October 18, 2021

The Green Column: Shake or Bake? Two Books on California’s Future


The Shake

Topanga author and geologist David K. Lynch had firsthand experience with California earthquakes and, although I’m not sure it inspired this book, he was living on the ridge above Topanga Skyline when the big one hit in 1994. The quake caused extensive damage, with four houses (mine included) requiring major repairs, while David’s literally walked off its foundation. He introduces us to his latest book with a quote by Emerson, “We learn geology the morning after the earthquake.”

Directed at laymen, but well received by rock-hounds and professionals, the “Field Guide to the San Andreas Fault” will take you across half the state while showing you how to recognize plate movements. It’s filled with colorful pictures, maps and graphs. He also debunks numerous myths including, “A giant earthquake will open up and swallow cities” (it won’t)…and “One day California will fall into the ocean” (it won’t).

The Green Column: Shake or Bake? Two Books on California’s Future

He seems to have had quite an adventure with the research: “I kept getting thrown off Indian reservations, kicked out of quarries and stopped by police for suspicious behavior....I was having a ball.” It reminded me of the old adage that a good trip is not about arriving at the destination, but the process of getting there. I highly recommend this for anyone who wants a better understanding of earthquakes—and he assures us a bigger one is coming—or who would just like a guide to the back-roads of California while exploring one of the best known but least visited fault lines in the country. It’s a heck of a road-trip.

I should add that the book is self-published by Lynch who, after numerous experiences with conventional houses, decided to skip the middle-man. At his website—www.thulescientific.com—you’ll find more glowing reviews, plus an easy order form.

Lynch, who has published over 10 books, received a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Texas. He is senior scientist at the Aerospace Corporation, where he specializes in comets, novae and stars. Lynch also plays fiddle in assorted local bands, and collects rocks and rattlesnakes.

“Field Guide to the San Andreas Fault,” by David K. Lynch, Thule Scientific, 2006, 202 pages.

The Bake

“Solar Revolution” was not written by one of Topanga’s own, but contains so much history, research and projections or relevance to our community that I will attempt to highlight the most startling elements in this column and return to the book in later issues. Author Travis Bradford believes the world will run short of our relatively cheap oil soon and that alternatives must be developed quickly. He then makes a convincing case that photovoltaic solar will play the largest role in meeting this demand.

So let’s start with his history of PV: for what did Albert Einstein receive his Nobel Prize? His Theory of Relativity? No, it was for his thesis on the law of the photoelectric effect, or the electrical energy in sunlight.

The Green Column: Shake or Bake? Two Books on California’s Future

His research in 1921 was theoretical, so it wasn’t until 1953 that the first photovoltaic cell was developed at Bell Labs. However, once the tool for drawing electricity from the sun was available, it was quickly put to use powering American satellites in the ’60s.

The oil shocks of the 1970’s brought renewed government promotions in solar technology. President Carter, seeing the need to break our “oil addiction,” instituted a $3 billion incentive program and installed a showcase solar water heater on the White House roof. This led to a huge boom of development in solar that was inexplicably cut short by the Reagan administration in 1981. By 1986 the Republicans had reduced funding for research, cut federal tax credits and removed Carter’s showcase system from the roof. What were they thinking?

So here we have it. America invented the technology, and by the ’80s represented 80 percent of the PV solar market, but we now are third in PV solar, behind Japan and Germany, with China quickly threatening to overtake us due to our lack of government incentives.


According to Bradford, over 90 percent of people believe that solar energy is a desirable solution but few of us are acting on it. The author predicts in the next two to three decades most new generation will be in the form of renewable energy. Where will it come from? Hydro? You have a limited number of rivers to dam. Geo-thermal? It emits poisonous hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide. Nuclear? “It is estimated that more money was spent cleaning up the Chernobyl disaster than was saved in all of the energy generated in Russia by nuclear power.” He believes solar will not only replace new fossil fuel generators but will also reduce our total dependence on the power grid that delivers Los Angeles’ electricity from Washington state and the Utah desert.


It’s hard to believe, but Bradford lists California as one of the leading states in rebates. The California Energy Commission was created to require utility companies to rebate a portion of the system. This comes to about 25 percent of an average system plus a 30 percent tax rebate from your federal taxes (unfortunately capped at $2,000 for domestic installation).

Are our leaders taking us in the right direction? The author writes, “Global government support is currently skewed with 10 times as much money going to research and development of conventional power sources (oil and coal) than all renewable combined.” Why? “Between 1993 and 1996 American oil and gas companies make political contributions of $10.3 million and received tax breaks of $4 billion.” So you do the math and decide if you want to take the rebates now or write your congressman and wait to see if things change.

Travis Bradford is President of Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development, and has lectured at Columbia, Harvard, and Duke on alternative energy economics.

“Solar Revolution: The Economic Transformation of the Global Energy Industry” by Travis Bradford, The MIT Press, 2006, 238 pages.


Here’s recent Yahoo news: “Later this week in Paris, climate scientists warned of slowly rising sea levels and higher temperatures. But that may be the sugar-coated version. The melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica have taken scientists by surprise. They don’t know how to predict its effects….but many fear it will mean the world’s coastlines are swamped much earlier than most predict.”

Better make sure you have 4-wheel drive on that new SUV!

To contact Lee Rhoads call (310) 455-2958 or e-mail .