Think Global, Act Local

Once again the global policy makers assigned to develop strategies to reduce our GHG emissions have failed. The degree of its failure can be noted by the several hundred environmentalists walking out on the UN climate talks. This time the discussion was about money, and who is going to pay for the disastrous storms that are just precursors of the new normal of hellish storms. Also, even voluntary limits on emissions is being wrecked and filibustered by nations refusing to reduce their fossil fuels.

Just this week the NYTs, in one day, recounted the “1000s killed, 1 million displaced by Typhoon Haiyan.”; “Apocalyptic storm floods Sardinia.”; and “In tornado’s wake, a ‘Hell of a place’”…Illinois experiences dozens of tornados, one an f-4, in November which is unheard of, 8 killed, 3000 displaced. And in Vietnam: 41 die, 80,000 displaced with severe flooding.

And the word from the scientific community is that man and the industrial revolution are responsible for a dramatically warming planet. That’s it though. Constantly you hear from spokespeople for science that no one storm can be attributed to climate change. This, while policy makers are arguing about who is going to pay for it all.

So there we have it. The planet is entering another chapter in our spiral into disastrous climate change, and the policy makers can’t make policy, and the scientific community, who have a heavy responsibility to inform. Can’t.

Perhaps a better approach would be to as the new truism says, ‘think global, act local’. And in that regard there has been great progress in Marin with Marin Clean Energy taming emissions from our power generation. But the elephant in the room, with 62% of Marin’s emissions coming from its tailpipe, is the auto.

We need to return to our past 100 years ago when electric streetcars and trains traveled all over Marin, and created the charming towns and villages that make Marin a special place. After 8 years of effort, Marin Trolleys, advocating for the Ross Valley Trolley has achieved its initial primary goal, which is a feasibility study for the first carbon free streetcar in America, and to determine ridership, costs, and potential increases in real estate in neighborhoods it serves. If the study produces a green light, the next step will be to initiate a Public Private Partnership which will fund the system for 35 years using low interest bonds. For Marin this will be a paradigm shift. Currently the bus system spends $26 million a year from taxes, state, and federal funding that is, each year, always in question, and is designed for people without cars or what is called “The Transit Dependent”. The electric streetcars will be quiet, for everyone, and will come right thru your neighborhood.

Marin Trolleys needs your political and financial support, come to our Christmas Benefit on the afternoon of December 21st in San Anselmo at Yolanda Station.

Our Changing World

For several decades I have been outspoken about the great climate catastrophe which is perched at our door. In doing so, wrote many published articles and founded Marin Trolleys, but although I knew intellectually the alarming climate science that we face, was unprepared for when the emotional realization hit me, that I was living on a dying planet. Like most of us I was in denial.

Was speaking with a friend about last year’s heat wave in Afghanistan…it got up to 115 degrees, and this year the people say it is the more normal 104 to106 degrees and they can function, whereas they couldn’t at the higher temperatures. My friend said he experienced 114 on a houseboat on Lake Shasta, and that it was so hot he couldn’t get to the blender. Now we know that is serious! That kind of heat is just not suitable for human habitation. For million and millions of years the earth was much hotter than today and it wasn’t until 2 to 3 million years ago that we got ice on the planet. Indeed there are some who say that the world had to cool down or man’s brain couldn’t come out of the chimpanzee. Recent science has confirmed the connection.

Todays NYTs comes with a more detailed view of what our future will be like. The research director at the University of Hawaii states, “the coldest year in the future will be warmer than the hottest year in the past.” He continues, “Go back in your life and think about the hottest, most traumatic heat…that will be the new norm.” And that is coming in some 25 years!! Even now we are experiencing colder summers while the rest of America heats up. This year has been a perfect year in terms of comfortable temperatures, but let us hope we have a normal winter and not a continuing drought. California history is a story of occasional long droughts, and hence we are vulnerable to even greater severity than in the past.

Do you think maybe we should make some changes? It is your car which consumes fossil fuels and subsequently poisons our atmosphere, and is by far the great culprit in our modern life with over 60% of our greenhouse gases coming from the tail pipe.

What if we could develop a transportation system that is completely free of GHG emissions and is powered by batteries and hydrogen. Marin would lead the US in running electric streetcars, which are on tracks and in the street and that are completely carbon neutral. TAM (Transportation Authority of Marin) will soon be conducting a study on the feasibility of The Ross Valley Trolley which will run from Fairfax to 4th Street in San Rafael and the SMART station and Larkspur Landing. Future lines could connect with Larkspur/Corte Madre and Mill Valley and Sausalito. Join us in changing the way we move.

Changing the Status Quo

“One day everything will be well, that is our hope. Everything’s fine today, that is our illusion”
Voltaire

It’s tough. It took us 8 years to achieve our goal of making electric streetcars as a fundable entity of the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission. All monies flow thru this agency. This is the seemingly small, and necessary first step, in bringing the necessary studies, and funding, to changing the way we move. We succeeded, only because we spent hundreds and hundreds of hours understanding our current failed transit system, how we can make it better, and presenting these ideas in public meetings to Rotaries, schools, commissions, city councils, as well as the many agencies of our local government. The first few years we were convinced that if people listened they would discover a better way to move around, and begin to halt the disastrous climb to a climatic world out of control. Then strong political players joined our group, and I learned the strange reality of it’s who, in the political hierarch you know, and what they owe you, that determines how change can happen. Many did see the value in bringing back electric streetcars to Marin, but fundamentally it was politics.

The one world we made no headway in was with youth. I am amazed at how accomplished and wise and fun young people of today are. But in going to meetings, one saw a sea of gray hairs. The few opportunities where young people were present, I found trying to engage them was most frustrating…the problem was I could never get a phone call or an email returned. And it was virtually impossible to set up a coffee. Then I learned that by me denying texting, I was denying a connection with youth.

Harold Stearns who wrote America and the Young Intellectual writes:

“Something must be radically wrong with a culture and a civilization when its youth begins to desert it. Youth is the natural time for revolt, for experiment, for a generous idealism that is eager for action. Any civilization which has the wisdom of self-preservation will allow a certain margin of freedom for the expression of this youthful mood. But the plain, unpalatable fact is that in America today that margin of freedom has been reduced to the vanishing point. Rebellious youth is not wanted here. In our environment there is nothing to challenge our young men; there is no flexibility, no colour, no possibility for adventure, no chance to shape events more generously than is permitted under the rules of highly organized looting. All our institutional life combines for the common purpose of blackjacking our youth into the acceptance of the status quo; and not acceptance of it merely, but rather its glorification.”

I am a product of the 60s. When I graduated from college the Vietnam War was raging…many of my friends were drafted, and had to fight in the jungles of Asia. In discovering the gross injustice and plain stupidity of such a war, my perspective changed from wanting to be a patriotic fighter pilot, to help organizing against the war. A new social perspective opened for me. The world then was polarized with old against young. If you wore your hair a little long or dressed differently, bus drivers would abuse you.

Today there is no draft, but if Stearns is right, that young people are denied their right to change, there would seem to be pressures developing that could cause an explosion. Or maybe not. Heard the way young people demonstrate for their goals and change is by scheduling a demonstration, and then showing up, taking photos and videos, and then going home and sharing with their peers, images of the demonstration. If you are 5 minutes late to the demonstration, you missed it. This is unfortunate, as any who aren’t into the technologies or social media of the young miss it. Could it be the young are just celebrating themselves electronically or is there a deeper message that we oldsters are missing? To a 60s progressive this would seem self indulgent and counter productive. Few will have heard about it, and no great pressure is exerted against institutions, and the status quo, that robs many from creating the economic opportunities that can lead to a prosperous and happy life. The latest is that social media giants only want people in their 20s and “natives only”…if you are 30, the belief is that you are past your prime, don’t understand the current technology, and discarded. When we were young the motto of our rebellion was don’t trust any one over 40. And as Moira Pucci, sustainability coordinator at Dominican states: “So the new motto of the young, and those that manage them, must be don’t trust anyone over 30. It seems the youth movement, if there is a collective movement, is working towards a more and more exclusive, narrow group. Because of new technologies this new generation is now faced with constant entertainment. Without time to reflect there is little time to really care, little time to become a committed activist and community member.”

How we can do it in Marin

We all know we are in trouble. The world is changing dramatically. A year ago a fungus arrived in California, and overnite, we are faced with the extinction of all the orange trees in the world. There is no cure. We can save the oranges if we adopt GMO strategies, but food companies, such as Monsanto, have irresponsibly plundered the genomes, and such approaches are now not in favor with much of the public.

The warnings are constant, with the state just releasing another report on the dire climate future of the state of California. We are becoming ingrained with concern for our children and ourselves. What can we do? Petroleum energy and products are ubiquitous in our lives, from the plastic bags at the store, to 4 dollar gas, to our food and manufacturing additives. You can recycle, but there are few other options that can compete with energy, and the products of the firepower of Big Oil.

The most significant area for Marin where we can reduce our GHGs is transportation. The auto is the only real option for getting around, and we are drowning in cars and pollution. Did you know the Bay Area Air Quality District has declared 500 feet on either side of Highway 101 to be a toxic hazard zone for children and seniors? As stated before, the automobile, with over 60 per cent of our greenhouse gases in Marin coming from the tailpipe, is poisonous, not only to the atmosphere that sustains us, but its emissions also attack our lungs with microscopic rubber, diesel, and brake pad particulates. And UCSF recently reports that nitrous oxides from motor cars is a major culprit for infants in developing asthma in later childhood. We need to find replacements that function in harmony with the workings of the natural world. And that doesn’t dramatically shorten mankind’s residency on the Earth.

There have been many boasts that fossil fuels lead the way in providing cheap and powerful energy, and that nothing can replace it…recently traveled to SFO, and as I approached, a huge jet screamed directly over me. The banshee sound was deafening. Amazing that we can harness such power. When you compare it to the output from windmills and solar power, it would appear the transition to sustainable fuels is impossible, but, oh contraire, there are even greater forces within the natural cycles of nature, and 2 miracle elements: hydrogen and carbon are the fuels the cosmos uses. Perhaps we should start partnering with the planet that has developed an enduring model. If we do so, it can be a revolution on how we produce energy and fertilizer. Don’t forget, it is natural gas that is being delivered in the mega tons to fertilize Iowa corn fields. There are fuels from our waste that can begin to replace Big Oil. Such technologies and strategies are possible in today’s world, and Marin Trolleys, in concert with the renowned Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, will be studying the possibilities of developing a pilot project for extracting hydrogen from methane at the Marin Sanitary District plants. Methane is 30 times more potent than carbon, so let’s take a significant source of GHGs, and convert it to clean fuel for our transportation needs. If we can power our streetcars from hydrogen, extracted from our methane waste, we will have made great strides in creating a sustainable world. Additionally, we can infuse the leftover carbon as a soluble nutrient into the compost from our yard and agricultural waste; we will have killer fertilized mulch. Such technologies and strategies are possible in today’s world, and can be an example for California communities

Already Orange County Sanitary, of all places, is leading the way. They have a hydrogen extraction plant, and we are also working with the company that designed and built it.

Stay tuned.

We Need to Shift Gears

This letter was posted in the IJ on August 25th, 2013.

The Aug. 15 meeting with Rep. Jared Huffman, and the big players, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Natural Resources Defense Council, about Climate Leadership, was before an overflow crowd of more than 400 people.

In the beginning, the question was asked, “Who believes we are facing a climate change crisis?”

Everyone raised their hand.

Quite unlike the meeting of 200 at the Marin Economic Forum, debating Plan Bay Area.

At that meeting only 15 of us raised our hand to support state programs designed to fight climate change.

It is well understood by scientists that we need to reduce our carbon by 80 percent, immediately, to avert a much more dynamic weather world.

A world with much greater extremes, and one that is hostile to humans and the great diversity of life that we sharewith this planet.

So what is Congress doing?

Nothing.

Congressman Huffman spoke to Congress’ inaction on anything resembling serious legislation on climate. He said the Republicans are preoccupied with naming the U.S. territorial waters “The Reagan Ocean.”

He joked, “Why stop there, let’s rename the whole earth “The Reagan.”

That brought some laughs.

The solutions brought forth are all good, but in my view, didn’t really reflect the urgency of the situation. We need to get out of the petroleum age, develop transit, such as electric streetcars, that will be used, as well as developing much greater power from renewables and waste.

Neomedievalism

Parag Khanna of the New American Foundation states the world is fragmenting, badly, and to gird yourself for a new dark age. He says, “Many see the global economic crisis as proof that we live in one world. But as countries stumble to right the corporate masters of the universe, they are driving us right back to a future that looks like nothing more than a new Middle Ages.”

It was a period of one thousand years of conflict with city states rivaling governments. Add extreme climate change into the mix, and one is going to have a hell of a world.

Indeed our nation is going to have many diverse challenges, and with Obama as a placeholder president, and with the Republicans only loyal to each other, oblivious to reality, and attempting to achieve that long lost dream of Southerners: “The South shall rise again!” This time they got the Midwest too. When you control the State legislatures, and are smiled upon by the Supreme Court, who needs the federal government. Lets just destroy it. Unfortunately the Midwest, like much of the country, will see its agriculture hit by ever more severe heat waves as well as drought and flooding. The recent 10 years of such events are prelude to even more extremes. Perhaps they can ask the new confederacy to bail them out.

Fortunately the San Francisco Bay Area’s weather has remained fairly normal, and with a Mediterranean type climate we have, in the main, escaped from such extremes. Our region is right at the balance where wet and dry regimes alternate. Looking ahead the region will be experiencing great changes with the oceans in a staring role, and we are right in its gun sights. There has been periods in the far past, where the earth approached temperatures that are in our future. The highest ocean rise during that period was 60 feet. Sixty million years ago, at a time when the ice caps were very small, the ocean would have covered the roadbed of the Golden Gate Bridge, over 300 feet up from present day The primary difference between then and now was that, before it took many millenniums for these changes to occur in the atmosphere, and we, industrial man, have loaded it all up in just 150 years. The planet has never experienced anything like this, and all bets are off as to the pending impacts.

So this is the framework the Bay Area faces. It is one of “the 40 city-regions, which account for two thirds of the world economy, and 90% of its innovation”. To bring our living patterns in concert with Mother Nature, and remain a prosperous region, we need to start making changes now. Besides moving up, away from rising seas, we need to transition out of a fossil fuel based world immediately, as there will be a great reduction of the oil tankers traveling through the Golden Gate. And with gas at 8 bucks, it will be precious indeed. And it is also about becoming self sufficient, and there are ways to do so by mimicking nature’s processes.

With the auto producing 2/3rds of CO2 here in Marin, this should be our number one priority in developing new fuels for new modes of transportation. A second area of concern is the methane out gassing from our sewer plants. Have heard it said some sewer plants rival coal plants in Green House Gas emissions. The recent inventions and processes turning our wastes into fuels are groundbreaking, and coupled with new fuel cell technologies, make sense economically, and can reverse the disastrous climate change we face.

NEXT WEEK: How we can do it in Marin!

Marin Voice

The Greek island of Ikaria has been in the news lately. The article in the NYTs was most tweeted for 2012, and is called the place “Where people forget to die”, due to the extraordinary longevity of its residents. The island people have a plant based diet, accompanied by lots of wine and social engagement. They also have no alarm clocks; take long lunch breaks and daily naps. Their lives are relatively carefree and one author noted,”The island people are amazingly relaxed, and filled with the pleasures of family and friends”.

We in Marin also have, in the main, a good life. However, it is considerably more amped up here. Many families face an intense and fast paced life combining career and children. It is a life filled with the full spectrum of responsibilities…big as in money, and seemingly little as in driving a car. It would seem that if we can find ways to bring us a more relaxing experience, then we should value ourselves by endorsing it. Unfortunately banks aren’t getting kinder, and work has its demands. In this hectic American life there are not too many areas that we can transform to where we can feel less responsible, and more relaxed. Transportation is one.

Bringing back the electric streetcars to Marin that were taken out in the 40s is a calming way that we can transform the way we move. The car dominates our lives. Recently I got a traffic ticket, and took an online traffic school course. It took a day to read through all the responsibilities that you, the driver, have. It is daunting, and many try to relax after a hard day at the office by driving home.

When Marin was settled people got around on rail, and electric and steam was what propelled them. The villages of Marin are there because rail visited each town. One hundred years ago we had the most innovative electric streetcar system in the nation. Today everything is based upon the car, and we are drowning in cars and pollution. Did you know the Bay Area Air Quality District has declared 500 feet on either side of Highway 101 to be a toxic hazard zone for children and seniors? Indeed the automobile, with sixty per cent of our greenhouse gases in Marin coming from the tailpipe, is poisonous, not only to the atmosphere that sustains us, but its emissions also attack our lungs with microscopic rubber and diesel and brake pad particulates. And UCSF recently reports that nitrous oxides from motor cars is a major culprit for infants in developing asthma in later childhood.

Ding Ding goes the trolley in Ross Valley. Later this year the county and cities of Marin will be examining the possibility of whether to lay tracks for a carbon neutral electric streetcar that will travel from Fairfax to the train in San Rafael. With a new light rail system being built we are bringing back a wonderful way to travel between the two counties, but it is important to have connectivity once you arrive or depart from a station.

The Ross Valley Trolley is all about connectivity. Marin’s communities were once all connected by rail. We can do it again. This is a natural system where eventually 3/4s of urban Marin will be within ½ mile of a trolley stop, and where all day and evening a trolley will be coming down near your street every 20 minutes. Revive this beloved community institution, and let someone else do the driving.

Notes from The Marin Economic’s Forum’s debate about the One Bay Area Plan

Last week I attended The Marin Economic’s Forum’s debate about the One Bay Area Plan. I was one of the 18 that raised their hand in support of the programs, and was opposed by over 200 who didn’t.

They had a good time. Laughter rung the chambers…the two gentlemen who spoke to the comfort of our life with the auto and our single family homes were clever, and raised questions about a number of concerns, starting with global warming. In terms of that, they said our greenhouse gas emissions are decreasing because of new fuel standards. And they are decreasing to 1990 standards. Everyone was so relieved to hear that. They also showed the future in transportation. It is the driverless car. You can tell your car to take you to work, and you can be in the back seat, and working on your computer. When it arrives at your work place, you get out and tell it to go find a place to park. When you are ready to go home, it picks you up at the front door. You could even put your dog in the car, and it can go to the vet without you! That got laughter, and some serious applause.

And the Plan’s proposed great small urban mixed use spaces, that can mimic neighborhoods of Paris, and are possible to create when the auto isn’t a player, was reduced to ‘stack and pack’. Transit was ridiculed as a failed and expensive boondoggle. And when it came to the plan they were told to just say No! No! No!

Marin Supervisor Steve Kinsey was great. He represented our side clearly and gracefully. They weren’t buying, and as things devolved, pretty intense jeering filled the chamber. This crowd deeply believes these policies are insane, and filled with bureaucratic bloat and control.

They choose to ignore the 500 scientists from Berkeley and Stanford that have recently warned us of pending catastrophic climate change. Unfortunately, contrary to the ‘feel good speakers’, Marin plays a significant role as our carbon footprint is higher than the national average, and 2/3rds of it emanate from the tail pipe. They choose to ignore Napa Supervisor Mark Luce saying this is state law, and if you don’t adopt a plan the state will do it for you. They choose to ignore the discussion of the ageing community’s lack of transportation as well as housing. Immigration got the biggest rise of all. The example of the crime filled emigrant ghettos of France and Sweden was raised by the two ‘everything is fine’ advocates, and this was not something we wished to have happen here. As a result racism reared it ugly head, and was completely rejected, yet the European models remained in our minds.

The meeting didn’t reflect a nationwide survey from the Urban Land Institute which highlights the big demand for transit oriented development. The survey suggests that demand will continue to rise for infill residential development that is less car-dependent, while demand could wane for isolated development in outlying suburbs.

The survey found that among all respondents, 61 percent said they would prefer a smaller home with a shorter commute over a larger home with longer commute. 53% want to live close to shopping; 52% would prefer to live in mixed-income housing and 51% wants access to public transportation.

As the experience, thankfully, was ending, Kinsey again expressed they weren’t giving up local control and no city or the county was compelled to do anything the plan advocated.
Few listened.