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."