Editorial: Better effort needed on local climate action plans
The release of still another United Nations report on the catastrophic global impact of climate change comes on the heels of disarray in our community efforts to confront this crisis. With the recent court decision rejecting the San Diego County climate action plan and the ongoing development of a state-mandated plan by the city of San Diego, we have to ask ourselves if we have the will to do enough. Can we really ever be a carbon-neutral community?
Cities like La Mesa are joining the fray with their own climate plan, but with recent statements from La Mesa City Councilmember Kristine Alessio, it is hard to imagine any progress. As a SANDAG board member she seems more concerned with freeway off-ramps than public transportation, defending that board’s almost unanimous decision to appeal a court ruling on their Regional Transportation Plan. The recent California appellate court ruling stated SANDAG had not adequately considered the environmental consequences of its 2050 plan.
The warning from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an urgent signal for our elected officials to not only meet state laws on reducing greenhouse gas emissions but to explore higher standards. Mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), under goals established by the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (Assembly Bill 32), we are required to take minimum steps, but we have no ceiling on ideas and imagination.
Critics still chafe at the impact of A.B. 32 and portray it as a symbol of legislators running amok over the poor and middle class. Their reasoning wrongfully centers on increases at the gas pump of at least 15 cents a gallon and how that will also impact fuel-dependent businesses. But those living from paycheck to paycheck are doomed to suffer the most when climate change drives an economic collapse. Profit-driven efforts to mislead them have succeeded in creating an immobilized electorate.
The recent IPCC report says that climate change is set to inflict “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” on people and the planet unless carbon emissions are cut sharply and rapidly. This comes on the heels of a new government report released this year showing our nation will suffer $150 billion in economic damages every year that we fail to rein in rising temperatures. Still another recent report found that climate change will cost the nation up to $507 billion in property damages by 2100 if we fail to take action now.
The world and the U.S. political labyrinth suffer a debilitating inertia in dealing with climate change. Even with the new U.S.-China climate agreement, the United Nations will likely be unable to agree to an effective climate change agreement in Paris next year. This is why our best efforts to deal with climate change may be through communities, like those in La Mesa and throughout the San Diego region. We have a capacity for imagining and producing extraordinary opportunities without the excessive bureaucracy embraced by nation states.
There have already been innovative community models developed by Amsterdam, Buenos Aires, London, Vancouver and Melbourne. It has carried to Shenzhen, which is leading the world on urban transportation, and to Seoul, leading the world with green energy technology. This phenomena of change is creating new business opportunities and employment for these regions, and it can do so for San Diego as well.
County officials need to return to ground zero and explore better ideas and options for its climate action plan. The appellate court ruling said their plan lacked detailed deadlines and measures to ensure emissions are reduced. If not for the lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club against the county, we would be without a credible county climate action plan. The City of San Diego is still in the adoption phase with its plan to meet mandatory targets but it needs to do more. It lacks a connection to neighboring cities and a corresponding synergy of purpose. Where are ground breaking ideas like virtual power plants? La Mesa just completed its public meetings on a proposed climate plan and it is hoped they will reach higher than SANDAG and the county, avoiding what seems to be a pattern of dodging California environmental law.
Merely meeting the reduction targets set by CEQA and AB 32 is not enough. When they were set eight years ago, there was less known about timelines for adequate action to avoid the projected collapse of economic and ecological systems. At this point we need to be creating a bolder move to carbon neutrality and not just meeting outdated state laws. This is a trailblazing opportunity for us and we should ask our elected representatives to model a new paradigm for communities to confront climate change and not just fulfill a state mandate.
—Jeffrey Meyer is a member of SanDiego350, an all-volunteer organization that is concerned about climate change and its very real effects on our livelihoods, well-being and the future for our children.