By Doug Porter
Plans to address the issues surrounding climate change are getting top billing in the news this week.
San Diego’s City Council is poised to approve a climate action plan full of ambitious goals and may be short on actual means to achieve those goals. Representatives from around the planet are meeting in Paris over the coming days, hoping to gain consensus on a strategy to steer the world’s economies away from fossil fuel dependence.
Today I’ll report and comment on the latest developments on San Diego’s Action Plan and the challenges it faces, even as almost the entire local political establishment pays it lip service.
Yippie! San Diego Plan Gets a Nod
After two years of consideration and tinkering, yesterday the City Council’s environment committee unanimously approved a proposed Climate Action Plan. The full council will undoubtedly approve the plan at a meeting on December 15th.
Dozens of activists from community and non-profit organizations lined up to voice support of a blueprint for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions and powering the city using only green energy within two decades.
From NBC 7:
“The question isn’t whether we are being too ambitious,” said Nicole Capretz, executive director of the Climate Action Campaign. “The question is whether we are being ambitious enough, and how soon can we implement this vision.”
That vision calls for 100 percent reliance on clean energy and a 50 percent shift to mass transit within 20 years – goals that have raised a lot of eyebrows.
Two big obstacles remain in the first stages of translating the goals of the city’s plan into action; the time frame and the lobbying/public relations prowess of San Diego Gas & Electric.
City Councilman David Alvarez, who chairs the environment committee, said the plan is legally binding, but also called for establishment of a working group to monitor the city’s progress in meeting its targets and for enough funding to achieve the plan’s goals.
“If we don’t do that then the plan will not mean very much,” he said. “It will just sit on a shelf.”
Included in the environment committee’s action was a direction to city staff to bring an implementation and funding plan to the City Council by April 1, 2016.
Hold on a minute, sayeth the Chamber of Commerce, this could get expensive.
From the Union-Tribune:
During the environment committee’s meeting Monday, Councilwoman Marti Emerald proposed fast-tracking of the community-choice proposal. The full council will have to consider whether to adopt a schedule that could lead to a final decision on the program by as early as April.
After the meeting, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce released a statement criticizing what it saw as a hasty timeline.
“Rushing into multibillion-dollar decisions, without time to fully study the impacts, places San Diego residents and businesses at risk of overpaying for unknown climate benefits,” Jerry Sanders, the group’s president, said in the statement.
I doubt that Jerry Sanders would describe himself as a climate change denier, but arguing for further delays in taking actions on climate change is like holding off on calling the fire department as your house is burning down.
Yes, there will be pain. You can either view that as a problem or an opportunity.
Back to NBC7:
Meantime, given scientific projections of how climate change has altered weather patterns and nature itself, some wonder whether climate action plans may be too little, too late – and should have been rolled out in the 1990s.
“It’s like a diet. You can’t just say we have this magic diet, we just do these things and there’ll be no pain,” City Heights community activist John Stump told NBC 7. “Climate action requires climate change. And we need to make change now — all the action the council has proposed, and some really meaningful ones that are going to have some pain.”
Doom and Gloom in the Forecast
This issue about a time frame is, in large part, dictated by the local utility company’s contention that the plan’s community choice aggregation scheme (loophole alert! -“or another program”) for energy generation is flawed.
SDG&E says there’s no realistic way to get to the 100% renewable energy goal in two decades. They also maintain the plan’s calculations overstated community choice’s emission reductions and understated progress the utility is making in moving toward more renewable energy.
Let’s get real, folks. Mostly the plan is “flawed” because it challenges the current monopoly. You can expect SDG&E to mount a vigorous public relations campaign in the coming months suggesting that anything other than the current system could leave us all in the dark.
Following massive disinformation campaigns mounted utilities in northern California opposing community choice, the state legislature stepped in and forbade utility companies from using ratepayer funds to pay for lobbying. SDG&E has announced the creation of a scheme funded by shareholders.
The Question of Equity
There were concerns expressed at the council’s environment committee meeting about incorporating steps ensuring equity for low-income neighborhoods, which historically have borne the brunt of environmental degradation.
Mayoral candidate and IBEW political director Gretchen Newsom told the committee:
“We need to lift up working families as we address climate change, and do it in a way that is equitable for our most disadvantaged neighborhoods. As the city implements this vision, we need to make sure we are tightly tracking programs so we create high-quality jobs for local residents, as this plan specifies, and we are meeting major milestones to reduce emissions.”
Diane Takvorian, executive director of the Environmental Health Coalition, testified:
“We have to include equity and funding for implementation in this climate plan. The [plan] fails to identify where the money’s coming from, how it’s moving forward. That funding strategy is critically important.”
The 800-pound gorillas in the room are regional cooperation, politics and the long-term view of the economy.
The San Diego Association of Governments’ (SANDAG) latest long-term transportation plan, created after courts rejected an earlier version for not being in compliance with state environmental goals, effectively makes the city’s goal of getting 50% of people living near “high-quality” transit to use alternative methods of transportation impossible.
Fortunately, the SANDAG program will mostly likely be forced to undergo yet another revision, as this latest edition is little more than a flowery re-write of the already rejected plan.
On a larger scale, there remains the issue of Tijuana.
As long-time activist John Stump said in his letter to the council:
Without evaluation of the coupled growth of our conjoined twin city Tijuana, no Climate Action Plan can succeed. San Diego’s future is coupled to Tijuana’s, so more and more we are a Budapest or San Dijuana. The City’s leadership must do more than calling the largest city our Aunt Jane and giving her recognition at events and boards. We must recognize that there is a two to one, or better coupled growth pattern between Buda and Pest. Our adjacent Cities share the same Ocean, Air, and land environments. Our peoples speak the same languages, have a common culture, history, and foods. Our transportation systems are interdependent and our vehicles indistinguishable. The border today is only a recent innovation in our long history from its Native American beginnings through its western colonization.
And way down, underneath all those challenges, there remains the biggie: fundamental questions about the direction and nature of the local, regional and global economies.
San Diego’s inclusion of tourism as a major component of its economic future is fraught with challenges generated by carbon fuel-based transportation systems and the environmental inefficiencies of the hospitality industry as a whole.
On a national scale, Steven Cohen, Executive Director at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, points out the inherent ideological challenges:
The greatest danger to America’s transition to a renewable resource-based economy is not industry, which will make plenty of money off of this transition, or the public, which appears ready to move, but the anti-government ideology that continues to paralyze our federal government. The action required to transition off of fossil fuels and other single-use resources requires a sophisticated partnership between the public and private sectors. There will be some instances when the work that needs to be done — for example, basic research or infrastructure finance — will require federal funds. There will be other instances when the tax code or other incentives will be needed to attract private capital and companies into the market. And there will be even more instances when government action is not needed and the best thing government can do is get out of the way and let the private sector act. By “sophisticated partnership,” I mean one that is guided by results-oriented pragmatism rather than symbols and ideology.
Finally, there is the question of the global approach to the economy.
She says the current situation may well represent the best opportunity we’ll ever have to build a better world.
Whether or not you agree with Klein’s ideas, the concept that the global crisis can and should be an opportunity is one that needs to be embraced. ‘Wait and see’ is no longer an option.
It’s easy to critique San Diego’s climate plan on the basis of it doesn’t do enough (It doesn’t). For now, however, it’s the best we’re going to get, given the realities of local politics. And we need to make sure at least this much gets done, for it should be obvious there are plenty of people looking to turn it into window dressing.
Every journey begins with a single step. Now we need to gather up our strength to take another. And another.
On This Day: 1913 – Ford Motor Co. began using a new movable assembly line that ushered in the era of mass production. 1955 – African-American Rosa Parks refuses to go to the back of a Montgomery, Ala., bus, fueling the growing civil rights movement’s campaign to win desegregation and end the deep South’s “Jim Crow” laws. 1957 – Three rock and roll acts made their debut on the Ed Sullivan Show: Buddy Holly & the Crickets (“That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue”), Sam Cooke (“You Send Me”), and the Rays.
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to “The Starting Line” and get an email every time a new article in this series is posted!
I read the Daily Fishwrap(s) so you don’t have to… Catch “the Starting Line” Monday thru Friday right here at San Diego Free Press (dot) org. Send your hate mail and ideas to DougPorter@SanDiegoFreePress.Org Check us out on Facebook and Twitter.