It’s Earth Day. And we are in a climate crisis. Are you feeling overwhelmed? Because of the global nature of climate change, it can seem next to impossible to achieve effective action at the local level. But there are some ways Ventura County can be part of the global groundswell to curb climate change, and you can get involved.

Tomás Rebecchi, senior organizer with Food and Water Watch

“Local action is critical because it’s where our voice is loudest,” said Tomás Rebecchi, senior organizer with Food and Water Watch, a national nonprofit with a Ventura office. “We have the opportunity to not only protect our local air and water, but also fight climate change on a more tangible scale.”

Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks, District 2

“Climate action is providing the leadership to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as prepare for, adapt to, and appropriately respond to the effects of climate change,” said Supervisor Linda Parks, District 2, about how Ventura County is addressing climate change. 

What is actually causing climate change?

In order to develop solutions to climate change we have to understand how and why it is occurring. Here is a quick primer. Our atmosphere — the air around us — is primarily made up of elements. It is mostly nitrogen (78 percent), oxygen (21 percent), argon (0.9 percent) with only about 0.03 percent carbon. Life on earth has evolved to live in that atmosphere.

Carbon is a greenhouse gas (GHG) and is an essential part of our global ecosystem: Without carbon absorbing and then releasing heat from the sun, over time the earth would freeze. There are some natural carbon emission sources and, until somewhat recently, the earth has been able to maintain the proper balance of GHG in the atmosphere because plants, healthy soil and healthy oceans have been absorbing carbon since life on earth began.

But as emissions of carbon and other GHG, like methane, increase, and the natural carbon absorbing processes decline in effectiveness due to various human activities, the total atmospheric levels of carbon exceeds the earth’s ability to absorb it. The levels increase, resulting in more heat being absorbed and released — leading to the climate crisis we are in.

“Now as we approach a tipping point on reversing climate change, it is more important than ever to step up our efforts,” said Parks. “A challenge for local government is moving forward on our carbon reduction strategies while also facing immediate threats, including those related to climate change.”

The Ventura County Fire Department is finding new tools and developing adaptive procedures in light of a year-round fire season. “VCFD continues to monitor the weather and base our staffing levels accordingly to the predictions,” said Capt. Brian McGrath, Public Information Officer with VCFD. He said new mapping programs analyze weather, fuels and topography along with past fire behavior to assist in anticipating fire behavior.

“We are very aggressive with our Fuel Hazard Reduction Program (FHRP) and training the public in what to do in emergencies.”

According to Coastal Resilience, a project of The Nature Conservancy, there are about 16,000 people who own homes and businesses in the coastal area of Ventura County, which will be impacted by the expected 4.6 feet of sea level rise in coming years. Those levels paired with a 100-year storm event could result in damage costing over $2 billion. Ventura County is preparing a coastal response plan; first steps were completed this year, proposed policies are coming soon.

Vital role of local government and NGOs

Local climate action is being driven by community outcry. But whether the action is local, state or national in nature — city and county governments have an important role to play.

“Climate change is a global issue but its impacts are local . . . this is an all-hands-on deck crisis,” said George Kopf, chair of the Ventura County chapter of the Climate Reality Project, a global nonprofit organization founded by Al Gore. “There is no ‘global’ solution that can solve climate change. Successful response to climate change is every community’s responsibility.”

“Grassroots organizations like CFROG provide a way for citizens to become involved in issues they are passionate about,” said Marie Lakin, executive director of Citizens For Responsible Oil and Gas (CFROG), a Ventura County-based nonprofit whose mission is to protect communities, wild places and open spaces from the negative impacts of oil and gas extraction and related activities. “We also lend support to legislators as they are drafting policy. Our community organizing generates publicity that gets more people involved.”

Civic engagement is important for any type of government action or response, and it is especially key with regards to climate action. Nongovernmental organizations (NGO) in Ventura County are building a movement of and by the people.

“The Green New Deal is a 10-year plan to mobilize [the] entire economy to 100 percent clean energy. It will change the way we conduct agriculture. It is a huge transition on the scale of the mobilization we had during WWII,” said Sofie Karasek, deputy communications director with the Sunrise Movement, a national organization building local hubs to support the Green New Deal (GND). Local organizations like the Ventura Climate Hub in Ventura County are supporting the Green New Deal.

“Ultimately we need to have both political power and people power to bring about this huge transformation,” said Karasek, “This is not a small task, everyone has a role to play in this. It requires that we have actions at local governments . . . we have a collective responsibility to take action.”

“[At the federal level] we are seeing backpedaling in terms of policy and opinion. So we have to work harder,” said Lakin. “Fortunately we have many successes to point to. California has proven that you can adopt sustainable policies and create jobs while doing it. The Green New Deal started here.”

Ventura Climate Hub/350.org is part of a national organization aimed at keeping carbon levels no higher than 350 ppm.

“With the size and diversity of Ventura County and our successes stopping the construction of gas-fired power plants and new oil wells and starting to build our clean energy democracy, we want to be an example to the world for climate action and climate justice,” said Jan Dietrick, a local leader with the Ventura Chapter of 350.org. “Our goal is for [Ventura County] to be policy innovators so that other counties can be inspired and learn from us.”

Local nonprofits are working closely with elected officials and government staff on local issues such as fighting development projects that will increase emissions or working to protect watersheds and areas that will draw carbon out of the atmosphere.

Carmen Ramírez, Mayor Pro Tem at the City of Oxnard

“I am proud of our city and community because we have already made difficult decisions, defeating another gas-powered energy facility at Mandalay, protecting the significant wetlands at Ormond Beach from improper development,” said Carmen Ramírez, Mayor Pro Tem at the City of Oxnard. Stopping the power plant is a direct action to prevent increasing local emissions, while protecting the wetlands increases the carbon sink potential of that area. Ramirez pointed to the success of the Clean Power Alliance in bringing Community Choice Energy to the county and providing renewable energy options to electricity customers.

“We have been an effective and reasonable watchdog group, which acts as a check on the fossil fuel industry. We have shone a light on practices which threaten public health and in particular, air quality,” said Lakin, noting sometimes government oversight should be more focused on public safety instead of “resource recovery.”

“The real question is, what role do these local governments and agencies want to play moving forward?” said Kopf. “Will they focus on first response to disasters, long-term planning on climate change prevention and adaptation, or a combination of these approaches?”

Next week the Ventura County Board of Supervisors will vote on an interim ordinance to temporarily halt the approval of new oil drilling and redrilling existing wells that will use steam injection in areas near potable groundwater sources. The ordinance was brought forward in light of concerns raised by early findings in a study being done by the United State Geological Survey designed to examine broad impacts of oil and gas activity on groundwater across the state. The type of drilling targeted by the interim ordinance is used on the Oxnard Plain to get at tar sands — a fossil fuel whose extraction, processing and use is a major contributor to the amount of carbon released.

Local programs reducing emissions

Expanding and promoting the use of electric vehicles in the region is an important part of the county’s efforts to reduce local emissions.

A coalition of groups (including the Ventura County Regional Energy Alliance and the Air Pollution Control Districts of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties) have launched a program called Electric Drive 805.

“The new coalition of government agencies and nonprofits will lead local actions to increase access to affordable electric vehicles,” said Alejandra Tellez, Ventura County’s sustainability officer.

Tellez also referred to a program underway to support a regional Climate Action Plan (CAP) as another county initiative for climate action. The program includes a current effort to “prepare free GHG inventories, replicable CAP templates and best practices for equitable community engagement to assist the cities in our region with customizing their own CAPs,” said Tellez. “Because the CAP will lay out the region’s goals and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the next 10 years, equitable community engagement will help the CAP be most effective.”

Effective CAPs typically include a comprehensive emissions inventory to demonstrate the source and levels of current emissions that contribute to climate change. Then goals, programs and strategies are developed to reduce those emissions. While CAP’s often include adaptation and mitigation plans, those differ from true emission reduction policies — adaptation and mitigation are designed to respond to effects of climate change while emission reduction is meant to help reduce our local contribution to the problem. The CAP will also lay out monitoring and enforcement methods.

Ventura County is developing a Climate Action Plan that will be part of the General Plan Update – the redrafting of the document that will govern land use in the unincorporated county through 2020. Lakin said CFROG is working to make sure the General Plan “addresses climate change reduction in an aggressive way. It is critical in order to help the state meet its ambitious climate goals, and it makes good sense fiscally as well. Energy efficiency, solar power and other tools save taxpayers money.”

Most local governments have “gone green” by ensuring internal operations meet the sustainability check — using recycled paper, low-energy use policies and so on.

Last year, the City of Thousand Oaks created a Municipal Sustainability Plan for city operations, and since that plan was approved the city has expanded the reach and will be developing a “comprehensive Community Sustainability/Climate Action Plan,” said Helen Cox, sustainability division manager for the public works department. “This has already begun with ongoing development of a Community Energy Action Plan, which will lay out strategies for reducing energy use and shifting to clean energy throughout the city.”

County Supervisor Steve Bennett, District 1

“Our [local governments] role is to build public support for action at the level where it is most needed,” said Supervisor Steve Bennett and referred to the importance of widespread local action.

Ojai certified as a Green Zone Alliance City

On April 12, the City of Ojai celebrated its certification as a Green Zone Alliance City. Ojai is the first city in the county and the second in the nation to receive this certification for converting its entire fleet of landscape maintenance equipment and tools to electric. The conversion is a result of a grant the city received through the Clean Air Fund program of the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District (VCAPCD).

Electric lawn mower with Francisco Ramirez City of Ojai photo by John Brooks

“We are thrilled and hope that our city serves as an example to other cities, in Ventura County and beyond,” said Johnny Johnston, mayor of Ojai.

According to the American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA), by converting to zero-emission equipment, the city will prevent the creation of over 82 tons of air pollutants each year. AGZA’s mission is to transition the entire grounds maintenance industry from noisy, dirty fossil fuels to quieter zero-emission electric operations and sustainable practices. Employees with the city report that the machines are quieter and easier to use (because they have less vibration) and have no fumes.

“The City of Ojai should be commended for this air quality and climate-friendly accomplishment,” said Mike Villegas, Air Pollution Control Office with the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District.

Clean Power Alliance

The Clean Power Alliance (CPA) purchases electricity from  renewable sources (wind, solar) based on the levels needed to serve the customers in jurisdictions that have joined the alliance. The electricity is added to that regions power grid and delivered by the regular public utility, in this case Southern California Edison.

This effectively increases the overall amount of clean energy in the system, reducing over time the dependence on fossil fuel-based electricity. 

“The CPA has the potential to drive local investments in energy infrastructure, which can lead to local jobs and improved energy resilience for Ventura County while supplying clean, cost-competitive energy,” said Kopf.

In Ventura County, CPA areas and their default levels of clean energy are: unincorporated areas of Ventura County (100 percent), Camarillo (36 percent), Moorpark (50 percent), Ojai (100 percent), Oxnard (100 percent), Simi Valley (36 percent), Thousand Oaks (100 percent) and Ventura (100 percent). Residents can opt up or down to any level of clean energy, including not participating at all.

“CPA reduces greenhouse gas emissions, stimulates renewable energy innovation and development, implements distributed energy resources, promotes energy efficiency and demand reduction programs,” said Supervisor Parks. She said over 270,000 electricity accounts are part of CPA across Ventura County and Los Angeles Counties, and represent the largest number of people in a jurisdiction within the United State receiving clean energy. “It is the single most effective measure our local government has taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly since one-third of the CPA agencies selected 100 percent clean renewable energy.”

Join the movement: Climate Action in Ventura County

Whether it is a local, statewide or national effort, make Earth Day count by getting involved and adding your voice to the call for Climate Action.

350.org

350 ppm is the goal for atmospheric carbon levels to maintain stability in our climate. Current levels are reported at 411 ppm. 350.org is working to reduce carbon emissions and draw down carbon from the atmosphere. Members of the local chapter worked on the Community Choice Energy program and helped ensure elected officials know the public supports this plan.

To join the local climate movement, sign up at world.350.org/ventura.

Food and Water Watch

Food and Water Watch champions healthy food and clean water for all. We stand up to corporations that put profits before people, and advocate for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects our environment. Get involved at www.foodandwaterwatch.org.

Climate Reality Project  

“[We are] focusing on holding our County and City elected officials accountable to local climate solutions,” said Kopf. Recently the group has been reaching out to members of the Clean Power Alliance Board to ensure that they know renewable energy is important to their members. “Our role as a community group is important because it gives our chapter members a unified voice.” To get involved, contact their Facebook group: www.facebook.com/ClimateRealityProjectVenturaCounty/.

Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL)

A national organization lobbying for HR 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Fee Dividend Act, which would impose a fee on companies extracting carbon sources like coal, oil and gas, including those imported from overseas, and pass that money on to the public in the form of dividend payments. The fees would increase over time, building an incentive to transition away from dirty fossil fuels and move toward clean energy sources. Local work is focused on building public awareness and getting businesses to sign on in support at energyinnovationact.org/.

Let your federal elected officials know they should support HR763 and join the www.facebook.com/venturacitizensclimatelobby.

Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas (CFROG)

A Ventura County-based nonprofit watchdog organization protecting communities, wild places and open spaces from the negative impacts of oil and gas extraction and related activities.  More info at www.CFROG.org.

The Sunrise Movement

An option for federal-level action, in support of the Green New Deal. Form a Ventura Hub and/or attend the Town Hall meeting on April 26, 7-9 p.m., in Los Angeles at 4401 W. Eighth St.