A to Z for 2008: Environmental issues from Ventura to around the world
Editor’s Note: End-of-the-year wrap-ups are typical newspaper fodder this time of year. For our Christmas edition, we present to you an environmental round up of happenings during this past year locally, nationally and globally.
By Kit Stolz 12/24/2008
A is for AL GORE, who frustrated both liberals (who want to see him in power) and conservatives (who want to attack him) by staying out of government. This year he detailed a “smart grid” energy system with potential to be both energy-conservative and resilient in case of disaster. Could this upgrading offer reform and a big jobs program? Obama likes the idea.
B is for BIOFUELS (but not in a good way). Remember ethanol? Once a hope for the future, earlier this year production of corn for ethanol was blamed for raising commodity food prices. Though corn is far from the best of biofuels, its flaws have hurt the entire industry, which looks almost as tarnished as the synfuels of the late 1970s.
C is for CALIFORNIA. When it comes to the environment, California continues to take the lead. The Republican governor has been twisting arms to implement the landmark anti-emissions bill AB 32, and Obama appointed Nobel Prize-winner Steven Chu to head his Department of Energy. Chu is a Californian who has warned of hundreds of millions of “climate refugees” if we fail to act to reduce emissions.
D is for DROUGHT, which in our region looks increasingly to be “normal.” Multiple studies from different fields warn of a drier future. Especially alarming: California, in the last 50 years, has been wet, with no drought longer than seven years … but in recent millennia suffered two droughts more than 100 years in length.
E is for EMISSIONS, which have been soaring. U.S. emissions of CO2 rose by 1.4 percent last year, but we were outpaced by other nations. At this rate, our children and grandchildren will live on what leading climatologist James Hansen calls “a different planet.” A tip: It won’t be a better planet.
F is for FIRE. Big chaparral fires can leave scars for decades. Time to restrict development in the Wildland-Urban Interface? Many Ventura County officials have been saying so for years.
G is for GLOBAL WARMING. The good news is that awareness of the issue is up. The bad news is that so are temperatures, especially in the Arctic.
H is for HOPE. After eight years of the Bush administration’s foot-dragging on environmental issues, the hope is that everything will change with Obama. Too much to expect?
I is for INFRASTRUCTURE. The Obama administration has pledged to spend big on new infrastructure. The president-elect mentioned “crumbling roads” and brought up Eisenhower’s funding of the interstate freeway system. But how green is that?
J is for JET TRAVEL, which emits shocking amounts of greenhouse gases. Some say algal biofuels offer a cheaper, greener alternative. Will they be given a chance?
K is for KANSAS, one of the most conservative states in the union, which made headlines this year by canceling construction of a coal plant — one of hundreds of such cancellations around the country.
L is for physicist KLAUS LACKNER, who has patented a machine to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere. If the warming accelerates, could an invention save us from disaster?
M is for MICHIGAN, once home to the biggest automakers in the world, now a state suffering some of the nation’s worst unemployment, Is it Detroit’s fault, for making gas guzzlers? Consumers’, for liking trucks and SUVs? Washington’s, for allowing this economic disaster to happen? OPEC’s, for raising prices? Simply a regional economic shift? No one seems to have an answer.
N is for the “NEW NEW DEAL.” FDR was able to substantially reduce suffering and rebuild the nation with his New Deal during the Great Depression. Seventy-five years later, can Obama repeat that with an environmental twist? He says he’s willing to spend $700 billion.
O is for OIL PRICES, which have been on a rollercoaster all year. According to a monthly federal report, vehicles on U.S. roads traveled 100.6 billion fewer miles in the year ending in October than they had traveled the year before. Do the low prices portend a long, nasty recession? That’s the thinking this month. Economist Robert Samuelson questions the importance of global warming but has nonetheless supported a gradually rising gas tax to encourage energy conservation. Could the recession be a reset button for the economy?
P is for SARAH PALIN, the pro-oil-drilling candidate who, for a week or two, was the most popular politician in the country. One recent poll found that 68 percent of Republicans want to see her run for president in 2012. “Yeah,” said Bill Maher, “and 100 percent of Democrats.”
Q is for the QUAGGA MUSSEL. Lake Casitas has instituted inspections on boats to prevent contamination of the reservoir with this tiny but fertile mollusk. Global warming gets the ink, but many biologists believe that exotic species, such as tamarisk, arundo dorax, pike and barred owls, have had a bigger impact on California to date.
R is for RECESSION. The statistics say we have been in trouble since late 2007, and experts such as Robert Reich say that if the government doesn’t spend at least $400 billion soon, the downslide could accelerate into a “mini-Depression” likely to leave us poorer for years to come. Paradoxically, this might have the potential to bring a slower, gentler, less wasteful life. Planted your garden yet?
S is for SIBERIA, where scientists warn that methane — a greenhouse gas 20 times as strong as CO2 — is bubbling freely out of the permafrost, with the potential to cause runaway global warming.
T is for TIPPING POINTS. The idea popularized by Al Gore was a simplification. Leading climatologist James Hansen points out that we passed tipping points decades ago; already the climate is changing. The question is — will we pass points of no return, and threaten civilization as we know it?
U is for URBAN AREAS. When it comes to energy consumption, New York City is arguably the greenest living space in the nation. Time to spend on cities (such as mass transit) instead of suburbs (such as roads?)
V is for VENTURA COUNTY. Look at the trends for temperature at locations around the globe; you will find warming in the vast preponderance of sites. But in a few areas, such as along the Alaska coast and the California coast, you will find cooling. Ventura is lucky to be one of those locations.
W is for WATER. Global warming means changes in temperature, but when it comes to our way of life, the threat to water supplies will likely be more meaningful. Warning: Water managers are worried.
X is for XERISCAPE GARDENS, with minimal water requirements, which increasingly are being mandated for new developments in areas such as Las Vegas.
Y is for the YOUNG, who consider the environment a bigger issue than terrorism, and rewarded politicians who promised action, such as Bloomberg, Obama and Schwarzenegger.
Z is for ZEBRA MUSSELS. This larger cousin to the quagga has already heavily infested Eastern waterways, causing an estimated $5 billion in damage, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Check out Kit Stolz’s blog at www.achangeinthewind.com