Here in Sonoma County, we are fortunate to live under what the late Bill Kortum liked to call the Voter’s Green Mandate – an impressive array of environmental initiatives that originated either directly or indirectly from the ballot box. I moved to this beautiful county in 1984, and since then, the voters and their elected representatives have put in place:
And a lot more.
All of these programs, directly or indirectly, have the effect of reducing the county’s carbon footprint. In fact, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is practically an article of faith with the county’s political class. Not only have virtually every Supervisor and City Councilperson endorsed the county’s Climate Action Plan, many have pointed with pride to the steps their communities have taken to implement it.
Sounds like this county of 500,000 people is doing its part to think globally and act locally with regard to climate change, doesn’t it? So what’s the problem?
Look Out, Coming Through!
The problem is, further improvements are going to be a lot more difficult than the improvements made so far. For example, the County’s Billion dollar wine industry, its most important economic sector, and a major source of campaign funds for many local elected officials hasn’t had to make much in the way of sacrifices so far towards the county’s goal for GHG reduction.
There are several major changes the wine industry as a whole could make to reduce its carbon footprint. For example, wine tourism is a big business in the area. It involves a great deal of riding around in cars while visiting wineries, which may be spread out over miles. If the county were to require that all wineries were to be closed one day a week, the resultant auto emissions could be significantly reduced. (Not to mention the increase in peace and quiet for those who live in agricultural areas.) Such a requirement would be very difficult to implement politically.
Another example is events (weddings, fundraisers and the like). If the county were to restrict them to venues close to populated areas, it would eliminate a significant amount of auto emissions. Such a requirement would also be very difficult to implement politically.
At the same time that it is going to be necessary to start making politically difficult policy decisions about the wine industry in order to respond to climate change, climate change itself is going to start having a dramatic effect on the grape harvest. Prime growing areas are going to start moving eastward as the climate shifts, and the quality of the grapes produced in the west and central portions of the county will suffer.
Most policy decisions that will be required to deal with issues like these will rest with the Board of Supervisors, three of whom were the candidates of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau. I mention not to disparage those members, but simply to further emphasize the political difficulty of the choices that lie ahead. What we need in order to deal with them in an appropriate manner is a sophisticated knowledge of the issues coupled with a deep sense of environmental values.
Shed a Little Light
The average voter will never be able to properly judge whether or not a candidate has the right stuff to make the hard choices in a politically sensitive way that brings others along. In the County, most candidates are likely to be saying the right things. This is why environmental organizations need to get involved in local politics, and it is also why those of us who communicate with the public need to spread the word about the significance of environmental endorsements.
This county has been a leader of Climate Change issues for thirty years, if we are going to continue to lead, we’re going to have to continue to elect the right people.