Thursday, January 30, 2020

Data-Driven Climate Action

I gave an overview talk last Saturday at the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles County Winter League Day. I was the lead batter for a panel discussing the most impactful climate actions we can do in Los Angeles County right now. Enjoy.

I want to convey the seriousness and urgency of this moment, but not induce panic or hopelessness. Whether we constrain Climate Change (CC) at the optimistic 1.5 C or the business as usual 3.5 C, we can still make positive changes that will benefit our region.

CC is happening. We are the cause. This is not up for debate any longer. We cannot undo the damage that has already occurred, but it is not too late to act.

I’m going to take a speed tour of the impacts of CC on our region.
Then we’ll examine our Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and where we can make the greatest reductions.

Terminology: Science speak to English translation
Climate: what you expect
Weather: what you get (short-term fluctuations)
Normal: average over 30 years of statistics, recomputed on the 10s, eg 1981-2010
We’ve already warmed 0.8 C over what would have happened if we hadn’t spewed so much CO2 & the rate is accelerating and the warming is not uniform over the earth.

This is not a model prediction. This is the actual warming we’ve experienced over the last 30 years. U of AK climatologist Brian Brettscheider had the insight that, at the end of this year, we will compute the normals again by subtracting the average over the eighties (the decade of 1981-1990) and adding the 2010s (2011-2020). He took an early look using the first 9 yrs of the 2010s. 2011-2019 - (1981-1990)
The earth has warmed 0.8 C since 1850, but roughly 0.5 C took place in the last 30 yrs. (Climatologists use a longer time average so the results may vary slightly. Nevertheless, 0.5 C warming over 30 years is very dramatic and scary.)

Here’s a closeup. Although we’ve only warmed up about 1 C, the areas from which we draw our water have warmed up to 4 C.

I cribbed this from LAC’s sustainability plan that Kristen Torres Pawling will talk about later. Our County imports river water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta & the CO river basin through Metropolitan Water District. LA City also imports water from the Owens Valley in the southern Sierras through DWP. This is not sustainable or just, even without climate change.

Now I will show a climate projection of likely precipitation changes. Keep in mind that, for every 1 C of warming, the atmosphere can hold 7% more water. Air, plants and soil become thirstier. We’ll also have less frequent rain, especially in the springtime, which leads to longer fire seasons.

What rain we do get, will come in more intense storms, which will make managing runoff more difficult. Less water will wind up in the rivers. Wildlife will need more water to stay cool on a warmer earth. The CO river basin has already dried up 20% since the 1980s and will continue to dry up. Some estimate the flow will reduce to half by the end of this century. Furthermore, federal courts have affirmed that roughly 20% of the CO river water were awarded by treaty to sovereign tribes.

I’ve shown you water scarcity, now I’m going to show water overabundance. Luckily, our region is not prone to hurricanes. But we need to prepare for stronger atmospheric rivers that persist over small areas for longer times. That’s due to irreversible changes in the jet stream due to polar ice cap melting. Notice this brown dot near the Oroville dam breach and Reno’s catastrophic flooding.

Then there is sea level rise. Our sea ports move 40% of our nation’s container ship volume, and much of it will be underwater in the medium CC scenario. Even areas that are above the rising seas will still be affected by sunny day flooding and salt water intrusion into aquifers, thus threatening our local water supplies.

Water insecurity--too much or too little--and the nexus between energy and water, is a huge concern and I hope to hold a future meeting around that.

Longer dry seasons will stretch the fire season. Changes to the jet stream will make Santa Anas more frequent and longer in duration. This leads to increased fire danger and air pollution build up.

To an atmospheric scientist, the pretty sunset in the title slide shows several days’ worth of pollution, stacked up like bathtub rings against the atmospheric lid of a wintertime inversion layer.

Now that I’ve scared you, let’s transition to problem solving.

We’ll start by examining our county’s GHG emissions. We need to bring down our emissions budget down by about half overall. We’re an urban area so there isn’t much direct agricultural emissions. Transportation, ⅔ of which is private automobiles, is the 800# gorilla. If you add up the oil refineries in the energy industries slice, transportation accounts for over half of our GHG emissions. There is simply no way to to achieve a stable and livable climate without drastically reducing our transportation emissions.

California overall is similar with 41% of 2017 GHG emissions from transportation.  It's frustrating that so much attention is paid to electricity generation, which only releases 15% of our GHG total budget, and yet we ignore the elephant in the room.

Responsibility for climate change is highly unequal. I’m showing Rancho Sante Fe (in San Diego County) because I didn’t want to single out any LA County cities. This is a map by household size, not per capita emissions. These green areas in the urban core often have the highest HH size as families struggle to make rent in overcrowded apartments, so the per capita inequality is even more stark. We can choose to eat less meat and better insulate our homes on our own, but the really meaningful change in transportation requires collective action.

There’s simply a geometry problem in our streets. We give the most space to the most inefficient form of transportation. We let buses holding 80 people sit in traffic behind cars holding an average of 1 person each. We even let people store personal property, in the form of cars, on the streets. Often for free! Then we tell bicyclists to get off the road because there is no room for them.

Parking is another geometry problem. It’s also a chicken and egg problem. The more hellish we make it for people outside of cars, the more we push people into cars. Then we need more space to put those cars. Parking minimums for apartments have doubled from 1 to 2 spaces since 1960, raising housing costs. (Data from Mikhail Chester, Andrew Fraser, Juan Matute, Carolyn Flower, and Ram Pendyala
Parking Infrastructure: A Constraint on or Opportunity for Urban Redevelopment? A Study of Los Angeles County Parking Supply and Growth
Journal of the American Planning Association, 2015, 81(4), pp. 268-286, doi: 10.1080/01944363.2015.1092879)

Look at this lovely mid-Wilshire area apartment building that is not legal to build today.

Parking pushes us apart, making travel distances longer. Buses are slow because they are impeded by cars. Give buses dedicated bus lanes and they can beat private cars. It’s cheap, too. If you speed a city bus up from 9 to 18 mph, you double bus frequency with no additional drivers and buses. All it takes is some paint and enforcement.

Some people say that our region is too spread out for bikes. Traffic congestion and parking time make bikes faster for short trips. Longer trips can be combined with transit. Increasing density along transit corridors so people can live full lives with fewer cars is working around the world and it can work here, too.

Take it from decarbonization expert and CMU professor, Costa Samaras. eBikes are the future. While his research shows that an electric car has ½ the CO2 emissions of an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) one, an eBike beats both.

I can eBike 50-100 miles with the energy it takes to move a Tesla just 1 mile. Factor in parking time, and eBikes beat cars, even on a normal afternoon on the 405. BTW, cars are a leading source of urban heat. Add the concrete needed to support cars and they are the leading cause of urban heat. The background is the August 2019 SoCal air quality maps from, an EPA website.

In summary, decarbonizing transportation has the highest potential for stopping CC, but it requires collective action. We can’t choose to bike along a street that doesn’t create a safe space for us or take a bus to an evening concert if the buses don’t operate at night. An urban area is precisely where these two modes can excel, if we let them. We don’t need a solution that works in Iowa or New Hampshire or even Fresno. We have the existing density and the weather to do this right here, right now. Let’s paint those streets Green & Red.

Transportation Actions Now

  • Make driving alone the last, not first resort.
  • Reallocate road space from cars (especially on-street parking along arterials)
  • Bike lanes network
  • Bus lanes network
  • Smaller, more efficient cars (both in space and GHG)
  • Vision Zero like you mean it

Housing Actions Now

Help climate refugees...
  • …move closer to work so they can get out of cars
  • …move out of fire corridors & landslide zones
  • …move out of low-lying coastal zones & flood plains
  • …move to cooler microclimates near the coast
  • Reduce parking minimums
  • Support laws that speed up housing production (SB 50)

Water Actions Now

  • Educate your communities about the risk
  • Prepare for loss of imported river water
  • Build stormwater capture projects
  • Continue conservation (but diminishing returns)
  • Expand water recycling; legalize potable reuse
  • Consider desalination

Climate Takeaways

  • Move fast, with existing technology
  • Continue research, but don’t fixate on shiny vaporware
  • Don’t replace one injustice with another
Taking climate action now can result in
  • Cleaner air and water
  • Better mobility and public health
  • A more just and cohesive society

Monday, January 06, 2020

South Bay Insiders' Bus Guide to LAX

Taxi drivers are on strike at LAX airport today*.

Did you know that there is a relatively painless way to get from LAX to most parts of the South Bay that doesn't involve multiple transfers and shuttles?  This only works if you can walk 5 minutes with your luggage.

I would probably pick up my elderly or disabled houseguests, or those with a lot of luggage.  But, I would make the rest of my houseguest take public transport away from the airport and part way to my guest room.  Because, a condition of being offered my guest room is that you are the type of person that uses private cars and taxis only as a last resort.

Look at the map of the eastern end of the LAX airport.  I circled the bus stop at the SW corner of Sepulveda and Century Boulevards in red.

This bus stop is the first stop after the southbound buses leave the LAX bus transit center. 

Metro 232 and Torrance 8 shared bus stop circled in red. Paths from Terminal 1 (Southwest) and Terminal 7-8 (United) are also marked in red.  Walking paths drawn in blue.
Both the Metro Los Angeles 232 and the Torrance 8 buses stop here, even though it is not marked on the schedules.  It's the stop used by southbound airport and airline personnel.  It is one stop south of the LAX bus transit center. Not having to take a shuttle bus to the transit center and then find and board your bus (in a line of 20 buses) is a big time and hassle saver at the cost of a few minutes walking.

Not causing another car to come into the congested LAX area is a big environment saver as well.  If you have light luggage and can comfortably walk half a kilometer, this is the way to go. 

From Terminal 1 (Southwest), walk past the LAX-it lot and cross Century at Sepulveda.  LA Times timed the walk from T1 to LAX-it at 3 minutes; the bus stop is just a bit further and may take about 5 minutes. 

From Terminals 7 & 8 (United), walk on the sidewalk around the parking structure and through the iconic "LAX Gateway Pylons" light sculpture.  (This is really cool at night.)  Then walk half a block north to the bus stop.  It took me 7 minutes the last time I walked it, and I stopped to take pictures of the light sculpture lit up at night.

There is a bench but no bus shelter at this stop.

Both buses leave the airport every 30-60 minutes.  The bus maps and schedules show the LAX bus transit center, but not this roadside stop.  I drew circles on the maps below and linked to the bus schedules.

Metro Los Angeles' 232 travels along the Pacific Coast Highway (aka PCH aka Sepulveda Blvd) all the way to Long Beach. It takes a long time to get to Long Beach. But, you can get to many places in the Beach Cities, including all the hotels that line PCH, relatively quickly.  It's a bargain at $1.75 cash or TAP card**.

The bus stop is circled in red on the inset map.  The bus then continues south along Pacific Coast Highway (aka Sepulveda Blvd) all the way to Long Beach.
Torrance 8 goes to the El Segundo Employment Center, including LA Air Force Base and all the Aerospace companies near it. Then it continues to the South Bay Transit Center at the Galleria Mall and the Del Amo Mall in Torrance (and all the hotels near Del Amo) before continuing to the base of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. It also drops you off 0.2 miles from my house. $1 cash or TAP card**.

The bus stop is circled in red.  Hawthorne Blvd is a major boulevard, immortalized by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill.  Take the tour for $1 (or $0.25 seniors, $0.50 students.)
Catch the bus that takes you closest to your final destination and then walk or Taxi/Uber/Lyft from there.  (I would likely meet houseguests at the bus stop and walk or drive them home.) On weekends or late at night, the buses only run hourly.  In that case, take the next bus and take a slightly longer Taxi ride.  PCH and Aviation Blvd are only 1 mile apart.  PCH and Hawthorne are 2 miles apart. 

If the wait for any bus is too long, walk slightly further to the Hyatt Regency on the NE corner of Sepulveda and Century. Taxis ordinarily line up there as well.

* They have a valid beef IMHO.  Uber/Lyft have totally screwed up the LAX circular road and Taxis shouldn't have to be punished for the bad behavior of others.

** TAP cards are reusable stored value cards accepted by 25 transit agencies in the area.  LAX airport does NOT have a TAP card vending machine in the terminal area.  The closest vending machines are at the Green Line light rail stations.  Bus drivers do not sell TAP cards.  Save your TAP cards between trips and make sure to keep them loaded with enough fare to get out of the airport.  As a good hostess, I would snail mail you a preloaded TAP card upon request.

Monday, November 04, 2019


I read an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes by Dana Thomas. If I were a better advance reader, I would time this to come out the week of publication, around September 3, 2019.  But, I wrote it in July, when I read the book, and then set it aside due to anger.  In November, I decided to finish it up and post my thoughts.

This is not an expose about huge Fast Fashion chains that serve the mass market.  Lucy Siegle of the Guardian does an excellent job covering that beat.

Ms Thomas covers the business of fashion and she has fantastic industry access.  I read and blogged about her earlier book, Deluxe, which covers the luxury end of the market. This time, she writes about the Price of Furious Fashion.  Her publisher categorizes the book under: Business, Design, Technology.

It's a good survey of the history of fashion production and the current toll that it takes.  However, the book shines when Thomas takes deep dives with makers that show how to make clothing with smaller environmental footprints.

For instance, I have made my skepticism about organic cotton known.  But, I learned that naturally-colored Foxfibre is also naturally insect-resistant.  The Tannins that give the cotton color, are bitter; insects don't like to eat them.

I don't like the reductive way that Thomas segments the market into organic and "all the rest."  She covers the business of fashion, but she's not a scientist nor was there any evidence in the book that she spent time interviewing scientists.

For instance, Stella McCartney's Environmental Profit and Loss (EP&L) showed that virgin cashmere had roughly one hundred times the environmental impact of virgin wool (page 167).  Therefore, Stella McCartney does not use virgin cashmere in her collections.

How do you put a number on the destruction of an irreplaceable ecosystem I wrote about in The planetary cost of cashmere? Of the extinction of snow leopards in More bad news about cashmere.

McCartney hired a sustainability and ethical trade chief, Claire Bergkamp.  Bergkamp, in turn, hired the accounting firm, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, to audit her business (EP&L.) Accountants do what they do-- place numerical values on stuff.  At the end of the day, the numbers contain the biases of the makers of the model.

The numbers are maddeningly opaque and McCartney, Bergkamp and Thomas felt any need to look under the hood to find how those numbers are derived.  To a scientist, that's very disappointing.

On page 169, we learn that McCartney's EP&L determines that regenerated or 'reclaimed' cashmere is 92% less damaging to the environment than virgin cashmere.  She calls it postmanufacturing waste.  (I call it preconsumer waste and use it for more than half my sewing.)

This allows Bergkamp to throw around numbers like "though cashmere only made up 0.13% of [Stella McCartney's] overall raw material usage in 2015, it accounted for 25% of the company's total environmental impact; after adopting the use of regenerated cashmere in 2016, the impact dropped to 2 percent."

"Luxury fashion should use organic cotton--I don't think there is any excuse not to," said Bergkamp.

You get the idea.  Thomas takes so many claims at face value, particularly regarding natural vs. synthetic dyes and vegan vs. animal materials.

The book is a good survey on what people are trying, particularly at the luxury end of the market. Don't believe any of the scientific claims.  There is no guarantee that nonfiction books were fact-checked.  How do you fact-check a closely-held proprietary EP&L system anyway?

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Car tires, a bigger threat than polyester blouses

I sound like a broken record, but the culprit is almost always cars.

Cars are a death cult. They cause most of our air and water pollution, green house gas emissions, and consume most of the land in the cities with their voracious appetite for parking spaces and road space.

In Heavy Metal in LA, I explained that the biggest source of heavy metal contamination in Los Angeles waters is cars.  Now we learn that cars are the biggest source of microplastics in the San Francisco Bay Area. The biggest likely source of microplastics in California coastal waters? Our car tires
Cars driving over Golden Gate Bridge photo from LA Times
Sewists can quit obsessing over polyester use.  The much bigger problem is all of our cars.
Rainfall washes more than 7 trillion pieces of microplastics, much of it tire particles left behind on streets, into San Francisco Bay each year — an amount 300 times greater than what comes from microfibers washing off polyester clothes, microbeads from beauty products and the many other plastics washing down our sinks and sewers.
I downloaded and read the SFEI report, Understanding Microplastic Levels, Pathways, and Transport in the San Francisco Bay Region.

The methodology section starts on page 30. They collected and sieved microparticles from storm runoff, sewage treatment plants and sediment.  Then they sieved again and again to separate out particles by size.

Particles were further sorted by color, shape and appearance.  Finally, the material composition of 7% of the microparticles were determined by Raman and FTIR spectroscopy.  Not all microparticles were plastics.  E.g. some were glass or organic materials.

Particles found in this study
The most astonishing finding was the abundance of black, rubbery fragments.
A total of 171 microparticles were classified as unknown potentially rubber, which represents 84% of black, rubbery fragments that were analyzed by spectroscopy, or 44% of all fragments analyzed (21% of all particles analyzed). Only one site, Rodeo Creek (a mostly rural site), had zero rubbery fragments.
The discussion explains why they are sure that the black rubbery fragments are tire wear.  They also summarize findings about the prevalence and abundance of tire wear in the environment by other researchers starting on page 55.

I suspect that the results would be the same if the expensive and laborious study was repeated in Los Angeles.

Don't feel bad if you wear polyester blouses or fleece jackets instead of exclusively natural fibers.  Just wash them in the coolest water that still gets them clean, air-dry them, and walk/bike/transit instead of driving.

Those are choices that really matter.

Related Posts:

Friday, November 01, 2019

Sea People

Bad Dad leads the {pages} non-fiction book club at {pages} a bookstore and we read Sea People by Christina Thompson two months ago.

Sea People is an absolute delight and you can read my review on Goodreads.
This book was written specifically for me.*

It tells the story of how the Lapita people, originally from the island of Taiwan (my two grandmothers,) sailed the vast Pacific ocean and settled an area that covers 25% of the earth's surface.

Even if you don't have Lapita grandmothers, read it for the detective story, natural science, history and anthropology. There is something for everyone.

It's written in an accessible and sympathetic style, with a well-annotated notes/bibliography section in the end for those who want to read deeper.

* IRL, I have a high affinity for nonlinear dynamics, climatology, winds and currents. A book that includes not just my grandmothers' history, but 'insertion points' into the Pacific, El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and paleoclimate could not be better designed for my interests.
Thompson writes with empathy and good humor, but you have to laugh at some of the whacky ideas white people have about people who aren't white.  Speaking of which, I ran across a couple of science stories about the people of Easter Island, which completely skewer Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel.

DiNapoli et al showed that the moai monuments on Easter Island are mostly markers for freshwater seeps.  The larger and more reliable the freshwater source, the larger the monument.
Moia picture from Smithsonian article credited to Adwo/Fotolia
That explains most of the moai.  Some of the inland ones were discovered to be very large time-release fertilizer stakes. Quarrying stone for Easter Island statues made soil more fertile for farming.

Researchers traditionally have assumed that builders of the island’s partially buried quarry statues had either planned to move them elsewhere on the island or abandoned them. Designs on the roughly 6.6-meter-tall quarry statues display similarities to those on the only other Rapa Nui statue displaying numerous carved images. That carved figure was previously found at a ceremonial site nearly 20 kilometers west of the quarry.

Although the quarry measures only about 800 to 1,000 meters across, the new soil data show that it was a “little productive gold mine” for farming, says archaeologist Christopher Stevenson of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, who did not participate in the study. Reeds growing in a lake at the base of the quarry would have provided additional phosphorus to the soil, he says.

“The area immediately to the east of the quarry was and is one of the most intensively settled parts of the island, and now that makes much more sense,” Stevenson says.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Organic =/= Sustainable

I cringe every time I read someone call organic cotton sustainable.  It uses so much more land and water.  Natural dyes can double the amount of land required to produce fabric.

I know that I can never convert the die-hard purists, but they are probably not reading this blog anyway.

Technology Review (MIT's Alumni magazine) sums up the current state of our knowledge, Sorry—organic farming is actually worse for climate change.
Organic practices can reduce climate pollution produced directly from farming – which would be fantastic if they didn’t also require more land to produce the same amount of food.

Clearing additional grasslands or forests to grow enough food to make up for that difference would release far more greenhouse gas than the practices initially reduce, a new study in Nature Communications finds.
I've written ad nauseum about how organic cotton uses more water, which is scarce in many of the arid regions where the highest quality cotton is grown, like in my home region of the US Southwest.  Irrigation with groundwater has left the soil so salty that crops can not grow. 

(Alfalfa is grown in the desert because it will tolerate salty soil and water.)

Genetically modified cotton grows with half the water as organic cotton, and it can tolerate salty soil.  You can use the organic practices of crop rotation, cover crops and compost/manure and combine it with technology in a responsible way. 

For instance, GMO Bt cotton manufactures its own protection against cotton borers and bollworms.  In fact, the higher the salt content of the soil, the more pesticides the plant produces.  Bt cotton is sold with and without resistance to Round-up.  Most of the seeds are sold with resistance to both, but that doesn't mean farmers are spraying Round-up willy nilly.

Most farmers are smart enough not to spray chemicals that they don't need.  If weeds are not a problem in that field in that year, then they won't spray.

Small-scale organic farm are laboratories where farmers can test novel ways to grow crops.  Scientists in labs can also develop and test new crops. Then we can combine the best of both approaches.

I read that only 1% of US-grown cotton is organic, while 15-16% (and climbing) are grown from GMO seeds and unsprayed.  It's sometimes sold as "clean cotton" or "better cotton" and purchased by IKEA and Uniqlo.

I read laments by younger sewists on blogs and Instagram that they are sorry they can't afford to sew with organic fabrics.  That saddens me.  We don't have enough planets for everyone to go fully organic.  But we can blend the best of organic practices with technology for a sustainable future for everyone--not just the rich.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Climate Change: Sitting in the Dark

Northern California is about to go dark in a few minutes due to a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) according to the PG&E outage map. This was forecasted well in advance, but forecasting the exact timing has been difficult. The published anticipated power shutoff start times have been earlier than the actual shutoff times.

PG&E interactive map
If you click on each colored outage circle on the map above, you can get more info along with another map of the affected area.  KQED made an easier to comprehend outage map and explainer.

KQED more informative planned outage map
The National Weather Service California Fire Weather map was also not reassuring.

Just as "land doesn't vote" maps may give an exaggerated picture, I wanted to see how many people--not just land area--were affected. It turned out to be a lot, 587,252 customers for PG&E alone. Each household (customer) can have multiple residents. Assuming an average of 3 people per household, that's about 1.7 million people. UC Berkeley had planned to cancel classes in the event of a power outage.

[My kid asked me if we have an earthquake kit. My reply is that I had started to assemble one years ago, but I can't find it among the boxes from my last 2 moves. ;-) I'm going to buy some drinking water containers and put her to work finding and testing all of our headlamps. Do iodine tablets ever expire?

It's a good thing we never got rid of our landline. Copper wire landlines continue to work after cell phone batteries and towers run out of juice.]

The downslope winds are moving southward through California. Santa Ana winds will probably arrive tonight or tomorrow in southern California.

Check to see if you in a Southern California Edison (SCE) PSPS area.  So far, only 65 customers are affected.

But, 761194 customers may be hit by PSPS between PG&E and SCE. Add in San Diego Gas & Electric and potentially 2.5 million (out of 38 million) Californians may be sitting in the dark.

How did we get here? The answer is complex, but I disagree with this woman.  She was burned out of her old home in Paradise, CA, and now she's upset about a pre-emptive power outage to prevent another fire?
“I’m really mad at them,” Heart fumed. “We’ve had high winds in California for years and they’ve never shut down the power. It’s unconscionable.”

PG&E should “bury their lines, fix their lines, take the grid and secure it better,” she said. Anything but turning off the power to 34 counties throughout California, which she sees as a completely cover-your-butt move.
The climate is a changing and it is largely due to people who move out to the margins, driving a lot of vehicle miles. A hotter planet means drier vegetation, particularly later in the dry season. More people living out in the Wildlands Urban Interface (WUI) means more ignition sources and fuel for fires.

I mostly agree with the LA Times editorial board on this one:
It wasn’t PG&E officials who approved housing developments in high-risk areas. In fact, the utility can’t say no to serving those homes, no matter how great the fire risk. The utility also doesn’t make decisions about how the vegetation around their customers’ houses and the forests nearby are managed. Nor is it the utility’s fault that human-caused climate change has created conditions that fuel massive wildfires. That’s a disgrace we all own.
Some of us are more responsible for climate change than others. The people living out in the woods should not be pointing fingers at the poor transit-riding urban residents.  The urban poor are not driving, flying or eating beef-heavy "keto" diets.  The climate would not be changing if all of us lived like the urban poor.

The 4,952 residents of census tract 2117.03 in Los Angeles, California living in 0.07108 square miles are not as culpable as the people living out in the woods.  Yes, some of them do drive alone to work, but mostly because transit is in a death spiral (that we are working really hard on reversing.)  They took up driving recently so they can hold on to their low-paying jobs that they desperately need.  Moreover, they drive very few miles.  The Paradise census tract is remarkably similar in income, housing cost and building age.

35 million, ~90% of Californians, will still have electricity because 95% of Californians live in urban areas.

The unlucky 5% potentially left in the dark live in urban clusters, as explained by Citylab:
But we're not just talking about cities here. The new figures represent the population in "urban areas," which the Census Bureau defines as "densely developed residential, commercial and other nonresidential areas."

There are officially two types of urban areas: “urbanized areas” of 50,000 or more people and “urban clusters” of between 2,500 and 50,000 people. For the 2010 count, the Census Bureau has defined 486 urbanized areas, accounting for 71.2 percent of the U.S. population. The 3,087 urban clusters account for 9.5 percent of the U.S. population.
Why should people who put up with the expense and aggravation (and also the joys) of urban living with a few million of their closest neighbors pay for undergrounding the utilities of a scattered few in the woods, at the expense of $3 Million per mile?  We'd rather spend the money undergrounding our own utilities.

We should not raise utility rates for poor people in Compton to pay for undergrounding utilities for the billionaires of Malibu.  The rich can pay to underground their own utilities.

I'm running out of steam here, but want to remind readers that Fire is a river that runs uphill. Don't move into a box canyon with only one downhill escape route.

Think about what it means to insist upon not spending a dime to improve fossil fuel infrastructure.  Suppose you were a mayor of a large city of 4 Million people and your own engineers told you to replace 70% of your fossil fuel power plants with renewable energy + battery storage but rebuild the other 30% of your power plants with new combined cycle technology so you can squeeze twice as much energy out of each molecule of CO2 emitted. What would you do?

The cheap, feel-good answer is to shut down all of your local natural gas power plants and take the photo-ops as a green mayor.  Then sign a 50-year contract to buy electricity from a new natural-gas power plant in Utah.

Intermountain power plant is ~600 miles away from LA and transmission lines go through fire corridors.  This is not a model of disaster resiliency.
What happens when the inter-state electricity transmission lines are shut down for high winds?  We'll sure miss our local power plants then.

I recently read Vaclav Smil's Natural Gas: Fuel for the 21st Century? and call bullshit on a certain mayor. (His publisher took out the ? sign.  Smil examines the case for Natural Gas and is not impressed by the hype.)

I'll be back later with more info about the differences between old and new natural gas power plants (they vary a huge amount in energy generated per unit of CO2) and natural gas production methods (super-emitters vs the best.)

Friday, August 09, 2019

Wear polyester if you like

I read Sewing Eco-Guilt? Killer! and groaned. I left a comment but it didn't appear so I'm leaving my response here.

I'm a scientist and I don't care if you wear polyester or organic hemp as long as you curtail driving and flying (and eat less beef.)

I don't even care if your car is electric.  I just want you out of a car.

Yes, polyester is made of fossil fuels, but at least it's sequestered in your blouse. Nothing degrades in a landfill, polyester and natural fibers alike.  The important thing is to cut down on our consumption.

I wrote a blog series about sustainability and sewing.  It has links to actual data.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Organic Pesticides Redux

I'm cleaning up a lot of open browser tabs and finishing some blog posts stuck in draft mode limbo.  I may have mentioned that I was elected an executive director for League of Women Voters of Los Angeles County.  My portfolio/niche is to monitor governmental happenings in air/water quality and climate change for LA County.  I am learning a ton, and will share some of what I learn here.

However, I want to make clear that this blog is and will remain a personal blog.  My views do not necessarily reflect those of the LWVLAC as a whole (though I joined them because we have similar views.)

I mentioned in Heavy Metal in LA that our region grapples with unsafe levels of copper in creeks and estuaries.  This led me to learn about the sources of copper.  In this urban environment, it's almost entirely cars and the people who drive them.

Copper-Impaired Waterbodies in the Los Angeles Basin
I mentioned in passing that there are no kale farms nearby and no one took the bait.  Did you know that kale, both organic and conventional, is laden with copper?  Read Organic Pesticides: Not An Oxymoron.  Also look at this Texas A&M extension list of fungicides used in kale production.

All kale gets sprayed--but it is sprayed with different stuff based on how it will be marketed.  According to this list, Copper Hydroxide and Cuprous Oxide is sprayed on organic kale.  Copper Sulfate is sprayed on conventional kale.  Whichever you buy, wash it well, with a bit of detergent to remove residue.

Christie Wilcox wrote in Scientific American blog back in 2012:
In head-to-head comparisons, natural pesticides don't fare any better than synthetic ones. When I compared the organic chemicals copper sulfate and pyrethrum to the top synthetics, chlorpyrifos and chlorothalonil, I found that not only were the organic ones more acutely toxic, studies have found that they are more chronically toxic as well, and have higher negative impacts on non-target species. My results match with other scientific comparisons. In their recommendations to Parliament in 1999, the Committee on European Communities noted that copper sulfate, in particular, was far more dangerous than the synthetic alternative. A review of their findings can be seen in the table on the right (from a recent review paper). Similarly, head to head comparisons have found that organic pesticides aren't better for the environment, either.
I don't know why Wilcox's list and the TAMU list disagree on whether conventional or organic get CuSO4 salt.  Whatever.  In water, the salt breaks down into Cu++ ions and messes up the flora and fauna that grow in and near the water bodies.

I hope we get beyond the organic vs non-organic wars and farm in a sustainable, regenerative way that is healthier for the land, farmers and consumers.

In Sustainable Organic Pesticides, I mentioned that the active ingredients of Neem tree oil can be synthesized in laboratories, which reduces the amount of land and water needed for pest control.  The same is also true for pyrethrins, the active insecticide ingredient in marigolds.

My mother used to grow a border of marigolds around the perimeter of her vegetable garden. I found the odor of the plants unpleasant and frequently felt ill around them. Later, I found out that I am allergic to ragweed and marigolds.  The CDC recommends that "Pyrethrins generally should not be used by persons who are allergic to chrysanthemums or ragweed."

Look up at the table of things that are sprayed on kale. Yup. Organic kale is a transgenic Frankenfood that includes ground up bits of marigolds that can trigger an allergic reaction. I still eat kale, but wash it thoroughly.

Which gets me back to the hysteria about GMOs and the organic wars. The Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Dirty Dozen list comes from their tests for residues of conventional pesticides on produce purchased at a variety of markets and before washing.

EWG does not test for pesticides used in organic farmingThere are a lot of them.

It's not a complete measure of all the risks.  It underestimates the risks by not testing for organic pesticides.  It also overestimates the risk because much of the residue washes off.

EWG rightfully points out that there is wide variation in how thoroughly people wash produce.  Their samples also varied depending on where they bought the produce.  Their measured pesticide load is not your pesticide exposure--it's a proxy that may or may not represent your actual exposure.

I give you another exhibit in organic vs organic wars, the cherry-picked study designed to give you the answer you want. When this article came out, the headlines all echoed "Organic diet intervention significantly reduces urinary pesticide levels in U.S. children and adults."

This is both a 'duh' type study as the conclusion is not surprising, but it's also one that can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety for those that cannot feed their children an 100% organic diet.

The experimental setup and data shows a more nuanced picture.  I want to parse the results to some context.

Firstly, they sought volunteers in neighborhoods that do not have a lot of organic choices and selected volunteers that reported not eating much organic food before the study period.  They followed 16 people in four cities, basically about one family in each city.  This is a very small sample size.

Their urine was tested for a bunch of metabolites of pesticides.  (Chemicals often break down in your body into smaller/related chemicals called metabolites.)

They tested only for pesticides used in conventional farming.  They did not test for any chemicals used in organic farming.  They tested for and found one metabolite that can originate from either organic or conventional pesticides.  More on that later.

It's hard to eat 100% organic when you eat out or don't cook entirely from scratch at home--the way most of us eat.  In this experiment, the researchers did 100% of the shopping and food prep, going as far as delivering meals to the homes of the subjects (and even packing lunches for them to take to work or school.)

Study participants need only heat and serve the prepared meals.  I would have liked the study to give the families organic ingredients and cook their own meals their own way, but I can understand why they didn't.  A study this small can't afford to have any confounding factors like how thoroughly cooks wash produce or whether the water they are washing with already has pesticides in it.

Short of plucking everyone out of their home environments and sequestering them, this was the best way of ensuring that they complied with the strict 100% organic diet.

The results are just what you expected, with a few surprises.  Take a look at the table of detection frequencies (DF).  The DFs went UP for a couple of metabolites/analytes after they switched from a conventional to organic diet!

Detection Frequency of analyzed chemicals in urine samples of test subjects on conventional and 100% organic diets.
However, the concentrations of pesticide metabolites went down overall.  It was quite dramatic (down 95%) for some chemicals, which is reassuring because that means that our bodies quickly expel those chemicals rather than keeping it in our tissues.

Urinary analyte concentrations (ng/mL) & percent change from conventional to organic diet.
This is where the nuance comes in.  The amount of chemicals related to pyrethroid insecticides did not go down as much as for the other chemicals. The authors conjectured that it is because those insecticides are used around the house as well as on crops.

If your kids came home with head lice, you would probably use a product with pyrethroid compounds before the school would allow your child to return.  If you live in tick country, you'd put it on before heading into the woods.

Remember the people who did not have detectable levels of trans-DCCA (a pyrethroid metabolite) when eating a conventional diet but then did have it when eating an organic diet?  That means they did not get exposed to pyrethroid compounds from their homes or their conventional diet.  (Or the levels they had in their urine fluctuated day to day, but their overall level was very low.)

The detection frequencies of trans-DCCA and cis-DCCA went up after switching to the organic diet.  That strongly suggests that they probably got the pyrethroid insecticide exposure from the organic food, not from their homes as the authors suggested.

Read the author statements and the funding source of this study to learn why the experimental design and data interpretation has these flaws.

Whether it is permethrin from a lab or pyrethrin from marigolds, it's hard to avoid some chemicals because of their ubiquity.

BTW, just because something is detectable, doesn't mean it is unsafe.  The reverse is true.  We don't have good tests for some dangerous things.

Once I realized that this is not just a blog where I post pictures of my sewing and knitting projects, I decided to be a voice of reason that and to help dispel the mommy wars.  You are not a bad mommy just because you don't have the time or money to serve your kids 100% organic diets.

I learned this level of detail because I have a BS in Chemistry and am allergic to ragweed.  Whether my veggies are organic or conventional, I wash them (or at least rinse them when in a hurry.)  Am I getting all of it off?  Probably not.  But, perfect is the enemy of done.  As long as I can eat the veggies and not have a sore, scratchy throat afterwards, it's good enough.

It's good to ask questions about your food.  But let's focus on the big picture.  Buy real food, wash it well, eat your veggies.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Heavy Metal in LA

Several readers have commented that I am a source of interesting tidbits they can use at parties and to guide their private actions.  I went down a rabbit hole recently in trying to understand the sources of heavy metal contamination in Los Angeles area waterways.

When I moved back to the beach, I joined my local League of Women Voters chapter, LWV of the Beach Cities.  LWV is organized parallel to levels of government.  So, you join at the local level, and that automatically signs you up for state (LWVC) and national (LWVUS) levels. 

The national and state levels work very hard on expanding and defending voting rights and fair votes (including fighting gerrymandering).  We had a setback at the Supreme Court recently, but we'll continue fighting at the legislative level.

If you are a student or have one in your household, ask them to join the LWV.  Student memberships are free and it is a great inter-generational way to influence politics.  Like the League of American Wheelmen, membership is coed, despite the historic gendered organization name.

I volunteered to help at the county level, LWVLAC (LA County).  I wrote that am versatile; I can cover water, air or climate change.  LOL.  I found myself covering air, water AND climate change--at least until I can scheme to get more people to join the county board.

I dutifully signed up for email lists of the relevant government agencies like air and water quality boards at the state, regional and local levels.  I try to read most of the email traffic, to familiarize myself with the local concerns and actions.  It is eye-opening.

The view from my handlebars as I rode my bike along the Ballona creek bike path in April 2019.
For instance, I noticed that LA Basin held meetings that discussed high levels of copper in the Ballona Creek watershed (near me and pictured above) and in waterways in Ventura County.

Ballona Creek watershed is regulated for 7 types of things that we don't want in it. Limits are set for the Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs).  I pulled these tables from the Ballona Creek Watershed Management Group EWMP Adaptive Management Report December 2018.

7 types of things regulated by TMDLs.
Some are easy, like trash. I think I showed a picture of a net that we use on the creek to catch trash on my IG feed last fall. Some things are medium hard; industrial pollutants can be cleaned up at its point source.

In dry weather, the trend is improving for most things except heavy metals and bacteria.

Dry weather Ballona creek pollution trends.
In wet weather, the heavy metal load increases due to urban runoff.
Wet weather Ballona creek pollution trends.
Selenium comes from agricultural runoff.  Although LA hasn't had farms in recent decades, the agricultural pollution lingers.  This is a problem throughout California.

The copper surprised me. There are no copper mines or kale farms in this area.  What is the source of the copper that is ending up in our waterways and estuaries?

What about zinc?  Are we using that much zinc oxide sunscreen?

The answer is cars. Lots and lots of cars.

Copper is prevalent in brake dust and stop and go traffic generates a lot of brake dust.  Copper-Free Brake Initiative:
On January 21, 2015, EPA, states, and the automotive industry signed an agreement to reduce the use of copper and other materials in motor vehicle brake pads. The agreement calls for reducing copper in brake pads to < 5 percent by weight in 2021 and 0.5 percent by 2025. In addition to copper, this voluntary initiative reduces mercury, lead, cadmium, asbestiform fibers, and chromium-six salts in motor vehicle brake pads.
Zinc Sources in California Urban Runoff estimates that tire wear is responsible for 240,000 kg of zinc in urban runoff.  The next largest source is zinc surfaces (galvanized steel, etc), at 40-100,000 kg.

The bacteria?  It's dog and human poop.  Pick up after your dog. 

The homelessness crisis is harder to solve, but it's a major reason why bacterial TMDL exceedances have gone up along with the number of people setting up camps along our waterways.

It's all related.  Our housing crisis.  Our car culture.  Our water.  Our air. 

Next up, the Regional Housing Needs Assessment scandal that is building up in our backyard. 

Hell-no!  You will not do this in my name.

Until next time, please read some background info about RHNA.