Wide-ranging efforts to thwart climate change

This "Forward View" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Lompoc Record on Nov. 12, 2015: http://lompocrecord.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/forward-view/wide-ranging-efforts-to-thwart-climate-change/article_4c829abc-3e78-54c8-bd08-9f3d3503834d.html

This op-ed was also published as a "Looking Forward" piece in the Santa Maria Times on Nov. 13, 2015: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/wide-ranging-efforts-to-thwart-climate-change/article_162fccef-587a-511d-b9a7-ddd685cdfcfd.html

World leaders will meet in Paris this month to come up with an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts of climate change.

If we continue the way we are, the average global temperature could rise 9 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Scientists warn that an increase above 3.6 degrees will cause erratic climate and weather extremes, altered ecosystems and habitats, and risks to human health and society.

World leaders have been meeting for several months laying the groundwork for the summit. They have created plans to limit their greenhouse gas emissions and provide financial assistance to developing countries. Key to reaching climate change targets is helping poor countries get access to clean energy, water and sanitation, gender equality, education and health, while not exceeding climate thresholds.

We must encourage our elected officials to support the summit. We can also support the efforts of organizations that work locally, nationally and internationally to improve our world. One such organization is the Environmental Defense Fund, which works with partners in the U.S. and around the world. It has created a plan to improve climate, oceans, ecosystems and health. Check out Blueprint 2020 for more information: www.edf.org/blueprint2020.

Locally, we can implement climate-action plans our county and city governments have adopted in response to the climate crisis, and to direction from our state, which is a leader on this issue.

For example, Santa Barbara County’s Energy and Climate Action Plan relies on formation of an entity to implement community choice energy (CCE). This will allow local governments in the county — and likely including local governments in Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties — to form a new entity that can purchase and sell electricity to customers.

A CCE entity would be able to purchase energy of its choice, especially from renewable energy sources. It could also incentivize businesses and residents to install solar and other renewable-energy systems and supply excess power to the grid. Existing CCEs have also reduced customers’ bills.

A CCE would thwart utility companies’ attempts to take us backward on generating our own energy. Utility companies in California are trying to reduce the incentives consumers have to put solar panels on their roofs and provide energy to their neighbors. They are asking the Public Utilities Corporation to approve new fees and lower the reimbursement rate for energy added to the grid, among other changes.

We can also rally behind proposals in the Energy Blueprint produced by our county’s Community Environmental Council. CEC makes a strong case that our county can be “fossil free by ‘33.” CEC lays out a plan for us to be fossil-fuel neutral by that time. What fuel we still burn in our cars, homes and businesses can be offset by renewable energy generated in Santa Barbara County and sold to neighboring counties.

CEC says the closest thing to a silver bullet is community choice energy. Other key strategies in the CEC plan focus on our local-built environment and transportation, such as improvements to energy efficiency of buildings and designing of our cities to reduce the distances traveled to work and essential services.

The transportation sector is responsible for a large part of our energy use. We can support policies to make transportation more efficient. We can drive more efficient cars, ride bikes or use more public transportation. There are many other ways to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels. Check out CEC’s well-researched proposals at www.cecsb.org/resources/.

Jeanne Sparks is associate director of Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN). She can be reached at [email protected]. Forward View is a progressive look at local issues.