Though we can certainly talk ourselves out of a vote for P, the measure is a positive way forward while a vote against it is nothing more than a ringing endorsement of the status quo. And we all know where that is going to get us: extinct. Flawed though it might be — and, gasp! even if it is written by out-of-towners — Measure P moves in the right direction of what we must do to stop the rising temperatures and sea levels of climate change — a policy sorely lacking from our elected leaders.
No matter how perfectly crafted a measure like P might be, a billionaire industry that feels itself in peril will mobilize legal challenges. We must not let the possibility of lawsuits deter us — not when the stakes are so high. Laws like Measure P have always been necessary to force changes that industry resists: The Clean Air Act was written in the 1960s, spurred by the legislation of local governments. Even today, when the Environmental Protection Agency issues Clean Air Act regulations, industry lawyers file suit to tame them. But legal cases and lawsuits have shaped our world today, and often the greater good wins — the Civil Rights Act, Roe v. Wade, sexual preference rights, and other essential laws, for instance, have all been challenged in court and prevailed.
Smoggy brown skies during the ’60s and ’70s were visual proof of what the burning of oil produced — and still produces. Dangerously elevated ozone levels blanketed the county one hot weekend early in October, making it hard to breathe, even here in our seaside town. Less visible is the carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by our industriousness. The warming of the Earth from increasing CO2 has been measured at Mauna Loa Observatory since 1958 — 315 parts per million (ppm) in the air back then. On a day in May 2013, it surpassed 400 ppm. Then, for the first time, an entire month was above 400 ppm — April 2014. Carbon dioxide is accumulating far faster than scientists thought it would; the planet is warming faster, too.
Measure P addresses those concerns by blocking new cyclic steam injection projects, the oil-extraction method of choice here. Cyclic steam injection produces four times the greenhouse gases of conventional oil drilling. Waiting until 2016 to act, as some counsel, is yet another in a multitude of delays to deal with this man-made crisis. The statistics are scary. If we continue to put off until tomorrow the end of our carbon dependence, within a couple of decades, rising global temperatures are expected to reach a tipping point for polar ice that will lead to irreversible climatic changes. The effect on food production, which often relies on seat-of-the-pants weather forecasts, is unimaginable.
Oil has peaked, giving ever-diminishing returns and demanding ever-more-complex methods of extraction. Here in Santa Barbara, we don’t produce that much petroleum, not compared to Saudi Arabia or Mexico. But even here, where profits are measured in millions, not billions, those profits that oil companies reap would be far better spent on a clean-energy money-maker. The many issues surrounding Measure P — clean water, greenhouse gases (GHGs), the lack of clean energy sources — focus attention from beyond county borders on the dire needs that face all of us — if not fossil fuels, what will provide electricity for future generations? When we vote for Measure P, what will we each do to reduce our fossil-fuel dependence?
The European Union, representing countries heavily dependent on foreign oil, just agreed to a 40 percent reduction in GHGs by 2030. It’s on track to meet its 2020 goal of 20 percent less than 1990 emissions (the international standard). The second biggest polluter in the world — that would be us, the United States — had emissions in 2012 that were 4.3 percent higher than 1990’s. Not only is Europe outstripping us in reducing emissions, but their 2030 target is expected to reduce foreign imports of oil by €285 billion.
Countries like Germany single-handedly push their economies into wind and solar. Where is the Manhattan Project to brainstorm clean energy into affordable existence here in the U.S.?
But first, let’s make sure there’s clean water and air for the coming generations. Let’s support this most minimal of efforts to curb the changing weather patterns that alarm us. We do not stand to lose very much from the rising seas, not compared to Bangladesh or the Marshall Islands. But we know — it is on our conscience — that there is a connection between what we do here in our county and what happens globally. It was like that in 1969; it’s like that today.
“Yes” on Measure P is the only option worth voting for if you care about the future.