By Staff Writers Ella Chen, Julia Park, Hana Sheikh & Vicki Xu
Climate Change: A Brief History
The average temperature of the atmosphere near Earth’s surface has increased significantly in the past 100 years, and 2016 was the hottest recorded year. Human activity such as industrialization during the 1800s has increased greenhouse gas emissions and disrupted important ecological cycles such as the carbon and sulfur cycles. While many argue that climate change is not new, climate disruption due to human activities are causing sea levels to increase more than usual and widening the hole in the atmospheric ozone layer. After the first Earth Day in the 1970s, US citizens and the government began to pay attention to the Earth’s degradation and global warming. Laws were passed to regulate polluting industries, but these policies today are still underfunded and ignored today.
Significant climate change issues
The same greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone — that contribute to global warming also play a part in air pollution. While healthy adult lungs can handle even large amounts of air pollution, a child’s lungs will be damaged for life. The best course of action is quick and direct intervention by the government to mitigate air pollution. In Paris, France, officials restricted car use within the city and also banned free parking on Saturdays, hoping to curb car use. Recently, a sticker system has also been implemented; cars are assigned differently-colored stickers based on their ages and certain color stickers are not allowed to drive in the city.
The Earth’s population has reached a staggering 7.125 billion as a result of medical breakthroughs and technological advances. Overpopulation is now a key driving factor of other environmental problems such as waste and air pollution. Although these other impacts can be mitigated with more technology and policy action, over-farming remains a big problem. According to the World Wildlife Fund, Brazil loses more than 55 million tons of topsoil every year due to farming, and soil depletion is the culprit behind China’s last famine in 1958. This strain on the land and food resources can potentially be eased by going vegetarian, since cultivating livestock requires many fields of grain and is thus environmentally inefficient. According to Live Science, if all 3.5 billion acres of the Earth’s arable land were used for grain, we would be able to feed 10 billion vegetarians according to US standards of living. However, the same amount of land will only sufficiently feed 2.5 billion omnivores. Reducing meat consumption is necessary to use the Earth’s limited land more efficiently.
All products and food go through a life cycle that consists of material extraction, manufacturing and production, distribution, usage, and waste. Every stage requires energy, and most sources of this energy are fossil fuels, which release greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. A 2009 report by the Environmental Protection Agency found that about 42 percent of emissions from greenhouse gases come from the energy used in the life cycle of food and goods production. It is a common practice to recycle, while producing less waste or consuming fewer products would help improve this improve this issue. Yet long term, sustainable materials and reusable products need to be increased to reduce waste. This is important because waste that ends up in landfills takes up space, poisons surrounding water supplies, and creates methane through anaerobic decomposition, which is released into the atmosphere. Waste that does not go to landfills gets incinerated, which releases even more greenhouse gases.
Of all the impacts of climate change, the harms of low species biodiversity may be the hardest to understand; at a glance, humans only seem to rely on a few farm animals such as cows, chickens, and pigs. However, a variety of species is necessary because many of these species are connected in ways that we may not understand fully yet. For example, when fishermen a few decades ago encouraged killing small whales in order to protect fish populations, bigger killer whales hunted otters instead of small whales. When the otter population decreased, the urchin population increased and ate entire forests of kelp, exposing fish larvae to predators and actually harming the fish population. Furthermore, some exotic species may be the key to better technology. Inspired by the structure of a marine polychaete worm’s jaw, scientists added zinc to the Araneus spider’s silk to create a material with a tensile strength higher than most steel alloys. Biodiversity may aid us in the technological development we’ll undoubtedly need to combat climate change in other areas.
Many of the previous issues contribute to global warming, an increase in the average temperature of the Earth. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that over the next century, global temperatures will increase by 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit due to human activities that release greenhouse gases. Global warming has caused animal migration patterns to change, ice caps and glaciers to melt, sea levels to rise, altered precipitation, reduced populations of certain animals, and stronger droughts and hurricanes. These severe effects makes both large-scale government action as well as grassroots conservation efforts imperative.
Interview with Rachel A. DiFranco, Sustainability Coordinator, City of Fremont
The Smoke Signal: What are some current policy issues that the Environmental Sustainability Commission is looking at or working on?
DiFranco: The City of Fremont’s Environmental Sustainability Commission was established to advise the City Council on emerging policy issues related to environmental sustainability. In December 2015, City sustainability staff worked closely with the Commission to brainstorm and select priority topics for 2016 and 2017. These priority topics focus on increasing community awareness and adoption of sustainable transportation options such as zero-emissions vehicles, renewable energy installations such as rooftop solar PV, residential and commercial energy and water efficiency upgrades, and more sustainable land use practices. In 2016, the Commission received presentations from the City of Fremont’s Building Department and from Oakland-based consulting firms Build It Green and Energy Solutions regarding upcoming opportunities to adopt building “reach codes”, or more stringent requirements for new and existing residential and commercial buildings in Fremont related to energy and water efficiency, solar photovoltaics, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. By late 2016, the Sustainability Commission had voted to recommend that City Council adopt policies to:
- Require new non-residential developments as well as those upgrading at least half of their outdoor lighting fixtures to install ultra high-efficiency options such as LEDs.
- Require new development projects to wire and equip 10% of their parking spaces with electric vehicle charging units.
- Requiring new single and multifamily residential housing units to include rooftop solar PV panels.
In the Fall of 2016, City Council adopted the first two requirements on outdoor lighting and EV charging to go into effect at the beginning of 2017. The third requirement on mandatory solar for new housing projects will be reviewed by City Council at the April 20, 2017 City Council meeting. The agendas and minutes for all meetings can be found in the City’s Agenda Center online at https://fremont.gov/AgendaCenter/.
SS: How will the Environmental Sustainability Commission’s plans be impacted by President Trump’s recent executive order to repeal policies from the Obama administration?
DiFranco: On March 28, 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order on “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth,” rescinding and revoking a number of clean energy and climate mitigation and adaptation measures enacted under the Obama administration, including the President’s Climate Action Plan, the Power Sector Carbon Pollution Standards, and the Climate Action Plan Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions. The Executive Order also requires that a number of other regulations, such as the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis, undergo a process of review to determine if they “unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth, and prevent job creation” and “burden the development of domestic energy resources beyond the degree necessary to protect the public interest.” Should they be found guilty, the Federal government will also suspend, revise, or rescind them.
On March 29, 2017, CA Governor Jerry Brown called Trump’s Executive Order a “colossal mistake” that will only further “energize those who believe climate change is an existential threat.” (LA Times) California has long been a leader in taking strong climate action in the face of Federal inaction. In 2006, a year after the United States failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, California passed AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, limiting statewide greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. Soon after in 2008, SB 375, the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act, set specific limits on passenger vehicle emissions across the State. By 2012, California established a state goal under SB 1275 to put 1 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2020, and in 2015 SB 375 set a requirement that electricity contain 50 percent renewable energy content and that energy efficiency be increased by 50 percent by the year 2030. Also in 2015, Governor Brown’s issued an Executive Order to go beyond the stated goals of AB 32 to reduce California’s GHG emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. After Trump’s Executive Order, Governor Brown affirmed that California was “doubling down on our commitment” to climate change, and that “we are reaching out to other states in America and throughout the world and other countries… We have plenty of fuel to build this movement.”
In addition, the Paris Agreement that emerged out of the 21st United Nations Framework Convention on Climate in 2015, mandates that global temperature increases stay “well below 2°C” and focuses efforts to keep them below 1.5 °C in order to “significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.” The United States is one of 194 signatories of the Paris Agreement and alone represents 18 percent of the emission reductions set forth in the document. Signed on Earth Day 2016 by the Obama administration and effective as of November 4, 2016, the Paris Agreement is now under considerable scrutiny by senior officials in the Trump administration, who will be putting together a recommendation for the President this week regarding if the United States should remain party to or exit the agreement. Even if the Trump administration does exit the Paris Agreement, the US Clean Air Act is still intact, which requires the EPA to regulate hazardous air pollution-including greenhouse gases-at the national level. It would take an Act of Congress to make an amendment to the Clean Air Act, something that would face significant opposition.
At the local level, cities have the ability to adopt climate action plans, or comprehensive roadmaps that outline specific activities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a community-scale. The City of Fremont adopted its first Climate Action Plan in November of 2012, setting a community-wide greenhouse gas reduction goal of 25 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2020. In the Climate Action Plan, short term and long term goals are defined for both Municipal operations as well as the community-at-large to educate about, encourage collaboration on, and institute regulations for greenhouse gas emissions reduction program. Examples of Fremont’s recent Climate Action Plan implementation initiatives include:
- Participation as a semi-finalist community in the $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize competition to reduce citywide energy usage between 2015 and 2016.
- Annual collaboration with Rising Sun Energy Center to provide free “Green House Calls” during the summer California Youth Energy Services Program.
- Launch of the SunShares program to offer discounted pricing on residential solar PV installations as well as zero-emission vehicle purchases.
- Pilot program with ZipCar to offer carsharing vehicles outside of the Fremont BART Station and the Centerville Train Depot.
- Installation of solar PV carport systems at the City of Fremont’s Police Complex, Aqua Adventure Water Park, Irvington Community Center, and City Maintenance Department.
- Upgrade of over 15,000 City streetlights, park lights, and parking lot lights to energy-efficient LEDs.
- Continued conversion of City fleet vehicles to hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles.
- Demonstration project with Fremont clean tech companies to install Microgrid energy systems (solar+battery storage) at Fremont Fire Stations
- Development of the FremontGreenChallenge.orghouse old climate action engagement platform.
- Adoption of additional energy efficiency and green building requirements as part of the most current Building Code
- Commitment to the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy pledging to reduce and track our greenhouse gas emissions.
This combination of strong state-level climate legislation paired with local level implementation measures paves the way for continued and climate action, regardless of federal level support or commitment.
SS: On a societal level, how do you think we should adjust to accommodate the implications of climate change? What about on a personal level?
DiFranco: At the local, state, and national level, the primary function of government is to provide for the general welfare of its citizens and to protect them from external threats. In his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama stated that “No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” The 2016 Paris Agreement captured this sentiment as well, stating that “climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet.” It is therefore a government imperative to take actions to both mitigate the effects of climate changes as well as to invest in infrastructure that helps us to adapt to the changes already underway. At a local and personal level, the choices that we make daily will significantly determine our future. Every action taken at the individual and household level to reduce the wasteful use of resources, save energy and water, and utilize clean technology innovations will make a positive difference.
While it may seem daunting to think about reversing climate change at a global scale, the solutions are actually within reach and are relatively straightforward: To reduce emissions, we must transition away from dirty energy sources such as coal, oil, and natural gas and embrace clean and renewable sources. At the household level, this means converting to:
- Carbon-free electricity sources such as rooftop solar PV
- Electric-powered heating and cooking appliances
- Zero-emissions vehicles such as plug-in battery electric or hydrogen fuel cell cars
- Ultra high-efficiency electronics and programmable energy controls
As individuals, we all have a significant role in affecting the future. Reducing excessive consumption, reusing products when possible, recycling and composting waste rather than sending it to the landfill, buying locally made or grown products, and using clean and renewable resources will pave the way for a more vibrant and healthier future for all living things and will regenerate the planet for future generations. I encourage all Fremont residents to challenge themselves to make a positive impact by visiting www.FremontGreenChallenge.org and pledging to take action.
Photo by deliciousliving.com