PLANNING WATCH - In previous columns I wrote that in politically blue Los Angeles – like other large American cities – local government has dropped the ball on the rapidly unfolding climate crisis. More specifically:
- LA’s City Hall has never prepared a mandatory Environmental Justice or voluntary Climate Change element for its General Plan.
- The executive climate documents posted by former LA mayors Antonio Villaraigosa and Eric Garcetti were never subjected to public workshops, City Council hearings and votes, and Environmental Impact Reports. They also had no budget allocations and vanished when the mayors’ terms ended. Furthermore, Mayor Garcetti’s approach relied on adaptation to climate change, not reductions in the primary cause of the climate crisis, Greenhouse Gas emissions.
- LA’s new Mayor, Karen Bass, has devoted her political capital to reducing the number of unhoused people. This is one reason why she has ignored climate issues.
- LA’s City Hall does not monitor such climate change indicators as local Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.
- California’s best tool for assessing a project’s climate impacts, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), is circumvented through City Council Statements of Overriding Considerations. These statements allow elected officials to approve projects despite their carefully documented environmental damage.
- LA’s City Hall’s standard practices make the climate crisis worse, such as approvals of expensive car-dependent McMansions and apartment buildings in which residents use their own cars, not mass transit.
When it comes to the climate crisis the apple does not fall far from the tree. The many forms of climate change denial at LA’s City Hall are in sync with the Federal government’s focus on climate change adaptation. They both shelved reductions in the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, the primary cause of climate disruption through their GHG emissions.
This was made clear in President Biden’s response to current and future heat waves.
- The Department of Labor will issue hazard alerts for extreme heat and enforce heat-related standards, such as water breaks.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will improve its weather forecasts.
President Biden’s approach totally avoids any reductions in fossil fuel usage. As a result, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that the production and consumption of fossil fuels will expand, even as wind, solar, and geo-thermal electricity generation also increases.
The White House’s approach is, therefore, temporary adaptation to worsening heat waves, without addressing their underlying causes, the production and consumption of fossil fuels.
The folly of this approach, whether at the White House or LA’s City Hall, is that temperatures continue to rise. At some point there will no longer be any options available to successfully adapt to heat waves, wildfires, and severe storms.
Sammy Roth, the LA Times energy reporter, acknowledged this in his recent column, “The U.S. climate movement may be in trouble. Here’s why.” He reports that the U.S. climate movement is deeply divided over reductions in fossil fuel use.
“Our best bet for limiting a future of increasingly deadly heat waves, fires, droughts and floods involves doing both — building huge amounts of renewable energy at unprecedented rates, while also ratcheting down fossil fuel production.”
The division is between those who call for governmental regulations to reduce fossil fuel use and those who call for less regulation, based on their theory that as sustainable energy becomes cheaper, it will displace fossil fuels. Big surprise that those who advocate for less regulation are funded by major oil and gas corporations. They realize that deregulation drives up their profits, and technologies like fracking allow oil and gas extraction and use to further expand.
The folly of this be-partisan approach, whether from the White House, Congress, or LA’s City Hall, is that temperatures will increase, with the number of heatwaves in Los Angeles doubling by 2060, according to a UCLA study.
As for the claim that through adaptation sustainable energy will become cheaper than fossil fuels and eventually replace them, this is no evidence for this. First, the deregulation of fossil-fuels, as proposed by the big oil and gas companies, swells their profits. These profits attract more investments for these hazardous energy sources, not less. Second, the practical limits of adapting to a rapidly changing climate conditions will soon be reached. When this happens, there will no longer be any adaptation techniques left. Once this happens, Green House Gas emissions will continue their relentless rise, driving temperatures and other climate change symptoms even higher.
Like the false promise of privatizing the housing market to solve homelessness, free market solutions to meet the growing energy needs of a perpetually expanding global economy make the climate crisis worse, not better. They ensure that the worst case climate scenarios will become the new normal.
(Dick Platkin is a retired Los Angeles city planner who writes about local planning issues for CityWatchLA. He is a board member of United Neighborhoods for Los Angeles (UN4LA). Previous columns are available at the CityWatchLA archives. Please send questions to [email protected].)