Maria Gutzeit | Taking Baby Steps to Achieve Big Goals on Climate

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Today my daughter asked me how I memorized all the street names in town. I don’t have them all memorized, of course, but I explained that before we had Google Maps, we had to know roughly where things were, so we didn’t have to pull out a map every time we went somewhere. 

Google Maps is now nearly 15 years old, though I still have several Thomas Guides in my car in case the Zombie Apocalypse takes down the grid.

I hope our path to being lighter on the planet is like that. Let’s evolve and do things smarter. I for one don’t miss pulling over in a strange neighborhood and trying to match up the edges of my Thomas Guide pages after taking a wrong turn. 

Was there angst about getting rid of paper maps? Maybe. But for most of us, they just got better. What if our approach to the planet was like that?

We needed a new roof and installed one of the “Cool Roofs” that saves 15% on energy costs and coupled that with upgraded insulation. It’s the new standard but didn’t cost more than the old-style roofs. Our ancient garage door is sagging, and we’re looking at a newer, insulated one, for not that much more cost. 

Consumers want the best gas mileage in the car model that meets their needs, and automakers are delivering. There’s a steady march toward improvement that we all benefit from, and it’s significant. 

In 2016, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) “found that many states can meet at least 25% of their pollution-reduction targets through efficiency programs; some states can even achieve 100%.”  

Sure, we can continue to debate about how bad temperature changes or sea level rise will be, but why dither when we can press more heavily on with the forward progress we are already making? 

Similarly, finger wagging on small things doesn’t help when cooperating on the big things is necessary.

The Nature Conservancy recently had a terrific column (“Last Chance,” Heather Tallis, fall 2019 magazine) on how we achieve a livable future in 2050 with 2 billion more people and triple the current economic output, and it focused on just three things: shifting energy to non-fossil fuels; growing crops in the regions best suited to growing them; and adopting sustainable fisheries management. 

That’s it, they claim, to make 2050 much better than the current trajectory. Sure, they also are huge on restoring nature, and supported a recent study published in the journal Science Advances showing that “in the U.S., nature has potential to remove 21% of the nation’s carbon pollution – equivalent to removing emissions from ALL cars and trucks on the road, and then some.”

This summer we all remembered the 50-year anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. There were naysayers then, too, but that didn’t stop us. We need some leadership behind the big goals, and we have to stop arguing over the little details. 

Michael E. Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, writes (Time, Sept. 23), “Individual action is important and something we should all champion. But appearing to force Americans to give up meat, or travel, or other things central to the lifestyle they’ve chosen …is politically dangerous: It plays right into the hands of climate-change deniers whose strategy tends to be to portray climate champions as freedom-hating totalitarians.” 

That, and we only have so much capacity to do things. Let’s focus on the 20% of things that are going to get us 80% of the results. 

Focus is needed from voters, regulators and politicians alike. Clean energy isn’t a piece of cake. It requires grid improvements. It requires allowing transmission lines and solar and wind farms, especially on degraded land. It requires energy contracts with other states that have less sun and more wind. It requires the stored energy of hydropower and battery banks. 

It may even require us to act globally and help other countries with energy improvements. It will require we be more efficient on our farms and fisheries and spread the practices of the best of the best. It will require that we support recycling plants and battery manufacturing and value research and development again. 

It will require career changes and tweaks in plans. It will require learning new things, doing things better, planting more trees, and seeking efficiency in our homes and workplaces. 

It doesn’t sound too bad to me – it actually sounds like a worthwhile project, so what are we still arguing about?

Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, elected official, and mom living in Santa Clarita. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among several local Democrats.

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