Love California? — Cut Back on these 5 Foods

In February 2014, Business Insider reported President Obama pledged to help California farmers -- we should all follow his example! (Thanks Obama -- but actually)
In February 2014, Business Insider reported President Obama pledged to help California farmers — we should all follow his example! (Thanks Obama — but actually) from: http://read.bi/1P16L

California is in trouble — as probably everybody in the world should know by now. Headlines everywhere (even Fox News — gasp!) are bleating about California’s governor Jerry Brown imposing new mandatory water restrictions due to a drought that is historically epic. How significant are these restrictions? He is calling on 25 percent water consumption reductions from cities and communities — of course the big businesses (and most responsible drought contributors) in the oil, natural gas, and agriculture industries are mostly exempt from these reductions (surprise, surprise).

I, like many here in the Northeast, have been so bombarded by snow and rain in the past few months it is hard for me to even imagine a drought.

But, thank God for passionate environmental writers who are painting a pretty vivid picture of it — like 

Although it shouldn’t be our responsibility to deal with this drought, why can’t we do our part to not make it worse?

Many cities like San Francisco in California are seeing no rain at all during their rainy season — For the first time in history, San Fran saw NO rain (0″) at all in January — the average is 4.6 inches, and the city saw as much as 14.5 inches in 1914.

Oh don’t worry — our precious Hollywood stars should be OK according to Holthaus, who writes that agriculture accounts for 80 percent of Calif’s water consumption — it is an important source of food for the U.S.

1. ALMONDS: These are sucking as much as 10 percent of all the agricultural water from California — yikes! Roughly 2,100 gallons of water are needed for just one pound of shelled almonds. Admittedly, I was (and still am) totally obsessed with the taste of these football shaped bites of bliss.  I actually thought almond milk was beneficial for the environment since it has less of an impact than cows milk. After doing some research, boy did I find out I was wrong! But at least there is hemp and coconut milk to turn to instead. If you are not yet addicted to almonds, please don’t be like me and find alternatives!!!

Welcome to where almonds actually come from motherearthnews.com
Welcome to where almonds actually comes from. Source:  motherearthnews.com

2. ALFALFA: I don’t mean the adorable, cowlick-sporting boy from The Little Rascals,

Alfalfa from the hit TV Show The Little Rascals
Alfalfa from the hit TV Show The Little Rascals

— I mean the plan that is water intensive and highly exported to China from California. It is highly nutritious, however, so I recommend trying to find it from more local sources for a delicious salad addition.

Actual alfalfa -- the plant
Actual alfalfa — the plant

3. RICE: This is called the “thirstiest” of crops in a recent The Daily Beast article. It’s production in California declined by 25 percent in 2014, according to the article.

A rice pasture in California -- from http://californiaagriculture.ucanr.edu/
A rice pasture in California — from http://californiaagriculture.ucanr.edu/

4. BEEF: This should probably go without saying, but why not beat a dead horse when America is still obsessed with eating these poor unknowing climate-killers. It takes nearly 1,875 gallons to produce one pound of beef, in Cali and anywhere. However, pasture grass used to fatten livestock in California is actually increasing. Um — if there is not enough water for human food, why do we think there will be enough for cows that can weigh over 1,000 pounds?

OK -- I have to incorporate some humor. Also it supports my point about not eating cows -- look how funny they are? Would you really eat a great comedian?
OK — I have to incorporate some humor. Also it supports my point about not eating cows — look how funny they are? Would you really eat a great comedian?

5. PISTACHIOS: Unfortunately I am nuts over these salty gems, but I’m more salty over the fact that their production has increased by 118 percent in Cali despite the increasing intensity of the state’s drought. They are a drought-rugged little nut, however their water consumption is often lumped in with that of almonds — why make a bad situation worse? If your best friend was dating a horrible person, would you want to start dating that person’s slightly-nicer brother? I wouldn’t.

Talk show host Stephen Colbert with a Pistachio -- love ya Colbert, but pistachios from California might not be around for your jokes much longer
Talk show host Stephen Colbert with a pistachio, promoting it for a commercial — Love ya Colbert, but not everything you are promoting with this commercial (although a lime green tie? yes!) 

Here is a bonus! But it is an obvious one — CORN! Oh, what could be so bad about those golden kernels of deliciousness? In Cali, corn is among the 60% of “ground-cover” crops that generate only around 14% of revenues for the state of California — and Cali needs all the money it can get to deal with this crisis — (it’s only the most precious natural resource).

CORN!!!

Hope this was enlightening. However, don’t just think limiting these five foods from California will do much. Remember that climate change, not just overwatering crops, is what is causing California’s real issues — they have only seen 12 percent of the average snowpack (out of 100 % folks — NOT GOOD) Come the hot and dry summer, I have a feeling California residents, or at least farmers, will be missing the 15 million acre-feet of water that snowpack usually provides on a yearly basis.

Let’s not make their anguish worse by buying up any products from California — at least at the moment. Yes, this will be difficult. But it will be more difficult when California residents  turn on their taps and no water comes out.

Plus, who knows what this could mean for the hundreds of thousands of California residents needing water — they could hightail it to our areas where there is water. So if you are a selfish person who really doesn’t care about the welfare of others, know that there could be more competition on your own water source (everybody needs water and the government has got to provide it somehow).

Oh, and don’t forget some of the best wineries in the world are in California. Even if you don’t like wine, you can at least pretend to be classy by saying you are helping to conserve water because you love a nice rich California dry red. Just sayin’.

wine-glass1

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Tidal Energy Revealed

An example of a tidal energy production system from the company Marine Current Turbines Ltd (MCT)  Source: http://www.marineturbines.com/3/news/article/31/marine_current_turbines_to_deploy_tidal_farm_off_orkney_after_securing_site_lease_from_the_crown_estate_
An example of a tidal energy production system from the company Marine Current Turbines Ltd (MCT)
Source: http://www.marineturbines.com/3/news/article/31/marine_current_turbines_to_deploy_tidal_farm_off_orkney_after_securing_site_lease_from_the_crown_estate_

We’ve discussed what people can say to discourage solar energy. Disqualifying wind energy can also be quite simple for those renewable energy pessimists — “What if there is no wind?” “Don’t those kill birds?” Well, we will discuss how to argue with those in another post, but for now lets assume you think you are stumped. Until…you imagine your last vacation at the beach and the changes in tide… Tidal energy!

But do you have the facts to back it up? When asking people about alternative forms of energy, I often hear “tidal would be a great idea.” But would it… well that’s what I plan to start revealing tonight. So first — how the heck does this energy work? Obviously the tides are pretty strong, but where does the energy generation come in?

HOW IT WORKS Imagine laying on a soft towel surrounded by warm sand,  listening to crashing waves as the tide is coming in. Depending on where you are, you could be witnessing a potential incredible source of electric energy — if you have the right generator. You should also know how you will be using this generator. There are three ways to obtain tidal energy: tidal streams, barrages, and tidal lagoons.

So which is the most widely used? Most tidal energy generators have turbines that are positioned in tidal streams What is a tidal stream, you may ask? It is a quick flowing body of water that tides often (conveniently for climate conscious humans) create.

tidal-turbine-diagram
Tidal Turbine Diagram. Source: http://www.epa.gov/region1/eco/energy/re_ocean.html

In the Barrage tidal production method, turbines in a generator harness power similar to how dams can capture the energy of a river. Barrages are basically large dams created across tidal rivers, bays and estuaries. The gates of the barrage open as the ocean reaches high tide. They then close before the tide starts decreasing, trapping water in a special tidal lagoon. As water is let out of the barrage, it travels through the barrages turbines, generating electricity.

Finally, tidal lagoons are another type of tidal power source. They involve a natural or manmade object enclosing a body of ocean water. Basically, tidal lagoons are like the super-hippie version of barrages. They work in the same way — turbines spin as water rises and falls in the enclosed area, spinning a turbine for a generator.

THE UPSIDES

  • What is heavier — wind or water? Simple question, right? So you probably already know which is more effective in producing energy — water, since it is more dense.
  • Consider also that tides are extremely predictable, but as any experienced sailor will tell you, winds are often not. It often is better to know when you will have energy for say something important like heating up that box of Easy-Mac (if you call that important you may want to talk to someone about your priorities — but I guess it could be your last food source or something!)
  • While wind turbines can move kill as many as 440,000 birds each year, according to US wildlife ecologist and ornithologist Albert Manville, tidal turbines are not nearly as dangerous for marine life since they move very slowly
  • What about economic benefits? Tidal’s got them! It has the ability to power 15 million homes, save 70 million tones of carbon and create 16,000 jobs in the UK alone

THE DOWNSIDES What in the world could be wrong with this form of energy — you can think of it while relaxing on the beach! Well, unfortunately turbines from tidal generators can have severe impacts on the environment since they work best in shallow water. Of course there are also legal concerns about underwater ownership in the U.S. (who would NOT have thought)

Also, there is a good reason you have not heard of this energy — especially if you are from the U.S. That is because it is quite new to the commercial scene — the first was built in Eastport, Maine in 2012. This technology is still in its earliest phases, so there are not many commercial-sized plants that could handle the demands of the U.S. La Rance, France had the first tidal plant and South Korea currently has the largest called the Sihwa Lake Tidal Power Station ( it can supply electricity to a population of  500,000, for the record)

tidalenergy2 So there you have it — I meant to end with a negative and it became positive, so this must be a pretty Dam good energy source (bad joke because it works like a dam). Anyway, you don’t have to use any corny jokes in defending it — just use some facts from above and of course always keep digging! Extra Source: http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/encyclopedia/tidal-energy/?ar_a=1

Guide to Debating with Renewable Energy Doubters: Part 1

ClimateDenierManual

Debates about energy sources in the US can spark tug-of-war discussions. I’m sure almost all of us have been a part of one, at some point. Does the following sound familiar?

Environmentalist: “This country CAN and MUST commit to renewable energy before parts of our beautiful Florida become the next Atlantis. Plus what are we going to do with thousands of climate refugees?”

Renewable Doubter: “You’re funny. Renewables are expensive and not nearly as efficient. Keep dreaming. We will let governments figure it out.”

Renewable Energy Doubters may also point out that natural gas is not a renewable energy, but it is, or at least can, do a pretty Damn good job reducing this nation’s carbon footprint.

The Environmentalist will then point out that the methane produced by natural gas, and of course the health concerns posed by extracting it through processes like Fracking, make it an ugly distraction from renewable energy.

But the Renewable Energy Doubter will probably still just brush this off  (since they probably have some economic connection to the booming Natural Gas industry) and retort that none of the claims against Natural Gas are proven.

What are both of these arguments missing (if I had not included some helpful hyperlinks?) FACTS! Cold, hard, you-could-include-in-your-thesis TRUTHS.

So I would like to give you an edge up — because I am sick of this argument myself, I am starting a Tuesday series in this blog that will be written like a guide to help you in “Dealing with Renewable Energy Deniers.”

For this fist sequence, I am going to shine some light on my favorite energy source that also seems to have one of the brightest futures of all renewables (and probably the most corny puns to describe it):

1. How to address the “solar sucks” compared to other sources perspective. 

solar-energy-in-india

Well, if you still have this point of view, I hope you have the excuse of  just emerging  from under Patrick Star’s rock in Bikini Bottom.

Patrick_house_12

But, even when Spongebob Squarepants first aired in 1999, solar energy was basking in a beacon of hope thanks to the development of hybrid luminaries. 

In all fairness, solar had a shaky year in 2011 (when I will admit, I still occasionally watched he who “lives in a pineapple under the sea”). The solar panel company Solyndra, backed by the Obama administration, “defaulted on a $535 million loan guaranteed by the Department of Energy” according to NPR.

But for the past two years, solar energy development has been breaking records — This year especially. Here is a fact you can throw at a Doubter:

1. It can be political common-ground: This is true mainly in Florida where it could soon help keep the only ground from becoming ocean floor. NPR reports Tea-party members in Florida are publicly and actively supporting Floridians for Solar Choice, a ballot initiative working to change the law in Florida so that people and businesses will be allowed to generate and sell solar power.

2. It IS growing economically: We have all heard that the Natural Gas Boom is creating jobs, but did you know that the solar energy sector now has more employees than Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter combined? Did I mention solar beat coal for the second year in a row by accounting for one-third of our nation’s new energy generating capacity in 2014.

Wait, there’s more…

• A new photovoltaic project was installed every three minutes in the U.S. in the first three quarters of 2014, according to the Solar Energy Industries and Quartz 

• This month, Apple invested $850 million in First Solar’s soon-to-be-built 2,900-acre solar farm in California  — I mean, that may be pocket-change for Apple, however Joe Kishkill, the chief commercial officer for First Solar, stated in a press release:

“Apple’s commitment was instrumental in making this project possible and will significantly increase the supply of solar power in California.”

3. It COULD stand a chance with Natural Gas: I bet I  know what you are thinking “That last source came from an author who is the CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).”

Alas, this is true — but he also served as the vice president for the Natural Gas Supply Association. The fact that he made the switch I think is saying something. But don’t worry — here are some more mind-blowing facts:

• According to a recent Renewable Energy World report, renewables slightly beat out natural gas in new generation for 2014 (at 49.81% compared with 48.65%). Photovoltaic and solar thermal together accounted for 20.4%.

So here I will conclude this first segment in responding to those pessimists who claim Renewable Energy is not worth the hype. Hope to have helped prove it is, or at least certainly can be — if we choose to believe and support it!

Are We Forgetting our Rain Forests?

Masoala National Park in Madagascar, a lowland rain forest
Masoala National Park in Madagascar, a lowland rain forest

When I was a child, I remember turning the hallway of my elementary school into a tropical forest. To complement our unit on the rainforest, we would use construction paper primarily to create leafy trees with strong buttresses and a variety of other rainforest species, from orchids to jaguars. We learned about how rapidly the rain forests are being chopped down and how vital they are to the health of the entire planet. It seems issues such as hydrofracking and fluctuating oil prices have taken the spotlight in the media recently. I decided to check on these precious lungs of the Earth recently with an Internet search. I hoped that I hadn’t heard anything because the situation was getting better, however unfortunately I was mistaken. The rate at which tropical rain forests are being cut down has increased 62 percent though the 1990s and the 2000s. What does this mean exactly? According to a recent Science Daily article, basically it just means what we thought was an improvement was totally off-base. Three researchers from the University of Maryland, geographer Do-Hyung Kim, Joseph Sexton and John Townshend, found after studying 34 forested countries that make up 80 percent of the forested tropical areas of the world, net forest loss is increasing. But how? Didn’t the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), predict that there was a 25 percent slow-down in the rainforest being cut down? Yes, but this previous estimate was based on nothing but reports from a handful of countries — in other words, paper (how ironic considering the old joke about killing rain forest trees by using too much paper — which is false, but that’s another blog post) This new report showing the 62 percent increase in rain forest destruction was based on the analysis of 5,444 Landsat scenes. What the heck is a Landsat? Glad you asked — I’ll save you a Google. A Landsat is a U.S. scientific satellite that examines and takes pictures of the Earth’s surface using remote sensing technology. So after studying over 5,400 of these images, the three researches found that while from 1990 – 2000 annual net forest loss was 15,000 square miles per year, from 2000 – 2010 this number rose to about 25,000 square miles. So we are talking going from cutting down a few thousand miles short of Maryland to cutting down almost the entire the state of West Virginia, basically. THAT IS A LOT. So what can we do about it? 1. AVOID PALM OIL and SOY. These products are part of the agribusiness that leads to deforestation in the rain forests 2. SUPPORT ZERO-DEFORESTATION OPTIONS: As consumers, we do have power. Buying 100% post consumer products or paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a start. 3. DONATE: Support organizations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Nature Conservancy that purchase large tracts of rain-forested land for preservation 4. EAT LESS MEAT!: Don’t support Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or “CAFOs.” Even though they may not be in important areas of tropical forests, these areas such as the all-important Amazon are often used to grow their food (more soybeans). 5. LEARN MORE : If you are bored and don’t have time for that full episode of Scandal on Netflix, look up websites like this one: http://www.rainforesteducation.com/about2/threats.htm I don’t think we could ever truly forget our previous tropical forests. However, if you live in a place as snowy and blistery as Upstate New York like me, they can seem like part of another world. Let’s just remember that they are not — and that we need them. Trees = Oxygen: ‘Nuf said, I hope.

A Historic Day — But Just the Beginning

Across the U.S. environmentalists are rejoicing — President Barack Obama kept his word and vetoed the Keystone XL Pipeline bill! According to some articles, he vetoed quickly after it arrived at the White House.

However, while we are clinking our champaign glasses and giving toasts for this victory, we must not forget how close this bill came to passing.

I mean, lets face it — as PBS affirms — approving the Keystone XL Pipeline was the “first order of business of the Republican-led Congress this year.” Lets see… how many people are in the Congress? 535. 

And guess what? Obama’s veto has far from doused the flaming debate. If Congress can muster 2/3 majority in the House and the Senate to over-ride the President’s veto, this baby is a go!

“Energy security” and “energy independence” — these are words tossed around by pipeline enthusiasts like Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Energy Policy and the Environment.

“This is just a pipeline” Bryce said on the PBS News Hour this evening. “Just a pipeline like the “10,000 miles of pipeline” that have been built in the US alone this year.

You know, Bryce, I have to disagree — but not for the reasons you may be thinking.

TransCanada, the pipeline’s mother company, writes on their website the pipeline would actually, “be the safest and most advanced oil pipeline operation in North America.”

I mean, of course pipelines are safer to transport oil than rail. Rail might be used anyway to transport tar-sands to the US, as Bryce points out.

BUT do we really need this dirty, energy-intensive oil type when the oil we are currently using is much cheaper than it has been in decades? What about our boom in domestic natural gas supplies?

I mean I am not whole-heartedly defending these sources of energy, but they are better than an energy source that will increase greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent, right?

And I mean, if there is one thing that could ultimately threaten our safety — it’s global climate change. Ever think about how most of our military bases are located strategically at either coastlines or out in deserts? I hand’t, to be honest. Until I read recent a Rolling Stone article that spelled it out quite clear. Norfolk, Va., the headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Atlantic Fleet, is experiencing almost twice the pace of sea level rise as a result of Climate Change, according to the article.

Va. Senator Tim Kaine says that military readiness is already being impacted by sea level rise — I mean, how are you going to go into battle when where you plan to refill your ship is underwater? The most recent nor’easter caused most trucks to be up to their axels in water, the article states.

There are already existing pipelines with the capacity of transporting 591,00 barrels of tar-sands oil per day to the U.S., states Mike Patton in a recent Forbes article. And yes, a Keystone Pipeline has existed since June 2010 that extends from Hardisty, Alberta to refineries in Wood River and Peoria, Illinois, according to Patton.

So what’s new? Is this just another “Liberal vs. Conservative” debate about enforcing polarization in these political viewpoints.

Probably partially. But there are still numbers that don’t lie about the significance of Keystone XL. It’s two parts, one that would transport oil over 435 miles from Cushing Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas and another 1,179 miles of pipeline that would start at Hardisty, Alberta and run to Steele City, Nebraska could transport up to 820,000 barrels per day of tar-sand oil. Combined, the two are expected to be entirely capable of transporting 1.3 million barrels per day, Forbes reveals.

So pipeline is not about safety or one political party yelling at another — it’s about the energy future of this country. By letting it as an issue fall through the cracks, like so many other pipelines below our feet, we are being passive about the future sources of our energy. Being passive did not support Obama’s decision to veto the pipeline — but there are still hundreds in Congress nipping at the bit to bring this bill back around.

So now is not just a time to celebrate, but to be ready for what is to come — not just from the Keystone XL debate, but so many others involving our precious and precarious environment.