Jon Christensen has been an environmental journalist and science writer for more than 30 years, writing for the New York Times, Nature, High Country News, and many other newspapers, magazines, journals, and radio and television programs. A former Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford and Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State, he is now an adjunct assistant professor and journalist-in-residence at UCLA; editor of Boom: A Journal of California, a quarterly published by the University of California Press; and a partner and strategic adviser in Stamen Design, a data visualization, mapping, and strategic communications studio with offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
From October 2013 until July 2015, Jon Christensen and Mark Gold wrote a column together. Those columns are archived below.
Changes afoot at UCLA mean changes here. Mark Gold is moving on at UCLA. Peter Kareiva joins UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability as new director. And this column reboots.
Los Angeles is losing one of its fiercest critics and lovers just when we need her most. Emily Green is leaving LA after 17 years, a crucial, insightful voice on the essential subject of water.
Turf Terminators will buy your lawn for the low cost of destroying it and replacing it on the cheap, sell the missing lawn at a higher cost for a public subsidy, then pocket the difference. You don't have to pay a thing. But there's no free lunch. And no free lawn removal.
Something elemental and powerful connects Michael Heizer's "Levitated Mass" at LACMA to his remote "City" in the Nevada desert. And now there's an effort underway to protect "City" in a new Basin and Range National Monument.
It was a beautiful, sunny late afternoon in the Santa Monica Mountains, and James Cameron was sending mixed signals. The director of "Avatar" had just unveiled his latest invention: open-source solar sunflowers. This was a celebration, but there was a dark cloud on the director's mind.
LAtitudes: An Angeleno's Atlas, a new book just out from Heyday, whole-heartedly embraces the Whitmanesque myth of Los Angeles: "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes." Book launch events at Clockshop and Skylight Books on May 2 and 3.
No part of the natural or built environment is as emblematic of the third Los Angeles as the river, Christopher Hawthorne said as he brought to a close his "Third Los Angeles Project."
Los Angeles County got a C+ on its environmental report card last week, the same week that Mayor Eric Garcetti announced an ambitious sustainable city plan that could help raise environmental grades throughout the region.
Governor Jerry Brown's historic executive order on the drought--requiring mandatory conservation measures statewide--was dramatic and strong, but, in truth, only moderate in scope. Mark Gold looks under the hood.
Jerry Brown's approval of more than $1 billion in bond funding for drought response has led to statewide discussions on the adequacy of the response. Here are a number of other ideas that could move California closer to sustainable water management.
"When ideas are seen as dangerous, some people think the best thing to do is to kill them," Jerry Schubel, president of the Aquarium of the Pacific, recently told a group of reporters. "We want to keep them in play."
Will we look back on late 20th century LA--often thought of as the worst of times with the city's sprawling conquest of nature--as paradoxically the best of times when a style of architecture briefly prevailed that invited the outside in, and the inside out?
It's still shocking to see that for some environmentalists, a love of other living beings goes hand in hand with a hatred for their fellow human beings.
Hermosa Beach residents have 10 more days to contemplate the future of their beach town and the Santa Monica Bay. Whatever they decide it may feel like déjà vu all over again. The question is which version of the past do they want to see come back?
Parks and technology -- for some park lovers never the twain shall meet. Parks are where you go to escape from technology. But for many others, technology is a way to discover, enjoy, and share experiences and a love for parks.
LA Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne has a grand narrative. And he's not just a chronicler of the Los Angeles story. He's a cheerleader. A goad. And a protagonist now.
The water conservation battle is joined! Santa Monica has pledged to reduce citywide water use 20 percent by December 31, 2016. As you may recall, Mayor Garcetti has already set a Los Angeles goal for a 20 percent reduction by January 2017.
At the beginning of 2014, we took "a sober look at the environment" in LA and California, made 10 predictions, and promised to hold ourselves accountable to you, our readers, at the end of the year. So here we go: what really happened in 2014 and what we can look forward to in 2015 and beyond.
On the 40th anniversary of Heyday--an independent, nonprofit publisher dedicated to promoting California's many cultures, landscapes, and boundary-breaking ideas--Jon Christensen asks publisher Malcolm Margolin what he would pack for the future of California.
A dramatic, wrenching, and potentially pivotal story is unfolding in the environmental movement right now. It came to a head last week after Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, posted messages in solidarity with #blacklivesmatter.
Our first major rain of the year was a mixed blessing. For most Angelenos, the rain brought a sense of renewal and a reminder that inexorable desiccation isn't the only state of our Mediterranean climate. For Mark Gold, the first major rain of the season will always be "the first flush."
Jeremy Rosenberg's new book "Under Spring" chronicles the extraordinary transformation of a very ordinary space under the North Spring Street Bridge. Revealing the possibilities alive in the past, it should attune us to the potential of 12,309 public places like "Under Spring" around LA--and the possibilities for activating "interstitial spaces" throughout the city.
The next time you're stuck in traffic think about this: You're not just part of the problem. You're part of the solution. And not just for LA, but for the world!
In which columnist Jon Christensen apologizes for offending many dear readers and friends by telling the LA Times that John Muir's legacy "has got to go," while explaining what he meant, and hoping that in the process he is not digging himself a deeper hole.
The LA Regional Water Quality Control Board approved two new discharge permits for water treatment plants last week. That's not news. What is news is the precedent-setting limits on toxic discharges in the permits. The effect on our waterways could be profound.
It's good to celebrate rain in a land of little, particularly before the inevitable onslaught of reminders that this doesn't mean our drought is over, and reports of accidents on the freeways, and floods and mudslides unleashed when Pacific storms crash against the steep mountains that hem in the Los Angeles basin and cast a rain shadow over the desert to the east.
A long awaited state water bond will finally be decided on November 4th. LA could benefit significantly if Proposition 1 passes and the region acts as one to ensure it gets a fair share.
It's a classic mail room to corner office story. Alix Hobbs worked her way up at Heal the Bay after first volunteering at a beach cleanup in 1993.
In an interview with the Northern California magazine Bay Nature, Jon Christensen has the pleasure of talking about why he loves the Bay Area and LA.
Two California lakes: the Salton Sea, a festering manmade disaster in the desert, and Tulare Lake, a phantom lake, dried up by agriculture in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Not the first places one might expect to find hope in the Anthropocene.
This weekend the Allen's Hummingbirds sparred around our feeders in Venice as usual. It's a sight likely to become more rare and perhaps even vanish in the future. The Allen's Hummingbird is climate endangered. Something is going out of the air in LA.
Our efforts have shown the world that Californians can live without plastic bags. Can we do the same for styrofoam cups, snack packaging, sporks, straws, and bottle caps? For the sake of our rivers and oceans, we need to. Now. It shouldn't take another decade.
There are a lot of reasons to reconnect the dots between the Civil Rights Act, the Wilderness Act, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which all turn 50 this year. The arc of the history in which these three pieces of legislation represented signal turning points is long and still unfinished.
"A Hollywood drama of butterfly extirpation and persistence over a century of urbanization," reads the headline on a recent scientific study in the Journal of Insect Conservation. The story that unfolds offers glimmers of hope for the rich biological diversity that lives amongst us in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles was designed and marketed around a climate of ease, says LA Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne. Is that all over? "Just Add Water: The Discussions" at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County contemplated the future of a hotter, drier LA, on a lovely recent and, we dare say, easy evening.
The latest session of "Just Add Water: The Discussions" at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County focused on "water wars" and the people and struggles that have made our water systems cleaner, healthier, and safer for all, from Mono Lake to East LA and Santa Monica Bay. We didn't foresee the turn the conversation would take.
No city of LA water main should be 90 years old. What other proof do we need that the city has to invest in its water infrastructure?
Our modern water systems have made it not only possible, but virtually inevitable, that we should forget where our water comes from and the responsibilities it carries. Myth and art may be our best ways back into that understanding.
Natural history museums grew out of the "Wunderkammer"--a device for cultivating wonder in the face of the amazing diversity and weirdness of the world, but also for discovery, of the new, the unknown, of patterns, and laws. The LA River has become a kind of cabinet of wonders for Los Angeles: a site for thinking about and making sense of nature and culture in the city.
Finding an unassuming historical barn in the midst of Century City's bluster is a strange enough anomaly. But when you enter the plain white building on Santa Monica Boulevard just a block from the Westfield mall, a study in even more beautiful juxtapositions opens up.
You will probably want to know what to do after you rip out your lawn. And that's important, said the experts at a summer series on water at the Natural History Museum of LA County. Even more important, though, is what happens when our public spaces get less water.
In which longtime environmental advocate Mark Gold confesses his soft spot for golf, while sloshing through far too many unintended water hazards at local LA links.
We talk a lot about water here. This summer you can join the conversation on Thursday evenings at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
A roundup on the state of the drought and water in LA and the rest of California. There is a lot to worry about, but a lot that can be done to solve our water woes. And a silver lining to celebrate: clean beaches this summer.
Never before seen floods are likely to occur annually within the lifetimes of Californians now under 40 years old. Northern California will be affected much more dramatically than Southern California. But policies to adapt to climate change will affect us all.
There is a darkness at the heart of Gabriel Kahane's lilting, lyrical, loving art songs to Los Angeles. His new concept album "The Ambassador" joins the venerable tradition that Mike Davis dubbed "the literary destruction of Los Angeles," which Davis himself relished.
The author, environmental historian, advocate, and LA Urban Ranger is back in town between fellowships at Princeton and in Munich, and working on new projects on the LA River and Malibu Beach access. We caught up with her between scouting trips to ask her thoughts about the latest big news on river restoration, what she's got up her sleeve, and when she's coming back to LA.
We regret to inform you that we will be experiencing delays in cleaning up Santa Monica Bay. Los Angeles World Airports--the city department that owns and operates LAX--is refusing to go along with a proposal to use airport property for a publicly financed stormwater cleanup project.
New reports of ice sheets melting more rapidly than expected in Antarctica have renewed interest in what is likely to happen here as things melt down there. Take a look at Venice Beach--without the beach that is.
A blue-ribbon commission studying the troubled California State Parks system is proposing a surprisingly bold vision for the future of parks in California. But it has been met with a strange silence in the media.
We may all agree that we have an enormous transportation and pedestrian infrastructure problem here in LA. But the solution is quite contentious.
The county supervisor caps an impressive supervisorial career as a steward of the Santa Monicas with a new land use plan approved by the California Coastal Commission that will protect the land, wildlife, and aquatic resources of the range's coastal zone for decades to come.
LA mayor Eric Garcetti has a narrative problem. The two stories he is telling about Los Angeles don't line up. Winning an Olympic bid could provide the deus ex machina the city needs in the absence of a heroic storyline.
Former President Bill Clinton brought his Clinton Global Initiative to LA for a workshop on "21st Century Infrastructure and Innovation for a Resilient Economy." Good, important stuff, but big questions remain about how to finance the investments we need urgently.
Major General Anthony L. Jackson, USMC (Ret) may be the perfect leader to modernize the quasi-military corps of California State Parks, but can he transform the hidebound agency into an organization focused on understanding and satisfying its customers?
An LA Times story, about one of city's most important environmental restoration projects ever, missed the backstory. Here it is.
Artist Lauren Bon has won approval from the LA City Council to build an enormous water wheel on the LA River near downtown. Bon will be discussing the project in a public conversation on March 22, World Water Day, in Lincoln Heights.
What are we doing with our dishes turned upside down when it's raining money in LA? And note to surfers: you may want to forego those awesome storm-driven waves this week if you don't want to end up with a nasty stomach bug from the crap the rain washed into the ocean.
The talk was billed as "L.A. Stories: Gary Snyder." And it brought a crowd to the LA Public Library late Friday afternoon to hear the grand old man of the Beat generation. But the real showstopper was our own Lewis MacAdams, the poet laureate of the LA River.
The mayor and LA Times architecture and urban design critic Christopher Hawthorne shared their visions for LA in a conversation at Occidental College. It was a valentine to a city that could win our hearts in time.
Cities are where it's at for action on climate change. LA's sustainability czar just got back from a global summit of cities in Johannesburg. And an Obama task force is coming to LA this week. The message from cities? "Get out of the way." And, oh, yeah, "send money, please."
Mayor Eric Garcetti makes what arguably could be his most important hire to date. And Emily Green shows us two front yards that demonstrate the choices facing LA in the face of a historic drought.
The mayor's office unveiled its framework for a sustainable city plan last week to general approval from LA's environmental community. And could the mayor look to Las Vegas for a new leader at the LADWP?
There's something missing from LA's future in best picture nominee "Her." And there's a new "Green room" at the Santa Monica Bay Aquarium honoring our past.
Governor Jerry Brown's 2014 budget proposal is good news for the environment. Meanwhile, are those cries for help we hear coming from LADWP headquarters?
After an idyllic holiday week of beautiful beach weather at the end of December and New Year's festivities, we'd like to think that 2014 could be a great year for the environment. But after getting back to work, here's a more sober look at what we'd like to see--and what we predict will actually happen.
Having traveled around Australia, our columnists have some recommendations for Mayor Eric Garcetti on his end-of-year vacation. Mostly fun stuff, but a few work related green things to keep an eye on.
Mark the calendar. This week will go down as a crucial week in California's water history. The draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and associated Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) was filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday and the public comment period begins this week. We've got big decisions to make about our water future.
"Wherever you go, there you are," says Buckaroo Banzai. Jon Christensen reads the new book "Trees in Paradise: A California History" on the long flight from LAX to Melbourne and reflects on what we can learn from history in a cosmopolitan era in which local diversity--biological and cultural--may be increasing rapidly, while the differences between places continue to shrink.
With public trust of the DWP at such a low point, will the public, the city council, and mayor Garcetti support the long-term rate increases that will be needed to transform LA's water system for the future?
Last week, UCLA announced a grand challenge--a major research initiative throwing the full weight of the university behind an effort to wean LA completely of imported water and become fully reliant on renewable energy by 2050, while preserving biodiversity and improving the quality of life in the city. Can we get it done?
True. We need big plans to guide LA toward environmental sustainability. But we need lots of little plans and action too.
The LA Aqueduct centennial is this week. When a peace agreement is finally signed at Owens Lake, we'll really have cause for celebration.
The fact that the centenary of the LA Aqueduct coincides with a new mayoral administration in Los Angeles adds real politics to the symbolism.
Sydney's audacious sustainability plan provides a surprisingly pragmatic blueprint for how to achieve energy and water sustainability in other cities, such as Los Angeles.
Los Angeles is home to more single-family residences exposed to wildfire risk that any city in the American West And we can't get city plan checks to let people use rain barrels the way they were intended?
"The guy's got water on the brain," Jake Gittes's assistant Walsh says of Hollis Mulwray in "Chinatown." And, yes, we suffer the same affliction these days.