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Congressman Levin talks climate strategies with local scientists, city leaders

Above: Margaret Leinen, director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Jason Anderson, president and CEO of Cleantech San Diego, participated in a roundtable discussion on May 30 with Rep. Mike Levin addressing climate change. Photo by Samantha Taylor

REGION — In late May, Rep. Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano) sought advice during a roundtable discussion at Scripps Institution of Oceanography from UC San Diego scientists, a regional clean energy expert and Oceanside city staff for developing policy proposals to address climate change at the federal level.

Also leading the roundtable discussion was Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat who represents the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

Both Levin and Castor represent coastal areas that are already experiencing and are due for worse effects from climate change, notably sea-level rise in particular.

Constituents and municipalities in both of their districts have been working at the local level to figure out how to mitigate — and in many cases adapt to — the effects of climate change.

Margaret Leinen, director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where the first measurements detecting atmospheric carbon dioxide levels which were released in 1958.

That year, there were 315 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, Leinen said.

Today, that number has jumped to 415 ppm, according to the most recent numbers recorded in May.

Kimberly Prather, a UCSD atmospheric chemist who specializes in aerosol particles in the atmosphere, said aerosols have a “tremendous effect” on “basically everything,” including the climate, human health and biology.

According to Prather, aerosols travel thousands of miles away and affect areas nowhere near where the particles originated.

For example, Prather said dust from Africa brought 60% more snowfall in the Sierra Nevadas.

Prather said the university is building a new facility that will be the only one of its kind where scientists can isolate human influence from natural interaction with aerosols in lab models used to determine what is happening to the climate.

Mark Merrifield, director of the Center for Climate Chance Impacts and Adaptations, stressed that basic infrastructure needs to be in place for scientists to be able to measure things like sea-level rise and ocean temperature warming.

Levin asked Merrifield to help identify potential vulnerabilities of sea-level rise at decommissioning San Onofre.

Also at the roundtable was Jason Anderson, president and CEO of Cleantech San Diego, a member-based trade organization that aims to make the county a global leader in “cleantech.”

Anderson emphasized how environmental regulations and clean, green energy has helped California — and San Diego County specifically — prosper.

According to Cleantech San Diego, the county’s cleantech economy has an impact of about $6.8 billion.

After the state set environmental regulations, according to Anderson, the economy bloomed.

“We don’t necessarily see environmental regulation as an enemy of the economy,” he said. “In fact, I think here in California we’ve proved that differently.”

Anderson said he tries to bridge the science world and business communities, adding that the business community certainly has a role in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Russ Cunningham, principal planner for the city of Oceanside, along with Colleen Foster, the city’s environmental officer, discussed how the northernmost coastal city in the county is doing its own part to address climate change.

Oceanside recently adopted a Climate Action Plan (CAP), which allows the city to demonstrate its consistency in following the state’s emissions reduction, Cunningham said.

CAPs encourage more active transportation and the use of low- to zero-emission vehicles. They also speak to reducing water consumption, recycling wastewater and expanding urban forests.

Cunningham said Oceanside is leaning toward implementing community choice aggregation to source renewable, emissions-free electricity to the city.

Though Oceanside was one of the last cities in the county to adopt a CAP, it was one of the first cities to adopt a zero-waste resolution that set high goals for its recycling rate.

Foster noted food production in the United States has a big impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, transportation accounted for 29% of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2017. Agriculture accounts for 9%.

Diverting waste from landfills also helps to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions produced by the dumps.

Still, according to Foster, the U.S. throws away over half of the food we produce.

“Forty percent of what we put in the dumpster is edible,” she said.

Foster explained Oceanside has invested into reducing the amount of edible food goes into its dumpsters, noting its new Green Oceanside kitchen, set to open later this month, will help the city recover its food and process it locally to feed the food insecure.

“When talking about the climate crisis and different things you can do on an individual level or business level, simply looking at how you eat, what you eat, how you store it are things that are tangible to anybody no matter what your economic status is,” Foster said.

David Victor, co-director of the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at UC San Diego, said any legislation dealing with reducing greenhouse gas emissions needs to attract followers.

“Every proposal we make in cutting emissions needs to be evaluated through the lens of followership,” Victor said. “Are things that we do near home or in collaboration with other countries … likely to lead other emitters around the world to reduce their emissions?”

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