ROADS NOT TAKEN: We all have our cross to bear. Among my regrets — both keen and keening — is not having a prehensile tail affixed to my posterior. Or being able to swing arm over arm from branch to branch. We took the wrong fork in the evolutionary road. We opted instead to go the way of the opposable thumb, thus making Homo sapiens the only creatures on God’s green earth able to snap our fingers. The opposable thumb, as we all know, led to the expansion of human intelligence, which — along with the irresistible sexiness that comes with snapping one’s fingers — got us into our current polar-ice-cap-melting mess.
But there still is hope.
No, not that we will change our ways and cool Earth’s temperature down just a few degrees. And it’s not our fault. Clearly, the problem is one of messaging.
How is anyone in this country — where one-tenth of the world’s population generates roughly half the greenhouse gases — supposed to take seriously a problem that is measured out in Celsius? Those of us who took drugs back when they were still illegal learned how to convert pounds into kilograms. Those of us forced to run long distances in high school learned to convert miles into kilometers. But absolutely nobody out there can convert Celsius into Fahrenheit without using a calculator. In fact, as soon as the word “Celsius” is uttered, the American mind experiences terminal ice-cream freeze.
Yet the United Nations Commission that issues all the relentlessly dire reports on how close we are to falling off the climate-change cliff insists on speaking exclusively in terms of Celsius. If we go up in a cataclysm of fire and ice, it will be their fault, not ours. If inscrutability was their objective, they should have tried poetry. Otherwise, use Fahrenheit.
But I digress.
The latest report was exceptionally grim. Unless the whole planet goes on the equivalent of a bone-broth diet for the next 20 years, we’re doomed. We’re talking a 45 percent cut in gas consumption, 60 percent less oil, and 95 percent less coal.
The good news — and yes, there is some — is that the rate of temperature increase has slowed down somewhat. Solar energy is 85 percent cheaper now than it was 10 years ago; wind, 55 percent.
This Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors got the final report card for the Environmental and Climate Action Plan they adopted in 2015. When it came to cutting back on greenhouse-gas emissions, we achieved only 44 percent of their goal. That goal was to cut back 50 percent from the amount generated in 2007. No matter what curve you grade on, that’s failing. It’s not even a D. But what can you expect from a program whose acronym — ECAP — calls to mind the sound of someone choking on a poorly chewed walnut?
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Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, the former Republican who joined the Declined-to-State Party and is now running unopposed for the third straight time, sputtered in outraged incredulity: “I was shocked at how ineffective we’ve been. We’re not even making a dent.” Barring reductions already mandated by the state, Lavagnino charged the county managed to achieve a reduction in emissions of only 45,000 metric tons. That’s out of a total of 1.4 million.
Even the rosiest interpretation indicates that we fell short of our goal by the equivalent of 117,862 passenger car trips a day for a year. Slightly more than half our emissions — 776,000 metric tons — come from the tailpipes of our cars. Despite the ostentatious proliferation of Teslas in Trader Joe’s parking lots, electric cars make up only 2 percent of the cars on the road.
Agriculture is a significant problem too, accounting for nearly 200,000 metric tons of our greenhouse-gas inventory. Of those, 166,000 can be attributed to cow belches, cow farts, and cow poop, delicately described in county documents alternately as “enteric fermentation” and “manure management.”
The next major battleground is over natural gas hookups in new houses. Should there be a “ban” on natural gas outright or should we merely “restrict” it? Now that COVID is ostensibly “over,” this will give the anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers a new intrusion of state authority to become apoplectic over. No wonder the supervisors will be installing metal detectors at the entrance of the County Administration Building.
With my socks already wet with the prospect of sea-level rise, it’s only a matter of time before the intake pipes leading to the city’s wastewater treatment plant — truly the bedrock of any Western civilization — will be rendered void and we will all find ourselves up the untreated effluent creek without the proverbial paddle. At that point, the ability to swing from branches arm over arm — known as brachiating — or having a prehensile tail to secure oneself in higher heights would certainly come in handy.
Sudden evolution and rapid adaptation, we are told, doesn’t happen. The good news is that maybe it can. According to yet another groundbreaking scientific report involving a professor from UCSB, the state flower of Colorado — the blue columbine — has recently experienced a major evolutionary leap without landing on its face. A flower that once had five petals is now sprouting 10. The change, we are told, makes the flower sexier to the bumblebees and hawkmoths who take care of the transference of bodily powders necessary for the act of reproduction.
If the humble columbine can double the number of its petals, then perhaps it’s not too late for me to sprout a prehensile tail.