Saturday, October 30, 2010

Op Ed promotes geoengineering; my letter refutes

As an informed citizen, I try my best to correct misunderstandings on the science of climate change that appear in local media. This gives me plenty to do.

Eleven days ago, The Californian ran this op-ed by Dana Milbank in which he argues that we need to consider geo-engineering should efforts to control greenhouse gas levels fail.

Climate Change Plan B

I agree with him to the extent that we are failing miserably to control emissions and that some geo-engineering solutions may need to to considered to buy us time, but his description of many geo-engineering options and describing them as opportunities that haven't been explored is ignorant of the science. It is disturbing that columnists say such things and then are allowed additional op-eds before their previous errors can be corrected.

My letter ran today:


The defining feature of my article is that it's 200 words. I'm also guilty of a little political manipulation. I refer to the conservative side of me recognizing that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I used the word "conservative" for it's original meaning: tending to conserve the resourses we have. But, I was writing for the paper, and during election season, so I knew people will read "conservative" in it's political sense, where conservative on ecology and conservative in political outlook do not mix.

The issue is not to convince liberals or anyone open to scientific conclusions that climate change is real and dangerous. The issue is in convincing conservatives, as they have to be part of the solution. Climate change is becoming the frog in the boiling pot of water experiment. Next year continues to look only slightly worse than this year. We do not hear the clicking of the rachet.

Of couse, as an animal loving liberal, I've never boiled a frog for myself. I hope I don't have to, and I hope humanity doesn't take the global experiment much farther.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Orbital forcing 135 kya

I'm building a viewer that will show orbital configurations with climate data from the Vostok ice core (and from other sources when I get to them). Below is an orbital configuration from 135 kya. Assuming I've reconstructed this time correctly, it shows an orbital configuration that puts the solstices at right angles to the Earth's semi-major axis (blue line connecting perihelion to the sun). Such a configuration should cancel out the effect of eccentricity, an effect that can heat the hemispheres unequally. In this configuration, no hemisphere gets its peak summer at perihelion, where it would otherwise get significantly more solar energy. Notice how the insolation graphs of 60 degrees N and 60 degrees South cross at this time. Click the illustration to enlarge it.

I'm sharing for the fun of learning about climate, especially the astronomical component of Earth's glacial and interglacial phases. This illustration is an elaboration of one used in my Earth, Orbit, and Climate presentation, which I've recently updated. I claim no scientific credentials; just an enthusiasm to learn and share, while inviting criticism.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Stopping to admire the camouflage

You really have to admire the camouflage of these horned toad lizards:

Can you see the lizard?

Here's another photo with my shadow almost holding the lizard (almost, because I didn't want to scare it away):

And another view:


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Supervisor Marion Ashley fails to understand basic lighting design yet speaks

Today's Californian covers the Riverside County Board of Supervisors review of light trespass, brought before the Board by Supervisor Tavaglione (

The article reports Supervisor Ashley saying that
"most commercial properties before the board in the last decade or two have been vetted to ensure they are dark-skies friendly and 'There's probably not a lot more they can do unless they turn the lights out'."
Ashley reveals some misunderstanding of lighting and light trespass. Set aside for the moment that the County has allowed numerous violations of the lighting ordinance on commerical properties, light trespass refers to bad aim, and there is a simple solution.

Consider this photo of an arc around the sun. Notice how the photographer (me) is using the object in the foreground as a shield to block the bright direct light of the sun. I'm not advocating turning off the sun, but shielding it so I can see and take the photograph.

Now observe these lights. The top one is typical light installed by a developer, and shines more light on the neighbor's house than it shines on the property on which it's installed. This is bad design, wasteful use of energy, and light trespass.
The bottom photo is a properly shielded light, and everyone can see (and sleep) better.

Light trespass regulation isn't about denying anyone the right to light their property; rather, it requires that they do just that, light their own property.

The real advantage of a light trespass standard is that developers will stop installing lights that will be subject to a legal complaint. Instead, they should use lights with reflective hoods that aim all the light onto the property the light is intended to illuminate. By using all the light, the property owner will get effective lighting with a lower watt bulb.

Update 20 Oct 10. The Board voted 5-0 in favor:


Friday, October 15, 2010

Riverside County Considers Regulating Light Trespass

Riverside County is considering a light trespass ordinance that will give a property owner some legal recourse to deal with an intrusive light. In doing so, the County will be recognizing the concept of "light trespass," a term I first heard used by the International Dark-sky Association. It's a good term, accurate, simple to understand, and describes a pervasive mis-use of light. I've been approached many times by people asking me if there's anything they can do (legally) about a neighbor's annoying light. "No," has always been my answer. Now, I'll say "wait."

It should be noted that a light trespass regulation doesn't stop anyone from lighting their own property; rather it stops them from lighting their neighbor's property. I've never met anyone who likes having a neighbor's bright light shining into their bedroom windows; and I've never met anyone who insists on the right to light a neighbor's property. I think a lot of people, however, will fall in between: they will want to retain the right to not have to care what type of light fixture they install; thus, they see their right not to care as greater than another's right to enjoy darkness.

I do foresee some challenges, depending on the scope of the ordinance. If the ordinance will not be retroactive on home owners, then it will be difficult to invoke. How does one prove that an intrusive light was installed after the ordinance went into force? One would have to photograph the surrounding properties before the light was installed. Not many people would think to do this before the offense.

Businesses will balk at anything that's retro-active, yet they are some of the worst offenders. Some consider it their right to shine bright white light beyond their property and into the sky as an indirect means of attracting customers or to cater to the perception that light makes for safety, and therefore, more light makes for more safety. (I accept that well aimed light may enhance safety. Businesses should be allowed prominent signs and well lit entry ways. It's when they neglect good design and illuminate indescriminately that the net gain is reduced by the nuisance, glare, waste of energy, and light pollution.)

Billboards are very indescriminate about how much light they use and where they shine it. A downlit design is available. We should require that it be used, especially in the 45-mile radius of Palomar Observatory. No light trespass standards applied to new construction can save money and energy, as well as protect the nightsky. All of these are benefits in addition to the intended goal of freeing people from intrusive lighting.

I recommend that cities encourage the County of Riverside and leverage it's efforts in order to adopt their own lighting trespass regulations. Residents should consider contacting their county supervisors to support the development of light trespass regulation. This issue os schedule for discussion on Oct 19, 2010.



Update: 16 Oct. 2010: I've added some light trespass examples.
This is the type of lighting that the ordinance would address. Notice how far beyond the property these lights shine. Here's a close-up taken with a zoom lens:

The grand opening of Gerrome's Furniture in Murrieta demonstrates a business thinking the sky is their advertising space that they have the right to stomp on research at Palomar Observatory.

The search lights are a violation of Murrieta's civic code. The night I took this photo, I went into the store and had a promising chat with the manager. I said intervening via code enforcement would be a lose-lose situation, and perhaps Gerome's would consider after their opening to bring the lighting the store inherited within the city's code. The manager struck me as genuinely concerned and gave me contact person at the corporate office. However, the contact number didn't work and so I tried contacting other departments at Gerome's corporate office and made polite inquiries via their phone message system. None of my inquiries were acknowledged, and since then, Gerome's has added more snshielded white lighting to their building.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Candidates for Wildomar City Council on Light Pollution

I've asked the candidates for Wildomar City Council to comment on light pollution (see part 1). In my offer, I asked to print what they said or offered to summarize their views. Some accepted my offer to summarize. Others provided quotable prose. I intend no bias in either form of comment, just an acknowledgement that in my summaries, I may have erred and will make corrections. I also put the candidates comments or summaries in an arbitrary order. No bias in sequence is intended.

This project started with a promise to myself to meet each candidate. After getting my first response, which was a pleasant experience, I realized I might be doing a service to the community by capturing and sharing all of the candidates' views.

Though this post is an opportunity to put candidates on record, the real benefit is that these candidates have done the cause of protecting the night sky a great service. They all believe a starry night is a part of Wildomar that they wish to protect.

Ben Benoit (my summary based on a telephone conversation):
I learned that Ben and I both own the same type of telescope. His scope and that he complimented me on the recent astronomy night in the park suggested a genuine interest in astronomy, and therefore, an appreciation for protecting the night sky. He doesn't see dark skies protection as an impediment to commercial growth, but it may not be reasonable to correct via punitive measures lighting that, though in violation, was given an approval by the appropriate agency, such as County before incorporation, and City, after. As I relayed examples of newly constructed facilities that are in violation of our lighting ordinance, he offered to examine whether these new projects were given approval by the County or City Planning Department.  
Sheryl Ade:
I think dark skies/bright stars one of the hallmark lifestyle elements of Wildomar.

I can tell you that I've worked and lobbied over the last year to bring in a new Planning Director for Wildomar. We now have a new Planning Director - Matt Bassi. I will be meeting with him this week to discuss a number of things "Wildomar" and will bring up the importance of the light pollution ordinance. We also have a new public works director, Tim D'Zmura and a new City Engineer, Steve Palmer. All have excellent qualifications and will, I believe, add value to our City planning, development and building processes. I will make sure they all understand that the light pollution ordinance is of significance to our community and give them some background (as well as your webpage).

I'll request that they look at the issues you mention in your email as well as direct them to contact you regarding the Clinton Keith lighting issues.
Tim Walker:
I agree with you that we need to keep our sky as dark as possible. I remember when I first came here in 1979. I purchased my property and was amazed at how many stars there were. Coming from inner-city LA we had no chance to see the beauty that was up there.
The lights of the cities of Temecula and Murrieta drive me crazy. I do want our town to keep light pollution under control. The developer's that will be coming to our city will need to address this in their plans. I'm not sure exactly where the city stands on this. I will try to find out and make sure that all of our concerns are heard.
The business owners that are here now cannot be forced to change their lights if they have been approved before building. I had to place shields on our lights when I had my first company here. The county was very concerned about the Palomar Mountain Observatory. That was 20 years ago and you can see that they let us all down.
Hopefully we can maintain our beautiful skies for our children and  grandchildren.
Marsha Swanson:
I am totally in favor of saving our night sky.  I have lived here for 36 years and the night sky was the first thing I noticed when we moved in.  I also really appreciate the time and information you give to our kids at the park.
Martha Bridges (summarized based on conversation and correspondence):

Martha has shared with me on a couple occasions that she feels we need to protect our night sky. She says that city councils and planning departments in the valley need to be proactive in protecting our sky with strict enforcement of codes, and careful monitoring of what developers and individuals choose for outdoor lighting.  Martha sees a need for balancing the protection of our environment against the drive for commercial development she sees being advocated by most of the other Wildomar Council candidates. Martha also describes herself as an active environmentalist and sees the night sky as part the environment she wishes to protect. Most notably, she has offered to help me in addressing current violations of our lighting ordinance regardless of the outcome of the city council election.
 Kristan Lloyd (Added 12 Oct 2010):

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this issue.
I believe that dark skies are an important feature of our community's rural nature and it's disconcerting that community members have noticed that enforcement of our lighting ordinance falling by the wayside.
Wildomar is very fortunate to have informed and dedicated community members that are passionate about preserving our community for future generations. I would like to see the city council making all efforts to include more of the wealth of knowledge that individuals have to offer with a community committee that addresses issues such as this one.
I have recently read several articles regarding dark skies and its ability to engage our special needs children as well as keeping us in touch with something that is bigger than ourselves. These articles referred to out in nature camping experiences but with our busy schedules we should be able to walk out into our own backyard and see our skies without a haze of light pollution.

Safety is always brought up as an issue but studies have shown that outdoor security lighting does not reduce crime and uses approximately 800 pounds of coal each year per light.
I am very interested in learning more about the alternatives that are available that will put safety first and foremost for the community while also keeping light pollution down so we can all experience a rural night sky. These options need to be brought forth to the city council, staff and planning commission so that future projects not only meet the current ordinance but take advantage of all possibilities available to protect our night skies.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Issa and 'Climategate'

Being a follower of climate science, it has been difficult to not hear about the "climategate" scandal, which is based on the theft and misinterpretation of private correspondence between scientists. I commented in my local paper before on this issue and invited critics to reach me here. This otherwise non-issue returns with my House representative commenting on the need for investigation, as reported here:

I examined my representative's climate change position, which didn't address my concern, so I sent this inquiry (and received an acknowledgement that my comment had been received):
The 9/23/10 New York times says that you will be ramping up an investigation into "climategate" if Republicans take the House. I have been studying climate science and would like to know 1) whether the New York Times accurately portrayed your intentions and 2) what are your plans regarding oversite of climate science and an investigation of "climategate"
thank you,
After three days with no reply, I send this letter to my local paper:

As of today, I have not received a reply from my representative. It's possible that he has been too busy responding to other inquiries made before mine: e.g.,
(I just discovered the above petition today and was disappointed by the lack of date information; it doesn't say when it started nor when it will end.)

Politicians have tried to intimidate scientists before. Such behavior is going on as I write, for example, yesterday's Washington Post covers a similar situation:


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dark skies and Wildomar City Council Elections

In the Nov. 2010 election, Wildomar will elect three council members. I have sent each of the six candidates for city council the following question (see answers):
I would like to know your view on protecting a part of our community's rural nature, that is a fairly dark nighttime sky. Like Temecula and Murrieta, Wildomar has adopted a light pollution ordinance. Much development in Temecula and Murrieta shows that these communities have forgotten to enforce their lighting ordinance. Wildomar is beginning to slip in the same direction with the new developments along Clinton Keith as well as with retrofits to some churches and community group buildings. I believe a dark sky is a rural quality that can be preserved while we still develop economically. I would like to know if you see the issue as I do, and if so how you would protect our night sky.
Below are examples of what I'm refering to. Each of these photos shows lighting installed after Wildomar's incorporation, and each is in violation of Riverside County ordinance 655 and Wildomar's ordinance 8.80. I cite both ordinances because some of these developments would have been approved by Riverside County before incorporation.

Unshielded white light used for Class II application (supposed to be low-pressure sodium and any use of white light must have full cut off shielding)

Unshielded white light on building and white light used for parking lot.
Liberal use of unshielded white decorative lights.
Class II lights should be low-pressure sodium. The main structures on this property use unshielded white light floodlights (not shown)

As with any open-book test, my question gives away what I think is a correct answer. My goal is not to expose a candidate for a view I would find contrary, but rather, to invite candidates to consider, if they haven't before, the value of a dark sky as part of the community they love and wish to serve, and that there will be challenges and opportunities. I do not expect violations of the lighting ordinance to get the same treatment as violations to health and safety. Nor do I wish an antagonizing relationship with any business that is in violation. But I do consider the beauty of our night a quality of life issue, a trace element that cannot be forgotten, and I think it should be a matter of pride, a symbol of support for the community, for a business to comply with all of their community's policies.

I will be summarizing and sharing my responses from the candidates in a follow-up to this post.