Opinion: Our region is not taking action at a pace or scale necessary for our climate emergency

If there is one thing we know about the climate emergency, it’s that we are not taking action at the pace and scale necessary to prevent the dystopian future that climate scientists warn us about.


California has always taken pride in being a global climate leader, and we remain one of the only states in the nation to have climate laws to reduce overall carbon pollution, among other landmark rules and regulations.


At the same time, we’ve dragged our feet on implementing some key climate solutions. We continue to pollute the air and harm our health with gas-powered cars and diesel trucks, as well as sprawling development. We haven’t allowed sufficient housing near jobs and transit, and our buildings are powered by dangerous methane gas. We’ve allowed polluters to set up shop next to homes and schools, choking children of color with poisonous air.


A new report issued by leading climate scientists concluded that over the next 10 years, California’s destructive wildfires, heatwaves and droughts will double in intensity, disproportionately impacting our most vulnerable populations, including seniors and communities of concern.


The report also tells us that our once-groundbreaking climate laws are no longer aligned with climate science, and that we must go bigger and bolder than our most ambitious climate goals to date: We must cut emissions by 80 percent — instead of 40 percent — below 1990 levels by 2030.


While these proposed goals are daunting, they are achievable.


San Diego put itself on the map when the city adopted its groundbreaking 2015 Climate Action Plan, committing to 100 percent clean electricity and cutting its carbon footprint in half by 2035.


Eight other cities in San Diego County followed suit, and today our region has successfully launched two new nonprofit public power agencies to ensure these cities can achieve their clean electricity goals. In fact, we are already seeing new solar and storage projects coming to fruition, proving the ability of these agencies to accelerate new clean electricity development along with creating new high wage jobs.


This year, the county of San Diego voted to develop a first-of-its-kind regional road map to zero carbon, which is the level of climate ambition we need.


Unfortunately, it’s not enough. Every year, we issue a Climate Action Plan Report Card to assess how all 18 cities and the county are developing and implementing their Climate Action Plans. Our most recent report card showed that our communities are uniformly falling behind on nearly every metric, and are disjointed in their approach to tackling the climate emergency.


Our greatest source of pollution remains transportation, and yet our cities have failed to invest in world-class biking, walking and transit infrastructure or enough dense housing at a scale to slash our transportation emissions.


The report card also showed that no city in our region is planning for what climate science says is necessary — achieving zero carbon. This target is not the same as “carbon-neutral” or “net-zero”— a framing often used by governments and corporations to greenwash their harm to our planet and communities — but genuinely working towards an economy that is free of fossil fuels.


This Earth Day month is a call to arms. We have to decide if we are serious about stopping the climate crisis or not.


We are the last generation who has the opportunity and the responsibility to bend the carbon curve. It will require an unprecedented level of commitment and investment into climate-friendly infrastructure and new ways of living.


It will not be easy, especially as fossil fuel corporations pour millions to fill the coffers of elected officials and push to delay climate action at every level of government, but it’s our moral duty.


The flip side of all these dire warnings is that it offers us an opportunity to build a new economy that works for all of us. With large jobs and infrastructure bills from Washington, D.C., poised to bring billions of climate dollars to our state, a better future is on the horizon. We just have to be brave enough to meet the moment.


If you care about our health and future, please join us in this historic fight. We’re building people power to win transformative change through the San Diego Green New Deal Alliance, a coalition of 54 diverse organizations and businesses from across the region dedicated to a just and equitable zero-carbon future. Visit greennewdealsd.org to learn more.


Together, anything is possible.


(This op-ed originally appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune on 4/26/2021)

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