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Do A State’s Politics Influence Its Greenhouse Gas Emissions? Yes, Study Says

By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Over the years, it’s been a tough road for environmentalists pushing for greenhouse gas emission curbs at the federal level — but advocates shouldn’t give up hope, say researchers at Michigan State University.

The team, co-authors of a study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, have found that efforts are getting results in individual U.S. states, where environmental politics have significantly impacted greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and the present.

“The movement is having an effect — it’s just happening on a state-by-state basis,” said sociologist and co-author Kenneth Frank.

For years, sociologist Thomas Dietz, the lead author of the study, had been examining the factors that influence carbon emissions around the world. Two drivers — a country’s population and its affluence — are most important in determining greenhouse gas emissions (generally, carbon output rises along with both).

The current study was an effort to extend the previous work by measuring the impact of another factor — politics — and to gauge differences between and within U.S. states, since a lot of environmental policy is determined at the state level, Frank said.

The team didn’t catalog specific policies and their results, which would vary widely in their details from state to state and from case to case. Rather, they analyzed a range of standardized state-level data compiled since 1990, including carbon emissions, as reported by the Environmental Protection Agency; population and gross state product; and “environmentalism,” as measured by congressional voting data compiled by the League of Conservation Voters.

While members of the U.S. Congress are not directly involved in writing state environmental policy, Frank said, the researchers reasoned that voting records would reflect the orientation of their states.

The researchers looked at the statistics in two different ways. First, to get a broad snapshot view, they performed an analysis across all of the states using 1990 data. By and large, they found that states with higher environmentalism ratings had lower emissions, after controlling for population and other factors.

They also analyzed every individual state’s environmentalism and emissions over time. Again, the researchers found evidence that politics had made a difference. Generally, emissions rise as a function of population and a state’s economic strength — but greater environmentalism counteracted that growth. Even a 1 percent increase was sufficient to “neutralize” the typical annual increase in emissions, the team wrote.

States with higher environmentalism in 1990 tended to increase emissions at a slower rate, Frank said.

Rachael Shwom, an environmental sociologist at Rutgers University who was not involved in the study, said the Michigan State team’s study was the first to quantify the impact and strength of the environmental movement in this manner.

“Lots of people who study culture and politics think they are important (drivers of emissions levels), but it hasn’t been demonstrated with data in the past,” she said. “That they found the strength of the environmental movement mattered … is a really important finding.”

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Kim Seng via Flickr

Full Circle ‘Church’ Blessed By Millennials’ Appetite For Free-Form Spiritual Awakening

By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

VENICE, California — Across the street from the Rose Cafe in Venice, a bad-boy actor is shepherding a crew of millennial “nones” toward what might be called the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius, Part II.

The incense-and-healing-crystal-accessorized movement known as New Age flourished here in the 1960s and ’70s. No one ever wrote its obituary, but today it is diminished — many of its tenets co-opted into the broader culture, with fitness-focused yoga studios popping up on every corner and “wellness” a mainstream goal.

The Venice group is stepping in where earlier seekers left off, rejecting aspects of New Age while channeling young millennials’ approach to spirituality into a new movement — or, at least, a really good party.

On a recent Sunday, actor Andrew Keegan led a weekly ceremony called “Activ888.” Young, fresh-faced men and women in various modes of casual dress — some preppy, some with an edge — joined an aging hippie or two in a large circle on the floor.

They shared what they hoped to “activate” by being at the church known as Full Circle that day: Joy. Beauty. Not taking things personally.

“So it is,” participants said after each person spoke, an affirmation suspiciously similar to a post-prayer refrain from the TV series “Battlestar Galactica.” A young woman with a breathtaking voice played a guitar and sang a mantra.

Some have called Full Circle a religion, others a clubhouse. Founder Keegan — who’s perhaps best known for his performance opposite Heath Ledger in the 1999 movie “10 Things I Hate About You” — says it is meant to be a space for young adults to explore their spirituality and creativity, and to push back against gentrification in Venice.

But in the months since the project’s birth, steep Westside rents and insinuations that Keegan may be getting kind of culty have made it hard to make Full Circle Venice everything it would like to be.

Spiritual ground zero is familiar territory for Los Angeles. For reasons scholars have spent careers pondering, the region has spawned all sorts of religious and quasi-religious groups, often with celebrities as part of the package.

The Eastern-influenced Theosophists put down roots here in the early 20th century. In the 1920s, Aimee Semple McPherson’s evangelical Church of the Foursquare Gospel ensconced itself in Echo Park, elevating its leader to stardom (and some degree of infamy, in the wake of a possible kidnapping hoax and alleged affairs). In more recent decades, Scientology attracted John Travolta and Tom Cruise to its fold; to Kabbalah, Madonna and Demi Moore; to the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness, a Beach Boy and Arianna Huffington.

Full Circle has been blessed by a demographic trend: millennials’ appetite for free-form spiritual awakening.

According to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, in 2012 nearly a third of adults under 30 had no religious affiliation, compared with only nine percent of those 65 and older.

The “nones,” as the unaffiliated are called, don’t always reject spirituality outright.

Instead, many “seek to cultivate personal spirituality and meditation, and pick and choose among social programs that advance personal freedom and certain social causes,” said Wade Clark Roof, a professor emeritus of religion and society at UC Santa Barbara.

Full Circle, whose leaders say they reach out to “millennial and millennial-minded people,” fits the mold. It borrows from everything from alternative healing to Burning Man — with a dash of grass-roots rhetoric.

The church the group is renting is located on a prime Venice corner. Built in 1905, it housed Christian congregations for many years before a branch of the Hare Krishnas moved in. Brightly colored murals, painted by Full Circle members, adorn its facade. Its sanctuary has wood rafters and stained glass and is festooned with paper lanterns and New Age art.

Arrayed on a table by Full Circle’s front door on a recent Friday were cards advertising yoga classes, gatherings with “tonic bars,” and workshops like “Dream Awake,” an introduction to a technique called EFT Tapping, which promises to “Transform your fears in to love.”

Seated in a candle- and crystal-strewn conference room — beneath the gaze of a giant painting of Abbot Kinney — Keegan, 36, said that the idea for Full Circle came to him shortly after the Occupy movement staged a protest in Venice.

“It sent me on much more definitive idea of how to develop community (and) bring more abundance and cohesiveness,” he said, adding that when the Rose Avenue church property became available for rent, “everything lined up.”

“It’s nice to see people coming together not in a bar, not in a traditional setting, but for the great vision of something better than what exists,” he said.

The name “Full Circle” is borrowed from a communal organic farm in Ojai, California, where one co-founder grew up, but Keegan, who likes to hug guests, doesn’t see his church as an extension of hippie culture or New Age movements.

Rather, he insisted, the aim is to build a “spiritual community center” that is focused on the world outside as much as it is focused on the world within.

“There’s a lot of ‘woo woo’ in New Age. I refer to it as spiritual ego,” he said. “Even the whole guru thing that they keep associating with me. That’s the old paradigm, having someone to follow who’s more enlightened than you. That’s over.”

Activ888, the Sunday morning service, used to be called “Resonate” until the group decided it wanted to emphasize interests in sacred numerology and community improvement. “So it is” is not a borrowing from “Battlestar Galactica” but rather a nod to phrasing used in indigenous ceremonies to deliver acknowledgment and appreciation, Keegan said.

He was amused by the sci-fi connection, though.

“We’re not married to any of the language, it’s just the best of what’s come through,” he said. “Maybe we’ll shift it to ‘So say we all.’ That’s cool, too!”

Keegan himself is something of a shape-shifter. Besides working as an actor and holding recurring roles in TV shows with numbers in their titles — “Party of Five” and “7th Heaven” — he has operated a nightclub and invested in real estate. His run-ins with bouncers are chronicled by the likes of TMZ.

When Vice magazine profiled Full Circle in August, its reporters made note of celebrity-obsessed followers, a porkpie hat Keegan was wearing and the actor’s professed conversion moment — getting mugged in Venice at the same time as the Tohoku tsunami struck Japan.

A recent piece in New York magazine remarked upon how many beautiful young women frequent Full Circle, as well as Keegan’s “still very nice” physique, made famous 20 years ago in teen magazines like Tiger Beat.

Rick Swinger, who lives next door to Full Circle, complains about late-night noise and drinking.

“He’s an actor who likes to party. And he found a way to hide inside the church,” Swinger said of Keegan.

But raucousness wouldn’t necessarily disqualify Full Circle as a religious movement, said Varun Soni, dean of religious life at the University of Southern California.

“Celebration has always been a part of religion,” he said, pointing to harvest and fertility festivals of the ancient past. “In this day and age it’s a record party. A thousand years ago, it was a passion play.”

Soni, who lives in Venice, sees Full Circle as part of a spiritual trend also apparent among millennials on his campus, where one-third of the university’s interfaith council doesn’t affiliate with any organized religion.

“They’re still inspired by the big questions, but they pursue them in a personal way,” he said.

Keegan and his associates reject the cult label and insist that they’re doing serious work. They love the thought of being standard-bearers for an updated brand of ecstatic California spirituality.

“The generational aspect is very important,” said Daniel Paul, Full Circle’s operations manager. “We’re doing something that borrows from what our parents taught us but also innovates in a significant way.” Paul, 36, grew up visiting The Esalen Institute in Big Sur but said that his true spiritual awakening occurred more recently at Burning Man.

He sees Full Circle as a guardian of the bohemian Venice that’s under assault by an influx of companies such as Google, whose gleaming new offices are a stone’s throw away.

Working from such a prime location to “keep Venice weird” means trying to keep up with escalating rents. A new owner bought the church building at auction in August for $4,462,500. Shortly after, Full Circle’s rent ballooned by 50 percent.

“It almost took us out,” Keegan said. He has been spending his own money to help pay bills.

Paul, who joined Full Circle three months ago, said he was trying to professionalize the group’s business practices so that it could stay in operation.

Participants already pay for classes and events they attend at the church. Full Circle may soon add a membership program. A gallery will open in April. The group sells T-shirts, elixirs, and rents out its space. It is toying with the idea of offering wellness services — “sound and light healing, those kinds of things,” Keegan said.

During Activ888, Paul attempted some informal market research.

“What can this place do for you?” he asked the people in the circle. “Not from your intellect. From your feelings.”

One woman asked for a Goddess Group. Another wanted a circle for kids. A third made a long-winded request for what sounded like a bulletin board for job postings. Then everyone lay down under blankets and closed their eyes as visiting sound artist Torkom Ji played music based on 432 hertz, a frequency said to have healing powers because of a special resonance with the human body.

Paul quietly slipped out of the room. He had to start pulling things together for a record release party that afternoon for 22-year-old “acoustic rock R&B hip-hop” artist Drew Chadwick, once a contestant on “The X Factor,” with a band called Emblem3.

It was the kind of potentially money-making enterprise Full Circle hopes will be its lifeline. A line of teenage girls had already started queuing up around the corner.

Photo: Allen J. Schaben via Los Angeles Times/TNS

Weather Could Make Firefighting More Difficult In Northern California

By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times

As two Northern California wildfires continued to burn out of control Sunday, weather in the days ahead is threatening to worsen and expand the blazes.

The Sand fire east of Sacramento grew to 3,800 acres Sunday, and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents, destroyed 10 homes, and may not be fully contained until the first week of August, officials said.

A second blaze outside Yosemite National Park had chewed through 2,100 acres, forcing evacuations and was drawing closer to homes.

The efforts of hundreds of firefighters could be complicated this week by extreme weather conditions. Thunderstorms are predicted near Yosemite, raising the possibility of lightning strikes, while the unrelenting heat and winds near Placerville could fan the flames and push the Sand fire deeper into brittle vegetation.

“Any time we have gusts along with high temperatures and low humidity it’s a recipe for aggressive fire growth,” Drew Peterson, a Sacramento, Calif.-based National Weather Service meteorologist, said of the conditions near the Sand fire.

Temperatures this week are expected to climb into the low 100s, with humidity hovering around 10 percent — a level that presents a significant fire danger.

To the southeast in Yosemite, meteorologists said they were unsure how expected thunderstorms in the area might impact the other large fire in the state, which had been burning for about a day.

“A thunderstorm is a mixed blessing,” said Hanford, Calif.-based National Weather Service meteorologist Gary Sanger. “You get rain, but you also run the risk of lightning and more fires, and gusty winds which can cause the fire to spread.”

About 1,500 firefighters aided by a dozen air tankers and water-dropping helicopters were battling the flames of the Sand fire Sunday, said Lynne Tolmachoff, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. One inmate firefighter suffered minor injuries Saturday, she said.

By late Sunday, officials said, the fire had destroyed 10 homes in two separate areas and was 35 percent contained.

Half of the houses were near San Ridge Road near California 49, where the fire started Friday afternoon when a vehicle drove through dry brush, Tolmachoff said. The rest of the homes were to the south and east, burned by a part of the fire that “blew up” Saturday afternoon, stoked by a combination of high temperatures, low humidity, and 20-mph wind gusts, she said.

A Red Cross shelter at Ponderosa High School in Shingle Springs was set up to assist the roughly 1,200 people who’d been evacuated from more than 500 homes in the area, officials said.

Scott Gediman, a spokesman for the park in Yosemite, said that fire started at 4 p.m. Saturday near El Portal. He said more than 400 firefighters were attacking the flames on the ground and from the air, with more expected to arrive.

One home was burned and about 100 homes in the communities of Old El Portal and La Floresta had been evacuated.

“We have steep, rugged terrain and hot, dry conditions. It’s supposed to be over 100 here today,” Gediman said. “We’re working aggressively to get the fire out.”

Last year, the 410-square mile Rim fire burned an estimated 77,000 acres, or 120 square miles, within Yosemite National Park. Sparked in mid-August by an illegal campfire in the Stanislaus National Forest, the Rim fire was not fully contained until late October.

Peterson, the Sacramento-based meteorologist, said the Sand fire has so far proved to be easier to access for firefighters than the remote Rim fire.

Staff writer Adolfo Flores contributed to this story.

AFP Photo/Jorge Cruz

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Fathers Of Isla Vista Victim, Shooter Meet In Private

By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times

The fathers of Isla Vista rampage shooter Elliot Rodger and victim Christopher Michaels-Martinez met in private on Sunday.

According to CNN, Peter Rodger and Richard Martinez sat down without media or cameras present. Other details about their meeting, including its location, were not disclosed.

Elliot Rodger, 22, a student at Santa Barbara City College, went on a rampage in the town of Isla Vista, an area popular with students at the University of California, Santa Barbara, on May 23.

He allegedly stabbed and killed his three roommates before driving through Isla Vista on a shooting rampage killing another three people and injuring 13 before crashing his car and turning his gun on himself.

Christopher Michaels-Martinez, a 20-year-old UC Santa Barbara sophomore, was the final victim gunned down in the rampage. He was killed in the I.V. Deli Mart convenience store.

Richard Martinez told news organizations last week that he hoped to meet with Peter Rodger. In the days since his son’s shooting, Martinez has spoken out for tougher gun laws on television and at public events, including a memorial at UCSB’s Harder Stadium on Tuesday.

Elliott Rodger, who had been in therapy since he was a child, legally purchased three guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Shortly before the rampage, he posted a video on YouTube in which he said that he was lonely because “girls have never been attracted to me” and vowed “retribution” and “slaughter.”

The young man’s parents said Thursday that it had been “hell on earth” knowing their son’s actions led to tragedy.

“We are crying out in pain for the victims and their families. It breaks our hearts on a level that we didn’t think was possible,” Peter and Chin Rodger said at the time, in a statement. “It is now our responsibility to do everything we can to help avoid this happening to any other family.”

Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times/MCT

Mysterious Polio-Like Illnesses Reported In Some Children

By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times

A small number of children in California have come down with polio-like illnesses since 2012 — suffering paralysis in one or more limbs and other symptoms — and physicians and public health officials do not yet know why.

A virus may play a role, said Dr. Carol Glaser, leader of a California Department of Public Health team investigating the illnesses, which are occurring sporadically throughout the state.
The afflicted children suffer severe weakness or paralysis, which strikes rapidly — sometimes after a mild respiratory illness. Scans of the patients’ spinal cords show patterns of damage similar to that found in polio sufferers, Glaser said. Two of the affected children tested positive for enterovirus-68, a virus that is usually associated with respiratory illness but which has been linked to polio-like illnesses as well.

Dr. Keith Van Haren, a pediatric neurologist at Stanford University’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital who has worked with Glaser’s team, will present the cases of five of the children at the American Academy of Neurology’s upcoming annual meeting in Philadelphia.

All five patients had paralysis in one or more arms or legs that reached its full severity within two days, he said. None had recovered limb function after six months.

“We know definitively that it isn’t polio,” Van Haren added, noting that all had been vaccinated against that disease.

State health investigators have been tracking the new California cases closely since a physician first requested polio testing for a child with severe paralytic illness in the fall of 2012, Glaser said. She called that request “concerning,” because polio has been eradicated in the U.S., and the patient had not traveled abroad.

In the year that followed, Glaser’s team continued to hear about additional children with symptoms that could not be chalked up to known causes like West Nile virus or botulism. The median age of the children was 12 years. Glaser did not disclose the total number of illnesses; Van Haren said he was aware of around 20.

Berkeley, California, resident Sofia Jarvis, 4, is one of Van Haren’s patients. The girl suffered paralysis in her left arm following a brief, asthma-like illness in November 2012.

“She went to grab a toy, and mid-grasp her arm stopped working,” said mother Jessica Tomei.

Sofia did not test positive for an enterovirus, Tomei said. Her two older brothers have no signs of illness.

Glaser said that it was possible that children who tested negative still may have contracted their illnesses from viruses that couldn’t be detected because test samples were “not optimal.” She urged doctors to report new cases of acute paralysis so that investigators can attempt to figure out a possible cause.

“We want to hear from local public health jurisdictions and physicians who are seeing similar illnesses,” she said.

Van Haren said that most people who are infected by polio or viruses like it never develop symptoms, with only 1 percent developing neurological complications like paralysis. Scientists do not know why certain people are affected so severely.

Photo: Ian BC North via Flickr