Environment Forum

Hollywood’s greenest stars honor U.S. environmental group

Dozens of the world’s top movie, television and music stars showed off their green cred on Saturday night at a Hollywood-style fundraiser honoring the Natural Resource Defense Council‘s 20 years in Southern California.

The event at Beverly Hills’ Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel was a who’s who of Hollywood environmentalists, including actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Redford, and Laurie David, a global warming activist and producer of the Al Gore movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” All three are trustees of the NRDC’s Southern California office. In 2003, the group even dedicated its new building to Redford.

It’s no secret that the environment and climate change is a hot cause in Hollywood, and it’s hard to imagine another social issue drawing as much star power to one event. The party also raised a hefty $2 million.

“Mad Men” star Jon Hamm and designer Tom Ford also attended the party, which was hosted by “Seinfeld” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus and included a musical performance by Grammy-winning rockers Maroon 5. Actress Rosanna Arquette deejayed the after party.

On stage, Redford recalled why he joined the NRDC in the 1970′s, saying it was “because they had the power to sue.”

Students use “Dracula Sneeze” to fend off swine flu

To keep the swine flu from spreading, California public school students are being told to practice what they have dubbed the “Dracula Sneeze.”

California Schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell said that last week teachers reminded students that if they have to sneeze, to put their mouths into the crook of one of their elbows.

“The students started calling that the Dracula Sneeze, and we picked up on that,” O’Connell said on Monday.

Seeking sentiment on drilling, Salazar gets an earful

There is no doubt that Californians made themselves clear on Thursday when they gathered to tell U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar that they had had enough of offshore oil drilling and were ready to turn their attention to solar, wind and other renewables.

“I think the verdict today is very clear, that drilling is inappropriate,” said Leah Zimmerman, who attended the meeting dressed in a polar bear suit.

“California is well-known for being an innovative state. Why not take advantage of that rather than trying to dampen it?” asked Craig Cadwallader of the Surfrider Foundation, a group dedicated to protecting oceans and beaches.

Will Obama like his lichen?

A scientist at the University of California, Riverside has named a newly discovered lichen after President Obama, a gesture he clearly intends as an honor.

Kerry Knudsen, lichen curator at UCR’s Herbarium, says he discovered the hardy orange organism on Santa Rosa Island,  off the California coast, and “named it Caloplaca obamae to show my appreciation for the president’s support of science and science education.”

Lichen is a plant-like growth that looks like moss.

Knudsen,  an ardent supporter of Obama, says he made his final collections of the presidential lichen, which grows on soil and was almost driven to extinction by cattle ranching on the island during the final weeks of the presidential election.

Paper or plastic? Oh, and 25 cents please!

California, always seeking to be a trendsetter on environmental policy, is weighing a proposal to charge 25 cents for every paper or plastic bag distributed at grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores. The money raised would go into a state fund used to clean up trash and prevent litter related to what the bill calls “single-use” bags.

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, says 25 cents a bag is high enough to have a real impact on consumer behavior. The fee would be waived for some low-income Californians.

The idea, of course, is to encourage people to bring their own reusable bags to the supermarket. Brownley argues that a similar program in Ireland has been a success, reducing plastic bag litter by more than 90 percent.

Going closer to the sun for solar power

Somebody alert Capt. Kirk.

California utility PG&E and solar power company Solaren say they have inked a first-of-its-kind deal to produce renewable solar power from space satellites beginning in the year 2016.

PG&E, one of the largest electric utilities in the United Sates, says on its in-house blog, Next100, that it is seeking approval from state regulators for a power purchase agreement with Solaren, which it says can provide 200 megawatts of clean, renewable energy — enough to power some 140,000 California homes — over a 15 year period.

Solaren says it will generate the power using solar panels on Earth-orbiting satellites, transmit it back to Earth through a radio frequency to a recieving station in Fresno County, then convert it into electricity which would be fed into PG&E’s grid.

Water! (gasp) California needs water!

The results are in and no surprise — California’s lean snowpack means a third year of drought for the state whose farms supply about half the nation’s fruit and vegetables.

The state’s survey clocks in at 81 percent of normal water content in the snow, with the state fearing early spring heat could melt the white stuff, leaving fewer reserves later in the summer when they are most needed. Plus a National Marine Fisheries Service report, called a biological opinion, may trigger more conservation measures to protect salmon and steelhead, cutting water left for farms and homes.

Things have improved a tinge since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a drought emergency in February, but the state, eyeing climate change,  is preparing for a dry 2010 and says that statewide storage is about 5 million acre feet below average. Since one acre foot is enough for a household or two for a year, that’s a lot.

Fetid swimming pools: the mortgage meltdown’s latest collateral damage

The subprime meltdown, housing market crash and tough economic times have left behind more than broken dreams and empty bank accounts in California. 

It has also meant a growing number of neglected or abandoned backyard swimming pools across Southern California  – either because the homes are in foreclosure or because owners can’t afford to maintain them anymore.

Those pools quickly turn stagnant, fetid and foul, bad for summer swim parties or barbecues but perfect as swampy breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes.

California gas stations defy new pollution rule

Wednesday is the deadline for California’s gas stations to install sophisticated nozzles and hoses to control vapor emissions at the pump, and the Los Angeles Times reports that some one in five station owners are in open defiance of the new state order.

Gas station owners say that the new equipment is so expensive that buying it during the worst economic slump in decades would put them out of business.

“It may be necessary to protect public health, but it’s unaffordable,” James Hosmanek, who owns a Chevron station in San Bernardino, told the newspaper.

Is California really banning black cars?

Has it come to this in California? Is the Golden State really banning black cars from its famous freeways, as reported in various auto industry blogs – and even The Washington Post – on the grounds that they require more air conditioning to cool?

The answer, a slightly exasperated spokesman for air quality regulator the California Air Resources Board tells Reuters, is an emphatic “NO.”

CARB spokesman Stanley Young calls the story a “very unfortunate case of misinformation from the blogosphere” stemming from proposed draft regulations that have since been put on the back burner by the agency.  But even those draft regulations, he says, never contemplated a ban on black cars.

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