Southern California environment news and trends

Notes from Solar Power International '10

Any massive convention's alienating: enormous badges. $3 sodas. Men with shopping bags, branded logos on their shoulders. "Networking areas." The phrase "turnkey solutions." The way people size each other up, unabashedly, as they walk down the maze-aisles between the popup displays. A sea of similar looking panels; companies whose names are all deeply different to each other but similar at a glance. If you don't find it faintly ridiculous, you're actually inside it, and the headline from Solar Power International this week is that more people are inside it this year than ever before: 27,000 people, with 1100 exhibitors, converged on LA this week.

Running around massive business-to-business conferences at the Los Angeles Convention Center is way more fun when you don't have to turn a story around about it the same day. For example, it allowed me to take a picture of these t-shirts at the convention's block party at L.A. Live:


Pacific Swell: It's swell! We dare you to read it

oceanagrenier Pacific Swell: Its swell! We dare you to read itWhat do Leonardo DiCaprio and Adrian Grenier do when they don’t want attention? They talk about the environment!

That’s a very loose interpretation of their words, but in a city known for its car culture and celeb obsessions, talking green can be the easiest way to lose friends and alienate people, as Adrian revealed to NY Times’ blog Freakonomics last month:

Leonardo DiCaprio once said, and I’m paraphrasing, he “found a way to become paparazzi proof by making a serious film about the environment.” Tabloids thrive on simple conflict and crass hearsay. So if you are looking to avoid the paparazzi, sadly doing positive things that require more thought will often be ignored. Tabloids are junk food. It’s important to balance your media diet.

Both men are now well-known for their eco-activism — at least within the environmental community. Which is to say that getting people to pay attention to environmental issues — no matter how important they may be — can be very difficult. So difficult that even when a Global Work Party of 7000+ events is happening around the world, environmental activist and founder Bill McKibben has to “dare” the media to cover the news:

Even though the country with the most events (over 1,000) is the United States, I think we’re going to have to fight harder than we should to get American media to cover the event….

Why? Because we’re acting reasonably, responsibly, like adults. Not drawing swastikas, not talking crazy. It’s a work party, not a tea party, and that may prove too sane to attract the cameras.

Well, we at Pacific Swell certainly covered the event. And like Bill, Molly and I dare you — to read Pacific Swell!

Bookmark our blog (, subscribe to our RSS feed, and even help shape our coverage by telling us what environmental issues most affect you and who you’d like to see profiled as an Everyday Hero of the environment.

Photo of Adrian Grenier: Tim Calver/Oceana


Morning greens: Valero up close and offshore drilling afar

KQED’s Climate Watch blog’s put together The View from Valero, profiling the Texas-based oil company that’s the biggest backer for Prop 23, which would halt California’s groundbreaking Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32). Get a behind-the-headlines look at the company’s refinery in Solano County with videos the one below, which explains an enviro-conundrum: Keeping SO2 and NOX out of the air can put more CO2 in the air.

My co-blogger Molly’s been busy at the Solar Power International convention this week and will have a first-hand update soon. In the meantime, LA Times reports on newfangled clean energy ideas: “Spray-on solar panels, power beaming down from outer space and gasoline-like fuel made from bacteria.”

In other sunny news, Cupertino-based Solargen Energy got the go ahead from San Benito County Board of Supervisors to build a nearly 400-megawatt solar farm in the Panoche Valley, reports KQED’s Climate Watch. The plan’s opposed by some environmentalists — and still has many hurdles to clear before it becomes reality.


New green jobs: introducing some local decisionmakers

Know your Los Angeles Port Commissioners! 'Cause you have two new ones, thanks to the LA City Council. 

David Arian is a retired longshoreman, former ILWU president, and father of a law school graduate. (I learned that last part when Arian talked to former NPR reporter Rick Karr 2 years ago for a PBS Frontline.) When he put Arian's name forward, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa credited that longshoreman's experience with giving his nominee "an inherent understanding of how the Port can function more efficiently as well as the needs of the surrounding community."

His decades of experience at both the local and national level will help our team at the Port build off the success of the Clean Truck Program and Clean Air Action Plan to ensure the economic vitality and environmental sustainability of our Harbor community for generations to come.


Los Angeles aims to become a zero waste city


Clicking through the news this morning, I was struck with a pang of jealousy — for San Francisco’s waste management program. Our northern neighbor’s diverts nearly 80 percent of its waste through recycling and composting programs — and got big props for its efforts on eco news site Grist, which not only profiled San Francisco’s waste management program but also ran a Q&A with Jack Macy, San Francisco’s Zero Waste Coordinator.

So I thought I’d write a little something about Los Angeles’ own zero waste efforts.

Now, all California cities had to get seriously about recycling in 1989, when AB 39, which required California cities to divert at least 50 percent of waste from landfills, became law. That’s why California’s a leader in recycling rates in general. Sadly, Angelenos are a bit behind San Francisco residents — though to be fair, we don’t know how close San Francisco is to 80 percent yet. The last solid figures  San Francisco has are for 2008, when the city diverted 72 percent of the trash. Los Angeles has more recent figures as of June 2009, when we diverted 65 percent of the trash — the highest diversion rate among the 10 largest U.S. cities, as the city’s Department of Public Works likes to point out.