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What Gets Measured, Gets Managed

By Tom Osborne
By Tom Osborne

“Lose five pounds,” my doctor said after this year’s annual physical. I’ve lost them and found them again. Part of my difficulty is that I avoid getting on the scale. Unless I regularly measure my weight, I know I’ll not be able to better manage it. Trying to manage climate change works the same way: without figures we don’t know if we’re getting anywhere.

Take the City of San Diego, for example. According to its official website, its 2015 Climate Action Plan (CAP) calls for “eliminating half of all greenhouse gas emissions in the City and aims for all electricity used in the city to be from renewable sources by 2035.” Bold goals require bold action steps. Accordingly, the city government is creating a renewable energy program, implementing a zero-waste plan, and requiring a majority of its municipal fleet be electric vehicles. These action steps represent a strengthening and updating of the city’s first CAP in 2005.

San Diego’s Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced that his administration provides an annual report to the public on how the city was doing in curbing fossil fuel emissions. He knew that citizens wanted a clear sense of what was happening. Without such annual reports, how would the public know anything meaningful was happening? Faulconer declared: “What gets measured, gets managed.”

Watching this video announcement got me wondering. What has become of Laguna Beach’s Climate Protection Action Plan (CPAP), which after two years in the drafting won council approval without one dissenting vote in 2009. Recently, I went on our city’s website and typed in “climate change,” and “Climate Protection Action Plan.” Nothing came up. I’m not saying our city has been idle when it comes to implementing the CPAP, but I simply have no idea what actions have been taken. Are we meeting any benchmarks in the CPAP? How current and effective is this plan, now more than eight years old?

What the public thinks about these matters is critically important. Remember, Lagunans, not City Hall, initiated the movement that resulted in our local government eventually sponsoring the effort to write the CPAP. If we want our city to play a meaningful role in addressing climate change then the citizenry has to know what progress, if any, is being made in implementing our action plan. To obtain that information Lagunans will have to request it from City Hall by saying we need annual reports posted on the city website. If we want the CPAP reviewed for updating and revising, we need to request it. The necessary initiative and forward thinking will have to come from us—the engaged citizenry.

Why should we care? Isn’t Laguna just one small city? Let’s see. Are we prepared for what scientists say could be a five-foot global warming-induced sea-rise by the end of this century, if not earlier? What about the warming ocean, which absorbs about half of carbon emissions, and the consequently depleted kelp beds and marine habitats along our sure-to-be eroded beaches?

I think we care about these matters and I believe cities, more than other polities, have done the most to combat climate change. San Diego, for example, reports that it has already surpassed by two percent its green house gas emissions reduction goal of 15 percent by 2020, using 2010 as a baseline. It is one of thousands of cities on six continents that have recently committed to drastically reduce—in some cases up to 80 percent—their GHG emissions by 2050. This is being done while growing local economies, say billionaire capitalist Michael Blumberg and environmentalist Carl Pope in their new book, “Climate of Hope” (2017).

So while I jump on the dreaded scale, let’s ask Laguna’s officials to upgrade the effort to address climate change now and report back to the public annually with numbers that measure progress.


Tom Osborne is author of “Coastal Sage: Peter Douglas and the Fight to Save California’s Shore,” to be released by the University of California Press in 2017.

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