The Path to Positive is Just Beginning

Posted by on November 17, 2015

Guest post by Ted Flanigan, president of EcoMotion

On Friday, November 6, 600 of my fellow Angelenos gathered at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels to focus on climate change, and send a clear and deliberate signal to the Conference of Parties (COP-21) taking place this December in Paris. Frankly, the LA proceedings made me proud.

The group was brought together by Climate Resolve, in partnership with ecoAmerica – a day rich in participation, networking, learning, sharing, and motivating, with learned updates on the climate reality and mitigation progress. The day was also about sending a strong, broadly based, and cogent message in the form of a jointly-crafted Los Angeles Declaration on Climate Change.

Kevin DeLeon, president pro tempore of the California State Senate, joined by video. He is passionate and clear about the role of government, and the state legislature in particular, in being climate leaders. “What we do here matters, because the world is watching us closely.”

Dr. Alex Hall and the Local Climate Reality

Rooted in local science, Dr. Alex Hall of UCLA presented his research on downscaling climate models to show local impacts. His research shows variability within the region and certainly helps to start conversation about local mitigation and adaptation. If business continues as usual, Hall says that we’ll see temperatures rise by 4-5° F by mid-century, and a doubling of “very hot days,” temperatures over 95°F. “That’s a very different world,” says Hall.

Five Major Sectors Need to Collaborate

Climate Day wanted to show that it’s not just environmentalists who care about climate change, and invited five new sectors to participate. These sectors were:

  • Public health and medicine
  • Business
  • Colleges and universities
  • Faith communities
  • Local government

An early panel presented each sector’s values to the climate mitigation and adaptation world. There needs to be collaboration amongst the sectors – and speakers pronounced that there will be. For instance the faith community: “We’re people of faith catching the vision…. And we’re going to leave even more committed to be better stewards of the community.”

The health community spoke about asthma and local criteria pollutants. Many of the sickest people can’t afford to go to where the air is clean. They don’t have that luxury; many lack “the wealth of time” to leave work or family to attend a conference such as the Path to Positive. Children are the canaries in the mine of environmental damage.

Vice Chancellor Wendell Brase of the University of California at Irvine is full of hope. His campus has committed to a comprehensive 50% energy reduction and is very much on track. Brase reported that the goal was set because of a conviction; no one knew how it would be achieved. UCI partnered and got places with efficiency and solar and is now within 2% of its stretch goal.

Brase spoke proudly about the academic community’s “open-source” posture, allowing solutions to be replicated and scaled quickly. The professor was clear that it was on the academic sector and its community mission: “You should hear from us.”

Lauren Faber, Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer for the City of Los Angeles, was enthusiastic about the City’s new and first sustainability plan. It provides “an architecture for integration” and is complete with goals for energy, water, transit, etc. For water, the pLAn calls for a 20% reduction by 2017, now nearly achieved. The City is saving 3 billion gallons a year through toilet replacements, rain barrels, sprinkler timers, and more. The pLAn calls for more solar and 1,000 public EV charging stations by 2017… with nearly 700 already in place. Los Angeles is demonstrating leadership, and embraces its responsibility to share its solutions. The City’s massive street lighting change-out program has been shared with and replicated by cities across the country and around the world.

LA’s business community is also stepping up in a big way, finding great opportunities in the state and region’s eco-mandates. The City is hugely proud of t he LA Clean Tech incubator (LACI). Michael Swords speaks to its remarkable 4-year run, and its new 60,000 square foot center. Its new downtown center includes energy efficiency and smart grid labs, wet and dry labs, and CEO counseling for its green small businesses. Its own innovation and success is being recognized nationally and around the world. Its leadership council is its connective tissue. LACI already has satellite campuses in the Silicon Valley and Northridge. He has a good vantage point: Michael Swords spoke about the false choice between environment and economy.

Throughout the day there was a deliberate and refreshing sharing of viable solutions for local sustainability, from mass transit to drought-tolerant planting and rain barrels, to restoring ecosystems. During the breakout sessions, each sector had time in the group process to share and record practical solutions that can be implemented now.

ecoAmerica and Translating the Message

Bob Perkowitz the executive director of ecoAmerica welcomed and enlightened us all. He focused on the positive. Last year, 60% of utility capacity was renewable. We’re decoupling growth and pollution. These are exciting developments.

“And look at the players,” noted Bob: The Pope, President Barack Obama, Governor Jerry Brown, and locally Mayor Eric Garcetti. That said, only 3% of Americans talk about climate change regularly. A whopping 74% talk about it only periodically. It is not front and center of popular thought and concern and action.

So now let’s get real on our global footprint, he implored. Only two-tenths of a percent of global GHG emissions come from LA. Our footprint is almost inconsequential. Right? Bob said “Wrong. Everyone on the planet knows about LA.” In terms of cultural leadership our influence is huge. How well we lead and make LA sustainable will have disproportionately large effects.

Governance and Leadership

Former Deputy Mayor for Energy and the Environment, Romel Pascual presented his perspective, that, “LA is ready to come together, to collaborate, to have this conversation on climate.” We’re known for smog, traffic sprawl,… but we are surprisingly collaborative and poised for great success. “We can shape what other cities do. LA is the model.”

And we learn from others too. CicLAvia was borrowed from Bogotá, Colombia. Now we have car-free days downtown. We have urban parks, “a party with a purpose.” It’s all part of the new normal. We’re creating alternative transportation based on walking and biking and taking the train. As Pascual said, “That’s different from my generation when all is knew was, I want that Corvette!”

Hector De La Torre, State Assemblyman and CARB Board Member, noted that this issue has gone from being an environmental issue, to now being embraced by all sectors. “The climate issue is tied to the survival on the planet. Everybody needs to be part of it.”

Glendale Councilmember Laura Friedman was articulate, passionate, and drew great applause. She noted that “the importance of this is obvious to us… but it’s not so important to a lot of others out there.”

Friedman speaks passionately about her own awakening and how “Our responsibility is so much greater…. Yes, given the history, we have to do much more than our share. We need to be the absolute leaders in every way… to take responsibility for what we have created.”

De La Torre brings us down to Earth. There will be opposition to our sustainability position. People need to be engaged, and to stay attuned to the political process. “The only thing that beats [oil company lobbying muscle] is real people, people who vote.”

The Power of the People

On Climate Day, over 600 participants came to express their collective support for action, to send a message from Southern California and Los Angeles. The declaration represents each of the key sectors of society… faith, health, education, government, and business. Each sector and its participants refined the declaration’s preamble and crafted sector-specific language. Our voice of millions was unified.

Thanks to Climate Resolve’s coalition building, Los Angeles is going to solve the climate mitigation puzzle, profitably, and with equity and justice for all. In Los Angeles there is a strong sustainability movement afoot. This is the local voice. At the end of the day it was reinforced with a group photo and great cheer. And we’ve only just begun.