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David Schmalz here, thinking about climate change. It’s top of mind for a few reasons: One, we’ve got rain in the forecast tonight, which should give another boost to the parched landscape across the 831 and hopefully mean that Monterey County has survived the 2021 fire season largely unscathed, which increasingly feels like a miracle as each year passes. 

Two, because the two-week U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow is entering its final week, where world leaders are trying to hammer out an agreement to bring the planet down to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, which scientists say is necessary to stave off the most devastating impacts of climate change. 

The stakes could not be higher—climate change is an existential threat to life on earth as we know it—but the problem could not be more complicated, and solving it will require the global community to treat it with the urgency of an asteroid hurtling toward earth, or perhaps an impending alien invasion. (In Hollywood movies, at least, those scenarios seem to inspire urgent, collective action and sacrifice.)

But with so many politicians in this country and others lining their pockets with money from fossil fuel companies—who assure us they really, really care about climate change are transitioning to net-zero (wink wink, after they’ve extracted all the remaining oil and gas in their reserves)—it’s hard to have much hope. 

What I do know, however, is that any hope of mitigating climate change ultimately trickles down to a local level. I was reminded of this during an hourlong virtual event Landwatch Monterey County hosted on Friday, Nov. 5, titled “California Climate Leadership and the Fate of the Planet.”

The event featured four female speakers with decorated resumes in the local, statewide and ultimately global fight against climate change. The overarching theme: we cannot mitigate climate change or build a climate resilient future without smart land-use decisions that reduce our dependence on driving, which is the most fundamental source of carbon emissions. As someone who’s reported on land-use issues in Monterey County for six years, many of the points the speakers raised resonated with me. But one in particular stood out. 

Annie Notthoff, a Landwatch and California Coastal Conservancy board member who led the Natural Resources Defense Council's California Advocacy program for nearly four decades, accurately pointed out that “science tells us that what we do in this decade will dictate how extreme or how manageable climate change is going forward,” and that—and this is what resonated with me most—“sharing is key.”

What did she mean by sharing? That, from a land-use perspective, NIMBYism must end if we are to succeed in mitigating climate change. We need more density, and neighborhoods where people can walk or bike to get places. “To house so many Californians who are under-housed,” Notthoff said, “I think we all need to make room.” 

She also reiterated that despite whatever state or national policies are in place, “it’s what happens on the local level that determines whether we will see any progress on the ground.”

That requires local elected officials, and city and county planners, to see the big picture and not buckle when NIMBYs bring out pitchforks if, for example, there’s a proposal to add more housing density into a neighborhood that has historically been single-family homes. 

Making the best of our climate-ravaged future will require sacrifice, whether we like it or not—the laws of physics are not negotiable. What is negotiable is how ravaged that future will be, so it was a fitting end to the event when Landwatch Executive Director Michael DeLapa put a quote on the screen from author Barry Lopez that read: "The land gets inside of us; and we must decide one way or another what this means, what we will do about it."

What we do about it, locally, is up to us. We must do it urgently. 

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