Sonoma is the only city in the county which has adopted all the local climate protection measures in the Climate Action 2020 Plan, or CAP. See p. 305 of the linked plan for a listing of Sonoma’s local measures, which are identified by an L before the measure. R is for Regional measure and S is for State measures. The mtCO2e means metric tons of carbon equivalent, and in the plan, that number means how many metric tons of carbon will be reduced by implementing the specific measures.
The Sonoma city council, with great wisdom and foresight, at the urging of Transition Sonoma Valley (Tom Conlon) and the Sonoma Ecology Center (Caitlin Cornwall), went ahead and adopted these local CAP measures even though the measures, due to a lawsuit, never became official county-wide, (more on the lawsuit later.)
City GHG footprint and GHG reductions
The city has also made a serious step to increase renewable energy use by adopting Sonoma Clean Power’s “Evergreen” option for 100% clean power in all 41 of the city’s electrical accounts. This Community Choice Aggregation, represented locally by Sonoma Clean Power, is not specifically a CAP local measure. Credit to the city here for going above and beyond the call of duty!
The bulk of the rest of the CAP increase renewable energy impacts will hopefully be taken up by implementing the two remaining big ticket increase renewable energy measures, 2 L2, solar in existing residential buildings, for a possible 9,942 mtCO2e GHG reduction and 2 L4, solar in existing non-residential buildings, for a possible 25,714 mtCO2e GHG reduction.
Yes this is wonky, but important enough to hang with and know. And please note that the city is only a two-square mile area and the real meaningful entity for urban GHG production locally is the whole lower Sonoma valley urbanized area. The unincorporated county’s climate reduction measures can be seen on p. 338. Unincorporated county residents could lobby for the county to adopt the CAP local measures anyway, like the city has done, and to focus on reducing urban GHG uses here in the valley.
The big three
The city of Sonoma’s entire greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint consists of 54% on-road transportation, 36% building energy and 9% solid waste generation, and 1% other.
Transportation, building energy and solid waste are the big-ticket items for GHG reduction. Why? Because they represent 99% of the use. For building energy, the city has replaced older higher energy-use light bulbs and installed LED street light bulbs. This addresses a big chunk of the city’s building energy footprint. Other building energy GHG savings can be had, for example, by getting Sonoma Clean Power “Evergreen” 100% clean power and then using electric stoves and eclectic hot water heaters.
Solid waste generation is where better recycling and waste management programs at city Special Events can make good GHG reductions and also help to mitigate the city’s real solid waste GHG impacts. The Climate Action 2020 regional waste diversion goal (9 R1) is a substantial GHG reduction, of 3,012 mtCO2e. This is it not specifically a council-adopted goal, (neither was Sonoma Clean Power Evergreen 100% clean power) yet Sonoma could use its Special Events Policy, to meet this real solid waste community impact and kill two policy birds with one stone.
These two birds are: realizing a legit solid waste climate protection measure by adjusting the Special Events recycling policy to head towards zero waste. Special Events policy, which includes recycling at events, will soon be up for review by the city council. Citizens can contact Lisa Janson, city Special Events Manager, to ask what the Community Services and Environmental Commission has recommended re: recycling at Special Events, and then lobby council members for a revised plan that can better support local solid waste GHG reduction at city Special Events.
For greater solid waste GHG reductions, we just need the political will to force the policy and make events adapt. Then the city can cut into its solid waste generation, which is 9% of its overall GHG impact. As a corollary to this effort, we need to know what is actually happening to the waste, and that recyclables are not just going to the dump.
This leaves transportation as the big, unaddressed GHG footprint for Sonoma. The city, however, in the Climate Action 2020 format, only proposes to reduce GHG footprint by 9 mtCO2e for Goal 4: Reduced Travel Demand through focused growth 4 L1, 4 L2, 4L3, 4L4. This is not much, proportional to the 54% of overall Sonoma GHG footprint.
Goal 5: Encourage shift towards low-carbon trans options, has only 5 L5, traffic calming, at a potential 26 mtCO2e reduction. Still not much reduction proportionally. Goal 7: Encourage a shift toward low-carbon fuels in vehicles and equipment, 7 L1, electric charging station, is 2 mtCO2e, not much GHG reduction either, proportional to the transportation’s overall GHG impact.
Every little bit does count, but the city appears to be relying on regional and state measures to pick up the slack on its transportation GHG footprint.
Structurally and geographically, Sonoma is off of main transit arteries. Sonoma is not a regional, Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) planning hub for growth, yet there is growth here, with associated GHG transportation impacts, in the form of an officially sanctioned boosting and ramping up of tourism. Given that Sonoma is off the beaten track, there needs to be a special trip to get here, and thus there is an associated higher GHG transportation footprint for Sonoma’s economy. Sonoma is surviving on special trips, and more and more of them, to get tourists here to float our economy.
That the local economy is so dependent on one thing is not adaptive, but that is another essay.
The transportation GHG impacts of Sonoma are not adequately reckoned in the Climate Action Plan. This is a general fault of the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, in that it allows municipalities to draw an artificially small circle around impacts and then say such impacts are not significant and are mitigated. This is exactly the case for tourism transportation GHG impacts. Basically, business as usual, or BAU economic practices simply cannot envision any downsizing or working towards a carrying capacity level of activity. BAU forces resist being accountable for their GHG impacts, and assert that it would cost too much, it would not be business friendly etc. and so our local society is faced with a contradictory proposition. Do we have to continue with maladaptive behavior in the short term because we cannot muster the will to take appropriate steps to be survivable in the long run?
The following quote captures the sense of the problem we are facing with Sonoma’s tourism transportation GHG impacts. “We are in a raft, gliding down a river, toward a waterfall. We have a map but are uncertain of our location and hence are unsure of the distance to the waterfall. Some of us are getting nervous and wish to land immediately; others insist we can continue safely for several more hours. A few are enjoying the ride so much that they deny there is any immediate danger although the map clearly shows a waterfall… How do we avoid a disaster?” George S. Philander, Is The Temperature Rising?
Climate Action 2020 or Climate Action Plan (CAP) lawsuit
California River Watch’s Jerry Bernhaut had a successful lawsuit against the CAP’s CEQA streamlining, on the basis that cross-border transportation GHG impacts were not properly accounted for. This basically means that Sonoma is also not properly accounting for its transportation draw and concomitant GHG effects.
Other aspects of the CAP’s accounting of greenhouse gases were challenged (by others) as well, particularly the “backcast” formulations that set the baseline for what the county was producing greenhouse gas-wise in the past. The “backcast” was asserted by CAP numbers challengers to be too low, and therefore, future GHG projections of the CAP would not be adequate to forestall catastrophic global warming. The bar was alleged to be set too low to start. The CAP settled on 450 ppm of atmospheric carbon as sustainable. 350.org says 450 ppm is too high. (You can hear May Boeve of 350.org speak at a First Congregational Church, Earth Care Committee event, on February 13th, 7:PM at Burlingame Hall.)
Many concerned people are really burnt up that the Climate Action Plan (CAP) was sued and now is not in place county-wide. CAP supporters feel/ felt that doing something, even if systemically inadequate, would have been better than nothing. Nothing is what we are getting now out of the county and all county municipalities except Sonoma. Nothing could be something if municipalities act. Concerned actors are working hard to encourage the county and its municipalities to act now.
CAP challengers feel that sanctioning a business as usual (BAU) level of GHG footprint, and not properly accounting for the county’s full systemic effects, particularly transportation, would not have been “cutting edge”, and was a feel-good activity that basically sanctioned business as usual or BAU. The hope for CAP advocates was that technology and green energy replacement would save us, and that big conservation measures, and examining the growth dogma would not have to happen.
Tensions in the climate movement
The Community Services and Environmental Commission (CSEC) reviewed the Climate Action Plan for the city, and we by unanimous vote, including then CSEC commissioners Amy Harrington and Chris Petlock, initially recommended the city adopt all 21 local measures. In the Climate Action Plan, I saw, and still see, that necessary conservation measures were minimized. This is a big tension in the climate movement: will we ask for some hard conservation measures and downsize from the United States’ disproportionate consumption of earth’s resources, or will we tacitly hope to just go on as we are but simply replace fossil fuels with green energy, and continue to consume and live as we do? Will anyone have to feel any pain in their lifestyle? Will any hard choices have to be made? Or do we just keep floating down the river even while knowing the waterfall is coming?
Even though Sonoma has adopted the CAP’s 21 local measures, and this is really good, the numbers may be too low to make our local contributions meaningful anyway. This underlines that the city needs to at least meet the letter of the GHG reduction numbers in its city council-adopted 21 local measures, and do this on time and on target for the year 2020. Why? Because even greater reductions are called for by the state (and by reality) for 2030 and 2050. This has to be done or we fail our descendants and the very platform we have for life as we know it on earth.
Sure, we could look at the world and say, why should we in Sonoma sacrifice if others are not? Why? Because taking the correct moral course is the right thing to do; this is how we can live with ourselves and sleep at night, to know we are doing the right thing.
Suggestions for action
Switch your electrical account to Sonoma Clean Power’s “Evergreen” option and have 100% clean power in your home.
Buy a fully electric vehicle and charge it with your Sonoma Clean Power Evergreen home account.
Get Evergreen and then switch to an electric stove and electric hot water heater.
Lobby the city and council to make incentives for more solar on existing residential and commercial buildings.
Make sure you are involved in the city General Plan update process with the city. There will be chances to weigh in on climate measures.
Study climate justice and push for ways that climate protection is not just an activity for the well off.
Learn about the city’s 21 local measures and lobby for them, as well as regional and state climate protection measures.
Join and push for a Fossil Free future. Resist Big Oil, and elect poltiicians who are not in the pocket of a maladaptive, fossil fuel-based growth dogma, or an equally deleterious green energy replacement growth dogma.
Join the Sonoma Valley Climate Coalition, or any of a number of other local primarily-climate-focused groups such as the First Congregational Church’s Earth Care Committee, the Sonoma Valley Democrats climate committee, or Transition Sonoma Valley.
Study the county’s General Plan (“The General Plan provides the basis for development while maintaining the quality of life that Sonoma County residents treasure.”) for climate measures and challenge it where business as usual supersedes sustainability principles. Environmental lawyers might consider suing the county General Plan if necessary.
Encourage the city and the Tourism Improvement District, or TID to buy transportation carbon credits to offset Sonoma’s transportation-heavy impacts, and/or to take other innovative steps to address and account for Sonoma’s tourism transportation footprint, so that the city takes responsibility for the greenhouse gases its primary economy is creating. Transportation is the big-ticket greenhouse gas item. In this regard, instead of the city paying the Sonoma Valley Visitor’s Bureau $100,000 a year to get more people to come, that money could be used by the city itself to buy carbon credits to offset the city’s dependence on tourism and its associated high transportation GHG impacts. It is extremely difficult to find the TID board meeting schedule online; I can’t find it. Contact the city manager to find out when these public, open meetings can be attended.
Live simply ride bikes, and consume less. Buy all clothes and other items at Thrift Stores. Don’t consume trendy, unnecessary items for entertainment. Go to local meetings and get involved in civic policy formulation as a central activity.
Reduce solid waste and shoot for a zero waste future.
Apply to be a commissioner on the city’s Community Services and Environmental Commission and work to support city council-adopted local climate change measures.
Get off the raft.