How Does the CAP Affect Rural Lifestyles?

Martha Walden

Humboldt’s draft Climate Action Plan gives Humboldt a nudge towards lower greenhouse gas emissions. It provides incentives, makes zoning changes and sets a good example by de-carbonizing municipal buildings and infrastructure. Few ordinances are prescribed. The authority of the county is limited and subject to the authority of the state. Some people worry the CAP won’t make a big enough difference, yet others think it goes too far. At the Board of Supervisors meeting on June 7, Supervisor Bushnell seemed to belong to that last group when she expressed concern that the plan would be hard on rural communities in particular. 

How does the CAP affect rural lifestyles? The biggest sector of potential emissions reduction is transportation. To accomplish this the CAP incentivizes infill development – which would affect people within city and town limits – but the plan doesn’t prohibit development anywhere. Promoting zero-emission vehicles and expanding bus routes are other strategies in the CAP for reducing transportation emissions.

The electrification of existing buildings is the second biggest sector where we could feasibly reduce our emissions. The CAP’s goals are quite modest: 200 natural gas furnaces and 20 propane furnaces switched to electric furnaces by 2030; 200 natural gas stoves and 20 propane stoves switched out for their electric counterparts by the same date. Essentially, it tries to steer the inevitable appliance turnover towards electric options. That’s not a bad idea, considering that California law does away with natural gas in a little more than twenty-two years. 

The draft CAP promotes all-electric design for new construction, and jurisdictions within the county could possibly create ordinances that require all new construction to leave out natural gas infrastructure. Considering the sundown date for natural gas, how economic would it be to invest in that infrastructure? As for propane, I can’t find anything in the CAP that bans propane, which would be an easy retrofit for homeowners who prefer it. 

The desirability of electrifying in order to curb climate change is obvious, but so is the disadvantage of relying on the electrical grid for everything, including heating the house. Most natural gas furnaces, however, need electricity to operate anyway. Both country and city households on the grid either have backup options during power outages, or they tough it out one way or another. Off-grid households are sitting pretty. Blessed are they whose houses are equipped with solar and storage – whether in the country or city!  

Living in the country encompasses a range of lifestyles just as living in town does. I lived off the grid for eight years. It was a great time of my life except for my neighbor’s generator, which ran all day long. You could hear it for more than a mile up and down the mountain. Nothing in the CAP would prevent that from happening, but I often wished something would. Fortunately, most people, regardless of where they live, are considerate of their neighbors. 

Whether we live in big city Eureka, or in a small town, or farther out, we’re all in the same precarious boat when it comes to climate change. We should all be asking ourselves how we can exceed the modest goals of the Climate Action Plan. How we’re responding to this crisis is determining the future of civilization.