FARTING LOCALLY, STINKING GLOBALLY: I find myself perpetually jet-lagged this week, and I haven’t even left the ground. That’s because daylight saving time — like professional basketball season — has expanded to include most of the calendar. My circadian rhythms have been blasted to smithereens. Naturally, I take this intrusion personally. But in reality, it’s political. Given that scientists just discovered last year was the hottest in the last 4,000, it’s worth recalling that daylight saving was pushed earlier into March and later into November by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, pushed and passed by the Bush-Cheney White House. That’s the same energy bill that bestowed billions of dollars worth of tax breaks to the nuclear-power industry and billions more to the oil and gas industry. The same bill created a loophole exempting natural gas companies engaged in “fracking” from the Clean Water Act, meaning they did not have to disclose what toxic chemicals they were pumping into the ground — potentially jeopardizing groundwater aquifers in the process — to get to the gas. It’s not fair to say the Energy Policy Act did nothing for conservation and renewable energy. Just very little. Into this dubious category falls the alleged energy savings — which veer between wildly exaggerated and hopelessly hypothetical — derived from expanding daylight saving.
It was perversely fitting that the Board of Supervisors would schedule a public hearing on a proposed Climate Action Plan this Tuesday, right at the onset of our new time scheme. Maybe that’s why freshman Supervisor Peter Adam was so grumpy. Or perhaps that’s just how he rolls. Adam, a North County farmer based out of Orcutt, has been at war with county environmental regulators since as long as I can remember, and last year, he ran for office, vowing to be the perpetual skunk at the supervisors’ garden party. Based on Tuesday’s display, Adam is a man of his word. To be honest, I showed up in search of a train wreck to watch. I expected to hear a lot of explosive testimony challenging the scientific validity of climate change. To that end, I was keenly disappointed. What I heard instead was almost as silly.
On the table were various plans by which county residents and businesses could reduce their greenhouse-gas emission by 15 percent in the coming years. We currently generate about 1.2 million metric tons a year. The plans differed by how many smoke-and-mirror programs they contained and how many mandatory requirements they included. For the record, I’m not saying the plan embraced by three of the five supervisors for environmental review qualifies as the second coming of Swiss cheese. My suspicion is that the plan will shy away from making real people make real sacrifices to deal with a real problem, but it will allow eco-friendly elected officials to say they passed something trendy yet urgent. Still, it’s a start.
The Nattering Nabobs of No — lead by COLAB, the Taxpayers Association, and a particularly weird group called Save Our Seeps — didn’t want even that. Why should Santa Barbara be part of the so-called solution — and endure new regulatory burdens of as yet undefined new costs — they demanded, when it’s not really part of the problem? The land mass that actually falls within the county’s control in this matter — after UCSB, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Los Padres National Forest, Highway 101, and the Santa Ynez Reservation are excluded — is relatively small, they argued, and the quantity of greenhouse gases generated all but inconsequential. Supervisors Adam and Steve Lavagnino — from Santa Maria — agreed wholeheartedly, though the styles in which they did so could not have been more different. Lavagnino — said to be an accomplished stand-up comedian — dredged through the fine print of the staff report, discovering that no less than 28,000 metric tons of the county’s greenhouse gases reportedly are generated from cow farts. “Is that what I think it is?” he demanded. He asked the experts assembled how they proposed to plug that source. They had an answer. But not really. Where Lavagnino made his points without getting personal, Adam just got personal. From the dais, he adopted an over-the-top prosecutorial questioning style that called to mind, “Do you lie when you’re asleep or only when you’re awake?” Adam might well have had a point, for example, when he grilled one staffer for declining to give his assistants preliminary estimates of what the proposed regulations might actually cost. But from the outside looking in, he looked like he was having way too much fun getting his nose out of joint than in getting anything done. Following up, he angrily demanded why, for example, county staff had “ignored” offshore oil seeps as a cause of greenhouse gas emissions, a cause célèbre around which right-wing, pro-industry groups like Save Our Seeps have revolved. By allowing oil companies to “harvest” — always “harvest,” never “drill” — the oil reservoirs underneath the seeps, they argue, the atmosphere can be spared the environmental assault caused by massive quantities of greenhouse gases such seeps emit. I’m not saying this “solution” is always bogus. But I am saying that the UCSB scientist who authored the only study on the subject has publicly repudiated this interpretation of his work.
Clearly, Santa Barbara is a small fry when it comes to greenhouse-gas generation. But can the so-called birthplace of the environmental movement really afford to sit it out — as suggested — when sea-level rise, drought, floods, and other climate-change-induced manifestations of extreme weather pose such an obvious and immediate threat? When the federal Government Accountability Office says — as it did last week — that climate change threatens the financial stability of the country and top commanders in the U.S. Navy are saying it undermines our global security, maybe it’s an issue we need to address. Maybe the supes will pass something meaningful. Or maybe it will be feeble, rhetorical, and insulting. But compared to the expansion of daylight saving time a few years back, how feeble and insulting could it possibly be?