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Community can tackle global warming woes

By Tracy Chocholousek, Special to the Daily Planet
Friday May 18, 2001

Two problems, the energy crisis and global warming, have a singular solution: turn off the lights, use public transit, save energy.  

Doing that will reduce carbon dioxide and other harmful gases emitted into the atmosphere and reduce global warming, said a group of experts speaking to some 40 people Tuesday evening gathered at the Redwood Garden Senior Housing Complex. 

Even if global warming were not a problem, it still pays to conserve energy, said UC Berkeley Energy and Resources Professor John Harte.  

“Indeed carbon dioxide levels are going up. As that happens we’re going to see warming. When and where? These details are difficult to predict,” Harte said.  

Although scientists don’t have all the answers concerning global warming, global temperatures have undeniably risen over the last century. 

“We’ve seen a 30 percent increase in the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution,” Harte said. 

Carbon dioxide is the largest contributor to global warming. It is emitted through the burning of un-renewable fossil fuels used in cars, energy plants, and household appliances.  

Dr. Robert Gould, of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said the potential problems that may arise from global warming are tremendous. A significant increase in temperatures could cause disruptions in crop and livestock production, the thawing of the polar ice caps, and increases in air pollution, spore release, and mosquitoes. Such disasters could result in rising sea levels, starvation, and widespread respiratory, infectious and water born diseases, he said. These are only some of the potential risks.  

“There’s an inequitable distribution of the impacts of climate change. Global warming is a moral issue, affecting mostly low income people. We must demand a moral response from our government,” said Anja Miller of Redefining Progress.  

“We’ll all be paying . . . in one way or another by the damage we’re doing to our environment.”  

As the release of dangerous gases continues and temperatures rise, activists boost their efforts to raise community awareness and work toward future solutions by putting pressure on local governments. 

“We just don’t have any choice, so we’ve got to start doing something,” said Commissioner Susan Ode of the Berkeley Energy Commission.  

Ode is also the outreach coordinator for the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. Berkeley is one of nearly 100 cities nationwide participating in ICLEI’s Cities for Climate Protection Campaign. As participants in the campaign, the cities involved have made a commitment to reduce greenhouse gases throughout the local economy.  

“Cities are consumers themselves, therefore they emit a lot of fossil fuels into the environment,” Ode said.  

By implementing citywide programs to increase energy efficient systems and reduce fossil fuel emissions, money can be saved, then used in other areas.  

In Berkeley last year, greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by 375 tons, Ode said. 

There are many ways in which Berkeley has increased energy efficiency and reduced harmful emissions, according to Ode.  

Berkeley has begun replacing traffic lights with light emitting diodes, or LED’s. These energy efficient mechanisms are comparable to the difference between florescent and incandescent light bulbs. They use far less energy and heat to maintain the same functions.  

Berkeley parking enforcement officers drive electric cars.  

There are also two local ordinances, the Residential Energy Conservation Ordinance and the Commercial Energy Conservation Ordinance in effect to ensure such properties maintain certain environmental requirements when sold. 

“If you sell a home in Berkeley, you must bring it up to energy efficient standards. It’s the same for commercial property,” Ode said.  

As with most man-made environmental problems, within the global warming predicament there are man-made solutions.  

“We’re embedded in nature. The ways to resolve the problems in nature are within us,” said forum moderator Claire Greensfelder. “If there’s any place where innovative new ideas start, it’s here in Berkeley.”  

Greensfelder is on the board of directors at Plutonium Free Future, an international campaign designed to alert citizens to the dangers of plutonium associated with nuclear power. 

Forums such as Tuesday’s are just one way that local groups participate in doing everything they can to resolve such issues by raising community awareness. 

At the forum, Ecology Center Information Services Manager Steve Evans encouraged Power Down Days, a program to boycott energy use altogether during the first weekend of every month.  

“Go as far as you can, turn off your refrigerator, don’t drive,” Evans said.  

The Ecology Center’s curbside recycling program actively participates in the hands-on reduction of fossil fuels by using plant-based bio-diesel in their recycling trucks.  

While forums are held and activists and local governments work to enforce a shift in residential and commercial energy consumption, the community continues to function.  

“In the meantime, people are leaving their lights on,” Ode said. 

“It’s important that (individuals) be very aggressive about reducing our own fossil fuel use, and also that we raise consciousness.”  

The climate change forum was hosted by Women for Peace and co-sponsored by other groups including the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the Ecology Center, Plutonium Free Future, American Friends Service Committee, and Physicians for Social Responsibility.