Bringing Environmental Activism Home

Recently, I’ve reviewed environmental policies and legislation promulgated by our local Santa Cruz County and its municipalities (Santa Cruz, Capitola, Scotts Valley and Watsonville). County government has a good General Plan and well crafted County Code, but the municipalities are woefully inadequate. But even in County government, those codified policies are rarely followed to the letter, or in most cases even unto intent.

A recently published petition: William J Ripple, Christopher Wolf, Thomas M Newsome, Phoebe Barnard, William R Moomaw, World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency, BioScience, , biz088, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biz088) includes descriptions of immediate actions needed to reduce human impacts on the biosphere. While they are predicated on reducing greenhouse gases and climate change, they also apply to very real immediate human impacts on the non-human world.

In my next post, I’ll compare these actions with local existing county and municipal codes, and suggest new policies to bring our local government into alignment with these global concerns.

Energy
The world must quickly implement massive energy efficiency and conservation practices and must replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables and other cleaner sources of energy if safe for people and the environment. We should leave remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the ground and should carefully pursue effective negative emissions using technology such as carbon extraction from the source and capture from the air and especially by enhancing natural systems (see “Nature” section). Wealthier countries need to support poorer nations in transitioning away from fossil fuels. We must swiftly eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels and use effective and fair policies for steadily escalating carbon prices to restrain their use.

Short-lived pollutants
We need to promptly reduce the emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, including methane, black carbon (soot), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Doing this could slow climate feedback loops and potentially reduce the short-term warming trend by more than 50% over the next few decades while saving millions of lives and increasing crop yields due to reduced air pollution. The 2016 Kigali amendment to phase down HFCs is welcomed.

Energy
The world must quickly implement massive energy efficiency and conservation practices and must replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables and other cleaner sources of energy if safe for people and the environment. We should leave remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the ground and should carefully pursue effective negative emissions using technology such as carbon extraction from the source and capture from the air and especially by enhancing natural systems (see “Nature” section). Wealthier countries need to support poorer nations in transitioning away from fossil fuels. We must swiftly eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels and use effective and fair policies for steadily escalating carbon prices to restrain their use.

Nature
We must protect and restore Earth’s ecosystems. Phytoplankton, coral reefs, forests, savannas, grasslands, wetlands, peatlands, soils, mangroves, and sea grasses contribute greatly to sequestration of atmospheric CO2. Marine and terrestrial plants, animals, and microorganisms play significant roles in carbon and nutrient cycling and storage. We need to quickly curtail habitat and biodiversity loss, protecting the remaining primary and intact forests, especially those with high carbon stores and other forests with the capacity to rapidly sequester carbon (proforestation), while increasing reforestation and afforestation where appropriate at enormous scales. Although available land may be limiting in places, up to a third of emissions reductions needed by 2030 for the Paris agreement (less than 2°C) could be obtained with these natural climate solutions.

Food
Eating mostly plant-based foods while reducing the global consumption of animal products (figure 1c–d), especially ruminant livestock, can improve human health and significantly lower GHG emissions (including methane in the “Short-lived pollutants” step). Moreover, this will free up croplands for growing much-needed human plant food instead of livestock feed, while releasing some grazing land to support natural climate solutions (see “Nature” section). Cropping practices such as minimum tillage that increase soil carbon are vitally important. We need to drastically reduce the enormous amount of food waste around the world.

Economy
Excessive extraction of materials and overexploitation of ecosystems, driven by economic growth, must be quickly curtailed to maintain long-term sustainability of the biosphere. We need a carbon-free economy that explicitly addresses human dependence on the biosphere and policies that guide economic decisions accordingly. Our goals need to shift from GDP growth and the pursuit of affluence toward sustaining ecosystems and improving human well-being by prioritizing basic needs and reducing inequality.

Population
Still increasing by roughly 80 million people per year, or more than 200,000 per day, the world population must be stabilized—and, ideally, gradually reduced—within a framework that ensures social integrity. There are proven and effective policies that strengthen human rights while lowering fertility rates and lessening the impacts of population growth on GHG emissions and biodiversity loss. These policies make family planning services available to all people, remove barriers to their access and achieve full gender equity, including primary and secondary education as a global norm for all, especially girls and young women.

 

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