When we marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day last April, I asked: What if we harnessed the same level of dedication that we are using to battle the COVID-19 pandemic to combat climate change?
The impacts of climate change are far and wide. Weather patterns are changing, storms are more frequent and severe, droughts are more common and consistently higher temperatures are being felt around the globe. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that global warming has continued unabated over the past three decades, sea-level rise has accelerated and greenhouse gas emissions due to human activities, which are the root cause of global warming, continue to increase every year.
People who live in poverty and other vulnerable communities throughout the world are most affected by the impacts.
According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, the U.S. has the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per capita at more than 18 tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent per person, compared to a worldwide average of 6 tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent per person. Yes, each of us is responsible for greenhouse gas emissions that are three times the global average.
Do we have a responsibility as global citizens to change this trend? I say yes.
Carbon-dioxide emissions come primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels. In California, this includes burning natural gas for electricity production, burning gasoline to move our cars and burning natural gas to heat our homes and water, and cook our food.
But there are alternatives. There are alternatives that do not produce greenhouse gas emissions, which means they are “carbon free.” We can produce electricity from renewable energy and other carbon-free sources. We can use that clean electricity to power electric vehicles. And we can use that clean electricity to heat our homes and water, and cook our food.
Many of you know that I have been working in the renewable energy and utility industry for my entire professional career, more than 30 years. Decades ago, as an undergraduate civil engineering student at Stanford University, I found my passion, which is to create a sustainable energy future on this planet that provides affordable renewable energy now and for future generations. I know the energy field very well, and in fact was recognized as the “Green Power Leader of the Year” in 2017 from the Center for Resource Solutions/U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for my work in this industry during my career.
I want to dispel some incorrect information I’ve seen floating around on Nextdoor about the electricity we use in Los Altos.
In 2016, the city council voted unanimously for Los Altos to join Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCE), the community-choice energy program that sources the electricity for all of Santa Clara County (except San Jose). Since its beginning in 2017, SVCE has sourced electricity that is 100% carbon free, including 50% from renewable energy plants for Los Altos. This means the electricity we use in Los Altos comes from wind, solar, hydroelectric and other renewable energy sources. And if you have a solar system on your home, you know that you are powering your home’s electricity needs directly from the sun.
Los Altos adopted a Climate Action Plan in 2013 (soon to be updated), which used 2005 data to measure our greenhouse gas emissions in Los Altos. It identified the following sectors for their emissions:
• Transportation = 50%
• Residential Energy = 33%
• Commercial Energy = 11%
• Others = 6%
Clearly there are two areas for us to make a huge impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Los Altos: (1) using the clean electricity we receive from SVCE for electric transportation, and (2) using the clean electricity we receive from SVCE for residential and commercial energy use.
When I was first elected to the Los Altos City Council in 2012, I found that the vast majority of this community supports a clean and sustainable energy future, with Los Altos as a leader, not a follower. We have the tools to make Los Altos a leader for a clean and sustainable energy future. We have the tools to have Los Altos residents be responsible global citizens.
Let’s make it happen.
Jan Pepper is mayor of Los Altos.