Mark McDermott

MB households emit 55 tons of CO2 each 

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by Mark McDermott 

Second of two parts

During the first half of the city’s Climate Town Hall meeting on March 2, United States Geological Survey climate scientist Juliette Hart laid out in stark terms what rising seas would mean for Manhattan Beach. The increase of two to six feet in sea level projected to occur over the next 20 to 50 years will all but wipe out the city’s beach. Hart noted that there is virtually no uncertainty among scientists about the warming of the Earth’s climate and what it means. 

“We are not disagreeing,” Hart said. “The Earth is warming. And it is led by our actions…Unfortunately, all the projections are kicking us up.” 

In the second half of the town hall, geologist Kevin Whilden and environmental lawyer and Grades of Green founder Kim Lewand Martin amplified Hart’s point. One PowerPoint slide in their presentation showed the trajectory of carbon emissions continuing at its current rate, reaching average greenhouse gas emissions of 60 gigatons annually by 2030 which in turn would eventually lead to a 3.5 degrees Celsius —  or 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit — increase in global temperatures. The best-case scenario under the Paris Climate Agreement was a reduction to 2 degree Celsius levels, which Martin noted is no longer deemed enough to stave off disaster. 

“What scientists are very clear about is even if we were to reverse our trajectory, that is not enough,” she said. “Two degrees is not enough to reverse the effects that we are already starting to see and know will come our way.” 

Those effects are hard to fathom. Whilden referred to a study in the science journal Nature that investigated nine “tipping points” already underway that could drastically increase climate instability, including melting arctic permafrost, fires and droughts in the Amazon rainforest, and ice sheets melting in Antarctica and Greenland. 

“They said we are in a state of planetary emergency right now,” Whilden said. “These fires in the Amazon, fires in the arboreal forest in Siberia, melting ice sheets, die-offs of reefs —  every time you see a story about one of those, that is one of the tipping points.” 

But even with all the science and the evidence, Whilden said, almost nothing is being done. Hence the runaway warming trajectory. 

“Nobody is really, truly engaged in the way that needs to happen. What we need is a better story about climate change —  what are the threats and what are the solutions, and how to make sense of them,” Whilden said. “Literally the future of the Earth as we know it depends on it….Climate change is happening so slowly, over many generations, that you don’t see it as a cause and effect relationship. And that’s the problem.” 

One of the biggest causes emanates from every household in the United States. Households are responsible for 80 percent of the country’s total carbon emissions, and Manhattan Beach is among the highest in the nation; an average household here is responsible for 55 tons of emissions annually, ten percent higher than the national average. 

One of the biggest solutions was referred to several times at the Climate Town Hall, first by then-mayor and now Councilperson Nancy Hersman, and later by the city’s sustainability manager Dana Murray. Two years ago, the city enrolled in the Clean Power Alliance of Southern California (CPA), 31 public agencies who formed a collective to purchase renewable energy. The Council set the default rate to 50 percent for households —  matching the cost of Southern California electricity rates while obtaining 50 percent of energy from renewable sources. The city itself later upped to 100 percent for municipal operations; only .5 percent of residents, however, have followed. Doing so reduces each person’s carbon footprint by an average of 2.5 tons per year. Other actions that lesson a person’s carbon footprint include driving electric cars, eating vegetarian, and changing purchasing habits. 

The single most important thing you can do is move to 100 percent renewable, 100 percent green energy,” Martin said. “I called CPA…it was literally a 5 to 10-minute process.”  

Murray said her own family opted in and it increased their SCE bill by 7 to 8 percent per month. 

“It cost us about seven or eight dollars a month extra on our bill,” she said. “We figure that’s two Starbuck coffees. We can afford that. It’s worth it.”

Hersman’s final acts as mayor were to hold the Climate Town Hall and then, the following night, to agendize making the 100 percent renewable the default rate for residents. The council will consider that matter at its March 17 meeting.

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