“We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.”
These words, spoken by President Barack Obama at the unveiling of his historic Clean Power Plan last week, should serve as a sobering reminder of just how urgent the crisis facing our planet is today.
The Clean Power Plan has been rightly celebrated as a huge step forward in the fight against catastrophic global climate change. While we are celebrating, however, we, who care about leaving our children with a still-hospitable planet, must also remember that the Clean Power Plan is one tool, albeit an effective one, of many that we must deploy to save this planet for future life.
The Clean Power Plan’s ambitious goal of reducing carbon pollution from power plants by 32 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 would have the same impact on carbon emissions as getting 166 million cars off the road, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Power plant emissions are a big contributor to carbon pollution, about 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from power production nationwide, but so is our ongoing dependence on the combustion engine. In California and Santa Monica, transportation is the greatest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
In Santa Monica, we are working to lead the way, on a local level, to take real action on both fronts. The city’s pioneering Solar Santa Monica effort helped bring energy independence to homeowners. Our Pico Branch library just received the highest environmental certification for new buildings. The Big Blue Bus now uses frack- and fossil-free natural gas, a major step toward reducing emissions and the environmental impacts of transportation.
If Santa Monica truly is a progressive city, however, it is incumbent on us not only to just “do our part,” but to go above and beyond and lead the region, the state, and even the country forward beyond outdated and unsustainable modes of urban design, transportation, and energy and water consumption.
The city is working with its neighbors to meet our power needs with renewable electricity through a community choice clean energy program (known as Community Choice Aggregation, or CCA), bringing solar and other green forms of energy to more Santa Monicans. We should lead our neighbors in making sure this program comes to fruition.
And, we must do more to provide publicly-accessible electric vehicle chargers in residential neighborhoods, so that zero-emissions vehicles aren’t just a niche product for people who own their own garage.
When the Expo line opens to the public next year, it can transform the way most people get around, but only if we embrace the opportunity to create denser, mixed-use communities where people live, work, and play within a convenient distance of transit. We must also create better bike, transit, and rideshare connections from other parts of the city to our stations while pushing neighboring cities to do the same.
As our city manager said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Expo is the biggest change in Santa Monica since the I-10 freeway opened.
Daily, the eastbound lanes of the I-10 are jammed with traffic by people leaving jobs in Santa Monica. Santa Monica created tens of thousands of new jobs in the 1980s and 1990s, but added only hundreds of new homes. The resulting imbalance forces employees to commute to work by car daily, exacerbating greenhouse gas emissions while making Santa Monicans feel trapped in their city for several hours each evening.
We need to make sure that we allow for abundant housing — both affordable and market-rate — to be built in our city near transit. That is the only way we can begin to undo the consequences of decades of regional, car-centric sprawl, which has choked our streets with traffic and our skies with pollution.
By taking the lead on sustainable housing growth as well as these other vital issues, we can show other cities that the goals of improving the quality of life for residents and becoming an environmentally sustainable community are actually one in the same.
Fighting climate change isn’t about ideology; it is about ensuring our planet can sustain life for generations to come. Now is the time to take real, measurable action because, as President Obama said, we won’t get a second chance.
Katherine King, Craig Hamilton, Juan Matute, Judy Abdo, Jason Islas, Cynthia Rose, and Elena Christopoulos for Santa Monica Forward. Read previous columns at www.santamonicaforward.org/news.