The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC, just released its most recent and most alarming assessment of where how well we are dealing with and preparing for the accelerating trend of Climate Destabilization... and the prognosis is not good.
It warns that we have only 12 years to take drastic action to prevent a rise that exceed 1.5 degrees centigrade, above which, the consequences will be dire. A specter of drought, floods, extreme heat, and crushing poverty for millions hangs in the balance. It is now understood that even a rise of half a degree would have an exponentially greater impact on the entire biosphere than we have already witnessed
The credibility and the release of this report should be considered beyond reproach by any reasonable person, for among other reasons, because it was approved by 195 member nations, “It’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now,” said Debra Roberts, a co-chair of the working group on impacts. “This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilizes people and dents the mood of complacency.”
Governor Jerry Brown has rolled out his "Integrated Plan for Addressing Climate Change" with ambitious goals to do the following by 2030:
•Reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels
•Reduce petroleum use by 50%
•Increase renewable electricity to 50% of the State's total energy generation
•Double energy efficiency savings in buildings by 50%
•Reduce emissions from tilling and other GHG intensive farming practices
•Reduce so-called "short lived climate pollutants" such as methane and hydrofluorocarbons, which produce a disproportionately powerful heat trapping effect.
Whether these goals can or will be reached, only time will tell. But unfortunately, climate is a global phenomenon, and if only California and a handful of other states take some responsibility for reducing the production of these pollutants, our State's efforts may prove to be of negligible benefit.
Additionally, U.S. as well as global oil production has ramped up significantly, meaning that gasoline supplies should be robust for the foreseeable future. This has kept fuel prices relatively low and along with other trends has caused a counterintuitive shift toward larger vehicles and away from smaller, more fuel efficient models. Though improvements in engine design and technology have increased performance, while reducing gas consumption, those in the market for a new vehicle here in California as well as the rest of the country seem to have little interest in smaller hybrid or full on electric cars which actually are much more efficient. SUVs and trucks certainly provide greater visibility on the road, more safety in the event of an accident and more room to spread out. And with the waistlines of all Americans continuing their expansion, more interior space may indeed be a factor in the attractiveness of larger vehicles. But the free lunch may not last forever.
There is a finite amount of oil in the ground and even now, new technologies will continue to be needed to extract oil from previously inaccessible sources such as shale and through the controversial process called "fracking". And with nearly 30 percent of our carbon emissions coming from the transportation sectors of our communities, it stands to reason that efforts to reduce tailpipe emissions would have the greatest potential for getting us closer to our climate stabilization goals.
The cost of housing in California continues to rise. In spite of this, the State population is expected to rise in the coming years and all of those people will need somewhere to live and unless they'll already retired, they'll need a job. Of course, those communities closest to commercial areas where most of the jobs are will be beyond the reach of all but the highest earners. So the vast majority of workers will most likely need to settle for a living arrangement that is an hour or more from their place of employment, which leads us to the next challenge.
California's Transportation System
If you travel through any major city here in California during commute periods, you'll see that the problem is much larger and more complex than just wringing a few miles per gallon more from our vehicles. Our freeways are beyond capacity. Traffic crawls along for hours, emitting tons of CO2 and other pollutants, achieving nothing but raising the blood pressure of the frustrated commuters. Efforts to get people out of cars and on to public transportation have improved incrementally in some metropolitan areas, but independence seems to be in the DNA of Californian's. We're not used to being packed in like sardines on a bus or train like Europeans or commuters on the Eastern Seaboard.
Adding to the problem, California's cities and suburbs are spread out and not designed for walking. Sure, they may have sidewalks and parks that nobody uses, but the grocery store, the bakery, the yoga studio and the cleaners all require residents to use a vehicle. And efforts to get workers telecommuting have been underwhelming. There are some technology based jobs that can be done remotely, but regardless, even those people need tellers, waiters, clerks and salespeople to be at their stations 5-7 days a week. That is what the "service sector" is all about and it requires a warm body to be in an office, a hotel or store and that necessitates some form of transportation and the burning of fossil fuels somewhere in the chain of transmission.
What Are We Doing Right?
Yes, there are many challenges and as part of California's progressive agenda, our leadership is determined to take the threat seriously and address the issues head on. California has always been at the forefront of many revolutions in technology, science and engineering and as advocates for our environment and we're ahead of the pack on this count as well.
Here are some reasons to be optimistic.
Solar Energy - California is #1 in the implementation of solar. According to a report by CNBC
Nearly 17 percent of California's electricity comes from solar, with the sector there employing more than 86,000 people.
The state is home to some vast solar installations, including the Topaz Solar Farm, a photovoltaic facility that has the capacity to produce 550 megawatts of electricity'.
California Implementation of a Carbon Cap and Trade Program
This requires industrial and commercial entities that are unwilling or unable to reduce carbon emissions to desired levels to offset their impact through contributions to a program that seeks to reduce an equal or greater quantity of carbon somewhere else in the generation cycle.
The Healthy Soils Program -
This program received $7.5 million to implement soil conservation management practices that are known to sequester carbon and reduce GHG emissions.
•Better Wetlands and Watershed Management
•Improving Forest Health to Reduce the Likelihood of Devastating Wild Fires
•Food Waste Prevention Programs,
that seek to reduce the carbon load heading to landfills
All Electric Vehicle Implementation
All electric vehicles use no gas whatsoever and rely entirely on batteries, which can be charged and home and or on the road at designated charging stations. Battery technology is improving, allowing new generations of vehicles to drive more miles on a single charge. More charging stations are being rolled out, though many more are still needed to ease what is known as "range anxiety" for drivers.
Though the electricity to charge plug in automobile batteries must be generated somehow, the grid continues to provide a more diverse blend of renewable as well as conventional energy production methods. Therefore, the full impact on the environment of a given mile driven in an electric vehicle is vastly improved relative to that same mile being driven in a car powered by an internal combustion engine.
Will all these efforts add up to a brighter future, where in we will have dodged the global warming bullet?
No one can really say. But California is often the leader in progressive actions that seek to improve the living standards for current and future generations as well as to preserve the environment for our wild brethren, upon which our complex web of life depends.
Let us hope, that as in years past, most if not all of these United States begin to take the climate thereat seriously and seek to join California in a comprehensive plan that is based on science and that has sufficient funding to deal with the as yet unforeseen additional challenges that are sure to arise.