Robert Haw, Pasadena Star News, 01/10/2014
Apart from its aggravated climatic effects, carbon dioxide is advertised as benign. But is it? News was made in early 2013 when the atmosphere’s background CO2 concentration rose to 400 parts per million. Down here on Earth’s surface, CO2 levels in poorly ventilated rooms full of people can easily reach three times that concentration, leading to stuffiness and drowsiness for the occupants. Yet if all fossil fuel reserves on Earth are extracted and burned this century, the residue from that combustion along with contributions from the toppling of subsequent climate tipping points will lead to commensurate global CO2 levels everywhere of some 1,500 ppm.
Picture a world full of sleepyheads where cognitive processes are impaired by breathing fresh air.
Can that happen? Well it might, because real CO2 is invisible and odorless. On the other hand, smog has a brownish hue caused by nitrogen dioxide. If fossil-fuel derived CO2 manifested itself like smog, then people would have been up in arms about CO2 pollution long ago.
Here’s the reason that we’d have noticed it: smog molecules exist in air at concentrations of parts per billion, meaning a thousand times fewer molecules per breath than CO2. When coming out the tailpipe of automobiles, though, CO2 is present in concentrations of about 120,000 parts per million. If that were NO2, it would be a black plume of smoke opaque to all but the most powerful spotlight. A natural gas-fired power plant sends slightly less CO2 up its stack, about 90,000 ppm. So if fossil-fuel derived CO2 behaved visually like NO2 we’d understand intuitively why Earth’s temperature is ever more quickly ratcheting upward: the (visible) CO2 haze blanketing the Los Angeles basin would be 1 million times thicker than a bad smog day. We’d be blinded by it.
When change needs to happen, and especially when the direction of change is uncertain, a useful planning aid is to envision the future you want, thereby facilitating and motivating the actions necessary to secure that outcome.
So what do we want for Pasadena in say, 2030? Will it be a city electrified by fossil fuel combustion, or will it be a 21st century trail blazer in resiliency, sustainability and efficiency? I envision it becoming a climate leader after Pasadena Water and Power renounces fossil fuels. Having PWP construct a 100 percent clean energy grid might cost ratepayers a few dollars more, but it’s pocket change compared to the higher water bills predicted for Southern California because of deepening climate change-induced drought.
Here’s a way that Pasadena residents can engage on this issue and make a difference.
Starting in early 2014 PWP is initiating a review of its Integrated Resource Plan. This plan, open to public comment, lays out Pasadena’s vision of its electricity sources over the next 15 to 20 years. PWP’s baseline view for 2030 forecasts a mixture of renewables and conventional fossil fuel sources, with roughtly 35 percent of electricity coming from fracked natural gas. Yet this baseline is a timid design that comes from planners looking too intently in the rear-view mirror of utility power management. We can do much better than that. Just as with computers and cell phones, the cost of renewables, smart grids and energy storage will drop as their use multiplies. Moreover, it’s already begun, as PWP itself can attest with recent Power Purchase Agreements providing green energy at costs equal to or less than natural gas generation. It may well turn out that doing the right thing but grudgingly paying a few dollars more will in fact become doing the right thing and saving money. But the City Council and PWP need to be convinced that a 100 percent clean grid is what residents want.
Here’s where you can help. PWP’s 2014 IRP recommendations will be presented to Pasadena’s Environmental Advisory Commission in the coming months. Attend those commission meetings and provide your vision to the commissioners. Or simply tell them that a future with 100 percent clean energy matters to you. But it’s important that they hear from you (repeatedly) because visions don’t get implemented in isolation.
The meetings are scheduled on the third Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m. at 175 N. Garfield Avenue, Pasadena. Agendas are available the day before each meeting at their website: http://ww2.cityofpasadena.net/commissions/utility.asp.
CO2 pollution poses a threat to our future food and water security as well as to our children’s livelihoods. Let’s change climate change starting now.