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Presentation to Sustainable Lafayette 9-15-19

Chris Easter (left) and colleagues at Sustainable Lafayette 9-15-19

Thank you. It’s great to be here.


I’ve been studying the effects of air pollution on human health and working to protect community health for 30 years.

Personally,  I’m fascinated by natural landscapes and their impact on people. I feel like everyone has a special vista that inspires and moves them.

I’d like to ask you to take a moment to think about that spot that you go to or maybe have been to only once where you felt connected, inspired, hopeful. Breathe deeply and let the fresh air in.

What place did you think about? Was coastal, on a beach somewhere, up in the mountains? Perhaps in an evergreen forest? Breathe deeply and take yourself there for a moment.

For me, it’s the Sierra Nevada…many places come to mind, among them Frog Lake near Carson Pass, Monitor Pass heading east towards Nevada and Echo Lakes, two beautiful glacially carved lakes near Desolation Wilderness.

Over the last 3 years, however, these areas have had air pollution from wildfires that approached pollution levels in Beijing, one of the cities with the worst air quality in the world, making them into places where the air was too polluted to even. be outside.

GLOBALLY we are seeing numerous problems arising from climate impacts on air quality.    Increased warming leads to an increase in ground level ozone, also called smog which causes asthma and can lead to lung disease.
Another concern is the increased intensity and frequency of wildfires which create hazardous air pollution and cause public health problems, like asthma
As we take a deeper dive into the impacts of climate change, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the difference between a pessimist and an optimist.

According to the Contra Contra County Climate Action Plan here’s what we’re looking at in terms of impacts at the state level during this century:
- up to 30 more days of ozone above federal ambient air quality standards.
- 4 x the number of extreme heat days leading to spikes in ozone levels
- 2.5x the number of drought years, which increase particulate levels because there’s not sufficient rain to knock down particulate pollution.
- 50-80% loss of Sierra snowpack
-  a 50% increase in large wildfires driving hazardous air quality to extreme level

JUST HERE IN LAFAYETTE in the last few years, we’ve had multiple days when the air was so unhealthy we were told to stay indoors and keep the windows closed. It was common to see people wearing particulate masks to help them breath. Schools canceled sports practices and kids couldn’t go outside for recess.   

My friends and family on the East Coast ask me if I miss the seasons and I say “No, we have seasons in California – Flood, Drought, Fire and increasingly Hazardous air quality season.

Let’s take a look at the root causes of the climate crisis that’s creating this Hazardous air quality.  Greenhouse gas emissions are what’s driving climate change– carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane are the 3 major GHGs, that come primarily from combustion of fossil fuels.

Here in Lafayette, The last community GHS inventory we calculated was in 2015 and at that time we emitted 3000 metric tons per year in handling our solid waste. We emitted 45,000 tons from powering our homes and by far the largest emitters were from transportation, equaling 220,000 MT of Co2 from commuting and moving goods and services through our local community.

A Business as usual scenario indicates that these numbers will continue to rise.

Now that I’ve led you out onto a ledge, the question is WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?
At the state level we have made progress and continue to set ambitious goals.
-We passed the global warming solutions act during the Schwarzenegger administration more than 10 years ago. I know, you’re remembering the governator…Mr “I drove my hummer to the Earth Day Festival”…but actually AB32 which was passed during his administration has made a difference.
- State-wide, we’ve been effective at meeting an ambitious goal in terms of de-carbonizing the economy despite a growth in population and economic activity. We’ve reduced carbon emissions to 1990 levels ahead of our 2020 target date.
-The state has passed a number of regulations promoting fuel efficiency in diesel vehicles which is really important because of the co-benefit of air toxic reduction and GHG reduction. By far the largest source of carcinogens we are exposed to are diesel particulate matter and whenever we reduce greenhouse gases from diesel burning vehicles, we reduce that cancer burden and make our air much healthier.

Positive things are also happening at the county level. Contra Costa’s County Climate Action Plan is promoting large scale solutions such as:
- incentivizing residents to go renewable and become more energy efficient
- Other measures are being implemented in terms of adding electric vehicles to the county fleet, employee commuting measures, waste reduction recycling, green building and procurement.
-An important concept is electrify everything as we decarbonize the grid, meaning electrifying vehicles and homes and everything else that we’ve used fossil fuels for historically.

Our local Lafayette plan takes some innovative actions such as:
- Having bike valets at events…I know I’ll be riding my bike to the Art and Wine Festival and using the bike valet service. Of course I might have to walk it home if I’ve had too much art.
- it also promotes cycling through the Bike Lafayette campaign.
- encouraging safe bike routes to school
- In fact There’s now a bicycle pedestrian advisor committee working on a bike/walking trails master plan.
-I don’t know if you’ve noticed that we now have 3 EV charging stations installed in downtown Lafayette
- and our police dept. now has 3 bikes as part of their fleet.

These are all  important measures- state, county and local- that have been implemented and are already providing gains against our greenhouse gas emission challenge. We really do now have other options besides fossil fuels.

OK NOW LET’S TIE THIS BACK TO WHERE WE STARTED. Our beautiful and wondrous Sierra Nevada. I was at Echo Summit just last week hiking. As I walked along the trail, I breathed the fresh air. I saw several remnant snow fields tucked into the glacial hollows in Desolation Wilderness. I had that feeling of connection and inspiration and a deep reminder of what’s at stake.

Thank you.



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