This is the Nov. 25, 2021 edition Boiling Point. Boiling Point is a weekly newsletter about climate and the environment in California. Register here to receive it in your email.
Good morning and welcome to Boiling Point’s holiday edition. I hope that whatever your life might normally look like — phone calls, meetings, endless emails — you can take a break this weekend, eat some delicious food and spend time with loved ones.
The climate crisis doesn’t take Thanksgiving off, and neither does this newsletter. But this week we’re doing something different.
As I’ve written previously, people often ask me how I stay hopeful, given the scary stuff my colleagues and I write about — deadly heat waves, devastating fires, fast-rising seas, and underlying many of those problems, political inaction and corporate greed. As journalists, we’re so focused on telling these stories that we rarely take time to stop and reflect, and share how we stay afloat.
So, to celebrate Thanksgiving, my colleagues who cover environmental topics asked me what gives me hope.
Here’s what they had to say.
LILA SEIDMAN, breaking news
A National Park Service official shed tears of joy when he shared how a grove containing giant sequoia trees was likely saved by fire damage from the quick protection measures they took.
Though thousands of the majestic trees perished, the official was deeply concerned for the giants — and resolved to keep fighting for their survival.
Reporting on California’s climate-driven disasters such as unyielding droughts and catastrophic wildfires has allowed me to witness the passionate love that Californians have for their natural wonders. It’s heartening to see this emotional bond inspire individual and collective action to protect these marvels. I’m hopeful this bodes well for the larger fight against climate change.
Kristen Shive (director of science, Save the Redwoods League) admires trees at the Alder Creek Grove privately owned in October.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
EVAN HALPER, Washington, D.C., correspondent
Politicians love to talk about environment justice. People who live in fence-line communities often find those words hollow. The state’s stark economic divide, unique geography and large concentrations of heavily polluting facilities have created a public health crisis that too often feels intractable to the low-income Californians who suffer disproportionately from it.
California has come up with a new approach to dealing with these inequalities. CalEnviroScreen is a national tool for locating polluted census tracts. It has been refined and turbocharged. The state uses the data to direct funding to hard-hit communities — and to force local officials to consider the history of toxic air and economic hardship before allowing more pollution.
At their own peril, cities and counties ignore the mapping tool. California’s attorney general is watching, filing legal actions against local governments that approve heavily polluting projects in communities already struggling with some of the state’s lowest air quality and highest poverty rates. CalEnviroScreen inspired officials from the state to join the fight to stop a toxic cement factory located in Vallejo. This mega-warehouse is next to a school in Inland Empire as well as an Amazon air cargo hub.
IAN JAMES water
Michael Bogan, an ecologist, met me on the Santa Cruz River in Tucson a few months back. He was carrying a net with him and a bucket to collect samples from aquatic invertebrates, such as giant water bugs or snails.
We sloshed through the stream, passing thickets of cattails, and arrived at Bogan’s study site, where blue dragonflies were hovering over a clear pool. None of this — not the water, the plants or the bugs — existed a few years ago.
Michael Bogan, an Ecologist, takes notes as he measures water quality in the Santa Cruz River, Tucson, Ariz. in June.
(Ian James / Los Angeles Times)
The riverbed remained dry for much of the past century. Rainstorms occasionally caused water to runoff into the channel. In 2019, Tucson began to release treated wastewater near downtown. That decision has brought back a flowing stream, and it’s teeming with insects, birds and other wildlife.
I reported on the river’s resurgence and Bogan’s research documenting the new ecosystem, I felt hopeful seeing that even a small amount of water, when used in this way, can have a dramatic effect and create a space for nature to flourish.
RUSS MITCHELL, autos
I rarely look to material objects for inspiration. This is the case with the pickup truck.
At a time of climate crisis, there’s no way to significantly reduce tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases without a major shift to electric vehicles. Well-to-do urbanites with large stock portfolios have turned to Tesla and other cutting-edge cars with enviro cred, but it’s going to take something more mainstream to lure in Americans as a whole.
Ford F-150 Lightning pickup trucks could be that thing. Gasoline and diesel F-150s have ranked as the country’s best-selling motor vehicles for decades. Ford is doing everything possible to make the Lightning feel like a pickup-truck. This includes maximizing its benefits in torque, worksite electrical generation, and operational costs savings.
Ford is overwhelmed by orders for the Lightning, which goes to market next year. Chevy and Ram also have plans for electric pickup trucks. Success is not assured, but if electric pickup trucks get snapped up in places like Kansas, Nebraska and California’s Shasta County, the transition to electric vehicles could prove unstoppable.
ALEX WIGGLESWORTH – wildfires
The outlook can be bleak when it comes to wildfires across the Western U.S. Climate change, forest management decisions, and continued development of high-risk areas are making fires more severe and larger.
As I am reporting on these issues, I also get to meet so many experts who have dedicated their lives to understanding these dynamics and finding ways to improve them. That’s what gives me hope. These problems are being tackled by some of the most brilliant minds, from firefighters to scientists to land managers to scientists. I’m always grateful when they take the time to share their work with me.
ROSANNAXIA, coast & ocean
It has been encouraging for scientists to be back in their labs again and out on water, resuming all of the field work that was stalled during the initial year of the pandemic. I’m grateful for this research that continues to help us understand the ocean and the future of our planet.
A garibaldi, California’s state marine fish, is seen swimming through a kelp forest close to Catalina Island.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
STUART LEAVENWORTH, Boiling Point editor
The United States accounts for 4% of the world’s population and — According to a 2019 report — 12% of its garbage. This may not sound like a promising pair of statistics, however it is. There’s enormous potential in dramatically reducing U.S. waste and realizing the benefits: Less plastic washing onto beaches. Fewer landfills are created. Fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
To change wasteful practices, you need to engage people and make those choices simple, stylish, and even enjoyable. That’s why my Instagram feed includes sites such as Bea Johnson’s zerowastehome, #goingzerowaste and, separately, Kathryn Kellogg’s going.zero.waste.
These influencers, along with many others, are trying change the outlook on home life. They are aiming to go beyond the Buy Nothing Movement and reuse and recycling, and create a future where families can grow more food, declutter their lives, and give gifts that truly mean something because they made them.
The supply chain crisis has exposed the dangers of mass dependency on imported goods and retail consumption. Although the zero-waste vision may seem utopian, it is part of a solution.
HAYLEY Smith, breaking news
Writing about California’s climate crisis can be grueling. Some stories this year broke my heart, like fires threatening giant sequoia trees and startling images of our state’s dwindling reservoirs.
Others gave me hope. When I was in Lake Tahoe covering the Caldor fire, I’d often approach people on the street or in their driveways. Almost without fail — and even as ash fell from the sky and thick black smoke choked the air — they would take time to tell me about their families, their lives and their fears. Sometimes they’d give me coffee or invite me to their homes.
Those interactions fills me with gratitude. I don’t know whether California (or the world) will be able to prevent the worst effects of climate change, and in fact many have already begun. But despite what can seem like a growing divide, I feel optimistic each time I am reminded that people are generous, people are kind, and people are willing to work together even when it feels like it’s all falling apart.
Boaters enjoy Lake Tahoe, Nevada at Sand Harbor, Nev. on August 27, 2019.
(Max Whittaker/For The Times).
SUSANNE ROUST, environmental investigations
I sense a caring and concern where I didn’t even two years ago — in part because of the pandemic.
Remember those few weeks that nobody drove? Or flying? It was so clear. It was sweet and alive, I heard. They couldn’t get enough of it. We were able to see individual redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains from San Francisco Bay, where I live. Everything was so clear. And then there were the sounds: We could hear birds, tree frogs and wind — without the constant hum of traffic, grind of leaf blowers and thudding, pounding and cranking of construction.
Everybody is a kind of “woke” up to the natural beauty around them — and I think it has stuck.
When you add to that the visceral calamities our warming planet has dropped on us recently — record-breaking heat waves, fires, bad air, drought and even that crazy atmospheric river dump that struck Northern California in October — I sense a sentiment of action and urgency where I didn’t before.
This gives me hope.
I guess it’s weird to be thankful for a pandemic and waves of climatic destruction. But having endured them, I do think they’ve produced something meaningful. And I’m thankful for that.
What about me? I’m thankful to all of you who read Boiling Point and make it a priority to engage with these crucially important issues. It gives me hope that so many people not only want to learn about this stuff — even when the stories are scary — but also take the time to share feedback, ask questions, and most importantly use our journalism to try to make positive change.
We are grateful. Please keep it up!
On that note, here’s what’s happening around the West:
Near the Kern Oil & Refining Co. facility, Lamont, Calif., there is a taco stand.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
California’s attorney general is partnering with local activists to fight Amazon warehouses, oil refineries and other industrial polluters in low-income communities that already breathe terrible air. The environmental justice initiative could be a model for the nation, with the Biden administration looking to replicate the state’s CalEnviroScreen mapping tool, my colleagues Evan Halper and Anna M. Phillips report. Also watch this video by The Times’ Jackeline Luna to hear from Inland Empire residents forced to breathe heavily polluted air, courtesy of the companies meeting our insatiable demand for speedy delivery of goods.
For cooler working conditions and cooler weather, many California farmworkers moved to Oregon during the summer for decades. With the planet warming up and Oregon scorching like it has ever been, Fewer people make the trek.Priscella Vega reports on The Times. It’s not just warmer weather reshaping the Pacific Northwest — this year the region went from From deadly heat to catastrophic floodsThis sounds like climate change in just a few short months. Julia Rosen reports for High Country News, citing surprising science that intense heat snaps are possible. Some plants and animals are more sensitive to long-term warming than others.
Many of the water flowing through the Colorado River and other major river systems originates in the national forests. According to a report, the U.S. Forest Service is consistently failing to protect its streams. They allow far more water diversion than is sustainable and sometimes fail to review permits that are expired for years or even decades. USA Today Network investigation led by the Coloradoan’s Jacy Marmaduke. See also This companion story by the Arizona Republic’s Caitlin McGlade showing how ranchers, cities and others pressure the Forest Service not to impede or even measure their water use, and More reporting by JacyA unique state-federal agreement has helped protect streamflows from Montana, giving those waterways a buffer to climate change.
OUR PUBLIC LANDS
Nathan Stephenson is a scientist emeritus at Western Ecological Research Center and speaks out about the disappearance of giant sequoias from the Redwood Mountain Grove in Sequoia National Parks and Kings Canyon National Parks.
(Tomas Ovalle/For The Times).
Recent wildfires that erupted in the Sierra Nevada could have killed up to 3,600 giant siquoias. Somewhere between 3% and 5% of the world’s remaining sequoias were likely killed, my colleague Lila Seidman reports — and yes, that’s on top of the 14% of the sequoia population that may have been killed by last year’s Castle fire. It’s not great. You can read more positive things here This piece is by LilaAbout rare Sierra Nevada red Foxes that survived Dixie fire. They showed remarkable resilience in the face climate change.
The Mojave Desert Land Trust has protected over 100,000 acres of California. The Desert Sun’s Erin Rode wrote about what the group’s new leaders see as the biggest challenges for desert ecosystems, including the Increasing number of wind and solar farms. According to Brandon Reynolds, the threat of desert tortoises from renewable energy development is just one. Writes for KCRW.
After President Trump tried to reduce Obama-era protections, Biden’s administration is trying again to save the greater Sage Grouse. The beautiful birds were once common across the West. But their numbers have plummeted as oil and natural gas drilling, grazing, and other pressures have decimated their habitat. Find out more here from the AP’s Matthew Brown.
OIL AND GAS POLUTION
21% of diesel emissions in Los Angeles come from boats used for sport fishing, whale-watching, and other daily trips. Ports are a major cause of cancer in the local area. State regulators are cracking down by requiring cleaner engines, my colleague Hugo Martín reports. Elsewhere along the coast, an oil sheen was reported in the same location as the recent Huntington Beach oil spill; it seems to have been a residual leak from the same damaged pipeline, The Times’ Matthew Ormseth reports. Meanwhile, federal officials boarded a second ship that’s under investigation for possibly causing last month’s spill, Richard Winton reports.
The world’s largest public relations firm, Edelman, pledged to start taking climate change seriously after facing pressure from activists. Although the company has already begun to Unveiled its climate plans, Chief Executive Richard Edelman is defending his firm’s fossil fuel industry clients, telling Axios’ Ben Geman, “We work with oil majors. I’m proud of our work. I think that bigger question over time is, how we can help them express their transitions.” I’m guessing climate activists weren’t pleased to hear that. You can also see my earlier article on Clean Creatives, which called for PR firms to stop supporting the fossil fuel sector.
Nevada’s biggest utility, Southwest Gas, is pushing back hard against efforts to promote all-electric homes, much like Southern California Gas. Here’s the story from the Nevada Independent’s Daniel Rothberg, featuring a cameo by Carl Icahn.
THE ENERGY TRANSITION
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, shown in December 2020.
(Marco Ugarte / Associated Press).
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador — often referred to as AMLO — has attempted to push his country away from renewable energy and toward state-owned coal and crude oil plants. But despite President Biden’s clean energy ambitions, he’s unlikely to press his Mexican counterpart to make climate a priority, Kate Linthicum and Chris Megerian report for The Times. That’s because Biden’s administration, for better or worse, sees reducing migration as a higher diplomatic priority.
Bill Gates wants to build a new type of nuclear reactor at a soon-to-be-shuttered coal plant in Wyoming — and get it done super fast, at least for a nuclear plant. The TerraPower-founded Gates reactor offers great promise for reducing climate change and the potential to generate electricity. More safely, more cheaply, and with greater flexibility than traditional nuclear power plants, per the Seattle Times’ Hal Bernton and Inside Climate News’ Judy Fahys. But critics doubt that it will work as expected.
Eye-opening new reporting shows how China has come to dominate the Congo’s vast supplies of cobalt, a metal crucial to electric vehicle batteries. The country is at the forefront of a The clean energy transition is a growing geopolitical battleground, the New York Times’ Dionne Searcey, Michael Forsythe and Eric Lipton report. Here’s More reporting from the same folks showing how American indifference allowed China to take over some of the world’s biggest cobalt deposits from a U.S. company.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has elected a new president of the California Public Utilities Commission. It’s his senior energy advisor, Alice Reynolds, and she’ll replace outgoing president Marybel Batjer on Dec. 31, the San Francisco Chronicle’s J.D. Morris reports. Reynolds will have her work cut out for her, with wildfire safety and utility power lines being the agency’s highest-profile concern. My colleague Hayley Smith reports that Southern California Edison has warned it may shut down power to almost 100,000 customers on Thanksgiving to reduce the risk of its infrastructure igniting wildfires. San Diego Gas & Electric Similar warning issued.
House Democrats passed Biden’s “Build Back Better”package, which includes around $500 billion in tax incentives. It Now, we move to the Senate, where it is in dire need of Republican support “aye” votes from all 48 Democrats and two independents to pass, The Times’ Jennifer Haberkorn reports. In the meantime, Congress could have approved changes to the 150 year-old mining law which allows companies to extract lithium, gold, silver, copper, and copper from public lands, without having pay royalties. However, Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto objected to the bill and Congress was forced to pass it. Another chance to reform the General Mining Law was lostCody Nelson writes for High Country News.
Chuck Sams was unanimously confirmed by the Senate as the first Native American director in the National Park Service. Find out more hereKurt Repanshek from National Parks Traveler. A Government Accountability Office report revealed that more than half of the employees at the Bureau of Land Management headquarters are Black. Either retired or quit rather than accept the move to Colorado forced on them by the Trump administration, the Washington Post’s Joshua Partlow reports.
One more thing
Sammy Potter from Maine and Jackson Parell from Florida hike the Continental Divide Trail near Idaho Springs on Aug. 6.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Faith E. Pinho (co-author) and Gina Ferazzi (author) have a story about Thanksgiving that you should read. They followed two young hikers as they trekked three of America’s longest trails — the Appalachian, the Continental Divide and the Pacific Crest — in a single calendar year, during a pandemic. The hikers were faced with a wildfire evacuation and a charging bear. They also had to contend with an E.coli infection.
Jackson Parell, 21, was a 21-year old hiker who impressed me with his comments about the physical and psychological challenges they had to overcome. “At the end of the day, there was a lot that went into this that had nothing to do with our will and desire for it to happen. A lot of it had to do with the luck and privilege that we’ve been blessed with.”
It would be a good thing if we all were to be so aware of our blessings.
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