With Earth Day just around the corner, Palo Alto officials on Monday renewed their vows to their native planet when they adopted a goal to slash greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent by 2030.
Dozens of local environmentalists clapped and waved flags with Earth photos after the council voted 8-0, with Vice Mayor Greg Scharff absent, to adopt a goal known as "80x30." The goal was proposed in the city's new Sustainability and Climate Action Plan, the draft of which was released earlier this month.
Though admittedly ambitious, the goal sets as its baseline for reductions the year 1990. In that sense, much of the carbon-slashing work has already been accomplished. According to the sustainability plan, the city has already achieved a 36 percent reduction since 1990 and existing programs are enough to bring it down to 52 percent by 2030.
The new plan lays out a range of initiatives that the city could pursue to cut emissions by another 28 percent, including a major shift away from car ownership and toward transit services and a "fuel switch" initiative aimed at getting local residents and businesses to rely on clean electricity, rather than natural gas, for water and space heating.
In discussing the draft plan, council members agreed that it's still a work in progress and that it needs to be better integrated with the city's Comprehensive Plan, an overarching vision document that the city is in the midst of updating. The council also generally supported the plan's guiding principles and agreed to formally adopt them in six months.
Council members also had some concerns with the plan, with Councilwoman Karen Holman wondering why it doesn't include programs for reusing materials after building demolitions. She and Councilman Tom DuBois also suggested that it needs to more fully consider the impacts of construction, which DuBois called the plan's "blind spot." Councilman Cory Wolbach made a case for including more policies pertaining to sea-level rise.
But while council members had some quibbles with the plan's omissions, they had no objections to its mission: a renewed push to slash carbon emissions and reinforce Palo Alto's position as a leader in this field.
Gil Friend, the city's chief sustainability officer, made a case for the "80x30" goal, noting that it's better to set a goal of 80 percent and reaching 70 percent than to set a goal of 50 percent and achieving that goal.
"The bold goal challenges us to muster our creativity, our ingenuity and our forces to do something better than we might have done without that challenge," Friend said.
The new document is the city's first climate-change plan since 2007, when Palo Alto adopted as its goal a 15 percent in greenhouse gas emissions from the 2005 level to 2020 a goal that the city had easily achieved.
Yoriko Kishimoto, who served as Palo Alto mayor when the 2007 plan was adopted, praised the city's accomplishments since that time and encouraged the council to adopt the more ambitious "80x30" goal.
Other residents similarly encouraged the council to do more to encourage less emissions. Nicholas Shafer, 19, said that as a native Palo Altan he is "proud to say that our city has already done so much toward responsible environmental stewardship over the past decades."
He also lamented the fact that many people feel a sense of "paralysis" in tackling the global problem which leads many young people not to get involved in local government.
"Palo Alto is on the forefront of innovation and design in the world and taking this path for us will be in the spirit of that heritage," Shafer said. "By setting the high standard of an 80 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, we can set an example for the rest of the world and the United States and a viable path forward toward a better future toward all of us."
Bruce Hodge, founder of the group Carbon-Free Palo Alto, cited the city's many advantages toward proceeding with the ambitious plan and asked: If not Palo Alto, who?
"We have a high education level; we have very high environmental awareness; we're economically advantaged, we have a long history of environmental action; and we have our own utility," Hodge said before urging the council to adopt the goal and a timeline for achievement.
The council concurred, with Wolbach saying he is very proud of Palo Alto being "a leader in rejecting climate-change deniers and obstructionists."
Councilman Marc Berman also said he fully supports the "80x30" goal and argued that it's important to set "stretch goals" while also making sure these goals are realistic so that the city doesn't set itself up to fail.
"That seems to be the most reasonable approach and one supported by a lot of members of our community," Berman said.
Mayor Pat Burt cited the city's record of setting aggressive goals and exceeding them ahead of schedule and under budget. The new "80x30" goal, he said, would be "no more of a stretch" than the city's prior attempts to cut carbon emissions and promote clean electricity.
He cited the "Paris Agreement," which was adopted by 195 nations last December and aims to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius in the current century.
"What we're adopting in what seems like an ambitious goal and it is compared to most other cities to date is what all other cities and nations must do if we're going to cap an increase in global temperature at the 1 1/2-2 percent degree Celsius range," Burt said. "It's no more than our fair share."