Last week, in the lead up to Earth Day, it was hard not to notice that San Diego is “all in” making preparations for climate change.
From Qualcomm’s new green campus in Sorrento Valley, to a discussion of the Paris climate accord at UC San Diego, to SeaWorld’s return of rescued sea lions, America’s Finest city was publicly demonstrating its concern for climate change. But the reality goves much deeper than the media events.
San Diego was one of the first places to pay attention to the earth’s changing climate fundamentals. A researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography created the most famous record of human-caused emission of greenhouse gases. The Keeling Curve — Charles David Keeling’s record of rising carbon dioxide levels on Manua Loa in Hawaii — is an iconic symbol of climate change.
A colleague at Scripps, Veerabhadran “Ram” Ramanathan discovered the greenhouse effect of halocarbons, particularly, CFCs in 1975, leading to their banning worldwide. He is now an advisor on climate change to Pope Francis and the United Nations.
This fundamental research has been followed in recent years with groundbreaking investments in clean technology. The world is beginning to pay attention to San Diego’s clean technology innovation.
Last week, just before Earth Day, two San Diego water projects were recognized at a global water summit in Dubai. The new desalination plant in Carlsbad and the City of San Diego’s water-recycling program received two of the 11 awards.
These two projects have overcome numerous technological and political hurdles. The desalination plant was opposed by environmentalists concerned about marine live, and the Pure Water project by local residents who derided “toilet to tap.” But scientists know that with a warming climate, California’s snowcap and the flow from the Colorado River will decline. The only answer for local leaders is to develop other sources of water.
San Diego is consistently ranked a leader in solar power and electric vehicles, with 20,000 on local roads. San Diego Gas & Electric is gearing up to install 3,500 chargers to make the city even more EV-friendly.
SDG&E is also farther along on generating clean energy than any other investor-owned utility, marking the milestone of 33 percent last year, and is on track to reach 40 percent by 2018.
The Navy is setting an example with its “Great Green Fleet,” now patrolling the South China Sea. Biofuel-powered cruisers and destroyers from San Diego are escorting the carbon-free, nuclear-powered USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the City of San Diego’s ambitious climate action plan, approved in December, calls for reducing pollution by half and committing the city to get 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2035.
Many still question whether the climate is changing, and even if anything should be done about it. Republican front-runner Donald Trump considers climate change a hoax perpetrated by China to hurt American industry.
But in San Diego we can see the future and are doing something about it.
Chris Jennewein is editor & publisher of Times of San Diego.