For more than a year now in this blog I’ve been researching and reporting on climate change, energy and transportation issues and related environmental stories covering them on both a personal and a global perspective. I haven’t been breaking any hard news, I’ve just been spreading the news that doesn’t get enough attention and adding my take on top of it for the majority of my readers who don’t have the time to dig as deep as I do.
That’s what happens when you start each morning reading blog’s like Joseph Romm’s Climate Progress and following the work of Dr. James Hansen and the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change.
But during this same past year, I’ve also been attending the meetings of the South Bay Cities Green Task Force.
I’m there as one of the only independent citizens – and of course as the Creative Greenius, but I’m mostly there because I’m an aspiring policy wonk and I eat the content of these meetings up. The truth is, I’m unabashedly fascinated by and truly interested in the work they’re doing. And the work they’re doing brings California’s leading edge fight against global warming right into my neighborhood and into my home. It is, as the cliche puts it, where the rubber meets the road, and the road is the street I live on.
The Green Task Force is made up of city staff members and elected officials of the 11 South Bay Cities that are part of the COG, the Council of Governments, and last week they all gathered at the Main Redondo Beach Library for a meeting that really turned me on – and if you lived here in the legendary South Bay of Los Angeles county in Southern California you’d be as geeked as I am over hearing about the Climate Action Plans of our 11 cities, including the one for my own home for the past 16 years, Torrance.
First off you might be surprised that our cities have Climate Action Plans, but don’t be. We’re all under the mandates of the AB32, our groundbreaking Global Warming Solutions law that calls for all of California to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels.
If you know the Greenius you know I’m a huge fan of AB 32. I’d like to have me a cool AB 32 Global Warming Solutions letterman style jacket with leather sleeves I’m so passionate about my support for this bill. It’s another one of those bold, environmental leadership jobs that my state of California has been taking on since the days of Governor Jerry Brown. When it comes to standing up and showing the other 49 states in the union the way to go, California has been doing it for my entire adult life and I’m proud of my Golden State.
Now getting our emissions back down to 1990 levels is going to be tough enough, but getting an accurate read on just what our levels were in 1990 has also been a huge undertaking. It basically involves doing a “carbon inventory” of your city and using special software to plug in all the numbers. That’s a lot of extra work for city staffs that are already understaffed and overworked.
And that’s where the Green Task Force comes in. Bringing all 11 cities together for regular meetings, workshops and working groups, all the cities get to share notes and experiences, pool their knowledge, get answers to their questions and use the COG’s valuable resources. One of the most effective of those resources is the South Bay Environmental Services Center – not just for the free services they offer cities, their businesses and their residents but also for world class volunteers like me, your almost humble Creative Greenius.
But if I’m going to single out valuable human resources I’ve got to offer up the COG’s Climate Action Plan Coordinator, Heidi Aten, who is helping each city tabulate their carbon footprint. How cool a job is that?
Heidi has been working with the South Bay cities in completing the baseline inventories of their Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. She’s been assisting the COG cities as they: gather and analyze data from all sources; troubleshoot problems; and create reports that are not only consistent but also information-based for each city. Nobody has their finger on where each city’s emissions are at as Heidi does.
Working with Heidi, cities have been gathering data from Southern California Edison, The Gas Company, waste haulers and other contractors using Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) software, which was developed for specifically compiling this diverse data. With ICLEI software, reports are being generated for 1990, 2005, and 2007 city energy use, as well as using data and ICLEI reports to determine an emissions reduction goal for each city.
Everyone knows the big picture of what’s coming as a result of AB 32, but the city level specifics are just getting ready to be released by the California Air Resources Board as their scoping plan comes up for approval on Thursday of this week. By being pro-active for the past year, our COG cities are now in a position to respond in the urgent time frame this climate crisis calls for.
Last Thursday, Heidi, along with COG Executive Director, Jackie Bacharach and Marilyn Lyons, Program Manager of the Environmental Services Center brought together a panel for the Green Task Force meeting that held my rapt attention for two and a half hours while I furiously scribbled notes and questions.
Colleen Callahan, the Manager of Air Quality Policy and Advocacy for the American Lung Association kicked things off to let the cities know about the resources the Lung Association has available for them. I hadn’t really thought of the Lung Association being a player on the global warming or GHG emissions issues but I was just ignorant about what they’re doing. Colleen, for instance, serves the communities of Greater Los Angeles with an emphasis in reducing toxic air pollution from the transportation sector. She discussed the resource packet her organization put together for the South Bay cities which included best practices guidance, a climate action plan template and financial resources cities have available to them, among other items.
Colleen was followed by Louise Bedsworth, a Research Fellow with the Public Policy Institute who reviewed their latest findings on public support for government action on global warming, support which is considerable. The PPIC’s report on Preparing California for Climate Change is both a Tex Avery-style eye opener and a must read if you’d like to know what’s coming.
Bedsworth is a real climate change heavyweight who spent three years as the Senior Vehicles Analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists and now focuses on climate change policy and air quality planning for the PPIC. I could have listened to her talk for the whole two and a half hours.
Next up was Gretchen Hardison, the Director of Climate & Air Programs for Enviornment L.A. who filled the South Bay cities in on what the big city to the North East is doing under the direction of Mayor Villaraigosa. The Green L.A. plan aims to be the most ambitous green program of any major city in the United States and they just might meet those expectation if Antonio stays as mayor and doesn’t opt to move up to the Governor’s mansion in Sacramento – and if Manhattan Beach doesn’t beat them to it.
One surprise to me from her presentation is the fact that street lights are the number two user of electricity in Los Angeles. From my work a few years ago on LumaBright energy efficient lighting, it’s obvious the city can save considerable money and emissions by switching their street lighting to LEDs – just as they have their traffic lights.
The highlight of the day for me was the next panelist, Susan Munves of Santa Monica. When it comes to progressive cities that just flat out get it, Santa Monica is right up there with Berkley for my money.
Susan oversees the development and implementation of the City’s energy and green building programs and policies. She and her team not only ensure that City facilities are energy efficient, they also oversee the purchase of renewable energy for City facilities, manage various community energy efficiency programs – and of key interest to me – directs the Solar Santa Moncia program. With my interest in installing solar on my roof I’ve been closely watching their approach and frankly wishing my own city of Torrance was following their lead. Here’s what Solar Santa Monica tells folks who visit their website:
Solar Santa Monica wants to assist everyone in Santa Monica to take action to reduce energy use and dependence on fossil fuels. The service starts with a free, on-site Solar Site Check – to identify efficiency opportunities, and then to help you understand how solar will impact your bill, how to cut costs using rebates and credits, and where to turn for professional contracting help.
Among other things, Susan spoke about how Santa Monica was already aggressively working to make AB 811 funding available for residents to get the low income loans that allow you to pay off your solar as an assessment on your property taxes over the course of the time you own your home – and without any credit check or income confirmation. So long as your mortgage and property tax bill are in good standing, you’ll get the money.
Again, I’m thinking how handy that would be to me here in Torrance. So I guess your Creative Greenius is just going to have to learn as much as I can about how Santa Monica is approaching things so I can lobby my local city government to use them as a model. Guess I’m just going to have to commit to helping Torrance in any way I can to make that happen.
I love living in Torrance and given my choice I’d rather live here than in Santa Monica, but I’d also love to see Santa Monica’s commitment to renewable energy and green standards become the way we do things here in Torrance and I bet a lot of the Torrance city staff people who attend the Green Task Force meetings might love it too. Rather than just suffer from green envy, I intend to find out.
And I have to tell you, what really blew me away and turned me into a total instant Susan Munves fan was her story of how the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce was on board with their program and partnering with them to see it succeed. Considering the national Chamber of Commerce’s stance questioning global warming and their support for the fossil fuel industry, I thought the support of the Santa Monica Chamber was nothing short of remarkable – – and something to build upon for the cities of the South Bay with our own Chambers.
Pasadena has its own city water and power company which means Pasadena can give its residents the option of buying green power – while at the same time the city has an agreement in place that forces them to buy coal-generated electricity from Utah power plants until the year 2026. Talk about a dichotomy.
Meanwhile Pasadena also has an innovative on-line green training program for both city workers and residents alike.
Finally, rounding out the guest speakers on the panel was the dynamic and engaging, Kreigh Hampel, the Recycling Coordinator of the City of Burbank. He has been in the recycling position for the past five years and oversees the city’s ambitious Zero Waste programs.
Kreigh spoke about how organics, like grass clippings in landfills, drive methane production and he reminded us that methane is a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more potent than CO2. As simple an act as leaving the clippings on the turf from which it’s cut, instead of taking it to the landfill, not only eliminates the emission of methane from that source, but also returns valuable nutrients to the soil. Those nutrients ironically have to be replaced with fertilizers that must be added back to the lawn if the clippings are removed.
Kreigh’s also been an active, hands-on advocate for human-powered transportation in Southern California. He commutes by bike daily and encourages his fellow employees to do the same. At community events Hampel runs a free hands-on bike tune-up workshop. Last year alone, he repaired more than 150 bikes and reached thousands of people with bicycling information. True to form he did not miss the opportunity while addressing the Green Task Force to make a pitch for biking as part of the no carbon transportation solution. As a fellow bike rider, I couldn’t agree more.
The vibe at this Green Task Force meeting was positive and powerfully encouraging. The energy – no pun intended – from the panel was invigorating and I found the whole session motivating and inspiring. There’s so much good work going on and so much yet to be done. I left feeling that I wanted to contribute more than my volunteer work currently accomplishes.
It seems clear that the only thing that can slow all these good people down is the fact that our state of California, like our nation overall, is pretty much flat broke at the moment. Which is why I think citizens like me and you – especially those of us who hold professional talents that could help – need to step up and volunteer to help fill in the gap. So I’m going to keep going to those Green Task Force meetings and I’m going to put out the word that I’m available to help. I’ve got top talent professional colleagues who I know I can bring along as well.
The climate change clock continues to tick on regardless of what happens with our economy or an annual budgets.
We can’t afford to delay or downscale our response at this critical time in combating global warming and meeting our AB 32 goals. If anything, the latest news about climate change should cause us to accelerate our efforts.
It’s put up or shut up time. If you know the Creative Greenius, you know the odds of me shutting up are slim and none… and none just left the building.