Early last month, members of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors listened to a report on how greenhouse gas emissions actually went down from 2007 to 2016.
That assertion raised some eyebrows, and when supervisors started peeling back the layers, they encountered what could be an onion at the core.
As it turns out, the staff report was correct when viewed selectively. Key segments of county operations did experience lower emissions percentages. The big reductions in greenhouse gasses occurred in the county’s solid waste and water/wastewater sources.
But at the same time, emissions averages from all forms of transportation, off-road activities and agriculture sources ballooned an average of 14 percent in those years.
Board members had particular concern for the transportation and agriculture components, especially from the two North County supervisors.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino questioned the transportation emissions figures after staff explained that in-county vehicle trips had increased year over year. Lavagnino was concerned that the figures don’t jive with data from other counties showing fewer in-county trips, and suggested the local data may have been the result of crunching the numbers incorrectly.
Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam questioned one element of the agriculture emissions report, which said it was caused by growers using more fertilizing materials, a claim Adam challenged by explaining that the report’s numbers don’t add up, insisting farmers would not use fertilizer that costs more than the value of a crop.
Despite questions raised about the report’s findings, the board voted to accept the staff recommendations, mostly concerning higher target numbers, and directed staff to come back with a follow report sometime early this year.
Adam was the only dissenting vote, which has become the norm in board votes that involve agriculture or moving too quickly toward developing more sustainable energy sources.
One thing Adam did voice approval of were staff’s ideas on going all-electric in the county’s vehicle fleet — but he said he’d be on board only if the cost of converting the fleet would save money in the long run.
It was, on balance, an interesting meeting, with the outcome being that supervisors asked for a recount on some of staff’s numerical methodology, while signing off on the county’s efforts to scale back emissions, increasing the reduction target from 40 percent to 50 percent over 1997 levels by 2020 — which, by the way, is next year.
The simple fact is that vehicle emissions are the county’s No. 1 source of greenhouse gasses, and those vehicles are traveling more miles in-county than ever before. Part of that has to do with most affordable housing being built in North County, but those homes and apartments being occupied by locals who drive to jobs in South County.
Frankly, it’s amazing that emissions aren’t worse than they are, but thanks to newer, cleaner-operating cars and trucks, emissions vs. miles driven tend to balance out. One wonders where we’d be with regard to air pollution levels without tough restrictions on vehicle emissions.
Greenhouse gas emissions are another issue on which the North County and and South County generally disagree, in large part because of the starkly different demographics of each region. Folks in South County tend to focus on global warming scenarios, while their North County counterparts support strengthening the local economy.
With any luck and a little foresight, mounting evidence of climate change and its impacts on the planet will eventually bring the two sides closer together on a strategy to maximize resources available to us. In fact, our very future depends on it.