Monthly Archives: March 2015

Like Water For Avocados

After an announcement about a possible shortage of Hass Avocados caused near panic (and perhaps some welcome publicity), Mexican food chain, Chipolte, tried to soothe its fans with an announcement that there is no “guacapocalypse” in the offing.  Really?  Avocados are a thirsty crop, second only to another California favorite, the endangered almond.  According to Mother Jones, it takes 74.1 gallons of water to grow one pound of avocados as opposed to strawberries (9.8 gallons) or lettuce (5.4 gallons). For the time being, the California Hass is big business for the state: “… about 80 percent of all avocados eaten worldwide and … more than $1 billion a year in revenues in the United States alone.”  (California Avocado Commission).  

Headlines like this one from Newsweek 3/13/15: NASA: California Has One Year of Water Left, should be setting off alarm bells in the Congressional denialist camp on the basis of the economic impact alone, with the nation’s food security right up there next to it.  So it’s particularly bad news for all of us who love avocados — heck, like to eat regularly! — that Senator Ted Cruz now heads the Senate Science Committee, and that he has told NASA to stick to space and drop its climate investigations.  We need to pay close27_smap20150224-16 attention to what happens next.  After all, budget cuts that could threaten programs like NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Soil Moisture Mapper (SMAP)  — a satellite that can improve weather forecasts, monitor droughts and predict floods —  will hurt us all, now and in the immediate future. Maybe we should take a page from Senator Snowball’s playbook and start jamming the inboxes of legislators of his ilk with our favorite guacamole recipes.  This sounds like a job for Beautiful Trouble, fearless artist/activists.  Hi-jinks and hackery that exercise our creativity and even soothe our souls.   

It’s great to learn that Al Gore is newly optimistic that we can bring ourselves back from the brink, but yesterday on World Water Day, I couldn’t help thinking about what ordinary Californians are doing about a drought so severe, it has its own website?  Not nearly enough, according to figures from January this year which showed that conservation of water dropped from 22% to 9%, possibly spurred by an end of the year rainy period.  We are so addicted to short-term — or maybe it’s magical — thinking!  No wonder we are so easily distracted by shiny new things, blockbuster movies, and gossip about people we’ll never meet or particularly want to.

So I decided to ask a friend who lives in Huntington Beach about the water crisis, and she assured me that although some of her neighbors still have lawns (and presumably, have not as yet been prohibited from watering them), she has embraced a more desert scape, that is, rocks and succulents.  OK, it’s something, and granted, this is a minuscule sample.  But isn’t this typical of a common mismatch between the complexity of the issues we face — economic, health, safety, civil society — and the response of too many people like my well-meaning friend, as well as those in positions of power?  California officials, writes Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, are “staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.”

Although drought isn’t an issue for Florida at the moment, we have our own water challenges: a rising sea (flooding, coastal erosion, threat to infrastructure and property) and the migration of salt into the agricultural water supply.  So much for the idea that California’s agricultural losses might be somewhat mitigated by Florida’s food growing power.  For more on this including the Sea Level Rise Symposium 2014, see my blog posts from last July, Water: Next Capitalist Tool? and November, Raising Fields.  Not enough water or the wrong kind — none of this is good news for living things.  But compared to what many see as the threat of water wars in the not too distant future, these issues are a drop in the bucket.

What can we do?  First, recognize that climate change is with us here and now and that we humans have no history or experience with the kinds of change it will likely produce in our lives.  On a beautiful, cool morning in South Florida as I write this from my patio, it’s possible to imagine that we have a decade or two before we are forced to adjust, to take action, or possibly, flee for higher ground. Even if that were true, it’s cold comfort for our children and grandchildren. Second, cut your consumption: repair, reuse, repurpose, skip the upgrade, minimize air travel, and make do while these are choices we can still make freely. Third: ask yourself to imagine a world without your favorite food (yes, avocados), a beloved bird, flower, tree, pollinators in general, a particular beach, a cherished vacation spot, a life experience you now take for granted (hiking a pristine trail, growing vegetables, access to a wide variety of fresh food, taking a hot shower, feeling safe on my streets and in my home, are all on my list).  What would you do to preserve these ordinary treasures, for yourself and those you love?  Do it.

See also: The Dark Mountain Project and Movement Generation

Solar is coming! Solar is Coming!

For my money, I would bet [Elon] Musk can upend a stodgy electricity business with little interest in innovation before it can beat out the behemoths who control the auto industry. – Daniel Sparks, The Motley Fool

Perhaps you’ve read about European utilities entering a ‘death spiral’ because they would rather go down fighting than switch to renewables like solar and wind? Expect something similar in the U.S. in the not too distant future. I’m with Daniel Sparks (quote above) that it’s billionaire entrepreneur, Elon Musk, along with partners like Google ($300 million in SolarCity) who will continue to give utility CEOs, and their legislative minions, agita in the years ahead and the rest of us, reason to hope and rejoice.

Could business-done-right leverage society into a new era of clean, affordable energy when government’s hands are tied? What if the innovative muscle and wealth of our most forward-thinking companies could reverse the damage of business as usual?

It’s energizing to think so, and there are plenty of signals that solar power will become inevitable when 1. Costs drop further and 2. The public demands it (that would be you and me).  So, I’m devoting this post to a series of annotated links in support of these possibilities. I urge you to learn all you can about solar power and how best to advocate for its adoption in your community. And if you have the wherewithal to do so, consider investing in solar, e.g. SCTY (Nasdaq).

Solar panel imageGenerating solar power isn’t difficult, especially where sunshine is abundant. Just remember, “Every hour the sun beams onto Earth more than enough energy to satisfy global energy needs for an entire year.” (Source: National Geographic)  If 89-year-old Québécois, Claude Morency, can keep his kidney-shaped pool at a cozy 80°F year round with solar panels on his North Palm Beach home, so can anyone with $1,500 to invest in installation. Payback is between 1.5 to 7 years, according to Florida Solar Energy Center, a great source of cost-comparisons and other information. In fact, Morency is no newcomer to solar. As a full-time sailor, he powered his live/work sailboat with solar batteries for at least a decade.

The tricky part has been power storage for use when the sun isn’t shining (or the wind blowing, for that matter). But that’s about to change. At the moment, our condo (powered by renewables, courtesy Arcardia) also powers up our leased Nissan Leaf with a nightly plug-in. Apparently, power can flow the other way in an emergency, which is reassuring here in the hurricane belt. But it gets better, according to Elon Musk, who has announced that his company is within six months of producing a battery-pack for the home. Do I have your attention yet?

What would a Tesla home battery look like? The Toyota Mirai, which uses a hydrogen fuel cell, gives owners the option to remove the battery and use it to supply electrical power to their homes. That battery can reportedly power the average home for a week when fully charged. Employees at many big Silicon Valley tech companies already enjoy free charging stations at their office parking lot. Now imagine if they could use that juice to eliminate their home electric bill. A more practical application for your car would be a backup generator during emergencies, which is how Nissan pitches the battery in its Leaf. – The Verge

You may have heard that this revolution will be local. Actually, they usually start there.  So while Congress and state legislatures fiddle, some forward-thinking municipalities are showing us why a clean energy is the only future, and why it makes economic sense right now. See: Burlington, Vermont Becomes First U.S. City to Run on 100% Renewable Energy.

Now admittedly, Burlington, population 42,000, is probably an ideal sized city for such a bold move. Most small towns simply don’t have the financial muscle to kiss their utility goodbye and negotiate their own power sourcing. Wrap your mouth around this possible solution: community choice aggregation (CCA), a system that enables “cities and counties to aggregate the buying power of individual customers within a defined jurisdiction in order to secure alternative energy supply contracts on a community-wide basis, but allowing consumers not wishing to participate to opt out.” (Wikipedia definition). Already happening in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, and Rhode Island. Don’t hold your breath for Florida which is, I kid you not, attempting to ban the use of the phrase, ‘climate change.’

Not So Strange Bedfellows. Despite some pockets of open-mindedness (Go Solar Florida’s workshops, this Wednesday, March 11, 2015), one has to look beyond the Sunshine State for signs of intelligent life on this subject. And there is growing evidence the solar revolution may be fueled by people who don’t generally occupy the same meeting rooms, beginning to work together on common goals. At this moment, it matters not whether our motivation is to secure a future for our grandchildren via renewable energy, or we’re more driven by the right to choose based on our free market system. Maybe it’s time to shake hands with Debbie Dooley of the Green Tea Coalition and offer a high five to Barry Goldwater, Jr. of TUSK (Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed).

The sun also rises in Africa. Good news for the family of Kenyan villager, David Lodio, whose single solar panel now generates enough power to enable his children to do their homework, and for the 585 million who currently have no access to electricity.  For rural Africa (which largely skipped the fossil-fueled industrial revolution), solar power will change everything for the better. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-31503424

Let me close this short chapter in an on-going solar success story with a news flash.  This morning, a solar-powered plane took off from Abu Dhabi for the first leg of what will be a round the world flight. The Wright Brothers II?  Up, up, and away!

Lots more information in the live links throughout and here:

36% of All New Electric Capacity in 2014 from Solar

Popular Mechanics on solar energy storage