The extreme rain pummeling Southern California mirrors extreme weather incidents around the globe. Should the heavy rain in California persist, as the soil becomes saturated, mudslides and flooding follow.
The video below shows an example of the results of extreme rain. A mudslide in Maierato, Calabria, Italy results as the soil becomes saturated with rain. Liquefaction of the land occurs – the earth, rock and soil flow like a river, carrying trees, homes, anything on the surface down hill. The video is visually astonishing.
As climate change progresses, weather extremes increase. New records are increasingly set for heat, cold, drought, and rain. Climate models predict an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme rainfall events.
Sh!t Rolls Downhill
Insurance companies were some of the early businesses embracing climate change models and planning for how to mitigate losses. Weather related losses are growing exponentially. Just as with earthquake insurance, as insurance companies limit their exposure to losses due to climate change and extreme weather, property owners will be forced to make choices on whether to pay higher insurance premiums or go uninsured. Faced with extremely expensive premiums, only about 12% of California property owners choose to pay for earthquake insurance. When an extreme event happens, the property owner often ends up with the loss.
In California, Climate Change is especially pernicious. During summer, persistent warming and drought lead to wildfires and denude the land, then, during the winter months, extreme rain sets the stage for disastrous mudslides and flooding.
Coincidentally, the US Geological Survey (USGS) just announced that they are about to release an emergency preparedness plan for extreme storms:
The USGS Multi Hazards Demonstration Project (MHDP) is preparing to release a new emergency-preparedness scenario, called ARkStorm, to address massive U.S. West Coast storms analogous to those that devastated California in 1861–62. Storms of this magnitude are projected to become more frequent and intense as a result of climate change.
The MHDP has assembled experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), USGS, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, the State of California, California Geological Survey, the University of Colorado, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), California Department of Water Resources, California Emergency Management Agency (CalEMA) and other organizations to design the large, but scientifically plausible, hypothetical storm scenario that would provide emergency responders, resource managers, and the public a realistic assessment of what is historically possible.
California’s Storm of the Century
Beginning on Christmas Eve, 1861, and continuing into early 1862, an extreme series of storms lasting 45 days struck California. The storms caused severe flooding, turning the Sacramento Valley into an inland sea, forcing the State Capital to be moved from Sacramento to San Francisco for a time, and requiring Governor Leland Stanford to take a rowboat to his inauguration.
William Brewer, author of “Up and down California,” wrote on January 19, 1862, “The great central valley of the state is under water—the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys—a region 250 to 300 miles long and an average of at least twenty miles wide, or probably three to three and a half millions of acres!”
In southern California lakes were formed in the Mojave Desert and the Los Angeles Basin. The Santa Ana River tripled its highest-ever estimated discharge, cutting arroyos into the southern California landscape and obliterating the ironically named Agua Mansa (Smooth Water), then the largest community between New Mexico and Los Angeles. The storms wiped out nearly a third of the taxable land in California, leaving the State bankrupt.
Here’s a drawing of Sacramento in 1862, after the storm.
In California’s election, voter support for Prop 23 is waning. That’s good news, but the fight is not over. If you didn’t like Prop 23, you’re really not going to like Prop 26. Out of state Big Oil was backing Prop 23, and, seeing that as a lost cause, they are shifting their support to Prop 26.
Prop 26 is another Big Oil backed initiative. Prop 26 would make it more difficult for state and local government to impose mitigation fees on business activities that cause harm to the environment or public health and safety. For example, fees imposed on tobacco companies to fund health-related programs, on industries for toxic waste cleanup and on alcohol retailers for law enforcement. In other words, when companies do us harm, through increased pollution, health risk, toxic waste, and crime, Prop 26 shifts the cost of those problems to the tax payer, and away from those businesses that caused the problem.
It’s all about AB32
Prop 23 was all about gutting California’s AB32 law, which requires the state to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases 25 percent by 2020.
So what are oil companies worried about? Why are the pumping tens of millions of dollars into Prop 23 and Prop 26 initiatives?
As the chart below shows, California is on the front line in the transition to alternative fuel vehicles. The US consumes more oil for transportation, than anything else. No state is making the transition to alternative fuels faster than California.
While AB32 is bad news for out of state Big Oil, it’s good news for California’s cleantech industry and general economic and environmental health of the state. It creates new cleantech jobs and positions California to be a global leader in this emerging industry. And it’s good news for the world, which will benefit from California’s cleantech innovations, much the way it did with decades of hi-tech chip, computer and communications innovations that put Silicon Valley on the map.
From the chart below, we can see that Cleantech jobs in the California Bay Area are on a fast growth path. Silicon Valley is becoming Cleantech Valley.
As sustainable business thinker Andrew Winston recenlty said:
“One global economy, the clean one, is growing, and the global battle for the new jobs is on. Some countries – such as China, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and many others – are going after these jobs aggressively. The other part of the economy – the dead fuel economy – is not going to be a growth engine (with the important exception of natural gas, which may provide a useful, medium-term bridge to the future).”
Clean economy jobs are growing ten times faster than the statewide average. AB32 is driving that growth as we transition to a clean energy economy.
AB32 is largely funded by revenue from fees. As AB32 ramps up it will require the implementation and collection of significantly higher fees to fund the implementation and enforcement of the Air Resources Board’s (ARB) scoping plan to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. If Big Oil succeeds in passing Prop 26, they take the teeth out of AB32 and pass the cost of policing businesses to the tax payers. Voting NO on Prop 23 and Prop 26 keeps big business accountable when they do harm.
Prop 23 Support is Fading
California voters are catching on to the fact that Prop 23 was an initiative promoted and funded by out of state Big Oil companies.
Dan Morain at the Sacramento Bee writes:
Heading into the final two weeks before the Nov. 2 election, the main funders, Texas-based Valero and Tesoro oil companies, seem to have concluded it makes no sense to throw more of their oil-stained millions at the bad idea.
Yes-on-23 strategist Rick Claussen told me last week that there would be no final push unless backers came through with $10 million fast. The week came and went without an infusion.
Laura Campos, Director of Shareholder Activities at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, said that shareholders are “concerned Tesoro’s support for the highly controversial Proposition 23 could lead to a decrease in shareholder value by damaging the company’s reputation and negatively impacting the business environment in a state where Tesoro has significant operations.”
As oil company manipulation of California politics has gained public exposure, shareholders are concerned that voters will vote with their feet, and not shop at gas stations of the Prop 23 proponents.
KQED radio recently hosted a debate on Prop 26, between John Dunlap, a proponent of Prop. 26, and Lenny Goldberg, executive director of the California Tax Reform Association and an opponent of Prop. 26. A commenter on that debate summed it up nicely:
What Mr. Dunlap and the industries supporting Prop 26 are really trying to do is overturn a unanimous (7-0) California Supreme Court decision (the Sinclair case mentioned at the beginning of the show) that said fees can be charged to address public health, environmental or other social problems directly associated with the production or use of a product. These legitimate regulatory fees are not “hidden taxes” as the proponents suggest. What voters really have to decide is, was the Supreme Court correct in saying, essentially, the polluter pays for their pollution. The alternative is that the public pays through poorer health or through their tax dollar (either through higher taxes or shifting tax revenues away from other services like education and law enforcement).
As I mentioned above, AB32 fosters job growth as we transition to a cleantech economy. When Big Oil tries to gut AB32, they hurt the California economy. But more than that, by promoting Prop 26, they are thumbing their nose at the citizens of California and shunning their responsibility for their toxic industry. A paper by the California Alliance for Environmental Justice, “Toxic Twins”, provides examples of Tesoro and Valero – two major Big Oil proponents of Prop 23 – and their toxic corporate behavior in California.
For more on out of state big oil, and a comprehensive list of backers of Prop 23, see Oil Change International’s excellent interactive map for info on who is funding Prop 23.
David and Goliath
I leave you with this inspiring video of Joel Francis, a Senior at Cal State LA. Joel challenges the Goliath of Big Oil – multi-billionaire Charles Koch, of Koch Industries – to a debate. Koch is one of the major contributors to Prop 23, along with a variety of other initiatives and politicians working against a transition to a clean energy economy.
In Joel’s challenge, he says:
“Mr. Koch, I get that you and your corporation don’t want to be part of our clean energy future. That’s your free market choice. But that doesn’t mean you get to wreck its development for everyone else.”
There is an age old attempt going on, of companies indirectly trying to shape the public understanding of key issues.
Let’s make sure we all do our homework.
Time just posted a good article on European Big Oil companies funding climate skeptics, that relates to all this. It’s worth reading.
And with elections across the country in their final days, if you want to see if your representatives are receiving money from big oil, check out http://dirtyenergymoney.org/.
For more on the California’s Prop 23 initiative, see:
Keywords: Feebate, Art Rosenfeld, RMI, reducing automobile CO2 emissions, reducing oil addiction
Feebates offer a compelling approach to curbing automobile fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. The concept was pioneered in the 1970s by Jonathan Koomey and Art Rosenfeld (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) and is finding renewed interest around the world.
Feebates are market-based policies for encouraging emissions reductions from new passenger vehicles by levying fees on relatively high-emitting vehicles, and using those collected fees to provide rebates to lower-emitting vehicles.
California is considering adopting a Feebate program. The UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies recently published their analysis of a Feebate program – Potential Design, Implementation, and Benefits of a Feebate Program for New Passenger Vehicles in California. The report provides a detailed overview and analysis of Feebates and reviews Feebate programs already underway in other countries.
Rocky Mountain Institute has a good review of the Feebate approach to reducing oil consumption.
Highlights of RMI’s report Feebates: A Key to Breaking U.S. Oil Addiction
The scale of U.S. oil consumption (nearly 19 million barrels per day) combined with its virtual monopoly of transportation energy (97 percent oil-based), creates strategic weakness, economic insecurity, widespread health hazards, and environmental degradation.
Feebate is an innovative policy that greatly speeds the development and deployment of efficient vehicles.
The California Legislature actually approved a similar “Drive+” law by an astonishing seven-to-one margin in 1980, but Governor George Deukmejian pocket-vetoed it after a mixed initial reaction from automakers, and it’s been bottled up ever since.
The basic idea of a feebate is simple. Buyers of inefficient vehicles are levied a surcharge (the “fee”), while buyers of efficient vehicles are awarded a rebate (the “bate”). By affecting the purchase cost up front, feebates speed the production and adoption of more efficient vehicles, saving oil, insecurity, cost, and carbon.
Though efficient vehicles’ reduced operating costs make them a good buy over the years, consumers’ implicit real discount rates, up to 60-plus percent per year (and nearly infinite for low-income car-buyers), make miles per gallon a relatively weak economic signal: long-term fuel savings are so heavily discounted that buyers, in effect, count just the first year or two—as minor an economic choice as whether to buy floor mats.
In contrast, feebates capture the life-cycle value of efficiency (or the cost of inefficiency) and reflect it in the sticker price. By increasing the price spread between less and more efficient vehicles, feebates bridge the gap between consumers’ and society’s perceptions of the time value of money. This corrects the biggest single obstacle to making and buying efficient vehicles.
Feebates can shift purchasing patterns in the short run and spur automakers’ innovation in the medium and long run. But to do both, a feebate program, like any well intentioned policy, must be properly designed and implemented. As RMI Principal Nathan Glasgow notes, “With feebates, the devil is really in the details.”
In 2007, RMI organized and hosted the first Feebate Forum, pulling together 27 experts from the auto and insurance industries, NGOs, academia, and government to discuss feebate design and implementation schemes. Through open dialogue, the group developed a set of design recommendations, barriers, and next steps for feebates.
The participants agreed on the following design goals:
1. Metrics should be based on fuel efficiency or greenhouse gas emissions, and all types of transportation energy can be included—not just diverse fuels but also electricity.
2. The size of the fee or rebate shouldn’t depend on vehicle size. The feebate should reward buyers for choosing a more efficient model of the size they want, not for shifting size. A size-class-based feebate preserves the competitive position of each automaker regardless of its offerings, debunks the myth that consumers must choose between size and efficiency, and doesn’t restrict freedom of choice. Buyers can get the size they want; the efficiency of their choice within that size class determines whether they pay a fee or get a rebate, and how much.
3. Feebates should be implemented at the manufacturer level, so automakers, rather than a government agency, should pay the fees and collect the rebates. This lets manufacturers monitor results and adjust their vehicle mix accordingly, and it avoids any need for taxpayers to foot the bill for any costs. However, a good feebate program should be revenue-neutral, with “fees” paying for “bates” plus administrative costs—a potentially attractive feature. And since the “fees” are entirely avoidable by choice, they’re not a tax.
4. The “pivot point” between fees and rebates should be adjusted annually, so the program is trued up to stay revenue-neutral, and automakers have a predictable and continuous incentive to improve the efficiency of their offerings, spurring innovation.
5. Feebates should be designed for complete compatibility with efficiency or carbon-emissions standards, so automakers aren’t whipsawed between incompatible incentives or requirements. In practice, feebates may drive efficiency improvements much larger and faster than standards require, making the standards unimportant except to prevent recidivism.
France introduced the largest feebate program to date
Averaging 133 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer for the 2009 new light-vehicle fleet, France’s vehicles now have the lowest carbon emissions in the European Union.
By comparison, the UK’s 2009 new vehicles emitted, and the EU average is, 146. Between 1995 and 2007 (when the French feebate was introduced at year-end), the emissions rate of new vehicles sold in France was falling at an average rate of 2.25 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer per year. During the first two years of the feebate program, the annual emissions decrease more than tripled to 8 grams per kilometer. Overall, the efficient bonus vehicles’ market share nearly doubled, from 30 to 56 percent, while the inefficient malus vehicles’ share fell threefold, from 24 to 8 percent.
The French program was not size-neutral as RMI recommends for the U.S., and the data show it shifted new-car buyers toward smaller vehicles. The market share of the smallest (economy) cars grew from 44 percent in 2007 to 57 percent in 2009, much as we’d expect for such a fleetwide feebate structure: smaller vehicles tend to have higher efficiency and lower carbon emissions, so unless unusually inefficient, they’ll earn a rebate that’s attractive to many buyers. For the U.S., RMI recommends a size-neutral feebate design to shift the entire market toward lighter, more aerodynamic, and advanced-powertrain vehicles, not just smaller ones.
California is currently considering the introduction of a statewide feebate bill
A state program would probably do more to shift the in-state vehicle sales mix than to spur innovative design, since even a market as big as California represents only a fraction of the U.S. auto market. Nonetheless, RMI is following this program closely.
In 2008, California’s aggressiveness on fuel efficiency spurred higher national CAFE standards, and a number of other states follow California’s lead on Clean Air Act and related policies. States and regions can make fine laboratories for refining policy innovations that later guide uniform national policies.
The concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere may double by the end of the 21st century.
In a recent Science Magazinearticle, scientists at University of California, Davis discovered that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can reduce the protein content of crop plants by as much as 20 percent. Their research shows that high CO2 levels interfere with the ability of plants to convert nitrates into proteins, thus reducing plant productivity and food quality. Increasing nitrogen fertilization might compensate for slower nitrate assimilation, but such fertilization rates might not be economically or environmentally feasible.
Food = Energy
Most crop fertilizers are produced from oil. As oil supply tightens, the price of oil will rise. The price of fertilizer will track that increase.
About 17 percent of fossil fuels are used to produce our food. The most energy intensive activities are:
Fertilizer & pesticide production
Fertilizer and pesticide production accounts for 31 percent of fossil fuel usage in food production.
Big Ag should be concerned about this. They are the heaviest users of fertilizers and pesticides. It’s time for them to think about how to adapt to this. Organic farmers should be in much better shape. They avoid the use of fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides. Organic sources of nitrogen, such as compost and manure, are their soil amendments of choice.
Food cost represents from 16% (developed nations) to over 60% (developing nations) of a family’s budget. As climate change reduces food quality and oil inflation drives up the cost of food production, family’s will struggle – receiving less nutritional value, at greater cost.
Looking at this news through the lens of government, three issues rise to the top:
If you need to feed a lot of people (think India and China), it’s all about efficiency. A 20% drop in protein production is a big problem.
Make sure your Department of Agriculture and extension agents are at the top of their game, developing and disseminating best practices for our climate changing world.
If your state/country produces a lot of food (think California, the grain belt, Canada, Europe and the UK), think about ramping up non-fossil fuel-based sources of nitrogen.
One clever approach to producing organic nitrogen – use farm animal waste to generate biogas for energy production, and use the resultant nitrogen-rich composted manure to amend farmland soil. The benefits?
Less dependency on oil.
Strengthen the local economy through local nitrogen and energy production.
Capture the methane in animal waste before it enters the atmosphere.