Daily Planet Staff
With the Willard Middle School garden and a batch of sixth-graders as her backdrop, City Councilmember Linda Maio reissued a challenge Wednesday for Berkeley residents to do their part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“We are, by our habits, creating a very unhealthy world for ourselves and for our children,” she told the students during the morning event. “Something is happening to the climate, and it’s because of the way we’re living.”
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about 6.6 tons of greenhouse gases are released every year, per person – that’s almost 15,000 pounds for each of us. Emissions increased about 3.4 percent between 1990 and 1997, the EPA says. About 82 percent of these emissions come from burning fossil fuels to generate electricity and power cars.
The city, led by the Berkeley Energy Commission and the Community Environmental Advisory Commission, has called on all residents to pledge to take actions that will reduce negative effects on the environment. Those actions include carpooling or reducing car travel by at least 15 percent, installing low-flow showerheads, using compact fluorescent light bulbs in at least four fixtures, and promising that the next car they purchase will be 30 percent more fuel-efficient than their current vehicle.
The city has distributed pledge cards through residents’ recycling bins and through city offices. The goal is to have pledges submitted by Earth Day on April 22, when the annual fair and festival will be held in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. At that event, Maio will – again – reissue the city’s challenge, and extra pledge cards will be available.
Neal De Snoo, the city’s energy officer, said city departments have made their own pledges to reduce total emissions by 15 percent. The city’s action plan focuses on four areas: reduced transportation fuels, reduced energy use in city-owned buildings, reduced levels of solid waste materials that generate methane as they decompose, and increased planting of trees.
The city has expanded its fleet of electric vehicles, and has installed a recharging station downtown that can be used by city-owned and private vehicles. The recently adopted Bike Boulevard Plan is another beneficial step, De Snoo said.
Energy-efficient bulbs can reduce the amount of electricity used in homes and business, he said, noting that about 30 major businesses have pledged to reduce energy use in this category.
Methane emissions are worse for the environment than carbon dioxide emissions are, De Snoo said. The decomposition process in landfills is a significant contributor. As a carbon-based material decomposes, it produces methane if there is no oxygen present. That’s why composting is encouraged: The process incorporates oxygen into the mixture of food, dirt and green waste, and the end product can be used in a garden.
After the councilmember’s presentation Wednesday, the students peppered Maio and other civic leaders with questions about the environment, ranging from how effective low-flow showerheads are, to how long the world has until it runs out of its supply of gasoline.
Maio told the students that she was encouraged to see how well-informed many of them were, and that they seemed genuinely interested in the part they could play.