On January 20, the federal government will be taking a position on global climate change that is inconsistent with what science has been telling us for decades: the globe is warming and humans are causing it. From the West Wing of the White House to the Environmental Protection Agency, the highest and most influential branches of government will start to undo the very little progress that has been made under the Obama administration and start to step backwards.
Specifically, Donald Trump has said he would pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement and destroy Obama’s “Clean Power Plan,” which tries to encourage utilities to lower carbon emissions. The President-Elect has called for opening up federal lands to carbon-based energy exploration and called for scrapping tighter Obama-era regulations on methane, a potent global warming gas, among other proposals.
This is simply not a battle we can give up on, or wait for a future administration to take the lead on. We in Alhambra need to lead. We need to lead with our personal choices and at the state and local level.
According to the 2016 report of the International Panel on Climate Change:
“Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.”
Can Alhambra alone solve global climate change? No. And solving the problem of climate change requires more than simply ceasing to add carbon dioxide and other warming gases into the air. It also means quickly finding ways to remove the carbon dioxide legacy already contaminating our atmosphere. Alhambra can lead by setting standards that reduce the city’s carbon footprint with the eventual goal of getting rid of it altogether.
So I am calling on the City of Alhambra to become a carbon neutral, pro-growth city. Being carbon neutral means that, as a city, we balance the amount of carbon we as a city release into the atmosphere with carbon offsets, or carbon sequestration. The easiest, most cost-effective way to do this is to reduce the amount of carbon released in the first place. Becoming carbon-neutral requires the City Council to establish a long-term goal and instruct city staff to implement it.
There is a group of cities from all over the globe that have created the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance. In this alliance, cities work together to develop best practices for implementing their goals towards being carbon neutral. Among the cities in this alliance, Boulder, Colorado is the most similar to Alhambra with respect to population size. Boulder has set the goal of reducing carbon emissions by at least 80% of 2005 emission levels by 2050, and has started passing legislation to make the installation process of solar panels for residential properties easier as well as to help make solar installations more affordable to its residents. They are also accelerating a program that requires new and renovated residential and commercial buildings to meet net-zero carbon emissions by 2031. Alhambra could easily follow Boulder’s lead.
If we care about what we can do to combat climate change, we should set short and long-term goals. The city council should set the following goal: Reduce Alhambra’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% below 2005 levels by 2050.
In addition to setting that goal, the City Council should immediately etablish a green policy that addresses climate change in the City’s Annual Action plan and five-year Strategic Plan. The City Council should also request that alternative “green” options always be presented when city staff is asked for budgets, proposals, and requests for bids for any new projects. This way, the city always has the option to vote on a green option.
The city should then call on staff to reach out to cities already aiming to be carbon neutral to discuss ways to implement that goal that do not affect the health or vibrancy of our local economy. Boulder has published a detailed report of its plan to become carbon neutral, and it could be used as a blueprint.
Implementing environmentally friendly policies has been one of California’s most successful economic decisions in the past decade. According to nonpartisan group Environmental Entrepreneurs, California’s clean energy economy has attracted more than $27 billion in private equity capital that has fueled the creation of more than 500,000 jobs since 2006. More locally, California's climate policies have driven investments of $162.3 million and created 3,528 jobs in Assembly District 49, which includes Alhambra.