Climate change is such a monumental and complex issue that it is easy to throw up our hands in hopelessness, but the reality is that we've only just begun addressing the issue and all of us — across every sector — will need to make changes and sacrifices that we haven't yet imagined or internalized. There is not a more critical issue facing our planet. I won't go into the doomsday tales, but the latest sea level rise predictions alone should be alarming enough to get every Palo Altan's attention.
While it is sometimes hard to comprehend the causal correlation between our individual everyday actions and a global crisis, we need to make that connection. And while leadership is needed at international, national, state and regional levels, we must do everything possible here at home too.
Environmental sustainability is a top priority for the City of Palo Alto. During April (when we celebrate Earth Day), we are reminded that Palo Alto is striving to be an environmental leader in four critical areas: energy and water supply and conservation, natural and built environments, transportation, and the handling of waste and related materials.
Our city government has set aggressive goals for itself. For example, last year, after surpassing previously set greenhouse gas (GHG) municipal emission reduction goals, we established a new target: by 2012, we will reduce municipal emissions 20 percent below the 2005 baseline. We are moving quickly and aggressively toward this goal through building upgrades, employee commute programs, waste reduction and other measures.
We are also exceedingly proud of our citizens. PaloAltoGreen, which asks Palo Altans to pay slightly higher utility bills in order to support renewable energy purchase programs, has the nation's highest participation rate at 21 percent. Unfortunately, these participation rates are starting to level off. Help us buck this trend at www.cityofpaloalto.org/pagreen.
Businesses are also stepping-up, transforming their products, supply chains and facilities to be more green. WaveOne, for example, is a nonprofit organization that is assisting 250-plus Palo Alto businesses in completing energy and water reductions of at least 20 percent by implementing "best practices for waste stream management, and generating renewable energy." The results have already been extraordinary.
Technology continues to rapidly revolutionize the environmental arena. Across our city government, we are focused on finding and implementing innovative green and clean-tech products and services. We also want to serve as a test-bed for new technologies. Through partnerships with Stanford, our Public Works Department is focusing on innovative approaches to wastewater treatment and our Utilities Department has launched a pilot demand response program.
Equally impressive is the leadership at the K-12 level, with "Green Teams" launching recycling programs, wildly successful bike-to-school initiatives, and ensuring sustainability instruction. Last week at Castilleja I was overwhelmed by the student-led work in this space, and it left me hopeful that young people are internalizing the direct connection between their actions and the planet's crisis.
There is no better example of cross-sector collaboration on sustainability than CEAP (pronounced "keep"), Community Environmental Action Partnership. This citywide initiative includes neighborhood associations, businesses, city government, Stanford, nonprofits, schools, and the medical and faith communities — all working together to create and implement sustainable environmental solutions. Get engaged: www.pa-ceap.org. A few more highlights to follow this year:
Energy and Water: In May, the city will launch a Demand Response Program to encourage limiting electricity usage during peak periods. Later this summer, the city will complete the installation of 600 LED streetlights, a program that will eventually spread across the city. In the fall, the City Council will consider new renewable energy contracts so that by 2015 33 percent of the city's overall electricity needs will be provided by renewable energy with a rate impact of no more than .05 percent per kilowatt hour. The city also continues to promote its Stormwater Rebate Program ($1,000 for residential and $10,000 for commercial) for measures that reduce stormwater runoff. This year we granted our first rebate for a green roof.
Natural and Built Environments: Through a Comprehensive Plan update this year, we are working to ensure that environmental sustainability is integrated into all aspects of our long-term city vision. The city also has a number of energy efficiency projects underway at city facilities. Palo Alto will soon review whether and how to require energy performance reviews of buildings across the city. Another exciting project this year is the creation of Palo Alto's first Urban Forest Master Plan.
Transportation: Palo Alto is currently working on a major update of its Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan. Additionally, several new electric vehicle stations will pop up in Palo Alto this year, and staff is working to streamline the permitting process for home and business charging stations. We are also working with Caltrain and the Save Caltrain movement to ensure that this vital public transportation resource continues.
Waste and Materials: As the city moves forward with its zero waste goals, in 2011 our green purchasing efforts will focus on reducing plastics from the supply chain, increasing recycled content and reducing toxicity levels. We are also studying the most environmentally responsible and cost-effective way to manage our compost as well as update the Regional Water Quality Control Plant. Finally, we continue to roll out Palo Alto's plastic bag ban in local stores.
There's a lot happening on the environmental sustainability front in Palo Alto. Yes, the global crisis can be overwhelming, but now is the time to get energized and more deeply engaged. Yes, we need to continue to fight at national and international levels to ensure large-scale impact, but all of us need to be involved locally. This Earth Day, let's all think about how we can live differently in order to help the environment. The city is tackling this issue in every way imaginable -- and it is making a positive difference. Join us.