Human-caused climate change is a widely acknowledged and serious problem that carries substantial existential risks. In 1983, the UN Brundtland Commission recognized the outlines of this problem and came up with the core principles of sustainability. This was followed by the 1992 UN Agenda 21 to foster sustainable development. Al Gore’s 2006 An Inconvenient Truth
brought human-caused climate change to common awareness.
The state of CA formally recognized climate change during the Schwarzenegger administration and counties began to follow suit on state laws and mandates. The current Sonoma County, Climate Action 2020 Plan (CA2020), by the Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA), is the result of combined state, regional and local efforts to mitigate climate change. CA2020 concentrates on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions themselves without making a comprehensive sustainable development plan like Agenda 21. It is important to note that GHG reductions themselves are only one part of an overall program called for to dial back unsustainable, world-wide human impacts. A core issue with climate change: our system appears to be predicated on growth and more consumption, this is business as usual (BAU); so how will we adapt to a fundamental principle of reduction?
Not everyone is on board with the CA2020 program or in how to view and approach climate change. All along there have been climate change deniers and also those who feel Brundtland and other measures like CA2020 have not gone far enough. The term sustainability itself has been co-opted by BAU forces and turned into a glittering generality. Resilience
has come to connote what sustainability used to mean, but how can life be resilient to unsustainable practices? There are bumps in the road to work out here.
CA2020 is a voluntary, county program that allows city governments and the unincorporated county to choose a suite of GHG reduction measures from a palette of state, regional and local measures. Santa Rosa also has its own independent climate/ GHG reduction plan. This is where the rubber meets the road of how we as a society are going to mitigate climate change. This is where the forces of BAU will have to change and adapt. Resources will have to be dedicated to addressing a consensus serious problem.
The RCPA has laid out 20 GHG reduction goals from six sectors. The six sectors are: building energy, transportation and land use, solid waste generation, water conveyance and water treatment, livestock and fertilizer and advanced climate initiatives.
includes efficiency, renewables and switch from fossil fuel to electric. Transportation and land use
include: reducing travel through focused growth and various low or no carbon vehicle options. Solid waste generation
includes waste diversion and methane capture from landfills. Water
includes: reduced use, recycling and grey water, and water and wastewater infrastructure efficiencies. Livestock and fertilizer
: reduced emissions from operations. And the advanced climate initiatives
include: protecting the ecosystem services of open land, sustainable ag, increased CO2 sequestration and reduced emissions from consumption of goods and services, including food.
Each sector is further divided into state, regional and local measures. Each sector has sets of measures that all add up to quite a few possible options. The plan is for each Sonoma County city, and the unincorporated county, to choose a set of measures that will all add up to the county as a whole doing its part to reduce GHG emissions to 25% below 1990 levels by 2020. Future targeted GHG reductions at 2030 and 2050 benchmarks, at higher levels, will be necessary to forestall the negative environmental and societal effects of climate change.
The advanced climate initiatives
are ones that open up systemic sustainability and approximate the UN’s Agenda 21 content for sustainable development. Unfortunately, these most salient plans and ideas are not identified by the RCPA as local measures, and thus the bulk of the county population gets no formal chance to support, for example, measure 18-L2 sustainable local food. Chapter 6 of the CA2020 Plan goes into more detail of what we need to be thinking of for the future.
Sonoma has checked 14 local measures to commit to, for a 2% local contribution to regional and state GHG emissions reduction. This is 2% (of 100%) of the 25% total reduction from 1990 GHG emissions levels. This breaks out to a local GHG reduction metric ton/ CO2 equivalent number for Sonoma of 900, or 2%, by far the lowest of any city in the county. Sebastopol is 3,730; Healdsburg is 3,490; Cotati is 1,860; Cloverdale is 2,070.
Sebastopol and Healdsburg, two similarly sized and affluent communities, committed to 12% and 10% local actions for which they each checked 25 local measures to commit to. Cotati committed to 9% local measures with 22 local checked measures. Cloverdale, 9% and 18 local checks.
The measures Sonoma is already taking prior to the CA2020 Plan do not seem to add up to enough mitigation to offset the 8% and 10% difference with Healdsburg and Sebastopol. Sonoma’s switch to 80% LED outdoor lighting was matched by Healdsburg.
Healdsburg and Sebastopol have very similar population numbers to Sonoma, so it is not because Sonoma is “smaller” that it is in last place by percent of local measures. 2015 population of Sonoma County small cities: Coverdale 9015; Cotati 7,483; Healdsburg 11,285; Sebastopol 7,497; Sonoma 11,009.
What could be the rationale for Sonoma’s last place showing? Sonoma is at least as wealthy as other cities. Population size cannot be the rationale because other small cities are doing more than Sonoma. Why is Healdsburg, a city almost identical to Sonoma, doing so much more?
Given Sonoma city staff’s selection of local measures, it seems there is an underlying BAU, economic bottom line context that is preventing a higher commitment by Sonoma to CA2020. Said planning staff Wendy Atkins, “City staff took the selection process very seriously and only selected measures that could be implemented with current resources.”
It may be that Sonoma has a smaller staff than other similarly sized cities and therefore does not have the resources given the current budget, to carry out extra measures beyond the 14 measures the city committed to in the CA2020 draft. If this is the case, given the seriousness of the problem in front of us, maybe some budget reprioritization or additional staff/staff economization may be called for, in order for Sonoma to implement its fair share of the GHG emissions reduction load.
The Community Services and Environmental Commission (CSEC) was tasked to review the CA2020 Plan and make a recommendation to the city council. The CSEC has recommended to the city that it pass the CA2020 Plan, subject to considering all local measures not currently committed to, in order to reach a GHG emissions local reduction number of 10%. As mentioned, state and regional reductions will make up the rest of the 90%. The CSEC felt the city council should ultimately choose if Sonoma can make an equivalent GHG emissions reduction to other small county cities. The CSEC also recommended that transportation and land use, and building energy measures should be required rather than voluntary.
The CSEC motion reads: “After discussion and public testimony, the CSEC voted 7-0 (with two commissioners absent) for the City to approve the CA2020 Plan and add all local measures not currently included (Council to determine the individual participation rate of each measure) to achieve a mix of 10% local contributions to climate action programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The CSEC also recommends that the City Council require compliance for all measures related to transportation and building sectors.”
At the end of the day, CA2020 is about our local society stepping up and taking responsibility for the effects of our consumption-oriented life. This is hard because an honest look means that we will have to change in substantial ways. Resistance to change can be expected. Sonoma County is less polarized politically than other parts of the country and we do have agencies, policies, plans and personnel in place with already-developed content relevant to systemic sustainability. We may be able to get this job done if the dots get connected.
The White House has recognized Sonoma County as one of 16 national leaders in climate change planning and the RCPA was the first if its kind in the country. Our efforts at GHG reduction will be a small part of what is necessary world-wide. At best we can do our part well and serve as an example of what other regional governments can accomplish.
More info can be found at the RCPA website. To read the CA2020 Plan draft, click the following link: http://rcpa.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/CA2020-Public-Review-Draft-Plan_3-4-16.pdf
Sonoma’s section is on page S-95
The city council will be reviewing the CA2020 draft and deciding what to do on 6/6/16