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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

California targets 50 per cent renewables by 2030 while fracking continues

California Governor Jerry Brown announced at his inauguration that Climate Change action would be prominent for his next 4 years of his administration. But all is not well in California with large public opposition to shale oil fracking championed by Governor Brown, and the state still being in the worst drought in 1,200 years exacerbated by high temperatures due to climate change. Fracking Opposition groups have adopted the slogan "Governor Brown: Climate Leaders Don't Frack"

Already California is on track to meet it's target of a third of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Brown announced that this should increase to 50 per cent of electricity generation by 2030, plus a 50 per cent reduction in petroleum use in cars and trucks, and to double the efficiency of existing buildings, and use cleaner heating fuels.

"And we must manage farm and rangelands, forests and wetlands so they can store carbon." said Governor Brown.

He emphasised the enormous need for collaboration between scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs businesses and officials, "I envision a wide range of initiatives: more distributed power, expanded rooftop solar, micro-grids, an energy imbalance market, battery storage, the full integration of information technology and electrical distribution and millions of electric and low-carbon vehicles. How we achieve these goals and at what pace will take great thought and imagination mixed with pragmatic caution. It will require enormous innovation, research and investment."

But under Jerry Brown fracking by Big Oil will continue in California. In fact, new reguulations for fracking in California have already been written, six months before the mandated scientific studies have been completed, according to environmental journalist Dan Bacher in this San Fransisco Bay Area Indymedia story. “California has essentially reversed the regulatory process when it comes to fracking,” said Jackie Pomeroy, spokesperson for CAFrackFacts. “State regulators have finalized California's fracking rules a full six months before any of the mandated scientific studies have been completed."

Fracking is just a glimpse into the dark side of Brown's poor environmental record revealed by Dan Bacher. See his June 2013 article in CounterPunch: Jerry Brown: Worse Than Schwarzenegger on Environment?, and his September 2014 article: Big Oil’s Favorite Governor: Jerry Brown.

Study: Conversion to 100 percent renewables is achievable

Work by Professor Mark Z. Jacobson from Stanford University already shows that converting California's energy infrastructure to 100 per cent renewables is achieveable by 2050. Jacobson and colleagues show this is possible in their 2014 study published in the journal Energy - A roadmap for repowering California for all purposes with wind, water, and sunlight. (PDF).

The abstract to this study states:

This study presents a roadmap for converting California's all-purpose (electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, and industry) energy infrastructure to one derived entirely from wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) generating electricity and electrolytic hydrogen. California's available WWS resources are first evaluated. A mix of WWS generators is then proposed to match projected 2050 electric power demand after all sectors have been electrified. The plan contemplates all new energy from WWS by 2020, 80-85% of existing energy converted by 2030, and 100% by 2050. Electrification plus modest efficiency measures may reduce California's end-use power demand ~44% and stabilize energy prices since WWS fuel costs are zero. Several methods discussed should help generation to match demand. A complete conversion in California by 2050 is estimated to create ~220,000 more 40-year jobs than lost, eliminate ~12,500 (3800 e23,200) state air-pollution premature mortalities/yr, avoid $103 (31-232) billion/yr in health costs, representing 4.9 (1.5-11.2)% of California's 2012 gross domestic product, and reduce California's 2050 global climate cost contribution by $48 billion/yr. The California air-pollution health plus global climate cost benefits from eliminating California emissions could equal the $1.1 trillion installation cost of 603 GW of new power needed for a 100% all-purpose WWS system within ~7 (4-14) years.

Excerpt from Governor G. Brown inaugural speech on Climate

As prepared for delivery:

Finally, neither California nor indeed the world itself can ignore the growing assault on the very systems of nature on which human beings and other forms of life depend. Edward O. Wilson, one of the world's preeminent biologists and naturalists, offered this sobering thought:

"Surely one moral precept we can agree on is to stop destroying our birthplace, the only home humanity will ever have. The evidence for climate warming, with industrial pollution as the principal cause, is now overwhelming. Also evident upon even casual inspection is the rapid disappearance of tropical forests and grasslands and other habitats where most of the diversity of life exists." With these global changes, he went on to say, "we are needlessly turning the gold we inherited from our forebears into straw, and for that we will be despised by our descendants."

California has the most far-reaching environmental laws of any state and the most integrated policy to deal with climate change of any political jurisdiction in the Western Hemisphere. Under laws that you have enacted, we are on track to meet our 2020 goal of one-third of our electricity from renewable energy. We lead the nation in energy efficiency, cleaner cars and energy storage. Recently, both the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the World Bank made clear that properly pricing carbon is a key strategy. California's cap-and-trade system fashioned under AB 32 is doing just that and showing how the market itself can generate the innovations we need. Beyond this, California is forging agreements with other states and nations so that we do not stand alone in advancing these climate objectives.

These efforts, impressive though they are, are not enough. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, backed up by the vast majority of the world's scientists, has set an ambitious goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius by the year 2050 through drastic reductions of greenhouse gases. If we have any chance at all of achieving that, California, as it does in many areas, must show the way. We must demonstrate that reducing carbon is compatible with an abundant economy and human well-being. So far, we have been able to do that.

In fact, we are well on our way to meeting our AB 32 goal of reducing carbon pollution and limiting the emissions of heat-trapping gases to 431 million tons by 2020. But now, it is time to establish our next set of objectives for 2030 and beyond.

Toward that end, I propose three ambitious goals to be accomplished within the next 15 years:
Increase from one-third to 50 percent our electricity derived from renewable sources;
Reduce today's petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent;
Double the efficiency of existing buildings and make heating fuels cleaner.

We must also reduce the relentless release of methane, black carbon and other potent pollutants across industries. And we must manage farm and rangelands, forests and wetlands so they can store carbon. All of this is a very tall order. It means that we continue to transform our electrical grid, our transportation system and even our communities.

I envision a wide range of initiatives: more distributed power, expanded rooftop solar, micro-grids, an energy imbalance market, battery storage, the full integration of information technology and electrical distribution and millions of electric and low-carbon vehicles. How we achieve these goals and at what pace will take great thought and imagination mixed with pragmatic caution. It will require enormous innovation, research and investment. And we will need active collaboration at every stage with our scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, businesses and officials at all levels.

Taking significant amounts of carbon out of our economy without harming its vibrancy is exactly the sort of challenge at which California excels. This is exciting, it is bold and it is absolutely necessary if we are to have any chance of stopping potentially catastrophic changes to our climate system.

Fracking a contentious issue in California

But it is not all good news. Governor Brown has been heavily criticised by environment and climate groups for championing hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in California which utilises huge water resources while also threatening contamination and poisoning of water aquifers used for drinking water and for agriculture.

“It’s great to hear that Governor Brown is so committed to reducing fossil fuel consumption in California,” said Linda Capato of She said in a media statement:

“While this is a real step in the right direction, it still doesn’t address the reality that thousands of wells across our state are pouring hundreds of thousands gallons of freshwater down a hole to release oil that worsens our collective addiction to fossil fuels. The bottom line is simply this: California can’t claim to be a national leader in the fight against climate change while also unabashedly participating in an extreme energy extraction methods that worsens it and endangers the health of our communities. That’s why we’re looking to Governor Brown to make this a reality, and walk the walk by banning fracking across the state of California and take the lead from Governor Cuomo in NY and protect our communities. Join us on February 7th in Oakland to push the Governor to be a REAL climate leader and take the right steps to end the climate crisis.”

A March 2014 protest in Sacramento against fracking in California drew 4,000 people.

Fracking waste-water illegally dumped into water aquifers

The Centre for Biological Diversity is one of the enviromental organisations campaigning against Fracking in California. In October 2014 documents obtained through Freedom of Information by the Centre for Biological Diversity revealed that almost 3 billion gallons of fracking wastewater was dumped into Central California aquifers. The wastewater contains hazardous chemicals including Arsenic and Thallium. These water aquifers provide drinking water and water for agricultural irrigation in Central California.

“Clean water is one of California’s most crucial resources, and these documents make it clear that state regulators have utterly failed to protect our water from oil industry pollution,” said Hollin Kretzmann, a Center attorney. “Much more testing is needed to gauge the full extent of water pollution and the threat to public health. But Governor Brown should move quickly to halt fracking to ward off a surge in oil industry wastewater that California simply isn’t prepared to dispose of safely.”

Testing by the State Water Board confirmed beyond doubt that at least nine wastewater disposal wells have been injecting waste into aquifers that contain high-quality water that is supposed to be protected under federal and state law.

In November 2014 30,000 people urged Governor Brown to Halt Offshore Fracking with Two-thirds of California voters wanting a fracking moratorium, according to one opinion poll.

In December 2014 Governor Cuomo banned shale oil fracking in New York State after the New York Health Department recommended that the process was not safe for public health (Report PDF)

On Saturday February 7th, 2015, thousands of Californians are expected to march through the streets of Oakland California, Governor Brown’s home city, protesting fracking, in a March for Real climate Leadership.

Worst drought in 1200 years compounded by climate change

One of the reasons fracking is so contentious is the use of huge water resources during the worst drought on record, and disposal of waste water illegally into ground water. Much of California's agricultural economy is built on irrigation using groundwater from aquifers. Contamination of these aquifers threatens drinking water and agriculture.

New research published in December 2014 identified that this is the worst drought in California for the last 1,200 years. The study by Daniel Griffin and Kevin J. Anchukaitis is titled: How unusual is the 2012–2014 California drought?

The abstract for the study says:

For the past three years (2012–2014), California has experienced the most severe drought conditions in its last century. But how unusual is this event? Here we use two paleoclimate reconstructions of drought and precipitation for Central and Southern California to place this current event in the context of the last millennium. We demonstrate that while 3 year periods of persistent below-average soil moisture are not uncommon, the current event is the most severe drought in the last 1200 years, with single year (2014) and accumulated moisture deficits worse than any previous continuous span of dry years. Tree ring chronologies extended through the 2014 growing season reveal that precipitation during the drought has been anomalously low but not outside the range of natural variability. The current California drought is exceptionally severe in the context of at least the last millennium and is driven by reduced though not unprecedented precipitation and record high temperatures.

The scientists used tree ring data from blue oak trees from southern and central California as proxy measurments for environmental moisture changes. "California's old blue oaks are as close to nature's rain gauges as we get," said Daniel Griffin, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, Environment and Society at the University of Minnesota "They thrive in some of California's driest environments."

"We were genuinely surprised at the result," says Griffin, "This is California -drought happens. Time and again, the most common result in tree-ring studies is that drought episodes in the past were more extreme than those of more recent eras. This time, however, the result was different."

While megadroughts have occurred in the past in California, the authors argue that the current short-term drought appears to be worse than any previous span of consecutive years of drought without reprieve due to the hotter temperatures.

"Precipitation is not the whole story for California drought," said lead study author Daniel Griffin, "When we factor in temperature, this drought really stands out as an extreme and unprecedented case for the past 1,200 years."

According to a media statement from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution:

The research indicates that natural climate system variability is compounded by human-caused climate change and that "hot" droughts such as the current one are likely to occur again in the future. California is the world's 8th largest economy and the source of a substantial amount of U.S. produce. Surface water supply shortages there have impacts well beyond the state's borders.

With an exceptionally wet winter, parts of California might emerge from the drought this year. "But there is no doubt," cautions Anchukaitis, "that we are entering a new era where human-wrought changes to the climate system will become important for determining the severity of droughts and their consequences for coupled human and natural systems."

Meanwhile, Governor Brown continues to allow the oil and gas industry to waste 2 million gallons of fresh water a day on extreme oil extraction in California.

  • Governor Gerry Brown media release, 5 January 2015, Governor Brown sworn in, delivers inaugural address
  • media statement, 5 January 2015, Statement on Governor Brown’s Climate Agenda
  • Jacobson, M.Z. et al (2014), A roadmap for repowering California for all purposes with wind, water, and sunlight, Energy, Volume 73, 14 August 2014, Pages 875–889, doi:10.1016/, Full Paper PDF
  • Daniel Griffin, Kevin J Anchukaitis. How unusual is the 2012-2014 California drought? Geophysical Research Letters, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/2014GL062433
  • Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. (2014, December 5). California's drought is the worst in 1,200 years, evidence suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 6, 2015 from
  • Lead Image was cropped from a Don't Frack California Image by Brooke Anderson on Flickr - Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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