Southern California environment news and trends

Debris basins catch my attention

Oh man, do I love infrastructure. So much of the story of southern California is about how infrastructure expresses human ambitions. How can you not find it fascinating?

The empty debris basins, like the Dunsmuir one I visited in September, aren't sitting and waiting for anything anymore. This week, they're filling up. I got to see that up close today. What was most striking was the sound, actually: when it was flowing fast, it really did sound like thunder, as more than one person has called it.

In December the county announced plans to expand 7 of these basins this year. I remembered that today, as I wandered near two of those seven - Pickens and Snover.

I'll be curious to see how they empty these things out this week. If they get to it at all - tonight would seem to be the night. For all my infrastructure curiosity, and my smidgen of common sense, I didn't know until today that they can't really scoop those basins out unless it's not raining, and therefore safe.


What she's playing, it's not a violin

Tomorrow I'll have a story on about a woman named Christen Lien. I met her over Twitter at the Governor's Global Climate Summit - she was one of the few people talking about the summit who wasn't working for a major utility, a government, or a company selling something. She just has a passion or two.

If you've heard her music, chances are it's because it was attached to a video made by Chris Jordan. And if you know who Chris Jordan is, chances are you've seen his pictures: of American mass consumption, of mass culture. Of thousands and thousands of things you throw away that are plastic.

As a teaser for tomorrow's story, here's a video of their work:

Lien plays tonight at Angel's Supper Club in Santa Monica.


A conversation with Majora Carter

At the State of the Bay conference the other day, Majora Carter gave the keynote address.

She's an environmental activist from the South Bronx who hosts a radio show called The Promised Land. She was in a bit of a hurry, but I grabbed her for a few minutes after the speech, and asked her about New Orleans, where her group's been working with the Make It Right Foundation.

We talked, too, about a project she's working on in Detroit, about what environmental justice is. (The sound's low, but you can hear her; my plans for better sound from the Marantz died with the corrupted flash card.)


FDA flexes on BPA, says the chemical causes some concern

Still no ban, but after significant consumer and environmental-group pressure, and numerous public hearings, the federal Food and Drug Administration is issuing new guidelines for Bisphenol A. Cautious ones.

What are they worried about? Here's Linda Birnbaum - the head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences:

There are critical periods of development when exposure to BPA may lead to certain health effects, including behavioral effects, diabetes, reproductive disorders, development of certain kinds of cancers, asthma, cardiovascular disease, and effects that can go from one generation to the next.

What makes this interesting is it harmonizes a couple of government agencies on the issue - and helps them sing a clearer song to consumers. This announcement puts FDA on the same page as the National Toxicology Panel which had found "some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures" when the FDA was sounding a less cautious note a couple of years ago.


Haiti recovery essentials: water, medical supplies...and cell phones?

On my way back to our downtown bureau from our soon-to-be-new-building, I heard really interesting stories today from The World: first, Matthew Bell reports on the pressing need for water in Haiti: water purification systems and tablets so that people can carry water home in plastic jugs (they don't get to worry about what kind of plastic that is, this week). What came next surprised me a little and in a good way: a story about people who set up communications in disaster areas - first, for aid workers, then calling centers for everyone.

During the water story I was thinking of what it means; how some international political theorists think of it as a "basic right." Like liberty, and food. Plenty of people have written books about water as a coming political crisis in recent years: Steven Solomon has one out I'd love to read, called Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization. (interestingly, he's got a blurb from the guy who wrote The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power. Must all quests be epic?) At the State of the Bay Conference yesterday, I listened to Dr. Bill Cooper from UC Irvine's Urban Water Research Center talk about how he thought the price for water was ridiculously low in California, where it's increasingly scarce. I think of Katrina, of course; people without water for days, without much water for a week. It doesn't matter that it's in our country. What matters is the unquenched and unquenchable need.