City needs to do more to combat global warming

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Michael Clemson, the vice chair of the Long Beach Transit board of directors, and the energy program manager for the California State University Chancellor’s Office. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

In 2015, Mayor Robert Garcia signed the Compact of Mayors to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address climate risks. The city has promoted electric vehicles through its charger giveaway program, covered city street lights to energy efficient LEDs and the port has worked to reduce both carbon and diesel emissions by expanding its electric truck fleet.

All the work the city is doing is significant and important, but it’s nowhere near the scale needed to avert catastrophic global warming. Reports from the United Nations, the State of California and even the Trump Administration all point to the same conclusion: Global Warming is real, it’s happening now, humans are causing it and emissions must drop quickly and significantly. To protect civilization immediate action is needed. We must start by ending our investment in fossil fuels.

Long Beach must stop investing in oil operations, residential natural gas and driving.

Investments are about the long term. Therefore, any investments in fossil fuels we make is a bad one. We either waste resources building things that we know we can’t use in 10 years, or we lock in more fossil fuel use and risk destabilizing the climate.  Neither option is reasonable or responsible.

End investment in oil operations

 Whether by fracking or conventional drilling, fossil fuel extraction is a direct threat to humanity. Every aspect of oil production is dangerous and polluting. Extraction risks oil spills and refineries subject the communities around them – almost always minority and low-income – to toxic metals and carcinogens.

Globally, oil production means more carbon in the atmosphere. To preserve a livable climate, most of the remaining oil needs to remain in the ground. This includes the oil in Long Beach. Long Beach Energy should commit to ending new drilling and form a long-term plan to end all oil operations under their control.

End investment in residential natural gas

 Unlike fossil fuels, electricity is rapidly becoming cleaner. Moving from fossil fuels to electricity is an important climate action we can take now with new homes.

Long Beach should require all new construction be all electric to give new residents a low-cost path to carbon neutrality and avoid investment in a polluting resource. When it comes time to end natural gas operations, almost every existing home in Long Beach will need electric water heaters, stoves, clothes dryers and many more home appliances.

Like oil operations, Long Beach Energy should form a long-term plan to end natural gas dependency.

The proposed Long Beach Community Choice Aggregation – a utility alternative – is essential to this transition. One thing the CCA can do is provide funding for residents, especially low-income residents, to electrify their homes.

End investment in driving

 The largest source of emissions in both Long Beach and California is from personal car ownership. The Air Resources Board released a study last month saying that carbon emissions in California are increasing and that, even with a massive increase in electric vehicles, driving must reduce by 25 percent to hit the state’s climate targets.

The city continues to prioritize investments in car-first infrastructure by expanding intersections, building more drive-thrus and an unquestioning devotion to finding the last parking spot that will finally solve the parking problem. This just encourages more people to drive more, leading to more emissions, more traffic and more parking headaches.

Communities around major roads and freeways – again usually minority and low-income – are subjected to the highest amounts of pollution from car exhaust. Asthma rates are highest near highways, as are heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and pre-term births.

Unfortunately, alternatives to driving are treated as afterthoughts. Electric scooters are going through a rigorous evaluation process; bus stops are temporarily closed, confusing and frustrating riders; and bike lanes are blocked for months by construction equipment.

Long Beach needs to recognize that, like oil drilling, requiring car ownership isn’t compatible with a livable city or climate. Walking, biking and transit should be the priority, in both planning and funding. Long Beach should consider congestion charges and paid on-street parking.

Long Beach should join cities like San Francisco and eliminate parking minimums. Parking minimums require new development build more parking than is needed, which, in addition to adding up to $100,000 to the price of a home, only encourages more driving.

None of this means ending these things tomorrow. Oil will continue to flow, homes will be heated with natural gas and people will drive. But investments set a course for the future. Given the challenge of combating global warming, we can’t afford to waste precious time or resources on investments that take us in the wrong direction.

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