Kate Cagle

Daily Press Staff Writer

If it’s possible for a modern Santa Monican to truly be carbon neutral, Cris Gutierrez sets the standard.

She gave up her car nearly two decades ago to limit her emissions while commuting. She lives in a small apartment.

She stopped eating meat.

She grows a community garden offset any emissions from her day-to-day life and composts to keep carbon in the ground.

“In every facet of my life, I’m trying to sensitize myself to how I can do it with less carbon use,” said the Climate Action Santa Monica co-chair and community educator.

While one person may not be able to reverse climate change, Gutierrez’s growing summer internship program, Climate Corps, is giving her an opportunity to preach among the converted.

For the second summer in a row, about a dozen paid interns spread the gospel of carbon neutrality at the Pier, farmer’s markets and other city events.

“It was a way to help the young people show people in the community we are paying attention … and here is what you can do about this crisis we all face,” Gutierrez said.

The United Nations issued a new Emissions Gap report Monday, warning that even with full implementation of the Paris Agreement, global temperatures are still on track to rise by 3 degrees Celsius by 2100.

The report urges the private sector, cities and private citizens to urgently pursue actions that will bring deeper and more-rapid cuts to carbon emissions.

“Should the United States follow through with its stated intention to leave the Paris Agreement in 2020, the picture could become even bleaker,” states the report.

Next week, global climate change leaders including Gov. Jerry Brown will meet in Germany for the U.N. Climate Change Conference.

The Climate Corps started as a pilot in 2016 to help spread the word about the Expo Line and how public transportation can reduce carbon emissions from cars.

Over the first summer the thirteen interns handed out about 1,000 TAP cards to encourage new ridership. A year later, Gutierrez received triple the amount of applications to join the group in 2017.

Participants can earn a $1,000 stipend if they meet certain internship obligations.

The Corps takes high school and college students but received applications from a wide age range.

Gutierrez joked they would soon be making “future Climate Corps” onesies for infants. Part of the surge in applications came in response to the current national political climate.

“Every single one of the applicants said they want to be a part of this because it’s getting so urgent – because the climate is heating up and people don’t get it,” Gutierrez said.

For three of the interns, the summer culminated in a trip to Pittsburgh to attend Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leaders Corps to learn from the former Vice President and top scientists about Climate Change.

Those students are now trained in giving Gore’s famous slideshow.

The Corps is part of a city-wide effort to set the standard for how a community can make a meaningful impact on the planet. Later this year, the City plans to release an ambitious Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.

The City is committed to water self-sufficiency by 2020, zero waste by 2030, and carbon neutrality by 2050.

The interns focused on projects that interested them and engaged the community through about 1,2000 conversations over the course of a few months.

The one-on-one talks about Climate Change ranged from five to thirty minutes, when the Corps aimed to educate residents and tourists on the steps they can take to reduce their personal carbon footprint.

“We wanted to focus on the education of the Climate Corps members themselves,” Environmentalist Zachary Gaidzik said during a recent presentation to the City Council.

“We wanted to give them an opportunity to delve deeper into a special project…facts need to matter again.”

About 700 people (half of them locals) filled out Climate Corps surveys, with nearly half of those respondents promised to make a personal shift such as riding their bike more often to fight Climate Change.

The program left the leadership feeling optimistic about the future.

“The real Paris Agreement is between all of us and the planet,” Gutierrez said.

“It’s about understanding your own individual actions.”


Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press