that could play a role in survival or death by drought. These include simple differences such as deciduous or evergreen, rooting depth, wood density, leaf characteristics.
Adapt and survive
Such research matters. In 2002 in the southwestern US, 225 million trees died where they stood because of drought. Texas alone lost 300 million trees in 2011. In California in the last year, 12 million trees have perished.
With losses on this scale, and more drought and heat extremes in store as climates begin to change because fossil fuel combustion worldwide has increased the levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, foresters and conservationists need to know which species are most likely to adapt and survive, and what these species have that others do not.
In fact, deciding factors centre on the ability of a tree to draw water through the piping in its tissues. The forest giants may have to pump 200 litres of water every hour at a speed of 50 metres an hour to the topmost leaves, at a pressure of 30 atmospheres.
And the process is at risk of interruption during drought by air bubbles. To put it heartlessly, trees, like humans, can perish from embolism.
“It’s a little bit akin to a tree heart attack,” Dr Anderegg says. “You can actually hear this on a hot summer day if you stick a microphone up a tree. You can hear little pings and pops as these pipes get filled with air.”
Those species already adapted to dry climates seem to be less at risk, while those that normally flourish in wetlands are more vulnerable to drought. So far, so obvious. But not all forest physiology is so obvious.
Late last year, Dr Anderegg and his fellow researchers established that it was the increasing heat of the tropic night that was most likely to change tropical forests into carbon sources, rather than carbon sinks. What mattered was not global warming of itself, but how the warming was distributed through the forest’s diurnal cycle.
And since the world’s forests fulfil a vital role as carbon sinks—sequestering 2.4 billion tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide every year, which is at least a quarter of all the carbon dioxide emissions from factory chimneys, motor exhausts and other human economic activity—what happens to forests as the world warms is vital for humankind as well.
But global warming is also increasing the risk of forest loss by drought and wildfires.
“These widespread tree die-offs are a really early and visible sign of climate change already affecting our landscapes,” Dr Anderegg says.
(Tim Radford, a founding editor of Climate News Network) … where this column first appeared … worked for The Guardian for 32 years, for most of that time as science editor. He has been covering climate change since 1988.)
PLANET WATCH--If Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh didn’t have the look and sound of a 15-year-old, one could easily assume he was twice his real age. The indigenous environmentalist talks like a seasoned activist and well-educated adult, rather than the teenager he really is. Perhaps it is because he is so driven by passion for his cause of climate justice.
In an interview on Rising Up With Sonali, Tonatiuh revealed that he started his political activism at age 6. He explained that it was natural for climate change to be the cause dearest to his heart because “being involved in the climate movement is protecting everything that I love.”
Tonatiuh, who is the youth director of Earth Guardians, is one of 21 young Americans who, together with former NASA scientist James Hansen, are bringing a lawsuit against the U.S. government for failing to curb climate change. A federal district court judge in Oregon recently cleared the way for the lawsuit with a ruling that affirmed the group’s legal right to sue the government. The lead plaintiff, 19-year-old Kelsey Juliana, released a statement saying, “This will be the trial of the century that will determine if we have a right to a livable future, or if corporate power will continue to deny our rights for the sake of their own wealth.”
Tonatiuh explained how the context of climate activism has changed over the years and led up to this legal effort. “When I first got up on stage [at age 6] and participated in rallies and protests, it was all old, white people. And now we’re seeing a change in this movement: more young people, more people of color,” he said. “With diversity in participants comes diversity in tactics. We have to be creative, innovative. Young people suing our government over climate change—that’s unheard of.”
At the heart of the lawsuit is the assertion that the government is violating the constitutional rights of young people by not doing all it can to stave off climate disaster. The recent record-breaking rains in Houston, leading to deadly floods that have claimed half a dozen lives, are only the latest indication of the reality of climate change.
Tonatiuh views the government’s priorities as seriously distorted, saying, “We have messed-up values at such a systemic level that we justify the destruction of our planet with a paycheck. We justify threatening our children’s future with the amount of money in our pockets.”
He’s right. Setting aside climate skeptics, most of our leaders in government and finance who acknowledge the role of humans in warming the planet reason that it would cost too much money to transition away from fossil fuels immediately. Tonatiuh, who is wise beyond his years, dismisses this destructive pragmatism with a quick retort: “If we subsidize renewable energies the way we do fossil fuels, we can power the world.”
Tonatiuh takes a nuanced view of President Obama, saying, “It’s tough in American politics because our Congress blocks so much action. [Obama] did some really great things while he was in office,” but, he added, “I really do believe he could have done more. He could have done less to push fossil fuels. An ideal leader would have done more than Obama did.”
Obama has been a mixed bag on climate change. His most notable achievements include refusing to approve the building of the Keystone XL pipeline and accepting the recent historic United Nations accord on climate change (however toothless the Paris Accord is). But perhaps his greatest feat has been to simply insist that climate change is a reality, particularly given the persistent intransigence of conservative and corporate-sponsored officials espousing climate denial. Tonatiuh had harsh words for climate denialists: “Politicians in greedy First World countries like the United States ... [who] deny climate change—they’re turning their back on every single life that has been lost, every single community that has been devastated.”
Whoever occupies the White House after Obama will do so at the most crucial juncture in the movement to save the planet from climate change. And yet the issue that is the underlying existential crisis of our time has hardly come up during the presidential debates and election-related media coverage over the past year. This compilation by the League of Conservation Voters reveals the depressing reality of the ludicrous views of Republican candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. But even the Democrats are disappointing, with Hillary Clinton espousing a list of moderate reforms and Bernie Sanders failing to offer specific ideas despite his bold rhetoric. “All my chips are on a leader that will fight for our future,” said Tonatiuh, who recognizes the importance of tackling climate change in the next decade.
But Tonatiuh himself represents exactly the kind of leader our society desperately needs. In addition to his extensive political activism, he is also a musician. In his song “Indigenous Roots,” he raps, “We are part of the earth, not separate from it. We are the warriors of the land, the protectors of nature, and the guardians of the earth.” He calls himself a “conscious hip-hop artist,” which means that “everything I put out is with an intention to tell a story about what is happening in the world, to say something that matters.”
Tonatiuh is very conscious of his own community’s background. “My entire childhood I grew up learning about the genocide of my people, the oppression, the stealing of our land, our language, our culture,” he said. He is one of a growing number of indigenous activists all over the world who are on the front lines of the fight to beat back climate change. Groups like the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Global Justice Ecology Project and Tonatiuh’s organization, Earth Guardians, are leading movements across North America and the world.
Our world has failed young people like Tonatiuh. We have carried on with business as usual while burning away our children’s future. While this individual, inspiring teen has devoted his life to protecting the planet, why are the rest of us resting on our laurels?
(Sonali Kolhatkar is Co-Director of the Afghan Women's Mission and a political writer for TruthDig …where this piece was first posted.)
EDITOR’S PICK--California’s suburban sprawl has made the state’s transportation sector its largest single contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. With an expected addition of 6 million new residents in the next 15 years, whether California succeeds in building cities inward instead of outward could make all the difference in meeting its 2030 climate target, which calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
PLANET WATCH--Enough of dealing with plastic trash once it floats down storm drains and rivers to end up on beaches, let's stop the plastic deluge upstream - especially the disposable single-use kind.
WATER POLITICS--There is no public service used more often or more reflexively than drinking water. Every time we reach for the faucet handle, without even thinking about it, we expect clean, drinkable water to pour out. Sadly, this ritual has been betrayed for years by big corporations and lax oversight, right here in California -- with very little public attention or outrage.
Every year, Green Car Reports picks a new car or model line that we feel is the best green car for that new model year. This year, we picked a car that's the all-new version of one that was revolutionary when it was introduced several years ago. The latest version improves on it in pretty much every dimension.
ACTION ALERT--Greenbuild International Conference & Expo, the largest green building expo, comes to Los Angeles for the first time, on Oct. 5-7, 2016. To that end, the first opportunity to get involved is the Legacy Project.
CLIMATE CHANGE POLITICS-As the United Nations conference on climate change or COP21 came to an end, one of the main issues that needed to be addressed remained conspicuously absent from consideration by world leaders: controlling a world population that is rapidly approaching 7.5 billion people – this, on a planet whose optimum human population is estimated to be somewhere between 1.5 and 2 billion people.
SPORTS POLITICS--Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has never been afraid to be unpopular if it meant taking a stand for what he believed in -- even if his legacy in the history books was at stake. This past week, he expressed sadness and just a hint of judgment when he said the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, doesn’t share those same priorities.
VOICES-The prolific Victor Davis Hanson wrote an excellent piece for National Review two weeks ago, in which he attributed California’s present middle-class stagnation and decline in economic opportunity to the devolution of California’s two-party system in the 90s and the Golden State’s emergence as a de facto one-party Democratic state. Hanson describes how a favorite Democratic policy inexorably led to the decline of the Republican voter base:
BLOG SOUP--Kevin Drum says people really aren't engulfed in existential despair after all:
RACE IN AMERICA-Now former University of Missouri president Tim Wolfe (photo left) in a moment of rare candor for someone who just fired himself admitted what has been probably one of the worst kept secrets at American colleges. His words: “Racism does exist at our university, and it is unacceptable.”
CALL TO ACTION--Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy Charter School (photo) were recently exposed for having a “Got to Go” list of students, which singles out the children they would like to see leave through suspensions, counseling-out, or by not sending annual re-enrollment forms.