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Sonoma County Gazette
Savory Sonoma by Stephanie Hiller

Climate Action Plan Ruled Inadequate

Aug 31, 2017
by Stephanie Hiller


The Superior Court ruled in favor of the lawsuit brought by RiverWatch charging that the Climate Action Plan (CAP) is inadequate in evaluating the true environmental impacts of the county’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG’s) emissions by 2020.

The CAP is a planning document that begins with an inventory of current GHG emissions within the county and proceeds to identify reduction measure intended to reduce emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels.

Among its failures, the CAP underestimates the GHGs generated by the county’s two economically sustaining industries, wine and tourism. It also fails to evaluate a reasonable range of alternatives including a moratorium or significant reduction in new vineyard and tourist development.

The ruling means the county will have to amend its plan or start on a new one.

The court also approved the lawsuit’s charge of “lack of clarity in the language describing the reduction measures in the programmatic EIR which would allow project proposals to ‘streamline’ the GHG analysis from the PEIR.”

That’s the legal language. What it means in practice, attorney Jerry Bernhaut said in an interview, is that “Not having to do those EIRs for each project was part of the incentive for different cities to adopt reduction methods as a way of being able to approve more projects.” In other words, it’s a bow to the demands of industry.

Many people are angry about the court ruling having invested time and energy into what Supervisor David Rabbit, chair of the RCPA, has described as most “progressive” and the first of its kind in the country.

What makes Bernhaut angry is the way people defer to the wine and tourism industries regardless of their real costs to the environment. “I’m working against a great deal of resistance towards getting this info to the public,” he said testily.

Nevertheless, he’s still trying.

“If we’re going to address the effects of climate change during the next ten or 15 years – which is all the time we have left -- the first thing we have to do to come up with any reasonable plan is to point out the realities of where we are.” he said. “I clearly recommend is to not do more of it. At the very least, put some sort of moratorium on new vineyards so you don’t exacerbate the problem.”

Using accurate figures that reflect the real climate costs of economic activity, we can begin to reduce activities that produce the most GHGs, and get on with the task of creating a more sustainable way of life.

Bernhaut is working with energy consultant Tom Conlon to produce such an evaluation, one that includes international travel to and from wine country of tourists and wines far beyond the borders of the Bay Area utilized in the CAP. Local policies, including the collection of substantial hotel taxes, actively promote wine country all over the world.

How much does all this travel contribute to climate change?

We know that airline travel creates literally tons of carbon dioxide.

“The New York Times has reported that one round-trip flight from New York to Europe or to San Francisco creates warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person.” That’s a significant chunk of the 19 tons generated by each American per year – which is considerably higher than the 10 tons produced by the average European. If we don’t count emissions from long-distance air travel, we’re leaving out a big piece of the puzzle. Jerry has given up flying altogether.

It’s worth noting that rejecting this CAP does not stop cities from taking steps. The city of Sonoma has already put into effect its plan to use electric vehicles and LED lights within its jurisdiction.

What comes next? We need to design a different kind of economy, says Bernhaut, something along the line of steady-state economics, where we go forward without exceeding the carrying capacity of the earth.“Market forces alone won’t get us there. My sense is that there has to be an expanded role for government to regulate consumption and development.”

Sadly, that is not the direction of our present governments.

The CAP calamity demonstrates the complexity of making systemic changes to our economic, governmental and energy systems by trying to accommodate the preferences of all sectors, especially business.

Somewhere we are going to have to take “the leap” to create new systems, as Naomi Klein advocates in her new book, No Is Not Enough.

Stay tuned.


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