The most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which represents the consensus of the world’s leading climate scientists, has graphically called attention to the stark climate challenge we face. The report’s Summary for Policymakers leads off by saying, “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.”
Government representatives around the globe are reeling, including our elected officials here in Napa County.
Napa City Council member, Liz Alessio, said that she was “alarmed.” St. Helena Mayor, Geoff Ellsworth, concurred, saying, “We’re in an emergency.”
Mark Joseph, American Canyon City councilmember, pointed out the need for bolder actions. “There are things we need to be doing now.” Calistoga Councilmember Gary Kraus vented frustration at the pace of local change as “too slow … we’re not moving fast enough.”
And the clock keeps ticking
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The report makes it clear that time for effective action is running out. Even if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases now, the concentrations already released into the atmosphere will cause temperatures to continue rising for at least the next 30 years, with devastating consequences around the globe.
As Tim Carl pointed out in a recent Register article, “ In an agricultural region such as the Napa Valley, an increase of 1.5 C will result in more frequent and worse droughts, more ravenous wildfires, higher nighttime temperatures that will hinder fruit development on vines, new disease pressures as insects and viruses normally kept in check by winter frosts will find increased range, decreases in groundwater access and intermittent significant flooding.”
While the valley’s elected officials support reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the question of how is just beginning to be addressed. Some feel stymied by the lack of money, resources, staff and time to get things done. Prioritizing commitments has also been a challenge, with recent wildfires and the pandemic taking precedence.
City and County leaders get organized
Two years ago, Napa County supervisors Alfredo Pedroza and Brad Wagenknecht, along with representatives from each of the valley’s five municipalities, formed a Climate Action Committee (CAC), in the hopes of developing a regional response to climate issues.
The CAC has held 15 monthly, two-hour meetings, and has developed by-laws, information exchanges and organized a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA). The JPA will be instrumental in bringing in grants and state funding, according to Pedroza.
“We’re an advisory body,” Mark Joseph said. “We highlight things that could be done and then send them back to the jurisdictions.”
Cities are also moving forward on their own steam. Yountville, for example, passed a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers. American Canyon established a moratorium on gas stations. Calistoga adopted a climate emergency resolution and a “time out for trees” resolution to acknowledge the vital role our forests play in sequestering carbon and protecting an ever-more fragile environment.
These actions by the individual cities would have more impact if they were regional, stressed Pedroza in his hope that the CAC could move Napa Valley closer to that goal. “Bringing all the cities together has been an accomplishment,” he added. “Climate doesn’t recognize boundaries. In order to make meaningful change, we need a broader perspective.”
But what works in one city, may not in another.
For example, while Alessio supports a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers in Napa, she’s also come upon resistance.
“Just because Yountville can do it, doesn’t mean Napa can,” she said. “Creating an ordinance takes time, money and staff. Our legal team is buried right now.”
She also said that social inequities entered the Napa leaf blower ordinance discussion, as many businesses using gas-power are economically challenged.
While American Canyon has placed a hold on gas stations, Napa County and the other cities haven’t yet followed suit.
Where will action come from?
The CAC has no legislative or policing authority. Pedroza hopes that one day that will change. Sonoma County, which has formed a similar committee, does have such authority, according to Pedroza, adding that “very few other counties have come as far as we have.”
Even without direct action by municipalities, the state of California is requiring a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a goal that David Morrison, the director of Planning, Building and Environmental Services, believes will be met, if not exceeded.
“We are well on track,” he said, adding much of the reduction is attributable to statewide initiatives to reduce automobile emissions, increases in renewable energy for electricity and building energy efficiency.
According to Morrison, the largest local contribution to reducing carbon emissions was switching electrical carriers from PG&E to renewable energy offered by MCE. To date, all county and city buildings are using 100 percent of their energy from the nonprofit renewable energy company, MCE. American Canyon was the final city to sign on in August, 2021.
One key CAC accomplishment is the recent $50,000 grant received by Napa County to inventory greenhouse gas emissions. The funds targeted hiring a consultant, who will prepare a report to be reviewed by the committee in March, 2022.
“We have stuff to work on,” said Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht. “The biggest issue right now is the greenhouse gas inventory and what we will do with that.”
As the climate heats up, officials are feeling the urgency. Some CAC members would like to see more dedicated staff and increased funding allocated to each municipality, specific to climate and environmental issues. Both St. Helena and Calistoga have funded an allocation for partial time to a staff member.
Prioritizing climate change, explained Anne Chouteau, St. Helena City Council member, is a challenge, competing with recent St. Helena City Council issues of racial equity and social justice.
“I personally think there should a staff person dedicated to climate change,” she said. “I got elected wanting to make a difference on climate change, but we need a bigger plan with more funding.”
Mark Joseph of American Canyon said, “We need bold actions, and it’s almost as if this isn’t anybody’s priority,” he said. “We may see some dramatic changes in policy.”
Morrison agreed. “The best thing we can do is develop similar standards so that we’re all moving towards the same goals. The CAC, it’s a good step. And there’s always more to be done.”
He’s also hoping that California develops minimal standards for counties on developing climate action plans. The draft Napa County climate action plan developed in 2018 at a cost of $250,000 was shelved, he pointed out. Legal challenges to the Sonoma County climate plan caused a halt in proceeding further with the Napa plan.
So, without a county plan or process, the CAC is the current governmental policy developer for the region.
Look at this as an emergency, Wagenknecht urged. “The CAC is one spot for change, but not the only spot. Emergency means all hands on deck…there’s Napa Climate NOW, The Sierra Club and industry groups. Everyone needs to be moving on this.”
Actions you can take to help
• Learn what the IPCC has to say. Download the “Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, Summary for Policymakers” at www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/#SPM
• Attend the next CAC meeting to learn what is on their agenda, and attend a city council or county supervisor meeting to make your voice heard.
Yvonne Baginski is a local activist dedicated to environmental and social justice. She is the founder of Share the Care and Born to Age, a senator in the California Senior Legislature representing Napa and Solano Counties and a member of Napa Climate NOW!
Napa Climate NOW! is a local non-profit citizens’ group advocating for smart climate solutions based on the latest climate science, part of 350 Bay Area. Like, comment, and share our daily Facebook and Instagram posts @napaclimatenow or visit napa.350bayarea.org.