On global warming: Work together, move quickly

Cut back greenhouse-gas emissions or face disastrous consequences, speakers warn

Effective short-term actions -- some within two or three years -- must be taken now to avert disastrous long-term consequences, a parade of government and private-utility speakers agreed at a packed "sustainability" forum Friday.

In a showing of rare unanimity, the speakers agreed that no one at any level is doing enough to offset the impacts of climate changes, rising sea levels, increasingly violent weather or economic consequences.

More than 120 persons crammed into a modest-sized meeting room at the offices of the Silicon Valley Community Fund to hear state, regional, local, special district and PG&E representatives' views on "Strategies for a Sustainable Santa Clara County." The forum was sponsored by the Leagues of Women Voters and the office of county Supervisor Liz Kniss, who moderated.

Work together, speakers said. Start now. Move quickly. Don't slow down for the next 50 years or so.

America is already losing its environmental-leadership position in the world, Rod Diridon, a former Santa Clara County supervisor now pushing for a high-speed rail system statewide, warned the lead speaker. He is former board chair of the Mineta Transportation Institute and a board member of the California High Speed Rail Authority.

In his transportation-related travels around the world, Diridon said he increasingly hears sentiments such as, "How dare you come here and lecture us when 4 or 5 percent of the world population causes almost 30 percent of the (greenhouse gas) problem?"

He said a high-speed rail system linking Southern and Northern California -- with a link up the Peninsula through Palo Alto -- could speed trains at 220 miles an hour using rail technologies in use for 45 years in Japan and 25 years in France, with no fatalities.

There would also be a return on the investment, he said, and the investment needed would be equivalent to what the United States spends in a matter of weeks in Iraq.

Such a system, Diridon said, would "make us look a little more like Paris and a little less like Los Angeles." And at $50 a ticket, riders would have cell-phone and Internet access, could get up and walk around and avoid security delays of airline travel, he said.

Moderator Kniss called the 9 a.m. to noon forum memorable in terms of the urgency and cohesiveness of perspectives presented

"This couldn't have happened 10 years ago, may not even five," she said of the expression of unanimity at all levels voiced.

Other speakers included Clifford Rechtschaffen of the state attorney-general's office; Will Travis, CEO of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC); Jack Broadbent, CEO of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District; and a half-dozen local-agency speakers from Santa Clara County, the Santa Clara County Water District, and the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD).

Representatives of the "Sustainable Silicon Valley" nonprofit organization and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. also spoke in support of quick, effective action.

PG&E is "absolutely committed" to significant action, Darren Deffner, senior government affairs representative, said.

"We have to act, and we have to act now. ... It's not, '(Do) one thing then another.' It's 'How many things can we do right now, all at once?'" he said. "We look at this as an integrated, holistic package" wherein energy efficiencies translate directly into "not having to build 24 power plants."

He presented a slide show depicting most Santa Clara County communities are below state averages in usage of natural gas, except for a huge spike in Los Altos Hills, eliciting laughter.

Rechtschaffen said the attorney general's office is pushing to integrate planning and government policies to reduce "vehicle miles traveled" per capita, which he called "the big, big elephant in this state" that tends to be ignored.

The concerns extend to local travel, including taking children to school, he said.

"In some communities, 25 percent of morning commutes are people taking their kids to school," he said.

In the bigger picture, "If there's no action before 2012, that's too late," he said. "What we do in the next two to three years" will determine the impacts for years into the future, from heat waves and related ozone buildup with its human-health implications to water and power shortages from reduced rainfall and Sierra snow.

"Scientists tell us that by 2050 to avert disastrous climate change we need to reduce (greenhouse gas emissions) below 1980 levels." he said.

"The scale of the challenge is enormous."


Like this comment
Posted by Irvin Dawid
a resident of University South
on Feb 1, 2008 at 2:51 pm

I was disappointed by the forum. Having the lead speaker discuss a state bond issue for high speed rail when, in answer to a question from moderator Supervisor Liz Kniss, only one person had taken public transit to the forum (located on El Camino Real adjacent to the San Antonio Transit Center), made as much sense as discussing getting a PhD when you dropped out of high school.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2008 at 9:39 pm

The coming disaster will be when people realize that the crisis was made in Washington to justify more control over the economy than communism attempted. Clinton admitted the other day that the cure was a lowering of our standard of living.

Like this comment
Posted by c'mon, give class issues a rest
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2008 at 4:57 pm

Hmmm...spike of natural gas use in Los Altos Hills?? How big of a spike?

Isn't that spike offset by the fact that those folks pays millions to keep their housing density low, and maintain, at their own personal expense, multitudes of trees that would otherwise be ripped out to build high density housing?

Like this comment
Posted by hmmm
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 2, 2008 at 4:58 pm

Sounds like it was nothing more than a meeting to convince people to pay more taxes for yet more services nobody uses...

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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