Our Meat-Heavy Diets Are Destroying The Environment

So says a new World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report titled “Appetite for Destruction,” profiled in the Guardian:

“The world is consuming more animal protein than it needs and this is having a devastating effect on wildlife,” said Duncan Williamson, WWF food policy manager. “A staggering 60% of global biodiversity loss is down to the food we eat. We know a lot of people are aware that a meat-based diet has an impact on water and land, as well as causing greenhouse gas emissions, but few know the biggest issue of all comes from the crop-based feed the animals eat.”

With 23 [billion] chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks and guinea fowl on the planet – more than three per person – the biggest user of crop-based feed globally is poultry. The second largest, with 30% of the world’s feed in 2009, is the pig industry.

Some studies even indicate that you can make a bigger impact reducing your carbon footprint by avoiding meat consumption than even by driving a hybrid.

Between our preference for meat-heavy diets and tendency to waste food, individual eating habits are making a major impact on the climate and the environment around us.

Now that’s some food for thought.

How To Sell Congestion Pricing

Los Angeles residents have been debating a recent proposal to implement congestion pricing around the region’s most congested area, as London, Stockholm and other cities have successfully implemented.

The idea is straightforward: charge drivers to enter the congested area during peak commute times.  The tolls will discourage extraneous trips and encourage people to drive during off-peak times when they can. Traffic then falls within the tolled area.  Meanwhile, the money raised can support transit investments there.

Larry Mantle’s AirTalk program on KPCC recently explored the proposal in a segment with UCLA professor Mike Manville and journalist Felix Salmon. Manville has conducted important research demonstrating that congestion pricing doesn’t necessarily hurt poor people disproportionately, as critics of the policy often allege.

Manville made a strong case for congestion pricing, but he got tripped up by a caller and Mantle when he argued that right now drivers use the roads for free.  They pointed out that gas taxes and other fees help pay for roads, so they’re already paying for them.  Manville instead argued that nobody pays for using the space on the road, which is a nuanced point.

The problem, politically speaking, is that people are going to recoil being charged for using something that 1) they previously used for free and 2) they feel they already pay for through other fees and taxes.  The policy proposal will be vulnerable as a result, unless backers can describe how the additional fee or toll will give them a specific benefit. In this case, the benefit is reduced congestion.

Perhaps a better framing question would be: how much would you pay per car trip to avoid being stuck in traffic?

Could More EV Charging Infrastructure Be Just Around The Corner?

Recently I discussed the sad state of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, given the current and projected demand for charging stations in workplaces, multifamily buildings, and fast-charge “plazas.” I spoke about the need on KALW’s Your Call radio on Monday as well.

But could hope be around the corner? I was encouraged to see that General Motors, as part of their announcement this week committing to new EV models, will also be building more charging stations.

It can’t come soon enough. While the Chevy Bolt EV has a useful range of 238 miles per charge (at an affordable price of near $30,000 with incentives), the infrastructure doesn’t exist to support most long-range trips. For example, Bolt EV drivers between Los Angeles and San Francisco, two major markets in the heart of the biggest EV market of California, can’t fast-charge on the major interstate connecting them.  GM should do everything it can to fill that gap and others like it.

Meanwhile, electric utilities are gearing up to invest $1 billion in infrastructure, once they finalize the regulatory proceeding in California. And the Volkswagen diesel emissions cheating scandal settlement will steer $800 million for charging stations toward the state in the next 10 years.

All together, reason for optimism that will make progress overcoming the charging station shortage.  It can’t come soon enough.

RIP Tom Petty, Rock Hit Machine & Los Angeles Icon

Tom Petty, rock hitmaker for four decades with his band the Heartbreakers, passed away yesterday of a massive heart attack (on my birthday, no less).  I always liked Tom Petty and bought many of his records, but it wasn’t until I heard a Tom Petty cover band play in Marin County over the summer (with the perfect name of “Petty Theft”) that I took stock of his impressive catalogue of hits.

Like many in my generation, Petty’s music was a constant throughout my life.  As a middle schooler, I did my math homework with MTV on in the background, playing his wacky Alice In Wonderland-themed video for Don’t Come Around Here No More.  After high school graduation, my friends and I rocked out in the car on the way home from a Yosemite backpacking trip to “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.”  In college, I checked email to his newly released greatest hits CD, bobbing my head to “Even The Losers” while I mastered this then-new form of communication.  I played guitar at numerous party sing-alongs to “Free Fallin'” and “American Girl,” and most recently my family and I drove on the dirt roads of Carrizo Plain during an epic superbloom, listening awe-struck to his acoustic “Wildflowers.”

Tom belongs among the wildflowers of Carrizo Plain

He was not without his detractors.  Some turned their nose up to his pop-everyman songs.  He certainly didn’t aim for high-minded poetry, as his tunes were mostly about relationships.  He told an interviewer that listeners can spot a phony lyric from the “back row.” And I remember a college classmate of mine remarking that she found his lyrics sexist, with many references to “little girl” and the like.  But listening to his Tom Petty radio channel yesterday, it was clear from the callers that many women (and men) found his message inspiring, as they escaped close-minded small towns for a better life elsewhere.

Petty was also funny.  One of my first CDs ever was his 1989 solo album Full Moon Fever.  Halfway through, in his Florida drawl, he informed us that we had reached the point on the CD where those listening on cassette would have to remove said cassette (or LP) and turn it over to Side 2. And in one of his final concerts in August in Berkeley, he told the audience he was going to play a song by request.  “And the request,” he deadpanned, “was by me.”

The recent HBO documentary The Defiant Ones, about record magnate (and my former employer) Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, featured interviews with Petty, too.  Jimmy was a hardscrabble, son of a New York longshoreman who had just moved to Los Angeles in the late 1970s to produce the up-and-coming Petty’s new record.  Jimmy asked Tom to play some of the songs he wanted to record for the album.  After previewing what would become numerous hit singles on Damn the Torpedoes, Petty remembered Jimmy exclaiming, “We’re going to be rich!”

Petty was also an icon for Los Angeles.  Although he was famously from Gainesville, Florida, he moved to Los Angeles early in his career and sung about the place often.  He even rhymed “Los Angel-eeze” (as my grandparents’ generation pronounced it) with “knees” in Crawling Back to You.

But it was probably his biggest hit, Free Fallin’, that cemented his Los Angeles home in the minds of the public.  The video featured him in the Westside Pavilion and apparently on a crane in the San Fernando Valley.  True to the auto-oriented character of the city, he sang about its freeways and boulevards, from Mulholland Drive along the Santa Monica mountains to the harsher roads below:

It’s a long day livin’ in Reseda
There’s a freeway runnin’ through the yard
And I’m a bad boy, ’cause I don’t even miss her
I’m a bad boy for breakin’ her heart

And I’m free, free fallin’
Yeah I’m free, free fallin’

All the vampires walkin’ through the valley
Move west down Ventura Blvd.
And all the bad boys are standing in the shadows
All the good girls are home with broken hearts

My favorite song of his though was not his biggest hit, and I was pleased to hear that at his Berkeley concert he told the crowd it was his favorite song of his, too.  The last lyric of Crawling Back To You is probably the one that has stuck with me the most, a good reminder to all of us to take it easy and enjoy life as we can:

I’m so tired of being tired
Sure as night will follow day
Most things I worry about
Never happen anyway

Rest in peace, Mr. Petty, and thanks for so many memorable tunes.  You belong somewhere you feel free.

Talking Electric Vehicles On “Your Call” On KALW 91.7 FM At 10am

As countries around the world, and now California, contemplate banning gasoline-powered cars by sometime mid-century, how can electric vehicles fill the need?  How “green” are electric vehicles? And how are we going to get the charging stations we need to meet future demand?

I’ll be discussing these issues this morning on KALW radio’s “Your Call” at 10am.  I’ll be joined on the panel by Dr. David Reichmuth, senior engineer for Clean Vehicles Program at Union of Concerned Scientists. Tune in and call with your questions!

Climate Change Law & Policy In The Age Of Trump: Register For Sacramento County Bar Association Presentation On Tuesday, Oct. 3rd

The election of Trump last November was a jolt to U.S. climate policy, and we’re seeing the impacts now, eight months into his term.  But the efforts to dismantle federal climate policy have not always been successful, and they’ve sparked a significant backlash at the state and local level.

I’ll be discussing the record so far at a lunchtime presentation at the Sacramento County Bar Association this Tuesday, October 3rd, from noon to 1pm.  Attorneys will get continuing legal education credits, and the event is open to non-members and non-attorneys (with a ticket, as space is limited).  Hope to see you there!

Rebuild Hurricane-Damaged Areas With Resilient, Clean Electricity

As most of Puerto Rico goes without power for the fifth day in a row following Hurricane Maria’s destruction, the event calls for a re-examination of how to rebuild the power infrastructure.

The old, fossil fuel-dependent grid clearly wasn’t resilient or in great shape to begin with. Instead of rushing to repair this old infrastructure, island leaders should consider a more distributed electricity system, with solar panels, batteries, and other clean sources of power. By spreading these resources out, the system is less vulnerable to extreme weather that can knock out one central power plant and cause whole areas to lose power, as happened there this time.

Richard Branson, a Caribbean neighbor, has the same idea, per Reuters:

British billionaire Richard Branson said on Tuesday he is in talks to set up a fund to help Caribbean nations recently ravaged by Hurricane Irma replace wrecked fossil fuel-dependent utilities with low-carbon renewable energy sources.

The British business magnate has approached governments and would rally support among financial institutions and fellow philanthropists on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“As part of that fund we want to make sure that the Caribbean moves from dirty energy to clean energy,” he said.

Branson, who has lived in the British Virgin Islands for the past 11 years, weathered Irma on Necker, his private island.

Given this worsening trend of extreme weather, we’re going to need both to reduce carbon emissions through clean technologies, but also become more resilient to the storms of today. Luckily, clean, distributed power infrastructure can solve both problems — and keep the lights on for an island that is suffering from the impacts of this storm.

Napa Wines Already Hit Hard By Climate Change

Back in 2009, when I first started working full time on climate change law and policy at Berkeley Law, I saw a presentation by a representative of a Napa winery at a California Assembly select committee hearing on climate change.  Thomas A. Thornhill III, a partner at Parducci Wine Cellars/Paul Dolan Vineyards, showed the following slide:

As you can see from the chart, as the temperature warms (the red line), certain Napa grapes just won’t be able to survive anymore in the Valley, such as chardonay and sauvignon blanc (although it’s good news for raisin production in the Valley, for what that’s worth)

I thought about that slide over Labor Day weekend this year, when a record-breaking heat wave with temperatures up to 117 degrees hit Napa.  This new normal of extreme weather destroyed some of Napa and Sonoma’s premium cabernet grapes, as Bloomberg reported:

Vineyard consultant Steve Matthiasson, who also makes wines under his eponymous label, admitted, “The heat wave screwed us up.”  While you need warmth to ripen cabernet, you don’t want too much, and this summer Napa had more than two dozen days with temperatures over 100 degrees. Before the grapes were completely ripe, an extreme heat wave on Labor Day weekend, which didn’t cool down at night, caused grape dehydration.  As juice evaporated, some of the unripe grapes shriveled into raisins.

As a result, the wine grape crop is likely to be smaller than expected this year in California and beyond, down from 5 to 35 percent for some individual blocks of vines.

While this was a high-end casualty of climate change, it’s a demonstration of what will happen to the broader multi-billion agricultural industry across places like California as we veer into an increasingly hotter world.

And that’s nothing to toast.

We Need More EV Charging Stations To Meet Growing Demand

As the price of electric vehicles (EV) has dropped by nearly half the last few years, the number of Californians driving them has gone way up. Almost 300,000 EVs now ply our roadways, up from around 10,000 just five years ago. Every major automaker has now either introduced one or plans to do so soon.

This is good news for California’s energy and environmental goals, as EVs reduce local air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, while the batteries can soak up surplus solar or wind energy.

But this progress is threatened by a lack of available charging stations. If you’re among the forty percent of Californians who live in an apartment, townhouse, or condominium without access to dedicated parking with charging capability (even a wall outlet), you may be unable to consider buying or leasing an EV. Notably, an even higher percentage live in these types of dwellings in the state’s urban areas.

These residents need chargers in their buildings to make EV ownership feasible. Failing that, they need dedicated EV chargers at their workplaces for daytime charging, along with convenient and reliable public fast chargers (which can boost the battery to 90 miles of additional range in 30 minutes) at convenient locations, such as at neighborhood grocery stores or commercial centers.

But the state is lagging in deploying the needed infrastructure. Researchers estimate that California may need up to 220,000 publicly accessible charging ports by 2020 to meet projected demand, well beyond the roughly 12,000 available today. Hundreds of thousands of additional charging stations will be necessary at multi-unit dwellings.

This immense infrastructure deployment is unlikely to occur without policy action, which is the subject of our recent report “Plugging Away: How To Boost Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure” from the Center for Law, Energy & the Environment at Berkeley Law and UCLA Law. While private sector investment will address some of the need, many charging stations are simply too expensive to build and operate right now, without dependable near-term revenue to cover costs and produce a profit.

The costs are myriad, from the charger to on-site electrical installation to insurance and maintenance. Some charging station owners also face prohibitively high electricity rates, depending on their location and usage. Meanwhile, revenues to cover these costs are uncertain at best and insufficient at worst, typically coming from customer payments and on-site retail purchases as drivers shop while they wait for their vehicles to charge.

Policy makers can take steps to lower costs, primarily through incentives and permit streamlining. Examples include targeted rebates and grants for office and multi-unit dwelling building owners to install charging stations, as well as expedited permitting to allow more curbside charging. Regulators can also reduce fees for adding energy storage to charging sites to decrease electricity costs and simplify the process of connection to the grid.

These measures will help. But they will not be enough by themselves. We’ll need more robust and strategic electric utility investments in charging infrastructure, at least for any new wiring to the charging station. These investments should happen in key locations to stimulate maximum EV convenience and adoption. In addition, utilities and regulators should revise electricity rates to encourage charging at the right places and times to best meet grid needs, simultaneously saving ratepayers money and helping make the grid cleaner and more efficient.

Smart policies and innovation from automakers and battery suppliers has helped make large-scale adoption of electric vehicles in California feasible. But only with continued policy action will we see the corresponding innovation needed on the charging infrastructure side.

If we don’t get that deployment right, too many Californians will miss their chance at an electric ride.

Is Racial Segregation In The San Francisco Bay Area Getting Worse? Tonight on City Visions

Residents of the San Francisco Bay Area may pride themselves for being part of one the most diverse cities in the nation.  But both data and anecdotal evidence indicate that the area’s extraordinary economic growth in recent years has led to growing inequality and racial segregation. With rents and home prices soaring, low-income and minority populations are being pushed out from job-rich urban centers.

What is the social, economic and environmental impact of low-wage earners living further and further outside the cities where they work?  Can housing policies reverse these trends?  And what does this mean for a region that prides itself on its identity as a bastion of progressive politics?

To hear a discussion about these issues and more, tune in tonight at 7pm to City Visions on KALW, local public radio.  Guests include:

  • Miriam Chion, lecturer at U.C. Berkeley in the Department of City and Regional Planning.
  • Chris Schildt, Senior Associate at PolicyLink.
  • Tony Roshan Samara, Program Director of Land Use and Housing at Urban Habitat.

Tune in or stream it live on KALW 91.7 FM.  And please call, email or tweet us with your questions.

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