Physicist Richard Muller explains global warming to Occidental College audience


Lighting struck physicist Richard Muller, converting him from skeptic to believer about the human causes of global warming. (Jim Burns)

Lighting struck physicist Richard Muller, converting him from skeptic to believer about the human causes of global warming. (Jim Burns)

Activist physicist Richard Muller spoke at Occidental College today, explaining to a mostly student audience exactly why he became a “converted skeptic” about  the human causes of global warming.  In 2011, Muller testified to the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee confirming an overall global warming trend, for which he later said: “Humans are almost entirely the cause.” But he also explained that his healthy initial skepticism came from reading untenable conclusions based on inadequate research.

His talk was both amusing and frightening. He repeatedly took former Vice President Al Gore to task, and reminded the audience of the little-known fact that a British judge would allow Gore to distribute his Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” free to school children only if he included a list of nine errors, including that Greenland would melt, causing a massive ocean rise. Gore declined. He also reprimanded the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for publishing in its fourth assessment report that the Himalayas would melt by 2030, which was not based on any science.

Muller blamed research “cherry picking,” as well as the politicizing of research contents as the culprits, and reminded the students to “remain objective.” He cited media reports as widely off the mark when it comes to global warming, saying that his own data show that there are no more hurricanes or tornadoes today than there were at the beginning of the century.

“This is something you all need to master,” he said.” How do you go about looking at a subject in a purely objective way? I would say that the thing that characterizes our civilization more than anything else was the discovery of objectivity. Remember that word and think about it.”

The professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and Faculty Senior Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory as well as the founder of Berkeley Earth is also the best-selling author of  “Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines” (2012).

On the frightening side were graphs showing rapidly increasing carbon emissions from the developing world, notably China and India. Muller, who drives a Prius, said that it did no good in solving global warming because the average citizens in those countries can’t afford to buy one. Rather, Americans should embrace affordable examples. His dual saviors were solar energy and natural gas.

Muller endorsed controversial fracking — coaxing natural gas and oil out of rocks through horizontal drilling — as the way to get China off carbon-producing coal and into cleaner natural gas. As U.S. carbon emissions slow, he said, this was the most efficient way to stop the heating up of the planet.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

With an eye to the Los Angeles River Recreational Zone Pilot Program


Bird's eye view: Inside a storm drain, safe for kids, one of the many improvements made at the North Atwater Creek Pocket Park. (Jim Burns)

Bird’s eye view: Inside a storm drain, safe for kids, one of the many improvements made at the North Atwater Creek Pocket Park. (Jim Burns)

The City of Los Angeles is busy presenting the proposed 2013 Los Angeles River Recreational Zone Pilot Program for Glendale Narrows with the second meeting occurring right now at City Hall. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend, but will post when the final meeting is to occur, sometime next month. The idea is to get public comment on a plan to open up recreation within that approximately seven-mile stretch of our river.

I’ve read the pilot program and all you kayakers out there should be pretty excited. If passed, the proposal would mean that individual non-motorized boaters would be able to launch from North Atwater Park, Steelhead Park and Marsh Park,  from Memorial Day through Labor Day, when there is very little chance of a flood from torrential rain.  That also means you could be fly fishing from your kayak as well, because the proposal also calls for fishing, bird watching and hiking. Swimming would still be a no-no. And float tubes are just plain impractical because of low water.

Dept. of Fish and Wildlife regs would then apply in the river.

I really wonder what this would mean for the eradication of carp in the river, as the U.S. Army Corps views it as an invasive species, even though carp have been resident for decades.

From the report: On Aug. 28, 2012, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 1201, which amended the Los Angeles Flood Control Act “to provide for public use of navigable waterways under the district’s control that are suitable for recreational and educational purposes, when these purposes are not inconsistent with the use thereof by the district for flood control and water conservation.”

Stay tuned and see you on the river, Jim Burns

Quick Mends: Useful links update Sepulveda Basin habitat destruction


California State Senator Kevin De Leon props up crushed vegetation while touring Sepulveda Basin's South Reserve. (Courtesy Grove Pashley)

California State Senator Kevin De Leon props up crushed vegetation while touring Sepulveda Basin’s South Reserve. (Courtesy Grove Pashley)

Yesterday, a friend sent me an article from the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Los Angeles Reimagines its Waterway,” that contained both a snarky East-Coast-centric tone, as well as surface reporting (Notice that the title says “waterway,” not “river” …) But I was struck by two quotes that I think aptly reveal where we are today:

“By year’s end, the Corps and city engineers expect to complete a joint $10 million study that will offer a handful of options for restoring native habitat, likely creating wetlands along the river and potentially removing or reshaping some of the river’s concrete walls. The study examines an 11-mile stretch of the river on the city’s east side, where some resilient plants have survived in a narrow, muddy strip of so-called soft bottom at the center of the channel.”

And

“Last month, to the surprise of many San Fernando Valley residents, the Corps cleared more than 40 acres of trees and plants near the river northwest of the study area, in the Sepulveda Basin. While not related to the Arbor study, the action set off an outcry among local environmental groups and has raised concerns about the future of the Arbor study.”

According to the article, “State Sen. Kevin de León, one of several local officials who has demanded an explanation from the Corps, said the Sepulveda project “doesn’t bode well” for the future of efforts to revitalize the Los Angeles River’s natural landscape.”

So true.

I’ve spent literally two years and change fly fishing this area that the article refers to as a “narrow, muddy strip of so-called soft bottom at the center of the channel.” If you visit these pages, you’ll find pictures of the carp I and many others have so enjoyed catching. But now I wonder, how can you trust the Corps not to destroy all fishing in the river once work actually begins? The motto of this blog is “waiting for steelhead, fishing for carp,” but I now have to wonder if everything non-native has to be tossed out, and with warm water temperatures the rule, will there be any fish at all left in the river? Reintroducing steelhead, which were found in the river as late as the 1940s, is all but impossible. There is no way to construct a run to allow steelhead to reach the ocean.

And are trout really plausible given the river’s high water temperatures? Maybe, with a lot of habitat engineering, and lots and lots of cash money.

That leaves carp, which already thrive in the river, have been resident for decades and, for the sports fisherman, are a lot more cost efficient to catch than traveling to Belize to snatch a bone fish.

I think it’s a crazy policy that has every plant, fish and game species returned to the halcyon of days before Los Angeles was the city it is now. Pragmatic room must be made at the table for all types of activity on the river, which includes fishing.

Question: Exactly what will we be fishing for in the Los Angeles River in 2016?

For those of you following the important issues of the Corps clear-cutting 40+ plus acres of the Sepulveda Basin to suit its own desires, see the links below that come courtesy of Sepulveda Basin Wildlife.

Damage can be seen on the trunk of this native Oak at the South Reserve. (Courtesy Glenn Bailey)

Damage can be seen on the trunk of this native Oak at the South Reserve. (Courtesy Glenn Bailey)

Click HERE to read the entire Finding of No Significant Impact for the Vegetation Management plan.
Click HERE to read the letter sent to ACOE by the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Areas Steering Committee.
Click HERE to read the ACOE’s response to the SBWASC letter.
Click HERE to see ACOE’s web page about this issue.
Click HERE to read Daily News article about clear cutting of South Reserve.
Click HERE to read L.A. Times article “Army Corps of Engineers clear-cuts lush habitat in Valley”, HERE to read follow-up article.
Click HERE to view YouTube video about the destruction.
Click HERE and HERE to see Encino Patch articles with additional photos.
Click HERE to read letter from San Fernando Valley Audubon Society about clear cut.
Click HERE to read KCET blog by Carren Jao.
Click HERE to read letter from State Senator Fran Pavley.
Click HERE to read letter from State Senator Luis de Leon.
Click HERE to view video entitled “Wildlife Refuge Meets Army Corps or Engineers” by a concerned citizen.
Click HERE to read an editorial by Charles Miller on the KCET blog.
Click HERE to read story in the LA Weekly.
Click HERE to read Congressman Brad Sherman’s letter to Colonel Toy.
Regional Water Board Investigation – click HERE for Encino Patch article.

Click HERE to find out about the history and wildlife of what used to be the South Reserve.

Click HERE to visit the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society’s web site that has recommendations as to who to send comments, and other links.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

L.A. mayor announces largest solar contract in DWP history


Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announces two major solar projects while at Occidental College. (Jim Burns)

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announces two major solar projects while at Occidental College. (Jim Burns)

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced the creation of two large solar projects today while at Occidental College.

“Today, we’re signing the largest solar contract in the history of the DWP,” Villaraigosa said. “Our contract with the K Road-Moapa Solar Project will provide 250 megawatts of solar power. That’s enough energy to power over 113,000 homes.”

K Road will develop the solar arrays on the Moapa River Indian Reservation in southern Nevada.

The contract with the Copper Mountain Solar Project will send up to an additional 210 megawatts to Los Angeles, enough to power another 76,000 homes. These two projects join the city’s other major solar projects, the Adelanto Solar Project, Kern County and the Feed-in Tariff program, which provides a financial incentive to homeowners who install on-grid photovoltaic systems.

The mayor chose Occidental College because of its new $6.8 million, 1-megawatt solar array, a project whose innovative design takes a distinctively liberal arts approach to green power with its blending of technology and art, according to the college.

With the almost-completed hillside array as a backdrop, he told a group of around 50 that the city’s goal for renewable energy use is 33 percent by 2020. Los Angeles gets about 40 percent of its energy from coal.

“We’re the only public utility that I know of in the entire state that isn’t just talking about a goal, but we have a real plan to get there. The fact that we’re at 20 percent and will be at 25 (percent) by 2015 is indicative of the milestones necessary to get to 33 (percent).”

Sierra Club President Allison Chin lauded the contracts as well as Villaraigosa from the podium.

“The Moapa Solar Project will be a boost to the Paiutes and the Sierra Club’s ongoing efforts to replace coal with clean energy in southern Nevada. The Pauite families are suffering from high numbers of asthma attacks, heart conditions and even cancer that’s associated with coal pollution,” she said.

The Sierra Club and the Moapa Band of Paiutes, located near the Reid Gardner plant, have called for its closure, but in August the federal Environmental Protection Agency green-lighted NV Energy to continue operations, as long as it installs controls to reduce the air pollution.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

New L.A. River funding brings new questions


From top left, clockwise, the tranquility of carp-filled pools, at the beginning of Glendale Narrows. Once you get past the city locks, you can see self-shadows and nifty bridge architecture. (Jim Burns)

The Buddhists say that the curse of the human realm is change. And if you live long enough, you tend to agree with them.

Of course, even if you haven’t lived a long time, only a fool won’t recognize that change comes in two flavors: good and bad. Maybe some would quibble with me and argue change can be neutral, but those changes aren’t the ones any of us remember. A neutral change is akin to no change. Most of us see the world in Manichaean terms — a big word for good versus evil. Change is flavored by one side or the other.

Maybe that’s a tad too much philosophy for a Monday morning, perhaps a shadow of tomorrow’s election, but change felt palpable on the river this weekend, and I wondered which flavor it would eventually be.

I took advantage of the 80-degree weather to explore three favorite fishy spots, looking for carp. One thing that doesn’t change — I often get skunked by these elusive fish. Water in the Glendale Narrows section is two-to-three feet deep in most spots. Consequently, fish see you as quickly as you spot them. And, at least on the fly, sight fishing is the best way to land one, and it has certain risks.

My boots scraped down the river’s  rip-rap skin, close to the giant bunkerlike concrete abutments that once held electric Red Line tracks, jutting out from the old Glendale Avenue bridge. There, the wide concrete swatch of the river’s artificial bottom is entirely concrete, and as I watched the water’s constant flow, I realized this vista I’d taken for granted was vulnerable to change.

By now, if you follow “riverly” events, you know that clothier Miss Me has  breathed new life into the stalled keystone environmental feasibility study with a substantial gift. As Molly Peterson reported for KPCC: “The Army Corps of Engineers study, nicknamed  ARBOR (Alternative with Restoration Benefits and Opportunities for Revitalization), was $970,000 short of the $9.7 million needed to proceed.”

And the clothing company has offered almost $1 million to close that funding gap. The Corps lead planner Kathleen Bergmann recently told me that the money has to pass through some approval hoops. “We are moving forward on last year’s funds.  While funds have been offered, we must receive permission to receive those funds, and sign an agreement.  Congress has set up a very precise method for doing this, and must be notified as well. We are in the process of taking those steps to get approval to receive the funds.”

So green is green, and it’s great to know that the money is finally available, even given the ridiculous amount of time it’s taken to fully fund the study during the Great Recession.

“Remember that the fundamental purpose of the Study is to improve the ecosystem values in the LA River– and that means riparian habitat that is good for wildlife, including fish species,” said Carol Armstrong, director of the Los Angeles River Project office. “The Study will go public with its alternatives early next year. Once finished, it will recommend one of those as its recommended project, which will then go to Washington, DC, for approval by the federal powers-that-be. So, those alternatives are under development now. Basically we’re moving from Study to Project now that the Study is fully funded.”

I believe it’s a given that at least sections of concrete are on their way out. Since I began this post on a mystical note, look at the signs.

– The Paddle the River program, although only around for eight weeks a year, is in its second year, with a five-year contract. Now apparently,  program leaders have aspirations to paddle the seven miles of Glendale Narrows as well.

– Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB1201 into law this year, which broadens the L.A. County Dept. of Public Works 100-year-old mission of flood control and storm water management to include education and recreation. Friends of the L.A. River and UCLA’s Environmental Law Clinic spearheaded the effort that was then introduced by State Senator Kevin de Leon.

– I haven’t heard of any tickets being issued to those plying the river’s bottom during the last few years.

– Also, I haven’t heard of LAPD harassment of activists since Jenny Price’s  river tour was disrupted over a turf war some three years ago.

Add to all that Arroyo Seco Foundation Exec Tim Brick’s recent grant acquisition of over $3 million to improve the Hahamongna watershed above JPL in Pasadena. As he wrote me in an email, “A key goal of this project is to improve conditions for the trout and other fish in the Arroyo stream.  The water intake facilities were not designed to protect the fish, but we want to change that by redesigning the facilities and improving the habitat there. This brief video shows the facilities and the area to be improved: Water Facilities in Hahamongna Canyon.”

It’s time for optimism, to see the change as very good. In other words, this puppy is going to happen, because after decades of inertia, the political will has arrived to bring in the bucks.

But am I the only one who gets a little nervous with big money?

As I trudged along in the autumn heat, marveling at this wonderful liquid behemoth, I wondered what the change would actually look like, and I felt that nagging bite of Manichaeism again. I want to be able to fly fish, enjoy the din of the I-5, ponder the eastern vistas of Griffith Park. I don’t want to buy souvenir T-shirts a la San Antonio’s River Walk stalls, although enjoying a crafted beer by water’s edge wouldn’t be all bad.

So let me ask you, what do you want?

– See you on the river, Jim Burns

Enter a thirst-quenching idea


A one-use plastic water bottle, it ain’t. (Jim Burns)

There’s not a whole lot to say about this new boxed water, except try it. As it says on the 500 ml box that retails for $2:

– over 75 percent composed from renewable trees

– boxes shipped flat to reduce footprint

– 10 percent of profit goes to world water relief foundations

– 10 percent of profit goes to reforestation foundations.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

A&F Conservancy christens Rosemont Preserve in La Crescenta


OPEN SPACES: The area at the end of Rosemont Avenue in La Crescenta is a mix of private property, flood control access and now eight acres purchased by the Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy. (Jim Burns)

Saturday was a good day in La Crescenta, Calif., at least for those who care about open space in our congested Los Angeles basin.

The Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy officially opened its latest acquisition, the 7.75-acre Rosemont Preserve. The land is situated behind a gate  at the mouth of Goss Canyon, which is then backed by an additional 300 acres  maintained, according to conservancy press materials, as mostly wilderness over the decades by private landowners. The gate will remain locked to control access to the property.

Scheduled to appear during the fete was  L.A. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who spearheaded $350,000 in grant money to acquire the now-protected acreage. Donors made up the additional $100,000, which included  contributions of $250 from assembly members Mike Gatto (D-43rd district) and $500 from Anthony Portatino (D-44th district).  According to Gatto’s office, he also helped to raise $10,000 toward the purchase. The sale price of $450,000 was under market value. The real estate site Zillow estimates one home situated on over two acres at the top of Rosemont Avenue at about $883,000.

Preserving the land secures habitat for a range of wildlife, including mule deer, mountain lions, bobcats, bears, coyotes and Arroyo toads, as well as at least 31 bird species, according to the conservancy.

Although it is a win for the area’s wildlife and for groups, most likely school children and volunteers who can access the property through the conservancy, the location remains problematic, at least for neighbors who fear for their serenity because of the newly acquired access. Indeed,while early guests arrived, one resident whose home is next to the gate asked for reassurance from John Howell, executive director and general counsel.

‘X’ MARKS THE SPOT: Local heavies, volunteers and donors were on hand to inaugurate the Rosemont Preserve in La Crescenta Saturday. (Jim Burns)

“They are understandably concerned. It’s been shut off forever. They are concerned about just opening the gates, having it be an open space. It’s not, it will be controlled access,” he said during an interview earlier in the week. “But probably more telling, more significant than that in terms of having it be controlled access is that there’s a neighbor to the north who owns 212 acres.

“So the worst thing that could happen, you know, is announce it, here it is, then a week later she’s got people on her property. She’s got webcams. The first words out of her mouth when I first met her were, ‘I just want you to guarantee that nobody’s going to come on my property. Period.’ So, we’re going to try to turn that negative into a positive.”

Apparently, neighbors had a hand in nixing another plan for the property, to turn it into a school in 2005. The owners of La Canada Preparatory then eventually sold to A&FC during negotiations that first began in 2007.

The next steps for the conservancy, the neighbors and property owners in the area will be about public access.

” It’s a two-step thing: save it and acquire it, and then what do you do with it then?” Howell said.  ” Steward it, husband it and have it be a resource to the community. So we’re going kick off something called the Rosemont Society, which will be (composed of) folks who want to participate on a volunteer basis to help us manage the property.”