The Time for Environmental Action is NOW!

The EFM Notebook

A Commentary on What’s New and Newsworthy

by Susan Holloway | Bio

NOTE: EFM Notebook is best viewed horizontally, when using your phone.                      EFM Notebook Index

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  • 4 Mar 2023 10:09 AM | Deleted user
    Flooding from Corte Madera Creek along Kent Avenue in Kentfield (2005)

    I live in the flatlands of Kentfield. Yards from my house, the Corte Madera Creek flows through a mile-long concrete channel box connecting Ross Post Office with the salt marsh just beyond the College of Marin.

    When my family moved to Kentfield in 1996, I was a little surprised that we were required to purchase flood insurance as a condition of receiving a mortgage, but I didn’t think too much about it. Having grown up in San Francisco, I was used to living in the shadow of imminent peril from an earthquake, so this was no big deal. 

    Since I hadn’t done my homework, I had no idea that the Corte Madera Creek had already overflowed its banks many times, with the floods of 1925, 1955, 1982 and 1986 causing significant damage to Ross Valley homes and businesses.

    Also unbeknownst to me, the Corte Madera creek had been “contained” in the concrete chute by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1960s. And yet the careful observer would note that there had been serious floods in 1982 and 1986, after the construction of the chute.

    Corte Madera Creek channel
    in January 2023
    Flooding in Ross, 1925
    (Source: Marin History Museum)
    The Corte Madera Creek widens out
    when liberated from the channel

    All was well until December of 2005, when a month of steady rain followed by a New Year’s Eve deluge caused the creek to spill out of its concrete channel and rush down the street alongside my house. The flood caused more than $100 million in damage countywide, affecting 1,600 homes and 240 businesses. Luckily for me, my house was not seriously damaged because it was built on a low rise (another thing I had failed to notice when we moved in).

    At the time I remember assuming that the county would take swift measures to prevent this from happening again. And yet, here I am 18 years later, still perched precariously along the side of a concrete chute and still paying flood insurance! It isn’t exactly the “banks of the mighty Mississippi” so can’t we contain this piddly little stream?

    Increasingly, water management experts would say that we can’t and we should stop trying to do so.

    So let’s dive (last water pun, I promise) into the current thinking about creek restoration, looking specifically at the Corte Madera and Lagunitas reparation efforts in Marin.

    What is Nature-Based Creek Restoration?

    In her wonderful book called “Water Always Wins,” Erica Gies argues that we have to find ways of “conserving or repairing natural systems, or mimicking nature to restore some natural functions — not building more concrete infrastructure. These eco-systems can buffer us from bigger rainstorms and longer droughts by absorbing and holding water. When we obliterate them, we make our places brittle, multiplying the intensity of these disasters.”

    Advocates of a nature-based approach have been around for a long time. In the 1970s, for instance, following protests from Marin residents, plans were abandoned to extend the Corte Madera Creek’s concrete straightjacket all the way from Ross to Fairfax.

    And while this “Slow Water” approach seems sensible, it is of course easier said than done and Marin’s progress toward the goal of nature-based reparation has been slow and uneven.

    Plans for Restoration of Corte Madera Creek

    One important thing to keep in mind is that the Corte Madera Creek is one of many creeks in the 28 square-mile Corte Madera (or Ross Valley) Watershed, which includes the towns of Larkspur, Corte Madera, Kentfield, Ross, San Anselmo, and Fairfax. There are many small- to medium-sized creeks in the area, totaling a length of 44 miles. The point is that everything is interconnected, and it’s hard to tweak one part of the ecology and ignore all the other parts.


    Water water everywhere (most of the time) (Source: MCSTOPP)


    This interconnectedness makes “fixing” the channel by my house problematic and explains why finding a good solution to the environmental, fiscal, technical, and property issues has taken a very long time. It has been 15 years since the beginning of the review process and the actual construction work has not yet begun.


    Parts of the channel that are not next to private property can be removed to allow for expansion (Source: Friends of Corte Madera Creek Watershed)

    The current plan is to widen the channel where it passes through public land. The high concrete walls will be lowered or removed to create terraced parks with walking paths and native landscaping. These improvements will slow down the water, provide an overflow area for floodwater, allow groundwater absorption, and support a wider variety of plant and animal life.

    The portion of the concrete chute closest to the salt marsh will be replaced with a natural earthen channel to improve fish and wildlife habitat. Farther downstream, the plan is to remove the current rip-rap slope protection and restore the naturally vegetated stream banks.

    If this all sounds simple and straightforward, think again. If you click here to read the 238-page report describing the project, you will see why the cost of this project is estimated at $14 million. Work is expected to begin in 2024.


    Broken fish ladder in Ross

    Don’t Forget the Fishies!

    To me it has always seemed amazing that a fish can be born in a stream in Fairfax, swim to the Pacific Ocean as a Twix-sized juvenile, spend 18 months in the ocean growing into a two-foot-long adult, and swim all the way back to Fairfax to spawn. 

    The Corte Madera Creek used to be home and transportation corridor for adult steelhead, coho, and chinook salmon travelling to and from the ocean. The coho and chinook salmon have given up entirely, and although steelhead can sometimes make it up the concrete channel, they can’t get past the decrepit fish ladder by the Ross Post Office. The proposed restoration plan includes removing this ladder as well as creating larger fish resting pools in the channel.

    Juvenile coho salmon (Source: Press Democrat) Coho salmon swimming upstream to spawn
    (Source: Center for Biological Diversity)
    In the past, the premiere spot for coho in Marin was the Lagunitas Creek. Fully 5,000 nesting females used to lay eggs in the Lagunitas Creek watershed each year, but the number has dropped to only 500 fish in recent times. However, thanks to the combined effort of the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN) as well as local, state, and federal agencies, significant restoration of the Lagunitas Creek appears to be giving the coho a second chance.

    Restoration work has been ongoing for over five years, including the removal of over a dozen residences, outbuildings, and wells remaining from two long-abandoned towns bordering the creek. These structures were replaced with native trees and plants, allowing the creek to meander slowly along curving banks and form pools created by small islands and carefully placed logs. This new habitat is paradise for juvenile coho, who like cool, shady pools where they can rest for several months after hatching and fatten up (kinda) before embarking on the 33-mile trip to the sea. Click here to read more about the project. 

    Work on the restoration of Lagunitas Creek will continue indefinitely now that the county — under pressure from a lawsuit by SPAWN and the Center for Biological Diversity — has adopted a Stream Conservation Area Ordinance mandating improvement of the riparian habitat and water quality for coho and steelhead in the San Geronimo Valley and Lagunitas Watershed.

      Before and after images of Lagunitas Creek restoration (Source: Turtle Island Restoration Network)

    Water Always Wins!

    Sometimes it can seem impossible to solve the complex problems we have created by unrealistically attempting to divert, dam, bury, and contain waterways. And indeed, after first learning about all these problems I decided to avoid writing about urban creek restoration and instead did a Notebook post on how to repair watersheds in nonresidential areas by throwing a few beavers into the local stream and calling it a day. So much easier to write about and so much cheaper to do!

    But challenging though it may be, careful restoration of waterways in urban areas will ultimately cost less than the expenses incurred by the flooding, drought, fire, and biodiversity loss attendant to old-fashioned methods.

    Interested in Learning and Doing More?

    I highly recommend Water Always Wins: Thriving in an Age of Drought and Deluge by Erica Gies. Gies has traveled the world to learn about the innovative ways that “water detectives” prompt us to abandon the fruitless quest to control water with levees, drains, and aqueducts and allow it to move slowly through wetlands that hold water, carbon, and life.

    Another great book is Sacrament: Homage to a River by Geoff Fricker and Rebecca Lawton. Fricker’s amazing photographs of the Sacramento River takes the reader from prehistoric ammonite fossils to weekend revelers floating downstream in outsized inner tubes. Lawton’s thoughtful commentary extols the beauty of the river and outlines the steps we can take to ensure its survival.

    Friends of the Corte Madera Watershed was founded in 1994 to advocate for the watershed by encouraging residents and businesses to adopt creek-friendly practices and by working with local governments and public agencies to develop policies that benefit natural ecosystems. You can participate in their creek clean-ups and habitat enhancement projects on public property.

    SPAWN (Salmon Protection and Watershed Network) is another local group devoted to enhancing the wellbeing of local waterways. Focused on Lagunitas Creek, SPAWN offers opportunities to learn about the endangered salmon, restore watershed habitat, raise native redwood trees, and study salmon health.

    If you live near a waterway, a lovely book called the Creek Care Guide, published by the Marin Countywide Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program (MCSTOPP), will help you learn how to maintain the health of nearby creeks by making sustainable choices in terms of landscaping and home maintenance.

    That’s it for this installment of the Environmental Forum of Marin Notebook!
    Learn more about EFM and the Notebook at

  • 25 Jan 2023 10:12 AM | Deleted user

    As we were reminded this past month, management of rivers and streams is an essential aspect of flood prevention. And yet, many modifications made to the riparian environment in previous decades, such as encasing riverways in concrete channels, have contributed to the risk of flooding rather than mitigating it. But experts are now realizing that restoring rivers and streams to their original forms is an effective way to manage flood risk.

    Housing and commercial development make creek restoration quite difficult in urban and suburban communities. But what about areas where there is still enough open space to find more radical solutions to restore watersheds? Scientists, advocates, and government officials are beginning to realize that there is a very inexpensive and highly effective solution not only to flooding but also to the effects of drought and wildfires…bring in a couple of beavers!


    Why Are Beavers a Keystone Species?

    What is the one thing we all know about beavers? They like to build dams. They do this for their own survival. Their main predators — bears, wolves, coyotes and the like — are land animals, so beavers are safer in the water.

    But their dams have beneficial effects that extend far beyond ensuring beavers’ safety. The dams slow down the rivers, forcing the water to spread across a wider expanse in a network of smaller waterways and shallow ponds. These ecologies support a wide variety of plant and animal life. The marshy wet meadows absorb ground water, raising the water table, and protect vegetation from dying during periods of drought. The waterways also act as fire breaks. And by slowing down the water and siphoning it into tributaries, beaver dams greatly reduce the effects of flooding.

    As beavers bring up mud, they diversify the habitat for invertebrates on the pond floor.

    An explosion of research in the past 20 years or so shows the positive effects of beaver dams. In a 2020 study, researchers showed that beaver-dammed corridors were relatively unharmed by wildfires compared with adjacent areas without beaver damming. Author Dr. Emily Fairfax noted that “The differences in burn severity, air temperature, humidity, and soil moisture between the beaver complex and the adjacent landscape were huge.”  

    For all these reasons, the modest, unassuming beaver is considered a keystone species due to their stabilizing and broad impact on local ecosystems. In contrast to keystone species like wolves that stabilize ecosystems through predation, beavers are engineers whose constructions become rich ecosystems that support and protect many other species.

    How Do Beavers Get the Job Done?

    Beavers are not conventionally attractive crowd-pleasers like monarch butterflies or pandas. But if you can get beyond surface appearances, you will see that beavers are very awesome creatures. Their chunky bodies are perfectly constructed for swimming and cutting down trees, activities crucial to their survival.

    Beavers’ teeth aren’t gorgeous, but they get the job done.  

    Take their teeth, for instance. It’s hard to find a weirder smile than one dominated by extraordinary long teeth the color of a Cheeto. But their teeth are orange because they contain so much iron, which makes them super strong. Their teeth also grow continuously and are self-sharpening, ensuring that beavers will always be able to cut down trees to make dams and lodges, as well as to procure the leaves, twigs, and bark they rely on for food.

    Other aspects of their facial features are also perfectly adapted to their lifestyle. Their eyes are small and have a transparent cover, called a nictitating membrane, that can be drawn across their eyeballs like goggles, so they can see while under water. Structures at the back of their mouth prevent water getting into the lungs so they can gnaw on or carry branches while submerged. And their lips can close behind their teeth, also handy when you are swimming with a mouthful of branches.


    No one would mistake a beaver’s physique for that of a competitive swimmer. Averaging around 50 pounds, these large rodents look ungainly on land, but their bodies are custom built for survival in ice cold water.

    For one thing their body mass is big relative to their body’s surface area, and thus helpful in maintaining their body heat. Plus, they are covered with a coarse outer layer of fur to keep out the rain and a soft under layer to provide warmth.

    A nice wide tail helps stabilize the beaver on land.

    Their flexible and muscular tails have many important functions. First, the tail is a storehouse of fat for the winter and acts as a rudder when they are swimming. On land, where beavers are a bit klutzy, their tail helps prop up them up. And, of course, they smack the water with their tails to warn each other of danger and warn off predators.

    Just one more enchanting thing about beavers…their social life. Beavers mate for life and raise a “kit” of little beavers every one or two years. The offspring spend about two years at home, taking care of any younger siblings and learning the craft of lodge and dam building. Then they take off in search of a river to call their own.

    Beavers don’t hibernate, but they spend most of the cold months inside their cozy dams, venturing out occasionally to bring back vegetation to nibble on. Cameras placed inside beaver dams show that beavers sometimes host “lodgers,” animals like marmots who stay in a dam for the winter and enjoy the beavers’ food and hospitality.

    Home sweet home (source:

    Wait, Are There Beavers in Coastal California?

    If you asked me two months ago whether beavers were native to coastal California, I would probably have hesitated and said, “Maybe not?” I would have been wrong, but most scientists thought similarly until recently, and beavers have been treated in California as nonnative pests. 

    The men in this 1886 photo had apparently not yet heard that beaver hats were no longer in fashion.

    A 500-700 year old rock painting by the Chumash tribe that appears to depict a beaver…but wait, is it playing pickleball? (source:

    Prior to 1900, beavers were commonly found throughout most of California (Source:

    In fact, beavers were abundant throughout coastal California until the 1800s, when they were hunted to near extinction by Spanish, English, and Russian maritime traders whose ships sailed up and down the coast procuring seal, otter, and beaver pelts. Overland fur trappers like Kit Carson and Jedediah Smith also reduced the beaver population in California, moving inland and searching as far south as the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys.

    By the mid 1800s the beaver trade began to drop off but by that time beaver populations across the country were declining rapidly, eventually dropping from hundreds of millions to just 10-15 million today.

    Amazingly, it was not until 2013 that a multidisciplinary group of researchers made creative use of archival data to show how prevalent beavers had once been in coastal California and the Sierra Nevada mountains. They catalogued archeological findings of beaver teeth and bones discovered in shell mounds and learned of rock formations in the Sierras with paintings of beavers by Native artists. Linguistic research revealed that indigenous languages had a word for “beaver.” And historical research turned up writing by early explorers noting that Native people used beaver pelts for clothing.

    No one source can be called definitive, perhaps, but the various kinds of data add up to a convincing argument. It is now well accepted that the beavers were critical to the creation and maintenance of an extensive network of wetlands throughout California.

      “Hairdresser Sherri Tippie, the top live trapper of the species in North America, rescues unwanted beavers in the Denver suburbs and then places them with farmers and beaver enthusiasts who eagerly provide new homes for them” (Click to see source)

    Emerging Role of Beavers in Habitat Restoration

    It is hard to believe that only ten years ago beavers were considered a non-native pest in California. As such, they were subject to state-permitted removal from areas where their dams resulted in flooded roads or backyards. In 2013, for instance, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife issued 172 depredation permits, each one allowing the removal of multiple beavers on an individual site.

    These days, beavers are finally getting their due, recently being described as “untapped, creative climate solving heroes” by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). In the past year, CDFW has allocated $3 million dollars to hiring staff for the purpose of beaver restoration in the state.

    Meanwhile, there is some evidence that beavers are making a comeback in the Bay Area, with recent sightings along various rivers in the South Bay. Not everyone is ecstatic about welcoming the chubby critters to their neighborhood. Beavers are not always a good fit for a particular ecology, and sometimes need to be removed. There are a number of remedies other than the formerly common one of extermination.

    Beaver dam analogue on Miners Creek in Scott River watershed

    One experiment with introducing beavers for the purpose of wetlands restoration took place on the Scott River in Northern California, an area where beavers used to be plentiful but whose numbers are greatly diminished. Beaver dam analogues were constructed on several creeks running through agricultural land to attract beavers to areas that needed restoration. The restoration team worked closely with the landowners to ensure that the project satisfied their goals as well as those of environmentalists. In all cases, real beavers arrived, took over the dams, and began the ordinary work of maintaining and extending them. The dams improved habitat for the coho salmon, and increased water availability for the landowners.

    So now we know…One of the world’s least flashy animals is perfectly suited to restore and maintain resilient, productive, and beautiful riparian environments…all at a very low price.

    Want to Learn More?

    Watch a wonderful episode of the PBS show Nature called Leave it to Beavers about how beavers can revive a landscape that has undergone a drought period.

    If you don’t have time to watch all of Leave it to Beavers, here are a few clips: and

    Watch this charming Youtube video by Dr. Emily Fairfax depicting the process by which beaver dams can protect land against drought and wildfires and restore biodiversity.

    Ready for a deep dive into the history of beavers in the US? Check out Leila Philip’s new book called “Beaverland: How One Weird Rodent Made America” and/or read the New York Times review by Jennifer Szalai.

    Another informative and highly readable book is “Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter” by Ben Goldfarb. A New York Times reviewer couldn’t help quipping that “Goldfarb’s wonderful book might just tail-slap a politician or two into realizing how much we need them to restore our critical wetlands.”

    For a historical perspective, here’s a great article in Bay Nature about the evidence in support of beavers’ widespread existence in California prior to the 1800s.

    Read more about benefits of restoring beavers to watershed areas in this interesting article by the Public Policy Institute of California.

    Learn more about the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, a research, demonstration, advocacy and organizing center in Sonoma County whose purpose is to design and cultivate resilience to ecological, social and economic challenges.

    That’s it for this installment of the Environmental Forum of Marin Notebook!
    Learn more about EFM and the Notebook at

  • 7 Sep 2022 3:11 PM | Deleted user
    I won’t say everything is perfect in this country, but some really good things have happened on the environmental protection front this month!!! 

    Let’s linger on the national and state news just long enough to say yippee for the Inflation Reduction Act! This legislation allocates $370 billion from the feds to producers of clean electricity. The law is expected to help bring U.S. greenhouse gas emissions about 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030!

    It took a while, but the dogged persistence of advocates and elected officials finally resulted in a big win. Extra credit points for the agile pivoting from taxing carbon emissions to incentivizing clean energy use! For more, take a look at this excellent article from Inside Climate News.

    And at the state level, we can celebrate the new rule issued by the California Air Resources Board that requires all new cars sold in the state by 2035 to be free of greenhouse gas emissions. The rule also defines an interim target, specifying that at least 35% of new cars sold by 2026 produce zero emissions. This is HUGE, particularly since California is the largest consumer of cars in the US and because many states are likely to follow California’s lead. Read up on the details here

    OK, on to the local news…

    Celebration One: Sale of Tropical Milkweed Banned in Marin County

    You may have heard that the western monarch population is in serious decline, hovering at the extinction level. In California, the population dwindled from approximately 1.2 million in 1997 to only 2,000 in 2020. Environmentalists raised the alarm and conservation efforts began falling into place. Indeed, the latest census found that more than 247,000 butterflies overwintered in the state during 2021. 

    is pretty
    but not
    helpful to

    While the reasons for the monarch’s decline are complex, one factor pertains to their reliance on milkweed plants to complete their life cycle. Milkweed is the monarch’s only host plant. Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed and the resulting caterpillars eat the leaves. In Marin, there are two kinds of native milkweed, and both are recommended for cultivation: Narrow Leaf Milkweed, and Showy Milkweed. These types will continue to be sold by nurseries in the county.

    A third type of milkweed, tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) is not native to California. This is the one that has been banned. Unlike native milkweed species, tropical milkweed does not die back in winter. Because it lasts year-round and has attractive flowers, it has become an increasingly popular choice for homeowners seeking to attract monarchs to their yards. However, the fact that it doesn’t die back in winter like native milkweed means that diseases harmful to monarch butterflies, such as the parasite OE, can persist on its evergreen leaves and infect future monarch generations. 

    Last year the California Department of Food and Agriculture designated tropical milkweed as a noxious weed known to cause harm to the environment or the economy. This type of designation allows county agricultural commissioners to ban the sale and propagation of the plant. And Marin Agricultural Commissioner Stefan Parnay has done just that. Tropical milkweed is no longer allowed to be sold in nurseries in Marin County! 

    Marin is the second county in California to ban tropical milkweed, joining Ventura County, which enacted a similar ban earlier this summer. Read all about it here

    A huge thanks goes to Stefan Parnay along with the hardworking, brilliant local advocates in the Marin Monarch Working Group who have pushed hard to get this plan in place!

    Celebration Two: Single Use Plastic Foodware Banned in Marin County

    For years, the petrochemical industry has promoted a gigantic lie, namely that plastic waste gets recycled in the US. Nope! This waste often ends up in landfills, along roadsides, and in rivers, lakes, and oceans. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade for decades. Instead it gradually breaks into tiny particles that enter and contaminate the air, water, and soil. 

    These microplastics accumulate in the bodies of marine mammals, sea birds and humans. One recent study found ten times as many plastic particles in the poop of one year olds as in that of adults — thanks a lot, plastic baby bottles! 

    Evidence continues to mount concerning the pernicious effects of ingesting the chemicals in plastics. A newly published study by researchers at UCSF and Johns Hopkins found dangerously high amounts of chemicals such as melamine and cyanuric acid in the bodies of the participants, who were pregnant women. Particularly high levels were found in women of color. These chemicals are found in plastic products as well as in dishware, hair products, and pesticides.

    And plastic is definitely not going away; rather, it is being produced in greater amounts than ever. Barring radical action, plastic production is expected to jump three- to fourfold by 2050. 

    OK, OK, but let’s get to the good news! 

    The good news is that in May of 2022, the Marin County Board of Supervisors adopted a Reusable Foodware Ordinance that bans the use of plastic containers, plates, cups, straws, and utensils in restaurants and other take-out food establishments in all of unincorporated Marin.

    What does the ban mean, practically speaking? First of all, reusable foodware and utensils must be provided if a customer is dining in a restaurant. So no munching from a plastic-lined paper box of fries.

    Second, all take-out disposable foodware must be natural-fiber compostable or aluminum. So, no plastic or plastic-lined paper containers. And no bio-plastic foodware — the stuff may be colored green and plastered with pictures of trees and little arrows chasing each other, but it is not necessarily compostable or degradable. And some of it may contain toxic materials. So it is also banned.

    This ordinance applies to all entities selling prepared food to the public including restaurants, grocery stores and delis, bakeries, carry-out, quick services, farmers markets, and food trucks.

    Customers are allowed to bring their own containers for take-out. But come on people, they need to be empty, clean, and big enough to contain your food! Bring your own cup to avoid a $.25 charge for a disposable one.

    If this new ordinance sounds familiar, it’s because it is modeled after ones already passed in San Anselmo, Belvedere, and Fairfax. These local ordinances paved the way for the county-wide policy. Other municipalities are expected to follow suit.

    This is a big victory, and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Jinesse Reynolds, Barbara Bogard, Renee Godard, Chance Cutrano, and Susan Hopp along with all the others who have devoted countless hours to this battle. Read more about Jinesse Reynolds and her fight to ban plastic foodware here

    Closing Note: What Motivates Us to Act on Behalf of the Environment?

    These big wins are hugely important for protecting our planet. And when we see people coming together to solve problems it gives us the motivation and impetus to continue the struggle. Big successes are very rewarding and energizing! 


    From seeds to seedlings

    But I also want to say that we can derive energy and purpose from small personal actions. To illustrate this idea, I will briefly recount my relationship with Chuck, a monarch caterpillar who spent a few weeks this summer in my backyard. 

    It all started 18 months ago in February, when I planted some milkweed seeds. For a few weeks they lived in seed containers on my kitchen counter. When the seeds sprouted, I transplanted the seedlings into pots and eventually I planted them in the ground. 

    I then waited expectantly for hordes of caterpillars to arrive for a feast. But no one showed up until July, when I finally spied a lone caterpillar scaling a milkweed stem. I knew that this caterpillar faced stiff odds; only a small percentage of them make it to the butterfly stage. But I nevertheless allowed myself to become attached, assigning him a gender and naming him Chuck. 

    I watched with pride and alarm as Chuck quickly consumed nearly all the leaves on the plants I had reared. Like the Hulk, Chuck was expanding before my eyes, weighing down the few remaining milkweed leaves on which he perched. Worried that he didn’t have enough food to get through the 18-day caterpillar phase, I went out and bought two pots of native milkweed.

    Weirdly, Chuck showed no signs of interest in these fancy new plants. I watched and waited but he just kept wandering around on the barren stems of the old plants. I finally couldn’t stand it any longer, plucking him off a bare stem and placing him in the verdant paradise I had purchased. As I pulled him off the stem, I felt resistance from the little suction cups at the ends of his legs. Then he curled up in a protective spiral and didn’t move. 

    Chuck chows down Chuck faces a bare larder Chuck ponders store-bought milkweed

    I freaked out — what if I had ripped out the suction cups when I pulled him off? Was he in agony? When I came back later, he had straightened out but still didn’t seem interested in the new plants. The next morning, I went out to check on him…but he had vanished. I could only hope that he had wandered off to a more private place to form a chrysalis.

    Two weeks later I saw a monarch fluttering around near the milkweed. Had Chuck beaten the odds and managed to make it to the butterfly stage? After all, he was the only monarch caterpillar in my yard, and this was the ONLY monarch butterfly I had seen there all summer. He didn’t dip a wing in salute or give me a knowing wink as he fluttered by, so I will never know if it was indeed Chuck.  

    What is my point? First, it is really challenging to “fix” a complex system that had been disturbed by human activity. The journey from egg to caterpillar to butterfly is amazing and hard to manage from the outside. 

    I also learned that connecting with another living creature, even a caterpillar, is unexpectedly rewarding. It was almost as rewarding to me as the big environmental wins that have cascaded down upon us this summer. I suppose the ultimate lesson is that environmental action begins with caring. 

    Yeah, or maybe, as my Missouri grandmother would say, I am just “kinda screwy.” 

    That’s it for this installment of the Notebook. Spread the good news by clicking on the share button below!

  • 8 Aug 2022 2:41 PM | Deleted user
      Fire crews in Mariposa Grove during the Washburn Fire 

    Source: Sarah Platt, National Park Service

    As you are certainly aware, California has been experiencing a drought. The first three months of this year were the driest we've had in 100 years. Add record heat to the equation, and the result is emergency drought conditions for all 58 counties in California. 

    The risk of wildfires is also extremely high. The Washburn Fire came perilously close to the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoia trees in Yosemite this July but was ultimately contained without the loss of any of the 500 sequoias. The McKinney fire continues to rage in Northern California, killing four people and clogging the Klamath River with soil and debris.

    Overall, the state has fallen far short of Governor Newsom's goal from last year of a 15% decrease in water use. Conservation efforts picked up in June, with the statewide savings at 7.6% over the baseline year of 2020. So far, the Bay Area is conserving far more than other parts of the state, particularly Southern California. Not to brag, but Marin is among the top conservers, having reduced water use by 25.3%. 

    Marin residents lead the state in indoor water conservation


    Marin is doing relatively OK in terms of reservoir capacity, thanks to the rainfall we had this spring. The seven reservoirs that provide most of Marin's water are at 81% of capacity, a big improvement over last year at this time, when they were at 40%.

    Despite some bright spots, the severity of these problems can feel overwhelming, and sometimes it's hard to believe that any individual's effort to save water is worth a hill of beans. We clearly need proactive political leadership and systemic change with respect to water conservation as well as to climate change in general. To that end, the Marin Municipal Water District has implemented a number of strategies for bolstering our supply

    But when the situation is as dire as ours, individuals and communities need to organize in order to preserve and protect the environment as well as our own health, safety, and comfort.

    What Can You Do?

    I imagine that you know the actions needed to conserve water in daily life. It all comes down to one basic idea: Try not to use it! So that means take short showers, flush the toilet sparingly, don't use the dishwasher or washing machine until it is full, cover your swimming pool if you have one, water outdoor sparingly, let your lawn go brown, and so on.

    BUT there is a big difference between knowing what you should do and then actually doing it...consistently. The novelty of collecting the cold water that emerges from the shower while you are waiting for the hot stuff and then using it to water your houseplants probably wore off during the first month of the first year of the drought. So how do we keep ourselves going?

    I want to tout the benefits of getting a gadget, one that will provide specific information about how much water your household is using, and that will let you know how much you have reduced your consumption relative to previous periods. So, information and motivation!

    Before you stop reading let me assure you that I am not a gadget aficionado. For instance, I am OK with Google Maps but mainly because I have set the instructions to be delivered in a delightful Irish brogue. But there really are user-friendly tools that provide extremely useful information for water conservation. Say hello to my little friend, the Flume Smart Water Home Monitor.

    What is a Flume Smart Home Water Monitor?

      Some amount of bathing is really not a problem  

    Feline leak monitoring

    This monitor allows you to track how much water you are using minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day etc. It also provides details on how much water you are using from various sources like the dishwasher, shower, or outdoors. For me, it was revelatory to get a sense of what my biggest water-using activities were, and it can provide useful ammo if a family member seems to be, for example, taking frequent baths or overly long showers.  

    Another great feature of the Flume monitor is that you can compare how much water you used yesterday, for example, with how much you used in one day exactly a month ago or a year ago. 

    Flume telling me I left the hose on too long on July 15  
    Even more importantly, the monitor will let you know when you have a leak. If you have been averaging around 10 gallons of water an hour and suddenly you see a spike to 200 gallons, you know you have a leak! You don't even have to notice it yourself because the Flume system will send you a leak notification. Why is this important? Because the most important action you can take to conserve water is to correct leaks immediately. In fact, the average household wastes about 10,000 gallons of water every year due to leaks. 

    I learned this the hard way last year. As you probably know, the MMWD water bill comes every two months. I got a very big surprise when I opened my water bill last summer and saw that the charges had jumped from around $130 dollars for one billing period to almost $400! Despite my conservation efforts! I called a leak detection specialist who found a huge underground leak in my irrigation system. So annoying that it had been going on for weeks before I knew about it!

    If I had a Flume monitor, I would have been able to see right away that something was off. 

    OK, but what is it, exactly?

    The Flume monitor was developed by three students at California Polytechnic State University in response to the 2014 drought in California. In subsequent years they have built this product into a highly successful company, with tens of thousands of these devices installed across the United States. 

    Eric Adler, co-founder of Flume  Flume for monitoring water

    The Flume water monitor has three components. First, there is a water sensor that you strap to your water meter. The sensor measures the water flow and sends this information to the bridge, a little box that you plug into a power outlet inside your home. It connects to your Wifi network and sends data from the sensor into the Cloud. You can access the data using the Flume app. You can read a very detailed, technical review of the Flume system here

    Is it hard to get the thing up and running?

      OK, so that's what that thing is....
    Not to diss myself, but knowledge of plumbing is not part of my repertoire. For starters, I didn't know where my water meter was, so I was stymied when the Flume installation directions told me to "simply" strap the sensor to my water meter. Amazingly, however, the Flume website answers virtually all questions with no condescension, and I was happy to find specific advice on finding my water meter, even including suggestions on how to use a little tool (which they provide) to pry off the top of the box the meter is in! 

    Plugging in the bridge and downloading the app was a piece of cake. I'd estimate the total installation time at 15 minutes if you know where your water meter is....and a bit more if you need to go on a treasure hunt. 

    Does using the Flume monitor actually decrease consumption?

    Studies of pedometer apps like Pacer show that many people give up on them within a few months (and a few people become unhealthily addicted to them). One problem is that when we start expecting some kind of external reward (like the pleasure of being told by Pacer that you have walked 10,000 steps) for something that you used to think was just intrinsically fun, interesting, or meaningful (like walking), you lose your internal motivation to take a nice walk. This is a well-documented phenomenon in the field of psychology. It's called the over-justification effect. Read more about it here 

    Luckily the over-justification effect doesn't really come into play with the Flume, because few people find water conservation to be intrinsically fun or interesting. And once you can see clearly how much water you are wasting in certain specific ways, it becomes possible to focus on that problem area and modify your behavior. In fact, data collected by Flume shows an average 10% reduction in water usage within two weeks, a decrease that remains consistent as time goes on. Moreover, 66% of users receive a leak notification within the first month of using their monitor.

    Detecting leaks and reducing consumption on the residential level may not change the world overnight, but it enables customers to grasp and control something that they never before understood. Most people don't know if a shower uses 5 gallons or 50 gallons. Flume educates them and encourages a change in habits.  - Eric Adler, co-founder of Flume


    How much does the Flume water monitor cost?

    Marin Municipal Water District is offering residents a nice rebate for the Flume water monitor. Click here to find out how to get one for $49...that's 75% off the regular price.

    To be honest, I will say that you can also monitor your consumption and check for leaks by consulting your water meter. But the Flume monitor makes it much easier and faster to accomplish these objectives. So go for it!

    That's it for this installment of the Notebook! We've upgraded the website to make it easier for you to share posts on social media…so go for it!

  • 9 Jun 2022 9:23 AM | Deleted user

    In the immortal words of Miley Cyrus: "We’re getting handed a piece-of-shit planet, and I refuse to hand that down to my child. Until I feel like my kid would live on an earth with fish in the water, I’m not bringing in another person to deal with that."

    Miley is not the only person to question the morality of bringing children into a world that seems poised on the brink of environmental disaster. This question looms large in the minds of many women and men in their 20s and 30s.  

    There are two basic questions at hand. As Katie O'Reilly wrote in a recent essay entitled Dispatches from One Millenial's Uterus: "I'm worried that if I procreate, I will contribute to melting ice caps, rising seas, and extreme weather. Worse, I might create brand-new victims of climate change — people who never asked to be part of this human-made mess."

    It's not just a fringe group of pop stars and intellectuals who are debating these topics. In a 2020 poll of over 2,000 adults without kids, close to half of the Millenials and Gen Zers cited climate change as a major or minor reason why they do not have children. The number citing climate change was even higher for respondents of color than for white non-hispanic respondents in these two generations. 

    Certainly, climate change is entwined with the economic insecurity faced by people in these generations, including student loan debt, wage deflation, inflated housing prices, health insurance, and childcare costs. Add in the fact that political polarization is impeding movement on any of these issues at the national level, and Miley begins to make more and more sense.

    Don't Have Children, Save the Planet? 

    Let's start with the argument that children are bad for the planet. People consume resources, leading to the emission of greenhouse gases (primarily methane and carbon dioxide). The amount of GHG a person emits is referred to as a carbon footprint. The average annual carbon footprint for a person in the United States is 16 tons, one of the highest rates in the world. Globally, the average carbon footprint is closer to 4 tons. To have the best chance of avoiding a 2 rise in global temperatures, the average global carbon footprint per year needs to drop to under 2 tons by 2050. 


    Curious about your own carbon footprint? Check out this calculator from the Nature Conservancy.

    And shouldn't we consider that a child born is likely to have children, grandchildren, and so on? So the climate impact of today's baby is likely to increase exponentially. Egad! The case for not having children begins to sound tempting...

    Fertility and the Environment: The Fraught History of Population Control

    The contemporary arguments about childbearing remind me of the anti-reproduction movement in the late 1960s and 1970s, which was stimulated in large part by Paul Ehrlich's 1968 book, The Population Bomb. Focusing primarily on food insecurity rather than climate change, Ehrlich argued that it was essential to limit reproduction across the globe and increase food production to ensure the survival of the human race. He suggested a number of possible remedies, including putting "temporary sterilants" in the water supply, imposing a luxury tax on childcare goods, and ending food aid to countries that had not implemented successful plans to limit their population. 

    The book sold over two million copies, and many mainstream environmentalists were supportive of the book's assertions. Indeed, Ehrlich had written the book partly at the urging of David Brower, Executive Director of the Sierra Club.

    In the decade following its publication, population control became a salient part of US policy at home and abroad.  According to Mytheli Sreenivas, a professor specializing in reproductive politics, "Beginning in the mid-1960s, the U.S. government made controlling population growth a priority of its foreign policy...President Lyndon B. Johnson linked international development aid to population control, for example, and declared that he was 'not going to piss away foreign aid in nations where they refuse to deal with their own population problems.'” 

    The Population Bomb was
    widely covered
    in the media.

    In the US, serious and widespread abuses of population control practices were carried out in Native American, Black, and Latino communities. The Indian Health Service threatened Native American women with loss of their children or their welfare benefits if they refused to be sterilized. As a result, at least 25% of Native American women were sterilized between 1970 and 1976, with percentages as high as 50% in some communities. Dr. Connie Pinkerton-Uri, a Native physician who kept track of these statistics noted that sterilizations reflected the "thinking of warped doctors who think the solution to poverty is not to allow people to be born." 

    The focus on population control began to wane in the mid 1970s. Public concern over forced and nonconsensual sterilization played a role in this policy shift. Additionally, passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973 as well as increased access to birth control increased women's power to make personal reproductive decisions on their own. The US population began to decline as  female education rates and per capita income when up, two factors associated with lower birthrates. And, in spite of the many environmental initiatives passed in the 60s and 70s, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, the dangers of climate change became ever more apparent, and public attention moved away from population pressures on food security. 

    Contemporary Perspectives on Efficacy of Population Control

    In addition to the possiblity of abuse, another fundamental problem with population control solutions is that they take too long. We need to cut greenhouse gases in half within the next decade. Check out this thought-provoking interview with Kimberly Nicholas, a climate scientist who has studied these issues intensively. She basically argues that even if we could reduce the birth rate in the US or abroad without being coercive and racist, we do not have enough time to wait for the expected reduction in carbon emissions from not having children. Nor can we depend on the next generation to solve the problems that prior generation have failed to address successfully.

    As she argues, "In the case of climate change, we should not be planning for somebody else to save us. We actually have to save ourselves."


    "To never have been born may be the greatest boon of all." Sophocles

    Bringing a Child into a Hellscape...Good Idea?

    One heartwrenching aspect of the antinatalist upsurge is how many "ordinary" people are now convinced that children born into this world in contemporary times are doomed to live horrible lives. 

    In 2020, researchers Schneider-Mayerson and Leong surveyed 656 individuals between the ages of 27 and 45 selected because they were "connecting climate change to their reproductive choices." The goal of the study was to learn more specifically what it was about climate change that was causing concern. Respondents described an imagined future of "overlapping and reinforcing climatic, ecological, epidemiological, social, economic, political, geopolitical, and migration crises." As a 30-year-old software engineer in California wrote, “I strongly believe that children alive today are going to live through a long period of trauma, violence and devastation on a global scale that will rival World War I in its sheer terror unleashed on an unprepared population.”  


    Throughout history women experiencing severe hardship have taken steps to limit their childbearing. In the US, some enslaved women resisted bearing children that would themselves be enslaved by terminating pregnancies. Those working on cotton plantations chewed the roots of the cotton plant as an abortifacient. 

    But wait, can't we assume that future generations are going to get smarter about reducing carbon emissions?

    Enter David Benatar, philosopher and prominent advocate of antinatilism, one of whose books is called Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. Benatar argues that pain is inevitable in life and that no amount of pleasure will outweigh it. To those who argue that humans will eventually learn how to make life less painful Benatar says: “It’ll never happen. The lessons never seem to get learnt. They never seem to get learnt. Maybe the odd individual will learn them, but you still see this madness around you".

    Well, whether or not we are smart enough to learn these lessons about climate change is indeed hard to forecast with any certainty. But before you sink into despair and intertia, let's consider some options for action.

    Personal Narratives, Emotional Connection, Effective Action

    From an organizing perspective, the question is how to take this deep pessimism and channel it into collective action. I guess there is still an optimistic part of me that thinks we still have time to turn things around, and I am interested in exploring how to motivate a sense of hope and agency to energize action. 

    Josephine Feorelli and Meghan Kallman  

    In an earlier Notebook post I wrote about the principles of public narrative developed by Marshall Ganz. Ganz talks about the power of narratives to provoke the positive emotions — including hope — needed to inspire action. These ideas are brought to life by sociologist Mehgan Kallman and activist Josephine Feorelli, who started Conceivable Future, an organization structured around houseparties for people to meet and talk about climate change's impact on their reproductive lives. The goal is not necessarily to spur a commitment to having or not having children, but rather to bring the emotional impact of climate change into public perception through their stories, thereby fueling the anger, hope, and solidarity needed to work towards reducing carbon emissions. 

    What Can You Do?

    Find a group of allies with whom you can share your story, find common goals, and make an action plan. In Marin, a great option is to join a climate action team through Resilient Neighborhoods and get step-by-step support for making important household choices.

    Make a personal action plan. Check out the Nature Conservancy's informative website and learn how to calculate your carbon footprint. Then commit to having an impact. Here are two of the fastest and most effective things you can do.

    1. Switch to a renewable energy option like MCE, a public, not-for-profit electricity provider that gives all PG&E customers the choice of having 60% to 100% of their electricity supplied from clean renewable sources at stable and competitive rates.
    2. Reduce the impact of car and travel. If you can, switch to an electric car, take public transportation, and/or ride your bike. When you travel by air, neutralize your carbon footprint by purchasing carbon offsets. Organizations like Terrapass will use your purchase to fund projects that reduce carbon emissions and provide green jobs in local communities. 

    Hope is a belief that what we do might matter, an understanding that the future is not yet written. It’s informed, astute open-mindedness about what can happen and what role we may play in it. Hope looks forward, but it draws its energies from the past, from knowing histories, including our victories, and their complexities and imperfections. Rebecca Solnit: Why Giving Up Hope is Not An Option


    That's it for this installment of the Notebook. Look for us at or on Facebook and Instagram.
    We'd love to hear your thoughts!

  • 24 Apr 2022 4:57 PM | Deleted user

    YIKES! Earth Month is almost over!

    Can you do one more thing this month to fight climate change?

    It will take 10 minutes of your time and likely save you money!

    Here's what to do: Switch over to a Community Choice energy program!

    What are Community Choice programs?

    Community choice programs are administered by local governments to provide a competitive alternative to investor-owned utilities like PG&E. They provide cleaner power and deliver benefits locally rather than to PG&E shareholders. 

    Residents of Marin are served by a community choice program called MCE. MCE, a not-for-profit public agency, offers renewable power at stable, competitive rates in four Bay Area counties. Started in 2010, it has eliminated 700,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and saved customers $68 million to date

    PG&E handles service delivery and billing for MCE customers. All you have to do is sign up!

    As an MCE customer, you have choices among programs. For the biggest environmental impact, sign up for Deep Green or Local Sol!!

    Renewable sources: bioenergy, geothermal, wind, solar, eligible hydroelectric
    Nonrenewable sources: Coal, large hydroelectric, natural gas, nuclear

    READY TO GO GREEN? If you live in Marin, Contra Costa, Solano, or Napa County call MCE at 1 (888) 632-3674
    or email Have your PG&E account number handy.

    That’s it for this installment of the Environmental Forum of Marin Notebook!
    Learn more about EFM and the Notebook at

  • 5 Mar 2022 7:33 AM | Deleted user

    Opponents of natural gas stoves are vociferous. “Kill your gas stove” is the headline on a 2020 article in the Atlantic. “It’s bad for you, and the environment.” Not so fast, counters the New York Times in their headline: “Why you don’t need to ditch your gas stove (yet).”

    What are the dangers to the environment of powering your home with natural gas? And what about health effects? And given what we have learned, what should you do? Pull money out your child’s college tuition fund and buy an electric stove? Or should you prioritize a new furnace? And what is all this about heat pumps?

    I want to dig into the issues, but first let’s go back in time to the days before anyone even had a choice, much less a preference, between natural gas and electricity. In fact, let’s witness the miracle of electrification through the eyes of my grandmother, Mildred Bowles.

    Born in 1906, my grandmother lived on a watermelon farm in Missouri with her parents, four brothers, and four sisters. Like most rural families at the time, they had no electric power. When she was a child, one of Mildred’s chores was to check the family’s game traps every morning before school. She used to tell me that she hated that chore because her clothes would get dirty while she was tramping around in the bushes. It was embarrassing to wear dirty clothes to school. But in those days of washing by hand (not to mention pumping water by hand too), she had to wear the same dress, clean or not, for at least a week.

    Rural farm life circa 1900 What is a lamp? Rural Electrification Administration
    demonstration, circa 1936 

    Fun, 1950s style


    Life took a turn for the better in the 1920s, when her family moved to Northern California where electricity was already available in most homes. She met and married my grandfather and they settled in Sacramento. My grandparents’ running water, lights, and a radio were conveniences unavailable to her friends and neighbors back in Missouri.

    No wonder Mildred was a steadfast proponent of all that modernity had to offer! In the 1950s, cooking newly invented convenience foods on her electric range was part of the fun. She was an early adopter of Jiffy Pop, which was invented in 1958. Jiffy Pop ads claimed it was “as fun to make as it is to eat.” It was all part of happy suburban family life. 

      Julia Child:
    “A party without cake is
    really just a meeting.”
    Electricity No Longer So Fun

    During the late 1960s and 1970s, however, the conformist, sexist, and racist values of the 1950s “ideal” life came under scrutiny, especially in the Bay Area. Images of a suburban woman in pearls and high heels smiling over her stovetop were beginning to disappear.

    From another angle, some people criticized the 1950s lifestyle as insufficiently sophisticated. Learning to make Crêpes Suzette from Julia Child became more interesting than making Jiffy Pop. Gas stoves, in particular, became — and continue to be —  “a coveted kitchen symbol of wealth, discernment, and status.”


    Marketing by the natural gas industry (Artist: Vrinda Manglik for Sierra Club)

    During these decades, natural gas became widely appreciated as an inexpensive source of “clean energy” for powering stoves, furnaces, and water heaters. The share of gas stoves, for instance, in newly constructed single-family homes climbed from below 30 percent in the 1970s to around 50 percent in 2019.

    Electric appliances were losing traction as a provider of happiness, a process accelerated by strenuous efforts by the gas industry. I beg you to watch a few minutes of this hilariously awful “rap” (“Cooking with Gas”) developed by the gas industry in the late 80s.

    But the times they are a-changin’ (again). Realization of the enormous contribution of natural gas to climate change and its toxicity to humans has occasioned a return to electricity. Let’s look at the issues. 

    Natural Gas Extraction

    Like oil and coal, natural gas is a fossil fuel and is non-renewable. A naturally occurring mixture of methane and other gases (carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide, or helium), it is formed when layers of decomposing plant and animal matter are exposed to intense heat and pressure under the surface of the Earth over millions of years. 

    Methane and carbon dioxide are by far the dominant drivers of global warming Flaring of unwanted natural gas

    Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Upon escaping into the atmosphere, greenhouse gases such as methane act as a blanket insulating the Earth, absorbing energy and slowing the rate at which heat leaves the planet. 

    Methane is released unintentionally in the form of leaks during the extraction, transportation, and storage processes. It is also released intentionally by simply allowing unwanted methane gas to enter the atmosphere during the extraction of coal and crude oil (“venting”) or by burning it (“flaring”).    

    Natural Gas in Your Home 

      What’s for breakfast? Eggs, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides…oh, and particulate matter (Artist: Vrinda Manglik for Sierra Club)
    According to the Sierra Club, “The energy used in buildings is the largest source of climate pollution in the world, and here in California, buildings are second only to transportation as the leading source of climate pollution. The bulk of these emissions come from burning fossil fuels such as natural gas and propane to heat our homes and buildings. Gas has overtaken coal as the largest source of climate pollution in the U.S., and gas is now the primary driver of emissions growth worldwide.” 

    Burning natural gas in homes releases dangerous toxins including nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and ultrafine particles. In many homes, this level of air pollution would be illegal if measured outside. 

    Health risks from inhaling the fumes released by natural gas stoves include asthma, allergies, respiratory disease, and heart disease. Children are particularly at risk; children living in a home with a gas stove are 42% more likely to have asthma than who are not exposed to natural gas in this way.  

    And as the California Air Resources Board points out, people spend 87% of their time indoors, so it is particularly important to consider the effects of indoor pollution.

    I am convinced to go electric! But I am overwhelmed! What do I do next?



    700,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions eliminated since 2010
    $68 million+ saved by customers
    49 MW new renewable projects built locally
    5,000 California jobs supported


    You can do it!  

    Step 1: Sign up for MCE so your electricity is generated from clean renewable sources like wind and solar instead of natural gas, coal, and nuclear. 

    In many parts of the Bay Area, PG&E customers can opt for MCE, a public, not-for-profit electricity provider that gives them the choice of having 60% or 100% of their electricity supplied from clean, renewable sources (i.e., solar and wind). 

    Opting for 100% renewable energy is less expensive than the conventional PG&E service, which is based 29% on renewable resources. 

    It's easy to make the switch. PG&E continues to provide all gas services, electric delivery, billing, and power line maintenance. To get started with MCE give them a call or go to their website

    Step 2: Replace gas appliances with electric alternatives 

    Unless you have a peculiar love of appliances, it may not sound very fun to go through the transition to electric furnaces and water heaters. But I am here to tell you that you do not have to walk this path alone.

    Enter BayREN! Not the most euphonious of names, but a great organization.The Bay Area Regional Energy Network (BayREN) is a coalition of nine counties with the goal of promoting resource efficiency and reducing greenhouse gases at the regional level.

    Contact BayREN and speak with a Home Energy Advisor to learn about rebates for switching to electric appliances, get advice on options, and get a referral for a certified contractor. Call them at (866) 878-6008 or contacting them via their website

    For an even more thorough assessment, set up an appointment with a Home Energy Score Assessor for a home inspection walk-through. The assessor will make recommendations on how to improve your home’s energy efficiency.

    Then contact one of the certified contractors to do the installation and submit the rebate paperwork for you. Rebates range from $1,000 (for a heat pump water heater) to $300 (for an induction cookstove).

    One Crazy Idea: Get a Heat Pump 

    By far the biggest proportion of home energy goes to air and water heating. To get the biggest bang for your buck, consider getting an integrated heat pump that works for indoor air and water. To warm up your home, it pulls whatever heat it can get from outside and transfers it indoors. To cool down the air indoors, it sucks heat out of the indoor air and releases it outdoors. In addition to heating and cooling indoors, they can heat water for homes or swimming pools, and they can heat the air used in dryers.  When the heat pump is doing all of this, it is a very efficient use of electricity.

    Artist: Vrinda Manglik for Sierra Club

    Moving Forward with New Buildings

    While switching out existing gas appliances for electric ones is effective and important, the fastest way to remove the threat of methane and carbon dioxide is to ban — or reduce — the use of natural gas in new buildings. The Sierra Club reports that 50 cities and counties in California have committed to such a reduction. And the California Energy Commission recently passed a building code that encourages the use of electric heat pumps for space and water heating in new construction. 

    Coming Full Circle

    My grandmother never switched to a gas stove, and she probably thought anyone who did so was “kinda screwy” (her epithet of choice). She experienced electrification as an all-out win and it is increasingly clear that she was right. Electric stoves (or induction stoves, their spiffed-up cousins) along with electric furnaces and water heaters have significant power to protect the planet as well as our health. So it is up to us consumers to bend the curve in the right direction. 

    That’s it for this installment of the Notebook! Special thanks to Guy Ashcraft for helping me make sense of electricity, and to Annette and Jan Holloway for sharing their memories of Mildred Bowles Holloway.

  • 9 Feb 2022 2:16 PM | Deleted user

    The western monarch butterfly has been disappearing so fast that extinction has become a real possibility. But recently we have had good news of a resurgence of monarchs overwintering on California’s coast!

    Thanks to the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, we know how many western monarchs were overwintering in coastal sites in November of 2021. The Thanksgiving count is a truly great example of community science, with over a hundred volunteers observing in 283 sites from Mendocino to the Mexican border. And we can compare the 2021 numbers to similar counts that have occurred every year since 1997. 

    The Life and Loves of the Western Monarch

    Before getting into the numbers, let’s look at the amazing life of western monarchs. During the winter months they typically find a resting site within 1.5 miles of the ocean or the San Francisco Bay. They seek out dappled sunlight, high humidity, and access to fresh water. No dummies, they don’t like freezing temperatures or high winds. They cluster in dense groups on the branches and leaves of eucalyptus, oak, redwood and other trees, doing relatively little besides sunning and sipping nectar and water.

    Monarch on a eucalyptus tree.
    Source: San Francisco Forest Alliance

    Monarch emergence. Photo credit: Becky Hansis O’Neill

    When the weather warms up in February and March, they head up toward Oregon or east into Nevada and Idaho.

    While overwintering monarchs live for months in somnolence, the migrating monarchs don’t have too much time on the planet, just 2-6 weeks. After mating, the female lays her eggs on a milkweed leaf. After hatching, the caterpillars remain on the milkweed plants, devouring the leaves for nutrition. They eventually form a chrysalis and emerge as an adult butterfly.

    During the rest of spring and summer, successive generations of butterflies continue their eastward dispersal. In the fall, they head back to the west coast, with the final generation arriving at an overwintering site in September or early October. 

    Snatched from the Headlines

    The Good News! Compared to last year, the number of monarchs observed in overwintering sites in California increased 100-fold! This year’s count of 247,237 butterflies has caused considerable excitement among monarch lovers.

      Happy days! But let’s not get too excited

    As usual, the majority of this year’s monarchs was found along the central and southern coast from Santa Cruz to Los Angeles counties. The highest count was in Santa Barbara county, where over 95,000 were reported.

    Fewer monarchs typically overwinter in the Bay Area, and this year was even more skewed to the south than usual. In all, there were fewer than 600 butterflies counted from Mendocino to San Mateo county. 

    This chart summarizing data collected since 1997 shows a pattern of sharp and sudden decline between 1997 and 1998, plunging from over 1.2 million to just under 600,000. Between 1999 and 2017, the number remained low but relatively stable, dropping again in 2018 to a mere handful until this past year when the population returned to the place it had been throughout most of the past two decades.

    Zooming in on Marin 

    But what about Marin county in particular? Thanks to the Xerces Society, who made the data public, I was able to see that only 75 monarchs were observed across the Marin county sites. 

    I graphed the counts obtained at the two most popular overwintering sites in Marin, Chapman Ravine in Stinson Beach and Purple Gate in Bolinas. Due to the limitations of my graphing skill, counts under 100 are not actually visible as a bar. Please use your imagination – there have typically been at least a handful of butterflies at these Marin sites, even in the lean years.

    The Marin graph allows us to see “bounciness” as the counts at both sites bumped up and down across the years. For instance, 1999 was quite low compared to 1997, but then the numbers jumped all the way back up in 2000. Counts in 1998, 2004 and 2015 were moderately high, with intervening periods where the monarchs were approaching the “extinction vortex.”  

    Count of monarchs in two overwintering sites in Marin

    Some Reasons for the Rebound

    What is going on? Botanists have identified several possible reasons for this partial recovery, but we don’t yet know for sure what is going on. It’s hard to account for the bounciness but here are some candidates:

    Monarchs are fertility goddesses. Monarchs in the West produce multiple generations a year and a female monarch can produce 12 adult daughters in ideal conditions, with four or so being typical under normal constraints!

    Small in number, rich in resources? When animal populations are small, they are more vulnerable to random fluctuations in the environment such as a bad winter. On the other hand, these reduced populations experience less competition for resources like food and may rebound quickly.  

    Weather patterns. Monarchs generally prefer mid-range temperatures and it is possible that the warm dry summer and relatively cool winter we experienced in 2021 hit a sweet spot.  

    Winter breeding monarchs. Native milkweed dies back in the colder months, prompting the monarchs to take off for their overwintering sites. In recent years, urban gardeners have planted large quantities of non-native tropical milkweed, which is evergreen. The abundance of year-round milkweed may have enticed some monarchs to stay longer in the Bay Area, engaging in “extra” winter breeding. (But bear in mind that consuming tropical milkweed also makes monarchs more susceptible to parasites.)

    Influx from eastern monarchs. Another proposal is that eastern monarch butterflies that overwintered in Mexico are coming to the western states in spring rather that going back to their original territory.

    On the Other Hand…Reasons that Overall Numbers Remain Low

    Before we break out the champagne, we should remember that the monarch population remains more than 98% below its size in the 1980s. What are some of the ongoing threats?

    Parasite poisoning and predators. During the summer of 2021, local organizations and residents noted that monarch eggs were being laid and larvae are hatching, but then not surviving more than a few days. Predators such as the paper wasp and yellow jacket are among the suspects.

    Another theory is that caterpillars were ingesting spores from a common parasite called Ophryocystis elektroschirra (OE). OE spores can fall from an infected adult butterfly onto a milkweed leaf and take up residence in the caterpillar’s gut when the leaf is eaten. 

    Caterpillars with a particularly high dose of OE parasites are likely to die before reaching the pupa state. An important but little understood part of the puzzle is that monarchs that have not migrated because they have access to non-native tropical milkweed are more susceptible to OE infections than those who migrate to overwintering sites. 

    Pesticide poisoning. A persistent risk to monarchs is posed by neonicotonoids (AKA neonics), a class of insecticides applied to mature plants or to seeds. Neonics can live in the environment for months or even years after being applied to plants. They also leach into subsurface water and they contaminate soil which can then be dispersed by wind. When absorbed by plants, neonicotinoids can be present in the leaves that the caterpillars eat as well as on the pollen and nectar ingested by the butterflies.

    Neonics are widespread and persistent

    This year’s [western monarch] total is a step in the right direction, but still indicates a severe population decline. Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to double-down on our conservation efforts. Acting quickly to harness the momentum of this upswing is our best chance at preventing western monarchs and other at-risk butterflies from being lost forever.

    Isis Howard, Endangered Species Conservation Biologist, Xerces Society


    To Learn More…

    …about the reasons for the 2021 surge, check out this report from KQED or this one from Nova

    …about the life and loves of the Western Monarch, read this interesting article or check out these Notebook posts: The Disappearing Monarch and Midsummer Monarch Update.

    …about neonics and their effects on insects, read this excellent thesis by Kendra Mann.

    To Be Completely Amazed…

    Watch some videos of monarchs. In this one, witness how a newly emerged monarch inflates its wings with liquid from its abdomen. 

    To Do More…


    Don’t plant tropical milkweed!


    Get involved in data collection. Community scientists provide important information about monarch breeding and survival. You don’t have to be an expert to make a big contribution. Check out this Western Monarch Count website to learn how to get involved. 

    Plant native milkweed and nectar plants that are free of pesticides. Plant native milkweed and be sure not to get the tropical kind! For ideas on nectar plants, check out the Calscape website. You can get a list of native plants specific to any address in California, with a detailed description of each plant’s characteristics and needs. I particularly love the fact that there is a search term for identifying plants that are “very easy” to grow.

    Here’s a good site to learn more about ecologically sound pest management. 

    Make a spot to splash around. Monarchs can’t land on water or drink from a dripping fountain, but they do need moisture and they obtain important minerals from mud. Channel your inner child and create a little monarch play area in a shallow dish. Just add rocks and a little bit of soil, along with just enough water to keep everything wet. 

    Keep your eyes peeled. The Western Monarch Mystery Challenge is about to get underway. Running from February 14 (Valentines Day) to April 22 (Earth Day), the challenge is a call to action to report a monarch if you see one. You can even win a prize! Read about it here.

    Make some noise! Contact your elected officials and ask them to support the MONARCH Act which would provide critical funding for habitat restoration for the western monarch. Introduced in the House of Representatives in March of 2021 by Jimmy Panetta, it remains in the first stage of the legislative process.

    Insects can be amazingly resilient if we give them a chance. Everyone has a role to play, whether that’s adding pollinator plants and avoiding pesticides in your home garden or advocating for monarch-friendly policies within our neighborhoods, public lands and plant nursery and agriculture providers.

    Xerces Director Scott Hoffman Black.

    That’s it for this installment of the Notebook! Special thanks to Mia Monroe, co-founder and coordinator of the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, for her advice on this post as well as her valuable work on behalf of the monarchs!
  • 4 Jan 2022 8:22 AM | Deleted user
    Oh, hello there! May I sample your holiday cookie crumbs?

    Just when it seemed like it was never going to rain again, the skies have opened and the streams, lakes, and reservoirs are nearly full. This is of course great but let’s mention one small downside — home invasion by waterlogged ants. Ants are at once the coolest of creatures and the biggest of pests. How do we live with them?

    What are these tiny black ants doing in my kitchen?

    It may come as no surprise to you that, excluding bacteria, there are more ants on this planet than any other animal. Estimates put the number at about ten billion billion (i.e., a one with 18 zeros), compared to seven billion human beings. There are 13,000 species of ants sprinkled across the globe. California is home to more than 270 species. The most common one in urban and suburban areas of Northern California is the non-native Argentine ant, whereas native ants are dominant in wild areas of the state.

    Argentine queen ant and worker ant  

    Why are some of these billion billion ants trying to gain entry to your house? In the summer, they come inside to find food and water. In the winter, heavy rains such as those we are experiencing may drive them out of their underground nest. They are searching for a place to take shelter. In other words, contrary to the children’s song, the ants are marching out of — not into — the ground to get out of the rain!

    This is an ordinary phenomenon, but how do ants actually undertake the monumental task of coordinating a campaign to retrieve bagel crumbs from your kitchen counter, much less that of moving an entire colony after a flood? 

    Ants: Taking Care of Business

      Images of fire ants by Lisa Vertudaches

    Ants are highly social but have few ways of communicating with each other. They have very poor eyesight and can’t hear, although they can detect vibrations associated with sound. Their superpower is a highly developed sense of smell. Each ant generates chemicals that create an aroma unique to that ant. One ant uses her antennae to sniff the aroma of other ants, which in turn gives her information about what the others are doing.

    Let’s look at some of the basic features of an ant colony. Bear in mind that there are many differences across the 13,000 species, so I am just giving you the big picture here.

    Ants live in a caste system, so the ants’ responsibilities depend on the caste to which they belong. The queen is the founder of the colony, and her role is to lay eggs. Being the queen may sound good, but she is basically confined to an underground chamber where she does little but lay eggs.  

    Then there are the male ants, called drones. Male ants have cool wings, but they stay in the nest and do little besides eat, have sex once with the queen, and then die. Their lives are over in as little as one week.  

    Deborah Gordon
    And finally you have the worker ants, all of whom are female. Their tasks include caring for the queen and the young, scouting out and foraging for food, policing conflicts in the colony, and disposing of waste. These sterile workers will most likely never have their own offspring. But at least they live for a year or so and get to travel outside the nest.

    Each type of ant is genetically predisposed to do what is necessary for the nest to function properly. Although, as I have mentioned, they can communicate by smell, no one ant has knowledge of the big picture or acts as a coordinator of the others. How do they get things done? Check out this video in which Dr. Deborah Gordon, a professor of biology at Stanford, answers this important question.


    Do Ants Help Anyone Outside Their Own Colony? 

    Ants with an eliaosome
    and seed
    Ants tending

      Ants can also make a tasty snack

    One amazing contribution ants make to the plant world is through a special kind of seed dispersal. Some ants are attracted to certain plants whose seeds are connected to a little packet of tasty (to the ants) nutrients. The ants carry the seeds with the packets, called elaisomes, back to the nest. They feed the elaisomes to the ant larvae and toss out the seeds, which then have an opportunity to germinate at some distance from the parent plant. This plant-ant interaction is true mutualism in the sense that it benefits the ants and the plants equally.

    A second contribution of ants derives from their attraction to honeydew, a sugary excrement produced by many sap-sucking insects including caterpillars and aphids. Ants defend these insects from their natural enemies in order to protect the delicious honeydew. This “tending” behavior benefits the sap-sucking insects, including the endangered Mission Blue butterfly for example, but can pose a problem for gardeners who don’t want aphids on their plants.

    E. O. WILSON: The Ant Man

    “I honestly cannot understand why most people don’t study ants.E.O. Wilson

      E. O. Wilson
    On December 26 of 2021 we received the sad news of the death of Dr. Edwin O. Wilson, lifelong myrmecologist (studier of ants) and ardent environmentalist. Dr. Wilson became obsessed with the social lives of ants at an age when most youth are trying to navigate the social structure of middle school. By age 13 he had already discovered the first known colony of imported ants in the United States. In high school, he conducted a survey of all the ant species in Alabama, and from there leapt from one achievement to the next with remarkable speed. He earned a PhD in biology from Harvard in 1955 and spent most of his professional life at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.

    In terms of research on ants, his most important work was showing through both observational and experimental studies how ants function as an organized community. One of his main findings was that ants communicate through the release of chemicals called pheromones. For instance, ant scouts leave a pheromone trail that leads their foraging friends right to sources of food. 

    Wilson’s intensive study of the social organization of ant colonies led him to formulate the field of sociobiology, which addresses the biological basis of social behavior in animals. Sociobiology is based on the premise that some behaviors (not just physical traits) are at least partly inherited. Animals whose behavior helps the survival of the group (not just that of the individual) are particularly likely to survive and breed, thus ensuring the continuation of the predisposition to be a team player. Although the theory has been well received with respect to less complex animals like ants, it remains quite controversial when applied to humans.

    As an environmentalist, Wilson was an untiring advocate of strategies for addressing climate change and for preserving biodiversity. His 2016 book “Half-Earth, Our Planet’s Fight for Life” argues for conserving half the land and seas for biodiversity in order to prevent mass extinction at the level last experienced by the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

    “If we allow the living part of the environment to disappear, for me, it would be by future generations regarded as one of the most catastrophic, even evil periods in human history, for our descendants to look back and say, they wiped out half or more of all of the rest of life on Earth, the variety of life on Earth.” E.O. Wilson

      Alison Hermance
    Controlling Ants

    Some people think ants are disgusting, but I think they are relatively unobjectionable insects. I feel bad wiping them out with a wet sponge as they trudge across my kitchen countertop. I do so anyway, taking some comfort in the scientific consensus that they feel neither pain nor fear.

    Other than physically squashing them, how else can we control them in the home? In a recent essay Alison Hermance, a writer affiliated with WildCare, made a strong case against using pesticides and rodenticides, arguing that these poisonous substances always affect animals other than those being targeted.

    “Because the thing about rodenticides — and pesticides in general — is that the person using the poison thinks on some level that they are the only ones putting out poison…People don’t realize that every other person has come to the same conclusion, and that in fact, these poisons are everywhere.” Alison Hermance 

    Uncle Milton and his ant farm
    There are many ways to control pests that do not entail poisoning them. Here are a few ideas:
    1. Prevent them from getting inside. Seal entry points with caulking or petroleum jelly.
    2. Don’t tempt them with treats. Store food in sealed containers and keep the floors and counters free of crumbs. Wipe surfaces with soapy water to get rid of sticky remnants.
    3. Put out things they hate. Spray surfaces with 50:50 solution of vinegar and water. Sprinkle cayenne pepper, cinnamon, scented talcum powder, red chili powder, coffee grounds, or ground black pepper at entry points of large infestations.
    4. Befriend some Daddy-Long-Legs spiders; they make their webs along the ant entry points.
    5. Learn more about them and they may bother you less. If you have children, or are young at heart, consider getting an ant farm or make one of your own.

    That’s it for this post of the EFM Notebook! Special thanks to Dr. Paul da Silva for his helpful comments and suggestions.

  • 25 Nov 2021 8:32 AM | Deleted user
    Time to demand an end to PFAS contamination!
    Maybe you have heard about PFAS (pronounced PEA-fass), a class of chemicals found in many household products as well as in the foam used by firefighters. These supervillains are invulnerable — they take decades or even centuries to degrade — and they cause cancer and other terrible diseases.

    Sufficiently freaked out? Don’t stop reading…help is on the way! Federal, state, and county governments — prodded by advocates — are finally developing a system for regulating these bad boys.

    Detlef Knappe and the Cape Fear River

    Industry and recreation on Cape Fear River

    Let’s take a look at one example of how industrial interests, local officials, scientists, and journalists have handled a serious contamination problem in one region. This is the case of the Chemours Chemical Company and the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. The Cape Fear River feeds into a watershed that provides drinking water for 1.5 million people.

    Nearly 10 years ago, North Carolina State University environmental engineer Detlef Knappe conducted research finding that the Cape Fear River was heavily contaminated with PFAS and other industrial chemicals.

    Detlef Knappe Vaughn Hagerty

    In 2016 he reported these findings in scientific articles and he wrote directly to local and state officials about the problem. But his persistent efforts yielded zero returns until Vaughn Hagerty, a reporter at the Wilmington-Star News, published an article in 2017 on Knappe’s report.

    Finally shamed into action, local agencies discovered that the source of the chemicals was a manufacturing plant owned by Chemours, an offshoot of DuPont.

    It turns out that Chemours and DuPont had been dumping GenX, a very powerful chemical in the PFAS family, into the river for over 30 years.

    "This 'emerging contaminant' GenX has actually been in the water since 1980. It's mystifying why Chemours, and before that DuPont, wasn't more careful in capturing chemicals in waste streams. For Fortune 500 companies, the cost of proper wastewater treatment and air pollution control would not be a big burden." Dr. Detlef Knappe

    The state was finally able to pressure Chemours to stop polluting the Cape Fear River, which is great. However, the chemical contamination problem is far from solved for North Carolina water drinkers. Subsequent studies by Knappe and colleagues have identified PFAS and other industrial pollutants in many waterways in the state.

    What are PFAS? A quick overview

    What are the key characteristics of this class of chemicals?

    • They are human-made substances that degrade very slowly, hence their nickname “forever” chemicals.
    • They are used to repel water, dirt, and grease in many common products.
    • They LEACH (not LEECH) into water, air, and dust.
    • They enter the human body where they accumulate and cause various illnesses.

    How, specifically, do PFAS get into our bodies? The most common way is through our drinking water.

    “Based on our tests and new academic research that found PFAS widespread in rainwater, EWG scientists now believe PFAS is likely detectable in all major water supplies in the U.S., almost certainly in all that use surface water. Source: Environmental Working Group


    Source: EarthJustice

    We ingest PFAS in other ways besides drinking contaminated water. For instance, PFAS are also used to coat the paper in fast food packaging. The chemicals leach into the hamburger and fries that we then scarf down. We also ingest PFAS when we eat fish that have lived in contaminated water, and when we eat fruits and vegetables irrigated with contaminated water. Children may absorb PFAS by crawling around and playing on PFAS-treated carpet. Nursing mothers exposed to PFAS pass along the chemicals to their infants, although the CDC considers the benefits of breastfeeding to outweigh the hazards of PFAS exposure.

    Spraying kids with firefighting foam at community picnics…not a great idea

    Workers involved in processing PFAS and PFAS-containing materials may be exposed by inhaling them or absorbing them through their skin. Evidence compiled by the CDC found, for example, that a sample of workers at the 3M Company had nearly 1000 times as much PFOA (a very harmful category of PFAS) in their blood than did a community sample.

    A major source of PFAS contamination is the firefighting foam often used on military bases and at commercial airports. A Department of Defense report released in March 2020 showed that many bases and surrounding communities are contaminated with PFAS.

    Bottom line...

    Source: ATSDR
    The effects of PFAS exposure are extraordinarily concerning. Studies show links to high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular and kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension. Scientists have also discovered unusual clusters of serious medical effects in communities with heavily PFAS-contaminated water, many of which are near military bases.

    Finally, several recent studies have shown a link between COVID-19 and PFAS, suggesting that PFAS exposure may increase the risk of contracting infectious diseases like COVID-19.

    Industry response (or lack thereof)

    For the past 60 years, chemical manufacturers have covered up evidence of the human and environmental impacts of PFAS. US industries have stopped manufacturing some dangerous kinds of PFAS but they nevertheless remain in the environment and our bodies because they were made and used domestically for decades, and biodegrade at an infinitesimally slow rate. And some products imported from other countries continue to contain them.

    Industry scientists have developed replacement PFAS that they claim have improved safety profiles, but emerging studies suggest that replacement PFAS are similarly dangerous, equally persistent, and even more mobile than the older ones.

    State governments step up

    Source: Safer States
    Many states have begun to move aggressively to limit the manufacture and use of PFAS. One important initiative has been spearheaded by a nonprofit organization called Safer States, which has coordinated advocates, policymakers, scientists, and residents to influence public policy and corporate practices at the state level.

    California has stepped up significantly in the last two years, adopting several PFAS-related policies including the following:

    • requiring public water systems to monitor for PFAS
    • prohibiting the manufacture and sale of PFAS firefighting foam
    • banning PFAS from products for children including booster seats, infant carriers, and crib mattresses
    • prohibiting manufacturers from labeling products containing PFAS as recyclable or compostable

    EPA: MIA on PFAS until last month

    In contrast to individual states, the federal government has done little to regulate PFAS, sometimes acting with reckless-seeming disregard for public safety. One of the more shocking examples of this? Plans by the Department of Defense (DOD) to incinerate toxic firefighting foam.

    “For years DOD used toxic firefighting foams containing PFAS during drills and fires in bases across the country. PFAS from these foams polluted the soil and water of neighboring communities. Facing multiple lawsuits and billions of dollars in potential liability from past releases, DOD chose to incinerate its unused firefighting foam. However, DOD failed to conduct any environmental review before approving this incineration, bringing into new communities the risk of PFAS emissions and other pollution that are proven to harm public health.” Source: Earthjustice


    When Earthjustice and other environmental organizations found out about it through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, they sued the DOD to put a halt to this lethal practice.

    DOD isn't the only problematic agency. The Environmental Protective Agency’s approval requirements for new chemicals are riddled with loopholes, and companies are often allowed skip notification requirements for PFAS.

    Finally, however, on Oct. 18 of this year, the EPA announced steps to study and, to some extent, regulate PFAS. In its roadmap, the EPA described a plan to set drinking water limits on some toxic chemicals, require manufacturers to provide detailed reporting, and designate two of the most well-known PFAS as hazardous under Superfund law.

    Marin County still working on disposable foodware ban

      These plastic containers’ days are numbered!!
    In Marin County, several towns have already passed ordinances to ban disposable foodware that contains PFAS. The County is following suit (after lengthy delays caused chiefly by the pandemic). There is currently a draft ordinance under consideration that would apply to all entities selling prepared food, from restaurants and grocery stores to farmers' markets and food trucks. The ordinance has five components:
    • All takeout disposable foodware (e.g., plates, cups, trays) must be natural-fiber compostable (no bioplastics).
    • Reusable foodware and utensils must be used if dining in the facility.
    • A charge of $.25 must be made for disposable cups.
    • Garbage, recycling, and organics bins must be available. 
    • Compostable straws and other accessories may be available on request. 

    The Board of Supervisors just closed the public comment period but if you would like to follow the next steps, subscribe for updates!

    What can you do?

    Be a careful consumer: You can learn a lot more about PFAS in this excellent but rather technical article. In general, avoid items described as “nonstick”; reduce or eliminate fast food; check beauty product labels for the term “fluoro,” which indicates a fluorinated chemical; and use granular activated carbon or reverse osmosis filters for your drinking water. Oh, and don’t let any firefighters spray your children with foam!

    Get some help from your friends: Why should the onus be on the consumer to avoid being poisoned by everyday products we buy in good faith? This month the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) and Clean Production Action (CPA) unveiled a new certification standard for disposable foodware. Their certification helps consumers know which disposable plates and bowls do not contain PFAS and other harmful chemicals.


    PFAS-laden rugs are not acceptable!


    Be a feisty consumer and advocate: Consumers can also contact brands to tell them to stop using PFAS in their products. IKEA, H&M, and Crate & Barrel are already eliminating highly fluorinated chemicals like PFAS from their product lines. Some restaurant chains like Chipotle and Taco Bell have pledged to remove PFAS from their food packaging. Hold their feet to the fire!

    Also, demand that local, state, and federal officials do their part! They need to implement stronger protections from PFAS chemicals with more aggressive timelines. Click on this link to tell the EPA to get the lead (and the PFAS) out!

    Support advocacy groups: As we have seen, we cannot yet depend on the federal government to take action to protect citizens from these life-threatening substances. 

    That’s why we need advocacy groups like the Center for Environmental Health, the Environmental Working Group, the Green Science Policy Institute, Earthjustice and other organizations to do the research, tell us what is going on, and put pressure on elected officials! Think about their good works when you figure out your year-end giving in December!

    That’s it for this post of the EFM Notebook! Do you have comments on what you’ve read so far? Suggestions for future Notebook topics? Send me your thoughts at

    Thanks to Rob Badger and Nita Winter for sharing Rob’s beautiful image on the Notebook banner. Check out their award-winning book on wildflowers or visit their website for more stunning images of wildlife.

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