Category Archives: Books/Articles

Broadcast TV News Guts Climate Change Coverage, Study Finds

A new study on Media Matters reminds us of the dismal ratings–and coverage–of climate change issues on broadcast TV news.

Here’s a clip:

In 2016, evening newscasts and Sunday shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as Fox Broadcast Co.’s Fox News Sunday, collectively decreased their total coverage of climate change by 66 percent compared to 2015, even though there were a host of important climate-related stories, including the announcement of 2015 as the hottest year on record, the signing of the Paris climate agreement, and numerous climate-related extreme weather events. There were also two presidential candidates to cover, and they held diametrically opposed positions on the Clean Power Plan, the Paris climate agreement, and even on whether climate change is a real, human-caused phenomenon. Apart from PBS, the networks also failed to devote significant coverage to climate-related policies, but they still found the time to uncritically air climate denial — the majority of which came from now-President Donald Trump and his team.

Upcoming Interviews – Charles Truong

As mentioned in one of my previous posts, I will be using hip hop dance as a catalyst for discussing human dependence on coal. I have scheduled an interview with Rebekah Kowal, Chair of the University of Iowa’s Dance Department, for March 23rd at 10:30am.

I decided to interview Professor Kowal because she is not only a dance professor, but a historian and researcher. You can find a feature of Professor Kowal on the University’s Research and Economic Development page here.

I will also be interviewing Jeff Chang, an infamous Asian American writer who has written about hip hop culture and its relation to social justice. I believe that both Professor Kowal and Jeff Chang are individuals that have made remarkable contributions to their fields and it is incredibly humbling to be able to speak with them soon.

Study on Trash, Methane, Climate Change

Last year, Time Magazine featured a story on a new study out of Yale, published in the Nature Climate Change journal, that looked at the role of our trash, landfills and the impact of methane on climate change.

Here’s a clip:

The higher numbers are especially significant because trash in landfills releases methane gas, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that landfills are the third-leading cause of methane emissions in the U.S. Nearly a fifth of of methane emissions come from landfills. Landfills utilize methane gas collection technology, but researchers say that methods should be improved at open landfill sites.

“We’ve got a lot of waste going into landfills, more than what’s been reported before,” said Powell. “What that means for the long term is that we’re going to have greater emissions.”

Read More: EPA Proposes New Rules to Cut Climate Change-Causing Methane Emissions

Methane is the second most prevalent gas emitted by human activity following carbon dioxide. And, while Americans emit significantly less methane than carbon dioxide, methane emissions are 25 times more damaging to the environment, pound for pound, than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.

How San Francisco Does Zero Waste

From the San Francisco Environmental Department:

What is Zero Waste?

Zero waste means products are designed and used according to the waste reduction hierarchy (prevent waste, reduce and reuse first, then recycle and compost) and the principle of highest and best use, so no material goes to landfill or high-temperature destruction.
Is zero waste possible?

We believe achieving zero waste is possible. In San Francisco, over half of what still goes in the landfill bins can be recycled in the blue bin or composted in the green bin. When all material is sent to the correct bins, San Francisco’s diversion rate can increase from 80 percent to 90 percent.

To achieve 100 percent zero waste, the San Francisco Department of the Environment will need to continue to advocate for state legislation and partner with producers to develop an extended producer responsibility system, where producers design better products and take responsibility for the entire life-cycle of a product, including take-back and recycling.

In addition, the San Francisco Department of the Environment encourages consumer responsibility, where residents reuse items and purchase materials with recycled content and that can be recycled or composted. The Department of the Environment continues conducting outreach and education to increase awareness about reducing, reusing, and recycling and composting.

What are some of the top items residents often put in the wrong bin?

1. Soiled paper (used paper napkins or used tissue paper). Soiled paper is often thrown in the blue recycling bin because residents think all paper is recyclable. Soiled paper should go in the green compost bin.
2. Plastic bags. Some people collect their recyclables or compostables in plastic bags and toss the whole bag in the green or blue bin. Plastic bags are not compostable or recyclable in San Francisco’s three bin system. Compostable containers for collecting food scraps include paper bags, empty wax milk cartons, or readily available compostable plastic bags.
3. To-go containers. Residents may leave large amounts of food in to-go/delivery containers (plastic clamshell containers or aluminum foil) and place these containers in the blue recycling bin or the green compost bin. The correct way is to remove and compost any leftover food and then recycle or compost the container.
4. To-go coffee cups. Paper coffee cups are often found in the recycling bin. The correct way is to put the coffee lid and sleeve into the blue recycling bin and the cup itself in the green compost bin.

For the most part, residents in San Francisco know the basics of sorting their trash and the Department of the Environment continues outreach efforts to spread awareness about which items go in each bin.

What are the biggest barriers the City faces with regards to zero waste?

Trash chutes: Because more than half of the city lives in apartments, those with trash chutes pose a big challenge. Apartment dwellers must walk recyclables and compostables down to the basement or garage. However, City policy now requires new apartments to provide 3 separate chutes or a 3-way chute diverter to accommodate recycling, composting, and landfill material. The Department encourages property managers to close chutes, but they are often reluctant to do so for fear of “decreasing services.”

Fear of smells or insects: Another challenge is encouraging residents and businesses to overcome fear that composting food scraps will attract insects or smell bad. People can use compostable bags (certified compostable plastics, or paper) or another compostable container such as a milk carton to keep bins clean. That “smelly” food is the same refuse as before, just grouped in its own bin.

What prompted San Francisco to push for zero waste?

After San Francisco successfully achieved the state-mandated 50% landfill diversion by 2000, San Francisco wanted to extend its commitment to landfill diversion and set a goal of 75% diversion by 2010 and zero waste by 2020. Increasing diversion and pursuing zero waste achieves three key sustainability goals:

1) Conserves valuable resources
2) Reduces environmental impacts, such as climate change and pollution
3) Creates green jobs

When materials are not reused or recycled and sent to the landfill, valuable resources are wasted and greenhouse gasses are emitted into the atmosphere. Compostable materials, like food scraps and yard trimmings that are sent to landfills produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas which is up to 72 times more potent than carbon dioxide. San Francisco’s Zero Waste program significantly reduces these emissions, making it an essential component in achieving the City’s ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals.

In addition, recycling and composting greatly increase the amount of recyclable materials available to make new products, reducing the need to extract more virgin materials. Food scraps create nutrient-rich compost – a natural fertilizer – to help grow fruits and vegetables in local farms. Compost also helps farms retain water, a precious resource.

San Francisco’s zero waste program benefits the economy, as composting and recycling save residents and businesses money and create green jobs (PDF).

What is the role of San Francisco City Departments in achieving zero waste?

The San Francisco Department of the Environment and the San Francisco Department of Public Works partner with Recology, the city’s refuse hauler, to move towards the City’s zero waste goal.

The Department of the Environment creates zero waste policies and works with Recology to develop programs and technologies that reduce the amount of material sent to landfill. The Department of the Environment is responsible for program outreach, education, and policy compliance. Residents and businesses participate in the City’s programs with tools like an online recycling database, and color-coded signage. In addition, on-site multi-lingual training is available for businesses and apartment buildings.

The Department of Public Works oversees the refuse rate setting process and helps set residential and commercial rates. The Department of Public Works, along with the Department of Public Health, are also responsible for enforcing adequate refuse service laws.

How does the City encourage recycling, composting and other waste reduction strategies to accomplish zero waste?

The City of San Francisco has adopted a variety of policies which have helped the city move toward accomplishing the goal of zero waste. Most important to the City’s success is the Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance, which went into effect on October 21, 2009. It requires San Francisco residents and businesses to properly sort recyclables from compostables and keep them out of the trash to landfill and place them in the proper collection containers. The Department of the Environment’s Environment Now team conducts extensive, multilingual and door-to-door outreach to residents and businesses and also checks residential curbside bins throughout the city. If materials are found in the incorrect bin, a tag is posted on the resident’s bin that indicates the correct bin. The team returns the following week to ensure that the error was corrected. The team also visits residents to answer questions about recycling and composting.

The Department of the Environment staff work with Recology, the city’s hauler, to ensure that businesses have composting and recycling bins. If they do not, the Department sends them a letter advising them to order composting and recycling service. The Department of the Environment then follows up in person to ensure compliance.

In addition, the Department of the Environment launched RecycleWhere, a recycling database for residents and businesses to find information on how to recycle almost anything in San Francisco. The Signmaker tool is another resource for residents and businesses to make their own recycle, compost, and landfill signs.

The Department of the Environment prioritizes education and outreach to encourage compliance, rather than impose fines. Face-to-face outreach has proven effective in helping residents and businesses become compliant with laws. However, the City can impose fines to repeat offenders.

The Department of the Environment, which works with businesses and residents all over San Francisco, has found that the community continues to be very positive and supportive of the City’s zero waste goals. San Francisco residents take great pride in their city and are passionate about taking care of it. This attitude has helped integrate sustainability into San Francisco’s culture.

What is the “Fantastic Three” program?

The Fantastic Three program is a term sometimes used to refer to San Francisco’s easy-to-use three bin system. Each resident and business has three bins:

Blue bin for recyclables
Green bin for compostables
Black bin for landfill-bound material

How much do San Francisco residents pay for refuse collection?

Under the City Rate Order, the charge for residential customers subscribing to weekly collection of 32-gallon black, blue and green bins totals $35.18 per month. That rate has four components: a $5.16 base charge per dwelling unit, $25.90 for a 32-gallon trash bin, $2.06 for a 32-gallon recycling bin, and $2.06 for a 32-gallon composting bin.

On the other hand, if a household switches from a 32-gallon to a smaller 20-gallon black trash bin, their monthly rate will decrease as an incentive for residents to recycle and compost more to support the City’s goal of achieving zero waste by 2020.
What are the costs associated with the city’s Zero Waste program?

San Francisco’s zero waste program is funded solely from revenue generated through refuse rates charged to customers. This revenue sustains material collection, processing, disposal, hazardous waste collections, all outreach and marketing materials, as well as some programs within the Department of the Environment and the Department of Public Works.

The cost of collecting compostables, recyclables, and landfill-bound materials is about the same. While maybe more expensive to process, recyclables are baled and sold to their respective markets and the compostables are processed and transformed into nutrient-rich compost, which is sold to local farms. Landfill-bound materials are processed less but are charged by weight and dumped in the landfill with no return on investment.

Has the program been successful?

San Francisco has a world-class zero waste program. The City’s 3 bin system, policies, financial incentives, and extensive outreach to residents and businesses, helped San Francisco achieve the highest diversion rate of any major city in North America. San Francisco diverts 80% (1,593,830 tons diverted in 2010) of its discards from the landfill.

Do zero waste policies create jobs?

• According to the Blue Green Alliance, 1.1 million new jobs would be created if the US diverted 75% from landfill (PDF).
• Recology has 1,050 employees in San Francisco alone (this doesn’t count San Francisco corporate or operations outside of San Francisco like the composting facilities).
• The Department of the Environment has a green jobs and environmental careers program that employs local residents from the city’s diverse communities, who educate and inform residents and businesses about zero waste and Department of the Environment programs.
Are there any best practices San Francisco uses for implementing its zero waste strategy?

• A convenient, easy-to-use three bin system
• Economic incentives for residents and businesses to recycle and compost
• Policies that promote zero waste goals
• Extensive outreach and education to residents and businesses about recycling and composting

How is the landfill diversion rate calculated?

The Department of Environment calculates the city’s diversion rate using a State of California methodology established for all cities and counties.

San Francisco’s methodology for calculating diversion rate is based on the state of California’s diversion calculator.

Why is there no competitive bidding for Recology’s contract with the City?

The Refuse Collection and Disposal Ordinance adopted in 1932 established a system operated by collection companies that hold exclusive permits to collect refuse in the streets of San Francisco. This ordinance created a City-regulated utility model and outlines a provision of service most recently ratified by San Francisco voters in June of 2012. At this time, Recology is the sole holder of all permits to collect refuse.
What is the compost process at Recology’s composting facilities?

After compostables are collected, they are sent to a nearby compost facility, they are:

1. Screened for plastics, glass, and other non-compostable items
2. Ground to facilitate the micro-organisms in breaking down the material
3. Processed into rows in a 2-stage system: first covered, then in open rows, and finally cured for the ideal final product.
4. The finished product is screened and marketed to local farmers.

Are any materials incinerated?

The City and County of San Francisco and the Department of the Environment do not support incineration of municipal solid waste or any form of high temperature materials destruction.
What is San Francisco’s remaining landfill capacity?

As of March 2013, San Francisco’s remaining landfill capacity at Altamont Landfill was about 1 million tons out of the original 15 million ton capacity. At current disposal rates, San Francisco’s available landfill space under the existing contract will run out in January 2016.

Could other cities emulate San Francisco? Have they?

Department of the Environment staff often consult with other cities to share best practices. San Francisco was the first city in the nation to establish a large scale food collection composting program starting in the 1990s and in 2009 implemented a policy of mandatory recycling and composting (including food) for both residents and businesses. Hundreds of cities around the US, including most of the San Francisco Bay Area, are establishing food composting programs and many are interested in San Francisco’s mandatory policy as well.
In addition, San Francisco was the first in the nation to ban single use plastic checkout bags in 2007. Already, over 75 California cities and counties have followed San Francisco’s lead.

Does San Francisco count any landfilled material as diversion?

State law allows materials used as Alternative Daily Cover (ADC) at landfills to count as diversion. ADC is used as a protective cover of daily landfilled material and can offset the use of valuable soil as cover. San Francisco only counts ADC as diversion if there is no higher or better use for that material. If San Francisco did not count ADC for any diversion credit then it would reduce the city’s diversion rate by 1.5%.

Material used as ADC that is counted as diversion for San Francisco includes leftover compostable material that is too contaminated with non-compostable material to be used as compost. Food scraps break down completely in the process and therefore no food scraps end up as ADC. If there were no contaminants (non-compostables) put in green bins then there would not be any ADC from processing the green bin. The only other materials used as ADC that get diversion credit are fine particles from processing mixed construction and demolition debris that have no other viable use.
How much ADC material over the past few years does San Francisco send to the landfill that is counted as diverted/recycled?

About 30,000 tons per year is counted as diverted under California law.

Uncharted Territory: WHO Warns on Climate Change

The Guardian reported on the World Health Organization’s report recent assessment of record temperatures in 2016 and implications for the future. “Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory,” said David Carlson, director of the WMO’s world climate research programme.

Here’s a clip:

2016 saw the hottest global average among thermometer measurements stretching back to 1880. But scientific research indicates the world was last this warm about 115,000 years ago and that the planet has not experienced such high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for 4m years.

2017 has seen temperature records continue to tumble, in the US where February was exceptionally warm, and in Australia, where prolonged and extreme heat struck many states. The consequences have been particularly stark at the poles.

“Arctic ice conditions have been tracking at record low conditions since October, persisting for six consecutive months, something not seen before in the [four-decade] satellite data record,” said Prof Julienne Stroeve, at University College London in the UK. “Over in the southern hemisphere, the sea ice also broke new record lows in the seasonal maximum and minimum extents, leading to the least amount of global sea ice ever recorded.”

CNP Fellow Anthony Lucio in the Daily Iowan

Nice profile on former Climate Narrative Project fellow Anthony Lucio in the Daily Iowan, highlighting Anthony’s role on campus and in the community.

Here’s a clip:

For Anthony Lucio, there are many reasons to bike. Despite the weather, he can be seen riding around campus year-round.

Lucio, a fifth-year graduate student in the University of Iowa Chemistry Department, said, “Even if it’s raining, I’ll bike to work.”

Lucio and wife Molly Lucio moved to Coralville in 2015, and he said biking was a form of transportation he had yet to try and a stress reliever as well.

“There are several reasons I enjoy biking,” he said. “I would consider myself a sustainability-minded person, but on top of that, it’s a money-saver as well.”

Anthony Lucio said he bikes 50 to 100 miles a week sometimes, and that is just to and from work.

Last fall, he participated in a bike-checkup event sponsored by the Office of Sustainability in which he was “tasked with tire inflation and pumped tires to the corresponding tire pressure.”

Outside of biking, he works for chemistry Assistant Professor Scott Shaw.

“[The Shaw Group] studies the liquid-solid interface,” Lucio said. “Basically, if you had a glass of water, we study the molecule of water that brushes against the molecule of glass.”

Down the road, he said, there are many applications to the work.

“It will definitely be relevant in future battery-storage applications, as well as environmental components as well,” he said.

Although the work is very fundamental in nature, Lucio said, it is crucial to understanding the interactions between liquid and solid molecules.

Continuing Lucio’s sustainable efforts, he was a fellow in last year’s Climate Narrative Project.

Economic Payoffs of Regenerative Copenhagen

Energy specialist John Berger showcases the economic benefits of climate action and regenerative development in Copenhagen, in a series of Huffington Post blogs. The big news: “Every time Copenhagen spends one dollar on its climate plan, it generates $85 in private investment elsewhere in the city, according to the city’s climate director Jørgen Abildgaard. It takes the form of investment in new buildings, in building retrofits, in different kinds of mobility services, and in new infrastructure, such as the city’s new incineration plant and district heating system.:

Here’s a clip:

Abildgaard emphasized that, when seeking cooperation with climate plan measures, it’s “extremely important” to make an economic case for them and to have a dialogue with building owners, investors, construction companies, and “with all the people that are behind the investments,” to show them the benefits. “Without that, we would never get to the target.”

“[Measures] should not be more expensive either for the city, for citizens, or in socioeconomic calculation,” he added. When benefits don’t all appear on the bottom line, he noted, they may nonetheless improve a corporation’s reputation as a socially responsible business.

In the case of a new and older buildings alike, energy efficiency investments can add value for the developer because the buildings or the flats are likely to have lower operating costs. “That is also a value for the new owner,” Abildgaard explained.

Economic studies by the city indicate that the its climate plan will generate an economic surplus of close to $1 billion over the lifetime of the initiatives comprising the plan.

Guardian: Poem a Day on Climate Change

In 2015, the Guardian newspaper, as part of its Keep It in the Ground series, ran a poem a day on climate change for the month of June.

Famous actors read the poems—you can listen here.

Here’s one of the poems:

California Dreaming by Lachlan Mackinnon

Almonds and vines and lawns
drink up the last
of shallow, short-term water

then suck on the black depths
with a draw mightier
than the moon’s. And suck.

In sudden places the ground
puckers and caves.
Far westward, China smokes.

Nobody sees the rains fail
until they have.
Tableland mesas crack.

In the mountains the snowpack thins,
meltwater now brown
reluctant drops.

Cities gasp in the sun’s stare.
Faucets cough
and families turn inwards.

There must be somebody to blame.
Better ourselves than no-one.
We brag

of damage done
but whether we could truly
dry all rain, bake all earth,

science does not know.
The wastefulness was all
ours but this fetid heat

could be a planetary
impersonal adjustment
like an ice age,

so it might well be wise
to keep always
facepaint and ash about us.

When the last clouds
wagon-train off,
loincloth and invocation will be

the one hope for last
woman and last man discovering
she’s pregnant.

Plant for the Planet: Campaign to Plant 1 Trillion Trees!

Launched at the age of nine, Felix Finkbeiner is now 19, and his organization Plant-for-the-Planet has planted more than 14 billion trees in more than 130 nations.

Check out this piece in National Geo:

Finkbeiner has an answer for skeptics who doubt the science of climate change.

“If we follow the scientists and we act and in 20 years find out that they were wrong, we didn’t do any mistakes,” Finkbeiner told an Urban Futures conference in Austria last year. “But if we follow the skeptics and in 20 years find out that they were wrong, it will be too late to save our future.”

A Big Effort to Count Trees

The tree study came about as Plant-for-the-Planet’s ambitions expanded. One of the largest projects now is a reforestation effort underway on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. The group built a nursery that contains 300,000 seedlings of native trees and plans ultimately to plant 10 million trees by 2020.

Larger ambitions prompted new questions. Did the 14 billion trees already planted make any difference? Would 10 million in Mexico? Can planting keep up with the continuing deforestation around the world? No one knew. Scientists have long considered conducting a tree census, but until then, no one had done one. Enter Tom Crowther and his team at Yale.

“Felix asked the simple question: how many trees are there?” Crowther says. “Plant-for-the-Planet was certainly the inspiration for me.”

The two-year study, published in Nature in 2015, found that the Earth has 3 trillion trees—seven times the number of previous estimates. The study found that the number of trees on the planet since the dawn of agriculture 12,000 years ago has fallen by almost half—and that about 10 billion trees are lost every year. Planting a billion trees is a nice effort, but won’t make a dent.

“I thought they might be disheartened,” Crowther says. Instead, “they said, ‘Okay, now we have to scale up.’ They didn’t hesitate. They’re contacting billionaires all over the world. It is amazing.”

Scaling up means Plant-for-the-Planet now aims to plant one trillion trees. That’s 1,000 billion. Those trees could absorb an additional 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year; Finkbeiner says that will buy time for the world to get serious about reducing carbon emissions.

Denmark runs entirely on wind energy for a day

As a follow up to our workshop last week, check out the latest data on Denmark’s renewable energy production: Denmark runs entirely on wind energy for a day.

From the Independent newspaper:

Denmark’s wind turbines produced enough electricity to power the entire country last month.

The Scandinavian nation generated 97 gigawatt-hours (GWh) on 22 February, thanks to particularly windy weather, which is enough to power 10 million average EU households for the day.