Saturday, April 04, 2020

Stay away from the beach

Mea culpa. I was upset when I saw this photo that @seaninorbit Tweeted on March 28, 2020. But I was so very wrong. Read on to learn why I changed my mind and now fully support this ban.



As I cyclist, I immediately bristle when people in cars are given more rights than people outside of cars. Read the sign in this photo.

The beach bike path below is closed. The wide sidewalk for pedestrians at street level is closed. The on-street bike path is closed. Pedestrians and bicyclists are banned from the street. The city of Redondo Beach appears to be saying that only people cars can use the street.

By law, our streets are supposed to give access to all modes of travel.

Where are people outside of cars supposed to go?  I felt that this was another auto supremacy move by our city and police department.

Then I read Rosanna Xia's piece about why people should stay away from the beaches right now.
In her research, [UCSD/Scripps Professor Kim] Prather has found that the ocean churns up all kinds of particulate and microscopic pathogens, and every time the ocean sneezes with a big wave or two, it sprays these particles into the air. She believes that this new coronavirus is light enough to float through the air much farther than we think. The six-feet rule, she said, doesn’t apply at the beach, where coastal winds can get quite strong and send viral particles soaring.

“It’s not going to kill you if you miss a few surfing sessions, but it could if you go out there and get in the wrong air,” she said.

“You can’t see the virus, you can’t smell it ... It’s a real silent killer right now.”

...

“Once things are in the air, they can go pretty darn far. People are shocked whenever I talk about stuff becoming airborne,” she said. “I see pictures of the beach shut down, and the signs tell you don’t walk on the beach, don’t swim, don’t surf, but nobody tells you: Don’t breathe.”
Remember all the other scientists saying how far aerosol droplets can travel before hitting the ground under laboratory conditions? The beach environment is a lot windier and complex than most labs.

You know how you can taste the saltiness in the air at the beach? That clammy feeling on your skin and clothes? That's sea spray.

Salt is corrosive. People who live near the beach know how far sea spray travels because we have to combat the corrosiveness with constant home maintenance.

Salt and sea spray is also hygroscopic--it attracts water. Small droplets can attract moisture out of the air and become bigger droplets that fall more quickly. That stuff can fall on you and stick.

Conversely, sea spray can warm up and evaporate some of their water, becoming lighter and able to travel further. Add stiff sea breezes and you have a complex aerosol environment with who knows what blowing quite a distance inland depending on sun and wind conditions.

Dr Prather also cautioned that stuff that precipitates out of the air can be washed out in the ocean and become re-aerosolized.
Coronaviruses are encased by what she calls a “hydrophobic” lipid, or fatty, membrane. Fat tends to float to the surface of water, similar to oil in a vinaigrette dressing. When waves break in the surf zone and all the foam and bubbles pop, Prather said, “all that stuff — the viruses, the bacteria, pollutants, all the gooey, oily stuff — just launches into the air.”
That surfer that said he was going out when the surf was up, no matter what? He's not just endangering himself.  He could be an asymptomatic virus shedder exhaling into the sea spray.

Alison D. Nugent et al recently found "We've also found a stronger relationship of Sea spray aerosol (SSA) number concentration to wave activity than to wind speed in our coastal measurements."

Even if people are spaced 6 feet apart in the bike lane right along the coast, that's not enough.  Better to bike the inland route right now. 

Many regular bike commuters wear N95 masks to protect themselves from car exhaust and PM2.5.  If you don't have that, wear a homemade cloth mask, stay away from cars and other riders as much as you can.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Time flies

but my former classmate and lab coworker, Dr Loren Miller, looks the same as when we were in college.  How is that even remotely possible?


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The mask/no mask dilemma

During tree pollen season, I often wear a surgical mask outdoors to minimize allergies.  In February, I tried to restock ahead of the season. I also heard about a very bad flu virus that would make wearing a mask in crowded places prudent.  Too late, I realized that, not only were the stores near me sold out, they were not going to get any more in the foreseeable future.

I read intriguing posts on the internets about homemade masks, but wasn't sure if they were nothing more than dangerous placebos.

Please read Zeynep Tufekci's Why Telling People They Don’t Need Masks Backfired (NYT paywall)

First, she is right about the messaging.  Lying to the public, even for altruistic reasons, is still counterproductive.  I prefer to be treated like an adult and told that there are people who cannot stay home and need the masks more than I do.

Surgical masks, though not foolproof, offer meaningful protection for both the wearer and the people they are in contact with.

This doesn't help me now when stores don't have anything to buy and my doctor is saving masks for her own use and for her most critically ill patients (or caregivers.)  Professor Tufekci helpfully added a link to a paper about the effectiveness of different materials you can use to sew your own face masks.

I'm about to crank out some masks for my daily walks to protect me from pollen and stray human contact. I'm also making some for people I know who are essential workers and risking their lives to keep our society going.

This table is helpful, but takes a little interpretation. The first 2 columns are virus reductions over wearing no mask with surgical masks and home-made masks with a variety of materials. The third column is the pressure drop across the fabric.

That pressure drop is really important. If a mask is too hot, and you take it off, you are in danger again.  So you want to find that sweet spot of comfortable to wear for hours, and good filtration.  My normal go-to mask is the 3M micropore one.  I can wear it comfortably for long haul flights, taking it off only to eat and drink.

Two layers of a tea towel (a thicker fabric,) is as effective as a surgical mask, but it will be as comfortable as wearing a vacuum cleaner bag.

@pdxsquared showed pictures of her home-made ear loop masks.  She also shared per pattern.  One commentator said that she was irresponsible for posting it--2 layers of quilting cotton isn't real protection.  Well, the peer-reviewed lab-tested experiment showed that 2 layers of a pillowcase (percale, similar to quilting cotton) is 62% effective vs the 96% effectiveness of a real surgical mask, and has a similar comfort rating.  You should absolutely minimize contact with other people right now.  But, if you have to go out to work or get supplies or exercise, wearing DIY masks is definitely helpful.

I'm intrigued by the 75% effectiveness of "cotton mix" but can't figure out what that is.  I may try some cotton/nylon/spandex shirting I was saving for a special project someday.  That day is today.  I'm also going to use fun quilting and shirting fabrics.  Right now, I need more joy and fun.

BTW, I saw an old DIY emergency face mask pattern that suggested using 3 layers of cotton, laid at right angles.  This makes sense because fabrics typically have higher thread count (and smaller holes) in one direction.  Perhaps I should use cotton mix with a layer of silk scrap in the middle?

ASIDE:
If you are in a good financial place, spread the wealth.

I told our housecleaner that, because my husband continues to get paid, so will she.  She cannot work from home so I'm just mailing the check to her house.  Her husband is heroically driving city buses to get essential workers to their jobs--and doing it without protective equipment.  I'm sending a bunch of masks to them along with the check.

We're paying students to weed our yard (while staying socially distant.)  I'm making masks for them, too.  I know it helps with pollen and mold.

Show me what you are making and how you are coping.  We're anxious, but know that we are luckier than most.  I'm in no danger of running out of fabric.  ;-)

UPDATE:
Physician/sewing blogger Kaddidlehopper has some good tips and a free pattern: https://katiekadiddlehopper.blogspot.com/2020/03/fabric-surgical-style-mask-free-pattern.html

ElleC left a link in the comments on how Dr Dr Chen Xiaoting improvises surgical masks with disposable tissues or TP encased in washable/reusable cotton.
https://mustsharenews.com/cloth-face-mask/

Monday, March 09, 2020

Trustworthy Coronavirus News Sources

There is so much information and misinformation out there about, it's dispiriting.

My go-to source of reliable information is Pulitzer Prize winning science writer, Laurie Garrett, who has written extensively about pandemics and disease for decades.  Follow her on Twitter @Laurie_Garrett for the latest reliable news.

She uses the #COVID19 hashtag.  This time of year, I usually have a persistent scratchy throat from the tree pollen.   I don't follow that hashtag, because I don't want to obsess.  YMMV

I've been following the news of tests. I'm a physical scientist, but have worked in an analytical chemistry lab in college. I know that reliable testing for pathogens is very difficult, but don't understand the details. I found a couple of articles that helped me understand what is happening on the testing front.

How SARS-CoV-2 Tests Work and What’s Next in COVID-19 Diagnostics in New Scientist, by Bianca Nogrady

We Need a Cheap Way to Diagnose Coronavirus, in Harvard Business Review, by Devabhaktuni Srikrishna , Ranu S. Dhillon and David Beier.

Infectious disease docter, Dr. Krutika Kuppalli is also a good follow on Twitter, @KrutikaKuppalli.

The first article mentioned work on developing antibody tests.  Dr Kuppalli tweeted some preliminary antibody (IgG/IgM) test news out of China.

I live in the South Bay part of Los Angeles, which is bracketed by LAX international airport to the north and LA Harbor to the south.  So many airline employees live in my community, we are taking the prudent course and staying home as much as practical.  This will slow, but not prevent the spread.  That helps both you and your community weather the crisis.

Screen shot from Esther Kim's tweet

BTW, the "news" that Coronavirus does not spread in warm weather is totally false. It has spread plenty in warm places.

In times like these, I am livid that not all workers get paid sick leave and that we do not have universal and affordable access to health care.  Fight on, but maybe from home?  ;-)

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 airnow.gov, 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
and
  • 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

Fashionopolis

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 no 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.