Post-Paris Climate Accord: What’s Next?

July 6, 2017

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
Escondido Grapevine, 19-Jul, 2017
San Diego Free Press, 11-Jul, 2017
EarthTalk
, 06-Jul, 2017

Though President Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, this is no time for the 70 percent of Americans who believe climate change is happening to recoil in defeat. Rather, we should feel empowered that a 2016 post-election poll of registered voters found that majorities of Democrats (86%),  Independents (61%) and Republicans (51%) alike wanted the United States to participate in the accord and that two out of three voters said the U.S. should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do.

Thus, it is exactly the time to speak out against the misguided actions of The White House by taking decisive steps well within our reach as individual citizens and communities. After all, the Paris Agreement is only a broad-stroke commitment from participating countries to collectively limit global warming to 1.5 to 2.0 degrees Celsius (°C) compared to preindustrial levels. It has always been true that only Congress and legislative bodies at the state and local level, not the President, can enact laws that can move us from a fossil fuel to a sustainable energy economy.

Here’s what’s happening at various jurisdictions around the nation already.

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Irvine: The Little Engine That Could

June 2, 2017

Irvine led on restoring the ozone layer and should lead now on climate change. 

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared: Irvine Community News & Views, 02-Jun, 2017

Ozone Depletion: The First Global Environmental Crisis

The depletion of the protective ozone layer in the Earth’s atmosphere by man-made chemicals was the global community’s first environmental crisis.  Today, climate change, largely attributable to greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, is the second and far more frightening crisis.

The people of Irvine can be proud that actions taken by the City Council in 1989 were instrumental in creating a blueprint at the local level for carrying out the aspirations set forth in the 1987 Montreal protocol, the international agreement to restore the ozone layer.  It is widely hailed as the most successful global environmental treaty ever.  As the global community today faces the reality that unchecked global warming could unleash catastrophic effects impacting all future generations, Irvine can and should resurrect the same purpose and determination that inspired the City to make a difference back then.

In 1974, scientists at UC Irvine, led by Nobel laureates (1995) F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario J. Molina, predicted that the Earth’s protective ozone layer would be seriously diminished by the rampant use of halogens — chemicals, such as CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and other ozone-depleting compounds then used as refrigerants, spray can propellants, and solvents.  The ozone layer acts as a shield, preventing the most harmful ultraviolet radiation in sunlight (UVB) from reaching the Earth’s surface.  Excessive exposure to UVB is known to cause not only sunburn, skin cancers and cataracts but also damage to crops and reduction of plankton populations vital to the ocean food web.

It wasn’t until 1985 that the infamous hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica was discovered, as Rowland and Molina predicted. That triggered the international alarm that led to the Montreal Protocol.  Because action at the federal level was painfully slow in coming, the Irvine City Council, then led by Mayor Larry Agran and City Councilmember Cameron Cosgrove, boldly passed the most far-reaching, legally enforceable measure anywhere to eliminate CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances.  This remarkable ordinance prohibited using CFCs and other targeted halogens in most industrial processes in the City of Irvine.

The City Council, in taking responsible action at the local level, believed that other jurisdictions would be empowered to use Irvine’s ordinance as a model.  That is exactly what happened in many cities and counties across America and throughout the world, and today we know that the hole in the ozone layer is shrinking and we have overcome that global environmental crisis.

Climate Change: The Second Global Environmental Crisis

Now we are faced with a second, far greater global environmental crisis.  News reports worldwide tell us that the effects of climate change are already being felt, while scientists tell us that the window of opportunity to take aggressive actions to prevent runaway global warming is the next 10 to 15 years, at best.  Though the 2015 Paris Agreement shows there is worldwide consensus on the urgency of tackling climate change, President Trump has threatened to throw a wrench into the agreement by pulling the U.S. out of this historic international agreement.  Even if the U.S. remains a participant, there is no guarantee that Congress or the President has the political will to enact laws in time to move from an economy based on fossil fuels to one based on renewable energy sources.

As in 1989, local jurisdictions can and are leading the nation in solving the climate crisis.  The State of California and 45 cities around the nation have enacted resolutions calling on Congress to take decisive action on climate change, or more specifically, to impose some form of a fee on carbon, with dividends returned to consumers.  What’s more, dozens of cities and counties in California are formulating plans allowing public entities to purchase energy from renewable sources, though none is in Orange County.

As a leading example, the City of San Diego has courageously passed the first comprehensive, legally binding Climate Action Plan that is crafted to cut the city’s carbon footprint in half by 2035.  Components of the plan include: commitment to 100% renewable electricity; upgrading buildings to be more energy and water efficient; guiding development to make mass transit, walking and biking more accessible; 100% waste diversion from landfills; and making the City more climate resilient with measures like increasing the tree canopy.

The impact Irvine had in reining in ozone-depleting chemicals in 1989 is concrete proof that thinking globally and acting locally is more than a feel-good mantra.  Irvine should take a cue from San Diego and once again become a leader in environmental protection — this time as a driving force in formulating and propagating an innovative blueprint for climate change action that other jurisdictions can then replicate.

When Irvine took the lead in meeting the ozone challenge, it became front-page news in the New York Times and other papers throughout the world.  The City even won a United Nations award for leadership in environmental protection.

Irvine was once the little engine that could, and did, lead the world.  It should do so again, this time to meet the climate change crisis.


Demand Sustainably Produced Cut Flowers

July 7, 2016

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 09 Jul, 2016
PopularResistance.org, 15 Jul, 2016
San Diego Free Press, 21 Jul, 2016
Natural Life Magazine, 27 Jul, 2016
Life.ca, 27 Jul, 2016

Photo: Ian Muttoo, Wikimedia Commons

Ian Muttoo, Wikimedia Commons

Flowers add color and gaiety to any special occasion and are a time-honored way to say thank you or beautify living spaces. However, cut flowers have become a multi-billion dollar global trade industry with a not so pretty underbelly rooted in where and how they are grown.

Historically in the U.S., flowers were first grown in greenhouses in Eastern states and later in Western and Southern states when commercial air transportation made preserving freshness possible. In the 1970’s, the U.S. grew more cut flowers than it imported, only a small fraction originated in Colombia.

However, new market forces were unleashed in 1991 when the U.S. suspended import duties on flowers from Colombia to curb growing of coca for cocaine and to bolster the Colombian economy. By 2003, the U.S. was importing more flowers from Colombia than were produced domestically. The combination of cheap unskilled labor (largely female) and ideal, year-round growing conditions created an explosive market for Colombian floriculture.

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Climate Change Fixers’ Bag of Tricks

September 24, 2015

Will Congress Act in Time?

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
San Diego Free Press, 25-Sep, 2015
E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 25-Sep, 2015
Val-E-Vents (Sierra Club, San Fernando Valley), Nov, 2015

Bag of tricksHalting global warming is the chief environmental challenge of our time.

While heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) is not the only greenhouse gas (GHG), it’s the most abundant and longest-lived in the atmosphere and contributes the most to global warming.  In March, atmospheric CO2 content reached a new high of 400 parts per million, already past the 350 limit many scientists believe is a safe level above which we risk triggering irreversible consequences out of human control.

Second only to China as the largest CO2 emitter, it’s incumbent on the United States to lead the world in addressing global warming.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the window of time to avoid the worst effects is just a few decades.  Yet the United States has not adopted even a nationwide strategy.

Neither producers nor consumers of energy from fossil fuels pay for the environmental and social damages wrought.  These so-called externalized costs are shouldered by the public through illness, droughts, violent storms, coastal community destruction, international conflicts, etc.  Externalizing the costs of fossil fuels keeps their market price low, de-incentivizing society to move to renewable energy sources.

Current strategies to wean off fossil fuels fall into four categories.*  Each attempts to internalize the actual costs of burning fossil fuels through incentives to convert to cleaner energy.
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Five Reasons to Pee in Your Garden

October 18, 2014

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
Surf City Voice, 26 Oct, 2014
EarthTalk, 01 Nov, 2014
San Diego Free Press, 05 Nov, 2014
Fullerton Observer, Mid Nov, 2014

Photo: Laura Silverstein

Photo: Laura Silverstein

I confess, my husband and I both pee in our backyard garden, waiting until nightfall so as not to surprise neighbors.

We’ve always been comfortable relieving ourselves alongside lonely highways, even in daylight when waiting for the next bathroom seems unreasonable. But peeing in our own garden started as something of a lark, a combo of enjoying feeling a little naughty while also stealing a moment to take in the stillness of the night.

However, after a little research into the contents of urine and the ecological footprint of toilet flushing, I’m approaching my nightly garden visitations with a renewed sense of purpose, armed with sound reasons to continue the habit.

#1 Urine is a good fertilizer, organic and free
C
ontrary to popular belief, urine is usually germ-free unless contaminated with feces. It’s also about 95 percent water. The chief dissolved nutrient is urea, a nitrogen (N)-rich waste metabolite of the liver. Consequently, urine is high in N. Synthesized urea, identical to urea in urine, is also the number one ingredient of manufactured urea fertilizers which now dominate farming industry. Furthermore, urine contains lower amounts of the other two main macronutrients needed for healthy plant growth, phosphorous (P) and potassium (K).

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Youthful skin comes at cost to ocean food web

May 29, 2014

Time to eliminate plastic micro-bead exfoliants

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
Surf City Voice, 29-May, 2014
E-Magazine Blog, 29-May, 2014
Fullerton Observer, Early June, 2014, p. 9
Algalita Marine Research Blog, 04-June, 2014
Southern Sierran, 18-June, 2014
San Diego Free Press,
25-June, 2014
Natural Life Magazine, July/August, 2014

Biodegradable alternatives to plastic micro-beads

Biodegradable alternatives to plastic micro-beads (Wikimedia Commons)

The beauty industry hits hard on the importance of frequent exfoliation to keep skin looking younger and healthy. Spherical plastic micro-bead scrubbers, no larger than a half millimeter, have been introduced into hundreds of skin care products in recent decades, but scientists are discovering that the ocean food web, and maybe human health, could be imperiled as a result.

As babies, skin cells are replaced every two weeks, but by age 50 the turnover rate has slowed to six weeks or longer, fostering wrinkles and other unwelcome signs of aging. Products containing plastic micro-beads profess to speed up cell rejuvenation, and their popularity signals that consumers have bought into the promise of exfoliating your way to a more youthful look. Whether or not such products deliver on this promise, scientists have discovered that these innocent-looking plastic micro-beads are insidious little transporters of chemical pollutants into lakes, streams and oceans and maybe onto our dinner plates.

Micro-beads are usually made of polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP), and like other plastics, they’re thought to persist in the environment for a hundred years or more. They’re added to facial scrubs, body washes, soap bars, toothpastes and even sunscreens and designed to be washed down the drain. However, micro-beads commonly escape waste treatment plants and pollute bodies of water, because the plants aren’t designed to eliminate them or because wastewater is diverted directly to local waterways in heavier rains.

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Mid-Ocean Plastics Cleanup Schemes: Too Little Too Late?

May 27, 2013

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Plastic debris from N. Pacific Gyre.
(Algalita Marine Research Institute)

Imagine using a thimble to empty a bathtub, with the faucet still running. That’s how experts on ocean plastics pollution generally see schemes focused on extracting the debris from the open ocean instead of strategies to prevent plastic waste from getting there in the first place.

Interest in methods to rid the oceans of plastic debris is motivated by very real threats to the entire ocean food web. The “North Pacific Garbage Patch” is the most studied of the five subtropical gyres, gigantic whirlpools where waste is picked up and concentrated by slow-swirling currents. There, plastic debris already outweighs zooplankton, tiny creatures at the base of the food web, by a factor of 36:1, according to the latest trawls by the Algalita Marine Research Institute in Long Beach, CA.

Subtropical gures

The 5 subtropical gyres.

Conventional plastics do not biodegrade on land or in water, but become brittle in sunlight and break apart into ever smaller bits of plastic, still containing toxic substances introduced during manufacture – like phthalates, bisphenol-A and flame retardants. Plastics also attract and concentrate persistent oily pollutants present in seawater. So plastic debris not only threatens sea creatures through entanglement or by clogging their digestive tracts, but also introduces dangerous chemicals into the food chain.

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