April 2, 2008
BUILDING IN AN AGE OF GLOBAL WARMING AND WATER SHORTAGES, by John Reaves
Evidence of global warming is both real and alarming. By AB 32 (Global WarmingSolutions Act of 2006) and other laws, California has taken the lead on an ambitious path tomore efficient and cleaner energy use. Through AB 32, greenhouse gas (GHG) must be reducedabout 25% to the 1990 levels by 2020, and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.While our Air Resources Board and Public Utilities Commission work feverishly todecide how to cut bigger producers of GHG and implement interim measures, most localgovernments are dragging feet and allowing development that will exacerbate the problem. Newstructures will last 30, 50, 70, maybe 100 years, and add new long-term fossil fuel demands.Attaining AB 32’s goal is further compounded by our swelling population, roughly 37 millionresidents today, with 60 million predicted by 2050. State law should plug a senseless leak andrequire all new construction to be part of the solution, not work against us, both in terms of GHGand water.This year, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) consisting of acouple thousand scientists from 140 countries, issued increasingly alarming and urgent calls foraction due to mounting evidence that warming is occurring faster than expected. IPCCChairman, Dr. Rachandra Pachauri, has said what we do in the next 2-3 years will determine ourfuture. Further, a climate scientist at NASA , Jay Zwally, has said at current rates the ArcticOcean may be nearly ice-free by 2012, while Mark Serreze, a senior scientist at the federal snowand ice center (CIRES) says “The Arctic is screaming.”Despite optimism for what change can bring, I am dismayed at the local response. The oldmind set is in denial, and inertia is real. My home town, San Diego, undoubtedly is typical ofother cities. One political aide asked me what global warming has to do with local government,while another said Washington should address global warming. San Diego only encouragesdevelopers to build sustainably.The urgency demands we do more, faster. Buildings represent the greatest source ofGHG in the United States, at 43% in 2002. Why shouldn’t new development provide its ownnew energy needs? If there is insufficient space to cover the site power needs, a marvelousopportunity for environmental justice presents itself – verifiable, reinvestment in our own needycommunities with conservation measures or photo-voltaics (PV). We should encourage partieswith extra resources to install more PV than needed by pricing excess power sales higher thanwholesale. We need legislation to remove current disincentives. We can go far beyond getting2 of 2 Reaves’ Editorial20% of our energy from renewable sources by 2020 by unleashing the power of so manyindividuals who would like to do more. We could go even further by requiring retrofits alongthese same lines at the time of property transfers.Development as usual also exacerbates water shortages. Because roughly 40% of ourstate’s electricity moves water around the state, development which relies on imported wateradds to GHG. When combined with the dire forecast for future water availability, localgovernment must rethink how new development can be handled without adding to the problems.Although the California Environmental Quality Act requires a 20 year water availability analysis,local governments’ reference to anticipated conservation seems to be enough for most to justifydevelopment as usual.Local governments’ insatiable desire for a larger tax base at any cost, and an acutereluctance to impose new conditions on development, are drivers for more of the same. OneSouthern California water district chief recently said he did not want the water district to be theone that puts restraints on growth Why would the more abstract concern of global warming beany more of an impediment to local decision makers?My county, San Diego, predicts a 25% increase in water needs to accommodate anothermillion people by 2030 despite aggressive water conservation. That seems incongruous with thereality we face. Besides, why should some cut back voluntarily if water hogs do not and ifconservation simply allows for more thirsty development to be approved?State law is needed that requires plans and funding to be in place to cultivate new watersupplies (such as sewage reuse, desalination) wherever shortages are projected which offsetprojected shortages before accommodating new growth, with sufficient margin of error. We canstart today in requiring new development to recapture rain water and stop allowing wastefulwater support of tropical plants and grass in arid areas, for starters, where needed.The price of admission has changed. Now is a golden opportunity to set new standards toaddress GHG and water shortages, standards that will have, well, lifetime benefits. I urge thestate legislature immediately require all new construction in the state be carbon neutral andwater-wise and for retrofits when property is transferred.
John H. Reaves, Esq.