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March 27, 2015


EPA graphic on the urban heat island effect.

We don’t have to tell you it’s getting hotter in LA—and temperatures will continue to rise. But does it have to be this way ? Is there nothing we can do to derail that linear narrative? The projections are that the Los Angeles region will be 4-5° F hotter in the middle part of this century and the number of extreme heat days (days of 95° F and above) will double—or triple. Are those forecasts unequivocal?

We don’t believe so and neither does LA City Councilmember Felipe Fuentes. In February, Councilmember Fuentes introduced a motion that directs city staff to report on the formation of a “Committee on Cooling and Urban Heat Impacts” with the stated purpose of establishing a cooling target for the city and recommending strategies for achieving that cooling goal.

Some of the heat in LA is caused by a significant urban heat island (UHI)—a dome of heat that sits over our city and causes temperatures to rise in the surrounding areas. The primary cause of this is the large amounts paved surface areas, which absorb radiant energy from the sun and then release that energy as heat, warming the ambient air temperature. UHI contributes on average 4-6° of warming in Los Angeles, but a comprehensive strategy to reduce the UHI could offset some or all of the warming expected in the future due to climate change. In other words, we can continue to enjoy our favorable Southern California temperatures if we begin taking action now. Fortunately, we have already begun to tackle one of the main contributors: roofs. Climate Resolve helped LA become the first city in the U.S. to require cool roofs on all new and rehabbed residential buildings.

The next frontier in reducing heat impacts for our city: we’re working on with the city of LA on cool pavements for our roads. We plan to have pilot projects down this coming summer for testing.

March 26, 2015

la_county_general_plan_coverWhen the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an overhaul to its General Plan this week, it included LA County’s first Community Climate Action Plan (CCAP).

We’re proud to have been engaged in the project from the outset—collaborating with County staff to make improvements to the plan, which will guide LA’s planning decisions for decades. Specifically, we worked closely with staff of the County of Los Angeles Department of Regional Planning to improve the CCAP with climate-friendly features, including cool roofs, radiant solar, additional tree canopy, and for commitments to advance bicycling, walking, and public transit.

The final CCAP provides a roadmap to help reduce greenhouse gases in Los Angeles County by 11% by 2020 and will positively affect the one million residents who live in Los Angeles County unincorporated communities. Next up: working with County officials on implementing the CCAP, developing adaptation strategies, and developing climate strategies for the County beyond 2020.

March 20, 2015

a guest post by EcoMotion’s Ted Flanigan

The other day about 170 of us “GHG nerds” gathered in Deaton Hall, abuzz in focus on methane.

Tim O’Connor of Environmental Defense Fund kicks off the program, discussing how EDF’s Methane Project is making an important contribution on state and national policy. He leaves us with three messages: fighting climate change also means taking on methane; natural gas is indeed better for the environment if there are no leaks; we must understand the science of methane emissions.

The Local Perspective

Bad smog days used to rule LA

Los Angeles Councilmember Paul Koretz welcomes the audience with recollections about the region’s dire history with air pollution. After movie stars and beaches, in the 1960s LA was best known for its smog. There were Bad Smog Days… unhealthy air as many as 200 times a year. Councilmember Koretz is proud of the clean-up and its success. And now we turn our attention to greenhouse gases, and to marshalling similar success.

Sophia Menemenlis, a highly poised 16-year old high school student from La Canada, and a fellow of the Alliance for Climate Education, then addresses the audience. She was passionate and direct and set a good tone for the conference.

Jonathan Parfrey welcomes us; he calls us nerds, because “who else would come to a conference on methane?”  We dig in. Climate Resolve is on a mission to make climate change relevant locally. “There is a need for America’s second largest city to step up and do its part… We have a tremendous potential to influence the nation, and rest of world. If LA can do it, I can hear them saying, ‘My god, they did it in LA!” If they can do it in LA… certainly it can be done anywhere!

Methane Basics

One methane molecule

Methane is the most fundamental hydrocarbon. It is made up of one carbon molecule surrounded by four hydrogen molecules. It is invisible, odorless, and combustible gas present in trace quantities in the atmosphere. Since 1750, ice core samples show that its concentration doubled from 0.7 to 1.7 ppm largely due to human activity.

In California, methane is responsible for 8.3% of the State’s GHG emissions, some 38,140,000 metric tonnes of CO2e. It takes 25 molecules of CO2 to have the same GHG effect as one molecule of methane. Methane comes from a variety of sources, some easy to control, others require imagination.

Sources of Methane Emissions

There are four primary sources of methane: oil and gas production, wastewater treatment, landfills and agriculture. In California, fully 60% of methane emissions come from agriculture and dairies, 25% from wastes, and 10% from oil and gas production. In Los Angeles proper, there is virtually no agriculture, so our methane sources are more limited with 50% from waste and 30% from oil and gas.

The Search for Methane Emissions

The conference shifts into monitoring these sources. This is rocket science… and it is administered by NASA and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NASA monitors the Earth’s vital systems from land, air, and space using a fleet of satellites, airborne and ground-based monitoring. In early 2015, JPL released a finding that methane concentrations in the LA Basin are 18 – 61% higher than previously recorded, finding hot spots over landfills, but also mysteriously at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

Methane hotspot near Bakersfield (image via JPL/Riley Duran)

Methane hotspot near Bakersfield (image via JPL/Riley Duran)

JPL’s Riley Duran shares sophisticated monitoring tactics that can hone in on hotspots, such as one near Bakersfield in the Central Valley, near a concentration of 30,000 oil wells and cattle feedlots.

The definition is further refined, and through such imagery, scientists are able to find the most egregious leaks. We learn about such”Super-Emitters” and plane and auto reconnaissance to determine where the major leaks are occurring. Most often, these leaks are unknown and can be stopped. And 25% of the sources emit 75% of the methane.

Agricultural Wastes

Agriculture is California’s other major source of methane emissions – but there are things that can be done to reduce enteric fermentation: Better grazing management and dietary supplementation in particular. (I make a note to learn more about the latter.) Reportedly there has been some success in this regard. California has increased milk production while lowering associated methane emissions.

There are proven means of capturing methane in agriculture. Rachel Tornek, of Climate Action Reserve, explained that manure is washed from feedlots with water into lagoons, typically open storage, and major sources of anaerobic digestion which creates methane. Today, these methane emissions are not regulated.

Natural Gas System Leaks

We learn that 90% of California’s natural gas is imported. The largest source is the Rocky Mountains (40%), followed by the Southwest (35%), and Canada (16%). And while natural gas is certainly a good step as the cleanest of the hydrocarbons, we learn that, “There are leaks everywhere.” Given the potency of methane in the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas, leaks quickly negate the value of natural gas in terms of GHG mitigation.

Nationally, experts report a natural gas leak rate of 1.3%. That’s equivalent to the amount of gas carried by 127 LNG tankers each year. It’s worth $6.2 billion in lost revenues. We see a methane mitigation cost curve prepared by ICF Consultants for EDF, with one half of all measures cost effective for other reasons. We learn that President Obama is committed to a goal to cut methane emissions fro the oil and gas sector by 40 – 45%  from 2012 levels by 2025cut in leakage in the oil and gas industry. In 2014, the California passed SB 1371, the Natural Gas Abatement Leakage Law, which focuses on methane emissions.

The Los Angeles basin has no gas wells, but California is the third largest oil and gas producing state in the nation, with 50,000 active oil wells, 1,350 gas wells, and 370 storage wells. There are two natural gas storage fields in Los Angeles, the Biona Wetlands and in Montebello. A public member asked, “are these wells monitored?” Although the answer at the symposium was oblique, I later learned that the storage wells are highly monitored and are in good shape.

“Power to Gas” is an exciting concept that is being explored by Southern California Gas as part of its quest to map out a carbon-free future. Power to Gas is a way to utilize excess renewable energy generation at peak periods. The concept is based on electrolyzing water with renewables, then methanating the hydrogen to produce and deliver natural gas.

The Hyperion waste treatment plant (image via LA Sanitation/Omar Moghaddam)

The Hyperion waste treatment plant (image via LA Sanitation/Omar Moghaddam)

We talk about digester gas at Hyperion, one of the most advanced wastewater treatment plants in the world. Every molecule of organic material is digested at the plant and transformed into methane gas. Hyperion’s gas feeds into the City’s adjacent Scattergood Power Plant. We pause to honor our speaker Omar Moghaddam’s 31-year career with the City of Los Angeles, his passion for smart waste management with the Bureau of Sanitation. He retired the next day.

Taking Action

Methane lives in the atmosphere for 10 – 12 years, versus CO2 which lasts for 200 years. That’s good. But methane is potent stuff and like CO2, atmospheric methane comes from many sources making it difficult to control in many instances, easy in others. Its control has many co-benefits, from power generation to less ground level ozone and savings.

We learned a lot at Deaton Hall – an afternoon well spent. Californians have lots to be proud of; and we have lots of work ahead on both science and policy fronts. California today diverts 72% of its solid waste stream. Skeptics said it could not be done. Organics are pulled out of our wastewater and are digested. We’ve cleaned out air, lessened Bad Smog Days, and through AB 32 – the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 – we are tackling greenhouse gases.

Today we are measuring methane emissions so that we can target and approach and retrofit the super emitters’ sites. We feel the support of key stakeholders, from the Blue-Green Alliance, a coalition of 10 labor unions and five environmental firms, to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority which has just made a major biogas purchase.

For the first time, we are beginning to see methane for what it is – a highly potent GHG that comes from several sources, all quite hard to addresses and mitigate, but whose mitigation appears essential to life on Earth.

March 20, 2015

Updates on climate news in Los Angeles and California


NASA satellite image.

The op-ed heard around the world: California has just one year of water left. (LA Times) Related: the state has announced plans for a $1 billion drought relief package.

A new study reveals that California has enough areas within the built environment to provide enough solar to power the Golden State—five times over. (Nature Climate Change)

We demonstrated the effectiveness of cool surfaces while on a walking tour with Funders Network in Downtown LA.

(Angelenos: click here for our calendar of events and activities in Los Angeles.)

National and international climate news

fed_sustain_planPresident Obama signed an executive order to cut the nation’s greenhouse gases by 40 percent by 2025. The Federal Sustainability Plan will also be a boost for clean energy.

In France, new legislation requires that all new buildings in commercial zones have rooftops covered in solar or plants. (Guardian)

More proof that clean energy is good business: The World Bank reported the global economy grew 3%—as CO2 emissions remained stable. (Bloomberg)

Inspiring: Hawaii has introduced legislation to go 100% renewable by 2040. (Think Progress)

FEMA is going to require states to have climate mitigation plans in order to be eligible for funding. (Inside Climate News)

Breakthroughs and advances worth celebrating

March 20 is the first day of spring and NOAA has the most comprehensive forecast you could wish for.

Words worth repeating

“I guarantee you that the Republican party will have to change its approach to climate change because voters will insist upon it.”—President Obama

Do something

Act: Start a vanpool to get to work. (Metro)

Sign: Ask the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to divest from fossil fuels. (Guardian)

Contribute: Add to KPCC’s compilation of the world changing around you by tagging photos with #ISeeChange.

Submit: Snap and enter your weather and science #photos for NOAA’s “Weather in Focus” contest.

Online longreads and book suggestions

Jane Goodall is still wild at heart (NY Times)

Images, videos, and infographics that deserve a close look

Stunning photos of Friday’s solar eclipse, from across the pond. (BBC)

March 20, 2015

Ladies on flower bicycle 1901 copy

This could be us on Sunday.

We will be enjoying our two-wheeling time on the car-free streets for CicLAvia—The Valley festivities on Sunday. Here, our Cristy Stiles outlines her top reasons for riding. Bike on!

1. You will be doing your part to reduce emissions and fight climate change.

2. You can pretend that it’s the 1920s, and you’re biking hopefully up to Universal Studios, just knowing that you will get that chorus part.

3. You can actually bike hopefully up to Universal Studios, just knowing that you will get that chorus part—what do you mean, there aren’t choruses on movies anymore?!

4. Remember the pony you wanted as a child? While you steam with jealousy at all of the children enjoying pony rides along the route, you can pretend your bike is a pony.

5. Your strong biking thighs will be able to crack walnuts, winning you many new friends.

6. You can stuff yourself full of tacos, BBQ, and baked goods, and then burn those calories right back off.

7. The city looks much more beautiful when you’re not strapped to a two-ton block of steel.

8. You’ll have fun—and you’ll ask yourself, why don’t we all go car-free and do this more often?

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