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 conser- vation 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 emis-sions 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.

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 car- bon 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.

 

“Extinction Rebellion” Comes to Santa Cruz

ER-logo-4col-Black-Linear-1A recent Guest Commentary by Michael Levy in the August 26, 2019 Santa Cruz Sentinel revealed upcoming activities by the local “Extinction Rebellion” (XR) group in Santa Cruz. You’ve not doubt read about XR in international news, as groups of climate change activists who lobby for change in government in response to what they perceive as “climate breakdown” and a “climate emergency.”

XR spokesman Levy explains that “global heating is a direct threat to the survival of the human race,” without specifying what source is heating the globe and why that would present an emergency for the human race.

Levy also claims that “We are currently losing 200 species per day, and are indeed facing our own extinction if we do not drastically limit CO2 emissions,” again without revealing the source of the extinction claim nor the connection between species extinction and CO2 emissions. The Center for Biological Diversity states: “Nobody really knows how many species are in danger of becoming extinct.” “In the past 500 years, we know of approximately 1,000 species that have gone extinct…” That’s two species per year, not 200 species per day.

What does “XR” propose to do about this”climate emergency”?

From the XR website: “XR is committed to non-violent civil disobedience against the inevitable, global collapse of the biosphere if human societies do not stop burning fossil fuels.”

“XR is committed to the idea that local, self-organized non-violent action, along with seeding a regenerative culture of love, compassion and understanding, is not only the best remedy for the isolation and sense of powerlessness brought about by “apocalypse fatigue,” but the only way to bring about meaningful change in the time left to us.”

“XR” is calling for a Global Climate Strike and Week of Actions on September 20th, to draw attention to the United Nations Climate Summit in New York, and the Youth Climate Summit on the 21st, followed by the COP25 Climate Summit in Santiago, Chile, in December.

The group’s website contains a list of their “demands” (My comments follow each point, emphasis mine):

  • That the Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, it must reverse all policies not in alignment with that position and must work alongside the media to communicate the urgency for change including what individuals, communities and businesses need to do.

Presumably “the truth” referred to is that human produced CO2 is causing “global heating,” and reducing these emissions will stop, reverse or otherwise reduce climate change. Science doesn’t do truth, and there is no evidence to support the claim that reducing human CO2 will significantly influence climate change.

  • The Government must enact legally-binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and take further action to remove the excess of atmospheric greenhouse gases. It must cooperate internationally so that the global economy runs on no more than half a planet’s worth of resources per year.

“The government” in Santa Cruz, that is, the Santa Cruz City Council and the County Board of Supervisors, have passed Climate Emergency Declarations (Click HERE for the City, and HERE for the County), and have Climate Action Plans in place, along with the cities of Capitola and Watsonville. There is nothing local government can do to remove the excess of atmospheric greenhouse gases, nor does anyone know what constitutes an excess of these essential constituents of our planet’s atmosphere.

  • We do not trust our Government to make the bold, swift and long-term changes necessary to achieve these changes and we do not intend to hand further power to our politicians. Instead we demand a Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the changes, as we rise from the wreckage, creating a democracy fit for purpose.

Citizen involvement in local government is always a good thing. It’s unclear how a “Citizens’ Assembly” would differ from our current representative form of government, with its commission and committee structure.

  • We demand a just transition that prioritizes the most vulnerable people and indigenous sovereignty; establishes reparations and remediation led by and for Black people, Indigenous people, people of color and poor communities for years of environmental injustice, establishes legal rights for ecosystems to thrive and regenerate in perpetuity, and repairs the effects of ongoing ecocide to prevent extinction of human and all species, in order to maintain a livable, just planet for all.

This is the most difficult part of XR and Green New Deal (GND) demands. Human “justice” has nothing to do with human impacts on the environment. In fact, focusing on human justice often blinds activists to effective solutions to environmental problems (e.g., immigration and population control) that affect all species. Movements for human social justice have attached themselves to climate change activism as another rationale to support their causes. This is the case with XR and GND, and is abundantly evident in Santa Cruz, as well as nationally and internationally.

Environmentalists, real environmentalists not climate change activists, have been long frustrated by the co-optation of environmental activism by social activism, which displaces scientific data-based research and discourse with non-scientific opinion and emotional rhetoric.

If climate change presents a real emergency for Santa Cruz and its human and non-human residents, a claim I do not accept, let our local government response be based on science, not hyperbolic, media driven, emotional demonstrations designed to drum up support for national and international social, economic and political programs.

Can Renewable Energy Replace Fossil Fuels?

Solar-Calatagan-1

The modern obsession with Climate Change and its presumed primary cause in the burning of fossil fuels, has led to the unchallenged assumption that modern civilization can and must switch its energy production from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric and hydrokinetic (wave and tide) sources.

The question is rarely asked: “Can renewable energy sources replace fossil fuel energy sources to provide all of the energy that human civilization demands, now and into the foreseeable future?”

The usual technocratic response is “Sure. There is no technical barrier to producing all of our energy needs from renewable energy sources.”

The follow up question is never asked: What would be the environmental cost of attempting to produce present and future energy demands with renewable energy sources?”

While it may be *feasible* to produce all our energy needs from “renewable” energy sources, this technological infrastructure comes with large and severe environmental impacts. Mining minerals and rare earth metals necessary to build and maintain renewable energy systems results in habitat loss and natural resource depletion. The enormous physical sites required for wind and solar farms (see above) reduce the availability for natural ecosystems and their native species. Hydroelectric requires dams that inundate huge swaths of natural ecosystems and result in unpredictable seismic changes.

Here is an overview of the environmental impacts of renewable energy sources from the Union of Concerned Scientists:

The question is not “Which is best, renewable energy or nonrenewable energy?” The only question that is meaningful in terms of the full biosphere is: “How can we reduce our impacts on the natural world by reducing our energy demands?”

Dispelling “Urban Coyote” Myths

Urban Coyotes

In a recent article from the Urban Coyote Initiative, Jaymi Heimbuch explains the facts and dispels common myths about the coyotes we see and hear frequently in our neighborhoods around Santa Cruz County.

10 fascinating facts about Urban Coyotes

  • Urban coyotes can create territories out of a patchwork of parks and green spaces
  • Urban coyote dens are surprisingly hard to find
  • Urban coyotes may live in family packs or on their own at different points in their lives.
  • Urban coyotes mate for life and are monogamous.
  • Urban coyotes do not feast on pets and garbage; they typically stick to a natural diet.
  • Urban coyotes often switch from naturally diurnal and crepuscular activity to nocturnal activity.
  • Urban coyotes reduce the presence of feral and free-roaming cats in natural spaces, which helps protect songbirds in parks.
  • Urban coyotes help control the populations of other sometimes problematic urban wildlife like rodents, deer and Canada geese.
  • The easiest way for city residents to avoid negative interactions with coyotes is to avoid feeding them, either accidentally or on purpose, and otherwise habituating them to humans.
  • Trapping and killing or relocating urban coyotes does not reduce the overall population of coyotes.