Viewpoint: Scientists find climate change is even worse. Menlo Park has a plan.

by Joanna Gardias on August 13, 2021

This week, the world’s expert scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their latest report on climate change warning of a narrowing window for action.

In many ways, the most recent IPCC report confirmed what we knew about climate change: Human-caused CO2 emissions are the main cause global warming, resulting in ocean acidification, sea level rise, surface temperature warming, and aggravating the frequency of heatwaves, heavy rain, drought flooding, fire-ready weather, and cyclones. In other ways, the report illuminated worsening climate trends, with new models estimating that global temperatures are estimated to likely rise by 3°C in this century — an estimated increase that is above the Paris Agreement goals to keep levels “well below” 2°C.

While the report still emphasized CO2 emissions as the leading cause of warming, it also emphasized the role ofmethane emissions, as the second greatest contributor, particularly of shorter-term warming. As the two biggest contributors to methane emissions in the United States are natural gas and oil use — mostly from home heating and appliances — and emissions from animal livestock, this also highlights the pressing necessity to reduce natural gas use and beef consumption.

For Menlo Park, a community which bears the burden of many of global warming’s consequences, this report brings bad news. These findings mean an increased probability of the conditions that led to the CZU fire; more days with face coverings and cancelled outdoor events to avoid the harmful air pollution; a greater threat of sea level rise to our neighbor’s homes, and other infrastructure (i.e. roads, waste management plants, and energy plants and substations); and potential price spikes on staple food items, such as milk, avocados and almonds.

It’s easy to feel dejected, particularly for those who have already felt the impacts of climate change, or for us young people who fear for our futures.

But for Menlo Park, we have a very good reason to hold out hope. These changes will be hard to escape unless there are “deep reductions” in greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade, as found in the report. Fortunately, Menlo Park is at the forefront of the path toward “deep reductions.” Once Menlo Park (with many local cities already following right behind us) is able to prove the concept and feasibility of going to zero carbon on a city level, the hope for cascading replication and wide-scale reductions becomes possible.

Menlo Park’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) — the strongest and swiftest in all of California — is well underway toward reducing City emissions by 90 percent relative to 2005 levels by 2030. This summer as an intern for Menlo Spark, in collaboration with the 350SV Climate City Team and Menlo Together, we celebrated the one year anniversary of the plan and the amount of individual and City-wide progress made by the steadfast champions working to cut the most impactful source of CO2 and methane emissions — whether by switching to an EV, swapping their gas appliances for an electric one, or undertaking a plant-based diet.

Although there is hopeful potential, climate solutions require all-hands-on-deck, including yours. In light of the sorrowing news from the IPCC report, consider committing to a personal action to add momentum to the reductions. If you have time, people or professional skills, or simply a drive to help preserve the world, join or donate to the 350SV Climate City Team or another organization working toward the City’s CAP goals. If you’re not there yet, consider taking a smaller personal action to get you started, whether swapping your gas appliances for electric appliances (rather than methane burning ones) or take on a plant-based or beefless diet for the next year.

Author Joanna Gardia is a rising senior at the University of California, Berkeley

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