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A New Shade of Green

By Sherry Listgarten

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About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

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A Climate-Friendly 2020

Uploaded: Dec 29, 2019
‘Tis the season to make New Year’s resolutions, though any time is a good time to be a little climate-friendlier. If you are interested in making some changes, I’ve collected a few ideas in this post. Perhaps you’ll find something that appeals. Or maybe you’ve got something else in mind? I’d love to hear.

I’ve sorted the ideas into five categories: Be Informed, November Elections, Transportation, Food, and Home Energy Use. Two other big areas that I need to think more about are General Consumption and Adaptation. What are some concrete steps we can take to reduce our overall consumption and adapt to the coming (and present-day) climate changes? I’ve added a few thoughts on that. Finally, I have some 2020 plans for this blog that I’ve written up at the end.

Be Informed. This is a great place to start. Being informed can help us figure out which actions we want to take, and make it easier for us to talk with friends, family, and co-workers about climate change. Some ideas:

- Sign up for a weekly newsletter. You will find a variety of options if you do a Google search for “climate weekly newsletter”. One that you may not see is a “subscribe” option on carbonbrief.org. Remember to read the newsletters when they arrive, too!

- Watch some movies. Watching a movie about climate change can be easier and/or pack a bigger emotional punch than reading. A recent New York Times newsletter (speaking of newsletters!) recommends: Years of Living Dangerously, Merchants of Doubt, Mission Blue, This Changes Everything, and Racing Extinction. It also mentions some “classics”: An Inconvenient Truth, Chasing Ice, Before the Flood, and Ice on Fire.

- Speak up. Resolve to ask questions at home, at work, online, or elsewhere when you come across a climate issue you don’t understand or aren’t sure you agree with. For extra credit, go a step farther and help educate and inspire others. Whether it’s as simple as adding a comment to an online forum, or as complicated as speaking up at a family gathering, see if you can find effective ways to share what you know about climate change and/or encourage others to take actions that you are excited about.

FWIW, my resolution in this category is to watch at least three of those movies (I’ve only seen one) and to read at least four books on climate-related topics. I already subscribe to a number of newsletters, but I have recently signed up for the Heartland Institute’s weekly climate newsletter to better understand what the climate skeptics are thinking.

November Elections. These elections are critical to getting the US and the world on a more expedited path to addressing climate change. If you are not a big believer in the impact of individual action, the elections are a great place to spend some extra effort this year.

Unfortunately, I don’t have particular ideas here outside of the basics:

- Donate money to candidates who are committed to significant and immediate climate action (there are many!)

- Volunteer to make calls or send postcards to get out the vote and/or support climate-friendly candidates

My impression is that donations tend to be more useful early in the year, while volunteer opportunities are more likely to come up in late summer and early fall.

I hope to share more specific ideas as the year progresses, but I’d love to hear suggestions from those of you who are more politically savvy.

Transportation. This is our largest source of emissions, so a great one to pay attention to. Can you find something that works for you? Keep in mind that many people prefer the greener options for non-green reasons. Carpools can be fun, biking can be fast and convenient, and EVs let you fill up for cheap at home or at work. Even substituting a Swiss vacation for a Montana one can mean extra time and money for your vacation. Some specific ideas:

- Get a basket or two for your bike. If you are interested in biking more, it can help to have a basket or two on your bike. They even make collapsible ones that fold away when not in use.

- Lobby for changes at work. Are there changes your workplace can make to reduce transportation emissions? Maybe a policy to reduce work flights? How about adding secured bike parking or EV chargers? Would there be interest in discounted Clipper cards? Can it be easier to find potential carpool buddies?

- Try an e-bike. This may be an option if a standard bike is not a great fit for your commute(s).

- Limit your discretionary flying. Can you vacation overseas half as often, or stay in the western US instead of flying to the east coast?

- Keep a diary of your car use for one week. Can you learn anything about your travel habits from it? Could your household try using just one car for a week? For two weeks?

- And there are so many more: Try a new carpool. Take a transit trip. Consider a smaller or more efficient car. Purchase carbon offsets for your flights.

I hope you can experiment with ways to reduce your transportation emissions. FWIW, my resolution in this category is to keep building my bike habit so that biking is my first option for more trips.

Food. Diet and food waste are a large source of emissions, and some changes may be relatively easy for your family.

- Try meatless Mondays for a month. Or opt for meat at dinner only for a week or two and see how it goes.

- Limit beef to weekends. This might be an easy way to start cutting back. Another option is to limit beef only to dining out.

- Stretch the meat that you do buy. For example, buy at most a pound of meat per person per week for your household. (Or adjust that based on what you are consuming today.) The average American eats about ten ounces of meat per day, though nutritional guidelines suggest a maximum of 5-6 ounces per day. (1) Our goal for beef should be just 4 ounces per week. (2)

- If you are already eating little meat, then try the above with cheese or dairy.

- If your workplace has on-site dining, encourage them to offer more meat-free options, and especially serve less beef.

I’m not sure of specific steps to limit food waste. The best way I’ve found seems to be to just buy less fresh food since I tend to over-buy. But I’d love to hear ideas.

FWIW, my resolution in this category is to build my repertoire of vegetarian meals, preferably without eating more and more cheese(!). I need to be a better vegetarian cook. A larger variety of options will help us eat more vegetarian meals, and hopefully get to a half-pound of meat per person per week.

Home Energy Use. There are many possibilities here, though this tends to be an accumulation of small changes.

- Convert to LED bulbs. I don’t know about you, but we have several kinds of bulbs in our house that are not LED. An electrician pointed out to me that there are more types of bulbs now available in LED than ever before, and prices have dropped. There may be some updates you can do here.

- Schedule a Home Efficiency Genie visit. If you live in Palo Alto, these visits costs $150 or so, which isn’t cheap, but they come with a few giveaways (like some LED bulbs) and may give you some money-saving (and emissions-saving) ideas. In my experience, their suggestions can be pretty practical.

- Offset your home’s heating emissions. Consider tallying up your home’s emissions from natural gas use and purchasing offsets. The City of Palo Alto already purchases offsets for gas, so this may be more useful in other cities.

- Tweak your thermostat. This is a work in progress for our house. I set the temperature too low for a while. Now we have it where it feels warm when we come in from outside, but we need to wear sweaters inside, and we snuggle under blankets to watch TV. It works pretty well, though my fingers are a little cold as I type this…

- And there are other ideas, like chimney plugs, better weather stripping under doors, checking for gas leaks, changing furnace filters, etc.

There are also a few high-impact items that cost a lot up front, such as better insulation, more efficient appliances, solar panels, home batteries, and electric heat pump heaters. A well-insulated “building envelope” in particular can make a big difference.

FWIW, my resolution here is to better understand our electricity use. I think it’s higher than it should be, but I don’t really know why. Once I understand it, I hope I can identify some steps to reduce it.

Over-Consumption. We buy too much stuff, which increases emissions in the places that produce the items. But I haven’t thought of concrete steps to reduce this. There are general approaches, like buying items on just one day of the week, or preferentially buying used items, or staying away from big-box stores and opting instead for fewer high-quality local purchases. I haven’t figured this one out for our household, though we are making sporadic progress.

Adaptation. Temperatures are rising, which is already having local consequences today (e.g., the fires and power shut-offs we have seen) and will have more consequences in the coming decades (e.g., sea-level rise). What does adaptation look like, for us and for others, and how can we begin? I need to do more thinking on this. We have gotten air filters and a little portable battery for our house, for example, but that feels like a band-aid.

This Blog. I do have a few ideas for this blog for 2020. I want to find a way to hear from more local kids and report back. I also plan to tackle some contentious and/or difficult topics, including: nuclear energy, China and India, pros/cons of betting on tech, extremism among climate-change “believers”, pros/cons of buying permission to pollute, rationalizing our personal emissions, climate reparations, and urgency. I also want to continue to find ways to encourage productive conversations. Please share any suggestions you have as well.

Happy New Year, and I hope this is the beginning of a decade that sees much more national leadership and international cooperation on climate policies and more substantive progress on mitigating emissions and adapting to the changing climate.

Notes and References

1. https://www.globalagriculture.org/whats-new/news/en/32921.html

2. Is it lame to reference my own blog? There are some good references there, though, like this one.

Current Climate Data (November 2019)
The globe had the second warmest November on record.
Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)

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Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 29, 2019 at 9:35 am

A few general comments on your ideas.

Transportation. We are losing useful bus route to Gunn High School. I suspect this will ultimately make for more traffic. Arthur Keller is the person to look towards for details on this.

Costco shopping is often cheaper to buy in bulk and throw away rather than small amounts at regular grocery stores. Shop with a friend at Costco and split the fresh goods, or check with a neighbor before leaving if they will split a bulk purchase.

When you are feeling cool at home it is often through lack of exercise. A brisk walk on a Sunday afternoon in January could delay your need to increase the heat in your home. Likewise, wearing an extra sweater or using an afghan while watching tv or using a laptop may just make you feel warmer without cranking up the heat.

Eating (along with cooking v eating take out) can be problematic. Try making more soups with veg that are beginning to look tired, beans, small amounts of meat and even leftovers such as mashed potatoes or gravies. Soups don't need to take a long time to prepare and cook, they can be started well in advance and allowed to sit without any heat for a couple of hours and my preference is to use a hand blender to pulse them into thick soups.

Eating at mealtimes rather than all day long helps too. Eat until satisfied and then don't eat until the next meal. Between meal snacking is not good for you and tends to be a habit rather than anything else. Eating while watching tv, or while working are also bad habits. Eating should be done at the table and when finished food should be cleared away. I know this paragraph sounds like listening to your mother or your grandmother, but it is a much healthier lifestyle than eating while doing something else. I find that making time in the day to sit and eat properly becomes a habit and meal times become more enjoyable as a result. It tends to make me put more thought into what I eat and when I eat than when I am just grabbing something quick to tide me over.

Music is a great way to keep moving. It is hard to sit still when listening to something with a good beat. However, I am hesitant to recommend listening to music while walking or jogging as it is so nice to be able to hear the birds, children playing, as well as hearing the necessary sound of motors or other warnings of impending dangers.

Thanks for starting this conversation.

Posted by 219 degrees, a resident of Ventura,
on Dec 29, 2019 at 10:27 am

My fav...

"Volunteer to make calls or send postcards to get out the vote and/or support climate-friendly candidates"

The deniers can multiple post online a they want. We need a repeat of 2018.

Thanks, Sherry.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Dec 29, 2019 at 10:28 am

A movie I thought was interesting this year was the documentary "The Game Changers" that came out on NetFlix I believe, but there is a free version of it on YouTube. It is a movie that mainly highlights athletes who have converted to eating vegan in a clever way that captured my attention. I would recommend it to learn about the benefits of eating lower on the food chain.

One of the segments that caught my attention were how just one meal with meat in it affected some athlete sexual performance. Another was a segments where concerned about soy based products somehow having female hormones that would change men's sexual characteristics. Yet another looked at the archeological evidence that Roman gladiators ate huge amounts of beans and barley, if not the majority of their diet. Diet is a huge part of the destructive load we put on our planet.

Here is a link to the free version on YouTube if you are interested: Web Link

Best wishes in 2020.

Posted by Publicus, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Dec 29, 2019 at 2:40 pm

We could all be driving Ford Pickups and roasting pigs over charcoal and still be way ahead of 99% of the rest of the world on emissions. Totally silly for anyone here to change their habits along the lines of this article as long as China, India, etc. belches fossil fuel, Brazil burns forests, and so on.

Posted by Deny the Denial, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Dec 29, 2019 at 3:16 pm

>We could all be driving Ford Pickups and roasting pigs over charcoal and still be way ahead of 99% of the rest of the world on emissions."

Another denier with a totally silly claim; also unable to substantiate even part of his false claim.

Try some facts:

"The United States has the second-highest of 499.75 million tons, and has the second-highest CO2 emissions per capita of 15.53.
Saudi Arabia has the highest CO2 emissions per capita of 16.85.
Sep 7, 2019"

How can the 2nd highest per capita emitter, emit even more, and be less than 1%? ("ahead of 99% of the rest")

Sherry: again, thanks for the thoughtful look. We are sorry you have to deal with fringe liars.

Posted by Deny the Denial, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Dec 29, 2019 at 3:24 pm

> Eating at mealtimes rather than all day long helps too.

I happen to disagree. 5-6(appropriate sized) meals a day is a recognized diet strategy, as well as a body-building strategy. Sticking to two or three meals a day is harder, and risks grabbing 'bad' snacks and harmful foods when inevitable pangs hit.

Just me 2 cents - YMMV.

Posted by David Coale, a resident of Barron Park,
on Dec 29, 2019 at 3:33 pm

Here are some comments for the coming year.

Be informed: I would also add to this, keep the conversation going. We must make sure climate change is in the forefront of our daily conversations otherwise it will not get the attention that is needed to truly address this crisis. We need constant reminders.

As for videos to see, I would add the speeches by Greta Thunberg. You can just google this. Here is a link to many of her talks: Web Link The most recent one at the COP 25 talks on climate change, I think is one of the best: Web Link

Elections: The first elections are coming up in short order as many city councils vote on the top priorities for the coming year. Last year Palo Alto had Climate Change as a top priority. I will be voting again for this as we have lots to do and have hardly gotten started. See Web Link to voice your priorities for 2020. Not in Palo Alto? Check the city web site where you live and find out how to make your priorities heard.

Transportation: I would say you are on the right track. While EVs are zero emissions, if I take a magic wand and turn all autos to EVs we are still stuck in traffic and can't find parking so we need to reduce our trips. See if you can make the bike the first choice for all your local trips, then transit and finally the auto, hopefully an EV.

Food: From Michael Pollan “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants". The good thing about this is it also covers good health and food waste; don't buy too much and use up what's in the fridge before you buy more.

Energy: A home energy audit is a really good way to start. [Portion removed: link does not work, not clear how general the suggestion is, given requirement for smart meter] Look at your water heater now. If it is in the last few years of life, check the manufacture date, then think about replacing it with a heat pump water heater. The same thing with your home heating system. Moving away from natural gas appliances will go a long way to reducing your home carbon footprint.

Over-Consumption: We live in a very affluent area so try buying items from the GoodWill and thrift stores. If you need an item only a few times a year, try borrowing from your neighbors. This reduces consumption and increases community and you can return the favor sometime later.

So here are a few things to start with.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 29, 2019 at 9:55 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@All -- thanks for the various ideas

@Deny -- Where do you get your information that the US is the second highest per capita emitter, behind Saudi Arabia? The information that I look at (e.g., globalcarbonatlas.org) always has Qatar at or near the top, along with Kuwait, UAE, etc. Here are two charts, one for territorial emissions, the other for consumption emissions, both per capita, both from globalcarbonatlas.org. The US is certainly up there, but not number 2.

@CPA -- Thanks for the pointer to that movie, looks interesting.

@David -- Re transportation and being “on the right track”, I want to emphasize that in my opinion the right track is different for different people. There is no one “right track”. While biking often works for our family, sometimes it just doesn’t, and I know that biking is not at all practical for others. And transit? In my experience it is pretty much useless for local errands. What I hope people can do is experiment with alternatives to driving alone in a gas-powered car and see what works. It’s very likely that for some or many people, the best option is an EV. I am okay with that, and in fact highly supportive of it, even if it doesn’t solve our traffic or parking problems. I am thrilled to see people make that switch. That is my take, anyway.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 30, 2019 at 3:05 pm

>> Convert to LED bulbs. I don't know about you, but we have several kinds of bulbs in our house that are not LED. An electrician pointed out to me that there are more types of bulbs now available in LED than ever before, and prices have dropped. There may be some updates you can do here.

I would like to second this one. Recently, more LEDs have become available in most of the common sizes/shapes. Try ACE Hardware, Home Depot, and Amazon of course. Many of the bulbs are now inexpensive, so LEDs are no longer a big "investment".

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Dec 30, 2019 at 6:19 pm

The Winter 2019 residential newsletter “GreenWays" from Greenwaste of Palo Alto has this article:
“New requirements and produce bag requirements"
“The City of Palo Alto adopted new requirements for disposable foodware and produce bags..."
January 1 onwards
Plastic straws are forbidden, ok, got it.
Where I get confused is the following:
“You will need to request compostable straws, utensils, and stirrer sticks if they are not available at a self-service station"
“Opting for reusables is the best choice. Bring your own mug, straw, utensils, takeout containers, etc."
The consumer/customer is supposed to confront any non-compliant store, drinks place, etc.?
Also -
What happens when some guy brings in a grimy mug (let's say, no way to know the volume, let's guess 6 or 8oz., and this dude requests a 16 oz. drink from the tea shop or Starbucks. Food/drinks handler handles a grimy handled mug (not great for next customer in line) AND can't fill the mug correctly bc it's too small, one finds out by experimentation and spillover/waste.
I bring in my handy heavy glass covered casserole dish and fill it with hot takeout food at Piazza's grocery. When it's weighed on the scale at the checkout, I am paying for the heavy dish *unless* I first brought it empty and had them weigh it. It remains true that if I choose to use a provided paper takeout box container at Piazza's, the weight of that is negligible.
But....the City is strongly suggesting I bring my own (random size, material, style) takeout container.
To be clear, I support all sensible efforts to reduce waste and to recycle. Education and repetition of messages is necessary for people (and my neighbor's nanny, sigh) to “get" the details when filling and putting out bins.
Really, ore cities should be on a standardized scheme so one clearly understands the rules.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 30, 2019 at 6:27 pm

Anon above has it right.

As far as Palo Alto is concerned, we have to carry a backpack with us containing, coffee/tea cups, dishes, silverware, hot food containers, each spotlessly clean (not just rinsed in the restroom), marked with size, reusable produce bags, reusable grocery bags, all to be filled by employees wearing - wait for it - disposable plastic food service gloves!

It would be hilarious, except that it is true!

Posted by Resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Dec 31, 2019 at 8:22 am

Idk, this whole article makes me sick. So many meaningless little life changes that don't accomplish anything other than feel-good... wait for it, wait for it...

VIRTUE SIGNALING!!! Yes, this article is nothing but hot air.

[Portion removed: ad hominem]

Posted by Nancy G, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton,
on Dec 31, 2019 at 9:22 am

Sherry, like most of the others in these comments, I appreciate your thoughtful columns and the civil tone of this blog. I thought of three things:
1) This is not an issue for Palo Alto, but people in other cities of the mid-Peninsula can go to PCE (https://www.peninsulacleanenergy.com) if in San Mateo County or SVCE (https://www.svcleanenergy.org) in Santa Clara County and opt up to 100% renewable energy, for about the additional cost of a latte per month.
2) It helps to know one's household carbon footprint. It also helps to be in community while you're working to reduce it. One idea for a 2020 column for you would be a review of the various carbon calculators out there. I am a fan of Community Climate Solutions (Web Link developed locally but now being used across the US by cities and faith communities to track group progress. Most of the cities and towns around here have participating groups but they go by different names--you can find yours by navigating to the website above.
3) I second David Coale's suggestion for local political advocacy...these days this is where we are seeing measurable differences. Most mid-Pen cities have a citizens' environmental advisory board and/or a local climate solutions nonprofit; both are eager for new faces. Both can keep folks posted about when to show up at city council meetings and advocate for real local change. It's a hassle sometimes (the important topic seems to be always at the end of the meeting!) but very satisfying.
Keep up the good work!

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 31, 2019 at 12:16 pm

Posted by Resident, a resident of Midtown,

>> Idk, this whole article makes me sick. So many meaningless little life changes that don't accomplish anything other than feel-good...

Whenever, someone posts something like this, I can't help wondering why they bother. If one small virtuous act is meaningless, as you believe, why bother posting a complaint about it for others to read? Here is an explanation of why some people act virtuous *regardless*:

"The central doctrine of Stoicism was therefore sometimes expressed as “virtue is the only true good" by which they mean that wisdom and excellence of character are to be valued for their own sake rather than as a means to some other end. Virtue is its own reward, in other words." Web Link

Posted by Thank you, Sherry.., a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Dec 31, 2019 at 4:30 pm

Thank you, Sherry.. is a registered user.

Thank you, Sherry. You get me thinking every time I read your blog. I already do a most of this stuff, but your posts are a good, regular reminder to me to stay disciplined. Our children and grandchildren (not to mention our miraculous planet) will thank us for it!

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 31, 2019 at 9:00 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Anonymous -- Thanks for the reminder that the first phase of the disposable foodware ordinance goes into effect in Palo Alto tomorrow. The long-term goal is to eliminate single-use foodware (cups, plates, etc). The first phase, though, is pretty limited. Small plastic items (e.g., straws, utensils, produce bags) are no longer allowed in Palo Alto, and their compostable alternatives must be offered on request only or at self-serve stations. I expect this will be pretty invisible to most people, but let’s see how it goes.

If you are interested, the proposed second phase, which has not yet been approved, bans other plastic foodware (e.g., cups), and also requires that restaurants use reusable dishware for meals served on site (so no disposables in dining establishments, even if compostable). The third phase, about five years out, would ban single-use items for takeout. That will be most noticeable to people, I think. You can read more from the city about the first phase here, where you’ll also find a video from Vox that talks about takeout waste and shows (for example) the use of “Go boxes” for reusable takeout.

As @Resident suggests, the City is making an effort to change our dining culture to be more sustainable and less disposable. It’s not easy to change a culture, so they aim to do it in phases over several years. But I am hopeful, since it wasn’t long ago that we generated much less trash. (Incidentally, this article has some interesting information about the “Keep America Beautiful” campaign and how single-use disposables came to be so popular despite the clear mess they were making.)

@Nancy, thanks for the great suggestions. I agree that it would be useful to summarize some of the calculators. I’d also like to summarize some of the local environmental organizations that people might be interested in. I will add these to my list of future topics!

@Anon, yeah, it’s mystifying to me how people persist in parroting false information in some of these comments, even when shown repeatedly that it is false. And why do some try so hard to recruit others to their “do nothing, it’s all for show” stance, while dissing everyone else? Does it reflect some amount of discomfort or uncertainty on their part? I don’t know. Meanwhile, the world warms up.

Thanks all for the great comments and ideas.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Jan 1, 2020 at 6:14 am

No discomfort or uncertainty, but I think that telling us "only eating beef on weekends" has anything whatsoever to do with "fighting climate change"... is totally farcical and I have to call it out. [Portion removed: ad hominem] It's healthy to have contrary opinions.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jan 1, 2020 at 8:23 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Yeah, it does seem a bit silly to wave a veggie burger over your head, or ring your bike bell on your way to work, and proclaim "I'm saving the planet!". But what about "I'm doing my part"? At the end of the day, I believe that a more sustainable future means much less beef in our diet and many fewer gas-powered cars. And I think we need to make those relatively easy changes asap. No farce intended!

But I'm curious what you *do* recommend then, to address climate change. If you wrote this post, it's clear what you wouldn't say, but what would you say?

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Jan 1, 2020 at 11:04 am

Sherry, the way I read the language, at least, on the two-sided slick from GreenWaste of Palo Alto is that exactly what I wrote above is now in effect. Therefore, as they urge people to bring in mugs and casserole dishes, the issues I raised are issues now. I focus on how practical these things are. Maybe Greenwaste got ahead of themselves. This is listed under
“New foodware and produce bag requirements"
“What you need to know"
It also says
“Palo Alto's long-term plan is to eliminate the use of disposable foodware items." Got it, but the earlier points I made were related to the above categories. It seems to me someone can show up with their own mugs, dishes, and I still see a sizing issues, a cleanliness/handling issue to arise with food/drink providers -

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 1, 2020 at 11:55 am

I came across a study about roundabouts. The City of Palo Alto is against idling because of the emissions. Traffic lights cause idling traffic. Stop signs cause idling traffic. Four way stops cause idling traffic. Roundabouts cut down idling time, in some places and times can eliminate idling altogether. Idling causes emissions. Traffic lights cause more maintenance and the need for expensive and carbon heavy electricity. Roundabouts require little maintenance and no electricity.

If you really want to make a difference the promotion of roundabouts is a good thing for the environment, for traffic flow and ultimately for our health. This is a simple step that Palo Alto could do to make a huge difference. The saving on safety and the cost of electricity as well as maintenance makes sense. There are many studies on how much safer they are, but the link I show you is to do with climate.

Web Link

Posted by 1 ped vs multiple lanes of cars, a resident of Monta Loma,
on Jan 1, 2020 at 2:03 pm

I would also HIGHLY recommend the removal of most pedestrian controlled crosswalk lights (not all, but many). Look at San Antonio and Miller where there is a pedestrian “triggered" crosswalk...that is 100 FEET from the timed lights at San Antonio and California. I cannot tell you the number of times I have sat at the light only to have it turn green, all the cars start to go and then WHAM, a pedestrian hits the lite at the Miller crossing.

This is insane. This goes against all common sense. And not only that, it's not safe....I have seen so many almost get hit here. Mark my words, there is going to be a horrific accident here. This crossing needs to be removed, it is counter-intuitive to a good traffic flow on a very heavily trafficked major artery. It needs to be removed.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Jan 1, 2020 at 4:40 pm

Well it fascinates me that your cutting edge advances in science and your understanding of climate is being whittled down to archaic/religous "righteous" behavior of only eating beef on weekends, or adding baskets onto your bicycle handlebars. The gap between morality and logic here is bewildering.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Jan 1, 2020 at 5:07 pm

Nice fireworks up at the Ferry Building in SF last night.
Standing room only on Caltrain both directions.
Didn't seem as cold along The Embarcadero as in the olden days.

@1 ped, Miller is 250 feet from California, well more than double your estimate.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 1, 2020 at 5:19 pm

Posted by Resident, a resident of Midtown,,

>> Well it fascinates me that your cutting edge advances in science and your understanding of climate is being whittled down to archaic/religous "righteous" behavior of only eating beef on weekends, or adding baskets onto your bicycle handlebars.

Are you saying that -one person- not eating beef doesn't matter? OR, are you saying that 300M people not eating beef wouldn't matter? Try looking at it this way: you are in London during the Blitz. You murder someone. Minutes later, a bomb hits the building and would have killed the inhabitant anyway. Does it "matter"? Several murder mysteries have had some variation on this. Of course, it matters to the detective, who invariably figures out who did it and has the murderer apprehended. Not as extreme an example as you probably are thinking. If a behavior is bad if everyone does it, it probably is bad even if there is just one instance of it. It would actually be bad if everyone on the planet eats beef almost every day. So, I can't fault someone for avoiding eating beef, even if it is just one person not eating one burger.

>> The gap between morality and logic here is bewildering.

I don't think the ethical question is bewildering. You just have to get that it actually is an ethical question. There are much more subtle ethical questions out there to consider. This one is easy to answer in almost every ethical system.


So, anyway, what do you wish society in the large would do regarding climate change?

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jan 2, 2020 at 11:12 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

These are great comments, thanks!

@Anonymous -- Yes, absolutely, they are encouraging people to reduce their use of single-use foodware, even while it’s still allowed. I’m just not sure that is new. That is, I think you could have brought a cup or bowl to a takeout place to fill last year, and they would have done so. But fwiw I’ve never tried it. I’ll give it a go in the next few weeks, and hopefully others will, and we can all report back on how it went.

When/if this becomes a requirement, at least one idea is that the takeout place would give you reusable takeout containers. You would not need to bring your own. But you would pay a deposit, and you’d be expected to return them. In the video from Vox, you can see students scanning and returning the takeout containers in vending machines. I would guess you could also return them with your next order. But at least one idea is that there is a shared service that local restaurants could buy into that would do all of this for them.

@Resident, @1 Ped -- Interesting points about lowering emissions of traffic with fewer stops. One thing I don’t know is the cost-benefit of switching to roundabouts, say, versus adding bike/scooter lanes, adding bus/HOV lanes, installing chargers, etc. But I like the idea of looking at transportation infrastructure improvements from many angles.

Posted by Valerie Gardner, a resident of Atherton: other,
on Jan 2, 2020 at 5:40 pm

Sherry, I'm delighted to see you blogging about climate. Even with some nay-sayer comments, overall the response is largely appreciative and many appear to share your concerns. This is a big improvement.

At any moment, someone is starting the process of figuring out what they can do about this very complex and frankly scary issue. Thus, even someone who has just recently begun to explore this issue, like yourself, can be of help and I admire your courage in sharing what you've learned, while recognizing that you don't have all the answers.

Unfortunately, we have allowed our response to this climate crisis to be delayed for too long, mired in controversy and, frankly, too many ineffective and poorly conceived actions. While I want to encourage more people in taking action, in fact we don't have the luxury of time for everyone to start down the decade-long learning curve. We need to seek and get information quickly from experts who really understand the scale of this problem.

If you consulted experts, you would learn that solving climate on the global level, where it needs to be solved, has almost nothing to do with straws, eating meat, biking or carpooling.

It has everything to do with whether we can stop demanding and buying fossil fuels in huge quantities, so we stop emitting CO2, and still have sufficient energy to both power our growing energy needs and what I call climate services, namely carbon sequestration and synthetic fuels.

That is what matters. Almost everything else that takes your mind off of how we are powering our society is too little to matter for the average person.

Finding ways to demand that we generate power cleanly for not just our homes, but also for businesses, transportation and industry�"which is very hard to decarbonize�"is where people need to focus. That and reducing methane and other heat-trapping emissions.

Based upon my decade and a half of relatively painful learning curve, we can't get there without nuclear power. We only have a decade to reduce global emissions by 15-20 Gigatons of CO2, according to the IPCC. Yet, because of growing demand, especially in developing nations, we are adding coal and gas capacity.

To my mind, anyone who cares about the climate but is standing around allowing Diablo Canyon or any other nuclear power plant to be closed before we have shuttered all of the fossil generation, is virtue signalling and unfortunately, that includes all of Palo Alto, Berkeley (except for the crew at Environmental Progress) and most all environmentalists.

According to Dr. James Hansen, the IPCC, The Nature Conservancy, the Union of Concerned Scientists and many others, how we handle nuclear power going forward will determine our fate. This was the surprise finding of my search . . . our best technological energy solution is supported by the experts but not those we think of as our environmental leaders.

As someone who is now taking up the mantle of guiding others, you need to think about the scale of our energy challenge and do some math. Look at how quickly we have been adding renewables to energy grids around the world and then check to see how much impact that has had on global emissions (hint: none). Then, when you get around to assessing nuclear power, be sure to consult with real experts, not simply renewables virtue-signallers.


Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 3, 2020 at 12:12 pm

Posted by Valerie Gardner, a resident of Atherton:

>> Based upon my decade and a half of relatively painful learning curve, we can't get there without nuclear power.

I would be very interested in seeing how you came to that conclusion. I'm looking at reports like these two:

Web Link

Web Link

and concluding that "Utility-scale Solar PV + Lithium-Ion + Pumped hydro" is the cheapest combination of non-GHG emitting generated and stored power - cheaper than nuclear, coal, conventional gas thermal or turbines. (Comparable to gas combined cycle -- which produces CO2 of course. But, add carbon capture and the cost goes up.)

Nuclear is among the more expensive options. Why not use cheaper solar (and wind). See the 2019 report, with supplemental detail for storage from the 2016 report.

Posted by Valerie Gardner, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton,
on Jan 3, 2020 at 3:42 pm


I can't say it better than how The Nature Conservancy said it: "In order to both meet increased energy demand and keep the climate in safe boundaries, we'll need to alter our energy makeup to curtail emissions of carbon and other harmful chemicals. The reduction in carbon-based energy could be offset by increasing the share of energy from renewable sources to 54 percent and increasing nuclear energy to one third of total energy output�"delivering a total of almost 85 percent of the world's energy demand from non-fossil-fuel sources." (See the section titled "A Changing Energy Portfolio" at: Web Link

We no longer have the luxury of time and wind and solar are growing as fast as possible, but have not succeeded in closing fossil fuel plants. Nor stemming our continued global emissions growth. From what I have seen, they are no even keeping up with new energy demand.

We need a way to rapidly replace fossil fuel generation, which has been holding steady at 81% of global energy. Why should we choose to limit our technology options, when new nuclear power can help close fossil fuel plants?

If you don't remember, France made the decision to get off of fossil fuels after the Oil Embargo of the 1970s and was able to convert their grid to 70% nuclear power, close all their fossil fuel generation in about a decade and a half. No other clean technology has ever scaled that quickly. As a result, France has one of the cleanest grids, with their nuclear working together with hydro, wind and solar for almost 90% clean energy today.

Today, battery technology gets us nowhere. We are paying for large renewable plants but, because these are totally intermittent, we are also paying for natural gas to kick in as much as 70% for solar and 60% for wind of the "name-plate" capacity. In addition to those two duplicative capital expenditures, people are also now planning large battery back-up systems, which are still economically impractical. Yes, I see that you reference "pumped hydro" but that's not scalable and can only work where there is existing hydro capacity, so very tough to expand.

Regarding price, in 1977, solar cells had achieved about 10% efficiency cost $74 a kilowatt: today they are up to about 35% efficiency and cost a few bucks a kilowatt. How did the price come down? The application of advanced technologies and low-cost, high-quantity mass production (with zero environmental protection) in China. This is a standard cost-reduction curve.

Nuclear is actually not inherently more expensive, especially when you consider its 92% capacity factor and incredible reliability. But it is 1970s technology, which has had several generations of safety upgrades applied. So, despite being uber safe now, it gets no credit for this. Fortunately, the advanced designs coming down the pike will be smaller, modular and mass produced using 21st century technology, so the likely costs for installation of 4th generation systems will also come down by several factors.

Meanwhile, I hear that nuclear efficiency may increase by 30 times (which contrasts substantially with solar's improvements). Thus, a system that uses nuclear means we avoid a triple investment in just getting reliable energy and we could invest instead in integrating a range of important "climate services" like water desalination, hydrogen production or carbon sequestration.

Hope this helps!

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jan 3, 2020 at 10:01 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

FWIW, most of the things I read and most people I talk with are pro-nuclear, at least to some degree. We have put ourselves in a very tough spot with difficult choices. Geo-engineering for example is crazy. But so is what we have done, and continue to do (even crazier), to the planet. We need to consider our options in that context imo.

Posted by Reader, a resident of another community,
on Jan 4, 2020 at 12:58 pm

What about discontinuing any childrens' hobbies that require taking flights?

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 9, 2020 at 9:08 am

Special request: I would like to see thread devoted to the pros and cons of pumped storage. That is, compressed air energy storage (CAES), pumped hydro storage (PHS or PHES).. I believe that pumped storage is *vital* to the success of any non-GHG-producing electric grid system, whether the primary source is PVs, Wind, or as suggested above, nuclear. But, for some reason, it isn't considered a polite topic, and some environmentalists tend to be negative about it, for reasons that I don't understand. So, I would like to see more of a discussion about pumped energy storage.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jan 9, 2020 at 12:57 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Anon -- thanks for the suggestion, I'll keep it in mind.

FWIW, I'm not sure I would group those two types of storage together, or say that either is vital to a clean grid, but I have a lot to learn, and storage is a great topic, because it is without a doubt essential, both hourly and seasonal. In fact, the CEC just put out a call for proposals for alternative energy solutions, which should be interesting to follow.

You probably know that large hydropower is not considered to be a renewable resource in California because of its environmental impact. There are also some concerns about the reliability of hydropower as the climate changes. You can watch this video from a recent Stanford Energy Seminar featuring Dan Reicher, a clean energy expert, to learn more about pumped hydro.

It's funny you mention compressed air storage. I hadn't heard of that until a few days ago, when I saw they are planning to build a pretty large facility in northern Vermont to get around some transmission constraints. I'm not aware of particular environmental concerns with this technology, though it's new to me.

Anyway, those are a few pointers. I hope to do some posts on storage, since it is so important and there is so much potential.

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