Archives for posts with tag: California

Green Halo - World's Biggest DumpsAfrica is home to some beautiful sites…and then there’s Agbogbloshie, Ghana. The town has one of the world’s largest dumps for discarded electronics. Millions of tons of used electronics from all over the world – including the U.S. – are sent to Africa to be re-sold or donated to charity. But much of it is broken or obsolete and winds up in Agbogbloshie. The old electronics are often smashed by scavengers looking for valuable metals inside, such as copper. Back in the U.S., the Puente Hills landfill in Los Angeles County, California, has piles of trash reaching as high as a 40-story building. The landfill, which was the largest in the country, closed this past October after more than 50 years in operation because it reached capacity – about 130 million tons of trash. The landfill will be sealed with a layer of dirt and eventually turned into a park. But the largest trash dump in the world isn’t actually on land – it’s in the Pacific Ocean. Trash thrown into the Pacific is carried by currents to an area north of Hawaii. This floating trash pile is now estimated to be larger in area than the state of Texas. Several private organizations are working to clean it up, which is difficult because of its size and remote location. The good news is that the city of Oslo, Norway has a use for some of that ocean trash: converting it to heat and electricity by burning it. The Norwegians are such good recyclers that they often run out of trash to burn and must import it from other countries. Kudos to the Norwegians for doing their part to prevent Africa – and the rest of the world – from becoming one giant trash heap.

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The country’s first all-electric school bus began transporting students to and from Kings Canyon Unified school district in central California. The new electric vehicle is a modified SST Trans Tech Bus with an electric powertrain from Motiv Power Systems. The electric bus is estimated to save the school district around 16 gallons of fuel a day, which equates to a total annual savings of $11,000. For a school district like Kings Canyon, which serves one of the largest geographical areas in California, these savings are quite significant.

Green Halo - America's First All-Electric School Bus Launches in CaliforniaThe pilot project was the result of collaboration between Motiv Power Systems and Trans Tech Bus Company and the California Air Resources Board, which contributed $400,000 cost-saving vouchers to the ambitious project. Thanks to a federal highway program, three more electric buses are on their way to the Kings Canyon district and similar programs are in the works in both Chicago and New York.

Although the initial cost of an electric bus is much higher than the traditional gas-guzzling bus, electric buses offer long term savings such as lifelong fuel and maintenance costs, not to mention the reduction of harmful greenhouse gases. According to founder and CEO of Motive Power Systems, “The buses cost about twice as much as a comparable gas bus, but cost 1/8 as much to fuel and 1/3 as much to maintain,” he said. “In the life of a school bus, 2-3 times the cost of the vehicle is spent on fuel and maintenance.”

The smaller electric buses hold up to hold 25 students and are equipped with four or five battery packs that allow for a range of 80 to 100 miles. Although the smaller buses were refitted for the pilot program, full-size electric bus fleets are also being considered for an all-electric makeover in the future.

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in Pittsburg, Calif., on Thursday, March 20, 2014.(Godofredo Vasquez/SFBay)A three-alarm fire blazed dangerously close to a power plant in Pittsburg, CA before being contained Thursday.

The fire burned 35 to 40 acres near the intersection of Willow Pass Road and West 10th Street. Reported around 3:15 p.m., fire crews remained on scene mopping up for several hours.

in Pittsburg, Calif., on Thursday, March 20, 2014.(Godofredo Vasquez/SFBay)The fire charred roughly 40 acres of grass, brush and trees according to fire Capt. Robert Marshall. A few power lines connected to the nearby NRG Energy natural gas power plant were threatened, but no structures were threatened and injuries were reported.

A CalFire helicopter dropped mud on the fire.  “It’s burning on top of the water. Fire on water,” said Contra Costa Fire Inspector George Laing. This is because of its marshland location.

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It may seem like just yesterday that the wildfires in California finally died down, but experts in the state are already worried about the upcoming fire season after a long, hot winter comes to a close. If recent weather is any indicator, the state – and the entire Western U.S. – could be in for an even hotter summer. Almost 95 percent of the state is currently in a drought even after recent rain, and after last year’s fires the budget for fighting fires has been spread thin.

Green Halo - How Will the Western U.S. Prepare for Upcoming Fire Season After Hot Winter & DroughtLast year some of the most destructive fires in California started as early as May and ended later than normal as well. Some experts expect this year to be similar in terms of length. Recent fire maps show only a small portion of the state at risk right now, but over the next few months that risk will spread to cover two-thirds of the state. What’s particularly concerning is that trends are moving in the wrong direction for fires in the west. With the wood getting drier and the weather getting hotter, fires are more likely to start and spread quickly, but there is an added danger as people continue to build more homes in forested areas.

Although fire fighters have learned to expect these sort of extreme fire seasons, their budgets haven’t kept up. Last year’s suppression budget was exceeded by about a half a billion dollars for the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior. That means little money is left over for prevention efforts, which adds another risk factor to the mix. This year lawmakers in the west are hoping to pay for fires out of the federal emergency fund, which is used for other natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes. Regardless of how it is paid for, the area is likely in for a difficult fire season.

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In a permanent extension of a 2007 law, San Francisco has made it illegal for the City to buy or distribute plastic water bottles. Bottled water contributes to massive amounts of litter and plastic waste all over the world. San Francisco has an aggressive plan to achieve zero net waste by 2020. In 2013, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors appeared ready to enact one of the strictest bans on bottled water in the nation. Days ago, the proposal became law, and plastic water bottles smaller than 21 ounces will no longer be allowed on city property starting Oct. 1, 2014.

Green Halo - San Francisco Bans Bottled Water on City PropertySan Francisco’s legislation, introduced by Supervisor David Chiu, “does not prohibit private business from trading in small plastic bottles of water.” Rather, it restricts the sale at events of more than 100 people (not including marathons and other sporting events), and on all city property and parks. San Francisco Airport will also be allowed to sell plastic bottles indefinitely.

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors supported the legislation unanimously. Prior to the vote, Chiu held up a water bottle that was a quarter of the way filled with oil. The move illustrated just how much oil is used in the production and transport of plastic water bottles.

“He also reminded San Franciscans that the current fad of buying bottled water only started in the 1990s when the bottled water industry mounted a huge ad campaign that got Americans buying bottled water,” reports the San Francisco Bay Guardian. “Somehow, Chiu noted, ‘for centuries, everybody managed to stay hydrated.’ He, and the rest of San Francisco seem confident that they can learn to do so again.

Not surprisingly, the American Beverage Association and bottled water industry were less than enthusiastic about the bottled water ban. These critics claim that banning bottled water at concerts and other large events will drive them to choose alcohol or carbonated beverages instead of healthier water.

Learn more about this new legislation here.

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A newly released NASA satellite image taken from space shows the extent of California’s worst drought since record-keeping started in 1885 and potentially the region’s driest period in 500 years. The data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites vividly displays green areas that are supposed to be white with winter snow cover and brown areas that are supposed to be green with plant growth this time of year.

Green Halo - New NASA Satellite Image Shows California DroughtThe evergreen vegetation near the Sierra Nevada mountain range is usually covered with snow in a normal year. Most of the rest of the state — from the San Joaquin Valley to San Francisco to Los Angeles and beyond shows areas suffering from drought stress or left fallow because of lack of water to grow crop seeds.

“If you showed me this image without the date, I would say, ‘This is California in early fall after a long, hot summer, before the fall and winter rains and snows arrived,’” said Bill Patzert, a climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “This is no California winter postcard.”

While recent rainfall and snowfall have brought temporary relief to parts of the state, it is not enough to mitigate the worst effects of the drought that is now in its third year. David Miskus of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center wrote that “even though this storm was welcome, the central Sierra still needs 3 to 4 more copious storms to bring this wet season close to average. Unfortunately, little to no precipitation fell on southern California and the Southwest.”

On a recent visit to California to tour the damage, President Obama pledged $183 million in federal aid and blamed the drought on climate change, saying “we’re going to have to stop looking at these disasters as something to wait for. We’re going to have to start looking at these disasters as something to prepare for.” The president added that “we have to be clear. A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, floods, are potentially going to be costlier and they’re going to be harsher.”

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Joe Del Bosque’s workers are tending irrigation lines and priming pumps for the cantaloupe season on 1,000 acres north of Mendota, California, an area bigger than Central Park. The drought gripping the most productive U.S. agricultural region may claim more than half that land.

Mendota, in Fresno County near the middle of the state, calls itself the Cantaloupe Center of the World. In the last big drought five years ago, unemployment in the town soared to almost 50 percent and the line of farm workers at the local food bank stretched for blocks. Del Bosque had to cut his payroll 30 percent, and it will probably be worse this year, he said.

“Those are wages lost,” said the 64-year-old farmer. “It’s wages lost to real people. It’s a loss of revenue into the community. That money supports families, it supports businesses. It’s a terrible effect. And I’m just one farmer, a medium-sized farmer. So if all farmers suffer the same thing, you can imagine the ripple effect throughout the community.” Green Halo - Soil Cracking in Farms due to California Drought

Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for the world’s 10th largest economy after 2013 turned into the driest year on record. President Barack Obama will visit the county today as more farmers prepare to idle thousands of acres, boosting food prices across the U.S. and leaving thousands of farm workers jobless.

Mendota is in a 200-mile zone on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley that grows about 70 percent of California’s cantaloupes. The state provides three-quarters of the cantaloupes sold in the U.S. Planting begins as early as April, with the harvest between June and October, according to the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board.

Poor, Hispanic

The city of 11,000 rises from a flat state highway that pierces farmland 230 miles north of Los Angeles. The community depends mostly on agriculture and is 97 percent Hispanic. Just one in three people graduated from high school and per-person income is about $9,000 a year, according to U.S. Census data.

Mendota already suffers from 34 percent unemployment, five times the national rate. The numbers vary seasonally, with farm workers migrating to Mendota every year from as far away as El Salvador and Oaxaca, Mexico.

“These people live week to week and if their paycheck is short by $5, they go hungry,” said Chuck Herrin who runs an employment agency that provides contract laborers to local farms. “A lot of these people, frankly, they don’t have legal status so they can’t go on unemployment.”

$122,000 Houses

A federal medium-security prison on the southwest edge of town provides some jobs outside of farming. There’s a new subdivision of modest one-story houses and apartments on the north side, and a rundown mobile home park on the west. In 2012, the median home value was $122,000, one-third of the average price in California, according to Census data. Many buildings in the seven-block downtown are older, showing their wear in broken shutters and weathered paint.

In 2009, farmers in the area got 10 percent of the federally-controlled water they requested during a milder drought. At the time, unemployment soared to almost 50 percent.

This year, no one expects any federal water.

“Without water we can’t produce,” said Bill Diedrich, a fourth-generation California farmer who grows almonds along the west side of Firebaugh, eight miles up the road from Mendota. “Without water, we don’t have jobs for folks. It’s going to be devastating.”

Small-Town Life

Sam Rubio, a 30-year-old former science teacher, is the president of the local chamber of commerce and owns a small coffee shop anchoring a one-story downtown commercial building. He sells some pastries and a place to plug in laptop computers. He offers chess boards for kids and a room where local non-profit groups can meet.

People live in the area because they are dedicated to farming and enjoy the quiet, small-town life, Rubio said. Yet more and more of them are talking about moving, he said, in search of a place where the crops are more certain.

“My worst fear is that we would have to close up shop,” Rubio said. “We’re a luxury. That’s just the truth. We are the last thing that parents are thinking about when they are thinking of providing for their children. They think the grocery store first, then gas and clothing and shoes.”

Top Producer

Fresno County supplied $6.6 billion of agricultural products in 2012, the top-producing county in the U.S. by gross value. With the drought, its farmers and ranchers are expected to fallow 250,000 acres this year, a quarter of its irrigated land and an area bigger than Manhattan, according to Ryan Jacobsen, chief executive of the Fresno County Farm Bureau. Green Halo - Empty Farmland due to California Drought State of Emergency

It’s not only the lack of rain that’s crippling farms. For years, the federal government and the state have reduced water allocation to a fraction of what is needed because of environmental laws protecting endangered fish and wildlife. As the state’s population grew to more than 38 million, few new dams and reservoirs were built to guard against dry years.

“Our farmers have been imaginative enough to maintain a good business until now,” said Steve Malanca, general manager of a John Deere (DE) farming equipment dealership in Firebaugh. “We’re going to be in some uncharted territory. With the zero allocation, I can tell you that my customers’ priority is not farm equipment. It’s water.

‘‘That translates into less sales, and not only farm equipment,” he said. “It’s farm fertilizer, farm seeds, it’s the local parts house in town, the local restaurants and the local barber. It affects us all.”

Price Spike

Ranchers and farmers who can buy water on the open market are paying as much as 10 times what it would cost in a typical wet year. Sheridan Nicholas, the water resources manager at the Wheeler Ridge-Maricopa Water Storage District near Bakersfield, bid on water that a neighboring district had put up for sale, only to find that local cattle ranchers were offering about 35 percent more, as much as $1,350 per acre-foot.

An acre-foot is the volume needed to cover an acre of land one foot deep with water and is used as a measure of large volume.

“If a state water contractor got 100 percent of their allocation, that water would typically go for about $100 an acre-foot,” Nicholas said. “It is so dry that there just isn’t enough water to buy, and that’s what made that water so valuable.”

The state saw relief last weekend as the most powerful storm to hit California in more than a year dropped several inches of rain in some spots and several feet of snow in the mountains. One reservoir rose as much as 15 feet in four days.

Northern California, where rainfall and snowmelt is collected and then fed down to cities and farms, has received just 8 inches of rain since July 1, according to the National Weather Service. That’s 14 inches below normal for Feb. 12, with more than half of the rainy season already over.

“I pray to God that we continue to get some rain,” said Mendota’s Mayor Pro Tem Joseph Amador, a retired detective who runs a local hotel. “There are some hard working people out here that want to work. They don’t need to be home stressing about what food is going to come to their table for their family tomorrow.”

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President Barack Obama called the California drought a national concern and promised millions of dollars worth of assistance to the state that provides almost half of the fruits and vegetables for the U.S.

Green Halo - President Barack Obama Visits California Farms Impacted by Drought

“What happens here matters to every working American, right down to the cost of food you put on your table,” Obama said in in the state’s fertile Central Valley, where farmers are being forced to idle thousands of acres of fields and rural towns are running short of drinking water.

Obama also linked the drought, one of the worst in California history, to climate change and said local, state and federal governments must start preparing for the impact of more extreme weather events.

“There has to be a sense of urgency about this,” he said. “This cannot be a partisan endeavor.”

The administration plans to accelerate distribution of as much as $100 million in aid to ranchers to help feed livestock and offer compensation for losses. The Agriculture Department is also making available $15 million in conservation aid for the worst drought regions in California and in five other states to reduce wind erosion on damaged fields and to improve livestock access to water.

The White House said $60 million has been made available to California food banks for families affected by the drought, and plans are under way to establish 600 summer meal sites in hard-hit regions this summer.

Climate Change

Another $5 million is being set aside to protect vulnerable soil, along with $3 million in grants to communities facing water shortages and $3 million in grants for towns facing a decline in water quality or quantity.

As part of his policy on climate change, Obama plans to ask Congress to approve a $1 billion Climate Resilience Fund in the budget plan he’ll send to lawmakers March 4 for the fiscal 2015 spending year, which begins Oct. 1.

If approved, the money would be devoted to researching the projected effect of climate change on agriculture, communities and the nation’s infrastructure, according to a White House fact sheet. If would also finance research leading to “breakthrough technologies” to help cope with climate change.

Republicans in Congress, some of whom have questioned whether the climate is warming because of human activity, have rejected many of the new spending proposals Obama has presented in past budgets.

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