Last week our council candidates weighed in on sustainability issues. Their imaginations were limited to bike lanes, more sidewalks, and parking. The greatest challenge facing all humanity is global warming. This past Sunday the largest global warming march to date took place in New York. The march came two days before the United Nations Climate Summit. More than 120 world leaders convened Tuesday for a meeting aimed at galvanizing political will for a new global climate treaty by the end of 2015.
Fifteen years ago the U.S. Department of Energy identified urban forestry as the cheapest means to reduce power plant carbon emissions and sequester atmospheric carbon. Shade trees in urban neighborhoods reduce electricity consumption by up to 30 percent, and stabilize soil on hillsides. Every dollar invested in urban forestry returns from a $1.37 to $3.09 in electricity savings. Pine and eucalyptus can sequester an average of 10 tons of carbon per hectare per year through photosynthesis.
California was the first state to pass an Urban Forestry Act and create an Urban Forestry Program. Los Angeles has the One Million Tree Initiative. Some cities, such as Glendale, provide up to five free shade trees per property with technical assistance to grow them as large as possible. Local governments, businesses, non-profits, and individuals participate in the program, which is now six years old, well organized, and well thought out. As the climate crisis deepens, the Act could well become mandatory.
Not one candidate or current Council member has mentioned participation in the California Urban Forestry Program. The reason is simple: ocean views. View ordinances and urban forestry are inherently incompatible, as are view ordinances and scientifically stabilizing hillsides with trees. Something has to give, and in Laguna that means the hillsides. This has been the year of the “right” to an ocean view in Laguna. The climate models predict that southern California will have more drought in the future, punctuated by periods of heavy rain – perfect conditions for domino effect mudslides without robust trees.
Urban Forestry is state policy, but not in Laguna Beach.
David Pahnos, Laguna Beach
The author is aretired environmental engineering executive, who managed NUS Corporation, an EPA Superfund contractor.