On Sept. 21, I attended the Climate All Stars Conference in San Francisco. Organized by the Climate Protection Campaign (CPC), a nonprofit located in Sonoma County’s small town of Graton, this conference was an ambitious effort to bring together a lineup of resources and individuals actively working to save the planet from the effects of global warming. The CPC is a stunning example of the type of organization that just might, when everything else seems to be failing, rescue the world from its no-uncertain doom.
Climate Protection Campaign president Ann Hancock and her host of committed volunteers and few staff members are perhaps best known for their work in implementing the adoption of a plan by all nine Sonoma County cities and the county government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2015. This fall, the CPC will release the results of an extensive study which will lay out in detail its findings on CO2 emissions, as well as a detailed plan for what must be done in order to meet the 2015 goal.
I spoke with CPC development director Barry Vesser about this huge undertaking and what it will take to get the action plan out into the community and into effect. Among other things, we discussed the importance of semantics. When it comes to green issues, Vesser encouraged me to think about the environment not in terms of “carbon constraints” and “sacrifice,” but in terms of a “green renaissance” and “new possibilities.” Vesser, perhaps sensing my dark side, reassured me that Sonoma County is rich in progressives, human resources, talent and business economy. He believes that Sonoma County is perfectly poised to be the forerunner in climate control, and that it can meet its goal of emissions reduction.
With over 300 participants, the All Stars Conference is an example of exactly the type of widespread engagement Vesser was referring to. To be surrounded by so many people who not only care deeply about climate change but who are motivated enough to take action was both inspiring and educational.
My first stop was a break-out session, sponsored by the Cool Schools program, which is just one more program developed by the CPC. High school students were scattered throughout the group, and when one student raised his hand and asked the room full of adults when the last time was that any of them had actually ridden the bus, I felt a flicker of hope for humanity.
When I was in high school, all I knew about global warming was that it could be a myth, but if it wasn’t, it was my best friend’s fault because she used too much Aqua Net hairspray. Thanks to Cool Schools, which provides materials to high schools like Analy and Windsor, students have the chance to study their school’s carbon footprint, and figure out ways to minimize it. Youth awareness is obviously on the rise.
One of the most memorable moments of the day, other than the surprisingly excellent food, was when keynote speaker Ed Mazria stepped up on the stage and began to work a “fear of the end of the world” spell. The lights went down, and so began a slide show of what the United States will look like in 2035, when the oceans finally begin to swallow us up. This is it, I found myself thinking, of all the ways to go, death by drowning.
Mazria informed the crowd that there are currently 151 new coal-fired power plants in various stages of development in the United States In China, Beijing will have to shut down its coal plants prior to the Olympics in a desperate attempt to make the air clean enough to breathe, at least while jogging. Even if we all start riding the bus every day, we may be helping, but the coal plants will negate our efforts, and then some. In just 10 days of operation, the CO2 emissions from one medium-sized coal-fired plant will negate the planting of 300,000 trees.
Just as I was about to relinquish that splinter of hope brought on by the youth action and the composting bins that were placed next to all of the dish-busing stations, Mazria gifted us with a solution. By reducing the amount of energy used by buildings, we can negate the need for coal plants. Our future lies not just in how we ride but, most importantly, in how we build. The answer to global warming is no more coal. Up until now I had secretly considered the entire situation rather hopeless, because most of us would rather die than not drive, or at the very least, die while driving. There are times when I love being wrong. This was one of them.
For an All Stars toolkit, as well as videos of the conference and a plethora of other resources, visit www.climateallstars.org. For more information on the Climate Protection Campaign, as well as the Cool Schools Program, visit www.climateprotectioncampaign.org or call 707.823.2665. For more information on getting rid of coal and the 2030 challenge, go to www.architecture2030.org.