By David M. Greenwald
Think globally, act locally. That has been the rallying call of the environmental movement for the last 50 years. And, for the most part, I have supported the idea. How do we call on our nation and our world to reduce its carbon footprint, if we are not willing to do so in our own backyard?
On one level, that’s the right thing to do. But in a lot of other ways, it actually becomes limiting because we stop thinking systemically and start thinking in terms of small silos.
Back in 2005, I started getting active in Davis politics. One of the first things I actively voted on was Covell Village. Having believed that Davis had grown too fast over the prior decade since I moved here, I strongly opposed Measure X and, as I became active in local politics, I did so opposing peripheral growth—and, in general, large new housing projects.
When the city put Mace 391 on consent in the spring of 2013, it was an easy call for me. Here we had already decided to put the parcel into a conservation easement. And the city made the egregious mistake of attempting to put reconsideration on the consent calendar. It was, in my view at that time, showing everything that was wrong with Davis city policies.
As it turns out, that moment really marked a turning point in my views—which evolved greatly over the next seven and a half years.
The first conversations I had started to re-orient my thinking on preservation of agricultural land. For years, my view was we should protect our valuable agricultural land on our periphery. Not only did I move and stay here because Davis was a small-sized city, but it seemed the environmentally responsible course of action.
What is now known as DISC, after all, is located on 200 acres of farmland that needs to be preserved so that we can continue to plant crops that can go to market and provide food.
But then I started talking to people who worked with world food and dealt with food security issues. They asked me a very simple question—is the greatest value of that land to grow crops, or could it be more valuable, with land situated near a major research university, to provide the research that can help developing nations and the poor by creating technology that can help much of the world feed itself?
Think about this. The World Food Center at UC Davis brings together academics, industry and more to help provide solutions to huge challenges of providing food and sustainability and meeting the challenges of climate change.
The question then became, is our best asset the 200 acres or so of land surrounded by conservation easement, or the fact that we are situated near a world-class university—the number one ag school in the nation located in a region committed to creating cutting-edge research that can help feed the entire world—rather than the limited yields from those 200 acres?
Looking at the situation through a different lens helped change my view.
Similarly, on climate change, the issue is far more complex than the opposition to Measure B lets on. In fact, there are a number of considerations here.
Opponents point out that the passage of Measure B will make it more difficult for Davis to meet its climate goals. But Davis meeting its climate goals is only meaningful if that is a means to reduce the overall climate emissions globally.
As I have pointed out previously, it is unclear that DISC will have an overall detrimental impact on such goals.
First of all, as noted previously, DISC less creates jobs and traffic than transfers jobs and traffic from one location to another. This is important. People are located on this planet and they have to work somewhere and travel to work through some means. DISC does not generate new people out of thin air.
It is true that the unmitigated project adds GHG and 24,000 car trips, but that is a localized impact, not a global impact.
Indeed, the opposition fails to note that the required mitigation will reduce VMT, GHG, and car trips. They fail to note that prior to the issuance of building permits, the Project “shall demonstrate consistency with the City’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan by demonstrating a fair-share reduction of GHG emissions towards an ARC Project-wide reduction goal of 37,684.1937,724.31 MTCO2e/yr, which would achieve carbon neutrality.”
But even if you are skeptical of the claims or ability to achieve carbon neutrality, the project is not purely adding a carbon footprint, it is transferring jobs and vehicle trips from one location to another, and if it can do it more efficiently with greater mitigation measures in place than the replacement site, then even if DISC were to make the city’s climate goals more difficult to achieve it may have a beneficial impact overall on the global carbon footprint.
However, once again, the bigger benefit from such projects is not what happens at the local level, but rather, whether providing space to take research to market can help develop new clean energy alternatives that could help change the world.
Opponents argue, “There is nothing green” about paving over 200 acres of prime farmland… But that’s a limited view. We are not going to solve climate change through spot reductions.
There is the potential for developing new technologies that can help feed the world and also reduce our carbon footprint.
Opponents of the project fail to recognize that we are not going to solve climate change at this point by making incremental local changes. We need to do things on a massive scale—a global scale. Huge reductions in carbon emissions will be required. Those changes will be disruptive to the economy. The people that will be harmed by those changes are likely to be the poor, the vulnerable, people in developing countries, people of color.
While some of that at this point might be unavoidable, we have allowed the problem to go too far. One way that we can cushion that is through the development of new technologies—the production of new jobs, cleaner burning energies, less carbon-based processes—and that is the promise of DISC and places like DISC that connect the latest technology to industry and the private sector.
Ultimately there is a trade off here, but we can mitigate some of the downsides. It does pave over farmland with the hopes that we can develop new technologies to help feed the world while reducing the impact of climate change. It does add potentially to traffic impacts, but does so gradually with mitigation measures to hopefully ease the pain.
But, for me at least, the upside outweighs the risks. The need for local revenue, jobs for recent graduates of UC Davis, and the untapped promise of green and clean technology, for me, outweigh the risks of growth and traffic.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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