Editorial

Atascadero leaders should have stuck up for science

Climate plan deserves praise, but lack of advocacy dismays

letters@thetribunenews.comFebruary 3, 2014 

In the end — after an hours-long session in which one member of the public described global warming as “political nonsense” — the Atascadero City Council adopted a Climate Action Plan that includes a host of measures aimed at reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

The list includes such laudable goals as avoiding urban sprawl; encouraging installation of solar panels; urging residents to ride bikes; planting more drought-tolerant trees.

Getting to an approved plan, though, was a painful and protracted process.

First, some background: As part of California’s effort to reduce global warming, counties and cities are required to reduce greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and to adopt Climate Action Plans that spell out how those reductions will be achieved. Agencies that don’t comply run the risk of being sued.

Atascadero contracted with a consulting firm, Rincon Consultants Inc., to develop its Climate Action Plan. When the City Council reviewed that plan a couple of weeks ago, two council members, Roberta Fonzi and Heather Moreno, objected to language that linked global warming to human activity. They also took issue with a list of predictions of what may occur in the future. And they didn’t like the term “smart growth.”

They proposed striking entire passages from the report, including a list of possible effects of climate change such as:

• Rising sea levels along the California coastline caused by ocean expansion and glacier melt.

• Extreme heat conditions, such as heat waves and very high temperatures, which could last longer and become more frequent.

• Reduced snowpack and stream flows in the Sierra Nevadas, affecting winter recreation and water supplies.

• Changes in growing season conditions that could affect California agriculture, causing variations in crop yield and quantity.

Concerned members of Atascadero’s scientific community came up with alternative wording that aimed to rescue some of endangered verbiage. In a couple of places, for example, they suggested substituting the word “may” for “will.”

The council went through the suggested changes, line by line, ending up with a sanitized version of the report that attempted to satisfy climate change deniers and believers alike.

Through it all, Mayor Tom O’Malley kept the peace. He repeatedly pointed out that, although there may not be agreement on why the remedial measures are needed, the measures themselves remain in the plan.

On the other hand, city Planning Commissioner Len Colamarino, who spoke during public comment, lamented that two members of the council turned the issue into a “political circus” because they wanted to “purge the document of references to science and to smart growth … ”

“It makes our community look foolish,” he said.

Yet a growing minority doesn’t see it that way.

According to a recent Yale/George Mason University survey, the percentage of Americans who do not believe global warming is happening has risen to 23 percent, up 7 percentage points since April 2013.

This, even though more than 90 percent of scientists — one study puts it as high as 97 percent — agree that global warming is occurring.

Again, we’re pleased that Atascadero adopted a Climate Action Plan with strong measures. In fact, city staff said Atascadero could exceed its goal for greenhouse gas reductions once the plan is fully implemented.

But we’re disheartened that no one on the council was a strong advocate for science, that not one of these elected leaders respectfully rebutted the view that global warming is “political nonsense.”

There are times when we must stand behind and support the scientific community. There are times when we cannot agree to redact or sanitize certain language just to keep the peace. This is one of those times, and we’re disappointed that the Atascadero City Council doesn’t see it that way.

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