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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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Can we curb climate change?

Uploaded: Jul 1, 2021
With soaring three-digit high temperatures suddenly hitting Seattle, Portland and Canadian cities to the north, causing a record heat wave from a stalled heat dome, we have to take much more dramatic action to control our climate.

Right now we are failing. And when we ask each other what can we do, we realize the multifaceted immense problems we are facing that probably cannot be solved by just a couple of us – or one state.

The goal right now --- staying under two degrees of CO2 emissions – will be missed if we do absolutely nothing. As Saul Griffith, the chief scientist and founder of Otherlab, a nonprofit that advocates rapid electrification, wrote in the NYT, “The existing machines in the world that burn fossil fuels – the coal plants, natural gas plants, cars, furnaces and boilers in people’s basements -- if they’re allowed to live out their natural life spans, they will emit enough carbon dioxide to take us very close to two degrees.” In other words, if we do nothing, we quickly get to a two- degree centigrade (or 3.6 fahrenheit) increase.

The NYT also reported that the seven warmest years in the history of accurate worldwide record-keeping have been the last seven years, and 19 of the last 20 warmest years have occurred during the last 20 years.

Worried yet?

The problem, as I see it, is that there are so many causes of the increased CO2 that it’s difficult to focus on what to do first – drive only electric cars, convert houses to all-electric, stop using natural gas, get rid of all coal plants, stop using all fossil fuels, heat our water electrically, not buy natural gas, etc. We can’t do it all at once, but it also seems we are not focusing on what to do next. President Biden has a good to-do laundry list, but let’s prioritize it.

And even if we do some of these things, we will have to dramatically increase the production of electricity. I am not going to even mention how many millions this will cost. And in doing so, can we avoid blackouts and can we manage to struggle through heat waves? A few details to iron out, I guess.

In a NYT article by Ezra Klein, one of the experts he talked with said that the $900 billion proposed by Biden for climate change is “simply too small.” What’s needed is more like $10 trillion over 10 years. Is that possible?

I hope so, because this planet needs to survive. And if we work our way through it, it will require a lot of money and personal sacrifices.

And we need renewed public focus on this critical problem. One small suggestion I have is to change how we talk about. Once we called this problem “global warming” until some people said, “Well, where I live we still have very cold winters, so what are they talking about when they call it global warming? Okay, scientists then started referring to it as “climate change.”

But now those words, in my estimation, are overused. People say we have to work on “climate change,” and we all nod our heads but it doesn’t really register or tell us why we should worry about it or spell out what t we can do about it. Maybe we should refer to this problem “our dying planet” or “our scorching earth.” Maybe you have a new dramatic phrase we could use to get more public attention.

We no longer can survive the denial of climate change. And this cannot be or is a partisan issue.

What if a heat dome parks itself in the sky right above our Peninsula cities? It can happen – it did just happen in Portland and Seattle. And it will continue happening. So let’s focus on one or two solutions, like curtailing or stopping our dependence on fossil fuels, and at least we can start to make climate change a a little less severe.




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Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Rachel G, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Jul 1, 2021 at 2:41 pm

Rachel G is a registered user.

Thank you for this column -- it's definitely an overwhelming situation. The small town of Lytton in British Columbia, which recorded the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada the other day at 121 F, has now burned in a wildfire. I read that 90% of the structures in the town are burned, and the residents had very little warning, only enough time to grab a few things and flee. Regarding what effective measures we can take to turn things around, you may be interested in the MIT climate change solutions simulator, found here: Web Link They've put years into the research behind this simulator, and it is meant to be used to guide policy. One action that bubbles up to the top is carbon pricing. If we charge a lot more for greenhouse gas pollution, many changes across the board will happen as a result, either through fossil fuels becoming much more expensive and thus less attractive, or the carbon taxes being funneled into infrastructure upgrades (for example, the electrical grid) that make other choices available. I'd love to see as many of us as possible pull together in support of carbon pricing, as well as the many other changes we need to make going forward.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Mr. Engel, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest,
on Jul 1, 2021 at 2:58 pm

Mr. Engel is a registered user.

The short answer to your headline question is no. The reason is that the US functions in a “free-market" economy, driven by the obsession/need for profits; i.e., quarterly profits. As we all know, the consumption of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) are the primary sources of global warming. The US is the world fossil-fuel consumption leader, with industrial China catching up. In the US, the CO2 producing fossil fuel producers and their industrial consumers are enormous and politically powerful (for example, the oil companies) including the major utility companies that produce electricity using fossil fuels. Shut all that down? Not a chance! As history has recently demonstrated, we have become world-famous for solving problems only when it is almost too late. Thinking and acting strategically -- long-term -- is not what our investor/shareholder class cares about. They want their stocks and dividends in Exxon, etc. to increase now, not five years from now. You would think that those powerful executive leaders of industry have children and grandchildren who will inherit the world we leave behind. Apparently, that doesn't appear to enter into their calculations. Bill McKibben and many others have already indicated the horrific costs that will be the consequence of global warming. (What will Manhattan look like when it's flooded?) However, in our economy and that of the Chinese, like the proverbial can, these global warming concerns find themselves being kicked “down the road."


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Jul 1, 2021 at 9:49 pm

Joseph E. Davis is a registered user.

Carbon pricing is a good idea if it is nationwide and accompanied by carbon-price-equivalent tariffs on imports. Nuclear power is a clean and abundant source of zero carbon electricity. It is absurd that California's only nuclear plant will shortly be closing down. We will be left with unreliable and limited renewable sources and dirty imports. In general, what is more likely is a "California solution" - policies which are extremely expensive, convoluted, and ineffective but let everyone feel like something is being done.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Ruben Martinez, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Jul 2, 2021 at 8:04 am

Ruben Martinez is a registered user.

- The short answer to your headline question is no. Too many people, too many gas-powered vehicles and too many factories spewing industrial wastess into the air (i.e. China). Climate change and global warming cannot be erased, only reduced through cvarious environmental laws and enforced mandates. It is too late to turn back the clock.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Squidsie, a resident of another community,
on Jul 2, 2021 at 10:10 am

Squidsie is a registered user.

The problem is global, and anything just the US does will make little difference. The developing economies like China and India continue to increase their production of greenhouse gases and to build coal-fired generating plants. Obama's climate accords accomplish little because they delay the implementation of the developing world's goals for years, and naively assumes that they will be honored. Like many of the Democrat's treaties, they are meaningless and intended primarily for political consumption so that liberals can congratulate themselves for supposed doing something.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Consider Your Options. , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jul 2, 2021 at 3:15 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

Climate change is not news to people who have been paying attention. Many of us have been driving less and walking and biking more for years. I switched to an induction stove (which, by the way, is much more responsive than gas for fussy recipes AND is greener. I love it.). We have been switching appliances to electric for years. We buy less, reuse more. Many of us have been doing what we can to reduce our carbon footprints for decades. You are just starting, Diane Seriously? You are a journalist. Have you been living under a rock for the last thirty years? I live in Palo Alto, but this week I am in Portland with my daughter. When the heat dome hit we saw the upper stories of trees turn a sunburnt yellow, red and then brown. Plump raspberries withered on the vine. Stepping out the door felt like walking into a blast furnace. Things are beginning to rebound now that the weather is more normal, but the memory of those three days will stay with me. It was frightening. I am amazed that the news hasn't offered coverage of impacts on the food crops and forests. This should be a wake up call. It is time to change how we are living. Don't start with one thing. WE each must do all we can to reduce your carbon footprint without delay. Our children's future depends on us doing all we can without delay. Stop wringing your hands and take action.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by StarSpring, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Jul 2, 2021 at 4:32 pm

StarSpring is a registered user.

The planet will survive. It has survived much worse. the question is "will humans survive?" In a country where people won't take a free vaccine to save their lives and the lives of their neighbors? In a state where we grow almonds in the desert by pumping groundwater and destroying the aquifers? In a world where emerging economies are still building coal-fired power plants? This is a classic Tragedy of the Commons. The well off can demonstrate their moral worth by throwing money at Single Family mitigation efforts, but I think any real solution will entail global disruption on a scale that will make the recent pandemic response pale in comparison. When that happens it will not be pretty.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Benito Munoz, a resident of another community,
on Jul 2, 2021 at 8:09 pm

Benito Munoz is a registered user.

Some humans will adapt to global warming and climate change along with the increasing pollution. And a new hominid species will emerge.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Erin Carmody, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Jul 3, 2021 at 8:25 am

Erin Carmody is a registered user.

The majority of people residing in the United States are unwilling to make the sacrifices required to curtail global warming and climate change because it will impinge upon their creature comforts and conveniences. Electricity, gas, and water usage regardless of their rising per unit costs will continue to increase because of a large population. And any pro-environmental sacrifices on the part of American citizens won't change or improve the situation globally. Besides life is too short to do without.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Jul 3, 2021 at 10:10 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Hi Diana. We will absolutely curb climate change. We have all the tools and know-how, we just need to pay attention, do our part, and vote for responsible, committed policy makers. Consider Ro Khanna taking a hard look at Exxon's pernicious lobbying efforts as one very recent example: Web Link We are celebrating Independence Day this weekend. Our country's founders showed incredible vision, dedication, and persistence in drafting and ratifying a Constitution across all of the states, many of which had little in common. The defeatism and fatalism you hear in some of these comments does not reflect the spirit of our country or the best in each of us. My advice for you is to look elsewhere for inspiration. Positive change is all around us. On the individual level, just yesterday I heard from one person who is looking to buy a used EV and another who is wiring her home for a heat pump water heater so she is ready for a clean replacement when her gas-tank one fails. So many people are taking action because, like you, they care. Two years ago I wrote this blog on what each of us can do: Web Link If you'd like a more custom recommendation, take 15-20 minutes to evaluate your carbon footprint at Web Link Thank you for blogging about this!


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Byron Johnston, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jul 3, 2021 at 3:39 pm

Byron Johnston is a registered user.

In a lousy, run-down neighborhood if one resident beautifies their home and landscaping, chances are the neighborhood will still be viewed by various onlookers, prospective buyers, and RE agents as a craphole. It's no different when it comes to CO2 emissions. If America cleans up its environmental act, we will still be suffering and enduring the aftermath from the likes of China and other countries that don't care one iota about these things.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Virginia Smedberg, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jul 3, 2021 at 4:10 pm

Virginia Smedberg is a registered user.

Let's not forget the agricultural side of this equation. Ma Nature designed a sustainable system for a closed circuit: every "waste" product becomes "food" for another part of the cycle. A few examples: regenerative farming methods pull the CO2 back into the earth. Getting rid of the CAFO's gets rid of a lot of all sorts of pollution (not to mention health benefits). Buying local gets rid of the long-distance transport pollution. There are many more examples. These of course require large decisions by large groups of people. But each of us can start by choosing what we buy and from whom, AND by speaking out about our choices to attempt to wake up those who so far are refusing to LOOK. It has to start with each one of us, as most of you have agreed. I just wrote this bcs no one else had mentioned the agribiz factor.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Frank Sterle Jr., a resident of another community,
on Jul 3, 2021 at 7:19 pm

Frank Sterle Jr. is a registered user.

There still prevails a do-little-or-nothing policy among the world's top leaders, a number of whom remain more or less steered by big fossil fuel interests. ‘Liberals' and ‘conservatives' (etcetera) are overly preoccupied with criticizing one another for their politics and beliefs thus diverting attention away from the greatest polluters' moral and ethical corruption, where it should and needs to be sharply focused. With the unprecedented global-warming-related weather events, wildfires and off-the-chart poor-air-quality advisories, etcetera, I wonder how many fossil fuel industry and fossil-fuel-client big bank CEOs and/or their family members may also be caught in global-warming-related harm's way? Assuming the CEOs are not sufficiently foolish to believe their descendants will somehow always evade the health repercussions related to their industry's environmentally reckless decisions, I wonder whether the profit objective of a CEO's job-description nature is somehow irresistible to him or her? It brings to mind the allegorical fox stung by the instinct-abiding scorpion while ferrying it across the river, leaving both to drown. When it comes to essentially unhindered capitalism, I tend to see corporate heads (figuratively) shrugging their shoulders and defensively saying that their job is to protect shareholders' bottom-line interests. Meanwhile, the shareholder also shrugs their shoulders while defensively stating that they just collect the dividends and that the corporate heads are the ones to make the moral and/or ethical decisions.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Seer, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Jul 3, 2021 at 9:19 pm

Seer is a registered user.

The answer to "Can?" is yes! The answer is "Will?" is ... yes, after the famines. Solar and wind are growing at about 13% which is about a 5ish year doubling. But batteries are much further behind. But, we have modular nuclear power -- a complete power plant (10MW) in a shipping container. That would convert nuclear power from a project to a product. No cooling needed, it can passively dissipate its heat. 3 of those would power Palo Alto, another 3 would provide all fresh water needs from the bay all for ~$100M. Lighting and display had turned to LEDs and that has saved a huge amount of electricity. People don't know it, but motor technology is starting to change away from induction motors which will make electric motors 30% more efficient. That will be huge too. People can diss on Elon all day long, but he accelerated the penetration of electric cars and trucks by at least a decade. That indeed covers all his sins. Oh, and the world's population will start declining by about 2050, it is slowing worldwide now. But note: all of this requires technological solutions, not education. You can stop taking your trips and spend your evenings in the dark. Won't help and not enough people are willing to join you in your monkhood. We need nuclear and solar. Fusion may yet also come.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Seer, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Jul 3, 2021 at 9:19 pm

Seer is a registered user.

The answer to "Can?" is yes! The answer is "Will?" is ... yes, after the famines. Solar and wind are growing at about 13% which is about a 5ish year doubling. But batteries are much further behind. But, we have modular nuclear power -- a complete power plant (10MW) in a shipping container. That would convert nuclear power from a project to a product. No cooling needed, it can passively dissipate its heat. 3 of those would power Palo Alto, another 3 would provide all fresh water needs from the bay all for ~$100M. Lighting and display had turned to LEDs and that has saved a huge amount of electricity. People don't know it, but motor technology is starting to change away from induction motors which will make electric motors 30% more efficient. That will be huge too. People can diss on Elon all day long, but he accelerated the penetration of electric cars and trucks by at least a decade. That indeed covers all his sins. Oh, and the world's population will start declining by about 2050, it is slowing worldwide now. But note: all of this requires technological solutions, not education. You can stop taking your trips and spend your evenings in the dark. Won't help and not enough people are willing to join you in your monkhood. We need nuclear and solar. Fusion may yet also come.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Robert Neff, a resident of Midtown,
on Jul 3, 2021 at 10:23 pm

Robert Neff is a registered user.

I am so sick of the false arguement other country's higher populations make our country's very high per-capita emissions unimportant. I think it is more responsible to be the leader in getting to down to the global per-capita emission rates that are sustainable long term, to develop technology and economic systems that promote that, and then export technology and know-how to the world. If we don't, then this year will be the coolest of the next 1000. Get going on carbon-free power and transportation, and increase the carbon fees until we meet the goals.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Paly Grad, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Jul 4, 2021 at 2:26 pm

Paly Grad is a registered user.

“California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans to ban hydraulic fracturing by 2024 as part of a longer-term aim to end all oil extraction in the state. The governor has ordered the state's top oil regulator to implement regulation to stop issuing new fracking permits by 2024. He has also directed the state's air resources agency to look at ways to phase out oil extraction completely by 2045." Web Link


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jul 6, 2021 at 8:34 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Rupert Murdoch, an Australian and owner of the global Fox media empire. who famously refused to allow any mention of the relationship between climate change and the horrendous fires in Australia, just announced he's forming new all-weather network to compete with The Weather Channel so they can cover the ever-increasing number of weather-related disasters. Given his network's role in discouraging Americans from getting vaccinated against Covid and encouraging polarization and hatred for those who disagree, you don't need a weatherman to tell you what this means politically and for climate change,


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