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2002: A Year of Accomplishment for Community & Climate Protection

The debate is over: Global warming and climate change are happening, and Sonoma County is going to do something about it. This community set a national precedent in August as the first to have 100 percent of its cities and the County pledge to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Since then local governments' climate protection activities have moved forward, and more segments of the community are getting involved.

"Sonoma County is in the midst of making history," remarked Cornell University climate change researcher, Bogdan Vasi, after investigating community efforts around the globe.

Climate protection is imperative. 2002 was the second hottest year on record, 1998 the first and 2001 the third.

Although some say we should simply adapt, over 550 cities worldwide - 139 of them in the U.S. - declare that this is not acceptable, that we must do more. These cities participate in the effort led by the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives - ICLEI - that has already reduced millions of tons of emissions each year, and saved local jurisdictions millions of dollars as well.

Sonoma local elected officials and other supporters return from a bus trip to San Francisco where they joined Gov. Davis as he signed AB 1493, California's GHG
Sonoma local elected officials and other supporters return from a bus trip to San Francisco where they joined Gov. Davis as he signed AB 1493, California's GHG

Sonoma's campaign began in fall 2001 when the Board of Supervisors directed staff to review and make recommendations regarding climate protection. In December 2001, Santa Rosa passed a resolution pledging to protect the climate through ICLEI's "Cities for Climate Protection Program." Then one by one, each of Sonoma's eight other cities and the County passed similar resolutions. This happened in less time and with far more support than expected. Of about 50 votes cast, only 3 were "no" votes. Each jurisdiction will measure the amount of greenhouse gas it produces, set a target for reducing it, develop and implement a local action plan, and monitor its progress.

The County of Sonoma and the City of Santa Rosa have calculated the amount of emissions they produce in their governmental operations, recorded progress they have made in lessening their energy consumption, and noted where more improvements are needed.

Robert Redford inspires the crowd at bill signing ceremony.
Robert Redford inspires the crowd at bill signing ceremony.

Measurements reveal that the County's operations now produce about 37,000 tons of greenhouse gas per year, and Santa Rosa's operations about 40,000 tons. The unit of measurement, tons of equivalent carbon dioxide, enables comparisons and other analyses among the various types of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide being the main one.

Although carbon dioxide is invisible, it is real matter that comprises a huge portion of modern society's waste, mainly from fossil fuel combustion. 40,000 tons represents a cloud of gas a mile in diameter and nearly 6 feet thick. Put another way, 40,000 tons equals 3175 additional Ford Expeditions or 7143 additional Honda Civics on our roads. Ford Expeditions emit on average 12.6 tons per year, and Honda Civics 5.6 tons per year, based on EPA figures.


Santa Rosa's GHG emissions have increased by 11 percent over the past nine years. When emissions from the Laguna Wastewater Treatment Plant are added, the increase jumps to 40 percent. Not all these emissions should be counted against Santa Rosa because other cities use the facility, too. The City is installing new efficient air blowers at the plant, estimated to use 50 percent less energy than the current blowers, reduce over 2,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, and save more than $400,000 per year.

The City's fleet includes 15 electric, and other alternative fuel vehicles that produce fewer emissions per mile than either gasoline or diesel. The City has also retrofitted traffic and streetlights with LEDs - light emitting diodes - which are brighter, more efficient, and last longer than the incandescent lamps they replaced.

To encourage more energy efficiency throughout Santa Rosa, the City has entered an agreement for green building consulting services to provide training opportunities and enticements for builders to use green building techniques, and for home buyers to ask for them. PG&E; and the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce are also partners in this effort. The program takes a holistic approach to being green, including the use of sustainably harvested wood. Emphasis is on marketing to the public and builders rather than on imposing new standards. Local resources will be developed to provide new materials and services, thus contributing to the local economy.


The County's emissions inventory documents many efficiency measures already underway. For its campus of buildings, a central mechanical plant produces and stores cold, and nearly all buildings have been retrofitted with more efficient lighting. The Information Services building has a new photovoltaic system.

Fuel efficiency is a top priority for County fleet purchases. Four hybrid cars were added to the fleet this year. Sonoma County Transit is recognized as a model for its extensive use of natural gas-fueled buses.

The County landfill captures 70 percent of the gas rising from the organic waste and converts it to electricity. Metal and yard waste is routinely diverted from the landfill, with the latter turned into compost and sold.

The County adopted a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from the year 2000 to 2010. The goal is challenging but nonetheless, probably falls far short of the target set by the Kyoto Protocols - to reduce emissions by 7 percent from 1990 levels. Both goals are farther still from the minimum 60 percent reduction that scientists recommend to prevent catastrophic climate change. Nonetheless, a 20 percent reduction from 2000 levels is a good beginning.

Sonoma County Board Chairman Mike Kerns, ICLEI's Ryan Bell, and others following the Board's vote to reduce GHG emissions, August 20, 2002
Sonoma County Board Chairman Mike Kerns, ICLEI's Ryan Bell, and others following the Board's vote to reduce GHG emissions, August 20, 2002

Some suggestions to reduce the County's emissions include increasing efficiency at its detention facilities - the County buildings with the highest resource consumption per square foot, exploring co-generation of heat and electricity in the Central Mechanical Plant, making more use of daylight for light in buildings, and most importantly, designing new buildings for exceptional energy efficiency.

With respect to the vehicle fleet, the County is encouraged to reduce trips, install low rolling-resistance tires, and explore means for eventually operating the fleet with climate neutral fuels, such as clean methane produced from local biowaste. To reduce emissions from commuting, a number of incentive programs used successfully elsewhere will be considered to encourage employees to walk, bike, carpool, and use public transportation.

Regarding emissions from waste going into the landfill, high performance digesters might be used to convert more material into useful biogas. Even more effective as a greenhouse gas reduction strategy is to reduce consumption and improve recycling rates throughout the community.


Sonoma's eight other cities are also participating in Cities for Climate Protection, working together on the GHG Inventory Project, under the umbrella of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency to measure their greenhouse gas emissions. The cities each invested about $4000, and the County matched this with $25,000. Sonoma State University interns are also working on the project. Sonoma cities' collaboration in measuring their emissions reflects an innovative approach never tried before.


Sonoma's climate protection activities are spreading to spheres beyond local government. Sonoma State University's Academic Senate recently resolved to measure the campus's emissions. SSU is also hosting a series of community forums this year addressing the science of global warming, protecting our water supply, community efforts to curb greenhouse gases, green building, and transportation issues.

Elementary schools, such as Oak Grove in Graton, have made many changes to reduce resource consumption. Piner-Olivet is implementing a program used throughout Canada to do the same.

Alexica and Veronica Bosque address the Board of Supervisors, describing how young people feel facing climate change.
Alexica and Veronica Bosque address the Board of Supervisors, describing how young people feel facing climate change.

Businesses are joining the effort, too. Sonoma's largest private employer, Agilent, is part of a company-wide program to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions throughout its global operations. Also, Agilent, Amy's Kitchen, and the City of Santa Rosa were recently named by a business-environmental coalition as star Bay Area employers for providing worker incentives to reduce commuting alone. The Sonoma-Marin Spare the Air Resource Team, composed of North Bay business representatives, has begun discussing climate protection, as has the Business Environmental Alliance, a group of business leaders convened by the County's Economic Development Board.

At the invitation of Sonoma Mayors and Council members, and with the leadership of Petaluma Council member Pam Torliatt and Supervisor Tim Smith, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District is considering funding and working with Sonoma County and its cities to integrate clean air and climate protection efforts. Although smog-producing air pollution has decreased over the past 35 years in this country, greenhouse gas emissions have dramatically increased.

Churches have also begun to address climate change. Petaluma's Elim Lutheran Church recently hosted the Rev. Sally Bingham who spoke about the religious response to global climate change. Rev. Bingham is the founder and executive director of the Regeneration Project, an internationally known ministry committed to taking action to stem global warming. Nationally, a "What would Jesus drive?" campaign has brought attention to the connection between earth stewardship and profligate gas consumption.

Our community's challenge is summed up by Santa Rosa's Assistant City Manager Marc Richardson in a report to the Council: "Climate change, with its potential impacts on human health and our natural resources, is rapidly becoming one of the largest public policy issues facing society. The buildup of greenhouse gases poses an environmental threat that could negatively impact many aspects of our lives and of the ecosystems we leave to future generations." Sonoma County leaders have taken important steps to ensure a future for our children in 2002.


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