(Green) Lipstick on a Hog

This photo of Arnold Schwartzenegger showing off his hydrogen-powered Hummer wasn’t his finest hour. I’ll explain why I think so in a minute. His finest hour, in my opinion, was his backing of AB 32, a commitment to greenhouse gas reduction that is a hopeful example in a world that has been slow to respond to the threat of climate change.

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With AB 32, our lawmakers did something extraordinary. They prioritized the long-term vital needs of the community over short-term convenience. The goal they set for greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction is enormous: 80% by 2050. In order to reach that goal we’re going to have to go beyond more efficient appliances and vehicles, beyond exploiting wind and solar power, to changing the way we satisfy our needs.

It is the extraordinary effort it will take to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 80% that gives me a bone to pick with Arnold’s hydrogen-powered Hummer. A Hummer is an energy hog. You can power a Hummer with renewable energy, but that just devotes precious and limited renewable energy to moving a 200lb person and 4.3 tons of metal from place to place. Let’s use our limited renewable energy to power the things we really need.

I’ve got a similar problem with the notion that the desalination project can be “carbon neutral” or “carbon free”. The desalination process will use 13 times the electricity of Santa Cruz’s current water production per gallon of water produced. The desal project consultant, Kennedy/Jenks, is leading a workshop this Saturday with the goal of identifying energy efficiency measures, renewable power projects, etc., that “offset” the energy use of the proposed plant. This might be an intellectually honest endeavor if we had already reached our goal of 80% reduction in carbon emissions. But we haven’t. All of the good ideas on Kennedy/Jenks list for reducing our fossil fuel energy use are going to be needed to reach the 80% goal. If we credit the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency measures to the desal project, we’ve only made our journey to the GHG reduction goal more difficult.

This is what I wrote to the citizen participants in the Kennedy/Jenks workshop:
• In order to achieve state GHG reduction targets of 80%, the first priority for efficiency measures, renewable energy projects and greenhouse gas mitigations should be to reduce the carbon emissions of existing power use. Greenhouse gas mitigations should only be considered for new projects that the community considers essential to its well-being. New water supply projects can be considered “essential” if they meet health and safety needs that cannot be met through strategies such as demand reduction or regional collaboration.

Santa Cruz can be a place where people refuse to use gimmicks to hide an increase in fossil fuel energy use. Or it will be the place where people fall for the gimmicks.

For a critique of one of the strategies on Kennedy/Jenks list, the purchase of “Renewable Energy Credits”, see “Turn on the Greenwash Wipers”

Click to listen to my 2 minute Argument with God about using fossil fuels, recorded by KUSP. -Rick Longinotti

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