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Climate change is hitting home, and experts urge tougher responses

Riverside Press-Enterprise 4/8/2021 Martin Wisckol
a car parked in a parking lot: Big waves and a high tide sent ocean water flooding into the streets in Newport Beach on July 3, 2020, creating a foamy, sandy mess on the Balboa Peninsula. The event was among those cited at daylong teleconference Wednesday, April 7, 2021, at Chapman University examining the direction public policy should go to address climate change, including sea-level rise. (Photo courtesy of @surflick/ Brandon Yamawaki) © Provided by Riverside Press-Enterprise Big waves and a high tide sent ocean water flooding into the streets in Newport Beach on July 3, 2020, creating a foamy, sandy mess on the Balboa Peninsula. The event was among those cited at daylong teleconference Wednesday, April 7, 2021, at Chapman University examining the direction public policy should go to address climate change, including sea-level rise. (Photo courtesy of @surflick/ Brandon Yamawaki)

Photo after photo showed the streets and parking lots of Newport Beach’s Balboa Peninsula flooded last summer from high ocean waters, a tangible warning of climate change’s increasing consequences and the urgent need to address the problem more extensively.

“It’s not just rising seas,” said Seimone Jurjis, the city’s community development director. “It’s firestorms and rising temperatures.”

The public policy conference, “Fighting Climate Change,” covered issues from local shores to global trends during the daylong event sponsored by Chapman University. Portrayals of the magnitude and complexity of the crisis intensified steadily over the course of the four virtual panel discussions featuring experts from around the state and across the country.

“What was once the outlier prediction of 4 to 5 degrees (temperature) increase is now increasingly seen as likely,” said Richard Matthew, a UC Irvine urban planning professor. “We are still increasing greenhouse gas emissions. So far, the response has been gravely insufficient.”

California was called a leader in the effort, gaining praise for SB 32, the 2006 measure that set an aggressive agenda for reducing the greenhouse gases that are the chief cause of climate change. Transitions to renewable energy were also applauded.

“I think we’ve done more than any other state,” said David Vogel, a professor emeritus at UC Berkeley.

But the ongoing problems and criticisms of California’s approach were also plentiful.

People are driving cars more than ever, in part because the housing crisis is making it increasingly difficult for employees to live near their jobs. In terms of environmental justice, communities of color and low-income neighborhoods continue to be hurt the most by air pollution, as they tend to be located nearest to the source. Those residents also benefit the least from clean-energy initiatives such as subsidies for solar panels and electric cars, because that population is less likely to be in a position to purchase those amenities.

There was also criticism of the state’s decision to phase out nuclear energy as well as for its cap-and-trade program, in which producers of greenhouse gases can purchase credits that allow them to exceed their mandated limits.

“We have a long way to go,” said Kip Lipper, an energy consultant to the state Senate.

People power

Among past and present elected officials giving pre-recorded presentations — mostly brief messages of encouragement — were former Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown. Both helped push the state to the forefront of the country’s climate change efforts.

“It’s about people power,” Schwarzenegger said. “Government cannot do it alone. The private sector cannot do it alone. You have to have the public sector, the private sector and the academic sector. Every great movement was created by people, not by government.”

That sentiment was echoed by Jurjis when he was asked why the city of Newport Beach hadn’t adopted its own zero emissions goals. He noted that was a steep challenge for local elected officials to take on, particularly in a conservative city like his.

“If the community wants bold action, they have to get on their electeds,” Jurjis said.

Rick Cole, a former Santa Monica city manager, suggested that climate change needed to be integrated with other local issues rather than be considered by city councils as a standalone problem.

“While many of us are focused on climate change as an existential threat to the future of humanity, it’s not the most pressing issue for local government,” he said. As an example, Cole suggested that when approving land-use plans, local officials could both reduce emissions and improve quality of life by doing things to reduce the amount of driving.

“We need to reshape our cities around human beings instead of cars. If we become more sustainable, we’ll save money, we’ll save lives, we’ll have a higher standard of living.”

Need for nukes?

Vogel and Jennifer Hernandez, an environmental lawyer, agreed that California would not reach its goal of 100% renewable energy by 2045 without nuclear energy, and heard no resistance from other panelists.

California’s sole remaining nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon in San Luis Obisbo County, supplies about 8% of the state’s electricity but is scheduled to shut down in 2025.

“I don’t see any way we can support our needs in a sustainable way without nuclear energy,” Vogel said.

Hernandez said that was especially true with the projected increase in electric cars, which she said would triple household use of electricity.

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On the issue of cap-and-trade, Hernandez and Lipper were particularly critical of the state’s approach.

“The idea that you can buy your way out of pollution by paying for the pollution you’re spewing into the community — that isn’t a solution,” Lipper said.

But there were a few glimmers of hope. Speakers noted the state’s success in reducing tailpipe emissions and improving air quality, and applauded key strides in reducing greenhouse gases — particularly with AB 32 signed into law by Schwarzenegger.

“AB 32 is not perfect by any means and we have a long way to go,” Lipper said. “But that’s a success story that needs to be told.”

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