What Lafayette Can Do to Help Solve the Climate Crisis
By Wei-Tai Kwok, Past President, Sustainable Lafayette (weitai[at]sustainablelafayette.org)
Earth Day. April 22, 2022. The climate crisis is a huge problem, and it's easy to feel overwhelmed about what we can do to be part of the solution. I know when I first started to think about solutions to climate change in 2006 after seeing the documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, I initially thought there was little I could do. Fortunately, over the years I have discovered there are many things possible, and so today I want to focus on what Cities can do so that you can help advocate for local change that makes a difference in our own community.
Today, as a member of the Lafayette City Council, I'm happy to say that there are numerous measures that cities such as Lafayette can and should implement in order to reduce and even eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels, which have increased rapidly since the end of World War II and are the leading cause of global warming pollution. Take a look at the trend over the past 100 years, and compare that to the change in the Earth's average temperature over the same period of time. You'll see why we must stop burning fossil fuels ASAP.
The Bay Area is already feeling the negative impacts of climate change, including droughts, wildfires and rising temperatures. The main sources of global warming pollution in Lafayette are (1) transportation (mainly due to the pollution coming from Hwy 24); (2) residential homes; and (3) commercial buildings.
The good news is that the City Council of Lafayette is already working on several initiatives related to transportation that can reduce our carbon footprint. We are looking to prioritize the safety of pedestrians and cyclists and have embraced a VisonZero plan to design our city transportation infrastructure in a way that leads to zero serious accidents, and in so doing we encourage biking and walking and less driving. We are also embarking on a significant effort to zone for an additional 2,114 dwelling units in the upcoming housing cycle (2023-2031). Smart urban design which promotes development within walking/biking distance of public transportation, shops and restaurants is essential for sustainable growth. Ensuring new multifamily residential housing is built with EV charging infrastructure is also key to decarbonizing transportation.
For decarbonizing our homes and buildings, the news is even better. That's because ever since Lafayette joined MCE as our community choice energy provider, our electricity supply has steadily become cleaner, rising from 60% carbon-free in 2016 to 98.6% or better in 2020. Lafayette is one of the very few cities across America to be so fortunate, and we've basically arrived 23 years early to Governor Jerry Brown's SB100 2045 target of carbon-free electricity! That is AMAZING news!
Since ~90% of Lafayette residents have MCE as their electricity provider (the remaining 10% have opted-back to PG&E), residences powered by MCE have excellent potential to become zero emission homes. The chart below shows the trend from 2005 to the present, where the green bars show our Greenhouse Gas Emissions from electricity declining to 1%, and accentuating the need to address the blue bars (gas emissions). How can we get the blue bars to also decline?
The good news is that there are numerous cost effective and energy efficient ways to replace the gas appliances in our homes with high-efficiency electric versions. When we "Electrify Everything" and power those appliances from carbon-free sources, we can all live a zero-emission lifestyle and know we've done our part to help solve the climate crisis. Pressing for all buildings to embrace all-electric appliances is therefore economical and also critical to solving the climate problems we face.
I am hopeful that Lafayette will become a shining example to America and the world of what cities can do to be part of the solution to climate change, and I hope you will join me in speaking up and pressing forward to transform our community to be the most sustainable we possibly can.
Please watch my 15-minute video presentation on this topic, visit the City of Lafayette YouTube channel.