PATHS NOT TAKEN: We all have our crosses to bear. Among my regrets—both sharp and vivid—is not having a prehensile tail attached to my posterior. Or being able to swing arm in arm from branch to branch. We have taken the wrong turn on the road to evolution. We went the opposable thumb route instead, making Homo sapiens the only creature on God’s green earth capable of snapping his fingers. The opposable thumb, as we all know, led to the expansion of human intelligence, which—along with the irresistible sensuality that accompanies finger snapping—has plunged us into our current mess of melting caps. polar.
But there is still hope.
No, not that we are going to change our habits and lower the Earth’s temperature by just a few degrees. And it’s not our fault. Obviously, the problem is with messaging.
How is anyone in this country — where a tenth of the world’s population generates about half the greenhouse gases — supposed to take seriously a problem that is measured in degrees Celsius? Those of us who took drugs while it was still illegal learned how to convert pounds to kilograms. Those of us forced to run long distances in high school learned to convert miles to kilometers. But absolutely no one can convert Celsius to Fahrenheit without using a calculator. In fact, as soon as the word “Celsius” is spoken, the American mind experiences a terminal freezing of the ice.
Yet the United Nations Commission that publishes all the reports relentlessly indicating how close we are to falling off the climate change cliff insists on speaking exclusively in terms of degrees Celsius. If we explode in a cataclysm of fire and ice, it will be their fault, not ours. If impenetrability was their goal, they should have tried their hand at poetry. Otherwise, use Fahrenheit.
But I digress.
The last report was exceptionally dark. Unless the entire planet follows the equivalent of a bone broth diet for the next 20 years, we are doomed. We are talking about a 45% reduction in gas consumption, 60% less oil and 95% less coal.
The good news—and yes, there is—is that the rate of temperature increase has slowed somewhat. Solar energy is 85% cheaper today than 10 years ago; wind, 55 percent.
This Tuesday, the Supervisory Board received the final assessment of the action plan for the environment and the climate that it adopted in 2015. As regards the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, we do not only reached 44% of their goal. This objective was to reduce by 50% the amount generated in 2007. Whichever curve you are on, it is a failure. It’s not even a D. But what can you expect from a show whose acronym —ECAP— evokes the sound of someone choking on a badly chewed nut?
Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, the former Republican who joined the Declined-to-State Party and is now running unopposed for the second consecutive time, sputtered in outraged disbelief: “I was shocked at how we have been ineffective. We don’t even make a dent. Barring cuts already imposed by the state, Lavagnino blamed the county for successfully reducing emissions by just 45,000 metric tons. That’s out of a total of 1.4 million.
Even the most optimistic interpretation indicates that we have not reached our target of the equivalent of 117,862 car trips per day for one year. Just over half of our emissions — 776,000 metric tons — come from the tailpipes of our cars. Despite the conspicuous proliferation of Teslas in Trader Joe’s parking lots, electric cars make up just 2% of the cars on the road.
Agriculture is also a significant issue, accounting for nearly 200,000 metric tons of our greenhouse gas inventory. Of those, 166,000 can be traced to cow burps, cow farts, and cow poo, delicately described in county documents alternately as “enteric fermentation” and “manure management.”
The next major battleground is natural gas hookups in new homes. Should there be an outright “ban” on natural gas or should we just “restrict” it? Now that COVID is seemingly “over,” it will give anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers yet another intrusion of state authority to go apoplectic. No wonder supervisors are setting up metal detectors at the entrance to the county administration building.
With my socks already wet from the prospect of sea level rise, it’s only a matter of time before the intake pipes leading to the city’s sewage treatment plant—really the foundation of all Western civilization — be rendered empty and we will all find ourselves in the stream of untreated effluent without the proverbial paddle. At this point, the ability to swing from branches arm-in-arm—known as brachiation—or have a prehensile tail to attach to at higher heights would definitely come in handy.
Sudden evolution and rapid adaptation, we are told, do not happen. The good news is that it may be possible. According to another groundbreaking scientific report involving a UCSB professor, Colorado’s state flower — blue columbine — recently experienced a major evolutionary leap without landing on its face. A flower that once had five petals now sprouts 10. The change, we are told, makes the flower sexier to bumblebees and hawkmoths who deal with the transfer of body powders necessary for the act of reproduction.
If the humble columbine can double the number of its petals, then maybe it’s not too late for me to sprout a prehensile tail.