This week in an event probably overshadowed by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the mayors of Sacramento and West Sacramento—Darrell Steinberg and Christopher Cabaldon, respectively—came forward with a draft report that would allow their cities to achieve carbon zero by 2045.
Recognizing the urgent need to act on climate change, the two mayors in November 2018 launched the Mayors’ Commission on Climate Change in order to develop recommendations to achieve carbon zero in now 25 years.
Some of their plans include:
- Mandate all-electric construction to eliminate fossil-fuel use in new buildings by 2023.
- Transition 25 percent of existing residential and small commercial buildings to all electric by 2030.
- 30 percent of all residents’ trips are to be by active transportation by 2030, with 40 percent by 2040.
- 30 percent of all trips are to be by transit and carpools by 2030, with 50 percent by 2045.
- 70 percent of new vehicle registrations will be for zero-emission vehicles by 2030.
- Ensure that all neighborhoods, starting with historically marginalized communities and tree-deficient neighborhoods, have access to green space within a quarter-mile by 2030, as well as a baseline canopy of 25 percent by 2030, and 35 percent by 2045.
- Increase food security and access to healthy, affordable food for all communities by sourcing 25 percent of food locally within a 200-mile radius by 2030, and 40 percent by 2045.
- Establish a “food recovery to food security” network
- Expand free or affordable zero-emission vehicle carshare programs
- Establish “car-free districts” on weekend nights in areas that offer local commerce, recreation, arts and culture.
- Adopt policies that support telecommuting.
“The cities should reassess their telecommuting policies to allow more staff to work remotely and partner with the chambers of commerce to encourage employers to continue telecommuting programs,” the report said.
To me, as I pointed out last week, the last one is the key.
While I applaud the two mayors for being forward thinking, my overall view is that 25 years is too long and the area proposed is too limited. I say the last point with a good deal of caveat because I firmly believe that local initiatives on climate change are actually the key—act locally to expand policies globally.
But at the same time, I think we have an historic opportunity to get to carbon neutrality and maybe even zero carbon much sooner than 2045. As I pointed out in last Sunday’s column, we already have the disruption event in place. The economy has been halted. People are working from home. Some can stay there. Others can simply change the way they work.
The opportunity is now. An April 22 Bloomberg report found that seven major global cities experience between a 25 to 65 percent reduction in fine particulate matter during the lockdown. These are: Los Angeles, New York, Sao Paulo, Mumbai, Delhi, Seoul and Wuhan.
This is not good news, but it does show us a path.
“This isn’t the way we would’ve wanted things to happen, God no,” said Gina McCarthy, former head of the US Environmental Protection Agency in the Obama administration. “This is just a disaster that pointed out the underlying challenges we face. It’s not something to celebrate.”
The bad news, as the Guardian points out, is “the pain of the Covid-19 shutdown has highlighted how ponderous the world’s response has been – the expected cut in emissions, for example, is still less than what scientists say is needed every year this decade to avoid disastrous climate impacts for much of the world.”
“It’s the worst possible way to experience environment improvement and it has also shown us the size of the task,” said Michael Gerrard, an environmental law expert at Columbia University.
And it’s only short term.
“This drop of emissions of six per cent, that’s unfortunately (only) short-term good news”, said Professor Petteri Taalas, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General, in reference to a 5.5 to 5.7 per cent fall in levels of carbon dioxide due to the pandemic, that have been flagged by leading climate experts, including the Center for International Climate Research.
“There might even be a boost in emissions because some of the industries have been stopped”, the WMO head cautioned.
But it does point the way. And the key in my view would be long term declines in automobile traffic.
I spent much of this week both implementing a very ambitious new business model for the Vanguard, taking advantage of the new realities and what we have learned from them, and also talking to many leading people in these circles.
Talking to economic development people, they believe that the Sacramento region has weathered this storm better than many other areas. In part that is because of the focus on high tech industry. But they worry about where the economy is going to head if we continue on the shut down.
COVID has probably changed the way a lot of companies are going to do business. Some have said they will now no longer seek to upgrade their commercial space because they have learned to do much more in the way of telecommuting.
The problem of course is that telecommuting works for some industries, not others. So a lot of blue collar jobs, manufacturing, and R&D and labs will require people to work on site.
Contrary to the perception by many, telecommuting doesn’t just mean working from home. More importantly it means potentially less travel. I talked to several business people who told me that they used to travel to do pitches to business groups, and they would drive for several hours, do an hour pitch to 10 to 15 people, turn around and come back.
Now they can do it via Zoom, they can speak to the entire company, 300 to 400 people at multiple locations and do it from their office in Sacramento. Why would they ever go back?
It is not a telecommute issue but I was talking to some on the city council who like the call in public comment enough that they will likely push to keep it in place even after restrictions on public gatherings are lifted.
The question is how much of an impact we can have, and how much of the economy we can figure out ways to restart without endangering the public.
My question I posed to several is whether a 40 percent reduction in traffic would have a tremendous benefit. The answer was yes. In so many ways. Costs for the employee. Costs for the employer. Environmental costs. Road maintenance costs. Road capacity upgrade needs.
My recommendation then would be for everyone to figure out a way to make the traffic reduction permanent. How we can reduce vehicle trips and VMT. That is the key to getting to carbon neutrality in the next decade.
—David M. Greenwald reporting