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America's Finest Magical Thinking
The 2022 San Diego Climate Action Plan: one part nonsensical religious sacred text, other part bureaucratese gobbledygook.
“We are led by unserious people who never cease to amaze us at their ability to choose worst-of-all-worlds policies at every turn.” -
The local Corporate Press have been waxing poetic over last week’s 8 to 0 with one abstention vote by the City Council to approve the updated 2022 Climate Action Plan (CAP) which supersedes the original “most aggressive” CAP implemented in 2015.
The central goal of the 2015 CAP was the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide (CO2) but also methane (CH₄) and lesser known gases by half the 2010 levels by the year 2035.
The primary bugaboos in the 2015 CAP were surface transportation (pesky automobiles), electricity, natural gas service to buildings, wastewater and solid waste (garbage!), and drinking water.1 (Note my use of Footnotes2, as these will be everywhere in this work, so please feel free to use them)
The 2015 CAP used a baseline figure of 12.9 million metric tons of CO2e emissions from 2010 and estimated if nothing was done, and this figure would increase to 16.7 metric tons by 2035. The 2015 CAP sought to reduce this original figure by half by a target date goal of 2035. By the end of the decade, the 2020 CAP Annual Progress Report touted emissions at the end of 2019 of 9.6 million metric tons. For comparison, the original goal of the 2015 CAP was to achieve a reduction to roughly 11 million metric tons by 2020.
For the more visually-inclined:
So mission is being accomplished, right?
Not so fast.
In the years after the much ballyhooed drafting and implementation of the 2015 CAP, it was revealed multiple times these figures were vastly off, particularly the emissions from surface transportation. The story goes the figures used for the transportation portion of the original 2010 baseline missed the reduction in driving from the 2007-2009 Great Recession. Furthermore, there was a 2017 controversy on cycling mode share where it was revealed via a public records request that the goal to increase bicycling mode share to 18 percent by 2035 from the paltry 1 percent. This bold demand was completely arbitrary and not based on any objective standard though. (If you’re coming over here from my other Substack, I will eventually write a piece about this incompetence and its downstream effects in the local bicycle advocacy scene.)
The 2015 plan also faced an independent audit in 2021 concluding serious issues with the plan, including poor oversight, lack of prioritization, and coordination. Local Judges weren’t having it either ruling the City’s CAP Checklists were unable to evaluate the impact on the climate for infrastructure projects. This lawsuit was sparked by a property owner who sued the city after they attempted to remove old trees in her neighborhood to underground the area’s electrical distribution lines.
On top of all this, from the start, back in 2016, the idea the CAP was even actually legally enforceable to the point where citizens could sue the City for failing to enforce it was under question by none other than the City Attorney.
That brings us to the new 2022 CAP.
It begins with near poetic letter from Mayor Todd Gloria, who like most politicians can never bask too much in the spotlight. He makes use of perhaps one of the most cliché letter openers: We are at a crossroads.
Next, is the so ever important Land Acknowledgement, then a long list of politicians, city bureaucrats , and non-profits listed under the so-called “Equity Stakeholder Working Group” and finally a list of consulting organizations. The most notable consultant, The University of San Diego’s Energy Policy Initiatives Center, or EPIC, is nothing more than a group of attorneys as part of the University’s Law School but they were responsible for nearly all of the technical number-crunching in the CAP.
The Introduction tell us we Dear Readers will be taken on “a journey of community input, data and science, we will illustrate our plan and specific actions that will avoid GHG emissions and reduce San Diego’s impact on global climate change. Our efforts will focus on our communities most impacted and within the limited window of opportunity remaining to respond to this crisis.”
It then goes on about the Climate Emergency using the all-ever authoritative statement “Science shows”, then blabbers on about equity, community empowerment, and COVID-19.
Much in this section maps perfectly onto one part or another of “Racism” and “Climate Change” rows of Woke Religion Taxonomy3 put together by Michael Shellenberger and Peter Boghossian. This tone is present thorough the rest of the CAP as well.
The glossary at the end even has a handy definition for “systemic racism”4
This is not what I wish to unpack though.
The New-and-Improved-Bold-and-Ambitious-and-Sciencey-and-Equitable 2022 CAP starts with a 20195 baseline of 10.5 million MT of CO2e, and their “business as usual” scenario by 2035 only results in a slight increase of those emissions to 11 million MT of CO2e. Obviously the plan itself is calling for the reduction from this baseline of 10.5 million to zero. By the year 2030, the CAP figures the target emissions levels will be approximately 4.2 million MT. The footnote makes a great stride to insist this is “Science-Based.” As opposed to what? Superstition-based? Regardless, by the end of the decade, these emissions have to be cut by slightly more than half, and within half a decade those remaining 4.2 million MT needs to be slashed to zero.
Well sort of.
Per the table below, the emissions reductions proposed by the CAP alone do not take San Diego’s emissions to zero. The order of the table’s columns is a bit misleading. But the jist here, and this is made more clear in other tables in the CAP, that there will need to be additional measures outside the city’s plan for the emissions to actually reach net zero.
How exactly will we get to this
utopian fantasy totally possible planet-saving solution?
Or in their terms, six separate Strategies but not just plain strategies, they’re equity-focused ones.6
These strategies are summarized in the table below. 7
Also missing from that table are their estimated reductions in MMT of CO2e emissions, but they covered that with a table waaayyyy down in the appendix put together by the EPIC folks.
Strategies 1 through 5 are generally appear to be very clearly defined even though the idea of building a few roundabouts to save roughly 3,500 MT of CO2e when they’re looking to reduce millions seems a but silly. The concept of cost-benefit ratios and their necessity seem to have been left out of this legally-binding document. This isn’t a knock on roundabouts, but they do often require reconfiguring an intersection with concrete curbs, which is no angel in the CO2 emission battle.
It also only rates “one leaf” for addressing historical disparities.
Do better, San Diego. Good Grief!
The two items that really stick out to me though is the reliance on the local Community Choice Aggregator (CCA) San Diego Community Power for “100% renewable or GHG-free power” and virtual ban on all natural gas. They’re also the “biggest bang” of all the measures not including transportation.
According to the CAP both are supposed to reduce nearly 1.7 million MT of CO2e by 2030 (51% of the total CAP reductions by 2030) and just shy of 2.5 million MT of CO2e by 2035 (50% of the total CAP reductions by 2035).
San Diego Community Power defines their energy portfolio in a poorly-written gobbeldygookean way as the following in their FAQ:
What does carbon-free and renewable energy mean?
Also known as clean energy, carbon-free energy creates no greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and comes from sources such as hydroelectric power. Renewable energy comes from resources that are naturally replenished and produce no waste, such as solar, wind, and geothermal. Unlike fossil fuels, such as oil, natural gas, and coal, which cannot be replaced (and produce GHG emissions), renewable energy regenerates naturally in a short period of time. Resources such as wind, solar and geothermal, which do not produce greenhouse gases and naturally regenerate, are considered clean and renewable, while resources such as large hydroelectric and nuclear are considered carbon-free sources. SDCP currently supports clean energy from sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, large hydro, and biomass. - SDCP FAQ, page 4
The claims from San Diego Community Power, let alone these faithful Elect in the city and activist circles ignore several key facts about these energy sources specifically their reliability, and their actual environmental footprint.
Most notably, solar and wind generation facilities absolutely, without a doubt, produce waste in both their production and disposal at end of life or during recycling. Both require the extensive mining and refining of raw materials which are mostly done with the same types of massive fossil-fueled (hydrocarbon) powered machines used everywhere else in heavy industry. Much of this process, especially in China and parts of Africa are riddled with labor issues including slavery and child labor. The production of polysilicon, which is the key ingredient to make the glass for solar panels, is dominated by China as well who have lax environmental standards and primarily use electricity sourced from coal in this production.
Both wind and solar are what legitimate energy experts refer to as “energy dilute” as opposed to “energy dense.” In practical terms, this results in massive amounts of land required for each facility whereas in comparison competing facilities such as the nuclear which can sit on a footprint of only a few hundred acres. Solar and wind facilities require hundreds, if not thousands of acres, to provide even a fraction of what competing sources can. Wind turbines require massive amounts of concrete and steel as well as fiberglass, rare earth metals, and OIL for lubrication. The environmental impact of all these items is constantly, and apparently sometimes intentionally left out, by the proponents of these sources. The reality is these sources require the use of hydrocarbons, and scaling them up any further will simply use more of said hydrocarbons. The idea that society can move away from hydrocarbons is an equally ridiculous belief I promise to tackle in future posts. In other words: hydrocarbons are great and required for human-flourishing and can be used without causing a “climate catastrophe”
Wind and solar sources are also highly intermittent - that is they are weather-dependent. California is blessed with abundant solar sources and a handful of excellent wind sources but these still do not provide enough to account for the state’s electrical energy consumption today. Wind and solar are extremely poor providers of reliable baseload power as well. These sources must be backed up by more reliable energy sources which in reality world would ultimately be nuclear. Without even the smallest investment in nuclear there will need to be more backup sources to account for the shortfalls of renewables. Geothermal capacity is extremely limited to certain geographical areas and hydroelectricity is facing its own issues, particularly here in the Western US with record drought and the threat of declining reservoir levels. Biomass has its own issues.
SDCP’s slight snuff above on nuclear above seems to imply they don’t consider it as a valid source of energy for their portfolio even though it has the best environmental footprint period of all these sources and is the most energy-dense. This is of no surprise as in California, especially in the San Diego area which used to be home to the prematurely shut down San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station (SONGS), anti-nuclear delusion stamps out all reason and rationality. The San Diego Climate Action Campaign, who were the primary loud-mouthed activist group behind the 2015 CAP, and who over the years complained it wasn’t moving fast enough, have come out in opposition to nuclear.
To put it bluntly, the CAP’s demands for electricity are a complete dud. No major populated area has yet to reach “100% renewable or GHG-free power” let alone the idea of providing this by the end of the decade is impossible.
And I have not even touched on the necessary grid upgrades that are required to reach their utopian fantasy. Or how such would even be paid for, or the massive run up on commodities prices we’re seeing this year which will make the cost for even a small fraction of this fantasy even further out of reach. And for sake of length of this already long piece, I am also leaving out the utopian demand to get more people into using electric cars whose demand for the same raw materials compete heavily with what is required for these grid upgrades. And that isn’t mentioning the additional demand on the grid they’d impose. Discussing such realities could easily drag this post into a novel.
I want to move onto natural gas, now because this one too is bonkers.
Starting next year, the City of San Diego wants to require all new construction to be free of natural gas fixtures and instead rely on all-electric appliances. And because this is an absurd magical fantasy land, they are also demanding that by 2035 (12 years) 90% of missions must be slashed by retrofitting existing buildings.
This means all homes, businesses, industrial facilities - all presumably paid for by the property owners.
Particularly in my home, this would most likely require and upgrade to the electrical panel, a new stove, a new furnace, new hot water heater, and a new dryer. Cost aside, those who haven’t recently had the wonderful experience of replacing appliances, the supply chain issues exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic, have added a months-long waiting time simply go get appliances delivered. This also begs the question of whether the newly defunct gas lines both in the home and the entire gas distribution system within the city would be removed. This would be another megaproject in itself but the newly unused steel, copper, and brass piping - all of which are needed for life in general but also for the materials for all the other demands of these petulant utopians.
As if the Crazy Pills aren’t enough, we turn to this San Diego Union-Tribune Piece which contains interviews with extremely serious stewards of our taxpayer money.
“It will require an enormous effort on the part of the City and its citizens and should remain a major focus of implementation planning going forward,” the city’s Office of the Independent Budget Analyst said in a report released in July. But the office did not give a dollar estimate.
The city is “really trying to hit the ground running,” Wilde said, to develop an analysis of all the buildings within San Diego’s city limits. Officials will work with the construction industry, technical experts and residents to help categorize the building stock and the inventory analysis will help inform the implementation plan’s initial financial projections.
“Off the top of my head, I’m not sure if there’s anyone who’s done it yet,” said Randy Wilde, senior policy adviser in the office of Mayor Todd Gloria, who authored the Climate Action Plan update with his staff and put it before the city council.
So far, there are few financial specifics. Details are expected to be fleshed out in late February when an implementation plan will be released, in advance of Gloria’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2024.
“No one should be afraid that a mandate is around the corner,” Wilde said. “This is going to be a thoughtfully crafted and very inclusive process.”
“Yes, retrofitting is going to involve costs,” Elo-Rivera [San Diego City Council President] said, and he looks forward to seeing the details of the implementation plan. “I think trying to estimate the cost between now and then would be a bit of a fool’s errand. Since the time we passed (the update), the federal government is beginning to take significant climate action that would probably significantly reduce the cost to the city and to San Diegans for making those changes.”
Does the opening quote from Doomberg ring true? To repeat.
“We are led by unserious people who never cease to amaze us at their ability to choose worst-of-all-worlds policies at every turn.” -Doomberg
The move away from natural gas to all-electrification in buildings will also place further strain and demand on the electrical grid thanks to additional electrical load from all these new appliances. Nowhere in this CAP did I find estimates for the increases in loads within the period they want to push these drastic changes. Perhaps it’ll be in the implementation plan.
In terms of bicycling (which is of great interest also being the primary author of Principled Bicycling) they seem to have double-downed on the delusions from the 2015 CAP but unveiling an even more outrageous proposal.
But for that, I’ll turn to the excellent Twitter user DriveBikeWalk for their insight:
Ultimately, this CAP, much like the last one, will be impossible to implement anyways because this is California (where we can’t even build ONE high speed rail line, let alone competently manage the existing electrical grid) but also most of these ideas are impossible to implement due to basic physics and economics.
The actual costs and trade-offs to their legally-binding demands are completely missing too.
The CAP will do little to “save the planet” or promote “equity.”
It’ll be a follow-the-money feast for all the parasitic rent-seeking cronies who “enrich” this great state at the expense of everyday people. It’s also San Diego’s attempt at a Green Leap Forward.
There were other things in the plan too such as an emphasis on creating so-called “green jobs” and building denser housing developments which also are seen as a way to help address the areas notoriously expensive housing.
Sample Footnote. Click on the 2 to the left to return back to where you just came from.
The presence of institutional and structural racism. Institutional racism occurs within institutions, like City and County governments, and involves unjust policies, practices, procedures, and outcomes that work better for White people than people of color, whether intentional or not. Structural racism is racial inequities across institutions, policies, social structures, history, and culture. - 2022 SD CAP, page 93
Given Calfornia’s past record and current political nonsense, most notably the near single party state dominance by the Progressive wing of the Democrat party, I have zero confidence they’ll solve any of these problems and much of this is just pandering to the new religion and provides opportunities for more bureaucrats and rent-seeking non-profits to waste money and time.
“The City acknowledges that 2020 emissions data may have impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, so the 2019 GHG emissions inventory is likely the most representative under normal circumstances in achieving the 2020 goal of AB32.” - 2023 San Diego CAP, page 17
The obsession with the idea, not to mention the Climate Catastrophism part, have good intentions but show a clear example of the new State-sanctioned religion as of late dominating this legally-binding document. The Tenants for the Modern Religion. The CAP taps primarily into the first two in the image below. See Michael Shellenberger’s Substack
For some reason, the editors moved the Measure column to the end of the table where it would have been more appropriate right next to the Strategy column. Pesky formatting nuances be damned, but this lack of attention to detail and attempt to communicate clearly is apparently something I didn’t get for when my taxpayer money went to pay for this.