Local News

How Davis can become one cool city

By From page A1 | September 16, 2012

Cool Davis is a citizens group working to support the city’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan’s goals to lower our collective carbon footprint. The organization is focused on solutions to help us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in three main areas: transportation, home energy and consumption (food, goods and services).

Cool Davis is poised to help our community pick up the challenge and run with a variety of actions individuals and households can take to reach that goal.

This group hosts the Cool Davis Festival, taking place Saturday, Oct. 13, alongside the Davis Farmers Market in Central Park, with more than 50 vendors demonstrating ways to help.

Learn more

What: Cool Davis Festival

When: 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13

Where: Central Park, Fourth and C streets

Info: www.cooldavis.org

The average Davis household contributes 40.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year into the atmosphere. Compared to the average for California cities at 47 metric tons, and the average for U.S. cities at 50 metric tons of CO2, Davis looks presentable. Last May, out of 10 competing California cities, Davis won the Cool California Challenge, bringing us $10,000 to begin serious work on lowering our collective footprint. We are already One Cool City, right?

But wait a minute. The average global carbon footprint is only 10 metric tons of carbon dioxide per average household per year. Seen from a worldwide perspective, our Davis emissions are considerably more than our fair share.

Here’s the real clincher: Many scientists and climate experts say 350 parts per million is the safe upper limit for CO2 in the atmosphere, but we’ve already reached 392 (from www.350.org) with serious consequences. Even to stabilize the climate on this planet at 450 parts per million, we must reduce the global emissions to just 2 metric tons of emissions per average household. And we need to do it by… yesterday.

The above figures come from calculations by the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, the UC Berkeley-based research group behind the Cool Carbon Footprint Project and the Cool California Challenge. Their motto is “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Run.”

Mitch Sears, the city of Davis sustainability manager, reminds us that “31 percent of Davis greenhouse gas emissions are residential and 53 percent result from transportation, so we must engage Davis households to effectively reduce our carbon footprint.”

Cool climate carbon calculator

First, we have to really understand our carbon emissions, based on the footprint graph here and information from the research paper, “Quantifying Carbon Footprint Reduction Opportunities for U.S. Households and Communities” by Christopher M. Jones and Daniel M. Kammen.

Jones is one of the key RAEL researchers on the Cool Carbon Footprint Project, and he lives in Davis. Not every city is lucky enough to have a carbon footprint reflecting its own GHG emissions, but thanks to Jones’ work, Davis is well-informed. Just go to https://coolclimate.berkeley.edu/carboncalculator and type in your ZIP code. From there, you can customize the Davis footprint by selecting the number of people in your household and your income level. The result is a tailored carbon footprint for an average Davis family of your circumstances.

“This carbon footprint highlights where the average Davis family is generating greenhouse gas emissions. With this knowledge, individuals and families can see which areas matter most and deliberately make lower carbon choices in the highest impact areas,” Jones says.

“People are often startled to see which items cause the most emissions. Few people realize that food produces over three times more emissions than household electricity for typical California households, for example.

Jones says he is most interested in what motivates people to change habits and lifestyles so programs can be designed to encourage and accelerate the changes we need to drop from 40 to only 2 tons of CO2 emissions per year.

Transportation: The average household releases a whopping 10.62 metric tons of CO2 emissions attributed to the direct burning of motor fuel in our cars plus well-to-pump costs of the fuel, i.e., the energy it takes to extract the oil from the ground, refine it and transport it to the pump for purchase. In bicycle-friendly Davis, one solution is immediately evident: drive less and bicycle more. The Cool Davis Festival offers more ideas.

Add another 1.17 metric tons of GHG emissions for car manufacturing. While a new car may get higher gas mileage, sometimes an older vehicle with good mileage driven infrequently is the best choice.

Air travel contributes another 1.58 metric tons of CO2 per year for the average Davis family for the privilege of flying; however, many say this era of affordable air flight is nearing an end. Reducing the number of air flights per household, substituting virtual meetings for business connections and making offset donations (including supporting local organizations) can lower our profile.

Household energy: Davis homes emit just under 7.28 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year for an average household, including 2.39 tons for electricity and 2.47 tons for natural gas. Homeowners and renters can lower their household energy footprint by taking steps from conservation to retrofit actions to solar installations. At the Cool Solutions Center at the Cool Davis Festival, experts will discuss a wide variety of home improvement options.

There is reason for optimism. According to the CoolerSmarter.org program by the Union of Concerned Scientists, if each Davis household cuts its total emissions by even 20 percent, we would save more CO2 than by shutting off all our electricity for one year. If everyone in the U.S. reduced emissions by 20 percent, it would be like shutting down 200 mid-sized coal plants, which is one-third of the nation’s total plants. If each house in a small city traded its incandescent bulbs for new LED bulbs, it would be like turning off the electricity in 6,000 homes. The actions of One Cool City add up.

Most Davis residents are well aware of the need to conserve water and reduce landfill waste, both actions that also lower the household GHG emissions currently at 1.25 metric tons/year for an average household. Likewise, Davis residents have become increasingly supportive of the importance of recycling materials from remodeling projects, and using sustainable building materials and practices for new construction projects which currently contribute 1.72 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year per average household.

Consumption: Consumption includes food, goods purchased and services that are measured separately on the RAEL footprint graph. The carbon footprint aspect of what we eat suggests buying more locally grown fruits and vegetables and eating lower on the food chain, a combination that also may enhance our health.

Changing habits around the frequency and amount of meat (2.74 tons of CO2 emissions/year) and dairy (1.04 tons of CO2 emissions/year) servings can make the most significant difference in carbon emission reductions. According to CoolerSmarter.org, if a family of four eats half as much meat, they avoid as much CO2 as not driving a car for six months! The best news is that changing our diet results is the largest financial savings, often as much as $850 per year per person.

The easiest way to reduce the goods category is simply to purchase less. If 20 friends reduce the amount of stuff they purchase by 20 percent, that’s the same as two of them not driving for six months, says UCS at CoolerSmarter.org. We can make only necessary purchases and support a culture that values reuse, repair and repurpose. It’s fun to visit sites like zerowastehome.blogspot.com for inspiration.

Finally, the services area of our Davis footprint represents 5.78 tons of CO2 emissions per year. We can seek more local entertainment and health care appointments, and then ride bicycles or take transit to avoid driving.

Cool Solutions poster: If you’re still wondering how to get started, look for the Cool Davis booth at the Oct. 13 festival to study the new Cool Solutions poster. Follow any limb of the Cool Solutions tree until you find an action you can take. Do that. Then find another action. And another. One step at a time, help Davis become One Cool City!

Lynne Nittler

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