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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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Climate change: A critical challenge for Palo Alto? Or, an impossible goal?

Uploaded: Apr 28, 2021
The Palo Alto City Council has taken on what environmentalists see as an important big step in trying to cut this city’s carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by 2030 (the "80x30" plan), as measured against our 1990 baseline – a goal that will involve dramatic changes for this community. Opponents say these proposed actions are too difficult to meet and the public will refuse to cooperate.

The overriding issue is the threat of powerful climate changes to our planet. If we don’t quickly do something, living on this planet will be nearly impossible for millions of people.

Climate change is an escalating concern, but, unfortunately not an overwhelming global worry yet.

So, what are some of the things Palo Altans will have to do to reach the 80x30 level?

Take a deep breath:

Vice Mayor Pat Burt, the major advocate for controlling CO2 emissions here, started with a long list, supplanted by staff input:

• Convert every gas appliance in residential homes to electric appliances. That means no more kitchen gas stoves, gas fireplaces, gas water heaters, and perhaps gas grills. Everyone will have to replace them.
• Require that almost all residential automobiles be electric, perhaps by 2030.
• Limit the number of gas-fueled autos from entering town to 40 percent, including all commuters who work in Palo Alto. In other words, 60 percent of commuters must have electric cars.
• Require a city-wide vote on some controversial ideas, such as carbon pricing – although what we would vote on has not yet been fleshed out.

All these actions, if taken, would result in a 72 percent reduction in carbon dioxide, short by 8 percent of our 80x30 goals. So, we would have to do a lot more – like limit the amount of electricity we use between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. – less cooking, less watching TV, no washer or dryer use. Et cetera.

The council unanimously approved all these recommendations.

You can breathe out now. Or just gulp.

One number is mentioned in the staff report --$740 million in expenditures, but I am not sure yet what expenses the $740 million covers.

I know our increasing global CO2 problem is a huge one, and that action, preferably by governments, is need ASAP. The trapped heat is already causing weird climate problems – more hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, droughts, etc.

As critical of “doing something” is, I have two problems with this proposal.

Let’s hypothetically say that Palo Altans do all these things and even achieve the 80x30 level, or maybe 100x40. But if we do, what effect will we have on the global warming problem? Since we are a community of 65,000, the global effect may be miniscule – or nonexistent.

Can we really get other cities to adopt this plan, just because Palo Alto has?

Some enthusiasts have told me that Palo Alto would be recognized nationwide as a city who got it done, and we could be a role model for other cities. That has a tone of arrogance to me. Yes, Palo Alto always wants first place, but, for what it’s worth, that doesn’t really matter to me.

President Biden introduced a similar plan this past week that will be discussed and I hope big parts of it will be adopted, which will be wonderful. National attention can have a significant effect. He is now going to try to get other countries to get on board, but that will be a hard sell. According to the NYT, Australia, India, Indonesia. Mexico and Russia made no new pledges to cut down oil, gas or coal. China is playing a tit-for-tat game – We’ll do this if you, the U.S., change your positions on A, B and C. China is the largest emitter of CO2.

Second, each of these proposals raise a host of issues that need to be answered by our city. The first is how much will it cost? If I have to replace my water heater and buy an electric one, what will that cost and how do I get rid of the old one? How much will it cost to get rid of my gas stove and do I have to get rewired for electric? How about the cost of a new electric car? Is there enough electricity from our city Utilities Department to provide for all-electric houses? What if the grid breaks down, as it has done four times this year so far? How much will our monthly electric costs increase? And even if the city gives a discount incentive to electric car buyers, who is going to pay for that – the rest of us residents? Where is the city going to get the money to pay for all this? From its residents?

My list is endless.

I was talking with a friend about this the other day and she agreed we have to do something and she is eager to participate. And then I suggested that maybe it would be easier to tell residents they can’t fly for the next 10-plus years, because then we will have a much smaller carbon footprint. One cross-country plane trip causes an increase in CO2 emissions equivalent to all the CO2 reductions we make yearly under an 80x30 plan.

She said she couldn’t do that. She lives to travel. And I don't think the city includes air travel in its 80x30 plan -- yet it should.

I, too, love to travel, but because of COVID-19, I haven’t taken a plane for two years now. I can’t say I’ve suffered tremendously.

And even though the airline industry promises to streamline its CO2 emissions, they do expect to see a lot more people flying by 2040 because predictions are that more individuals living in Asia and Africa will want to travel, which will require more new planes and more fuel consumption.

I don’t know how to solve all this, but I am appreciative that Palo Alto is trying to control our CO2 emissions. But people have to buy into this program to make it work. And we have a lot of middle- and low-income people in town so it can't be too costly. So please city council members and staff, don’t be too idealistic -- or too draconian.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 28, 2021 at 12:23 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

I am trying to do my part, as are many others.

Saying this, and I don't feel that I am old, walking, biking or using a city bus was the normal way to get to school and work. The family car was often only used at weekends. My mother walked to buy groceries using a basket on wheels and plenty of string and cloth bags. Fruits and vegetables were weighed and put into our string bags without any type of individual bagging. Large shopping trips were done on Saturdays when we went out as a family in the car. Our house had partial heating but we did have an open fireplace. If we were cold we would put on extra clothes and an extra blanket on the beds. Laundry was done once a week with several loads using the same water and dried by hanging outside on a line. Milk and other items were sold in reusable glass bottles and it was second nature to rinse them out to return for reuse. We bought local produce only and anything out of season was not seen again until the following year. We had a veg plot and grew many fruits and veg. We made jams and pickles from our bumper crops. We happily wore handmedowns, sometimes from our parents as clothing was restyled or cut down for the children. Shoes were repaired, sometimes by my father. He also did most of the maintenance on the family car and it was lovingly washed and polished at weekends. We had a push mower and I remember being taught how to mow the lawn and cut the edges.

Most food was cooked at home, very little processed food and very little eating out. We played outside because that was where the fun stuff was. Inside was boring. Going to see a movie, or a weekend away to visit grandparents was a rare treat.

Somewhere along the way, we have become a wasteful, throwaway society. Perhaps lifestyle changes should be reducing the use of materialism rather than banning.

Posted by An Unrealistic Pipedream, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Apr 28, 2021 at 3:47 pm

An Unrealistic Pipedream is a registered user.

(1) Palo Alto residents are not going to switch from gas to all-electric ranges unless forced to do under the penalty of city ordinance fines which will in turn, be settled in court.

(2) Palo Alto residents are not going to switch 100% electric cars unless forced to do do under the penalty of city ordinance fines which in turn, will be settled in court.

Both President Biden and Council member Burt are dealing in eco-pipedreams.

Besides as you mentioned, "Since we are a community of 65,000, the global effect may be miniscule �" or nonexistent."

And as far as "Palo Alto would be recognized nationwide as a city who got it done, and we could be a role model for other cities."

Curious. Who's keeping score and who cares?

Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Apr 28, 2021 at 5:56 pm

Joseph E. Davis is a registered user.

How could Palo Alto possibly enforce a limit on gas powered cars entering the city? Would there be checkpoints with climate police at every entrance?

Will the climate police need to be admitted into the home to check for gas stoves, or will the gas simply stop one day?

Total nonsense from start to finish. Since I don't live or work in Palo Alto, I'll definitely be entertained by any attempt to carry out these foolish nostrums.

Posted by StarSpring, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Apr 28, 2021 at 7:30 pm

StarSpring is a registered user.

Nope. Just no. If we are not already over the tipping point where the planet kills off the meddling humans who are fouling their own nest, we will be shortly. Almost every suggestion surfaced in this blog, recycling, banning ICE cars, moving away from natural gas, involves pushing down responsibility to consumers those actions that require industry to address. If may be more "ecological" to hang oneself with a hemp rope rather than a synthetic one, but dead is dead.

Imagine if we tried to deal with SARS-CoV-2 on a city by city basis without $trillions in government backing and an urgent multinational approach?

Tell you what, If I can go one month without seeing or hearing a gas powered leaf blower being used in a residential area I'll sign on to this plan. Ready... GO!

Posted by Diana Diamond, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 28, 2021 at 7:59 pm

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Posted by Neal, a resident of Community Center,
on Apr 29, 2021 at 7:07 am

Neal is a registered user.

According to the Census Bureau we have about 23,000,000 more polluters in our country than we had ten years ago. We will never solve our pollution problems without population control. Too many people are unwilling to make sacrifices for the greater good. For example, look at how many people refuse to wear a mask during a deadly pandemic because it's inconvenient or infringing on their freedom.

Posted by mikepat, a resident of Monta Loma,
on Apr 29, 2021 at 10:24 am

mikepat is a registered user.

Monday, GM re-introduced its plug - in Chevy Volt, with appropriate ceremony. At the Q and A
afterward, a reporter asked what the was the source of the electricity being used to charge the batteries. The answer? Lansing Michigan was using 93 % coal powered plants at that time (a bright sunny day).

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Apr 29, 2021 at 10:31 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Even President Biden's had to back off on his proposals for everyone to have EVs because people are keeping their cars much longer, 11 or so years, and then selling them used to OTHER people who keep them on the road much longer.

Shame on Pat Burch; I don't need his help spending my money on new appliances which don't last as long as the old ones. Look up the CA appliance lemon law where manufacturers no longer have to stock parts longer than 7 years as I learned when joking with the appliance salesman about how I hope the one would last another 30+ years, He set me right quickly and explained that because of EnergyStar targets, appliance walls are thinner and the motors have to work harder.

Is Pat Burch going to have PA buy as ALL new ranges, refrigerators, washers, driers, dishwashers, water heaters, etc etc. every few years? If not, let him save us all some agony and get real!

Posted by Consider Your Options. , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 29, 2021 at 11:51 am

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

I am already making many of these changes in my home each time I have to replace an appliance, or other home improvement. I try to bike for local trips. (Added benefit, I notice my balance is better when I regularly bike. Biking, I'm finding, is good for seniors!)

We created this mess. Just like our parents and teachers taught us when we were very small, we need to take responsibility for cleaning up our own mess. These are the values I was raised with. Change starts with me in my community. The best way to effect change is to model what is possible. When people see what is possible, they often follow.

Let's please stop whining about how hard this is. Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work doing what we can to save our planet. Earth is screaming for our attention. Fires, floods, mass extinctions are already occurring. We can do something or we can throw up our hands and leave our children an environmentally and socially unstable world. I choose to do everything I can to reduce my carbon footprint. Please join me and encourage others to join you. Together, we can make a better world.

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Apr 29, 2021 at 12:17 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

OUR mess? Or the mess created and still being fueled by massive office development and densification in a drought-ridden area that can't sustain it?

Posted by Consider Your Options. , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 29, 2021 at 1:07 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

Yes. OUR mess. The global climate problem was not caused by tech companies, though they, like all of us, have played a role. It was caused by decades of overuse of carbon-based fuels. There's a lot we can do collectively to change that if we act now.

We all created the problem together. We are going to have to work together to solve it. So let's get to it. No whining, no finger pointing. Let's just step up and each do our part.

Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on Apr 29, 2021 at 2:28 pm

Annette is a registered user.

I think Consider Your Options makes a good point: solving this requires that individuals, companies, and government all do what they can. What I don't want to see happen is for individuals to be the equivalent of low hanging fruit: easiest to regulate and control, easiest to punish.

I also don't hear any talk about the impact of construction (commercial and residential) or curbs on either. Castilleja wants a big underground garage. Huh? If this CC wants community buy-in on this they need to make development decisions that mesh with the 80 x 30 plan. Adding an underground garage on the Castilleja campus does not. Growing Palo Alto's population by 30% does not. Building enormous commercial campuses does not.

And Neal is right about population growth. Paul Ehrlich warned us in 1968 and again in 1990 along with Anne Ehrlich. 5 decades since the first warning; 3 since the second warning. Last year's fires that turned the sky orange might be taken as a third warning. And Exhibit A for "You Need to Take The Warnings Seriously".

So, I'm in for doing my part. I don't really think driving less than I already do or replacing gas appliances with electric ones is going to make much of a difference, but if enough of us do the little things that we can, maybe the combined effort will prove beneficial. Maybe someone expert in this can comment on that.

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 29, 2021 at 3:44 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

If Palo Alto wants to make us walk and bike more, then opening up the creeks to enable safe and pleasant walks for local residents. The tunnel is closed and that is definitely being felt by locals in south Palo Alto who now have no choice other than drive to get to the Baylands instead of the pleasant walk along the creek.

Those creeks should be pleasant green areas for walking and watching wild ducks, egrets, geese and birds. Instead, they are chained off, and appear never to have the trash removed or the silt build up dealt with.

I vote that as soon as the pedestrian bridge is completed, we work on getting access to those calming creeks for a touch of nature at our fingertips (or sneaker tips).

Posted by Diana Diamond, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 29, 2021 at 3:58 pm

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

So many good and thoughtful comments here! Of course our approaches to this CO2 problem vary -- but you all are t thinking about it.

Annette - you made some concrete proposals -- like Castilleja with its proposed concrete (no pun intended) underground parking garage. Concrete is a CO2 gobbler. And our city's goals do conflict -- more need housing -- but more people also produces other problems.

I like the underlying idea from many of you -- we are in this together and we each have to do something -- and do as much of that something as we can. Getting rid of my hybrid Prius to get an electric car is not going to be a solution, but there are other thing I can do. But not everything that is being suggested.


Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Apr 30, 2021 at 11:20 am

Online Name is a registered user.

@Consider Your Options, we are all making sacrifices but that doesn't mean we have to accept blindly contradictory preachments like car-light fairy tales.

One the one hand, we're told to take the train while on the other "transit-rich housing" has replaced parking lots at train stations in the non-stop push to densify -- as if the new residents and workers use NO energy or water in our drought-stricken state!

So how to get there from here? Take Uber/Lyft which DOUBLES the number of car trips rather than reduces it as their backers promised for so many years.

So the end result is that many of us have given up trying to get to concerts in Berkeley and elsewhere after having a) sacrificed the ticket costs when we couldn't get there by car, b) sacrificed the ticket costs when trying to park at the BART stations only to find the parking lots were gone.... We've given up getting together with friends beyond biking distance because the traffic is too onerous and the trips too time-consuming.

PAU urges us to do various energy-conserving things and get rebates yet it can't get its rebate system working. Do they have a clue that plumbers cost more an hour than the promised $25 rebate?? Nor are they well-managed enough to refer callers to the County's excellent water conservation audit department.

Other examples abound -- their continued failure to monitor available parking spaces in garages, etc etc. Let them get their act together first before preaching to the rest of us!

Posted by Larry, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 30, 2021 at 12:15 pm

Larry is a registered user.

Please help me understand something. According to the City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) web site, CPAU natural gas has been carbon neutral since 2017 thanks to carbon offset purchases. So how does banning gas-fired appliances that are burning carbon-neutral fuel change the City's carbon footprint at all?

Also, from the same web site I found data showing that in 2019 CPAU delivered about three petajoules (3e15 J) of electricity and about another three petajoules of natural gas. So replacing gas appliances with electrical appliances citywide would approximately double the load on the electric grid. And that does not even count the extra load if electric vehicles are mandated. Comparing my own gasoline and natural gas usage in 2019 showed that my daily gasoline car commute from Palo Alto to Sunnyvale plus my incidental driving consumed about twice the number of joules as my gas furnace, water heater, and stove did. If I converted all of my energy consumption to electrical, my electric use would approximately quadruple. I realize that I am not accounting for the different efficiency for using different fuels, etc. but the back-of-the-napkin calculations on a raw energy basis show a huge increase in electrical load.

I am not saying this is a bad thing, but I do wonder if the CPAU electric grid and our one-and-only feeder transmission line down on Geng Road can handle the extra load. And natural gas users should also consider the cost of upgrading their electrical service drop amperage in addition to the cost of upgrading all of their gas appliances.

Posted by Larry, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 30, 2021 at 2:16 pm

Larry is a registered user.

BTW, my utility bills showed the 2019 per-joule cost of electricity was approximately three times higher than that of natural gas. So mandatory electric conversion is not good news for lower income folks, meaning there is also a social justice aspect to it.

Posted by Larry, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 30, 2021 at 2:47 pm

Larry is a registered user.

Update re: costs.

To be fair to CPAU, substantial amount of a typical bill is from fixed service fees and delivery charges that skew the per-joule calculations; the cost premium of electric power is probably pessimistic. I just took the my total electric and gas cost and usage from my bill and converted everything to dollars per joule. As the electric vs. gas mix changes, those numbers are likely to change. Of course, your mileage may vary.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Apr 30, 2021 at 10:55 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Diana, what a great topic :) I am covering it in a bit more detail on Sunday morning, so hopefully you will find answers to a few of your questions. I really agree with your sentiment that there are many of us who want to do our part and would like to understand how the city will help us.

For Larry: As you say, electric cars and heaters are much more efficient than their gas counterparts. According to Web Link "EVs convert over 77% of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels. Conventional gasoline vehicles only convert about 12%�"30% of the energy stored in gasoline to power at the wheels."

Similarly, heat pumps are typically at least 3x as efficient as even the most efficient gas furnaces because they move heat rather than generate heat. They work differently, though. Because they are lower-powered, they run more steadily and keep the temperature more stable.

Cost-wise, the difficulty the city faces is in maintaining a full gas distribution network to supply an ever-decreasing amount of gas. To avoid large increases in fixed costs for gas customers, the city will have to cap gas lines as we decarbonize. Making that happen is not easy. In addition, grid capacity will need to increase, but not by as much as you might expect because of the efficiency gains.

Finally, re Palo Alto serving as a role model. I think cities are very different and each has its own opportunities and challenges when it comes to decarbonizing. No two plans will be, or should be, the same. However, Palo Alto can help to "warm up" a contractor base, test some legal challenges, provide a model for bulk discounts and/or installs, and more. (In fact, Sacramento's municipal utility is doing some of this already, and we are looking at their work.) It's also true that seeing examples can also give others confidence, even if they are not in the same situation. It is harder to go early but it does make it easier for others to follow. That's my 2c.

Posted by James Kawamoto, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 1, 2021 at 7:40 am

James Kawamoto is a registered user.

? Since we are a community of 65,000, the global effect may be miniscule or nonexistent."

? The PRC along with the United States are the primary global culprits exacerbating this environmental issue and concern.

And even if Palo Alto were to go full-tilt eco, if the entire U.S. and PRC does not follow suit, we will still have advancing global warming and climate change.

Expecting people to change or give up longstanding practices and conveniences is sometimes asking too much unless a new law is mandated.

Posted by Larry, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 2, 2021 at 7:12 pm

Larry is a registered user.

I guess I "buried the lead" of my own story.

The point I was trying to make was that no matter how efficient the devices are that replace the ones currently burning fossil fuels, they will still put a significant new load on the CPAU electric grid. For my own 2019 usage, replacing all my fuel burning devices with efficient (COP = 3) devices, would still increase my electric load by about 280%. Given our local grid's lack of a redundant feeder line and in light of our recent power outages, I have yet to be convinced that the diligence is being done to ensure the grid won't just buckle under the new load, leaving us all to eat oysters by candlelight. ;)

Posted by Me 2, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 3, 2021 at 11:28 pm

Me 2 is a registered user.

"According to the Census Bureau we have about 23,000,000 more polluters in our country than we had ten years ago. We will never solve our pollution problems without population control. Too many people are unwilling to make sacrifices for the greater good. For example, look at how many people refuse to wear a mask during a deadly pandemic because it's inconvenient or infringing on their freedom."

You're contradicting yourself. If you're really worried about population growth, then you should encourage people to not wear masks. And not get vaccinated.

Population is not a problem. The richer a country gets, the lower the population growth. In fact, the US population would be falling if it weren't for immigration. And it's why long term I'm not worried about China. Thanks to the idiotic one-child policy, their population will soon in be decline, if not already (who really believes the statistics from Communists?)

If you really want to do your all for CO2 emissions, you'd get rid of your pets too.

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