Archive for 2015 April

A botannical moment from the Sespe

Went on a tamarisk-removal expedition down a Southern California tributary of the Sespe this past weekend with friends and with support from the Forest Service. Happy to do it and glad for the opportunity but know that the agency would rather us not post any on trips to protected places.

So here's my allowable moment from the Sespe, verdant, redolent of spring.


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The usefulness of the random: Astrology

Astrology cannot be taken seriously, and yet I cannot entirely escape my daily sentence (aka "horoscope") in the newspaper.

But I'm not the only one with mixed feelings about it. At times, for example, Jung scoffed:

Astrology is a naively projected psychology  in which the different attitudes and temperaments of man are represented as gods  and identified with planets and zodiacal constellations.

But at other times, Jung admitted he found something in it:

Astrology is of particular interest to the psychologist, since it contains a  sort of psychological experience which we call projected – this means that we  find the psychological facts as it were in the constellations. This originally  gave rise to the idea that these factors derive from the stars, whereas they are  merely in a relation of synchronicity with them. I admit that this is a very  curious fact which throws a peculiar light on the structure of the human mind.  …. Carl G. Jung in 1947 in a letter to prof. B.V. Raman

Characteristically he had looked into the archetypes expressed by the constellations, and considered them in the light of his own typology, and, one might say, thought it through.

This is not true with a super-casual reader of the horoscope in the newspaper such as me, who experiences astrology purely as an introduction of randomness into one's life.

The Romans adored the fortune as a goddess; perhaps the newspaper horoscope is our culture's little nod to Fortuna.

Regardless – I often like the nod! The universe seems to be speaking to me, with intimacy and complete unpredictability. It's smarmy and yet flattering too.

Here was my sign (Sag) for today:

Balancing solitude and sociability is tricky because people keep asking you to do things with them, and you keep saying yes. Schedule solitude on the books.

Who else in my life would ask me to plan for solitude?

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CA water bureaucrat disses federal weather scientists

How often does one see an outright confrontation between state bureaucrats and federal scientists?

In my experience, well — never.

But that's what I saw last week at the Chapman Conference on California Drought

Organized by the American Geophysical Union, at a National Academy of Sciences center at UC Irvine, this conference brought together a hundred or so highly respected weather and climate scientists, many of whom work at a NOAA center in Colorado, with water authorities and bureaucrats in California.

The brilliance of those at the gathering was not in dispute, but, to my surprise, a real conflict surfaced between the two parties.

After hearing a solid day of bad news about drought, wildfire, groundwater overdrafting, and on and on, Jeanine Jones, a thirty-year veteran of California's state Department of Water Resources, took the podium, and — politely but unsparingly — unloaded on the uselessness of National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration science.  

She spoke for well over an hour. Towards the end of her presentation, to a shocked audience that kept asking her the same basic question, Jones noted:

"I came into this meeting intending to be provocative and it's obviously worked."

Jones is not the biggest person in the world, and she doesn't bang the table and engage in dramatic displays, but her words clearly took her audience aback. 


[picture of Jones at another drought event in Irvine from San Gabriel Valley Tribune]

What did she say that shocked the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration scientists so?

In part she dismissed a great deal of their work. 

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. We don't need to know if we're in a drought or not. We rely on precipitation and expected run-off."

When asked what she might do differently if scientists could with skill forecast a season or two, or even better, a year or two, in advance, she all but scoffed. 

"Since we can't predict if next year will be wet or dry, shouldn't we plan for the worst? It's lucky for us that this drought occured during a time of general funding surplus."

"Like politics, all drought is local."

"In a recession, your neighbor loses your job. In a depression, you lose your job. It's the same with drought. Impacts increase with duration."

What is not useful, Jones said:

US Drought Monitor
Drought Impact Reporter
PDSI (drought index)
Climate Prediction Center drought outlook
Climate Prediction Center precipitation

Clearly her department did not take the NOAA's guidance regarding El Nino seriously. 

When pressed on the question of how much skill was needed, she said:

"We don't use skill numbers [from the scientific literature]. All I can tell you is what a Supreme Court justice said once, that I'll know it [a useful seasonal prediction] when I see it. Our view is colored by the fact that in recent years we have had some notable busts with the AO (Arctic Oscillation) and ENSO (El Nino/Southern Oscillation). ENSO connection in particular tends to be over-hyped."

Jones indicates that she's interested in Atmopsheric Rivers, and in research at the NASA-affiliated Jet Propulsion Lab into a linkage between a phase of the Madden-Julian Oscillation that seems to have a propensity for forming Atmospheric Rivers. But she had no use for most of NOAA's work. 

Repeatedly the scientists asked her version of the same question — why aren't these forecasts any good to you? — and repeatedly Jones, who serves as the "interagency drought manager" said that they "didn't tell a story" and added that she wasn't interested in the statistical "process" that produced the forecasts. 

Never seen anything quite like it. 

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For Earth Day, Obama goes to Florida

Prez Obama appears to be really trying to reach the public re: climate change. He gave his usual good speech about the subject on Earth Day, but this one suspects his most convincing point on climate change may be a simple recitation of some personal facts. 

As he said yesterday:

Just last weekend, Michelle and I took the girls for a hike in a national park… As we were walking a trail along the Everglades, we saw a group of school kids — couldn’t have been more excited about mostly seeing the gators, not seeing me — (laughter) — but also learning about the science of the planet that they live on.  And I want every child to have that opportunity.

So starting this fall, we’re going to give every fourth grader in America an “Every Kid In A Park” pass, and that’s a pass good for free admission to all our public lands for you, your families for an entire year.  (Applause.)  Because no matter who you are, no matter where you live, our parks, our monuments, our lands, our waters — these places are your birthright as Americans. 

And today, I’m designating America’s newest national historic landmark, the Marjory Stoneham Douglas House in Miami, so that future generations will know how this amazing woman helped conserve the Everglades for all of us.  (Applause.) 

We all have a stake in the future — that's his point, which may benefit from going mostly unstated. 

Obama also can be pretty blunt, as in his speech yesterday, chiding Florida for not letting state officials discuss climate change. (They've denied the charge, but it's been documented.) 

Tom Toles sketched his take on the subject, which he left as an outtake — but it's still worth citing. 


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James Baldwin on climate science


Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.


James Baldwin wasn't thinking of climate when he wrote that, but if you think about it, isn't that the logic of climate policy efforts today?

Isn't that the hope, the idea that drives our science – to win the public over with the truth?  

And perhaps that's why it's not an easy sell, either. It's a confronting, a look in our eye.



To me it's a tribute to Baldwin's "piercing honesty," that his formulation takes on new life as it ranges across time and space. To Jose Antonio Vargas, who wrote about James Baldwin in a spectacular essay for the Los Angeles Times, it's as if Baldwin's words saved his life.

Vargas's essay was one of a whole series of writings about literary mentors by a spectrum of writers, drawn together with gorgeous sketches by Joseph Ciardiello, that luxuriates in literary remembering.

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PDO turns positive: what does this mean for West Coast?

It's crazy how warm the Pacific is these days. Yet another story from the hard-working Chris Mooney at the Washington Post points to "the blob" of warmth in the Pacific off California.

Here's a map of sea surface temperature anomalies that gives an idea of that blob:


It's been extraordinarily warm in the Pacific, and in California, and that may not be a coincidence. Or so I hear. A scientist named Nate Mantua sees a connection with big implications for our future.

According to Mantua, the emergence of the new and consolidated “blob” may be a very significant development with global consequences. That’s because it may relate to a much larger pattern of ocean temperatures called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or PDO. A shift in this oscillation, in turn, may be a sign that the planet is on the verge of getting warmer, some scientists say.

Mooney writes:

Mantua also keeps an index of the PDO, and he says that at the moment, “my version has much more extreme positive values than theirs has.” But generally, the two indices are telling the same story, he says.

“In 2014 it went from mostly negative values to a very strong expression of the warm phase, and that’s present today,” Mantua says.

If the PDO is not only positive but is going to stay that way, it could be a big deal. Here’s why: Some scientists think a persistent cool phase of the PDO cycle may be a key part of the reason why there has been a much discussed “slowdown” of global surface warming recently. And if they’re right about that, then with the end of the cool phase, we may also see an end to any global warming “hiatus.”

Other scientists have linked the positive PDO to rainfall in Southern California, although an analysis by NOAA's Climate Diagnostics Center finds that statistically significant at only a marginal level.  


Correlation: .25

Significance: 5%

Variance Explained: 6%

The correlation of PDO to rainfall in Southern California is barely statistically significant at the 5% significance level. The correlation only accounts for 6% of the variance that occurs in annual rainfall.

High temperatures off the coast last year correlated to high temperatures here in California, and from what I hear, that's expected to continue. What else might we expect?

That is the question I hope to be able to ask Nate Mantua next week at a drought conference in Orange County.  

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Ventura County: Highest pesticide use in California

Spectacular story for The Food and Environment Network, published in The Nation, by Liza Gross.

For Ventura County and Oxnard, here's the nut of it: 

Use of many of these sixty-six pesticides has fallen statewide since 2007. But a handful of communities saw a dramatic increase. By 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, more than 29 million pounds of these chemicals—more than half the total used in the state—were applied in just 5 percent of California’s 1,769 census ZIP codes, according to an independent investigation by this reporter. In two ZIP codes that Zuñiga knows well—areas that include the Oxnard High neighborhood where she trained and south Oxnard, where she lives—applications of these especially toxic pesticides, which were already among the highest in the state, rose between 61 percent and 84 percent from 2007 t0 2012, records at the California Department of Pesticide Regulation show. Both are among the ten ZIP codes with the most intensive use of these pesticides in California. And both have sizable Latino populations—around 70 percent—thanks, in part, to the large number of farm jobs in the area. The great majority of the people who work in the strawberry fields in Oxnard, which hosts the largest population of farmworkers in Ventura County, come from Mexico.


Read the whole thing. It's not that long. Really, give it a chance.

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How good you are in bed: a woman’s perspective

Jessica Hagy has a crazy/great gift for simplification that often looks to me like wisdom. 



Something tells me she's right. But how could such a theory be tested? 

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Man, Nature, and Tree, in one brilliant image

From Ajim Sulaj, an Albanian artist/cartoonist living in Italy. 

Man,nature, and tree

Via Cartoon Movement.

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California’s water demand: a look at the numbers

Nate Silver's datalab, aka 538, takes a fresh look at the numbers that show California's water demand. Leah Libresco digs up some real gems:

California’s water problem won’t be solved by shorter showers or browner lawns.

In Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order setting California’s mandatory water reductions in cities and towns, he called for 25 percent reductions in use that would save 1.5 million acre-feet of water1 over the next nine months.

By comparison, the city of Los Angeles uses 587,000 acre-feet in a year. In other words, L.A. would need to go completely dry for three years to cover Brown’s goals on its own.

California’s urban areas are responsible for only 10 percent of the state’s water use.

That's putting it starkly, But leave aside the problem-solving aspect for a minute, and look at these numbers as values, as shown by the amount of water we as a state/culture devote to them.

If forty percent of our water goes to agriculture, and ten percent goes to the cities/people, then where does the rest go? To the environment:

…50 percent of California [is] reserved for environmental use (maintaining wetlands, rivers, and other parts of the state’s ecosystem)…

Is this number a fluke? Arguably not. About a decade ago, among the "water buffaloes" who devote their lives to working out this issue, a conciliation was reach regarding reworking the water management in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

As many readers will know, this is where water is sucked into the State Water Project through enormous pumps. But the important point is, a consensus was reached, a decade or more ago, that the environment was put on a level playing field with our use, and declared a "co-equal goal."

As recounted by Doug Obegi of the NRDC, as of 2009:

Today, California's Governor is signing into law SB 7X 1, part of the legislative package to reform water policy in the state.  The bill being signed today builds the foundation for a sustainable 21st century water policy, which is built on two interrelated principles:

  1. Improving water supply reliability and protecting and restoring the health of the Delta estuary, and its native fisheries, are co-equal goals for Delta policy (See Sections 85020, 85054, 85300); and

  2. In order to achieve these goals, the policy of the state is to reduce reliance on water exported from the Delta and invest in alternative water supplies, like water efficiency, water recycling, and low impact development. (Section 85021)

So, I think, one can argue that we have at least achieved our equity goal, here in California, even if we have all too little water to actually share.

To attempt to put this question in perspective visually, here's a (state) Department of Water Resources picture of one of the new pumps used to suck water out of the Delta and move it south.

Hitachi pump

These pumps, which wear out by the way, are driven by 80,000 horsepower motors.

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