Monday Morning Thoughts: CAAP Debate Will Come in the Midst of Increasingly Bad News on the Climate Front

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

This week Davis will discuss once again on its Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.  A big focus locally seems to be on a mandate for electrification.

While building energy is currently only 15% of Davis’ total emissions, the city still believes “this is a significant goal to meet the City’s carbon neutrality target.”  Staff adds, “Electrification reduces GHG emissions by replacing natural gas appliances with electric appliances if the supplied electricity is carbon-free (can also be referred to as 100% renewable).”

Staff notes, “Unlike the transportation sector where vehicle manufacturers have set aggressive targets to increase electric vehicle sales, there is no industry-wide commitment to decarbonizing existing buildings, which places most of the responsibility for action at the community level. The Building Energy actions in the CAAP primarily emphasize  voluntary compliance, through education and outreach.”

Critics continue to point just how costly even a phase out at time of replacement would be.  The city can takes steps to mitigate those costs through grants and subsidies.

I continue to wonder just how impactful local level change will actually be given the enormity of the global problem.

There is pretty much only bad news on the climate change front today.

This morning, the Washington Post has a story, “Near the end of 2020, as the covid-19 pandemic continued to rage, a few climate scientists and energy experts made a prediction. They estimated that emissions from fossil fuels — which had just plummeted thanks to the global pandemic — might never again reach the heights of 2019. Perhaps, they speculated, after over a century of ever more carbon dioxide flowing into the atmosphere, the world had finally reached “peak” emissions. They were wrong.”

According to a report released last month by the Global Carbon Project, “carbon emissions from fossil fuels in 2022 are expected to reach 37.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide, the highest ever recorded.”

The Post writes, “That means that despite the continued fallout from the coronavirus pandemic — which caused emissions to drop by over 5 percent in 2020 — CO2 emissions are back and stronger than ever.”

I think at the time, we all saw a potential for a gamechanging move – and the lack of strong leadership fumbled the opportunity.

During the past century, “carbon emissions have only ever fallen in one circumstance: crisis.”

Coal is a huge problem and the biggest culprit now is not China, but India.

“Coal is the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel, releasing 820 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions for every gigawatt of electricity produced,” the Post notes.  “India’s use of the world’s dirtiest fuel has skyrocketed. India’s coal use is set to increase by 5 percent in 2022, on top of a 15 percent increase the year before. All of that means that in the past two years, emissions from burning coal have increased by almost a gigaton.”

Finally, while developed nations have seen their emissions declined, “that decline hasn’t happened nearly fast enough to counterbalance the growth in emissions from developing countries.”

Meanwhile CNBC this weekend published a story, “Parking lots are becoming as important as cars in climate change efforts.”

Among the key findings:

  • France will require all parking lots with 80 or more spaces to be covered by solar panels.
  • Major corporations in the U.S. are switching to solar energy for both the cost benefits and net-zero goals related to climate change and carbon reduction.
  • Solar carports and rooftop solar are the design options that businesses from grocery stores to warehouses are more likely to deploy as costs come down.

Finally, an ominous article this weekend in the NY Times, about The Texas Public Policy Foundation, that is waging a national crusade against climate change.

“The Texas Public Policy Foundation is shaping laws, running influence campaigns and taking legal action in a bid to promote fossil fuels,” the Times reports.

The group is “an Austin-based nonprofit organization backed by oil and gas companies and Republican donors.”

Reports the Times, “With influence campaigns, legal action and model legislation, the group is promoting fossil fuels and trying to stall the American economy’s transition toward renewable energy. It is upfront about its opposition to Vineyard Wind and other renewable energy projects, making no apologies for its advocacy work.”

The group “has spread misinformation about climate science. With YouTube videos, regular appearances on Fox and Friends, and social media campaigns, the group’s executives have sought to convince lawmakers and the public that a transition away from oil, gas and coal would harm Americans.

“They have frequently seized on current events to promote dubious narratives, pinning high gasoline prices on President Biden’s climate policies (economists say that’s not the driver) or claiming the 2021 winter blackout in Texas was the result of unreliable wind energy (it wasn’t).”

So in the midst of all of this, we are going to have the Davis debate over electrification.

But while I understand that the cost to the individual is prohibitive, a recent report found that “insufficient action on climate change could cost the U.S. economy $14.5 trillion in the next 50 years. A loss of this scale is equivalent to nearly 4% of GDP or $1.5 trillion in 2070 alone. And over the next 50 years, nearly 900,000 jobs could disappear each year due to climate damage.”

In April, CNBC reported that according to White House estimates, Climate change could cost the US at least $2 trillion per year by the end of the century.

Meanwhile the UN climate science panel’s highly anticipated report this spring warned that slashing global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels will require greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025.

Bottom line: things are getting worse and they are going to cost a lot to either fix or adapt.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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10 Comments

  1. Don Shor

    Maybe a little balance here.

    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/10/26/magazine/climate-change-warming-world.html

    “Now, with the world already 1.2 degrees hotter, scientists believe that warming this century will most likely fall between two or three degrees. (A United Nations report released this week ahead of the COP27 climate conference in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, confirmed that range.) A little lower is possible, with much more concerted action; a little higher, too, with slower action and bad climate luck. 

    Those numbers may sound abstract, but what they suggest is this: thanks to astonishing declines in the price of renewables, a truly global political mobilization, a clearer picture of the energy future and serious policy focus from world leaders, we have cut expected warming almost in half in just five years.”

    The Stanford scientist Marshall Burke, who has produced some distressing research about the costs of warming — that global G.D.P. could be cut by as much as a quarter, compared with a world without climate change — says he has had to update the slides he uses to teach undergraduates, revising his expectations from just a few years ago. “The problem is a result of human choices, and our progress on it is also the result of human choices,” he says. “And those should be celebrated. It’s not yet sufficient. But it is amazing.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/oct/27/carbon-emissions-to-peak-in-2025-in-historic-turning-point-says-iea

    “Global carbon emissions from energy will peak in 2025 thanks to massively increased government spending on clean fuels in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to analysis by the world’s leading energy organisation.”

    Since there seems to be consensus that warming will be from 2 – 3 degrees C, and that will lead to repeated and readily predicted catastrophes in some parts of the world, focus of intergovernmental organizations needs to turn to adaptation strategies and funding.

    Locally, in a hot climate that will likely get hotter, that means focusing on shading and cooling. 

    Plant more trees. Landscape around them. Irrigate landscapes where people live, work, and play.

  2. Richard_McCann

    Don

    Warming will not stop at 2-3 degrees C unless we take mitigation strategies. We are set for increased warming for centuries at least. All of those optimistic scenarios are based on taking what some consider “drastic” actions such as switching households from gas to electricity on an accelerated time table. And all of these are forecasts with great uncertainty. Unfortunately, our vulnerability to that uncertainty is almost entirely one sided–if we overspend on mitigation we might reduce economic activity by 1 or 2% (and the solution to poverty is in redistribution, not higher growth, at this point.) On the other side is a reduction of a quarter or even the end of civilization. We shouldn’t look at the “midline” cases, but rather the range of outcomes.

  3. Richard_McCann

    I continue to wonder just how impactful local level change will actually be given the enormity of the global problem.

    Wealthier communities in the U.S. must take the lead on reducing GHGs because the U.S. is responsible for 20% of cumulative GHG emissions over time. Global warming isn’t like other air pollution–the problem doesn’t blow out with the next storm, and many people may have a problem with that concept. That may be the reason for those who say “we shouldn’t do anything more since China isn’t doing its part.” China isn’t the biggest problem–we are. So we have a responsibility to step up no matter what anyone else is doing to show leadership.

    We also have the resources to afford failures and to learn and try again. This built in resilience is why the wealthy buy new technologies before those less well off–the wealthy can afford to throw it away and start over. As wealthy as China is, it still doesn’t have that resilience (and India certainly doesn’t.)

    1. Ron Oertel

      Wealthier communities in the U.S. must take the lead on reducing GHGs because the U.S. is responsible for 20% of cumulative GHG emissions over time.

      Do you mean in the “past” (to date)?

      Global warming isn’t like other air pollution–the problem doesn’t blow out with the next storm, and many people may have a problem with that concept.

      No one believes that.

      That may be the reason for those who say “we shouldn’t do anything more since China isn’t doing its part.”

      Believing that storms will “blow away” global warming is not the reason.

      China isn’t the biggest problem–we are.

      Possibly not, going forward.

      So we have a responsibility to step up no matter what anyone else is doing to show leadership.

      You think that China, Russia and India are looking to the U.S. for “leadership”? (Or, maybe just looking to Davis to lead the way?)

      We also have the resources to afford failures and to learn and try again.

      Speak for yourself.  It’s expensive and environmentally-damaging to “throw out” all of your appliances, and convert to “new” technologies – such as that “brand-new technology” – electricity!

      (Which, as you know – isn’t produced in a renewable manner in the first place. And never will be.) Not to mention all of the other harmful impacts resulting from “renewable” technologies, such as mining of rare earth materials.

      It’s also extremely damaging (environmentally) to “throw out” working machines, thereby requiring the environmentally-unfriendly practice of manufacturing new ones.

      This built in resilience is why the wealthy buy new technologies before those less well off–the wealthy can afford to throw it away and start over.

      That’s not the reason.  The reason is that (as other countries become wealthier, and their citizens have the ability to “consume”), the technologies that are available are “new” technologies.  That would apply even if the “new” technologies still cause a lot of environmental damage.

      As wealthy as China is, it still doesn’t have that resilience (and India certainly doesn’t.)

      What “resilience”?  (Are you familiar with the enormous wealth gap in this country?)

      Any incremental “improvements” will be overshadowed by the impact of continued population gain, combined with increased consumerism in developing countries.

      And as long as the world shies-away from addressing continued population growth, the underlying problem will never be addressed.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HB97iwcm_Qc

      1. Ron Oertel

        I included the link above to Bill Maher’s comments, since he noted that a U.N. representative stated that reaching a population of 8 billion is a reason to celebrate “diversity”.

        There’s your underlying problem.  (Not diversity itself, but tying it in to that – while also denying the problem.)

        What I see are governments attempting to mitigate impacts on the one hand, while encouraging the problem on the other hand.

        In a way, promoting and participating in the “mitigation” is a form of enabling.

        And this is ultimately true regarding all environmental problems, whether it’s water, food, extinction of species, etc. None of these issues can be addressed in the absence of a commitment to address human population.

        And if an educated person from the “U.N”. can’t see that, then education is not necessarily the answer that some claim.

        For that matter, there’s quite a bit of governmental “whining”, whenever a population does start to stabilize. I was just reading an article which shows that in regard to Japan and South Korea.

        Underlying all of this is the endless growth that capitalism “demands”, according to some.

      2. Walter Shwe

        This is a dire climate change emergency. Costly drastic measures are required. Better to throw out gas stoves even if they wind up in landfills then to increase the planet’s temperature. There are viable ways to generate electricity that don’t negatively impact climate change, including solar and wind.

        1. Ron Oertel

          This is a dire climate change emergency.

          True, and it’s worldwide – including in the countries where they’re increasingly burning fossil fuels (like India).

          Costly drastic measures are required.

          Personally, I don’t care if they purposefully drive up the local cost of housing, and reduce turnover.  Do you?  (The real estate industry is certainly concerned about lack of turnover, even now.)

          It’s odd how some people don’t see how adding to the cost of existing housing drives up the cost of housing, and reduces incentive to sell.

          Better to throw out gas stoves even if they wind up in landfills then to increase the planet’s temperature.

          When you (or anyone else) put forth detailed analysis regarding throwing out working appliances and manufacturing new ones, let us know.  Including all financial and environmental costs of doing so.

          Unless it’s mandated, folks are more likely to keep their old appliances running (as well as old cars), rather than paying for a costly “switch” (which also requires new electrical infrastructure in individual housing, and the grid itself).

          What do you suppose the environmental impact will be, when folks try to keep old appliances and cars in operating condition – far beyond their “normal” lifetimes? (For the purpose of avoiding this “switch”?)

          There are viable ways to generate electricity that don’t negatively impact climate change, including solar and wind.

          They are not a viable/full replacement at this time, nor are they on the horizon to do so.

          Where were the folks who claim to be concerned about local contributions to climate change, but simultaneously supported DISC (and continued sprawl, in general)?

          And where is their concern regarding the impacts of increasing population?  Why did the U.N. representative view the announcement of 8 billion people as a reason to “celebrate diversity”?

  4. Richard_McCann

    Ron O

    First, the current version of the Davis CAAP only requires switching from gas to electric appliances when those appliances are retired. So we won’t be throwing out working appliances-the will already be kaput. They can only keep their existing appliances running for so long, and they typically already do that. (Remember the Car Guys saying its always cheaper to repair your existing car rather than buying a new one.)

    Second, the Sustainability Working Group has a proposal in the Downtown Specific Plan in Table 8.H that gas appliances be retired at time of sale only if it has less than 20% of it expected life remaining.

    While some (but not all) of these actions might increase costs in existing homes (they will actually decrease new housing costs), they are necessary to achieve our climate action goals. And that they might increase housing costs is another reason why we need to take countervailing actions to reduce housing prices in our community.

    Have you become an electricity system expert to opine on whether renewables can meet future electricity demand? There are numerous studies (seriously dozens) showing that we can easily get to 90-95% renewable/zero carbon generation with current technology and that we have another decade to solve the remaining 5-10%. California has had several days this year where the system ran on 100% zero carbon. No one could have imagined that a decade ago.

    What is your solution to population growth other than increasing women’s education? The rate of growth can be slowed only by so much and has even turned negative in much of Europe. We have to deal with what we face, not with what we wish for.

    What India does is irrelevant  to our responsibility to reduce our own emissions. Asserting that China is the biggest problem attempts to absolve us for our past sins. We are responsible to mitigating what the damage that we have wrought. Your assertion is like saying that an arsonist isn’t responsible for burning down a house–only the future arsonist can be held responsible. And yes China is looking to the U.S. for leadership–most of the technologies its relying on were developed in the U.S. India most certainly looks to us–much of their management has been educated here. (BTW, I’ve already pointed out Davis’ past global leadership in past posts–I’m not repeating it yet again just for you.)

    The overall environmental impacts of new technologies and renewables are less than the alternative. Oil and gas are not produced in a pristine manner–look at the southern San Joaquin Valley next time you drive to LA, or ask those who live in the Niger River delta.

    You’re wrong about how technologies are adopted. Please provide a peer-reviewed article that supports your assertion. You also confuse the adoption of new technologies at the cutting edge with the eventual diffusion of a technology once it has characteristics have stabilized among the wealthy initial users.

    Even accounting for the large wealth gap, because our federal and state governments have such large financial resources, we are able to assist the vast majority of those affected by climate disasters. We can see the contrast by looking at Puerto Rico where the federal government has not stepped in to assist to the same scale as similar events in southern states. Again, you’re turning to simplistic anecdotes.

    Davis, nor Woodland, nor even California, can do anything to control global population growth. We can only only do two things–adopt policies that address our local issues and global responsibilities, and show others how they can implements similar policies successfully. Keeping people out of Davis fits neither of those criteria in any way. Population will keep growing for several decades no matter what we do so we need to act on that fact. Even China couldn’t stop population growth with its one-child policy.

  5. Ron Oertel

    Ron O
    First, the current version of the Davis CAAP only requires switching from gas to electric appliances when those appliances are retired. So we won’t be throwing out working appliances-the will already be kaput. They can only keep their existing appliances running for so long, and they typically already do that. (Remember the Car Guys saying its always cheaper to repair your existing car rather than buying a new one.)

    Yes, I’m aware of that.  One thing that doesn’t seem to be well-thought out is how the existing gas lines will be maintained, as fewer households use them over time.

    However, you’re right regarding the cost-effectiveness of repairs (vs. replacement), which leads one to believe that there will still be a lot of old cars and appliances, well-into the future.  (Probably leading to a situation like the one in Cuba, where they continue to maintain old American cars from the 1950s.)

    My vehicle, for example, is closing-in on 30 years old – and I expect to be driving it well-past 2035.

    How about all of those people buying new cars between now and 2035, as well?  Are they going to ditch them on New Years Day, 2036?  (Same question regarding appliances – up to the date that they can no longer be purchased.)

    And that they might increase housing costs is another reason why we need to take countervailing actions to reduce housing prices in our community.

    So, you want to increase housing costs, and then try to find other methods to reduce housing costs.

    How’s those “other methods” working out, so far?  (And who exactly are you trying to reduce housing costs for?  Non-residents, for example?)

    The rate of growth can be slowed only by so much and has even turned negative in much of Europe. We have to deal with what we face, not with what we wish for.

    You misunderstand the reason I brought this up.  A continual effort toward mitigating our environmental impacts will not succeed, if population continues to rise.  And there’s a concerted effort to deny/obscure this (as demonstrated by the statement from the U.N. representative).  Even most of the major environmental groups avoid discussing this, as they’ve become increasingly-focused on “social” justice, instead.  (These two issues may overlap somewhat, but they are not the same thing.)

    What India does is irrelevant  to our responsibility to reduce our own emissions.

    True, and what the U.S. does is irrelevant to India’s responsibility.

    Asserting that China is the biggest problem attempts to absolve us for our past sins.

    Do “past sins” matter at this point?  Are you proposing some kind of “climate reparations” for the U.S., for example?

    We are responsible to mitigating what the damage that we have wrought.

    No argument there.

    Your assertion is like saying that an arsonist isn’t responsible for burning down a house–only the future arsonist can be held responsible.

    To paraphrase Smokey Bear, only “future arsonists” can stop setting “future fires”.

    And yes China is looking to the U.S. for leadership–most of the technologies its relying on were developed in the U.S.

    I understand that China is actually taking more of a lead than the U.S. in this area. In any case, since when has it been the responsibility of the U.S. to “lead the world” on anything?

    The U.S. is a declining country, in comparison to China (and probably/ultimately India, as well).

    (BTW, I’ve already pointed out Davis’ past global leadership in past posts–I’m not repeating it yet again just for you.)

    In other words, it’s up to “Davis to save the world”, according to you.  (And here I though that they just looked to Davis for frog tunnels.)

    The overall environmental impacts of new technologies and renewables are less than the alternative.

    This is way too broad of a claim to make, e.g., when considering ALL of the costs and impacts of premature/forced replacement.

    Oil and gas are not produced in a pristine manner–look at the southern San Joaquin Valley next time you drive to LA, or ask those who live in the Niger River delta.

    Again, they’re all harmful.  Solar technology, for example, requires harmful mining of lithium.  The act of mining itself, transporting the material, and manufacturing it into a product, transporting that product, discarding the old product – all create a carbon footprint, as well.

    You’re wrong about how technologies are adopted. Please provide a peer-reviewed article that supports your assertion.

    What “assertion” is that?

    You also confuse the adoption of new technologies at the cutting edge with the eventual diffusion of a technology once it has characteristics have stabilized among the wealthy initial users.

    I’m not “confusing” anything.  Cell phones, for example, are ubiquitous in many developing countries.  (And were probably adopted more quickly than they were in the U.S., since developing countries did not have consistent access to land lines.  In the U.S., some continued to rely upon land lines well-after cell phones became established.)

    Even accounting for the large wealth gap, because our federal and state governments have such large financial resources, we are able to assist the vast majority of those affected by climate disasters. We can see the contrast by looking at Puerto Rico where the federal government has not stepped in to assist to the same scale as similar events in southern states. Again, you’re turning to simplistic anecdotes.

    How does this statement correspond with anything I said?  And what exactly is your point here, anyway?

    Davis, nor Woodland, nor even California, can do anything to control global population growth.

    You’re actually wrong, regarding this.  There’s evidence that increasing costs leads people to have fewer children.  Now, maybe that’s not the most “fair” way to accomplish this (in the minds of some), but it seems to be effective.

    As demonstrated by the U.N. representative (and others), it’s not necessarily “education” that causes people to have fewer children.

    It’s probably due to the fact that having children is as an “asset” in undeveloped countries, but a “liability” in developed countries.  (You can see this regarding the differences in cultures and expectations, as well.

    To put it more simply, in the U.S., “parents work for children”.  But in other countries, “children work for parents”.

    We can only only do two things–adopt policies that address our local issues and global responsibilities, and show others how they can implements similar policies successfully. Keeping people out of Davis fits neither of those criteria in any way.

    I view this quite differently than you do.

    In places which provide an opportunity to preserve land (including farmland that will be needed if the population keeps increasing), I do what I can to help that effort.  You seem to think that efforts to preserve land are “commonplace”, even though the exact opposite is demonstrated every day throughout the region, state, and country.

    And it’s not about “keeping people out of Davis” (or anywhere else).  Davis has people in it, already.  Lots of them, with people moving in-and-out as well.

    Population will keep growing for several decades no matter what we do so we need to act on that fact. Even China couldn’t stop population growth with its one-child policy.

    There are places where population is declining (e.g., Japan, South Korea come to mind).  There are, in fact, things that can be done to support a stable population, but folks like the U.N. representative are working in the opposite direction.

    And again, unless the “world” addresses continued population growth in a more effective manner, climate mitigations are only going to delay the negative impacts.

    It’s also “challenging” to take this seriously, when folks who claim to be concerned about climate change keep pushing for developments like DISC (and sprawl, in general). This basic “discrepancy” would be laughable, if the issue wasn’t so serious.

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