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.
Commissioner, Environmental Quality, City of Menlo Park