Driving for Solutions
Looking at the environment from all angles.
Thursday, January 3, 2008
Our tireless ocean continues to absorb human excess: agriculture and urban runoff, overfishing, oil spills, industrial dumping, littering, and the monster wave of global warming. It’ll take a sea change in attitudes, heaps of data and toothy legislation to revive the planet’s big blue lungs. But California’s putting momentum and money into sea-PR: In 2008 The West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health releases its final Action Plan, and California’s Thank You Ocean campaign launches early in the year. But strategies and commercials alone won’t do the job: We need solutions. We predict ’08 will generate some good ones, especially here on the Monterey Peninsula.
One way to clean up the sea is by reducing the volume of gunk that runs into it from our streets, yards and fields. While the cities of Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel and Pebble Beach are nowhere near meeting the state’s 25-year-old zero-discharge rule, they’re making some progress. We’re seeing more storm water retention ponds, filtration systems and pumping stations – and Marina’s low-tech strategy of filtering runoff into its dunes.
But it’s one pond forward, two cement mixers back. As more of the county is paved, less water reaches the thirsty soil – even as our need for it swells. Water credits don’t grow on trees; they store up in reservoirs, flow from desalination plants and percolate out of the ground. With Cal Am under pressure to stop overdrafting the Carmel River, we predict PG mayor Dan Cort’s plan to restore an old reservoir – and other quirky blood-from-a-stone proposals – will draw a steady stream of interest.
Meanwhile, more land-based animals will be stopped in their tracks by expanding barriers, from the border fence with Mexico to the chain-link along local farms. We’re predicting a bad year for wide-roaming fauna like the endangered San Joaquin kit fox and the disappearing American badger. Meanwhile, officials will have to make some tough decisions about invasive species: Douse the dunes with Roundup to kill ice plant while further endangering the black legless lizard? Keep spraying the Central Coast with CheckMate pheromones to suppress the light-brown apple moth while freaking out, if not making ill, many residents? The poison-versus-invasion debate will rage through 2008 and beyond.
But there are bigger ecosystems to fry. A whole planet, in fact. California is going after its own Kyoto-esque goal of trimming its annual greenhouse gas emissions 12 percent by 2020. One obvious tack is to tighten fuel standards: Cue a 2002 state law requiring a 30-percent reduction in tailpipe emissions by 2020. But on Dec. 19 President Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency, heavily pressed by automakers, denied California’s request for a waiver that would have allowed the state to be the first in the nation to put greenhouse gas limits on cars, trucks and SUVs. Sixteen other states also were told they could not set their own standards.
And if the recent Bali climate talks are any clue, this administration, in its final year, won’t allow meaningful reform. In our home state, the Air Resources Board has until the end of the year to pull together an emissions-curbing strategy. We’ll bet on drama.
While the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments dangles carrots for green commuters, we can’t expect a whole lot of change from local cities, or the Transportation Agency of Monterey County, as long as they keep centering their long-term trans plans on cars. (Free bike racks are great, but bike lanes are better.) We predict 2008 will be another bummer year for people who hope to get around town safely and efficiently on bikes and buses.
At least compact fluorescent and LED lights are becoming cool, thanks to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. bulb bargains and props from a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was almost president. Though it stalled in 2007, we see a bright future for a proposed state bill to ban the sale of energy-squandering incandescent bulbs by 2012. The Legislature will also likely plug renewables, as reflected in last year’s boosts for sun-powered PV panels and water heaters. Expect more in 2008.