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.


Climate Change: No One is Exempt

February 1, 2017

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
PopularResistance.org, 10 Apr, 2017
Fullerton Observer, mid Feb, 2017 (p. 20)
San Diego Free Press, 03 Feb, 2017
EarthTalk
, 02 Feb, 2017

1309_consensus-graphic-2015-768pxLuckier Americans are insulated from many everyday worries, like struggling to pay the rent or mortgage on time. Some even enjoy life in gated communities, fine dining and first-class travel. But, just as money is no guarantee of happiness, neither is it assurance of protection against all of the frightening impacts of unchecked global warming.

2016 was the third straight year that the Earth’s temperature was the hottest on record. Contrary to what one might hear in politicized discourse, climate scientists are nearly unanimous in concluding climate change is happening and is the result of burning fossil fuels for energy.

The United Nations and scientific organizations worldwide warn that effects of climate change are already being felt and that the Earth is more than half the way to a temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius, beyond which runaway global warming will produce irreversible, catastrophic effects. Even worse, if global greenhouse gas emissions remain on their current trajectory, children living today can expect to experience the fallouts of a temperature increase topping 4 degrees Celsius by end of this century.

Despite such dire predictions, Americans, rich and poor, overwhelmingly believe climate change is not a threat to them personally. In a nationwide, county-by-county poll conducted in 2015, in not a single county did the majority of respondents believe climate change will affect them personally, though majorities in 99% of counties felt future generations would be.

The difficulty Americans have in understanding their own vulnerability to climate change stems in part from failing to see beyond the direct effects of climate change – heatwaves, droughts, storms and floods – to appreciate all the indirect effects on health and safety from air pollution, spread of infectious diseases, food and water shortages, population migrations and conflicts.

These indirect effects of climate change place everyone at risk. Read the rest of this entry »


Greening Your Wardrobe

September 29, 2016

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
Natural Life Magazine, Oct issue, 2016
San Diego Free Press, 04 Oct, 2016
EarthTalk, 05 Oct, 2016

apparel-clothingWhat typically comes to mind when contemplating our personal environmental footprint is the energy efficiency of the car we drive, how religiously we recycle, and maybe whether or not we have a water thirsty lawn. However, everything we do and own has impacts on the environment, and that includes the choices we make in dressing ourselves.

This point was driven home in a smart little book published in 1997 titled, “Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things,” which describes the planetary impacts of everyday material goods. One chapter details what goes into producing a wardrobe basic, the cotton/polyester blend T-shirt.

A few highlights include the overseas extraction of the crude oil from which polyester is synthesized, the energy and pesticide intensive process of growing and harvesting cotton, and transporting milled fabrics abroad and back again so they can be sewn into T-shirts by cheap foreign labor.

From this T-shirt saga emerges a simple truth: The T-shirts with the least environmental impact are the ones you already own, or maybe ones purchased at a secondhand shop.

Nonetheless, clothes do wear out and wardrobe adjustments become necessary when we take on new jobs or sports, change weight or treat ourselves to the latest fashion. So the question remains how to make apparel selections which better protect both the environment and the people involved in the production process. The good news is that there are already more sustainable clothing options on the market, plus there is game-changing movement within the apparel industry to provide consumers with a point of purchase “index” conveying the environmental footprint of items being offered. Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


Human Activity Ushers in New Geologic Epoch

February 14, 2016

(and it’s not very pretty)

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
Fullerton Observer, Mid Mar, 2016, p. 18
EarthTalk, 26 Feb, 2016
PopularResistance.org, 22 Feb, 2016
San Diego Free Press, 19 Feb, 2016
OB Rag, 19 Feb, 2016

Earth's history recorded in sedimentary stratifications

Earth’s history recorded in sedimentary stratifications

By mid-twentieth century, humans had altered the Earth to such an extent as to mark the start of a new geologic epoch named the Anthropocene, concluded an international consortium of researchers in a January issue of the preeminent journal Science.

Scientists divide Earth’s 4.5 billion year history into so-called epochs or time units based on major shifts in the composition and state of the planet as recorded in distinct stratifications in rocks, sediments and glacier ice. Previous transitions from one geologic epoch to the next were triggered by either cyclical drivers of climate change, like variations in the Earth’s orbit or solar radiation, or irregular events like volcanic eruptions.  The most recent epoch for example, the Holocene, spanned ~12,000 years and was ushered in by a period of interglacial global warming.

Transition to the Anthropocene, in contrast, is driven by an unprecedented rate of change to the global environment caused by a convergence of three human factors: rapid rises in population growth, technological development and resources consumption, starting about 1950. So although Homo sapiens first emerged as a species about 200,000 years ago, it wasn’t until last century that their numbers and impact were sufficient to drive the permanent changes we now see to the Earth’s system.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.
Read the rest of this entry »


A Climate Change Fix Both the Left and Right Can Embrace

March 27, 2015

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
San Diego Free Press, 27 Mar, 2015
E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 28 Mar, 2015
Fullerton Observer, Early Apr, 2015 (p. 10)
PopularResistance.Org, 02 Apr, 2015

Power Plant

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Studies abound linking the increase in extreme weather-related catastrophes in recent decades, like droughts, floods, hurricanes and blizzards, to global climate change.

Climate experts stress the urgency of addressing the problem now, predicting cascading economic and political, social and environmental upheavals worldwide if action is delayed. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, the CO2 content of earth’s atmosphere has shot up from 275 ppm to over 400 ppm, already well above the 350 ppm limit some scientists believe is a safe level above which we risk triggering irreversible consequences out of human control.

Most Americans agree with the climatologists who believe that climate change is happening and likely caused by greenhouse gases produced by the burning of carbon-based fossil fuels. Asked if “the federal government should act to limit the amount of greenhouse gases U.S. businesses put out,” 78% said yes in a national poll which appeared January 20 in The New York Times. This reflects 60% of Republicans and 87% of Democrats polled.

Yet Congress is still home to a cadre of climate change deniers. Even among the majority in Congress that don’t dispute it, previous legislative proposals to price carbon emissions can be counted on two hands and all died in committee, revealing a glaring lack of political will to tackle this perceived global threat. This comes as no surprise given that fossil fuel industry lobbyists are well represented among the paid lobbyists on Capitol Hill which outnumber members of Congress 4-to-1.

Enter the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization populated by volunteer citizens with a single mission: Create the political will in Congress to pass a real solution to climate change, palatable to politicians across the political spectrum.

Read the rest of this entry »