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Biology Comes to the Rescue

Article by Laura Schumacher

Within the white towers of La Jolla’s Salk Institute, world-renowned plant geneticist Dr. Joanne Chory and her small team of research biologists are trying to save the planet with plants.

It makes sense. We all learned about the role of plants in photosynthesis back in elementary school. Plants use sunlight to turn carbon dioxide (CO2) into sugars the cell can use as energy. When the plant dies, it releases carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. Plants are really good at photosynthesis – they’ve been doing it for 500 million years.

The earth today has too much CO2 in the atmosphere from human activity. Dr. Chory thinks it’s scientifically possible to get plants to absorb more CO2 and bury it deep in the ground instead of releasing it back into the atmosphere. Plants make a product called suberin which absorbs CO2. To solve climate change, Dr. Chory’s team is creating plants with larger and deeper root systems that produce more suberin to sequester carbon.

If this process can be perfected in crop plants such as corn, wheat and rice, Dr. Chory is convinced plants could help solve climate change. The next challenge will be to convince farmers to plant and grow these modified plants.

In April 2019, The Salk Institute received a TED Audacious Project grant of $35 million to scale up Dr. Chory’s research. Dr. Chory will be working on her “one last big experiment” here in San Diego with a sense of urgency. She has Parkinson’s disease and wants to accomplish as much as she can while she’s feeling good.  And like all of us, she wants to leave the Earth better for her grandkids.

To learn more, watch Dr. Chory’s TED Talk here:

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Update on the City of San Diego Community Choice Energy Plan

Article by Linda Gianelli Pratt

The City of San Diego is moving forward with Community Choice Aggregation, also known as Community Choice Energy, in order to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2035. This path will allow the City of San Diego to form a regional entity that can purchase clean energy on the open market at more competitive rates for customers.

On September 17, 2019 the San Diego City Council voted to approve community choice energy and create a joint-powers entity with cities across the region. The regional entity will be the second-largest community choice entity in California in terms of electrical load. San Diego was the first big city in the U.S. to pledge to reach 100 percent renewable when the City Council adopted Mayor Faulconer’s Climate Action Plan in 2015.

After three years of research and analysis, Mayor Faulconer selected Community Choice as the preferred pathway to reach the 100 percent renewable energy goal in the City’s landmark Climate Action Plan.

The cities of Chula Vista, La Mesa, Imperial Beach and Encinitas have voted to join the regional joint-power entity. A regional approach would allow for greater negotiating and buying power as well as create efficiencies in operations and service. Analysis shows that Community Choice would result in lower energy costs compared to the investor-owned utility’s rates.

San Diego Community Power (SDCP), the new regional Community Choice program, has established the Finance Committee and will soon establish the Community Advisory Committee.

Stay Cool applauds the actions and progress made by the City of San Diego.

The County of San Diego voted to direct staff to do an evaluation of Community Choice Energy on September 10, 2019. Since that time, nothing has been updated on the County’s website. https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/general_services/Energy/Energy.html

 

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Rollback of Obama-Era Fuel Economy and Emissions Standards May Stall

Article by Linda Gianelli Pratt

Former energy lobbyist Andrew Wheeler has continued the deregulatory course set by Scott Pruit. Within days of his appointment, he issued a proposed rollback of Obama-era fuel economy and emissions standards, while a new version of the Clean Power Plan could be released to the public in as little as one month.

The decades-long drive to reduce automotive carbon emissions would be at least as significant as the Trump administration’s other main rollback of climate rules—the attempt to dismantle the Clean Power Plan limits on emissions from power plants.

The draft of the revised Fuel Economy and Emissions Standards was leaked to the New York Times and says that regulators will freeze fuel economy standards at 2020 levels through 2026 vehicle model years. The proposal also says EPA will rescind a waiver that allows states to impose higher standards, setting up a potential legal battle between California, which has imposed stiffer standards since the 1970s, and the administration. Twelve states have followed California’s lead.

In the draft proposal, the administration assumes that consumers will drive less if their vehicles get lower gas mileage, which it claims would lower the number of fatal crashes—a controversial calculation that Wheeler used to justify the rollback.

According to one estimate, this proposed roll back of tailpipe rules nationwide could add nearly 1 billion tons of carbon pollution to the atmosphere. Officials have justified this sweeping change by claiming that the new rules will save hundreds of lives a year. They are so sure of those benefits that they have decided to call the policy the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule—or SAFE, for short.

To change a federal rule, the executive branch must do its homework and publish an economic study arguing why the update is necessary. But Trump’s official justification for SAFE is honeycombed with errors. The most dramatic is that NHTSA’s model mixed up supply and demand: The agency calculated that as cars got more expensive, millions more people would drive them, and the number of traffic accidents would increase, my reporting shows. This error—later dubbed the “phantom vehicles” problem—accounted for the majority of incorrect costs in the SAFE study that the Trump administration released in 2018. It is what made SAFE look safe.

Once this and other major mistakes are fixed, all of SAFE’s safety benefits vanish, according to a recent peer-reviewed analysis in Science. If SAFE is adopted into law, American traffic deaths could actually increase, carbon pollution would soar, and global warming would speed up.

In other words, SAFE isn’t actually safe—and the Trump administration based its rollback on flawed math.

A final version of the rule is expected in the next several weeks. But that new version of the SAFE study recognizes that the benefits of the rollback do not exceed its costs, according to a letter from Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, obtained by The Washington Post.

If Carper’s allegation is true, that could doom the proposal in court. In fact, several legal issues could hinder SAFE. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act “requires” the EPA to regulate carbon pollution “from new motor vehicles.” But my reporting has found that NHTSA employees—and not EPA staff—wrote the first version of the rollback, raising questions about whether the rule is legally valid.

The errors could now cause legal trouble for the SAFE rollback. Under federal law, an agency must publish a detailed and genuine explanation of any proposed rulemaking. If it fails to meet that standard, then a court can toss out the new rule, pronouncing it “arbitrary and capricious.” The explanation for SAFE—at least in the proposal—does not appear to be genuine, since it contains fundamental errors that were identified before it was published.

The Trump administration has struggled to publish a final version of the SAFE rollback, pushing the deadline back several times. The extra time has only revealed new problems. Last month, Carper, the Democratic senator from Delaware, alleged that a new version of the NHTSA study admits that SAFE will impose $34 billion of costs on the American economy. (NHTSA had once promised $230 billion in net benefits.) The new study also admits that SAFE will cost consumers an extra $1,400 at the pump on average—and that SAFE will not save hundreds of lives a year, as it once claimed, Carper said.

After the final version of SAFE is published, it will go to the courts. Its odds of survival are unclear. Agencies must “offer genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public,”

References:

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2020/02/an-inside-account-of-trumps-fuel-economy-debacle/606346/

https://insideclimatenews.org/news/02082018/new-epa-chief-andrew-wheeler-scott-pruitt-environment-climate-change-trump-coal

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Isotopes – fingerprints in climate change, or how we know, what we know

By John Atcheson

Isotopes tell us a great deal about where carbon and methane are coming from.  They act as fingerprints that identify with a great deal of accuracy whether the source of increased greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere are caused by humans, or are by-products of natural processes.  

The first thing we need to do is define what an Isotope is.  Elements are classified by how many protons they have in their nucleus.  Thus, every carbon atom has six protons. But carbon atoms can have six, seven, or eight neutrons, and neutrons weigh essentially the same as a proton. This means that carbon has three naturally occurring isotopes: C12, C13, and C14.  The numeric designations are the atomic weight of an element and they are the sum of both the protons and the neutrons. Since neutrons don’t have a charge, the elements share the same chemical properties. In the case of carbon, C12 and C13 are stable, while C14 decays over time.

The source of the carbon or methane gives it a distinct ratio of Isotopes, and in the case of methane, we can get additional data from hydrogen and oxygen isotopes (the latter because methane reacts in the atmosphere). 

Emissions have a distinct ratio of C12 to C13, depending upon their source.  Carbon from fossil fuel combustion has a lower C-12 to C-13 ratio than the air does. Thus, if the observed increased carbon in the atmosphere comes from fossil fuels or combustion of plants, the ratio of C12 to C13 in the atmosphere should be going down in proportion to the increase in atmospheric carbon.  And it is.

Since methane contains carbon — its formula is CH4, or 1 carbon atom combined with 4 hydrogen atoms – the ratio of C12 to C13 in the emissions and the ratio in the atmosphere can also help us identify the source of those emissions. In addition, Hydrogen has several isotopes that are indicative of the source of the methane, and since methane is highly reactive in the atmosphere oxygen isotopes also tell us something about the source. Now, methane has more potential sources than carbon, and as it is highly reactive in the atmosphere, the fingerprinting gets complex, it can be done.  

What we know about methane is that  there are three main sources contributing to the increase: 1) the output of microbes living in anoxic environments such as wetlands, landfills, and the stomachs and butts of ruminants; 2) fossil methane in gas, coal, and other underground fuel reserves that are released as those reserves are exploited; and 3) the burning of vegetation like forests, bush, and crop residues. 

The shocking thing about methane is that all three sources are increasing, and that humans are contributing to that increase.

Isotopes tell us that microbial sources are the largest cause for an increase in atmospheric concentrations of methane, and human cultivation of rice crops, livestock, and disposal in landfills are contributing to that increase.  Fracking and increased use and transmission of fossil fuels are the second big contributor, and of course, humans are the source of it. Finally, the explosion in wildfires that now occur everywhere on Earth from the Arctic to the Amazon, are a result of anthropogenic warming and poor land-use management.

The next time someone tries to tell you we can’t be sure where the increased emissions are coming from – or whether there’s been an increase – tell them they’re wrong.  The evidence is in the fingerprints.

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The Public Health Connection with Climate Change

The spark that ignited the idea of STAY COOL for GRANDKIDS was the birth of David and Peg Engel’s first grandchild, Violet, in 2012. That is why our mission has always been to mend our generation’s environmental legacy and speak for those who will be most impacted by climate change threats to human health, safety, and security. Climate change, together with other natural and human-made health stressors, influences human health and disease in numerous ways. Some existing health threats will intensify, and new health threats will emerge. Not everyone is equally at risk. Important considerations include age, economic resources, and location.

But climate change isn’t only about the future; children are at particularly high risk, right now. The effects of climate change on a child’s health include:

  1. Physical and psychological stress and disruption from weather disasters (e.g. hurricanes, flooding, wildfires)
  2. Increased heat stress
  3. Decreased air quality from ozone pollution and, in some areas, air pollution associated with wildfires
  4. Altered vector-borne disease patterns
  5. Food, water, and nutrient insecurity 

Pediatricians are already seeing the effects of climate change in their patients. With shorter winters, outdoor allergy seasons are longer and warmer. This worsens allergies and increases the chances of asthma symptoms. Ozone Action Days are becoming more frequent as emergency departments receive more asthma-related admissions each year. Ozone is produced from heat interacting with the exhaust from cars and trucks, and more hot days mean more ozone. When we talk about “climate refugees”—those people who cannot sustain life any longer in their place of origin—imagine the faces of all the children whose social foundations are threatened by community and global instability, mass migrations, and increased conflict. Given this knowledge, failure to take prompt, substantive action would be an act of injustice to all children.

In an August 13, 2019 article posted by Think Progress.org, air pollution, especially one type that is worsening with global warming, can accelerate lung disease as quickly as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. The study published on August 13 in the journal JAMA by researchers at the University of Washington, Columbia University, and the University at Buffalo, doubles down on the link between air pollutants and lung disease. It also emphasizes the connection between the lung ailment emphysema and pollution from ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog (not to be confused with the stratospheric ozone layer). Chronic lower respiratory disease is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, and the third leading cause worldwide. While other air pollutants are largely decreasing nationwide, ozone is increasing — with severe public health ramifications. The 18-year study tracked more than 7,000 people of various ethnicities and races between 2000 and 2018 across six major metropolitan areas. Researchers found that if an individual’s exposure to ozone pollution increased slightly (by 3 parts per billion) that was “significantly associated” with an increased risk of emphysema over a decade — the equivalent of smoking one pack of cigarettes every day for 29 years.

Are we doing well in San Diego County? When considering ozone air pollution, the answer is surprisingly “No.”  The February 2017 Climate Change and Health Profile from the California Department of Public Health illustrates that each California county will experience the health impacts of climate change uniquely (see Table 1). San Diego County will face extreme heat and more air pollution associated with ozone and wildfires.

TABLE 1

FIGURE 1

The CDC’s Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (BRACE) framework is a five-step process that allows health officials to develop strategies and programs to help communities prepare for the health effects of climate change (Figure 1). Part of this effort involves incorporating complex atmospheric data and both short and long-range climate projections into public health planning and response activities. Combining atmospheric data and projections with epidemiologic analysis allows health officials to more effectively anticipate, prepare for, and respond to a range of climate sensitive health impacts.

Five sequential steps comprise the BRACE framework:

Step 1: Anticipate Climate Impacts and Assessing Vulnerabilities
Identify the scope of climate impacts, associated potential health outcomes, and populations and locations vulnerable to these health impacts.

Step 2: Project the Disease Burden
Estimate or quantify the additional burden of health outcomes associated with climate change.

Step 3: Assess Public Health Interventions
Identify the most suitable health interventions for the identified health impacts of greatest concern.

Step 4: Develop and Implement a Climate and Health Adaptation Plan
Develop a written adaptation plan that is regularly updated. Disseminate and oversee implementation of the plan.

Step 5: Evaluate Impact and Improve Quality of Activities
Evaluate the process. Determine the value of information attained and activities undertaken.

More in-depth information about the BRACE framework can be found in the document titled Building Resilience against Climate Effects—A Novel Framework to Facilitate Climate Readiness in Public Health Agencies. An animated video describing the BRACE framework is also available.

Intergenerational equity is the heart of STAY COOL and we work to educate and convert those who put the well-being of current generations ahead of future generations. In November 2017, Judge Ann Aiken of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that climate change may pose an unconstitutional burden on younger generations. She said, “Exercising my ‘reasoned judgment,’ I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.” https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/juliana-v-us

What can you do? Speak out against those policies and programs that would increase the number of vehicles on the road. Idling in traffic causes even more air pollution, and that is what happens when we expand development in areas that do not have public transit options. Write to you County Board of Supervisor and let them know that you are thinking about generations that come after us, not just those who are here now. https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/general/bos.html  If you would like help with your comments, you are welcome to contact us at info@staycool4grandkids.org.

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Science Corner – Carbon Budgets: One of the most important concepts you’re probably not familiar with

By John Atcheson

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes a projection about how much time we have before hitting a target temperature increase, one of the most important assumptions they use is a “carbon budget”.  Carbon Tracker defines “carbon budget” as: The cumulative amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions permitted over a period of time to keep within a certain temperature threshold. 

Glossary of Terms and Definitions that appear in this article:
(Given in the order they appear)
 
Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC): The IPCC is an international organization of the United Nations whose objective is to provide governments at all levels with scientific information that they can use to develop climate policies. IPCC reports are also a key input into international climate change negotiations. The IPCC data used to model and forecast climate is used at the local, state, national and international level.
 
Anthropogenic: Originating in human activity.
 
Carbon sinks and sources: For purposes of climate change, a carbon sink is something that removes carbon from the atmosphere, a carbon source is something that adds it.  Sources and sinks may be natural or anthropogenic.
 
Carbon sequestration: The act of a carbon sink removing carbon from the atmosphere. 
 
Albedo effect: A measure of the amount of solar radiation reflected from a receiving body.  It is important in climate studies because the polar ice caps work to lower the net amount of heat energy that is retained in the atmosphere, and as they darken or diminish, the Earth retains more heat. 

Understanding carbon budgets is critical if you want to understand the IPCC forecasts in their full context. So, OK, buckle up, this is going to get pretty wonky, but once you’re familiar with carbon budgets, you’ll be equipped to understand the sometimes troubling assumptions that are hidden in the IPCC reports as well as other forecasts. 

There are three factors that determine a carbon budget:

  • The cumulative amount of carbon released to date;
  • The sensitivity of the climate to carbon; and
  • The likelihood of the outcome.

Let’s look at each in turn.

The amount of carbon emitted to date can be computed, although there is some controversy over what year to use as a baseline, or even whether to use models to compute the pre-anthropogenic carbon level, instead of historical data. The IPCC typically uses 1850 to 1900 as the baseline, despite the fact that anthropogenic emissions of carbon have been increasing since the mid 1700’s.  

Climate sensitivity is a measure of how much warming a given amount of carbon will cause.  Estimates have varied over time as more data becomes available and as techniques for measuring it are improved and this can make a big difference in forecasts. In fact, in the latest IPCC report on 1.5 C of warming, changes in the assumptions about climate sensitivity extended our drop-dead date for action from three years of current emissions to about ten.  The justification for the change is that the IPCC found that cumulatively, more carbon had been emitted than previously estimated which means – because it took more carbon to cause the 1 C we’ve warmed already – the climate is not as sensitive to a given amount of carbon as we previously thought.  As we’ll discuss, this works only if the past is prologue.

The other factor – the likelihood of the outcome can also profoundly change the allowable carbon emissions and the time left to act under a given scenario.  For example, the IPCC’s forecasts are usually based on what they call a “likely” outcome, which is the amount of carbon emissions that 66 percent of their models say will allow us to stay at or under a given temperature threshold. So right off the bat, it’s important to know that the safety margin built into the IPCC forecasts is effectively a two out of three chance of meeting the specified target. As safety factors go, this margin shouldn’t inspire confidence.  Would you, for example, get on a plane or cross a bridge that had a one in three chance of failing? Makes you wonder why we’d consider it adequate for protecting our life support systems, doesn’t it?

Confused?  Let’s plug in some real numbers to show how it works.  

We’ll start with carbon sensitivity.

Before the IPCC adjusted their estimate of carbon sensitivity in the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 C, our carbon budget worked out to about 3 years’ worth of emissions left before we busted the 1.5 C limit.  Here’s the numbers, using the old assumption of carbon sensitivity. If we wanted to have a 66 percent probability of staying below 1.5°C, our total carbon budget would be 2,250 tonnes of carbon dioxide. By the end of 2018, we burned through all but 130 billion tonnes of that budget. Since we are emitting about 37 tonnes per year we would have blown through the budget by the end of 2021. 

But by adjusting the carbon sensitivity used in the IPCC’s 1.5 C Report, we increased the time it takes for a given amount of carbon to increase the temperature, which gave us ten more years of emissions, not three. As we noted earlier, this revision is valid only if the past were prologue.  But the data suggests it won’t be. This is true for two reasons.  First, carbon sinks are becoming compromised. Data suggests that soils, the ocean, marine biota, boreal forests, and rainforests – the major carbon sinks – are not taking up as much carbon as they once did, and this trend is likely to intensify.  Indeed, in many areas, as fires and insects attack trees, boreal forests are becoming sources of carbon, not sinks, and this could become true of the entire boreal forest – the single largest terrestrial sink, encircling the entire globe.  

Evidence for this slowdown in natural carbon sequestration is starting to pile up.  For example, from 2014 through 2017 human carbon emissions plateaued, but despite the slowdown in emissions, the atmospheric carbon concentration not only continued to increase, but it accelerated at a record-breaking pace.  (See Figure 1)

Figure 1: A Simplified Carbon Cycle

The other reason the past may not be prologue is that there’s evidence we’ve triggered some positive feedback loops that either 1) increase the amount of warming a given amount of carbon causes – for example, the reduced albedo of melting ice caps in the polar regions causes more heat to remain in the atmosphere– or 2) cause the release of carbon that has been sequestered in features like permafrost, methane clathrates, or peat bogs, often for centuries or longer.  

Some techniques for establishing carbon sensitivity attempt to capture the equilibrium change – that is, the change in temperature once feedbacks have played out – but our estimates of feedback effects are extremely uncertain, and historically, we’ve either ignored feedbacks, or grossly underestimated their magnitude. 

Now let’s look at how varying the probability of meeting a given threshold can affect the forecasts for time we have left.

Looking at an increase of 1.5 C, if we were to choose a more conservative level of risk management, such as a 90 percent or 100 percent likelihood of staying below 1.5 C, we would have had to start acting  more than a decade ago, since we exceeded the allowable emissions for those confidence levels in 2013.

Contrast this with a carbon budget based on a 66 percent probability of staying below 2°C, or about 2,900 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2e). By the end of 2018, we would appear to have nearly 736 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide left, or about twenty years’ worth.

As we can see, the assumptions about atmospheric sensitivity, what constitutes an acceptable safety factor, and what temperature represents the target we should stay under can make the time we have left before exceeding our carbon budget vary from three years to about twenty.  And many of the assumptions the IPCC is using for their base case, expose us to relatively higher risks than more realistic or prudent assumptions would.  

It is tempting to choose values that give us hope, and it seems like that tendency has influenced many of our assumptions about carbon budgets.  But as Kevin Andersen of the Tyndall Center put it: “Scientists must make their assumptions transparent and defensible, however politically uncomfortable the conclusions.”  

History tells us people are capable of extraordinary efforts when they are faced with extraordinary challenges.  But there are no examples of humans rising to meet a challenge they were unaware of, or which was understated.   

The thing is, we have the tools to meet the climate challenge.  Renewable energy and clean energy storage are now cheaper than fossil fuels in energy generation, and they soon will be for transportation. Agricultural practices can turn that sector from a source of carbon emissions to a sink, absorbing atmospheric carbon.  But if we are to harness these solutions, we must understand the urgency of the challenge we face, and communicate that urgency to our elected officials at all levels.

Carbon budgets – get to know them. The viability of the planet’s life support systems – and the kind of future we leave our children and our children’s children depends upon us understanding how the budgets are established and insisting that scientists make prudent – not politically convenient – assumptions when we use them. 

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From Climate Change Communication: Do younger generations care more about global warming?

When considering the way people talk about and experience the current state of our climate, we thought it was very interesting to see this poll that highlights the generational differences. You might want to consider this as you have a conversation with someone younger or older than yourself. Dialogue leads to understanding, and understanding can lead to action. We need all the help we can get! https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/…/do-younger-generat…/

https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/do-younger-generations-care-more-about-global-warming/?fbclid=IwAR1PWQD-swAIn1ee_IO_1wiQ-ZAdbPOJYJhJQg2rr9gVCN_JJjnuPmNxedI   
?

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A TALE OF TWO QUOTES: the contest between hope and despair at the 2019 San Diego Climate Summit

By John Atcheson, STAY COOL for Grandkids Advisory Council Member

While attending the 2019 San Diego Climate Summit at UCSD with fellow members of Stay Cool for Grandkids, I was reminded of two quotes. The first was by sixteen-year old Greta Thurnberg, from a speech given at the Davos Economic Forum. In her conclusion, she said:

Adults keep saying: “We owe it to the young people to give them hope.” But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.

This came to mind because in the opening remarks and throughout the conference, folks were pushing the need for and the importance of hope and optimism, all the while reporting on the increasingly grim reality of the consequences of climate change in San Diego.

You know the litany. Floods, droughts, seal-level rise, climate refugees, wildfires, water shortages, species extinctions, massive die-offs, encroaching tropical diseases, ocean acidification, and epic heat waves (although coastal San Diego may be spared the worst of these. Not so the interior of the county).

And for the most part, the presentations were saying the timetable for these catastrophes was shorter than previously thought. How could one muster hope or optimism in the face of these grim forecasts, I wondered?

Yet by the end, another quote came to mind, this one by Paul Hawkins. Here’s what he said:

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world.

Just so with the panels and panelists at the San Diego Climate Summit. They would present their findings – all too often grim projections implying crises that had become more imminent than previously thought – and then the moderators would ask each panelist to try to come up with one word that encapsulated their feelings about what they were saying and hearing.

What I heard astounded me. The words the presenters came up with were things like action, excitement, engagement, energy, and yes, hope.

What I saw before me were men and women who knew the grim future we were fashioning with our outdated technologies, who knew that some measure of ecological destruction was baked into the system, who knew – in fact – that we were boxing ourselves and our children and their children into some very scary stuff, but who nevertheless had hope. They were too busy trying to understand the problem and fashion solutions to be pessimistic.

San Diego Climate Summit on March 25, 2019

And as I listened, I realized that the future viability of humankind will not be secured by investments in renewable energy; it will require harnessing a much older form of energy – the energy of the human spirit; the energy that has carried us across continents and through the ages in what amounts to a blink in geologic time.

But in the future, we will have to leaven that energy with wisdom. We will have to realize that the Earth is not simply a rock circling the sun – it is a precisely engineered habitat, unique in our solar system – if not the galaxy –and fashioned by the twin forces of time and chance to yield a world that is perfectly balanced, yet exquisitely sensitive to the increasingly heavy hand of humanity. It is not merely the only home we will ever have, it is a miracle; it is not simply worthy of protection, it is worthy of reverence.

Perhaps the energy and optimism I saw at the Conference is the bough wave of a greater awareness about our place in the cosmos. Perhaps the annoying noise of our day-to-day political follies, our deep divides, our presumed privileges, our ignorant biases, and our petty hatreds can be swept aside by the growing awareness that we are all on the same celestial ship, we’re in danger of foundering, and only we – acting together – can salvage it.

We will have to build a new cultural, economic, and political framework if we are to harness this older primal energy. We will have to banish ignorance, superstition, and blind convictions. But the future has always been about creating new capacities and shedding old ones. In every challenge there is an opportunity, and our progeny will inherit that opportunity as well as the burden of a changing climate.

We too have an opportunity. We can’t eliminate the burden we’re passing on, but we can minimize it, and we can help lay the groundwork for the wisdom and strength they will need to cope with what we are leaving them.

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A look back at 2018 as we move into 2019

Last year was both challenging and exciting for STAY COOL. In early 2018 we partnered with San Diego Audubon Society (SDAS), which now serves as our fiscal sponsor. We thank SDAS for their ongoing support and partnership as we head into 2019. You may also recall that STAY COOL transitioned into a volunteer-managed organization at the end of 2017. As a result, our Advisory Council members have stepped up to take on more leadership and responsibility to carry out the STAY COOL mission.

In 2018, we said goodbye to Marty Eberhardt, one of our founding members, but at the same time we welcomed Linda Pratt to our Advisory Council team.  Linda brings a wealth of knowledge about climate policies. For more than 30 years she built a successful career focused on community-based environmental protection, serving as the director of regional environmental programs for the City and County of San Diego, and most recently as the managing director of a statewide nonprofit organization, Green Cities California.

Our newest Advisory Council member is Tracy Delaney, PhD, RD, who is the founding director of the Public Health Alliance of Southern California – a regional coalition of nine local health departments whose members have statutory responsibility for the health of 60% of California’s population. Her work advances population health and equity through multi-sector initiatives addressing policy, systems and environmental change.

STAY COOL membership remains around 250, with many members playing important roles in other climate change action groups in our community.  

We also have a growing audience of Facebook followers. In addition, Advisor Dennis Griffin started his “DIY Climate Action” group on Facebook with practical advice on how you can be climate-smart at home and in your daily life.

Under the leadership of Sue Randerson, Laura Schumacher (both pictured) and David Engel, we brought our Ocean Climate Science education program to more than 170 new students at Standley Middle School in University City. During two days of lessons to five classes, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) grad students partnered with STAY COOL elders to explain how adding CO2 to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels is making oceans warmer and more acidic.  This year, STAY COOL continues to offer our youth Ocean Climate Science program, targeting middle schools and 6th grade class levels.

We have continued to hold membership events throughout the year.  For example, in June, we heard from Dr. Mark Merrifield who is the first director of the Center for Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation (CCCIA) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.  Another popular membership event was a guided walk through the Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary, a 785-acre open space preserve near Lakeside owned and maintained by San Diego Audubon.   

In November we honored our newest Grandkids’ Climate Defender and had the pleasure of hearing from Dr. “Ram” Ramanathan. Also, in attendance was Dr Ram’s wife Giri and grandson Ayan. Ram’s message was clear and direct – we all must do everything we can to prevent the worst from happening to our children and grandkids, and indeed to all lifeforms.  We agree that more effort must now be spent on adaptation strategies, and in planning how to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Grassroots, bottom-up efforts may be our last, best opportunity. STAY COOL is deeply appreciative to have heard Ram’s inspirational thoughts, along with his grandson Ayan who encouraged more recycling, bicycling and walking.


Dr. “Ram” Ramanathan honored as STAY COOL’s Climate Defender 2018, pictured here with Sarah Benson, Bob Leiter, David Engel and grandson Ayan.

We co-sponsored the Climate Summit that was organized by Climate Science Alliance and SIO in March.  Advisor Bob Leiter was later invited to serve on two peer review panels for California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment, including the San Diego Region Report, a first-of-its kind detailed assessment of the climate change risks that threaten our own region.  Relying on key findings from the San Diego Region Report, we’re now working with other NGOs and academic institutions to help design an effective planning framework for coping with increased wildfire risks and other natural hazards in the context of integrated regional water resource planning. 

We have also been very active in climate policy and advocacy during 2018. We continued our efforts to encourage the County of San Diego to adopt an aggressive Climate Action Plan, including letters and testimony at the County Planning Commission and County Board of Supervisors.

In March, we joined with several other regional and statewide advocacy groups to testify before the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in support of ambitious 2035 Greenhouse Gas (GHG) reduction targets for the San Diego region.  Since that time, we have been meeting with SANDAG staff to promote specific climate-smart strategies for inclusion in the 2019 Regional Plan Update, as summarized in a letter we submitted to them in October:

In 2019, STAY COOL will be continuing its efforts on these fronts and continuing to advocate for Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) to reduce the carbon footprint of our electricity. We will also be pursuing some new ideas and collaborations with other like-mined groups in the areas of climate education and advocacy.  We want your active involvement to advance our mission of lessening the impact of climate change so that our children and grandchildren—and generations to come—can thrive.

Thank you for your continued support.

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Setting a High Bar for Climate Protection in SANDAG’s Regional Plan Update

In March, STAY COOL for Grandkids, along with several other regional and statewide advocacy groups, testified before the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in support of ambitious 2035 Greenhouse Gas (GHG) reduction targets for the San Diego region (click here to read our letter).

While the Board ultimately approved lower targets, we were encouraged by the strong support from our regional stakeholders for higher targets, as well as by the commitment from SANDAG staff and CARB staff to consider various ways for achieving greater reductions. Now that SANDAG has begun the 2019 update to its long-range Regional Transportation Plan / Sustainable Communities Strategy (RTP / SCS), we plan to meet with senior staff from SANDAG and other public agencies in the coming weeks to discuss our ideas with them. We also plan to work with other stakeholder groups and organizations to exchange ideas on how the 2019 Plan update can achieve ambitious GHG reduction targets while meeting other important environmental, social and economic goals.

STAY COOL believes that SANDAG’s 2019 Plan can achieve greater GHG reductions by 2035 if the following ideas are incorporated into the Plan and are properly credited toward meeting the region’s 2035 GHG reduction targets:

  1. Multiple-benefit plans, projects and programs.  There are a variety of possible projects and programs that could provide multiple benefits from an environmental, economic and social equity perspective, and would potentially be creditable toward meeting GHG reduction targets for SANDAG and other MPOs.  In addition, multiple-benefit projects and programs can often qualify for funding from sources other than the traditional transportation-related sources.
  2. Multi-jurisdictional plans, projects and programs. This would include not only major multi-modal transportation infrastructure such as “managed lanes” (which can often be financially supported by several different public agencies), but also transportation projects and programs that directly serve major public facilities, such as universities, airports, and port facilities.
  3. A commitment to expedite the implementation of SB 743 within the San Diego region. Under this law, which was enacted in 2013, local governments and other public agencies will evaluate vehicle travel associated with new development as part of the project’s environmental review, and, if the impact is significant, mitigate those impacts through vehicle travel-reducing measures, which will support achievement of SB 375 goals. The 2019 RTP / SCS should include a firm commitment by SANDAG to ensure proper implementation of this law in the San Diego region.

We encourage all our members to become informed on these issues and ideas, and to speak out during this important regional planning effort.  Also, if you have suggestions for how STAY COOL can be an effective voice for strong regional leadership in the fight against global warming, or if you wish to help, please let us know.  Our kids and grandkids will thank you!

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