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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Life Under the Lid

Air Date: Week of July 11, 2008

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Commuting over the Golden Gate bridge in northern California. (Photo: Steven Shupe)

When the public had its first chance to comment on what life is going to be like under California's carbon limit, several people said put more emphasis on driving less. Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports.

Transcript

GELLERMAN: California hopes to become the first state in the nation to effectively reduce climate change gases. By state law, California must cut climate change emissions to what they were in 1999. The state’s come up with a plan and in Los Angeles officials have just held their first public meeting to discuss the details. But as Living on Earth's Ingrid Lobet reports, some who attended say the plan doesn't go far enough.

LOBET: If you take all the emissions from cars, trucks, power plants, buildings, cows, everything in California, and divide it by the number of residents, you get 14 tons of gases per person per year. That must be chopped down to 10 tons.

TIM O'CONNOR: This is equal to taking 28 million cars off the road by 2020. Even putting it another way, it's like shedding all the emissions inventory of Missouri, the fifteenth largest emitter of all the US States.

LOBET: That's Tim O'Connor of the Environmental Defense Fund, just one of dozens to testify at this first hearing on California's broad plan to cut CO2 emissions from everything. Fran Pavley spoke up early in the hearing. She's the former fifth grade teacher and former assemblywoman who in her first term, shepherded California's earliest climate change law through the state legislature.

PAVLEY: We are all part of history. When this was passed, I hadn't realized how quickly we are facing tangible evidence of climate change directly to California. And probably the most direct impact has been our wildfires - yearlong wildfire seasons.

LOBET: And Pavley, who now travels and speaks as a climate change guru, urged officials to face up to one of the country's thorniest problems: the long distances people drive from homes to work.

PAVLEY: How do we incentivize cities and builders to change from continuing California's pattern of sprawl and dependence on the automobile, instead of creating those walkable neighborhoods and towns linked by effective public transit?

LOBET: Addressing the reality of how many miles we drive, of land use, is more complicated than cutting emissions from a factory. And more people took the podium for this issue than any other. Michael Woo spoke for a new coalition that's come together on this issue to try to end the era of distant suburbs built without taking into account the ensuing car exhaust. Woo took officials to task for giving the problem short shrift.

WOO: The emissions reduction target for land use sector is set by the draft plan is abysmally low. Because transportation is largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions, and because our sprawling land use patterns are the prime cause, of our overuse of automobiles and our over dependency on gasoline, the draft plans light touch on land use means the plan misses the historic opportunity to directly address one of California’s main contributions to climate change.

LOBET: Woo and several others pleaded with officials to put a ceiling on emissions from each town or region. That would force local authorities to reduce sprawl and increase buses and trains. Pam O'Connor is an LA County transit board member and a city councilwoman from Santa Monica. She and others said public transit needs to be properly funded, as it's increasingly part of the climate change solution

PAM O'CONNOR: Funding is being reduced, at a time when it is most needed and at a time when the transit sector is experiencing record ridership.

LOBET: As climate action advances and activities shift toward lower-carbon options, like buses and trains, some of those options will see their emissions increase. O'Connor insisted communities with mass transit must be credited for their success.


Commuting over the Golden Gate bridge in northern California. (Photo: Steven Shupe)

PAM O'CONNOR: We use energy, but the people who use our services, would have otherwise driven, so by using transit, they save hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2 from being released.

LOBET: Particularly if those fleets run on natural gas.

PAM O'CONNOR: Our transit buses are as clean as we can get them. We're the nation's largest clean fleet. The buses are 97% cleaner than diesel. We have 1.8 megawatts of solar power, the largest renewable energy provided in the United States transit industry.

LOBET: Some businesses are also speaking up for mass transit. Carolyn Casavan is CEO of an environmental consulting firm.

CASAVAN: As an employer, I'm concerned about my employees being able to get to work as the gasoline price continues to rise.

LOBET: California's path toward cutting 80% of emissions by 2050 will take clearer form over the summer. The state predicts these changes will save two billion dollars in health costs avoided. But there will be significant costs for some players in the short term, and as those costs come into focus, the discussion will doubtless become more heated.

For Living on Earth, I’m Ingrid Lobet.

 

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