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Climate Smart Program Makes Sense Given Menlo Park's Goals

Original post made by John Nash on Apr 21, 2008

Editor,

Recent letters to the editor and anonymous comments on the Almanac's web page have been critical of the city of Menlo Park's decision to join PG&E's Climate Smart program. The primary criticism is that city funds should be spent locally rather than going to purchase carbon offsets outside the city. While I agree that we should be doing all that we can locally to offset our greenhouse gas emissions, joining Climate Smart is the right thing to do for the following reasons:

The city has limited options for offsetting emissions locally. Planting urban trees provides many benefits to the community, including improving aesthetics and increasing property values. But planting trees in an urban environment is expensive, costing between $800 to $7000 per tree (the latter figure is taken from the estimate of $700,000 to complete the planting of the last 100 trees on El Camino as part of the "Trees for Menlo" project). Estimating the amount of carbon offset by a tree is imprecise, but a generous estimate is 800 lbs/year for a mature Douglas Fir. Climate Smart will offset approximately 1200-2000 tons CO2e/year.

Menlo Park is just beginning the process of developing a climate action plan. Hopefully that plan will include recommendations for local investments that will lead to significant reductions in our carbon footprint. But the climate crisis is already upon us. Climate scientists have very clearly stated that the earlier we begin lowering our greenhouse emissions, the less we will have to mitigate future negative impacts. By participating in Climate Smart, our city leaders are helping the city begin to take responsibility for its carbon footprint now.

I'm proud that our city is an early adopter of Climate Smart and is working on a plan to bring us to carbon neutrality. While I can't speak for the Environmental Quality Commission, as one of the commissioners, and a private citizen, I look forward to working with residents, staff, and our elected leaders to help create and implement this plan.

John Nash
Commissioner, Environmental Quality, City of Menlo Park

Comments (9)

Posted by Plant Trees Now, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Apr 21, 2008 at 9:57 pm

As a longtime resident of Menlo Park and a longtime enviromentalist, I beg the city to plant more trees. Trees benefit our environment and our city far more than any worthless purchase of carbon offset credits or CO2 reduction schemes. At least trees create shade and some small cooling effect. (For example shade trees on my property have reduced my need for air conditioning.)
Man produces less than 5% of the total CO2 gases in the atmosphere. The rest of the CO2 is produced naturally in response to changes in the sun's heating effects. Thus reducing man's CO2 output will have virtually NO effect on climate change. Scientists with solid expertise in the field of climate change have stated this fact many times but have been ignored by the IPCC and the media at large.
It grieves me to see some who would call themselves scientists give credence to the hoax of man-made global warming. It grieves me to see the largely scientifically ignorant public falling for such a hoax. And it grieves me that politicians are so gullible and/or willing to promote such a hoax for their own ends.
There ought to be a law mandating the teaching of true science to our children in schools so that they can discern good scientific method and theory from bad. Perhaps the good Senator Joe Simitian could write a law like this instead of forcing man-made global warming hysteria down schoolchildren's throats. If pigs could only fly!
Please, City of Menlo Park, take my tax money to plant more trees now and forget all this other nonsense.


Posted by RealityCheck, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 21, 2008 at 10:04 pm

John,

There are many "better" (i.e., real and lasting) things that the city could have done rather than pay off PG&E for some dubious "carbon credits", including installing solar panels for heating public buildings or the pool (and while we're at it: Who can we blame at city hall for deciding that it was OK to tear out & throw away the solar panel system from the old pool?), installing state-of-the-art energy-efficient items in public buildings, offering financial incentives to city residents to "go green", even just buying & giving away for free (or at nominal cost) the new energy-efficient lightbulbs.

But no. Instead, we bought "carbon credits" as a political grandstanding/payback move, pure & simple, with ex-Mayor turned PG&E attorney Gail Slocum serving as the critical PG&E-to-MP city hall link. Thus the criticism - totally warranted, IMO.

Oh and by the way, how about answering the other major criticism raised that apparently hardly any other city has taken up PG&E on its carbon credit "offer". If our dear neighbors in "super-green" Palo Alto haven't even done this, that seems to be pretty damning evidence that it's really just for show, if not an outright sham.


Posted by Observer, a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Apr 22, 2008 at 1:29 pm

There are no financial controls on "carbon credit" activities. PG&E could devote 100% of "carbon credit" contributions to adminstrative costs and there is no recourse or transparent auditing to know if even one tree is planted anywhere as a result of this funding. Menlo Park City Council just threw our money away.


Posted by Skeptic, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Apr 23, 2008 at 9:13 am

If Observer is correct, this is an even worse deal than I originally suspected. PG&E is about as trustworthy as any other major corporation, and hoping they'll do the right thing with our money is a waste of hope.


Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 23, 2008 at 2:27 pm

Skeptic = Cynic.


Posted by Observer, a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Apr 23, 2008 at 2:41 pm

This position paper explains how our income from offsetting is distributed. As a commercial organisation, we do not routinely disclose sensitive margin data. However, given the nature of the voluntary carbon market, we know that our clients want to understand more about how their payments support carbon reduction projects around the world.

The Context
Key definitions
The voluntary carbon market is not governed by reporting standards. This has led to a great deal of variation in the way different companies present how monies are distributed.

No way of knowing who is getting the money. We can only guess. I hope at least Gail gets some of the funds. At least the money will stay in Menlo Park.


Posted by CheckReality, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 24, 2008 at 3:28 pm

RealityCheck writes: "If our dear neighbors in "super-green" Palo Alto haven't even done this, that seems to be pretty damning evidence that it's really just for show, if not an outright sham."

The city of Palo Alto has its own utility company. They are not even customers of PG&E. I don't see how they could join the ClimateSmart program even if they wanted to.

And in case you are unaware, the city did install a solar hot water system for the renovated Burgess pool. Its on top of the building, so most people don't know its there. I believe that the city is also considering adding solar hot water at the pool at Onetta Harris.


Posted by JustWondering, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 24, 2008 at 9:52 pm

CheckReality:
"I believe that the city is also considering adding solar hot water at the pool at Onetta Harris."

Don't you think that the city should have used the $15k to make THAT a reality rather than give it PG&E to support their greenwashing effort?


Posted by Henry Riggs, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on May 1, 2008 at 5:11 pm

Editor,
While I am also proud of our town's response the climate issues, the carbon offset concept is still suspect in scientific circles. While the rant at Grist, Web Link is a bit hard core for some of us, the green feature issue of Newsweek (April 14) comments on a couple of pop trends that "Sound Good" Web Link. People, if its sounds too good to be true... Lets please keep the focus on the stuff that works.
Henry Riggs


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