SOLANA BEACH — For the third time in as many months, Solana Beach council members demonstrated the city’s commitment to environmental sustainability by unanimously agreeing to establish a relationship with Nature & Culture International to promote a voluntary carbon offset program.
Under the agreement approved at the Feb. 11 meeting, residents can help reduce the world’s carbon footprint through a $50-per-acre donation that would be used to purchase and preserve 2,016 acres of the Progresso tropical deciduous forest in southwest Ecuador. The goal is to purchase the entire area — roughly the size of Solana Beach — for $100,000.
“This is Ecuador’s highest conservation priority,” said Mike McColm, international director for Del Mar-based Nature & Culture International, or NCI. “Thousands of species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, insects and plants which are facing extinction within our lifetime will be protected by offsetting your carbon emissions.
“You will also directly protect one of the world’s vital life systems for your children,” he said. “If we don’t act to save this forest within the next two years, it’s going to be gone.”
“We are the last generation that has a chance to save the variety of life on this planet,” company founder and Solana Beach resident Ivan Gayler said. “At the same time we can protect ourselves from global warming.
“We all consume energy that produces CO2, which contributes to global warming,” he said, adding that about 20 percent of global carbon dioxide production comes from burning tropical forests. “If the proposed 2,000 acres are destroyed, 160,000 tons of CO2 would be produced,” he said.
Gayler said NCI’s goal is to “preserve the variety of life on the planet (and) preserve the planet’s ecosystems that are absorbing the CO2 that we are producing in the atmosphere.”
Public comments overwhelmingly supported the project.
“This program is timely, and it’s progressive, and to me, it’s very Solana Beach,” resident Gerri Retman-Opper said.
“People tell you to act locally and think globally,” former Mayor Doug Sheres said. “This is a way to act locally and act globally … all from the comfort of your living room.”
In a letter to the mayor and city manager, however, resident Jane Morton suggested the city should be focused on local issues. “It just seems out of the realm of what a city should be involved in when the recipients of the dollars is Peru and Ecuador and other 3rd world countries,” the letter stated.
“It’s not just that we’re saving land and setting it aside,” said Councilwoman Lesa Heebner, who asked staff to research the possibility of creating the partnership with NCI. “What we’re also preserving is tradition and culture.
“We’re teaching people there how to earn sustainably off this land so they can remain in their home and not destroy it while they’re still earning off it,” Heebner said.
Payments would be made to NCI, which would take ownership of the property in perpetuity.
“The Ecuadorians prefer that the title to the land be in international hands or in a local conservation affiliate’s hands,” Gayler said.
Gayler said NCI purchases land at the “local price” primarily from absentee owners who have moved, want to move or want to sell their land so “their children can get a college education and not have to toil as subsistence farmers.”
“So it’s people who very much want to release the land, and local people very much want to see it protected,” he said.
Gayler said his company never pays more than market price for property because it would “limit the amount of area that we could protect, and it would destroy the local economy.”
It is not yet known whether participation in the program will satisfy some or all of the city’s requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under new state laws since standards for those laws are still being developed.
“But as far as I’m concerned, it’s really icing on the cake right now,” Councilman Joe Kellejian said. “If we get it, fine. If we don’t, this is just a very good thing.”