Category Archives: Climate action

City of San Luis Obispo launches Sustainable SLO initiative (and Benicia could take note)

[Note from BenIndy: There are many paths to a balanced budget in a small town like ours. Paths that emphasize local economic development by enhancing active transportation safety and accessibility, minimizing fossil fuel reliance, and boosting both outdoor and indoor air quality set a course for a San Luis Obispo that is cleaner, healthier, and safer…and yet still financially stable and self-sustaining. San Luis Obispo and Benicia have a lot of common: SLO is another full-service town like Benicia, with a larger population but many of the same values.]

San Luis Obispo.

PublicCEO, January 29, 2024

San Luis Obispo has set big goals to reduce pollution and adapt to the climate crisis, and we’re making big progress. To highlight this work, the City is adding a new Sustainable SLO mark and illustrated graphic on a variety of public facilities and equipment in San Luis Obispo.

“The City of San Luis Obispo is leading on climate action, and we’re excited to tell our story over the next few months,” said Chris Read, the City’s sustainability manager. “Now through Earth Day 2024, we will highlight everything from our new electric buses to our recycling bins and will share resources for how community members can make changes to save money, reduce pollution in their own homes and businesses and help reach communitywide carbon neutrality by 2035.”

Community members may have already seen the new Sustainable SLO mark and illustrated graphic throughout San Luis Obispo and will likely be seeing it more often. Climate action is a major City goal for the City of San Luis Obispo and the City has been working for years from its Climate Action Plan to reduce pollution and make San Luis Obispo more resilient to the effects of climate change.

Sustainable SLO demonstrates how the City is leading by example by phasing out fossil fuels from public facilities and fleet vehicles, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from organic waste and restoring the beautiful natural ecosystems that make San Luis Obispo such a wonderful place to live. These efforts include but are not limited to:

  • Installing new bike lanes and using all-electric buses that make it safer and easier to get around,
  • Conserving open space properties throughout the greenbelt to protect natural resources,
  • Transitioning the City’s fleet to electric vehicles to save money and use less fossil fuels,
  • Installing new trash and recycling bins downtown to reduce litter and landfilled waste,
  • Adding more public-facing electric vehicle chargers in SLO so it’s easy to charge on the go,
  • Planting 10,000 new trees in streets, parks and open space areas by 2035,
  • Switching to energy-efficient lighting at City facilities to save money and use less energy, and
  • Installing a large battery at the Water Treatment Plant to save money and create a more resilient facility.

With generous federal, state and regional funding resources, incentives and technical assistance available to support climate action, it’s becoming easier for organizations and individuals to make sustainable choices in SLO. Over the next few months, the City will share more about Sustainable SLO and suggest ways organizations and individuals can take local action on the climate crisis.

“We’ll be telling this story on social media, local news channels and at in-person events,” said Lucia Pohlman, the City’s sustainability and natural resources analyst. “Everyone can find Sustainable SLO ‘in the wild’ to see tangible ways we’re making a difference. Hopefully, this will inspire community members to cut climate pollution and prepare for increasingly hazardous floods and fires. It’s no easy task, but with the community’s help, we can reach our goals and ensure our community thrives into the future.”

Learn more about the City’s Sustainable SLO initiative at www.slocity.org/sustainableslo and subscribe to email updates at www.slocity.org/Subscribe.

Dr. King, Community, and Climate

Climate policy turns on an issue highlighted by Dr. King: Whose suffering counts?
Martin Luther King, Jr., giving his speech Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence at Riverside Church in NYC, April 4, 1967.

Legal Planet, by Dan Farber, January 15, 2024

“A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.”

Dan Farber, Legal Planet contributor.

Those words are from a 1967 speech delivered at Riverside Church by Dr. King about the Vietnam War. He was not, of course, thinking of what was then the obscure issue of climate change. Yet others have drawn the connection between this ethic of human solidarity and the climate crisis.

Here are two other quotations, this time from Pope Francis:

“The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others.”

“Since the world has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian way, in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit. Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.”

Ironically, some of the fiercest opponents of climate action are those who, like House Speaker Mike Johnson, most loudly trumpet their religious faith. The words of Dr. King and Pope Francis seem to fall upon them with deaf ears. Meanwhile, nationalist disregard for the welfare of others seems to be on the rise.

Much of climate policy turns on a single key question, “Whose suffering counts?”.  This issue is the undercurrent of many international debates about climate. It is also central to the most technical debates over the social cost of carbon, where conservatives vociferously demand that harm to the rest of the world be ignored and that the interests of future generations be given as little weight as possible.

It is important to be aware of the limits of idealism in the political arena and the dangers of idealism when detached from realism.  But is it too much to ask that we have some shred of concern for those who are distant from us in space or time?

Bill McKibben: “An odd silence…at the end of humanity’s hottest year (yet)”

[BenIndy Contributor Kathy Kerridge: An essay about the biggest story of the year…]

From The Crucial Years, a Substack by Bill McKibben, December 28, 2023

Bill McKibben, Author, educator, and environmental activist; a founder of 350.org and Third Act.

The world—its politics, its economy, and its journalism—has trouble coping with the scale of the climate crisis. We can’t quite wrap our collective head around it, which has never been clearer to me than in these waning days of 2023.

Because the most important thing that happened this year was the heat. By far. It was hotter than it has been in at least 125,000 years on this planet. Every month since May was the hottest ever recorded. Ocean temperatures set a new all-time mark, over 100 degrees. Canada burned, filling the air above our cities with smoke.

And yet you really wouldn’t know it from reading the wrap-ups of the year’s news now appearing on one website after another.

Earlier today, for instance, the Times published an essay by investment banker and Obama consigliere Steven Rattner on “ten charts that mattered in 2023.” That’s the most establishment voice imaginable, in the most establishment spot. And the global temperature curve did make the list—at #10, well behind graphs about the fall in inflation, the president’s approval levels, the number of Trump indictments, the surge in immigrants, and the speed with with the GOP defenestrated Kevin McCarthy.

Indeed, yesterday the Times and the Post both published fine stories about 2023’s record temperatures, but they were odd: in each case, they centered on whether the year was enough to show that the climate crisis was “accelerating.” It’s an interesting question, drawing mainly on a powerful new paper by James Hansen (one that readers of this newsletter found out about last winter), but the premise of the reporting, if you take a step back, is kind of wild. Because the climate crisis is already crashing down on us. It doesn’t require “acceleration” to be the biggest—by orders of magnitude—dilemma facing our species.

In a sense, though, that’s the problem. Those stories in the Times and Post were a way to search for a new angle to a story that doesn’t change quite fast enough to count as news. (In geological terms, we’re warming at hellish pace; but that’s not how the 24/7 news cycle works.) It’s been record-global-hot every day for months now: the first few of those days got some coverage, but at a certain point editors, and then readers, begin to tune out. We’re programmed—by evolution, doubtless, and in the case of journalism by counting clicks—to look for novelty and for conflict. Climate change seems inexorable, which is the opposite of how we think about news.

The war in Gaza, by contrast, fits our defintions perfectly. It is an extraordinary tragedy, it changes day by day, and it is the definition of conflict. And perhaps there’s something we can do about it (which is why many of us have been trying to build support for a ceasefire). So, rightly, it commands our attention. But in a sense, it is the very familiarity of the war that makes it easy for us to focus on it; “mideast conflict,” like “inflation” or “presidential elections,” is an easily-accessed template in our minds. The images of the horror make us, as they should, feel uncomfortable—but it’s a familiar discomfort. The despair, and the resolve, we feel are familiar too; even the subparts of the story fit into familiar grooves (a New York Times reader would be forgiven for thinking the main front of the war is being played out in Harvard Yard, between free speech advocates and cancel culture warriors). Next year seems likely to be another orgy of familiarity: Joe Biden and Donald Trump, yet again.

Climate change has its own familiar grooves—above all the fight with the fossil fuel industry, which played out again at COP 28 in Dubai. But so much of the story is actually brand new: as this year showed, we’re literally in uncharted territory, dealing with temperatures no human society has ever dealt with before. And to head off the worst, we are going to require an industrial transition on a scale we’ve never seen before: there were signs this year that that transition has begun (by midsummer we were installing a gigawatt worth of solar panels a day) but it will have to go much much faster.

These changes—the physical ones, and the political and economic ones—are almost inconceivable to us. That’s my point; they don’t fit our easy templates.

And the point of this newsletter, now and in the years to come, is to try and explain the speed of our crisis, and explain what it dictates about the speed of our response. It’s a story I’ve been trying to put into perspective for 35 years now (the End of Nature was published in 1989, the first book about this crisis) and I’ll keep looking for new ways in. As the climate scientist Andrew Dessler put it in one year-end account, “The only really important question is, ‘How many more years like this we have to have before the reality of how bad climate change is breaks into the public’s consciousness?'”

Thank you for being part of this ongoing effort to break into that consciouness, and—well, happy new year. It’s coming at us, we might as well make it count.

In other energy and climate news:

+The LNG export fight has finally broken through into the big papers. The Times assigned three reporters to the story, and they published a long-awaited account the day after Christmas, under the headline “A Natural Gas Project Is Biden’s Next Big Climate Test.”

The decision forces the Biden administration to confront a central contradiction within its energy policies: It wants nations to stop burning the fossil fuels that are dangerously heating the planet and has heralded a global agreement reached in Dubai earlier this month to transition away from fossil fuels. But at the same time, the United States is producing record amounts of crude oil, is the leading exporter of liquefied natural gas and may approve an additional 17 export facilities, including CP2.

Since early September, activists have lit up TikTok and Instagram, delivered petitions to the Biden administration and met directly with senior White House climate officials to urge Mr. Biden to reject CP2. Jane Fonda recorded a video for Greenpeace calling on the public to work against the project.

“We have enough gas and export terminals to supply everything in the world right now,” said Naomi Yoder, a staff scientist at Healthy Gulf, one of many local groups working to stop the construction of new natural gas infrastructure in the area. “There is no need for additional facilities.”

+A favorite video to end the year. The New York City Labor Chorus, with Jeffrey Vogel doing much of the work, has redrafted the Hallelujah Chorus to be about our beautiful if troubled earth. Enjoy.


Subscribe to Bill McKibben’s Substack here. His newsletter is free, and, in his own words, “if you can’t afford the modest and voluntary subscription fee that underwrites it, then don’t worry. If it wouldn’t be a hardship—thank you!”

The Climate Overshoot Commission Releases Its Report, Pts. 2 & 3

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian: This is a long read, but a good one. After the first installment of Ted Parson’s three-part series introduced climate overshoot as a concept and offered a quick history of the Climate Overshoot Commission, these two follow-up parts explain just what is so interesting – and potentially so radical– in the Commission’s recently released report. As someone who studied the Montreal Protocol (briefly), I always wondered what was so different about the rules, systems, and concepts our global society deployed to reduce ozone-destroying CFCs (et al.) and the rules, systems, and concepts we are using now in our fight against the fossil fuels–induced climate crisis. “Money! Dump-trucks of money!” is of course the most obvious answer to any and all questions, but there’s more potential overlap for success that awaits you in this fascinating two-part finish to Parson’s analysis. I have emphasized key lines through this post to assist fellow skimmers, and marked when I have done so, but I hope many of you read the whole thing.]

Pt. 2, A Radical Proposal Hidden in Plain Sight in the Overshoot Commission Report

Click the image to read the full report on the Climate Overshoot website.

The Commission’s recommendations on emissions include a fossil phaseout much stronger than anything now proposed, which could materially advance climate action.

Legal Planet, by Ted Parson, September 21, 2023

Edward A. (Ted) Parson is Dan and Rae Emmett Professor of Environmental Law and Faculty Co-Director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Continuing my discussion of the report of the Climate Overshoot Commission released last week, today I dig into their recommendations on mitigation. As you may recall, the Commission’s informal (but serious) job description was to speak of elephants in the room and unclothed emperors: to say things that are true and important about climate risks and responses that other, more political constrained bodies cannot. If you take this job description for statements and apply it to recommendations, it would suggest recommending things that are not politically feasible – at least not now – or that even lie outside the range of current debate. This does not mean making recommendations so outlandish or implausible that they can readily be ignored or arbitrarily rejected, of course. But if the job is to move the range of acceptable arguments and proposals – moving the Overton window, as the political scientists say – the most effective recommendations may well lie beyond the boundary of what could be adopted now. This perspective is especially relevant to the Commission’s recommendations on mitigation.

Mitigation – deep rapid cuts to worldwide emissions – is the first, essential element of effective climate response. I don’t think there’s anyone thinking seriously about climate change who disagrees with this. In the Commission’s words, mitigation is the “foundational strategy.” Yet when the Commission began its work, it first planned not to speak about mitigation – not because they didn’t recognize its primary importance, but because they thought there wasn’t much for them to add to what’s already being said, particularly given the tight time limit on their work. But partway through, the Commissioners realized that not speaking on mitigation would risk them being mistakenly seen to not accord it the needed priority, so they changed course – correctly, even necessarily, in my view. But in making this decision, they also resolved that their messages on mitigation had to cut through the noise and move the debate, and thus sought to make their recommendations radical. I think they succeeded at this, although it’s not clear from the initial reactions to their report that their radicalism has been noticed – yet.

Their mitigation recommendations include calls to adopt stronger national and international accountability mechanisms for emissions cuts; policy and financing innovations to promote faster deployment of zero-emissions technologies; and for countries to recognize each other’s climate policies and reflect them in trade measures. They also call for cutting short-lived climate forcers even faster than now being pursued. These are strong recommendations, persuasive and well conceived. But they also could plausibly be adopted within a few years if governments are serious about ramping up their ambition, so do not necessarily meet the aim of proposing something radical enough to move the debate.

So, where’s the radicalism?

It’s in their very first mitigation recommendation, for a “graduated, differentiated phaseout” in production and consumption of fossil fuels. Wait a second, you might say, what’s so radical about that? Isn’t it obvious that the world needs to get rid of fossil fuels, and haven’t a bunch of people called for it? Well, yes. But the Commission’s proposal is vastly stronger than either the weak language adopted at Glasgow – which calls on parties to “… accelerat(e) efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies …” or the language now being discussed for the coming COP28, which speaks of phasing out unabated fossil fuels. The word “unabated” has been used frequently in recent months by Sultan al-Jaber of the United Arab Emirates who is overseeing this year’s COP; it was included in a draft document by EU countries; and it appears in the mitigation findings of the global stocktake released earlier this month. The Commission’s proposal is also substantially stronger, and at the same time more practical, than the most ambitious fossil-fuel proposals being promoted by activist nations: the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance.

What makes the Commission’s proposal so radical is the combination of its ambition; its inclusion of key design elements that make it plausibly operationalizable; and the stature of the Commission. No mitigation proposal remotely this strong has been advanced in policy debate, certainly not by any body with stature similar to the Commission’s.

It is these elements taken together that make the Commission’s proposal radical.

Continue reading The Climate Overshoot Commission Releases Its Report, Pts. 2 & 3

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