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If there is anything positive about a really big environmental crisis, it is that it may create a greater likelihood that people might be moved to action. Everyone now knows, we are faced with a serious ecological crisis. Global climate change threatens our very civilization.

But don’t look to the feds for help. The President has denied the problem for years and the federal government has failed to take the most minimal actions, such as sign the Kyoto Protocol or continue solar power subsidies. Every day it becomes clearer — if we are to survive this threat, state, regional and local efforts will be what will lead us through this crisis. One of the key ways local government can act is through local and regional sustainable energy and land use planning to reduce emissions and begin to reverse climate change.

As the county with the best solar power potential in the country, we are well-positioned to achieve energy sustainability and security. Many plans have been offered as road maps. A report on the Potential for Renewable Energy was released in 2005, EHC released our own Green Energy Options for Replacing the South Bay Power Plant, (in 2007, economist Dr. Heather Honea and Jim Bell demonstrated an economic model for the region to be energy self-sufficient, and, most recently, Bill Powers authored San Diego Smart Energy 2020 , a plan that paves the way for a shift from our continued reliance on fossil fuel and imported power to local power options. These plans demonstrate that there are credible means for meeting our energy needs locally and in a sustainable manner. These are the plans that our local leaders should pursue.

A key priority for action is the promulgation of mandatory green building standards that place a high priority on energy efficiency and achievement of ‘netzero’ or carbon-neutral development. Adopting strict energy efficiency measures, like green building design, are crucial to creating a sustainable living environment. For example, according to an inventory of carbon emissions Chula Vista did recently, more than half of the city’s overall greenhouse gas emissions came from buildings. In other studies, it is estimated in general that 76 percent of power plant generated electricity is used to operate buildings. Other reports demonstrate that green buildings may be the cheapest way to slow climate change and increase energy security. Clearly, if we are serious about reducing carbon emissions, those with land use authority must adopt energy efficiency standards to reduce and eliminate energy demand from buildings.

Some of our cities are poised to lead the way. The city of San Diego recently committed to green building standards putting the city on a path to achieve netzero development in its General Plan in accordance with state goals. On April 1, 2008, the Chula Vista City Council will consider a set of recommendations created by a Climate Change Working Group convened in order to update the city’s Carbon Reduction Plan to ensure that it meets its carbon reduction goals. The most important and far-reaching recommendation is that the city adopt citywide green building requirements that cover all new buildings and major renovations.

A second local and regional priority should be the broad deployment of larger rooftop solar arrays such as the solar carport at Naval Base Coronado , the Kyocera solar ‘grove’, and the megawatt of rooftop solar at the city of San Diego’s Alvarado Treatment plant.

Cities can, and many are, taking on this challenge. Look at Portland, Oregon. As Scientific America recently reported, Portland gets half its power from renewable sources, a quarter of the work force commutes by bike, car pool or public transportation, and 35 buildings are certified by the U.S. Green Building Council and more than 800 mayors have signed a Climate Protection Agreement to meet or beat Kyoto reductions — even if our federal government won’t.

The good news is that the solutions are staring us in the face. What are we waiting for? We are running out of time. Now is the time to act, and here is the place.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

What do you think is the best way to encourage local and regional governments to act to ensure energy security and to reverse the impacts of climate change?

— LAURA HUNTER

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