In the News


In Sandy's aftermath, local environmental groups call for strong climate action

Steve Schnaar, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 12/2/12

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, local environmental groups including People Power, the Sierra Club, Transition Santa Cruz and the Santa Cruz Hub For Sustainable Living are calling for strong action on climate change. Citing mounting evidence for the connection between carbon emissions and extreme weather events, the groups are urging a combination of personal actions and public policy changes to make Santa Cruz County a leader in the push for a climate-friendly future.

Recommendations include more carpooling, bike and pedestrian facilities, and public transit, as well as increasing solar energy, rejecting plans for an energy-intensive desalination plant, and divesting from oil and coal companies.

After decades of warnings about climate change and multiple global summits on the topic, we have little to celebrate in the way of action. Even as the evidence for human-caused warming mounts, global carbon emissions continue to rise every year. To date, it is estimated that our carbon emissions have raised the average temperature only 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit, yet already we are seeing devastating effects. In the last two years alone there have been a string of record heat waves, floods, droughts, tornadoes and wildfires. From Pakistan to Nigeria, Texas to Moscow, and now in New York and New Jersey, people are beginning to suffer the reality of climate change.

The bad news is that, barring serious action to reduce carbon emissions, we likely face a global temperature rise of 9-12 degrees F in the coming century, corresponding to a sea level rise of more than five feet. But with bold action to reduce our emissions, we can limit the scale of the crisis.

Noting that more than half of all emissions in the county come from transportation, Amelia Conlen of the bicycle advocacy organization People Power urges a rapid shift toward a transportation system that encourages alternatives to driving. She hopes to see the county and city governments prioritize the construction of the rail trail, as well as ensuring safe routes to school for all children in the county.

Greg McPheeters, a long-time solar energy advocate who also serves on the local Sierra Club chapter's executive committee, is excited by the steady increase in solar energy production in the last decade but notes that "solar is still a small piece of the energy pie locally." To really make a difference, Santa Cruz could follow the lead of Marin County, where they just finished a first of its kind public/private utility solar installation at the San Rafael Airport as part of an innovative local utility program.

Michael Levy, founder of Transition Santa Cruz, notes that according to climate activist Bill McKibben, we'll have to keep three quarters of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground to avoid catastrophic temperature increases. One facet of McKibben's strategy is a call for divestment from oil and coal companies, a policy Levy thinks we can accomplish here via UCSC and various pension funds.

Rick Longinotti, editor of a Transition Santa Cruz report on water usage, points out that desalination of seawater is very energy-intensive, and threatens to exacerbate climate change and thus water shortages. Better solutions include interdistrict collaboration, water-neutral growth, gray water and rainwater catchment, and recycled water.

Hurricane Sandy has affected millions of individuals on the East Coast and provides a strong case for taking aggressive action throughout our community to curb the impacts of climate change.

Steve Schnaar is a member of the Hub for Sustainable Living.


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