In public policy, much is made of cost-benefit analyses and different kinds of accounting. In sustainability, full cost accounting is a method that seeks to account for systemic, inter-related causes and effects. In terms of merits, full cost accounting is about as thorough, apt, and non-ideological as you can get.
The county Regional Climate Protection Authority’s (RCPA) initial Climate Action 2020 plan and Trump’s US climate policy have one thing in common. They both draw/ drew an artificial line around a whole system and seek to proscribe the accounting of greenhouse gas or GHG emissions to an artificially small level.
A case can be made that these were and are an effort to sidestep responsibility, and/or, in the case of the RCPA, to bring a thorny situation into a manageable level of control.
A successful lawsuit by Jerry Bernhaut of California River Watch challenged the county CA2020 plan as inadequate, particularly the accounting for the cross-border transportation GHG emissions. Jerry said in effect, the system has a cancer here, and half measures won’t do. The judge agreed.
Now, there will be no county-wide Californian Environment Quality Act or “CEQA streamlining” from the Climate Action Plan or CAP. Why, because the full costs of the problem were not addressed. In the wake of the judge’s decision, county actors have bickered and floundered; we’ve lost time. It seems the county is now doing an end run around Jerry’s lawsuit because there is no current requirement for cities take on GHG full cost accounting. Instead of a county-wide, refigured full cost accounting plan, now each municipality has to take on climate issues on a la carte basis.
For RCPA advocates part, the idea is that if you can’t afford the full cancer treatment, and changing business as usual is so huge and daunting, it is better to take some measures anyway, while a systemic solution is worked towards. The North Bay Climate Adaptation Initiative or NBCAI is a great example here. Jerry and the RCPA are both right. What concerned citizens need to do now is pick up the pieces and get moving on implementing some climate mitigation measures. If we don’t mitigate soon, all that will be left is adaptation to a world spun out of control by our own habits.
Sonoma is potentially on the cutting edge here, with the Community Services and Environment Commission pushing for climate accountability, and with local groups like the Sonoma Valley Democrats, Transition Sonoma Valley, and the Sonoma Valley Climate Coalition pushing as well. As well, plenty of good actors support the RCPA and its Climate Action Plan (CAP). The new RCPA climate director, Aleka Seville is bringing fresh energy to an urgent situation. Basically, climate change issues have not gone away because of the lawsuit or because we like our haze of wine and pot. We all have to get back on the mitigation and implementation horse and ride.
The same kind of artificial line-drawing mentioned above is exactly what happens with the CEQA process in development projects. In order to say an environmental effect is mitigated, voila, draw a small line around a project and say a small effort solves the problem. As we know, CEQA leads to endless fighting about lines, who’s responsible for what, and how account for causes and effects. Such artificial line drawing ignores bone fide systemic effects. Intelligent people are left to wonder, who does account for systemic transportation GHG effects then? Who takes responsibility if not us?
Now for the elephant in the room: to change negative systemic effects, like GHG emissions and the inequitable, unjust and unsustainable system that creates them, requires a change in business as usual (BAU), and this is a huge daunting task because vested power players from government and economy have a strong stake in not rocking the boat. Growth machine type thinking is killing us, and back in the engine room, this is all BAU actors can keep saying, we need more growth, more of the same. It’s a failure to see outside the box. Little guys like me have no platform to affect such change…. the combine rolls on ignoring all calls for caution.
For us to adapt collectively, we all need a paradigm shift, you, me, everybody. More of the same of what is ruining us is clearly not the answer. We need to consume less and reduce our collective footprint in many ways, yet growth thinking continues to prevail with critical decision makers. To simply “let the market take care of it” is to advocate more short-term rip-offs that have led us to the unsustainable place we are now in.
The second law of thermodynamics, entropy, and population biology show clearly, we can’t grow, grow, grow and not expect any limits, to not run out of energy, to not crash. The endless frontier is a maladaptive myth. This is where we are, facing a collapse of world civilization, and the best and the brightest can’t prevail over business as usual thinking. We have to try harder. If the ship is sinking, time to get to work to keep afloat.
All the status quo power and control is set to keep business as usual (sinking ship) going. This is a problem of some magnitude. Let’s look at a few reasons why, human-caused global warming is about to reach a no-return tipping point. The climate goals adopted by the city and county, to be 20% below 1990 GHG emission levels by 2020 are failing. Sonoma is 9% above 1990 levels now (see RCPA CSEC agenda item 2.5 attachment). In addition, extreme rents and low wages are forcing workers out of local municipalities, which destroys the fabric of a whole society and increases transportation GHG emissions. Transportation GHG emissions is the big-ticket item that needs to be brought down. On top, we are addicted to an outsize American gratuitous consumption habit that is fundamentally unnecessary but somehow is seen as economically necessary. In aggregate we are unsustainable.
What has been an exercise in regional and local climate mitigation measure goal setting has turned into a failure of implementation. This is a failure to take these issues seriously and to devote adequate resources to climate goal implementations. To the city’s credit, the city, in spite of the above-referenced lawsuit, adopted the CAP local measures anyway. The city also took 100% clean power for all its electric accounts and installed LED streetlights, but we are 9% above 1990 levels now, not on track to be 20% below by 2020. We haven’t implemented enough measures. The time for resting on the laurels of choosing Sonoma Clean Power Evergreen and LED streetlights has passed. That low hanging fruit did not put a dent in the outsize local and regional transportation GHG emissions that needed to come down yesterday.
The huge slice of individual-driver transportation GHG emissions is the major climate policy nut to crack, and this leads right back to where and how people work and live, to what they buy and sell and spend their resources on to survive. This ties right into local traffic and parking problems; Sonoma is in the process of getting overrun by traffic from people driving to work from Lake and Yolo counties, and as the big arteries get jammed up, routes through 8th Street East, Napa Rd, Hwy 12 and even MacArthur are sought, making a noticeable congestion difference in the last year. Who is trying to not go by Friedman’s now?
What we are seeing is that traditional cost-benefit accounting analyses are inappropriate for a global, multi-generational, systemic issue. What we are seeing is the triumph of business as usual, and a failure to adapt. The RCPA’s and Trump’s climate plans have been and will be challenged in court. This further paralyzes business as usual practices as into a limbo of non-action, permission is granted to keep on with the same old stuff. We can’t even metaphorically make a good faith effort to reduce carbs in our GHG diet!
The RCPA climate plan was to address what we could do locally. We still need to do this, and that leaves us back at the essential problem. If we are paralyzed into inaction by a war between systemic and proscribed views, everybody is right in their positions, but everybody loses. If zero-sum game lawsuits by all partisans paralyze any action one way or the other, the limbo of purity-based disagreement leaves us all nowhere. We need cooperation. We need to get real and deal with the existential writing on the wall, and think big and to think pragmatic.
When the metaphorical body shows up with diabetes and heart problems, the smart thing is to make wholesale health changes. But half-measures are better than none, and a solid step in the right direction is at least called for. Same for climate mitigations and the social equity it rides upon.
What remains as the biggest stick in the mud are the economic actors. The 2008 financial crisis bailed out the big money and left everyone else to lose. Bay Area and California inequity are extreme examples of this effect. Government stepped in and propped up the banking system and propped up the fat cats but left the little guys hung out to dry. Governments appear to continue to justify an unhealthy co-dependent relationship with status quo, market rate actors, who are exactly the ones who need to change to bring sustainably to the system.
BAU thinking is demonstrated by the city with the overall failure to examine tourism from a sustainability standpoint. Studies and accounting are produced that show only benefits and no reckoning of any costs. Pretty much, the national schism of free market vs. sustainability is recapped with the current council. With a stalemate in decision making, BAU wins.
The county struggles with economic BAU interests, who defeated a housing bond. This much is clear, BAU is against full cost accounting, sustainability and equity, even while co-opting the word sustainability by the wine industry. The biggest disconnect of all is with county economic reports by experts who come in and say how great everything is.
What we really need is an equivalent Troubled Asset Relief Program or TARP to prop up the people, and not allow banks, Wall Street and the 1% and their 9% aristocracy to run off with all the marbles and ruin the commons in the process with stock market stoking of the growth, profit machine. For this we need Bernie-type candidates who aren’t scared to actually be for the people vs. big business. As Ralph Nader said, “the only difference between Democrats and Republicans is how fast they get on their knees for big business…”
The real trouble is that there is no “we” or “us” here. The US population has been split by a partisan, zero-sum game rancor that may lead to a new civil war or even to WW3 globally. This is a widespread failure on humanity’s part to address large scale common problems. We are humanity, you and me, not just the other guys. As long as blame is more important than cooperation, and as long as BAU forces control government and the economy, folks, we are screwed. The only solace is to keep having sustainability morals and keep on trying to work for the good. The good is clearly what is sustainable, a sustainable yield, not just for short term returns, but for the long run, you and me, our kids, the frogs, the planet. BAU is going to run it all into the ground.
We need a paradigm shift, a complete refiguring of business as usual. We need a TARP for the people and the environment. There are potential bright spots. One, with the coming city council election, there’s a chance to elect some new blood that has sustainability values, and to create a council majority that will direct the city to take necessary actions on housing, wages, climate policy and otherwise. Two, the Sustainable Sonoma initiative by the Sonoma Ecology Center has great potential, if business and economic actors can actually change their growth channel to come into a carrying capacity, sustainability tent. Three, the Just Recovery Alliance is putting together sustainable action plans for housing and jobs.
At the city and county we need three votes for bold vision and paradigm shift. Business as usual has got to go. At home we need to consume less, drive less, and dial down our energy and natural resource use, and to show up to support our three votes and put sustainable wind in thier sails.