The news cycle naturally waxes and wanes, but one constant within the flow of information is public health. While terrorist attacks and the national political season has forced climate change off the front page, the issue remains profound as cities around the globe grapple with questions about their survival when temperatures are reportedly their warmest in recorded history.

In Lancaster, which in the summer can frequently reach triple-digit temperatures, the city council is considering a Climate Action Plan (CAP) that could, conceivably, help to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while improving the overall quality of life throughout the community. City officials are requesting public comments regarding a draft of the plan and will host an open house tomorrow at noon at MOAH:CEDAR, 44851 Cedar Ave., to allow residents through Aug. 12 to share their opinions about the proposed CAP. The city council could receive the plan by early September.

Strategies for ‘green living’

“A key strength of this city is our ability to plan and adapt to changing circumstances—whether economic or environmental in nature,” said Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris. “We encourage everyone to bring their unique ideas and insights to the table as we work together to implement strategies which will enable Lancaster to improve the quality of life throughout our city and the surrounding regions.”

If and when the CAP is finalized, it will provide strategies—as well as funding—for a number of projects including transportation improvements, energy efficiency programs, and community enhancement projects. The city is working with consultants from Michael Baker International to include a GHG emissions inventory for community and municipal emissions. The plan reportedly highlights a number of implementable projects to help reduce local GHG emissions and better achieve county, state and federal emissions reduction goals. The Baker firm is a global provider of engineering, development and technology solutions.

Lancaster is well underway with its “Net Zero” campaign, particularly in the areas of new home and business construction in an effort to reduce GHG emissions. The plan is to build structures that produce “zero energy consumption” meaning the total amount of annual energy used by the completed structure will be roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on site. As an example, future single-family homes in Lancaster will reportedly not increase the amount of GHG emissions released into the atmosphere.

Benefits of ‘Net Zero’

The Net Zero plan requires a 30-percent efficiency increase over current design standards, as well as solar power generation to meet the remaining energy needs of a particular home. By 2020, a “zero net energy tier” will become mandatory throughout the state. Lancaster officials say the benefits of adopting such an ordinance would include a reduction in electric bills for new-home buyers in the city which could be advantageous for low- and middle-income earners. Lancaster has to perform a cost-effectiveness study of the ordinance and when the results are in—and approved by the Planning Commission and the California Energy Commission—the city council will vote to adopt the standard.

“On issues such as these, the city of Lancaster needs to be out front,” Parris explained. “When the benefits to homeowners are self-evident and the cost negligible, it is our responsibility to take advantage of such a proposal as soon as possible.”

Variety of Climate Action Plans

Three years ago the World Bank released a report stating that if GHG emissions are not reduced in areas like the California High Desert, (Antelope Valley, Morongo Basis, Barstow), this and other arid environments worldwide could experience regular daytime temperatures similar to the Coachella Valley (110 degrees) for much longer periods of time. Temperatures, the report revealed, could conceivably rise 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit and push the High Desert into the range now seen in Furnace Creek in Death Valley which can average summer daytime temperatures of 120 degrees. The report further explained that wide swath of California—from Desert Hot Springs to Calexico—could become essentially inhabitable for people without sufficient income for high electric bills, specifically the cost of air conditioning. With drought conditions expected to continue into the foreseeable future, water rationing will only increase, water bills only to increase, and luxuries like swimming pools will be available to residents at a premium.

There is a “Climate Action Plan” in almost every large region around the world. California embarked on conservation methods years ago—long before the drought—because of increased population, dwindling natural resources and, locally, the need for fresh water. El Nino drenched the northern part of the state last winter, but left the desert region in the familiar dry, arid conditions. Climate change has had a direct impact on our water, as evidenced by changes in snowpack, sea level and river flows. The Department of Water Resources (DWR) has said these changes are expected to continue into the future as precipitation will likely fall as rain rather than snow. The mountain snowpack provides as much as one-third of California’s water supply, therefore warmer temperatures will cause what snow we do receive to melt much faster and earlier, making it more difficult to store and use. By the end of this century, the Sierra snowpack is projected to experience a 48- to 65-percent loss from the regular April 1 average (the period when the snowpack is generally at its highest).

Reducing green house gas

In 2008 California adopted a Climate Change Adaption Strategy and is considered by experts to be a leader in reporting GHG emissions, going as far as to verify its data in the Climate Registry, a North America-wide repository of information about the local effects of climate change. The DWR utilizes an Environmental Stewardship Policy which supports a department-wide “Total Resource Management” approach to planning activities and projects. Specific goals for this project are part of the department’s “Sustainability Policy” to promote a departmental change in the way they conduct business.

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) operates a GHG “Inventory Program” that sets acceptable levels of GHG emissions from transportation, electricity, commercial/residential, industrial, agricultural and waste management sectors. Assembly Bill 32 was passed in 1990, meaning that GHG levels statewide by 2020 must not exceed 1990 limits (about 30 percent). The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 was passed to institute strict enforcement of AB 32, while AB 1803 (2006) made the ARB responsible for preparing, adopting and updating the California greenhouse gas inventory. Also part of the program is a “2020 Business-as-Usual Emissions Projection” that, essentially, places into review and can possibly increase emission reduction measures if the 30-percent reduction goal is not achieved.

Switch to renewable energy sources

Phase 1 of the state’s Climate Action Plan was adopted in 2012. The next year, the DWR divested itself of a coal-fired power plant in Nevada and no longer takes electricity from it. Instead, this energy source was replaced with high-efficiency gas-powered power plants and renewables (e.g. sunlight, wind, rain, waves, geothermal heat) and so far the DWR has reduced its GHG emissions by more than 800,000 metric tons per year. This reduction is reportedly the equivalent of removing 170,000 vehicles from the road. For the past two years, the DWR has received the Climate Leadership Award from the Climate Registry which recognizes organizational and individual leadership in managing and reducing GHG emissions and integrating climate resilience into its operating strategy.

What does the 30-percent reduction entail? On a per-capita basis, it means reducing annual emissions of 14 tons of carbon dioxide for every person in the state down to about 10 tons per person in four years. The Cap-and-Trade Program covers 85 percent of the state’s emissions including electricity generation, large industrial sources, transportation fuels and residential and commercial use of natural gas. Since the adoption of AB 32, California has had to gradually meet the 30-percent reduction in vehicle GHG by this year with further reductions required by 2017. So far the use of more efficient delivery trucks (i.e. propane fueled), electric and hybrid vehicles, more fuel-efficient cars and trucks, etc. has resulted in less energy used for transportation.

A look at AB 32

Within industry, AB 32 has reportedly helped to identify the state’s largest GHG sources and has helped to establish more strict regulations for oil refineries and the common “flare ups” that spill toxic chemicals into the air. There has been preservation of forest sequestration (long-term storage of carbon dioxide and other forms of carbon to mitigate/deter global warming) along with voluntary reductions from forestry projects. The bill also seeks to reduce methane emissions from landfills and encourage a move toward high recycling and zero waste.

A UC Berkeley report in 2012 said California’s CAP and resulting GHG reduction targets supports a $76 billion increase in the state’s Gross State Product, representing a $48 billion increase in real household income and the creation of 403,000 new efficiency- and climate-driven jobs. Investments in green technologies are said to produce jobs at a higher rate than investments in comparable conventional technologies. A report submitted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors indicated that the “green economy” could become the nation’s fastest-growing job segment, accounting for roughly 10 percent of new jobs by 2032 (up to 4.2 million new green jobs, 500,000 of which could land in California).

An international concern

California CAP has reportedly saved the state about $76 billion, money that is being reinvested into the economy. Lancaster’s Net Zero campaign is following the state lead. The Center for Energy and Climate Solutions reports that California’s upgrade of existing facilities to improve energy efficiency could assist businesses in saving about 60 cents per square foot, thereby reducing per-square-foot energy costs by as much as 40 percent. Homeowners are reportedly saving up to $200 per year through an increased focus on energy efficiency (a reduction between 1,500 and 1,800 kWh per year and more than 300 therms of natural gas per year by improving energy efficiency by 25 percent). The International Energy Agency says that for every dollar invested in improving energy efficiency, two dollars are saved by not having to build more power plants and transmission facilities.

Around the country and into Canada and Mexico, a number of regions have initiated CAPs. New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers began their CAP in 2001. The Western Climate Initiative, of which California is a member, began in 2004, while the Midwest Governors’ and Midwestern Green Gas Reduction accords began in 2007. The Southwest Climate Change Initiative has been in existence since 2008, and in the Northeast the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has been underway since 2009. All states, Canadian Provinces and Mexican states have since 2012 had the opportunity to join North America 2050.

International CAPs include the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol, the International Carbon Action Partnership and the Muslim Seven-Year Action Plan on Climate Change.