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Weathering the Storm

earth-atmosphereCity of Santa Cruz unveils the latest draft of its Climate Action Plan
“Come gather around people, wherever you roam, and admit that the waters around you have grown.” While Bob Dylan may have written those lyrics as a political metaphor, today they ring true for an entirely different reason—the times are changing, for the planet that is.

Whether it’s global warming or just a rapid intensity in conditions, most people today believe we are living in the times of climate change. Scientists from around the globe believe human activity is to blame for the increase in carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) that quickly gather in our atmosphere. This accumulation of GHGs greatly increases the planet’s natural greenhouse effect, resulting in potentially catastrophic weather conditions. In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.”

Situated on the coastal front lines of the climate battle, it’s no surprise that for decades the City of Santa Cruz has been taking steps to reduce and respond to the changing tides. “Each coastal community has its own concerns around sea levels rising,” explains Ross Clark, Climate Action Coordinator for the City of Santa Cruz.  “Ours are complicated but we’re starting to evaluate what they are and what kinds of actions we can take to reduce and prepare for them.” The latest of these actions have taken form in the newly released draft of the Climate Action Plan (CAP).

Co-authored by Clark, the Climate Action Team Support, Collette Streight, and Climate Action Analyst Charlie Lewis, the CAP is a detailed outline of steps the city and its partners can take to meet the GHG reduction goals that were adopted in 2007 under the General Plan 2030 (GP2030). “Basically [GP2030] is what initiated the establishment of my position as the Climate Action Coordinator,” Clark states.

The 2007 goals call for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent under 1996 levels by the year 2030, and by 80 percent in the year 2050. While this task may have seemed daunting to some, Clark and his team jumped at the opportunity. By taking an inventory of local GHG emissions, Clark was able to establish energy levels for municipal, residential and commercial sectors in previous years. Once this was accomplished, they created the Climate Action Plan guidelines in order to meet the reduction goals in a reasonable manner.

Not surprisingly, the CAP found that transportation is one of the greatest GHG perpetrators, creating 34 percent of the county’s total emissions. To combat this, the plan calls for a 30 percent reduction in “around town” car trips that they say can be obtained through an increase in pedestrian and bicycle paths. While the Santa Cruz Metro bus system already has some of the highest ridership rates in California, the CAP states that with the continued partnership with UC Santa Cruz, more people can be attracted to public transportation. It even suggests following the lead of other environmentally conscious cities like Boulder, Co. by renaming the bus lines with more eye-catching names like “DASH” and “BOLT.”

One of the more interesting topics discussed in the Climate Action Plan is the establishment of the Santa Cruz Municipal Management Office (SCMMO). Funded by the federal government as outlined in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the “Stimulus Bill”), the SCMMO will investigate the energy use within city departments, then prioritize energy efficiency and reduction projects; a task that, until now, has been left to the individual departments with various success rates. Coordinator Clark puts it another way: “Basically the goal is to save the city more money based on reductions in energy use than it would cost to support the new position.”

In 2007, Santa Cruz implemented the Green Building Program, becoming one of the first cities in the country to require new construction projects be completed with environmentally-friendly designs and materials. However, there’s always room for improvement. Municipal buildings, most of which are 80 years old or more, are outlined in the CAP as needing an efficiency tune-up. The plan found several cost-effective ways to improve energy waste, such as replacing single-paned windows and insulation, and even replacing old appliances. Surprisingly, if inefficient appliances throughout Santa Cruz County were replaced with their updated models today, 500 million kilowatt hours of electricity, or roughly $76 million, could be saved as soon as 2013.

Updating appliances is only one of many options that residents can also take upon themselves in the fight against climate change. “It’s amazing how much energy you can save if you replace a 10 year old refrigerator,” explains Clark. “It conserves energy, improves your standard of living and will pay for itself after a couple years.”

The CAP also highlights several other areas that the public can participate in reducing greenhouse gases. Studies in the CAP claim that “the modest objective of helping 5,000 Santa Cruz homes install solar [panels] by 2020, that would equal. … 25 percent of residential use.” The plan also recognizes the fact that this might be harder than it sounds given that roughly half of all residents are renters and therefore don’t have an incentive to invest in such changes. “The fact that we have a significant rental population hasn’t alluded us,” assures Clark.

With that in mind, the draft calls for residents and businesses to take part in the Santa Cruz Citizen’s Climate Action Pledge and participate in reducing personal greenhouse emissions. “Nobody can reduce their footprint 30 percent instantaneously,” says Clark. “The pledge is to reduce your greenhouse gas footprint 10 percent in the next year and then 2 percent annually thereafter.”

To aid in this task the city has already created a Climate Action Team Program: a six-week curriculum that educates people in energy efficiency, sustainable living and greenhouse gas reduction. During the course, participants are shown how to calculate their carbon footprint and then are shown techniques in how to reduce it. As CAP co-author Collette Streight explains, “Typical actions include reducing the amount of trash they throw away by composting, reducing packaging waste, and recycling; reducing the amount of hot water they use by putting low flow fixtures on their showers and faucets, etc.”

While the Climate Action Plan outlines a plethora of actions that can be taken by the city (and its residents) to reduce greenhouse emissions, it is still only a draft until early November, when the city will vote on whether or not to accept it. Until then, the public is invited to participate in the various city council hearings on the CAP; the dates and times are available on the Climate Action Program’s website, 30x20.org.

Yes, Mr. Dylan, “the times they are-a changin’” and “it doesn’t take a weatherman to see which way the wind is blowing.” As Ross Clark sums it up, “Climate change is something that we’re going to have to address now and far into the future. Anything that we can do now will better prepare Santa Cruz to weather any environmental consequences.”

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written by Jim Dougherty, September 24, 2010
Only plans to reduce the local production of greenhouse gases were identified in this article. The problem however is global and with the melting of the arctic ice sheet and glaciers the ocean level will rise. This is a threat to Santa Cruz that cannot be mitigated only by reducing our carbon footprint. Do we have a community continuity plan should rising ocean levels impact our community?

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