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Climate and EnergyApril/May 2006

Turning Down the Heat

Smart Energy Use for Climate Protection

We can anticipate that two major and painful shifts in human society will occur in the next few decades. Fossil fuels, particularly oil, the foundation of our economy, will become scarcer. There is also now general agreement among international atmospheric scientists that carbon dioxide, methane and other gases emitted by human activity are causing warming of the earth's atmosphere.

As individuals, it's easy to feel paralyzed by these two enormous global crises, and there is little leadership in our national government. But there is a surprising amount that an individual can contribute to solving these problems. This column will be an exploration of what we can do in Sonoma County.

The solution to both problems is more or less the same. Increasing energy efficiency and reducing energy use will decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions immediately and save oil and natural gas for future generations. If we can lessen the rate of greenhouse gas production now, coming climate changes may be milder, although it is too late to avoid them completely. For a long-term solution, we need to switch to alternative fuels that don't produce GHG's.

Sonoma County and its nine cities are forerunners in adopting a greenhouse gas reduction target of 25% below 1990 levels by 2015. The County of Sonoma Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report of January 2005 has collected data on emission sources and established a baseline so that we can tell when the target has been reached.

The Inventory shows that transportation is the big gorilla in Sonoma County; vehicles are responsible for 42% of all GHG emissions. Electricity and natural gas used by all types of buildings account for another 47% of emissions, and the last 11% is produced by agriculture. Of the GHG emissions produced directly by the average county household, roughly 60% come from household vehicles and 40% from home energy use.

What You Can Do!

  • Many county residents have already taken important steps. By trading a 22 mpg conventional car for a 44 mpg hybrid, the average resident immediately reduces their household GHG production by 30%, going well beyond both the county's target and the target set by the Kyoto protocol. Converting a house to solar electricity reduces the average household's total GHG production by about 20%. These both take a big financial investment, but with rebates and tax breaks, maybe not as much as you think.
  • There are plenty of less expensive actions that can be taken as well. This is a situation where every little bit helps, but the sum of small changes needs to be big!
  • Sonoma County has adopted the greenhouse gas reduction pledge but hasn't implemented it yet. Over the next few months, the county will be holding hearings to update its General Plan, but Climate Protection planning has not been included in the update. This is a missed opportunity - let the Supervisors know that we need planning for GHG reduction right now! See the county's website for information about commenting on the General Plan Update or reaching the Supervisors.
  • Check the Climate Protection Campaign website, which posts news and information about progress within the county.

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