San Diegans’ Letters to the Editor About Break Free from Fossil Fuels Campaign

Dear Editor,

Many San Diegans participated in last weekend’s Break Free From Fossil Fuels rally where thousands marched in solidarity to demand oil, coal, and gas be kept in the ground and move to 100 percent renewable energy sources. I admonish the Union Tribune for not covering this event because it was not deemed “local” or newsworthy.  The protesters are part of a worldwide event in which demonstrators converge in different cities to break free from the “chains” of fossil fuels.  Los Angeles, home to the biggest center for urban oil production, practices dangerous oil extraction in some neighborhoods with disregard to the health and safety of the people and for the environment.  Los Angeles elected officials should commit to a Climate Action Plan similar to the steps of San Diego’s CAP, which aims to reduce the greenhouse gas effect and work to create a fair, equitable and sustainable future.

Connie Castro

Mira Mesa


***Published in the Union Tribune May 18th 2016***

Dear Sir/Madam,

I participated in the Break Free from Fossil Fuels rally in Los Angeles yesterday.  I was one of almost a hundred San Diegans participating. This was part of a global wave of actions in the US, UK, Philippines, Germany, Nigeria etc, calling for us to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels to put the brakes on climate change.  It’s really important we get action on addressing climate change, which is threatening humanity on so many fronts and already creating climate refugees – including from island nations and low-lying parts of the U.S..

When people do step up and speak out demanding action, the media needs to cover it. I was very disappointed I didn’t see any coverage in the UT of the San Diegans who went to Break Free L.A. or indeed any coverage of the broader Break Free from fossil fuels campaign.

Angela Deegan

La Mesa


***Published in the Union Tribune May 16th 2016***

Dear Editor,

I have had a very meaningful life as a wife engaged with family, friends, outdoor life and a career as a psychology professor. But I have become so deeply concerned about climate changes already occurring and the lack of progress that I went to Los Angeles for the Break Free March on Saturday. I knew I’d be inspired by hearing Bill McKibben, climate change author speak and by the presence of over a thousand other activists. And I was. While San Diego can be extremely proud of its goal to have 100% clean energy by 2035, we must make sure that this happens and spread the movement across our country. We already see befouled air and atmospheric quality, rising sea levels, a significantly degraded land for our children and an impending refugee problem. We must do the work of a democracy and speak out now before it’s too late.

Bev Harju

San Diego


Dear Editor,

On Saturday, May 14, about 200 San Diegans participated in a Los Angeles event connected to many others worldwide, to break free from fossil fuels. This is particularly pertinent in San Diego, the first for its size to commit to a 100% clean energy future. Los Angeles had thousands of demonstrators demanding a reduction of the amount of fossil fuels being excavated from near their homes. We heard heart breaking stories from people who endured the Porter Ranch methane breach recently and from famous people such as philanthropist Tom Steyer and‘s founder Bill McKibben.  It isn’t enough for San Diego to aim for a clean energy future; we need our neighbors doing the same. This was an important event for our local area and the paper should have covered it.

Joan Raphael

Mira Mesa


Dear Editors,

During this crucial time in history where thousands of Californians came together to call on our country’s leaders to diminish our dependence on fossil fuels, I am disappointed that the UT did not cover the “Break Free from Fossil Fuels” rally in LA this past Saturday.

Hundreds of San Diegans attended the rally to show the rest of the world that San Diego is a leader in climate solutions. San Diego just recently passed a Climate Action Plan, which moves our city towards a 100% renewable energy future by 2035.  The UT should be supporting our city’s environmental leaders by covering those of us who rallied at the “Break Free from Fossil Fuels” rally this past weekend.

Eddie Junsay



Dear Editor,

The Break Free demonstrations in Los Angeles and around the world May 14th is a powerful message to reduce using fossil fuels.  Especially here in San Diego, where we are committed to 100% renewable energy, the message is loud and clear.  Climate change is happening, and people in San Diego want keep fossil fuels in the ground.

James Long

El Cajon


Dear Editors:

I attended the “Break Free from Fossil Fuels” rally in LA this past Saturday with other San Diegans and to my surprise, and disappointment, UT did not cover the event. Fortunately other media did.

Because achieving our independence from fossil fuels is a global mobilization, providing coverage for your readers on how committed San Diegans are to this climate action as to show our support in Los Angeles I believe is newsworthy. After all, California is a leader in this initiative.

When we look back in history, these are the events that will have driven the implementation of agreements written on paper and the course correction that will have profound significance on our way and quality of life, locally and around the world. I hope UT will be there to capture this journey.

Willette Lowe

Rancho Bernardo


***Published in the Union Tribune May17th 2016***

Dear Editors:

Unfortunately I was unable to join over 100 other San Diegans who attended the “Break Free from Fossil Fuels” rally in LA this past Saturday. I thought I could “read all about it” in the UT the next day. To my surprise, there wasn’t a bit of coverage of this global event – LA was only one of many held globally.

I applaud the UT for several climate change related articles that have appeared in the paper in the last few days. But wouldn’t it also be worthwhile letting your readers know there are many committed San Diegans who support a fast transition from fossil fuels and can discuss the solutions that will get us there?

Uninformed readers may not fully understand these actions. Reporting on the purpose would have helped to connect the dots between our lifestyles and the damage we are causing for our grandchildren. Step up UT if you wish to remain relevant.

Peg Mitchell

San Marcos


Dear Editor,

I’m disappointed the UT didn’t cover the “Break Free from Fossil Fuels” action that took place in Los Angeles this past weekend as part of a global climate mobilization – especially when you ran AP stories on other Break Free actions. I traveled with dozens of San Diegans to participate in this inspiring event where Bill McKibben and Tom Steyer spoke, and where people from all over California gathered to call for an end to drilling in residential L.A. neighborhoods and a rapid and just transition from fossil fuel extraction to clean energy and green jobs. Climate change is happening now — the terrible drought, devastating flooding in Houston, Louisiana residents forced to relocate to escape sea level rise. We can’t wait to act. The UT should be telling the story of San Diegans taking a strong stand against this most urgent global threat to our health and prosperity – not ignoring it.

I hope to see greater coverage in the UT on the vitally important issue of climate change.


Bob Silvern

La Mesa


Dear Editor,

I’m disappointed to see that The UT missed a prime opportunity to feature one of the largest climate change action moments in recent history: “Break Free.” Saturday, May 14, San Diegans joined thousands of people on six continents to send a message that we must #breakfree from fossil fuels in order to secure a safe and healthy planet for human life. I’m hopeful that you’ll cover key climate events like this in the future.

Your reader and neighbor,

Kimberly Tomicich


San Diegans joining L.A. Break Free from Fossils Fuel rally – their stories

By Norma-Jeanne Hennis

Originally published in East County Magazine, May 9th 2016

On Saturday, May 14th, many San Diegans will head to Los Angeles Break Free from Fossil Fuels logoalong with thousands of other Californians to participate in a mass rally in downtown L.A. to Break Free from Fossil Fuels.

It will be one of several mass mobilizations around the globe this month calling for an end to fossil fuel extraction. These rallies will be advocating to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground, an end to environmental racism, and transitioning to 100% renewable energy. The wave of global Break Free mass mobilizations kicked off last week when hundreds shut down the UK’s largest open cast coal mine and 10,000 marched in the Philippines for a rapid transition to renewable energy.

In Los Angeles, rally participants will be calling for keeping California oil in the ground. CA is currently the 3rd largest oil producing state in the nation! Participants will demand an end to drilling next door to homes, schools, and businesses in Los Angeles and the Central Valley, and investigations to prevent fossil fuel disasters like the massive gas leak at Aliso Canyon. Speakers at the rally will include founder Bill McKibben and philanthropist Tom Steyer.

I asked some of the people going to the rally with local grassroots climate action group SanDiego350, to tell us why they chose to participate and also for their thoughts on the climate crisis and how they address it in their lives.

Christy Bulskov, mother of two, environmental activist and avid conservationist from Encinitas

The beauty of our natural world provides great inspiration, peace and freedom for me and my children. Both my children join me in fighting against climate change. They have attended rallies in Encinitas, San Diego, Sacramento and Oakland. People always seem to be shocked when I tell them my children marched for miles, spent a weekend day making signs and banners, rode on a bus for twelve hours to attend a three hour rally – as though they are not capable activists. They are! Teach a child to throw away their trash, to ride a bike, skateboard or walk instead of asking for a ride. Teach a child to treat water like gold, to turn off the lights, to look on labels when they buy food, to reduce, reuse and recycle. They will teach others and the new norm will grow.

A few years back when my son was 11 and my daughter was 8, we stopped at a restaurant on our bus ride home from the Sacramento fracking rally. They were adorned with stickers and pins addressing governor Brown. While standing in line to pay our bill, an older couple turned around and asked, “what is fracking and what is wrong with it?” I had the pleasure of listening to my children educate their fellow citizens. What a beautiful gift of enlightenment they shared and how proud I felt!!

Another proud moment for me was when my daughter’s 4th grade teacher shared a story with me about a class discussion after we had attended a rally. The children in her class were discussing where they had been, what they had bought and my daughter said to her peers, “I didn’t go to Legoland or Disneyland over the weekend and I didn’t buy anything, but I marched and sang for our planet.” Her teacher said there was dead silence in the room, which was followed by a landslide of questions. Instead of having current events, my daughter taught her class all about fracking, our environment in peril and showed her classmates the website ( that had our picture posted. She also explained why she donates her old toys, clothes & shoes and where the local thrift stores are in case they wanted to donate or buy things there too. Please get your children involved in your activism, as they are incredibly powerful and influential!

My hope for attending this rally in LA is to educate people, to notify our governments that the power is in the hands of the people. To remind the 2% that all the money in the world doesn’t exempt them from the global consequences of a dying environment.  Now that we have viable solutions and alternative energies, I know we can be triumphant, to save the earth in order to save ourselves from extinction.

Janina Moretti

Janina Moretti recently earned her Ph.D. in Biochemistry at UCSD and teaches chemistry at several local community colleges. She is a very active volunteer with SanDiego350, a Los Angeles native living in San Diego and wants to see her state be a global leader in addressing the climate crisis.

I am deeply inspired by the climate movement and the people coming together to fight climate change. The climate crisis is the biggest and most urgent threat that we face. The individuals who are working so hard to prevent the worst impacts of climate change and are brave enough to envision a more just and sustainable future inspire me everyday. I want to work alongside them as part of this movement.  I want to be part of the solution. I am particularly excited to attend Break Free LA because I grew up and have family in Los Angeles. This will be the first climate rally that I’ve attended with my parents and aunt.

Several years ago, when I really became aware about how urgent climate change is, my first response was to try to lower my personal carbon footprint: I became vegetarian, I started riding my bike everywhere, I reduced my consumption. However, I realized that in order to rise to this challenge, we’re going to need more than voluntary, personal lifestyle changes. We need public transit that is accessible to everyone and easy to use, we need policies that transition us to renewable energy sources as quickly as possible and we need to start leaving fossil fuels in the ground. It’s unrealistic and unfair to expect people to make individual sacrifices, while fossil fuel companies continue to make obscene profits when their product is destabilizing the climate. That’s why I started volunteering and becoming more politically active. 

Through my involvement with SanDiego350 I’ve had the opportunity to give many presentations to community groups on climate change and have had the opportunity to be a voice for action on climate change at local City Council and SANDAG meetings and hearings where climate-related policy is on the table.

I think organizing and grassroots movements are effective and powerful. Last year we had some major victories – the City of San Diego passed an aggressive and enforceable Climate Action Plan that commits the city to 100% renewable energy by 2035 and the Keystone Pipeline was finally rejected. The climate movement is powerful and growing.

Willette LoweWillette Lowe is a Holistic Health Practitioner who has been a member of SanDiego350 since Earth Fair, 2015. She enjoys volunteering whenever possible.
I am going to the Break Free from Fossil Fuels march and rally because I am hopeful that it will help us keep the attention of our representatives focused on using their power to change the course of the projected global warming. I want them to know that talks and high level ideas are not enough to curtail the changes that have been occurring in our climate, locally and around the world.

I have traveled to many countries and people from other countries tell me about the changes they have experienced where they live. I have a friend in Germany who told me that they did not get snow during the past Christmas season like they normally do. Instead, the snow came much later than normal and the weather continues to be abnormal and very erratic. I hear stories like this from friends across the US as well. I am very concerned about our future and this is an issue that affects all living things on earth. The longer we take to change course, the more our quality of life will be affected and the more we will have to sacrifice in order to correct the problem. That is why I am involved now.

Vicki GeehanVicki Geehan and her husband David are both members of SanDiego350. They are well read on climate change and wanted to share their ideas with us “for the cause.”

I believe that climate change is humanity’s greatest historical threat.  We are running out of time to save our planet.  We have to use civil unrest to push for the drastic changes that are needed.  I really wanted to participate in the big climate march in NYC in 2014 but couldn’t make it. I am excited that something is being held close by that I can participate in.

 Why do I feel this way?  I have been reading the science on climate change for over a decade. It’s compelling and scary.  Books I’ve read include several by Bill McKibben; by Tim Flannery (climate-scientist from Australia); by Michael Mann (climate-scientist from Penn State and winner of the Nobel Prize for his work on the IPCC); by James Hansen (climate-scientist originally with NASA); Guy McPherson’s “Going Dark; Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything”; Naomi Oreskes’ “Merchants of Doubt” (saw the documentary too); and Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” (saw the documentary too).

The importance of this year’s Presidential Election can’t be over-looked. I’m concerned about the positions some of the people running for President have expressed on climate change. Without strong leadership from the Executive Branch we can’t do what’s required to stop the worst of the warming. I think we need someone even stronger than Obama has been. I’d like some discussion about what we can do to help ensure we elect someone who will do what’s necessary.

Personally, to alleviate global warming in 2005 I purchased a Prius.  I am getting ready to replace it (it has been an awesome car) with another Prius. This year I began purchasing our electricity through Arcadia Power. They purchase wind energy for our electricity use and pay SDG&E for us. We keep our current infrastructure and support from SDG&E, but have the peace-of-mind that comes with knowing we are offsetting our carbon use with wind power.  It only costs a few bucks more a month.  Well worth it and really simple to setup. We’ve cut back our meat consumption.  I cook meat only once a week.  We eat more vegetarian and fish than before.   

Global warming and climate change have affected us in many ways. The last two years have been almost unbearable without A/C and we really don’t want to install A/C.  I have a lot of guilt that I’ve had to fly to the east coast so much the past few years to visit my aging parents, but I don’t see an alternative. I hate that flying is so carbon intensive.
I’m hoping that the coordinated Break Free events being held around the world this month will also have an impact on international efforts. We have to keep fossil fuels in the ground and we have to accelerate our use of clean energy to get us off of fossil fuels of all kinds by 2030.

Paul RossPaul Ross & Joyce Lane, lives with his wife, Joyce, in the El Cerrito neighborhood of San Diego. Both volunteer with SanDiego350.

My wife and I are doing what we can to address climate change. It’s important to us to participate in the May 14th Break Free rally because we have to accelerate the transition to clean energy. Because meat production is a major contributor to climate change we became vegans. We also bought a hybrid car, installed solar panels and began putting money put money into environmentally sound investments.

Besides volunteering for SanDiego350, we are also sustaining monthly contributors because we believe strongly in the climate movement-building work in which it engages. SanDiego350 was very vocal on the need to put in place a strong Climate Action Plan for the City of San Diego and on the need to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and the outcomes on both these major issues have been positive. But without money for signs, props, flyers, and posters the organization couldn’t have effectively campaigned on these issues.

Carolyn ShadleCarolyn Shadle, VP, Communications, La Jolla Democratic Club
I believe that climate change is probably the greatest threat to the next generation and the time is NOW to get off fossil fuels.  There ARE alternatives. I’d like to see discussions on how PRACTICAL and POSSIBLE it is to get off fossil fuels. The actions I have taken, on a personal level, to address global warming include buying a Prius, taking public transportation whenever possible and I’ve stopped eating meat because there is overwhelming evidence that this is the best way to address the California water shortage and important to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing or eliminating meat we help eliminate deforestation and become a lot healthier and save on medical costs. Something so simple to do reaps such great rewards!

To achieve climate stability, Americans must take to the streets and make their voices heard – just as we’ll be doing at the Break Free rally. I support the call for our nation to move away from using fossil fuels completely NOW, taking action as was done when our nation mobilized to fight WWII.  We need to help people understand that we must take action NOW even though not everyone can feel the effects of climate change now.  

People must understand the need to prepare for the future. We must elect leaders who respect science. It is hard to imagine that we have legislators in responsible positions in the 21st century who do not believe in science.

Amanda MathesonAmanda Matheson is a high school senior at Canyon Crest Academy and has volunteered with San Diego 350 since 2013. She has served as president of her school’s Eco Club for three years, and she looks forward to continuing her environmental and climate justice activism at the University of Chicago in the fall.

I am attending this event because I think it is vitally important that we “break free” from the environmentally devastating fossil fuels that are causing changes in our climate at an unprecedented rate. 

Already we are seeing thousands – even millions – of human and animal lives being lost every year as a result of habitat destruction and changing weather patterns. The time for dirty energy is long since up: we need to stop using unnecessary fossil fuels and instead switch to cleaner, healthier fuels – and we need to do so now. This rally and march provides an excellent and impactful opportunity to make it clear that we, the people, demand cleaner energy sources and a brighter future.

I look forward to hearing about implications of climate justice during the rally. I think that the topics of environmental racism and the impact of climate change on vulnerable populations are vitally important to bring up – particularly in a movement that centers around love, appreciation, and compassion. I also feel that such subjects have been historically overlooked, so I am excited to hear them brought to the foreground in this context.

In an effort to be more environmentally and socially conscious, I became a vegetarian at the age of ten; just three years ago, when I was fourteen, I became vegan in order to further reduce my resource use and carbon footprint. Additionally, a couple of years ago, I built my own composting bin and started to compost my family’s yard and food waste. When I can, I also make an effort to avoid driving – instead, I carpool, bike, or use my very favorite mode of transportation – walking!

I believe wholeheartedly that this event will have a huge impact in shifting our local officials toward more climate-friendly legislation and policies. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to speak with and listen to some of our government officials in person; each time I have, they have impressed upon me the importance of reaching out and letting them know what we, the people, need and want. This rally and march will serve as a bold proclamation of our demand that they represent our best interests and move toward cleaner energy. 

It is crucial that we increase education and awareness of climate issues; there remain many people who still believe that technology will reverse all our problems, or that climate change is only an issue for polar bears! In terms of actions, it is critical that we drastically reduce food waste and animal agriculture, facilitate alternative modes of transportation over our current car culture, institute a carbon fee system, and get ourselves on track for 100% clean energy nationwide as soon as humanly possible – 2035 would be an excellent goal.

Oceanside Art Build with Anne Theddeus Justin

Annie, Theddaeus and Justin making puppets & signs for the Break Free rally

I am already noticing drastic changes in the climate and habitat of San Diego. Summers are becoming more unbearably hot with each passing year, and I have never seen weather as severe or as variable in this area as the storms we experienced this past winter. I have also noticed increasing desertification of local lands, and let’s not forget the severe drought we have experienced these last couple of years!

Please join Amanda, Carolyn, Christy, Janina, Paul, Vicki and Willette and many others at the rally! Check out the details and RSVP at Break Free from Fossil Fuels.

Make Every Day Earth Day : How to Fight Climate Change Year Round

By Hutton Marshall /

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press on May 5th 2016

Last month’s annual Earth Day reminded people all over the globe of the importance of our planet’s health to everyday lives and to survival of future generations.  Locally, thousands swarmed Balboa Park to celebrate the popular Earth Fair San Diego.

Earth Day plays a larger role than sending a powerful message about the necessity of environmental protection and sustainability. More directly, it attracts countless volunteers in San Diego and beyond to spend the holiday working toward creating a healthier planet and pushing back against forces that are rapidly changing our climate.

Unfortunately, for many volunteers, Earth Day may be the only day of the year we get out and work to combat climate change, despite widespread understanding of the need for action. This happens for a number of reasons. Finding free time to contribute to environmental causes in between our jobs, families and ever-growing list of obligations may seem impractical, but we all have an opportunity to make a difference. Almost every person, no matter how busy or chaotic their lives may be, can find a way to take meaningful action. Here are ways that we at SanDiego350 suggest.

Volunteer for a Local Environmental Organization

There’s a misconception among many that volunteers for environmental organizations are all seasoned experts on climate change and other issues. In reality, only a small minority begin with a robust understanding of climate science or political activism. Most volunteers, present company included, begin with only an understanding of the need for action on climate change, but with little knowledge of environmental activism.

These organizations need help in a variety of ways, so whatever your skill set may be, or however limited your free time is, chances are these organizations will be able to utilize – and will greatly appreciate – any help you offer. Whether you’re more comfortable writing articles, speaking with elected officials, making phone calls to volunteers, or educating the public about the issue, there’s something for everyone. If you’re on the fence about getting involved, simply attending a meeting is a great way to meet like-minded people, and see what kind of difference you can make.

Lead by Example

Lindsey Richardson engages students at Southwest High School. (Image: SanDiego350)

Lindsey Richardson engages students at Southwest High School. (Image: SanDiego350)

Some of our schedules are too chaotic for regular volunteering at environmental organizations, or maybe being part of a formalized group doesn’t appeal to you. And while these organizations often focus on big policy and social changes that will impact cities, states and countries, there are a number of small steps you can take. Did you know that people are most likely to be influenced by their friends and family? By making your day-to-day life greener, you can inspire those around you to do the same.

For starters, try walking or biking to work or school whenever possible–your body and your wallet will thank you for that. Installing solar panels and insulation, going “zero waste” and installing low-flow shower heads to reduce water usage are all ways to make an impact without any time commitment – and are likely to save money over time.

One of the easiest ways for most people to significantly lower their carbon footprint is to reduce the amount of meat and dairy they eat – say cutting out a cheeseburger or two a week — because raising livestock for food is tremendously energy and water intensive. John Robbins, once heir to the world’s largest ice cream chain Baskin-Robbins, makes convincing arguments in his book and film Diet for a New America why we should not eat ice cream or other animal products.

Your body and wallet will thank you for taking these actions – not to mention future generations.

By talking up how much you care about climate change and how great these personal actions make you (or your wallet) feel, you can be sure those around you will take notice and will soon be asking your advice on taking their own steps.

Attend Break Free L.A.

If you enjoyed the energy and community of Earth Day, attending more large scale events is a great way to contribute to the cause, and feel like part of the movement toward sustainability. On May 14, Break Free L.A. will rally thousands behind a global movement to break free from fossil fuels to work toward a more sustainable global economy. Reserve a seat on the bus, get more information or volunteer.

Letters to the Editor

If you’re reading this column, chances are you read other news media about environmentalism as well. Staying informed by reading is great, but engaging in the conversation by commenting on an article or submitting a letter to the editor is better. By sharing your perspective, you can inform readers, build momentum, and let the media and our elected officials know that San Diegans want to see climate solutions implemented.


While personal changes to reduce our carbon footprints are important, they won’t get us to the large scale emission reductions we need without big policy changes . As mentioned before, environmental organizations rely on big changes in government and in popular sentiment to combat climate change. And those policy changes won’t happen unless we elect legislators willing to take bold, decisive action on climate change. With the November election quickly approaching–and with all three federal branches of government in play, as well as local races –this is a critical time for San Diego voters to participate.

Words from SanDiego350 Volunteers

Finally, to impart the importance along with rewards of volunteering, several of SanDiego350’s most active members offered perspectives on their work combatting climate change.

“I’ve done a lot of work around media for SD350 events and it can be really rewarding when it all comes together – like it did around the time of the Pope’s visit to Congress last September when I helped coordinate media for a Press Conference at a Catholic Church and also for an Interfaith Climate Justice Forum where representatives from all the major religions spoke.  It got covered by six local TV stations plus the UT and other print outlets, and it was really gratifying when I saw the coverage on the news of the clergy talking about climate change as a moral issue.”

— Angela Deegan

“I am proud to contribute media or design that will increase awareness and involve new people in the fight against climate change. It’s helped me grow as a graphic designer to have my works seen publically and it’s helped me grow as an activist to think of imagery that will most inspire people to join us.”

“Being an activist for a volunteer organization has given me an opportunity to experience being a necessity. I have not only done several flyers for large scale events, but I also had a chance to help organize a March in the center of Balboa park and be interviewed on live radio.  I got to have a taste of leadership that I wouldn’t be able to experience at a professional job for a long time.  SD350 relied on me to get the job done.”

— Juliet DeAmicis

“It is vital for people young and old to come together to stand up to large corporations and government agencies and fight for humanity! We need to teach schools, colleges and at home about the current events and what can be done. One simple change done by a lot of people becomes a BIG change. A lot of big changes does create massive shifts, and this is the power of numbers. We are all in this together. We are all fighting the same battle. We just need to come together and share the same vision.”

— Lindsey Richardson

As a final note, I want to briefly add my perspective. I came to SD350 while working for a local San Diego publication, and it allowed me to meet several truly inspiring environmentalists who sacrifice greatly to benefit San Diego. Moreover, volunteering showed me that every member had a skill or perspective to bring to the table, and that one can contribute in myriad ways. I have written this column for much of the past year while based in Central America, which goes to show that if you’re willing to help, no matter your circumstance, environmental organizations like SanDiego350 will be happy to have it.  Visit us at to donate, sign up, read our blog, watch videos, explore volunteer opportunities, and learn about recent or upcoming events.

Learning from the Best & Worst U.S. Public Transit Systems

From Portland’s TriMet to Atlanta’s MARTA

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press on March 31st 2016

Not all public transportation systems are created equal. Across the country, there’s a huge gulf between bumper-to-bumper black holes like Los Angeles versus cities like the subway-happy New York City, which boasts 660 miles of rail transit.

Many of the cities we now see as pinnacles of functional transit became that way out of utility. New Yorkers, for example, have come to see their expansive subway system as a way to escape fierce blizzards and even fiercer rush hours.

Today, however, many cities have come to see public transit as an important tool in growing in a sustainable, environmentally conscious manner. The 2015 and 2016 climate change reports increased the importance of efficient transit.

Thankfully, there are several shining examples of what local and state governments can accomplish when they wisely invest. Perhaps no region is better served by public transportation than Portland, Oregon, through its TriMet system. This kind of planning is essential to limit  greenhouse gas emissions.

The size of the TriMet system (short for the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon) and number of people who ride it are small in comparison to large U.S. cities, but its impressively comprehensive system, continually modernizing technology, and its integration with active transportation make it a model for similarly sized cities (hint, San Diego).

TriMet fills downtown Portland with public transit options, but it also spreads out wide into the surrounding suburbs and cities, and its trolley system runs parallel to many of the region’s busiest highways, pushing the incentive for commuters to abandon their cars. Plus, TriMet is well integrated with Portland’s reputably amazing system of bike paths and walking trails, making the city a full-scale example of low-emission transportation.

TriMet isn’t a perfect system. Indeed, the scale doesn’t come without considerable cost which, in recent years, has overwhelmed TriMet’s budget. An Oregon Secretary of State report found that TriMet had more than $1 billion in unfunded financial obligations in the wake of the recession. To put this in context, TriMet has a 2017 budget of $511 million, and notes “Generally, the Forecast for the periods covered projects a relatively positive financial future for TriMet.”

A  2014 “telephone survey of 1,000 residents” showed TriMet’s  “MAX [light rail]  approval was 84 percent” and “Bus approval was 78 percent.” By contrast, in San Diego no MAX exists, and the most recent data easily available online showed “The professed satisfaction of transit [ . . . as ] 60 percent in 2009.”

San Diegans should take note of what a transit system like Portland’s can accomplish, and just as importantly, what such a system costs. Residents throughout the San Diego region have a chance to begin realizing both facets of improving our public transportation—ambitious planning and proper funding—through SANDAG’s proposed increase to the TransNet tax increase, which the region’s voters will approve or reject on the November ballot (assuming SANDAG formally decides to pursue the ballot measure on April 8).

To maximize the potential of a favorable TransNet plan, environmental, labor and other progressive voices in San Diego (SanDiego350 included) have formed the Quality of Life Coalition, advocating for the TransNet revenue to be spent in an environmentally friendly way that protects the region’s most vulnerable communities. That means revitalizing and growing our public transit system.

On the other hand, if we’re not careful, rather than a transit system like Portland’s, we could end up with one that more closely resembles the notorious MARTA system in Atlanta.  According to the August 1, 2012, Atlantamagazine article “Where It All Went Wrong,” exclusionary transit mapping has led to suburban decay and worse, transit service deficiencies drawn along racial lines.

Public transportation isn’t something the region should delay for the next generation. The more we build out with roads, the more expensive and burdensome it becomes to weave transit routes within the urban sprawl.

In the wake of white flight, many Atlanta suburbs negatively viewed light rail development as a force that would connect the suburbs to the downtown cities they were trying to escape. Because of these unfortunate attitudes and compromised planning efforts, Atlanta’s transit system is struggling.

Of course, San Diego County doesn’t have the entrenched racial tension that Georgia did in the 1970s, and no one accuses those opposed to public transit in San Diego as being motivated by racial prejudices, but the lesson to take from Atlanta is that we should see public transit as something to create a united, interconnected region, as a force to prevent the isolating urban sprawl seen in areas like Atlanta where poor transit planning caused the “suburban decay, declining home values, clogged highways, and a vastly diminished reputation” also noted in that August 1, 2012, Atlanta magazine article.

Public transportation isn’t something the region should delay for the next generation. The more we build out with roads, the more expensive and burdensome it becomes to weave transit routes within the urban sprawl. According to SANDAG, sixty-nine percent of San Diego County residents work outside the region where they reside.  It’s time to give them a practical alternative to Interstate-8 during rush hour.

SANDAG planners have already stated that if this TransNet increase isn’t passed—barring the introduction of another funding source—forthcoming transit projects will be left without funding. And that’s just to accomplish the bare minimum.

San Diegans deserve a TransNet increase that will allow the region to set a course toward a truly ambitious public transit expansion. Looking at Portland and Atlanta, the choice is clear. Which city our transit system will resemble two decades from now depends on decisions we make today.


TransNet Tax Increase – SANDAG Course-correct Opportunity

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press on February 25th, 2016

A region doesn’t become environmentally friendly by accident; it does so through careful, ambitious planning with the good of future generations in mind. In this regard, the San Diego region now finds itself at a crossroads.

Through the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), the region’s planning agency, we now have the opportunity to begin realizing an environmentally friendly future in the San Diego region for many years to come. SANDAG recently announced that it will consider putting forth a ballot measure that will increase the TransNet sales tax by half a cent. Pending voter approval, such an increase would mean billions of additional dollars for transportation projects in coming decades. Although SANDAG may do the opposite, this money should be spent on projects that will mitigate climate change and protect San Diego’s most vulnerable populations.

An embrace of environmentally minded transportation and development priorities is long overdue in the county. While the city of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan sets the county’s urban center on a path toward responsible growth, the region as a whole can hardly say the same. Blame for this should in part be laid at the feet of SANDAG.

Their 2050 Regional Transportation Plan, which dictates what transportation projects will be built decades into the future, will dramatically increase our region’s carbon footprint by recklessly expanding highways rather than curb carbon emissions by 25 percent [ . . .] by 2020 as state law requires. (The current RTP does meet the state targets for greenhouse gas emissions through 2020. However from 2020 on, it really misses the targets. See pages 4.8-33 through 4.8-36 of the San Diego Forward Draft Environmental Report for up to date numbers.)

Today, however, SANDAG has an opportunity to correct its course. In setting its list of prioritize that will define the ballot measure, SANDAG should prioritize sustainable projects that will allow the region to flourish rather than stay stuck bumper to bumper on the 805. To this end, a diverse collection of environmental, labor and urban development groups–including SanDiego350–recently came together to form the Quality of LIfe Coalition (QOL), which lays out ways to spend the additional TransNet dollars that would benefit underserved communities and set the region on track to grow in an environmentally responsible manner.

Some would like such funds to go toward even more freeway expansion than SANDAG has already planned. While such spending may satiate car commuters in the short term, making our freeways even bigger is the last thing our regional planning agency should consider right now. Studies have proven that freeway expansion increases drivers proportionate to expansion, causing traffic levels to quickly return to pre-expansion levels. So expanding freeways isn’t just short-sighted, it’s ineffective.

The many priorities set forth by the QOL Coalition, on the other hand, are diverse and ambitious, including goals ranging from expanding our light-rail system to creating more affordable housing, especially in communities well served by public transit. Read the QOL Coalition’s entire proposal in this San Diego Free Press article.

SANDAG recently announced two competing lists of priorities it was tentatively considering

The first would give a large chunk of the funds to individual cities in the region to spend how they please. A great portion would likely go to much-needed street repair and other infrastructure needs. A relatively small amount, however, would be allocated toward transit projects (or any of the other priorities laid out by the QOL Coalition for that matter).

The second option, on the other hand, would use the funds on overarching regional projects, namely freeway expansion and public transit. More money is devoted to public transit in this plan (though still less than what SANDAG promised in its 2015 Regional Plan), but zero money would be allocated toward infrastructure improvements. Omitting all street repair funding makes this option something of a political nonstarter, since to the everyday commuter, street repair is often the first priority.

In summary, Option A shortchanges nearly every environmental priority, while Option B includes an underwhelming effort to fund environmental projects, and stands little chance of voter approval if it even made it onto the ballet.

As others have pointed out, SANDAG appears to be attempting to give the false impression that environmental priorities and popular sentiment are somehow at odds. The SANDAG board of directors will decide by April the specifics of the ballot measure it will put in front of voters. Before then, the board should acknowledge the fact that combining environmental priorities with local infrastructure improvements isn’t just possible, it’s smart.

The QOL Coalition’s role in the tax increase will hopefully go further than outlining hopeful priorities for SANDAG. Should SANDAG agree to prioritize the QOL goals, the coalition, which includes over 20 San Diego organizations and represents 150,000 people, will lend itself to fighting for the tax measure’s approval in November.

Such support may be necessary to gain the two-thirds majority mandated for the likely tax increase. Any increase to the TransNet tax must be approved by a two-thirds majority of San Diego County voters, likely in the November elections. Finding a set of projects alluring enough to voters to make the tax proposal viable in a referendum will be a major consideration.

The agency should already be attuned to the needs of those it represents. SANDAG is a collection of city and county governments that make decisions on region-wide issues. It’s funded primarily through the TransNet sales tax they propose increasing. The tax currently generates more than 100 million dollars each year for SANDAG, most of which goes toward the agency’s infrastructure projects.

Decisions by the agency are led by its 30-person board comprised of elected officials throughout the region. The board has yet to reveal their spending priorities for the potential increase, and they’re still technically in the process of gathering input to gauge the public’s desires.

Some in the region have already voiced opposition to a tax increase for any reason, but such blanket responses can’t be taken seriously. Sensible conservatives and progressives in San Diego have long agreed on measures such as repairing crumbling streets and expanding public transportation. It would be unwise to abandon funding for such basic needs and to turn much needed civic spending into a partisan issue.

San Diegans–indeed, most Americans–want action on climate change. People are realizing that freeway expansion is at best an ineffective Band-Aid solution to traffic. At worst, it takes money away from transportation options sustainable in the long term. Since the November election will likely see a large turnout of progressive voters, promising environmentally-sound transportation projects isn’t just the moral thing to do, it’s a smart strategy.

San Diegans won’t be in this fight alone. President Barack Obama recently announced a $320 billion transportation spending plan directed toward clean transportation options. Therefore, it is time to capitalize on the wave of federal mass transit support.

Finally, to underscore the need for climate justice and urban development that will benefit the most vulnerable communities in San Diego, it’s worth noting that local sales taxes are a much heavier burden on low-income families than wealthier populations, since poor families are more likely to rely on making smaller, more frequent purchases. Any sales tax increase SANDAG proposes, therefore, should most benefit low-income communities.

Open spaces are another key priority outlined by the QOL Coalition. SANDAG predicts that the population of San Diego County will increase by 1.3 percent by 2050. Debate the accuracy of that prediction, but expect large growth. Protecting San Diego’s open spaces will be vital in the coming decades so we don’t risk losing San Diego’s natural beauty in the swell of development that will accompany the increasing population.

Reacting to public input hasn’t been SANDAG’s strong suit in the past, but San Diegans must tell the region’s elected officials how important this is to all San Diegans. Now is the time for San Diegans to speak out about realigning SANDAG’s planning priorities. SANDAG’s path toward more freeway expansion will be even more difficult to alter if this tax increase makes it a priority.

Decisions of this magnitude don’t come along often, and SANDAG must seize this opportunity to get the region’s efforts to mitigate climate change on track for a better future.

San Diegans determined to advocate for the Quality of Life Coalition’s goals should attend SANDAG’s board of directors retreat at Barona Resort Casino on March 10 for public comment on the issue.

Lessons from Porter Ranch

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press on January 28th, 2016

The massive leak at the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility is a stark example of why natural gas is a significant health and safety risk and not a bridge fuel to our clean energy future. The facility, the second largest in the U.S., stores vast amounts of natural gas at high pressure in underground wells once used for oil extraction more than fifty years ago.

On or about October 23rd a rupture in a 60-year old injection well pipe a thousand feet underground initiated the leak. At its peak the leak had an estimated rate of one-hundred twenty-five thousand pounds of methane per hour. To date, the cumulative emissions from this single source is equivalent to 25% of the state’s annual methane emissions from major sources like agriculture and landfills, equivalent to the annual climate pollution of almost half a million cars.

This is clearly counterproductive to Governor Brown’s ambitious state goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% or more by 2030.   To address this he has called for a plan that will offset emissions from the leak through projects funded by SoCalGas that reduce short-lived climate pollutants like methane. Without this direct action from the state, SoCalGas would not be required to fund these projects because, inexplicably, methane leaks, even ones this size, are exempt as “fugitive emissions” under California’s climate change regulations.

The main component of natural gas is methane, an odorless, colorless gas with a 20-year heat trapping capacity over eighty times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Mercaptan and other odorants are added to the gas infusing a pungent rotten-egg smell to help indicate leaks. With concentrations of this potent mixture measured as high as 1,000 times ambient levels, Porter Ranch residents are suffering health effects including nausea, nosebleeds, and headaches. Thousands of families have had to evacuate their homes and the LA Unified School Board voted unanimously in December to close their two schools, necessitating the relocation of 1,900 students and staff. Company officials and local health regulators claim there is nothing to be concerned about.

According to Save Porter Ranch (an organized group of concerned residents), SoCalGas reacted slowly, waiting several days to admit to the existence of the leak, and more than a week before publicly acknowledging the leak and notifying the health department and elected officials. A response by local and state officials was slow to come as well. It took over a month for the health department to declare a health emergency and Governor Brown did not declare a state of emergency until January 6 under significant pressure from Porter Ranch residents and LA elected officials.

There’s speculation he was slow to react because Kathleen Brown, his sister, is on the board of Sempra Energy, which owns SoCalGas (as well as SDG&E). And while the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) ordered a permanent shutdown of the leaking well, it made no such order for the other 114, similarly antiquated, wells at the facility, ignoring the very real risk that another such rupture could occur again.

According to experts, early efforts to seal the well actually worsened the risk of a catastrophic blowout which would have resulted in significantly more emissions that would have been even harder to contain and further increased the already extreme risk of explosion and fire. Recently, in response to an order by the SCAQMD to mitigate the emissions, SoCalGas proposed a plan to divert and incinerate some of the leaking gas.

The plan was scrapped after residents and AQMD officials expressed extreme concern about the risk of explosion. No kidding, smart move. With no well-thought out emergency response plan in place, SoCalGas appears to be shooting from the hip, seemingly careless of the risk to which it’s exposing LA County residents and the climate.

The rupture was likely a result of the age of the well pipe and the questionable practice of injecting gas through both the 7”-diameter casing (outer shell) and 2 7/8”-diameter inner tubing at the same time. These aging pipes are under very high pressure, about 2,600 pounds per square inch (think SCUBA tank pressure). Not surprisingly, efforts to stop the leak have failed. The infrastructure at this facility and natural gas facilities and infrastructure across the country are more than forty years old and accordingly vulnerable to leaks and other failures.

In fact, at the time these facilities were built and the wells were drilled, few regulations existed including requirements for leak monitoring and emergency safety valves which could have put an abrupt end to the Aliso Canyon leak before it became an issue. Aliso Canyon is one of 400 storage fields across the country likely in a similar state, including three in northern LA, one in Santa Barbara County and ten in northern California east of San Francisco. Yet surprisingly today there is no national minimum safety standard for these operations.

Siting of fossil fuel infrastructure and operations is also an environmental justice issue. Socioeconomically disadvantaged communities have historically suffered the brunt of health and pollution impacts because that’s often where oil and gas companies operate with impunity (PDF). Or in remote areas where there’s no one to complain. As a result there’s been little political pressure to address these issues. This discriminatory practice is the basis of a recent lawsuit filed against the city of LA. But Porter Ranch is an affluent community whose voices were heard by the LA City Council which acted on behalf of its constituents, bringing to bear the forces of the state. As extreme oil and gas operations such as fracking and acidization proliferate, extending the tentacles of their reach, more and more communities are at risk and will experience firsthand what other communities have long suffered without attention.

In response to the Aliso Canyon disaster, earlier this month LA County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to Governor Brown and legislative leaders urging them to modernize inspection technology and an outdated regulatory process, and calling for the state to set up an independent panel to oversee the inspection and repair of similar facilities across the region. Last week three bills were introduced in the California State Senate. Senate Bill 886 would impose a moratorium at Aliso Canyon on new natural gas injections and extraction from vintage wells until it can be determined by state regulators and independent experts that they pose no public health and safety risks.

Senate Bill 888 would require SoCalGas to pay from its profits for housing, relocation and emergency response costs, as well as mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, and prohibiting the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) from allocating these costs to ratepayers. Finally, Senate Bill 887 would require inspection of all of California’s fourteen underground natural gas storage facilities within the next 12 months and at least annually thereafter; phase-out of antiquated wells; enhanced safety standards such as installation of subsurface safety valves, use of leak-detection technology and the development of rigorous response plans.

Why weren’t these common sense regulations in place long ago? Why is spewing this amount of natural gas into the air legal under current regulations? SoCalGas itself understood the vulnerability of its aging infrastructure and the need to upgrade its monitoring and safety equipment, seeking permission from the CPUC in 2014 to raise rates to pay for it, a cost of $30 million over six years. A cost that’s a rounding error compared with the ultimate cost of the leak to residents, to California, and even, ironically, to SoCalGas.

It is clear that more regulation, oversight and inspection of fossil fuel operations is urgently needed. But the broader question is, rather than investing hundreds of billions of dollars to upgrade and expand natural gas extraction, transmission and storage infrastructure, shouldn’t we instead invest this money now to make the inevitable shift to renewable energy that the world acknowledges is urgently necessary?

As the Aliso Canyon leak demonstrates, natural gas comes with significant health and safety risks that renewables don’t share. And while natural gas has been trumpeted as a “bridge fuel” that’s better than coal, the reality is that methane’s much higher heat trapping capacity coupled with leakage all along the natural gas supply chain from extraction to transmission to end use makes the climate impact of natural gas worse than coal. If we are to adhere to climate scientists’ target of staying below 1.5 degrees C of warming, doesn’t it make sense to use that investment to build out renewable energy infrastructure rather than sinking hundreds of billions of dollars into new and upgraded natural gas infrastructure that will be rendered unusable within a decade or two?

If what’s happening at Aliso Canyon and Porter Ranch concerns you, call or write your state legislators and urge them to support SB 886, SB 887 and SB 888. You can find contact information for your state representatives here:

If you want to become involved in getting local and state officials to act on climate change or ban extreme oil and gas activity in California contact

SDG&E: Solar’s Fake Friend

By Hutton Marshall
Originally published in the
San Diego Free Press on December 10th 2015.

San Diego Gas & Electric, our friendly neighborhood energy provider whether we like it or not, continues to prove that their claims to support clean energy are merely superficial. Especially in regards to solar energy, the most efficient, environmentally friendly energy source available to homes and businesses, SDG&E continues to favor policies that diminish the critical financial incentives that allow San Diegans to generate their own clean energy.

Why would SDG&E want to oppose something that benefits its customers?

Why would SDG&E want to oppose something that benefits its customers and the environment?

Multiple actions this year alone exemplify SDG&E’s anti-solar mindset. The first came earlier this year, when the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) ruled to change the way California public utilities like SDG&E charge residents and businesses for electricity.

The most significant change to these rules concerned the tiered rate structure that determines the electricity rate many Californians pay. Before the CPUC ruling, there were four different tiers SDG&E customers fell into, depending on how much electricity they used. Customers falling into the lowest tier paid the lowest rate. Others that generated more monthly electricity fell into the higher, gradually more expensive tiers, to the point where rates on fourth-tier customers were twice as high as those in the first tier. The point of this was simple: Incentivize electricity users to use less electricity.

The new rules, however, change that four-tier system into a disincentive to conserve, in the form of a two-tier system, where the difference between the two tiers is far more forgiving compared to the previous system. The second tier charges only about 25 percent more than the first tier, removing much of the incentive for big users to conserve. This means that the tier you fall into–and by extension how much electricity you use–now matters far less.

SDG&E strongly advocated for this new two-tiered plan. The company claims it lobbied for this change in the name of its customers, but does that sound like the ethos of a shareholder-beholden energy monopoly?

So what could be SDG&E’s motivation for aggressively lobbying this plan for the last three years? Fighting for its customers seems dubious, because it’s not as though there’s another energy company in town that residents can switch to if they’re dissatisfied with SDG&E. Rather, their push for a less progressive rate system seems to be yet another move by SDG&E to disincentivize the switch to solar energy by customers.

Under the four-tier system, many residents had the opportunity to cut money from their electricity bill by installing solar panels, since often just a small amount of savings could move one into a lower, less expensive tier. Now, the financial benefits of “going solar” have been all but erased. The previous four-tier structure made it likely that residents generating a modest amount of their own electricity would be enough to move into a less expensive tier. Under the new system, however, most residents won’t fall near the border between the two tiers where a bump from solar will move them down into the first tier, so generating clean energy at home may stop making financial sense to many.

To be sure, there’s no shortage of non-financial reasons to generate clean energy, like reducing our individual carbon footprints. However, not all residents in San Diego have the resources to invest in solar panels for purely altruistic reasons. SDG&E knows this, and they’re doing their best to sway residents into staying 100 percent on the grid by removing the incentive to go solar.

Excess power from rooftop solar benefits all utility customers in times of high usage.

Excess power from rooftop solar benefits all utility customers in times of high usage.

I wish I could say SDG&E has changed its tune on opposing solar energy, but now the company is back with another push against solar, proposing detrimental changes to California’s Net-Energy Metering (NEM) program, which benefits solar energy users that generate more power than they use (perhaps the state’s most important incentive to encourage solar energy). NEM does this by essentially allowing customers to cancel out a portion of their energy bill by generating their own clean energy to sell back to the utility.

The changes to the NEM program proposed by SDG&E would undo much of this boost for solar users by hiking rates on homeowners generating solar energy, and by reducing the price SDG&E pays solar-generating customers for the energy they produce. Rather than rewarding these customers for using solar power to bring more energy into the system, SDG&E says they’re overburdening non-solar customers whose electricity bills fund the grid.

This isn’t just an overstatement on SDG&E’s part; it’s an intentional tactic to create uncertainty among San Diegans weighing the costs and benefits of solar panels. Because of this, prospective solar users are left wondering what the economic benefits of going solar will be. SDG&E knows creating this uncertainty works in their favor in a region whose booming solar industry is a testament to the effectiveness of NEM. If SDG&E has its way, our solar market may go the way of Arizona’s, where companies reported a 95 percent reduction in solar applications after a large utility began charging solar users a $60 fee similar to what California utilities propose.

3D Electric powerlines over sunrise

This is a sight that should be sunsetting, but it won’t if SDG&E has its way. 

So why would SDG&E want fewer of their customers using solar energy? Customers generating their own energy create disruptive effects on the grid that pose serious concerns for the existing utility business model. This is especially true in a region like San Diego, where more than 5 percent of customers are generating their own clean energy, which is among the highest proportion in the country.

SDG&E has genuine concerns for its current business model. Real changes will have to be made to keep them functioning within their outdated framework. Regardless, residential solar usage should continue to be incentivized, as we’re surely just beginning to explore the true capacity of solar energy. The burden should be on utility companies to adapt to clean energy users, not the other way around.

It’s past time for us to speak out about SDG&E’s false flag on solar energy. CPUC must resolve the debate on NEM before the end of the year, which means this month is critical for San Diego’s clean energy future. SDG&E can no longer be allowed to get away with superficially praising solar while cynically opposing any clean-energy incentive that threatens its profit margin. Until SDG&E stops undercutting efforts to expand solar, the San Diego region must continue to lead on responsible, environmentally friendly energy production in spite of its utility company.


A Road-to-Paris Team Work Party

On November 29th, 46 volunteers — some veterans, some new folks — showed up to help paint the grand banner — our 180-foot long red line that must not be crossed — plus posters, placards, and various types of signs for the December 12th March for Climate Justice through Balboa Park.

Outside in the shade on the north side of the Centro Cultural de la Raza, a dozen or so volunteers painted white text onto the long red banner.  It was a little chilly, especially when the breezes came through, but everyone was engrossed in the task of painting within the lines.

Jean Costa and Jane Blount paint "100% clean energy" onto long red banner.

Jean and Jane paint “100% clean energy” onto their portion of the long red banner.

Colleen Dietzel worksalong at mid-banner, or about 90 feet

Colleen works along at mid-banner, or about 90 feet.

The banner snaked into the kitchen and onto the table.  A piece of it even greeted volunteers beside the front door!  180 feet is a lot of fabric to paint!

The banner continues through the door and onto the kitchen table.

Preeta follows the banner in through the back door.

The end of the banner, with it's message of justice drapes a table.

The march will start with its climate justice message, which greeted volunteers at the Centro’s front door.








In order to make room for more of the banner to be painted, it had to be moved down from the tables and along the sidewalk around the building.


Getting ready to move the freshly painted banner to the drying area

Getting ready to move the banner in order to put unpainted yardage onto the tables required Hugh to come up with a strategy:  remove the weights, get lots of volunteers to keep the fresh paint from smearing and move slowly and carefully.

Moving the banner 1

Moving such a long banner required many hands.










Bev surveys the banner wrapping around the Centro Cultural.

Bev surveys the banner — a long red line — wrapping around the Centro Cultural. 

Meanwhile, in the main hall of Centro Cultural, an assortment of poster-painting and pennant-stenciling projects are underway.

Ian, Collette and Ania with the poster they designed and painted.

Ian, Collette and Ania with the poster they designed and painted with a message that speaks for those who will inherit the planet. 

Ian, Collette and Ania mug for the camera.

The three, having smiled for their “nice photo”, get a chance to mug for the camera.









Khanh and Juliet carefully stenciling pennants.

Khanh and Juliet carefully stenciling pennants.

 Marquiste and Anne-Marie

Marquiste and Anne-Marie create clear-to-read-from-a-distance posters.







A lot of work went into creating these colorful visuals.

A lot of work went into creating these colorful visuals.

Stephanie, Rae and Neal create posters with strong messages and visual appeal.

Stephanie, Rae and Neal create posters with strong messages and visual appeal.

Thank you to all the volunteers who came to help the Road to Paris Team prepare for the December 12th March for Climate Justice.

All in all, Sunday’s work produced some fabulous, camera-ready visuals.  But more needs to be done.  Join the effort on Saturday, December 5 at Masada’s from 10am to 3pm.

The Pope heard round the world

By Hutton Marshall
Originally published in the San Diego Free Press on September 24th 2015

The Pope is in town.

Not this town, unfortunately — he’s in Washington, D.C.  Today, Pope Francis will give a historic address to Congress, where he is expected to speak on the escalating climate change crisis. This closely watched event will further solidify his stature as an acknowledged global leader of the climate change movement.  He caps the year in Paris with an address to world leaders at the UN-sponsored climate-change summit COPS 2015.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis released his Encyclical Letter entitled “On Care for our Common Home.”  A passionate, comprehensive 40,000-word exhortation about caring for the planet, the Encyclical weaves modern climate science together with teachings from Catholicism and other religions, to build the case that caring for Earth’s climate is a moral obligation, a matter of justice for the poor and vulnerable. He thus breaks down the barriers between religion and science, and between environmental stewardship and social justice.

Pope Francis is by no means a rogue actor in using his papal authority to speak out on climate change. As the Encyclical notes, previous popes have spoken to the same issues.

Saint John Paul II became increasingly concerned about this issue,” Pope Francis writes. “He warned that human beings frequently seem ‘to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption.’  Pope Francis also notes that his conservative predecessor Pope Benedict XVI spoke out on the environment as it relates to economic justice and  “proposed … correcting models of growth which have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment”.

The Pope and U.S. Politics

By speaking with papal authority, Francis may be able to help jump-start America’s weak legislative response to climate change. The timing of the Pope’s address to Congress coincides with President Barack Obama’s new environmental regulations, intended to limit carbon emissions, especially from the nation’s dirtiest coal-fired power plants. The regulations promise a tough political battle; several conservative, coal-heavy states have already responded by suing the federal government.

Even if Obama’s carbon rules survive these court challenges, they can be rescinded the next time an advocate for the carbon industry wins the White House. Congressional attitudes must change if American efforts to combat climate change are to succeed in the years to come. Pope Francis, in speaking to a Congress that’s 31 percent Catholic, may be able to plant the seeds for such an attitude change.

Climate change as an issue of social justice

Since his election to the papacy in 2013, the Pope has emerged as the champion of the world’s poor, declining to reside in lavish papal housing and don the rich, ornate attire associated with his office. In detailing the impacts of climate change, he points out that poor countries suffer more from climate change than developed nations that typically pollute much more. Due to a variety of factors—less responsive emergency services, more fragile infrastructure—poor communities fare considerably worse when struck by natural disasters, which have become more frequent as ocean waters continue to rise and warm.

These communities also struggle more with displacement caused by climate change. Uprooting one’s life is hard enough with the money to do so. With native Alaskan fishing villages seeing their livelihoods vanish and Pacific island communities at risk of being swallowed up by the ocean, we’re seeing an entirely new class of refugees emerge around the world. The Pope has brought into the light that this trend affects those without financial resources much more than others.

American Catholics’ response to the Pope’s climate message

Surveys show that the Pope’s views on climate change still differ from those of many Catholics, at least in the United States. Nevertheless, American Catholics, 22 percent of the population, are slightly more likely to express concern about human-caused climate change than the average citizen.

As a subgroup of the US population, Catholics reflect the partisan divide we experience when discussing climate change. A 2015 Pew Research poll found that Catholic Democrats were more than twice as likely (62 percent) to feel concern as Catholic Republicans (24 percent). The same poll, however, showed an overwhelming majority hold a favorable view of Pope Francis and feel he represents a major change for the better for the Catholic Church. This gives hope that his strong stance on climate change can have a substantial influence on his American congregation.

Predictably, Pope Francis’ address to Congress has been polarized by the unending partisan lines drawn whenever climate change is addressed on the national level. Rep. Paul Gozar, a Catholic Republican, says he’ll boycott the speech, because, rather than address violent conflicts with religious undertones or the “persecution and execution of Christians and religious minorities,” His Holiness will speak about the “fool’s errand of climate change.”

The Pope has strong words for such obstructionist attitudes which, “even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions.”  As for political leaders who take such stances, the Pope asks, “Why would  anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary?”  Clearly Pope Francis takes the long view of history rather than the short view of any nation’s politics.

For our nation, it is disappointing that partisan loyalty trumps the opportunity to see one’s internationally acclaimed religious leader speak in person.  Yet House Speaker John Boehner, another conservative Catholic, has responded with a more open mind and with greater respect for his spiritual leader: “We are humbled that the Holy Father has accepted our invitation and certainly look forward to receiving his message on behalf of the American people.” The Pope and the Speaker will also meet privately during Pope Francis’ visit. It was, in fact, Boehner who issued the invitation to Pope Francis, the first time in our history for a pope to address a joint session of Congress.

The response here in San Diego to the Pope’s visit to the U.S.

Here in San Diego, the papal visit and address to Congress has inspired the creation of the San Diego Coalition to Preserve our Common Home, a name echoing the title of Encyclical.  This evening in response to Pope Francis’ address to Congress, the Coalition is sponsoring local faith, labor, community and environmental leaders to speak on climate action as a matter of justice for the poor and future generations.

Alliance San Diego’s Eddie Junsay, a community empowerment organizer and one of the forum’s speakers, applies this climate justice message at a local level:  “We need to make sure the voices of communities of color, poor communities, and youth are heard as these are the very people that are most affected by our decisions on climate.”

Karma Lekshe Tsomo, a Buddhist leader and Professor of Theology at the University of San Diego, speaks to the same issues in basic human terms: “The connections between climate change and social and economic justice are so clear — they all turn on compassion.”

The voice of Pope Francis is being heard around the world and has reached us here in San Diego.  He is speaking to all of us — not just Congress, not just Catholics.  Multitudes are responding to his call for climate justice.

SANDAG’s RTP is stuck in reverse

By Hutton Marshall
Originally published in the San Diego Free Press on August 26th 2015

Climate change is a local issue that reaches every corner of the globe. Human activities, especially burning coal, oil and gas, are pumping heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. More than any other time in human history, we’re seeing unlivable marine habitats, rising seas that threaten to subsume coastal societies, and, on land, increases in extreme weather including droughts, floods and severe storms. The changes are happening everywhere, but the effects are felt locally. And the solutions have to come from changes we make in every community.

At SanDiego350, a local nonprofit fighting climate change, we believe that San Diego is at an important crossroads where we must decide how we will reduce our contribution to Earth’s looming climate crisis.  Here in the San Diego Free Press we’ll discuss some of these issues, and how San Diegans can help address them.

To start, we’ll talk about an important struggle happening right now that will affect San Diegans for generations to come. The San Diego region’s 35-year transportation plan is growing famous throughout California—for all the wrong reasons. It threatens to detrimentally raise carbon emissions in Southern California and set an irreversible legal precedent for the rest of the state to do the same.

The 2050 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) was created by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), a planning agency made up of city and county governments, which handles regional issues. The RTP will be one of the most important things SANDAG does this decade—not just because it will shape how the region grows and changes over the next 35 years.  It will be a huge determinant of San Diego County’s carbon footprint in the 21st century, as transportation accounts for almost half (44.5%) of greenhouse gas emissions in San Diego County.

The proposed RTP will allocate $214 billion toward various transportation-related projects like freeway expansion, public transit and bikeways. While it does eventually allocate a healthy portion of money toward public transit and other relatively green methods of transportation, it puts spending on expanded freeways at the front of the line. The bulk of the public transportation spending would come decades later. That’s unacceptable for our transportation future, because it keeps us dependent on cars, with all the congestion, frustration, cost and greenhouse-gas emissions that go with them.

Shortly after the RTP was approved, the Cleveland National Forest Foundation, Sierra Club and several other environmental groups sued SANDAG over the plan, rightly pointing to its flawed environmental impact report, which underestimated how freeway expansion would increase greenhouse gas emission levels. The lawsuit was later joined by California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

The result? The courts have sided twice against SANDAG, most recently in the California Court of Appeals.

One would hope this would be enough to convince SANDAG’s board of directors that this plan needs changing, but we aren’t so lucky. The board voted almost unanimously to appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court, which has agreed to review the case.

It’s hard to see how SANDAG will argue this appeal, because the current RTP clearly fails to comply with state laws and executive orders calling for reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. In 2005, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an Executive Order that called for California to cut its GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and to cut emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Following suit, the state legislature passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), which echoes Schwarzenegger’s reduction target for 2020, and the state senate is expected to extend the life of AB 32 to 2050 in September. Finally, earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown issued an Executive Order requiring the state to cut its emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, setting an intermediate benchmark to previous goals. SANDAG’s proposed RTP is set to meet exactly none of these requirements, increasing rather than decreasing emissions over its 35-year timeline.

The most likely outcome is that the California courts will once again strike down SANDAG’s plan, forcing the planning agency, finally, to follow the law. Our regional leaders should do better than reluctantly meeting the minimum requirement for laws to protect the climate. We should be leading with a plan that shows how sustainable a region’s transportation can be. Instead, we’re trying to sneak by with the opposite.

The detrimental fallout from this battle goes beyond the future of the San Diego region. Ours is the first regional transportation plan to be adopted following the enactment of the aforementioned state statutes on climate change. Should SANDAG somehow succeed in their appeal to the state’s highest court, it would set a detrimental precedent for other regional plans to ignore important statewide goals reducing carbon emissions.

Supporters of the Supreme Court appeal say that the expensive legal process is necessary in order to flesh out the law’s effect on future regional planning.  Nonetheless, should SANDAG’s appeal somehow prevail, that would seriously undermine California’s future efforts to combat climate change.

What we have now is a planning agency that will be scolded by the state for its unwillingness to comply to clear state laws and executive orders. This is hardly an inspiration for others in the region—like cities now in the process of formulating their own transportation plans—to take bold action against climate change rather than contributing to it.

There are those arguing that a regional transportation plan that reduces auto use in the way we need to isn’t economically feasible, that such a change is too drastic. Yet, maintaining millions of individual cars and thousands of miles of roads is just an inherently expensive way to move people around a city. I would argue that in the long run, a greater focus on public transit and active transportation would be more efficient and cost-effective.  In fact, we can’t afford not to do it.

Some may also argue that regional governments do not have money to spend on transit and bikeways, but SANDAG already has the discretion to shift freeway expansion funds to projects expanding transit and active transportation infrastructure.

For those who would argue that substantial emissions cuts are not feasible, there are already two regional plans that show how it can be done, so it’s not as though there’s no model for SANDAG to follow. The L.A. region—with its notoriously congested streets—has produced a plan that actually meets the state GHG reduction goals.

Similarly, the city of San Diego, the largest municipality in SANDAG, has a Climate Action Plan designed to surpass the state’s greenhouse-gas reduction requirements. The city’s plan does this partly by making transportation—the city’s biggest pollution source—a key part of the solution. Surely if Los Angeles and the City of San Diego are capable of planning for a green transportation future, the San Diego region represented by SANDAG can be as well.

SANDAG has also defended its plan by saying that the RTP will be reviewed and potentially altered every four years. The problem with that argument is that it just puts off actions that need to be taken now. This is a deferral of the debate that needs to happen today, not years down the line.

We do need to act now.  Scientists are telling us that we need to act promptly to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Delaying action will only force us to take more drastic, and thus more expensive action later.

The RTP which proposes more freeway expansion isn’t even a realistic solution to the problem of traffic congestion. As with previous freeway lane additions, it ultimately results in more cars stuck in traffic than before. Multiple studies confirm this. We need to focus on projects that get people out of their cars, rather than incentivizing the opposite.

Proponents of the plan have also argued that the RTP meets other state goals pertaining specifically to Vehicle Miles Traveled (a standard measurement in transportation planning) contained in Senate Bill 375, which fleshes out certain automobile-related aspects of the Global Warming Solutions Act. But judging the RTP by that metric only reinforces SANDAG’s car-centric mindset. A more holistic approach that looks beyond how much we’re driving is needed if we as a region are to grow responsibly for the next 40 years. Claiming to reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled is an empty gesture if the RTP still raises overall greenhouse gas emissions.

We need an alternative to the Regional Transportation Plan that spends money for trolley, train and bus line expansion before it expands freeways. Bike lanes should be constructed sooner too. We’ve already wasted too much money arguing over whether the plan meets the bare minimum in the eyes of the law—a mediocre standard for a region with aspirations of becoming a global economic leader.

All of this points to a clear conclusion: Create a viable RTP alternative that prioritizes spending on green transportation, gets people out of their cars and onto bikes and transit, and protects future generations of San Diegans. Let’s create a plan that San Diegans 40 years from now will thank us for making.