Isn’t it a beautiful sight? Rain? Rain! Palm trees. Our iconic art deco city hall.
While everyone was saying that the drought was the sign of a climate apocalypse (or while many weren’t paying attention at all), Climate Resolve was working with the city, universities, and climate experts to cut through the hyperbole and explore what rising temperatures really mean for Los Angeles and California’s water resources.
That pragmatic, we-can-do-this, science-based procedure is Climate Resolve’s trademark approach to the real and pressing challenges a changing climate poses to the city I grew up in and the city I love.
Climate Resolve is working to make Southern California more livable and prosperous today by mitigating our impact on global climate change while examining how the region will adapt to future changes.
Here’s some straight talk:
3. Californians will have to find new ways of collecting water.
Thanks to UCLA’s latest study, we now know the region will likely receive just as much precipitation in the future as we have in the past.
Climate Resolve created the media messaging for these breakthrough UCLA studies and got the news out to the press. The Los Angeles Times, KCRW, KPCC, and the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences all covered the study, validating our approach. We make climate change relevant in the lives of every Angeleno. California’s new climate policies prove that solid science leads to smart and effective public policy.
And this new information should give us confidence to invest in Los Angeles to make the Southland more resilient to climate change. Knowing it’s going to rain means we should fix Hansen Dam, repair our city streets so rain is collected instead of dumped into the LA River, and take similar measures to harness the rain by constructing water catchers, large and small, throughout the city. Together these efforts can make Los Angeles more resilient. And that’s one of many areas that Climate Resolve is focused on to make LA livable and more prosperous today and for generations to come.
So this season, I hope you appreciate the straight talk, and the fact that we’re taking on the hard stuff. And we hope you will give to Climate Resolve.
You can make a donation at climateresolve.org/donate.
The third in a series of climate studies from UCLA—this one on precipitation in Southern California—adds an essential piece to the puzzle regarding our region’s climate future.
And we need to view this study in the context of the prior two studies. In June 2012, UCLA researchers suggested the region can anticipate three times the number of extreme heat days by 2050. Southern California is going to get hotter. And due to that added warming, UCLA saw, in a June 2013 study, that by midcentury our local mountains will see much less snow—a loss of 40%. This latest study suggests rainfall in Southern California will retain its pattern of oscillating between wet and dry years. We may get the same volume of precipitation in the future but it’ll increasingly come down as rain and not snow. Higher flows, borne of more rain and less snow, could lead to more instances of flooding and pose a challenge to capturing water for local use.
UCLA’s superb science can help policymakers with big decisions. For example, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power says the UCLA precipitation study gives them greater confidence in investing in projects like spreading grounds and permeable pavement that captures rainwater. The best science says it’s going to rain in LA well into the future. That’s demonstrably good news.
Climate Resolve is delighted to partner with the UCLA Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences on this LA area climate series. Their contributions are helping Southern California cities and counties face their greatest challenge.
This conference—Decarbonizing California: 2020 – 2050—was cutting edge and potent. The people assembled knew they had to be there. I was pleased to be among them. These are the Californians working to affect change, to support California’s landmark climate law, AB 32, and who have made California a global leader in emission reduction.
Climate Resolve convened 400+ people to tackle the state’s most ambitious goal since train tracks blasted through the Sierras one hundred fifty years ago. The conference, held at University of Southern California, was about Californians taking action, going “double and quadruple down,” and preparing to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050.
The choir we were. Clearly. So why meet and plan for a 30-year period that doesn’t begin for six years? Jonathan Parfrey, director of Climate Resolve, was firm in delivery: “There is a need for a countervailing force opposed to those trying to derail AB 32.” We’d hear this theme repeated all day: there are still forces out there focused on dismantling the act.
Jonathan Parfrey has an understated style that is warm while being both realistic and optimistic. He’s also proud to be a Southern Californian. “LA was inevitable given this much natural beauty and its blessed weather. It had to come into existence,” he explained. And it got messed up with rampant pollution. Now we have to make it shine in new ways—without carbon. Parfrey is confident that LA can rise to the challenge.
Climate Resolve is LA’s premiere climate change organization. Climate Resolve is at the nexus of science and policy; and Parfrey is a great interpreter: “Weather is like your mood, the mood you’re in—up, down, stormy, sunny, hot, dry, wet. Climate is your personality—the way you are all the time.” He cites the work of Professor Alex Hall at UCLA. Hall downscaled studies to see the projected climate impacts at the neighborhood level. In LA, by 2050, there will be three times as many extreme heat days as we have now.
Climate Resolve is focusing on ways to effect change. Its C-CHANGE LA campaign is about increasing the quality of life through things like cooler playgrounds and neighborhoods and sidewalk cafes, while decreasing emissions. “Germany is already at 30% renewables, with more than 300,000 jobs.” Jonathan is resolved: “We can do all of this at once and have a strong economy.”
Global Warming Solutions
A highlight of the conference was the presence of two leaders, Mary Nichols and Fran Pavley. Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, is warm, understated, clearly, kind, and caring, and powerful. Her job is to implement AB 32 to achieve 1990 levels of greenhouse gases (GHG) by 2020. She brought rich perspectives to the conference.
Already much has been done with low carbon transportation fuels. California has a history of being ahead of the U.S. EPA on clean air act regulations—and maintaining an exemption from EPA’s less stringent rules as a result. That’s good according to Nichols. “We’re able to go deeper.” And overall, she believes that AB 32’s practitioners have used the right science. They’ve adequately studied impacts and launched mechanisms to reel in emissions.
Lauren Faber of the Environmental Defense Fund chimed in with good news: “California’s economy is up, and emissions are down… People said that would not happen.”
Nichols cautioned those in the room to be steadfast, the work continues. With electrification we’re looking to power a lot more than we power now. And California’s population is expected to grow from 38 million today to 50 million by 2050. “The low-hanging fruit has already been picked,” said Nichols with a grin. There are things to do now that will be easier now than waiting until 2050. Other things just take longer and, thus, may seem less worthwhile. Nichols is pushing for a mid-term goal on the way to 2050.
Denise Fairchild of the Emerald Cities Collaborative pointed out that California is actually #2 in energy efficiency. EcoNet readers already knew this! And Los Angeles is rated 28th of major metro regions for sustainability. “We’re in the middle of the pack… not doing enough at the community level,” she said. “But if we can fix this basin, California will clearly be #1 in the nation.”
Mary Nichols just retuned from India and was there when the U.S.-China climate deal was announced. She reported “jaws dropped” as Indian officials realized that with the largest and second largest emitting nations banding together, India at #3 would soon be on the hot seat.
India has taken a laggard position on greenhouse gas abatement. The situation on the ground there is very real. Many citizens have no electricity at all; many more have unreliable electricity. As the country develops, there will be growth in electricity demand. If supplied by conventional fuels, their greenhouse gas emissions will dwarf anything we can do in the U.S. to eliminate them. India needs to grow in ways that do not swamp all other international efforts.
California, with a world economy that would put it in the G8, must lead and show that economic prosperity—in this case India’s electrification—can be achieved in concert with greenhouse gas emissions reduction and elimination. Mary Nichols made it clear: “California’s leadership on this issue is important to the planet.” We are the test bed, at the cutting edge of clean and green power and energy.
India will have to work hard to cut emissions while maintaining sustainable aspects its society. India’s share of bike use is going down. (The same is true in Beijing.) The bike industry in India is in trouble. So are India’s once-great railroads. Freight no longer can rely on trains, thus diesel trucks are doing most of the shipping.
Throughout Decarbonizing California was a steady drumbeat for environmental justice (EJ).
A morning speaker, Denise Fairchild, warned, “let’s not create a two-tiered energy society.” Our task is to seamlessly include low-income and people of color as part of the solution. How can we make low-income homes more efficient? Let’s not skip over hard-to-fix homes. Thus far, only the rich have Priuses and photovoltaics on their roofs.
An interesting policy question emerged: With such deep reductions needed in energy use in our housing stock, “do we invest in incremental retrofits in old buildings at all?” To achieve climate goals, should they be completely replaced rather than retrofitted?
Decarbonizing California exhibited great sensitivity to environmental justice concerns. The climate movement cannot be elitist. Its goals are so huge and so necessary that we need to reach out to all citizens. Several advocates want to swiftly and completely eliminate the use of fossil fuels, notably the Sierra Club and EJ groups such as Communities for a Better Environment. The LA Bus Riders Union was represented, promoting ideas of how to make bus travel more ubiquitous, such as promoting bus-only lanes and free public transport without gun-toting sheriffs.
Decarbonizing the Pipelines
George Minter gave a profound speech on the role of Southern California Gas Company in decarbonizing California. The massive utility serves 21 million people with 6 million meters. It’s the largest gas company in the United States. And it has been cleaning the air for 50-60 years and is proud of it!
Awash, natural gas is being used to replace fuel oil, diesel, and coal. It is cleaning the air. Minter challenges the headlong surge toward electrification. While appropriate in many cases, it’s not the goal. Reducing emissions is. Natural gas has a record of being used effectively in mobile and stationary sources very effectively. Google is now 100% solar and fuel-cell powered.
It’s hard to imagine a natural gas company that is carbon-free. It’s hard to imagine a job at a gas company in which your role is to go carbon-free. How the heck do you get there? How to decarbonize the pipeline? Minter presented his vision for a carbon-free pipeline.
The first step is to tap biofuels. They are abundant and can be further exploited to a large degree. This includes methane from landfills, treatment plants, agricultural wastes, wastes from urban centers, and woodlands. Minter estimates that biomethane can contribute 20% of his company’s gas supply.
The second step involves “purpose-grown crops.” These are purposefully grown for methane production. Things like switch grasses and algae can contribute another 20%. Now we’re at 40%.
The third step in revolutionary: producing methane from renewable electricity. This involves the hydrolysis of water using excess solar power, then “methanating” the hydrogen, and injecting it into natural gas pipelines. This “power to gas” concept then becomes “gas to heat” and “gas to transport.” It’s a systems solution that stretched participants’ thinking.
Minter ended by stating, “I challenge you to back off the predisposition that natural gas is a nasty fossil fuel. It isn’t.” The bottom line is that you can move electrons, and you can move molecules of gas. Both can be renewably generated in the current account.
Energy Efficiency is the First Step
There are clear win-win solutions for climate protection. I was pleased to present “Energy Efficiency as the First Step in Decarbonizing California,” a 60-slide deck. I did so humbly, realizing the vast experience of those in the room, many with lots of “skin in the game” in California. Efficiency is basic and often highly cost-effective. Measures to “get our houses in order” constitute the first step in climate protection.
My first-step presentation is in four parts: It focuses on the critical nexus between technological and behavioral aspects of net zero use. Images and stories of the power of the Emissions Time Bomb as a motivational display are next. I then discuss how EcoMotion is helping Millbrook School, an idyllic prep school in the farm country of New York, go carbon neutral.
I wrap with Climate Smart Schools, a partnership between EcoMotion and Climate Resolve focused on helping schools in Southern California go green, saving energy and money while protecting the environment. Thanks to special funding to districts serving K-14 students in California—a segment of the power-consuming economy that has long been neglected, marked by deferred maintenance, not to mention high-performance retrofits—Climate Smart Schools is seizing an opportunity to meld hard-wired efficiency gains with student and school community engagement. Sharing the podium with David Jacot, Director of Efficiency Solutions for Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the role of efficiency as a least-cost, quick-impact, scalable carbon mitigation resource is clear.
California’s Transportation Focus
State Senator Fran Pavley is a California treasure. A former schoolteacher, she is unpretentious, with a sparkle in her eye.
“Kudos to all the environmental activists… we need you!” she began. The role of NGOs and other advocates has been essential to her Low Carbon Transportation Fuels regulation and for the passage of Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.
Pavley urged those at the conference to now focus on mobile emissions sources. This is our state’s biggest challenge: One in ten autos sold in America is sold in California. “I think sometimes that they are all on the 405,” she joked. This is the state that needs to take a leadership role, particularly on transportation. Since we predate the Clean Air Act, Pavley underscored that we can implement more stringent standards. We are one of five states with a full-time legislature, able to tackle sophisticated challenges like this.
Denny Zane, Executive Director of MoveLA, was passionate. A former Mayor of Santa Monica, he was the leading organizer of Measure R that is funding $40 billion for Los Angeles County over a 30-year period. Fully 70% of this is for transit. Zane explained that it passed by points, garnering 67.8% of the vote when a two-thirds majority was required. It was approved alongside the election of President Barrack Obama.
Measure R is doubling the light rail system in Los Angeles in ten years. Five lines will be simultaneously under construction in Los Angeles next year. “This is a propitious moment for our state.” Now Zane is working on Measure R2, a massive bond measure slated for the 2016 ballot that will take transport efficiency to the next level in Los Angeles. It will also address biking and pedestrian access, clean freight, and bus system upgrades.
Throughout the conference was the recognition of the huge role of electric vehicles (EVs) in the carbon equation. Tim O’Connor of the California Climate Initiative added perspective: AB 32 will essentially take oil companies out of business. They must adapt, and so must the car companies. Utilities must prepare for increased electrification of the transportation system.
LADWP has pledged to stop coal, but at this time it is still 40% coal-fired. According to Chief Sustainability and Economic Development Coordinator Nancy Sutley, even with the current generating mix, EVs are still much cleaner way to power transport than internal combustion engines. LADWP is now launching a $2 million rebate program for Level 2 fast chargers.
More Charging Stations are Planned
Governor Jerry Brown has set a goal for 1.5 million plug-in EVs by 2025. Southern California Edison—which sees EVs as “good load”—plans to add 30,000 chargers in its service territory in the coming years. Its goal is to address and allay potential buyers of EVs of “range anxiety.”
While Teslas are all the rage, a presentation on fuel cell vehicles caught my attention. What happened to this promising energy carrier? EVs with battery packs have stolen the spotlight, but according to the California Fuel Cell Partnership, 2015 will be a breakout year. Several companies will launch hydrogen fuel-cell powered vehicles. A Hyundai can be leased for $500, and unlike battery-power EVs, refueling time for fuel cell EVs is 10 minutes for a range of 300 miles.
Climate and Land Management
Gary Gero, Executive Director of the Climate Action Reserve, noted early in the day that while not the focus of the conference, deforestation is responsible for 15-20% of global emissions. Forests are a big deal in the climate equation. Louis Blumberg, director of climate change for the California chapter of The Nature Conservancy, discussed the missing element in most climate talks—that of sound land management.
How much carbon can and does the land store and sequester? Land management takes many forms from managing forests, rangelands, and our rich wetlands. Blumberg made clear that another aspect of Decarbonizing California is “re-carbonizing”—putting carbon back in the ground and in the trees where it came from.
One-third of California is forest. California has over 33 million acres of forest and there are many needs for forest management. Key among them is preventing fires that spew emissions and squelch sequestration. Forest fires can also force the closure of transmission lines. Forests act as a sponge for greenhouse gases. The same is true for water, which trees store and release slowly. Redwood forests top the charts for carbon sequestration—500 tons of carbon dioxide per acre per year.
In California, our urban trees sequester 4.3 million metric tons of CO2 per year. They also provide a cooling benefit thanks to their shade: Studies show that the average tree saves 28 kWh/year in avoided cooling costs. Cap and trade has $92 million allocated for urban forestry this year. Blumberg concluded by noting that, “The world is watching California… We are recognized as a global leader.” Now it is time to protect natural landscapes and to be fully cognizant of their role in GHG reductions.
Jonathan Parfrey had asked each of the conference’s 30 speakers to keep the program upbeat, not to wallow in the enormity of the challenge and the dire nature of adaptation even in best circumstances. The conference—which ended with a fascinating view of using photosynthesis to power a carbon-free world—was indeed upbeat. We are succeeding as a state, despite the deniers, and we are gearing up for the fight of our life, cutting carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. Will we make it? Will we exceed the goal? Yes we can.
Decarbonizing California was a testament to Climate Resolve’s profound role in rallying key California stakeholders. It is a convener; there remains much to do. Climate protection has to jump to a new level as we work to reduce emissions by 80%. Thus, the hundreds gathered at University of Southern California are committed, were inspired, and go forth to work collectively to make California’s “stretch goals” an enviable reality.
In the week since we presented the Decarbonizing California conference, we’ve heard some great feedback. Below, some remarkable summaries and observations from those who attended.
Summary in EcoNet News by Ted Flanigan of EcoMotion
“Proud to be a Californian was an overriding emotion that day…. These are really the Californians who have worked hard to affect change, to support AB 32, and to make California the global leader in commitments to emissions reduction….Jonathan Parfrey of Climate Resolve had convened the ultimate force, about 400 of the right people, to tackle the State’s most ambitious goal…” More…
Summary by the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy
The conference “…looked at the global efforts at addressing climate change and how the lessons that we have learned in both ambient air quality management and now GHG emissions in California are helping inform other regions of the world grappling with these issues…. Opening remarks by Jonathan Parfrey, Executive Director of Climate Resolve, brilliantly set the stage for why this is the most critical issue for our generation…” More…
Select Feedback from Attendees
“Hearing about the state of renewable energy technology was very encouraging… There was a nice cross-section of speakers for a balanced perspective and inclusion. Great to hear about all the accomplishments and plans to go the distance… The full agenda provided valuable information concerning the urgency for collaborative efforts to support energy efficiency technologies and government action… I was able to take solid talking points that I can share when encountering those that still debunk climate change… It was a source of hope.”
A major public survey on climate change, just released by the Public Religion Research Institute, powerfully affirms Climate Resolve’s approach.
The study finds that three quarters of Americans urgently want to see the nation invest in climate solutions today in order to avoid more serious problems in the future. These big numbers validate Climate Resolve approach on cool roofs, a climate policy won by our organization in Los Angeles.
Other key findings:
- 69% of Americans believe there is solid evidence that earth’s temperature has been increasing over the past few decades
- More than 70% of Hispanic Americans are concerned about the impact of climate change; where six-in-10 black Americans are concerned about climate change; Anglos score lower at 43%
- 57% favor stricter limits on carbon emissions from power plants, even if it raises the price of electricity
On the downside, polling reveals fewer than one-quarter of Americans believe that they will be personally harmed by climate change. Wow. That shows we need to move away from discussing climate change as a global problem and instead make it relevant at the local level. Local impacts and local solutions help people understand the problem and how they can be a part of the solution.