Martha Walden, 11th Hour
The men and women who work for the county and the cities from Rio Dell to Trinidad have addressed a crucial question: How can we here in Humboldt County help avert the catastrophic effects of climate change? The crisis has already begun, and we must invest our best efforts. We can’t put up our feet in the belief that someone else is better suited to do the hard work.
The long-awaited Climate Action Plan (CAP) puts forward many excellent ideas such as municipal facilities replacing their backup diesel generators with solar plus storage. Rio Dell has already pursued this. Another idea is to work with Redwood Coast Energy Center and Schatz Energy Research Center to identify locations ideal for solar, hydropower, and wind energy and to amend zoning codes to facilitate siting and permitting.
The CAP puts forward some bad ideas as well. The worst one is to increase consumption of renewable diesel. Soy oil, the feedstock most in demand for making the stuff, entails taking arable land out of food production, or cutting down carbon-sequestering forest and jungle to grow soybeans. Food prices shoot up. Even worse, life cycle analyses reveal that renewable diesel production requires more energy than it produces. It’s the ethanol boondoggle all over again, only worse.
Another biofuel in the CAP isn’t mentioned explicitly except for in a footnote, but its presence plays a role all the same. Our plan to reduce emissions relies in several instances on the assumption that Humboldt’s supply of electricity will be “zero carbon” after 2025. But Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) has contracted to burn wood to produce a quarter of our electricity until 2031 at the minimum.
As footnote #35 notes, California does not recognize emissions from biomass because of its biogenic nature. So although burning wood deposits a huge amount of carbon in the atmosphere, those emissions will hopefully be balanced out by the growing forests of the world many years in the future. “Net-zero” is the correct term that describes this rather rosy assumption. The CAP goes so far as to say that measures to reduce electricity consumption won’t substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions after 2025 since all of our electricity will be carbon-free.
Some of the good ideas in the CAP are just that — ideas. The vague word “support” is sometimes called an implementation measure. Support electrifying lawn equipment – great idea, especially considering that one hour of lawn mower emissions equals that of a hundred-mile trip for the average vehicle (a fascinating nugget of information I learned in the CAP). But who’s going to see to the electrification of lawn equipment? In a similar vein, 34 percent of vehicles in Humboldt county are forecasted to be zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) by 2030 while only 1 percent are now zero emissions. How are we going to support that? Ideas such as reducing construction waste by 75 percent have more substance because an ordinance is proposed to see to it. Decarbonizing municipal buildings is another good proposal because it’s under the control of municipal governments.
Of course, we’re going to need funding for these good ideas. The CAP proposes to hire a coordinator to be responsible for not only funding but also budgeting, reporting, research, and outreach.
Humboldt’s CAP needs more muscle than that to deliver on its good ideas. With more wisdom it can avoid the ideas that look good only on paper. A genuine crisis demands our genuine best work.