Photograph by Carlie Statsky
Idea guy: Ross Clark thinks up ways to trim the city of Santa Cruz's carbon footprint.
Meet Ross Clark, the man whose job it is to reduce Santa Cruz's carbon footprint. Our special Climate Change Issue also includes an essay by environmentalist Bill McKibben and a look at California's anti-warming laws.
An interview with Climate Change Coordinator Ross Clark With introduction by Steve Hahn
The falling ice was like music to Ross Clark's ears. Cooped up in his room at Antarctica's Palmer Station, Clark knew he was hearing the sound of ice sheets slipping into the frigid southern waters. At the time Clark, an undergraduate studying abroad, was simply amazed at his luck. After all, few ever get to see this massive natural process at work.
Soon after returning from his trip, however, Clark learned of a worrying trend playing out all over the globe. It was 1990, and reports were surfacing that this melting had been accelerating over the years, and not just in Antarctica. The culprit was an overall rise in global temperatures that had taken a sharp upward swing in the last half of the 20th century as greenhouse gases began to accumulate in the earth's atmosphere.
This was the moment Clark realized that conditions for life on Earth were sustained by a delicate balance that could be all too easily disturbed by human activity.
Now, as Climate Change Coordinator for the city of Santa Cruz, Clark, who turns 41 this month, looks forward to galvanizing the local community to do its part to curb those gases and the devastating change they've wrought.Clark comes to the city with a rich background in marine sciences, including a master's degree from the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, consultancy work with the California Department of Fish and Game and a stint at the Regional Water Control Board. Today he still has a steady job in this field, working for the Coastal Commission to improve water quality and restore native wetlands. He will continue this job concomitantly with the part-time Climate Action Coordinator position.Clark, who will be paid $45/hour for his efforts, steps up to some hefty challenges. The city's general plan, in section NRC4, calls for a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and an 80 percent drop by 2050. This week, to mark the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, Metro Santa Cruz sits down with the city's ambitious new enviro-warrior to discuss how the city can rise to the challenges of a warming world.
METRO SANTA CRUZ: The Climate Change Coordinator is a new position in the Santa Cruz city government, so it would seem that you have a bit of leeway in shaping that role. What is your vision for the climate action coordinator position?
ROSS CLARK: Mayors Reilly and Coonerty and the rest of the council and a lot of staff have put tons of work into engaging with the community and coming up with some very sound but aggressive climate change response policies. Everyone has already adopted the idea that this is important and that we need to do something now. My responsibilities are to come up with an achievable strategy to move forward to achieve those goals. ... What I'd like to see is us moving towards a more sustainable community, where we can walk and do everything we need to do locally within our community, so that we don't have to drive.
Transportation accounts for a great deal of the greenhouse gas emissions in Santa Cruz. What are your plans to reduce those emissions?
Transit accounts for about 33 percent of all emissions within the city. I think we need to consider whether or not rail is going to be part of the county's long-term vision, regardless of what we're going to do with the highway. In a lot of ways the highway is a corridor to over the hill, whereas the rail could be a corridor to Watsonville and all the communities in between, which I think could provide a lot of exciting opportunities for increasing our local economy and enabling a lot of us to get out of the car and be able to work closer to home. A rail system could possibly reduce our emissions from autos by 20 or 30 percent as well as enhancing the local economy because we're keeping people here to go shopping and not sending them over the hill. I also see linkages to smaller communities like Capitola, Aptos and Soquel. There are incredible opportunities in those cities to provide enhanced economic opportunities to their downtown areas so they don't have to look to sprawl to new areas to bring in retail, but can provide a downtown environment like we have here on Pacific Avenue.
When I spoke with you earlier regarding solar technology, you mentioned you'd like to coordinate with the local business and investor communities to enhance the solar installation process. Do you have ideas on how that might be accomplished?
One avenue we're looking at presently is the Berkeley model. That is primarily for individual landowners to integrate solar as part of their property and link that to property taxes to offset the initial investment (see "Current Affairs," News&Views, Nov. 7). I think we're going to continue to move forward on looking at that as a viable option. I don't see it as the only option, though. Right now we're linked to the global energy crisis. If there's another shortage of natural gas, electricity prices are going to go up. As gasoline continues to increase in price, it becomes something we use a lot of resources on and then ship them somewhere else to bring in energy. If we can keep those investments local I see it as a benefit to us as well as helping us deal with climate change. I'd much rather generate electricity from solar panels and run a plug-in hybrid off of my own electricity as opposed to being reliant upon oil or electricity prices.
Or the stability of Kind Saud's regime.
In that same vein, one of the things you mentioned and one of the concepts codified in the Climate Action Compact was attracting clean energy technology companies to Santa Cruz. Do you have ideas on how that might be accomplished?
First we have to make the statement that this is an important part of the business community we want to enhance. I don't have the background or knowledge on what the best incentives are to entice those types of industry. But I think being receptive and vocal about our interest in having that be part of our industry base is the first step. From there, I hope that the Chamber of Commerce and other local business partners might be able to help us come up with strategies to accommodate that kind of industry, whether it be through zoning or some other mechanism. Having those industries local will then be a potential for collaboration between developers and end-users. I think we're already seeing that with the solar installation business. It's a win-win.
Another thing you mentioned during our previous interview was that you wanted to plan with the community before any concrete program went into place. Can you talk to the importance of that in someplace like Santa Cruz?
The best thing about including the community is that everyone has a different perspective. I'm not a small business owner, I don't rent a house and I don't go the university, so everyone has their own needs and objectives. I bet there are a lot of strategic solutions out there that I haven't thought of or found in the literature on other community's plans. That's where we can really use the local knowledge base and be a leader.
If certain predictions concerning climate change turn out to be true, the city may face water shortages more frequently. Have you developed ideas on how this might be addressed?
I don't think we've incorporated as much conservation as the community is willing to accommodate. I think it's a combination of long-term planning that the Water District is already doing in addition to having a dialogue about how to conserve more and integrate the water we currently use more wisely. Is it through drought-resistant planting? Is it through collection of rainwater for irrigation? Is it gray water [recycled wastewater]? There are a lot of options out there that we haven't investigated yet.
I had heard that the desalination plant energy use would be offset with solar panels.
They are going to increase the number of solar panels on their facilities in the next year partly to offset any use of the desalination plant. I think that's great and a smart policy, but it'd be nice if we didn't have to use the desalination plant so we could be offsetting other carbon emissions using those same solar panels.
Besides solar, do you see other alternative energy sources being used in Santa Cruz?
I think the dialogue has to be about which one is cost-effective and environmentally more protective than not meeting our climate objectives or going to offsets that don't always have the best environmental records in terms of sustaining the indigenous environment. I think it needs to be a dialogue about what can help us meet our goals, what we can actually afford and what is the most conscientious of our local environment. Is it wave energy? Tide energy? Solar, wind, nuclear? These are all questions. I'd like to see how we can accommodate our energy needs without having to switch to another 20th century energy source, which I think nuclear is.
You're Getting Warmer
The Kyoto Protocol began the race to halt global warming. On its 10th anniversary, why are we barely past the starting gate?
By Bill McKibben
I remember so well the final morning hours of the Kyoto conference. The negotiations had gone on long past their scheduled evening close, and the convention center management was frantic—a trade show for children's clothing was about to begin, and every corner of the vast hall still was littered with the carcasses of the sleeping diplomats who had gathered in Japan to draw up a first-ever global treaty to curb greenhouse-gas emissions. But when word finally came that an agreement had been reached, people roused themselves with real enthusiasm—lots of backslapping and hugs. A long decade after the first powerful warnings had sounded, it seemed that humans were finally rising to the greatest challenge we'd ever faced.The only long face in the hall belonged to William O'Keefe, chairman of the Global Climate Coalition, otherwise known as the American coal, oil and car lobby. He'd spent the week coordinating the resistance—working with Arab delegates and Russian industrialists to sabotage the emerging plan. And he'd failed. "It's in free fall now," he said, stricken. But then he straightened his shoulders and said, "I can't wait to get back to Washington where we can get things under control."
I thought he was whistling past the graveyard. In fact, he knew far better than the rest of us what the future would hold. He knew it would be at least another decade before anything changed.
Ten Years Warmer
The important physical-world reality to know about the 10 years after Kyoto is that they included the warmest years on record. All of the warmest years on record. In that span of time, we've come to understand that not only is the globe warming, but also that we'd dramatically underestimated the speed and the size of that warming. By now, the data from the planet outstrips the scientific prediction on an almost daily basis. Earlier this fall, for instance, the melt of Arctic sea ice beat the old record. Beat it in mid-August, and then the ice kept melting for six more weeks, losing an area the size of California every week. "Scientists shaken by rapid melt of Arctic ice," the headline in The New York Times reported. And they were shaken by rapid changes in tundra-permafrost systems, not to mention rain-forest systems, temperate-soil carbon-sequestration systems, oceanic-acidity systems.
We've gone from a problem for our children to a problem for right about now, as evidenced by, oh, Hurricane Katrina, California wildfires, epic droughts in the Southeast and Southwest. And that's just the continental United States. Go to Australia sometime: It's gotten so dry there that native Aussie Rupert Murdoch recently announced that his News Corp. empire was going carbon neutral. The important political-world reality to know about the 10 years after Kyoto is that we haven't done anything. Oh, we've passed all kinds of interesting state and local laws, wonderful experiments that have begun to show just how much progress is possible. But in Washington, D.C., nothing. No laws at all. Until last year, when the GOP surrendered control of Congress, even the hearings were a joke, with "witnesses" like novelist Michael Crichton. And as a result, our emissions have continued to increase. Worse, we've made not the slightest attempt to shift China and India away from using their coal. Instead of an all-out effort to provide the resources so they could go renewable, we've stood quietly by and watched from the sidelines as their energy trajectories shot out of control: The Chinese now are opening a new coal-fired plant every week. History will regard even the horror in Iraq as one more predictable folly next to this novel burst of irresponsibility.
A Hint of a Movement
If you're looking for good news, there is some. For one thing, we understand the technologies and the changes in habit that can help. The last 10 years have seen the advent of hybrid cars and the widespread use of compact fluorescent light bulbs. Wind power has been the fastest-growing source of electric generation throughout the period. Japan and then Germany have pioneered with great success the subsidy scheme required to put millions of solar panels up on rooftops.
Even more important, a real movement has begun to emerge in this country. It began with Katrina, which opened eyes.
Al Gore gave those eyes something to look at: His movie made millions realize just what a pickle we were in. Many of those, in turn, became political activists. Earlier this year, six college students and I launched StepItUp07.org, which has organized almost 2,000 demonstrations in all 50 states. Last month, the student climate movement drew 7,000 hardworking kids from campuses all over the country for a huge conference. We've launched a new grassroots coalition, 1Sky.org, that will push both Congress and the big Washington environmental groups.
All this work has tilted public opinion—new polls actually show energy and climate change showing up high on the list of issues that voters care about, which in turn has made the candidates take notice. All the Democrats are saying more or less the right things, though none of them, save John Edwards, is saying them with much volume.
The Race of All Time
Now it's a numbers game. Can we turn that political energy into change fast enough to matter?
On the domestic front, the numbers look like this: We've got to commit to reductions in carbon emissions of 80 percent by 2050, and we've got to get those cuts underway fast— 10 percent in just the next few years. Markets will help—if we send them the information that carbon carries a cost. Only government can do that.Two more numbers we're pushing for: zero, which is how many new coal-fired power plants we can afford to open in America, and 5 million, which is how many green jobs Congress needs to provide for the country's low-skilled workers. All that insulation isn't going to stuff itself inside our walls, and those solar panels won't crawl up on the roofs by themselves. You can't send the work to China, and you can't do it with a mouse: This is the last big chance to build an economy that works for most of us. Internationally, the task is even steeper. The Kyoto Accord, which we ignored, expires in a couple of years. Negotiations begin this month in Bali to strike a new deal, and it's likely to be the last bite at the apple we'll get—miss this chance and the climate likely spirals out of control. We have a number here, too: 450, as in parts-per-million carbon dioxide. It's the absolute upper limit on what we can pour into the atmosphere, and it will take a heroic effort to keep from exceeding it. This is a big change—even 10 years ago, we thought the safe level might be 550. But the data is so clear: The Earth is far more finely balanced than we thought, and our peril much greater. Our foremost climate scientist, NASA's James Hansen, testified under oath in a courtroom last year that if we didn't stop short of that 450 red line, we could see the sea level rise 20 feet before the century was out. That's civilization-challenging. That's a carbon summer to match any nuclear winter that anyone ever dreamed about.
It's a test, a kind of final exam for our political, economic and spiritual systems. And it's a fair test, nothing vague or fuzzy about it. Chemistry and physics don't bargain. They don't compromise. They don't meet us halfway. We'll do it or we won't. And 10 years from now, we'll know which path we chose.
Bill McKibben, a scholar in residence at Middlebury College, is an author and environmentalist who frequently writes about global warming.
The View From Kyoto
Without U.S. participation, the first-ever global-warming treaty was doomed to only partial success. Will Bali be better?
By Ed Smeloff
Kyoto in December 1997 was festive. I was there as an observer for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and was working in tandem with a journalist who was reporting for Salon.
Kyoto residents, dressed up as rabbits, ducks and trees, marched through the streets in well-choreographed demonstrations. Banners and placards in Japanese and English filled the air. Some Aussies brandished a red banner with a Bunsen burner cooking the planet from down under.
Inside the Kyoto conference center, activists scurried around trying to figure out what was going on in the closed-door negotiations. Business trade organizations set up booths promoting their technologies. Toyota passed out refrigerator magnets touting its new hybrid-electric eco-car that it promised to bring to market soon.
For the first seven days, the European Union and the United States haggled over how much greenhouse gases to cut and how much flexibility to provide in the treaty. Enviros complained the United States wanted so many loopholes—"flexibility mechanisms," to use the language of the diplomats—that the treaty would be toothless. On the eighth day, then-Vice President Al Gore flew in and told the U.S. delegation to compromise. Later, Gore symbolically signed the protocol on behalf of the United States.
Gore, who stated in his 1992 book Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit that "we must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization," was an enigmatic figure for many attending the Kyoto conference. No political persona understood the issue of climate change better than Gore. Yet even before the Kyoto conference it was clear the Clinton-Gore administration would not fight for ratification of the treaty in the Senate.
Seven years later the treaty became international law, ratified by 169 countries. Among developed nations, only the United States and Australia have been AWOL. A core principle of the treaty is that the nations of the world have "common but differentiated responsibilities" in controlling greenhouse-gas emissions. That phrase is an acknowledgment that the developed countries of the world are responsible for most of the damaging emissions in the atmosphere and need to take the first steps to reduce emissions. Developing countries, like India and China, are not required to meet specific emission targets during the first compliance period (2008-12).The Bush administration has argued that the United States should not be compelled to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions since China is not required to do so. And although the United States never officially withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, the treaty was never sent to the Senate for ratification.
Instead of reducing its emissions 7 percent below 1990 levels, as Kyoto called for, the United States has allowed its 1990-2005 emissions to increase by 16.3 percent. Among European nations, only the United Kingdom and Sweden now are achieving real reductions in greenhouse gases. The most significant emissions reductions in the last 10 years have come from the collapse of industrial enterprises in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
A Failed Success
Looking back 10 years, it would be easy to argue that the Kyoto Protocol has been a failure. Without U.S. participation, it was doomed, at best, to only partial success. However, during the past 10 years the awareness of the impact of climate change and the impetus for strong action has grown. Devastating hurricanes, fierce wildfires, prolonged droughts and cataclysmic flooding have defined what is at stake.
This month, the nations of the world will come together in Bali, Indonesia, to start negotiating for a post-2012 climate plan. What happens in Bali will set the stage for the next U.S. administration.
The magnitude of what needs to be done to stabilize the planet's climate can hardly be understated. We must transform the ways we produce electricity, heat our homes, power our factories and transport ourselves. We need to cut the use of fossil fuels by at least 50 percent, and maybe more, by 2050. We don't have any time to lose.
Ed Smeloff has 20-plus years of expertise in energy policy and resource planning. He now works as a senior manager for project development at Sharp Solar Energy Solutions Group in Southern California.
The California Experiment
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the mathematics of carbon
By Cosmo Garvin
If you wiped California off the face of the planet, just made it disappear—left behind no car or SUV, politician, person or cow—you'd eliminate only about 1.6 percent of the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet. Keep California and lose Texas, and you'd more or less double the benefit to the planet, but you'd still be a long way short of solving the problem of global warming.So it's hard at first to see how California's highly touted experiment in planet saving, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, or just A.B. 32 for short, is going to make much of a difference.But on a human scale, on the scale of what government can do, A.B. 32 is an enormous undertaking. "We've got only five years to develop regulations for every sector of society," explained Stanley Young of the California Air Resources Board (CARB).
The plan was signed into law by Gov. Schwarzenegger in 2006, and its goal is to reduce California's greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. In that way, A.B. 32 is meant to mirror the Kyoto Protocol.
In 2007, California is expected to put about 496 million metric tons (MMT) of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Most of it is carbon dioxide, but mixed in there are nitrogen oxide, methane and a whole cocktail of less common but more harmful gases produced by transportation and industry. So, what do 496 MMT of greenhouse gases look like? CARB figures that just 1 MMT of CO2 would fill 200,000 hot-air balloons. So, all of California's greenhouse gases for a year would fit into about 99 million hot air balloons.Right now, the best estimate we have for greenhouse gas emissions for California in 1990 is somewhere around 436 MMT. Getting from 496 to 436 doesn't sound all that impressive. Just as 87 million hot air balloons doesn't sound any more manageable than 99 million.
But take the longer view. If we do nothing to slow the steady growth of CO2 and other global-warming pollutants, we'll reach something close to 680 MMT of the stuff by the year 2020. Suddenly, just getting back to the pollution levels of 1990 looks pretty good.
CARB has until December 2008 to figure out how to get California there. According to the law, all of the regulations to meet the 2020 goal have to be in place, and in force, by 2012.
One of the most promising tools California has in its climate-change toolbox is A.B. 1493, also called the Pavley bill, after its author, former Assemblymember Fran Pavley. The Pavley bill requires that, by 2020, all cars and trucks sold in California emit 30 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions from their tailpipes. That's about 30 MMT—or 17 percent of the overall goal of A.B. 32.
The problem is that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency won't let California enforce the Pavley bill. Two years ago, the state asked for a waiver from the federal government to enforce the rule, because auto makers argued that only the federal government, not California, could make regulations that would affect fuel efficiency. Two years later, the Bush administration still isn't saying whether it will grant the waiver or not. In fact, California had to sue the federal government last month just to try and get an answer. If the answer turns out to be "no," then California likely will sue again.
Setting aside the uncertain future of the Pavley bill, the next big category of greenhouse-gas reductions come in the form of CARB's "early action items," some of which are supposed to go into effect by 2010, many more by 2012. Each of these chip away at California's total inventory of greenhouse gases. In combination, the early action rules are supposed to move California another 24 percent closer to the overall goal of A.B. 32.For example, requiring ships at California ports to get electricity from shore, rather than from their own diesel engines, could shave off about 500,000 metric tons from California's greenhouse-gas inventory. Similar benefits are predicted for rules requiring people to keep their tires properly inflated, and for tougher regulations on the manufacture of semiconductors.
Requiring trucking companies to make their rigs more aerodynamic will net a little over 1 MMT. And capturing more methane from landfills could knock out 2 to 4 MMT of greenhouse gases. Altogether CARB is proposing 44 different regulations just to cobble together that 24 percent. And any one of these regulations could be a potential political fight. Each regulation affects a particular industry or a particular part of the California lifestyle.
Let's see: 17 percent plus 24 percent ... that leaves 59 percent of the CO2 pie still to be accounted for. CARB only has until the end of 2008 to figure out where those remaining reductions will come from. Some of the rules are on the drawing board already. The state's "Low Carbon Fuel Standard," called for in an executive order from Gov. Schwarzenegger earlier this year, could reduce California's total emissions by 10 to 20 MMT a year. California's laws requiring the state to use more renewable energy should also contribute to the reductions.
After all that, you still end up putting just as much CO2 into the air in 2020 as you did a generation earlier. But you would also be the first generation to force the line on the graph measuring global-warming pollution to go down, instead of up. And that's a good thing.
Cosmo Garvin is a senior staff writer at the Sacramento News & Review.
Send a letter to the editor about this story.