CVIndependent

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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Environment

22 Nov 2018
The sun was beginning to set as Jim Wood stepped out of the examination room at the Sacramento morgue and walked into the lobby, white surgical booties covering his shoes. He’d keep working there late into the night, but was taking a short break from the solemn task of identifying bits of human remains gathered from the rubble of the horrific Camp Fire. Wood is a forensic odontologist—a dentist specially trained to identify dead bodies by examining teeth. He’s also a Democratic state assemblyman from Sonoma County. Those dual responsibilities have put him on the frontline in tackling two enormous, heart-wrenching puzzles: identifying the people who perished this month in California’s deadliest wildfire, and figuring out what state policies could prevent such catastrophes in the future. “I thought that last year was really, really awful,” Wood said of the wine-country fires that killed 44 people, including some whom he identified…
21 Nov 2018
In 2008, Paradise was spared. That June, a fire broke out in one of the canyons southwest of the Butte County town and quickly roared east, up and over the ridge. Thousands scrambled to evacuate, clogging the single road to safety. A sudden wind shift allowed firefighters to cordon off the flames, but the experience left residents intimately aware of the risks of living in Paradise. State lawmakers have been aware of the risk, too. In color-coded fire-hazard maps maintained by Cal Fire, Paradise is a bright red island in a churning sea of pink, orange, and yellow—all denoting various levels of danger. “It is not a great feeling … to have highlighted an area for its vulnerability, and then having this come to fruition,” said Dave Sapsis, a Cal Fire researcher who helped designate the state agency’s “Fire Hazard Severity Zones.” As California grapples with an increasing possibility that…
21 Nov 2018
Anna Dise slammed her hand into her car’s steering wheel, crying out for her father, Gordon, as he ran into their blazing home in Butte Creek Canyon. She tried desperately to get the car to start, but it was no use. Worse yet, she was running out of time, and her dad wasn’t coming back out. One of the last things Dise saw before grabbing her two dogs and running for her life from the spreading Camp Fire was her childhood home’s kitchen disintegrating. Dise called 911, but emergency personnel couldn’t get to her. To survive, she needed to find a way to outwit the blaze. She found a ditch and hunkered down, using what little water it held to douse herself and her beloved pets, Luna and Sirius, as embers rained down upon them. Hours went by, and Dise, terrified the flames would consume her, stayed on alert as…
10 Sep 2018
If Jerry Brown could write the script in which he exits the political stage while still in the spotlight, he could do no better than what’s teed up for him later this week: presiding over the Global Climate Action Summit with a few hundred of his closest fellow leaders in the fight against global warming. The San Francisco event is a hybrid of various high-level international meetings in which political figures discuss what can be done to address climate change, sign declarations, adjourn and then meet again later, somewhere else. This summit, which Brown is co-hosting with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a bevy of international officials, aims to advance that staid model by including a broad group of “non-state actors”—mayors, governors and leaders representing regions rather than entire countries. Brown’s extensive networking will come into play, as will two organizations he helped found. One is the Under2…
01 Sep 2018
As California lawmakers struggled to address an apparent new normal of epic wildfires, there was an inescapable subtext: Climate change is going to be staggeringly expensive, and virtually every Californian is going to have to pay for it. In the final week of August—just before the Legislature agreed to spend $200 million on tree clearance and let utilities pass on to customers the multi-billion-dollar costs of just one year’s fire damage—the state released a sobering report detailing the broader costs Californians face as the planet grows warmer. As horrendous as the wildfire situation is, the report made clear that it’s just one line item on a colossal ledger: It could soon cost us $200 million a year in increased energy bills to keep homes air conditioned; $3 billion from the effects of a long drought; and $18 billion to replace buildings inundated by rising seas, just to cite a few…
03 May 2018
The punch-counterpunch sparring between the Trump administration and the state of California over rollbacks of federal environmental regulations is often described as a war of words, with neither the president nor Gov. Jerry Brown giving an inch. Some of the disputes are largely symbolic—foot-stamping gestures from Washington, D.C., designed to resonate with the president’s core supporters rather than to hold up in court. But the latest skirmish is serious: The federal Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to unravel fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks not only threatens California’s autonomy in setting its own emissions limits; it also could derail the state’s ability to reach its future greenhouse-gas-reduction goals. “This is a politically motivated effort to weaken clean-vehicle standards with no documentation, evidence or law to back up that decision,” said Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the state Air Resources Board, in a statement. “This is not a technical assessment; it is…
20 Dec 2017
Beyond the devastation and personal tragedy of the fires that have ravaged California in recent months, another disaster looms: an alarming uptick in unhealthy air—and the sudden release of the carbon dioxide that drives climate change. As millions of acres burn in a cycle of longer and more-intense fire seasons, the extensive efforts of industry and regulators to protect the environment can be partly undone in one firestorm. In particular, as raging blazes pump more carbon into the atmosphere, state officials are grappling with the potential effect on California’s ability to adequately reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The state’s environmental regulations are known to be stringent, but they have limits: They apply only to human-caused emissions. Pollution generated by wildfires is all outside the grasp of state law. “The kinds of fires we’re seeing now generate millions of tons of GHG emissions. This is significant,” said Dave Clegern, a spokesman for the…
16 Nov 2017
BONN, Germany—The camera and lights switched on, and Ole Torp, the Charlie Rose of Norway, leaned in, silver hair flashing, and posed his first question to Gov. Jerry Brown. “Is the world going to hell?” “Yes,” Brown answered swiftly. The interview, taped last week in Oslo, was declared a fabulous success, one the television audience would quite enjoy. On a nearly two-week swing through Europe—starting at the Vatican and ending at the United Nations climate change conference in Bonn—Brown offered a bleak appraisal of the global future: We are on a trajectory toward hell. It’s a headlong rush to a very unpleasant outcome. Mankind is on the chopping block. Yet Brown dazzled. His message—the planet is burning up, and our oil-driven way of life must change—brought Vatican scientists to their feet. European parliamentarians in Brussels swooned, calling him a warrior. In Oslo, an international group of scientists paid Brown their…
01 Sep 2017
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Thanks to the work of the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy and The Living Desert, there will be no new homes nor condos built on nearly 640 unspoiled acres located off of Highway 74, in the mountains above Palm Desert. None. Shumway Ranch spreads over a considerable portion of Asbestos Mountain, and also includes large wash areas, as well as a relatively flat section, with views of Deep Canyon and the Coachella Valley floor. The area is natural habitat for the endangered peninsular desert bighorn sheep. “This is a major accomplishment for the conservancy,” said Jim Karpiak, the conservancy’s executive director. “The ranch is protected from development in perpetuity through deed restrictions in favor of the state and federal agencies that provided the funds—namely, the conservancy, the (California) Wildlife Conservation Board and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.” Not only is the land beautiful and vital habitat; the ranch has significant…
26 Jun 2017
The Salton Sea was accidentally created in 1905, and its relentless deterioration began in earnest after the area’s heyday as a resort area in the 1950s and 1960s. In the decades since, water levels have dropped precipitously, while pollution and salinization levels have skyrocketed—and as a result, the lake is a gradually evolving natural disaster in our backyard. Over the years, various scientific and political initiatives have been proposed to forestall the very real dangers posed by the degrading sea. But few, if any, of the proposed solutions have been implemented. Until now, that is. “The two-pronged approach is moving forward under the Salton Sea 10-Year Plan,” said Bruce Wilcox, the assistant secretary of Salton Sea policy at the California Natural Resources Agency. “(The first prong is) concentrating on getting some construction done out there so there’s some habitat restored, and more importantly, from a public health point of view,…

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