Posts Tagged ‘california’

Has Radiation from Fukushima Daiichi Come to the U.S.?

February 3rd, 2014

California Coast

In early January 2014, the West Coast of the U.S. found itself wondering if radiation from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster had reached unhealthy levels on its beaches.  A Spanish think tank, the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Physics and Complex Systems, published a report claiming that a radioactive plume would reach the shores of the western U.S. by 2014.  The scare was furthered by a viral video in which a man walked along Northern California beaches with a Geiger counter reading “alert” levels.  People of the internet seized these reports and flew into a tizzy about unsafe radiation levels in the U.S.

Scientists and local governments were quick to refute these stories and put minds at ease.  The California Department of Public Health stated, “There [was] no risk at California beaches due to radioactivity related to the events at Fukushima.”  Scientists from UC Santa Cruz and Stony Brook University in New York reported that only low levels of radiation had reached the West Coast from the Fukushima disaster two years ago and have been declining ever since.  They were quick to point out that the radiation levels were well below those considered unsafe for human health, seafood, or wildlife; and that the levels of radiation are currently trivial when compared with those that already exist in nature.

Even with these governmental and scientific assertions, some companies have taken extra steps to reassure their customers.  After facing pressure from their customers, Loki Fish Co in Seattle, WA decided to test the radiation levels of its North Pacific Salmon.  After testing seven batches, they found that five showed no sign of elevated radiation levels and two showed levels well below those considered unsafe for consumption.  Also, a new project started by Ken Buesseler of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute has launched a new project called ourradioactiveocean.com that will allow people to send in radiation sample information from sites along the Pacific coast.  This new project complements the ongoing efforts of SafeCast.org, which created mini Geiger counters that are used in Japan and globally to map radiation levels.

While there is no evidence of increased radiation from Fukushima on the West Coast of the U.S yet, the monitoring effort should continue for the foreseeable future.  According to the IAEA report of January 2014, “TEPCO should prepare appropriate safety and environmental impact assessments [on water contamination]” and The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) “should enhance the seawater monitoring program by coordinating inter-laboratory comparisons to ensure good harmonization of environmental data.”  These efforts, along with the new studies of ocean radiation levels, should mitigate fears over the spread of Fukushima Daiichi radiation.

From the Field: EcoFarm 2014

February 3rd, 2014
Photo by Deborah Luhrman.

Photo by Deborah Luhrman.

 

In the midst of a severe statewide drought, there are few timelier topics than the future of food. California’s farms are at the forefront of the movement to improve the ecological performance of our food systems as farms inevitably bear the brunt of climate change, soil degradation, and fresh water shortages. Fortunately, the EcoFarm 2014 conference, hosted by the Ecological Farming Association, is leading the discussion on how to ensure that food is both available and affordable, while maintaining and improving the ecological health of farmlands.

Walking into the conference venue, the beautiful Asilomar conference complex in Pacific Grove, was itself an amazing experience. Wooden boardwalks and sandy paths wound between buildings and under live oaks and fir trees. Ocean aromas drifted in with the mist from the beach just over the dunes, and in the social hall, a roaring fire blazed while attendees met and conversed around it, or on the shady patio outside. The setting was the perfect platform to connect, collaborate, and inspire.

The participants ranged across the board, from industry to academia: new, young farmers; seasoned growers; researchers at academic institutions; and grocers dedicated to carrying the most responsible products on their shelves. Throughout the several days of the conference, the sessions covered a wide variety of topics – promising business models, policy updates, permaculture theory and practice, livestock management –  but all with a common thread. Every session included clear and actionable information that can help improve the ecological and ethical performance of California’s and the world’s food production and distribution systems.

Global Green USA primarily focuses on the urban environment and resource flow systems, which is closely linked to the practices of farming in rural areas. Farmers’ business models and growing practices affect food availability for the urban poor. Zoning code allowances for food consolidation and transportation to restaurants and delis affect the prices farmers receive for their goods. The packaging bought and used by farmers affect the grocers’ garbage bills. Finding and documenting ways by which our food systems can be made more efficient – and the people involved at each point more healthy and prosperous – is what Global Green is all about.

EcoFarm 2014 was the perfect crash course in the latest insights into the theory, obstacles, constraints, and opportunities present today in our food systems. I look forward to integrating what I learned at the conference into our on-the-ground projects, and attending their next conference in 2015.

For more field updates and news from Lily Kelly, follow her on Twitter @LilyKellyGG.

2014 California Budget A Win for the Environment and Disadvantaged Communities

January 10th, 2014
Photo by Steve Rhodes

Photo by Steve Rhodes

 

California Governor Jerry Brown released his budget this week, and we are encouraged to see some good news for the environment.  The plan includes details on expenditures for revenue generated under California’s cap-and-trade program—the program that was designed to reduce carbon emissions via California’s global warming law, AB 32.  The bulk of the money goes towards transportation (most significantly to high-speed rail), as well as additional funding for clean energy, energy efficiency, and natural resource and waste diversion.

Overall, Governor Brown plans to spend the cap-and-trade proceeds (about $850 million) on clean energy investments meant to combat global warming. $225 million of this money will go to clean energy solutions for disadvantaged communities, a move in line with the goals of Senate Bill 535 (de Leon).  The de Leon legislation was conceptualized by Global Green in 2007 just after AB 32 was adopted.  We recognized that it was critical early on to establish a place holder for revenue allocation to California’s most disadvantaged communities from whatever revenue raising mechanism was adopted by the CA Air Resources Board.  Senator de Leon agreed, and along with a strong coalition of environmental groups and others, carried this concept over the finish line successfully by convincing the legislature and the Governor to sign this bill into law in 2012.

SB 535 builds on Global Green’s earlier work to incorporate language in AB 32 that ensured that low-income communities would benefit from the greenhouse gas reduction plan established by the State.  We championed the so-called “Community Empowerment” amendment language in Section 38565 of the legislation with the intent of providing a method for low- and moderate-income communities to directly participate in and benefit from their actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

SB 535 requires 10% of the funds to go to projects in disadvantaged communities and 25% towards projects that benefit those same communities. Some of the money targeted at disadvantaged communities includes $80 million for energy upgrades and weatherization measures in low-income homes, through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. It also includes investments in clean transportation and transit-oriented development (with $200 million invested in low carbon transportation), another welcome measure as low-income populations are disproportionally affected by dirty freight equipment and vehicle emissions. These investments should improve air and water quality, and create jobs. It will be important to follow these funds and track the benefits afforded to these communities.

Also part of the budget plan is a commitment from Governor Brown to pay back $100 million of the $500 million he previously borrowed from the cap-and-trade revenue funds. This is welcome news, as in May 2013, Global Green and other environmental groups balked when the Governor announced he would take $500 million in cap-and-trade revenue dollars, meant to be invested in greenhouse gas reduction policies, and put it into the general fund. The Governor promises to pay back the remaining $400 million within the next few years. While this is a good start, it is critical that a concrete plan and timeline to pay back the outstanding funds be developed.

Other environmental issues addressed with the cap-and-trade revenues in the budget include investments in sustainable communities ($100M), green State buildings ($20M), agricultural efficiency ($20M), wetlands restoration ($30M), fire prevention and urban forestry ($50), and waste diversion ($30). We applaud the Governor for committing a significant portion of money to programs that support clean energy, energy efficiency, increased bicycle transportation, and support for disadvantaged communities.

Green Building Win for California

May 31st, 2012

solar_panel_roof_installWe heard great news for green building today: the California Energy Commission approved energy efficiency standards for new homes and commercial buildings. Beginning in January 2014, building energy efficiency standards will be 25 percent more efficient than current standards for residential construction and 30 percent better for nonresidential construction.

Long-term win: homeowners will save thousands on gas and electricity costs over time. Short-term win: this move is expected to create an estimated 3,500 building jobs in its first year of implementation.

“California is again at the forefront of the fight to stem climate change and Global Green supported this effort by the CEC to strengthen building codes for new construction,” said Mary Lueveno, director of our Policy and Legislative Affairs department. “We are also leading the charge to ensure that our existing buildings are as energy efficient as possible through the implementation of the Energy Efficiency in Existing Buildings Law (AB 758) at the CEC.”

Field Report: Municipal Green Building Conference

April 26th, 2012

walker_speakingTwo Global Green staffers will be speaking today at the 11th Annual Municipal Green Building Conference & Expo in Los Angeles.

Green Urbanism Program director Walker Wells is participating in the “Green + Affordable = Sustainable Housing” to discuss our work in Los Angeles on  low-income housing and community projects.

Later in the day, Policy Associate Gina Goodhill will be giving a presentation on AB 758, California’s comprehensive energy efficiency in existing buildings law and how it will affect municipalities across California. We sponsored the ground-breaking bill, which was signed into law in 2009, to require upgrades to existing buildings.

What He Said: Jerry Brown on Green Jobs

January 18th, 2012

“In the beginning of the computer industry, jobs were numbered in the thousands. Now they are in the millions. The same thing will happen with green jobs. And California is positioned perfectly to reap the economic benefits that will inevitably flow.” — California Governor Jerry Brown in his state of the state speech

From the Field: Grays in San Bruno

August 3rd, 2011

blog_san_bruno_sign_graysWhile in San Bruno, California, recently to visit the neighborhood rocked by last September’s tragic gas pipeline explosion, we had to chance to speak with Carolyn and Charlie Gray, home owners who are rebuilding green with architect Mike Hilliard (Hilliard Architects). Hilliard is a LEED AP who knew the Gray family and encouraged them to rebuild green — something we are also actively seeking to do as well with other residents faced with rebuilding. The deadly explosion affected more than 300 homes, some completely destroyed and others minimally damaged, and we are making progress with our efforts to provide guidance and assistance in rebuilding green. We’ll post updates as we make more progress….

What He Said: Jerry Brown on Alternative Energy

July 27th, 2011

“The future of energy is not Texas oil — it’s California sun.” — California Governor Jerry Brown on his Twitter feed.

From the Field: Follow That Box to the Salinas Valley

July 27th, 2011

blog_broccoli_fieldStanding in a windy field of broccoli, on a pancake-flat valley with greens stretching all the way to the hazy mountains in the distance, it was abundantly clear to me why they call the Salinas Valley the “Salad Bowl of the World.” Located two hours south and inland from San Francisco, Salinas is the heart of leafy green production in the United States. If it just so happens that you’re looking for produce that has to be packed cold in a water-resistant box before being shipped thousands of miles, this is the place to be.

For the second installment of our “Follow That Box” tour series, we brought eight members of our Global Green USA Coalition for Resource Recovery (CoRR) team to this small farming city to meet with farmers, box makers, and cooling facility managers and discuss how to replace the wax-coated box. Every year, 1.36 million tons of cardboard are buried in landfills because their wax coating renders them unrecyclable (source: the EPA’s 2009 Municipal Solid Waste Facts and Figures and the Fibre Box Association’s estimate that 5% of corrugated boxes disposed in the U.S. are wax-coated.) One of our key goals with this CoRR project is to help find replacement coatings that can be recycled with normal, uncoated boxes. The big challenge is to find a recyclable coating that is strong enough to keep the box intact, even when it is full of melting ice and under hundreds of pounds of weight for days at a time during shipping. As you can imagine, this is no simple task.

blog_ice_injectionDuring the trip, we visited eight locations in two days, including four farms, two box manufacturing facilities, and a commercial cooling operation. Everywhere we went, we spoke with people who were excited to see the wax coating replaced with a low-cost replacement that’s just as strong. For growers who purchase millions of boxes each year, even a penny more in the price is too much. And given the distance traveled — from a Salinas field to a New York deli , for instance — the boxes need to be robust.

Here are a few of the key facts we gathered from our conversations in the Salad Bowl:

1) Wax is expensive. Both growers and box makers said that they were interested in wax alternatives for recycling purposes, but also because they would like a cheaper alternative. One box maker said that the price of the wax coating fluctuates extensively and currently costs the company about 90 cents per pound. Some of the boxes we saw contained about a pound of wax each, which means that about 90 cents of the price of each of those boxes went to pay for the coating alone. For a box that sells for only a couple of dollars, that is a major cost to the manufacturer.

2) Shortening the “cut-to-cool” time can reduce the need for ice-packing the produce. Simply put, getting freshly cut vegetables into a cooler faster will prevent the need to ice and re-ice the produce, which would help maintain box strength. One cooling facility developed a portable cooling trailer to take out to the field for cooling the freshly harvested produce via “forced air,” which doesn’t wet the boxes. This method increases shelf life, saves energy, and could potentially reduce the need to ice produce at all.

3) Grocery stores and food distributors make a lot of the key decisions related to cooling and transporting produce. Farmers want to meet the needs of customers; if the grocery store wants the produce packed in ice, or in a plastic carton, or in a recyclable box, the farmers do their best to make it happen. For us, this means that one of our next steps will be to reach out to retailers and get them excited about replacing wax boxes with recyclable alternatives.

The good news here is our CoRR members are making incredible progress developing recyclable wax alternatives. In particular, we got to see International Paper’s wax alternative box for broccoli as it went through the ice injection facility — having a frigid, watery slurry forced into every nook and cranny and surviving the process with as much aplomb as a box can muster. But that’s another story for another post. Stay tuned…