Our world is still largely run on fossil fuels. From petroleum-fueled cars to natural gas stoves, we have relied on burning things to get energy from the beginning of human history. Decarbonization means turning a new page in our evolution, where we stop relying on fire and start using smarter, cleaner forms of energy.

Decarbonization means eliminating carbon dioxide from energy sources, and pulling this off will require a careful reworking of many of our systems. The good news is that we have proven solutions to decarbonize most of the activities that produce the majority of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This breakdown of Sonoma County’s 2018 emissions shows where these emissions come from:

The challenge is we need to move quickly to slow and stop the destructive consequences of climate change —  which will require a big investment and strong public support. Perhaps most importantly, we will need to invest in solutions that include all people and help mend the existing inequalities in our current systems. 

Developed by RCPA in collaboration with a broad range of Sonoma County stakeholders, the forthcoming Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy (SCMS) addresses these challenges and outlines a number of opportunities to decarbonize Sonoma County, several of which are featured in the latest Draft Strategy.

Drive Less Sonoma County Campaign

Transportation is the largest contributor to local GHG emissions. The Drive Less Sonoma County Campaign is a set of actions aimed at making it easier to get around Sonoma County without a car. During the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic we saw a huge rise in bicycling as citizens sought virus-free alternatives to mass transit. This campaign will explore how these new active-mobility habits can continue and make a lasting, permanent reduction in drive-alone trips.

One Drive Less action is to implement a network of low-stress bike and pedestrian facilities (such as well-marked and stand-alone pathways, bike lanes, sidewalks) that would allow safe access to major bus and rail transit hubs, schools, employment centers, and medical facilities. Another action is to implement the recommendations from the Vision Zero Action Plan to end traffic fatalities and make walking and biking safer.

The Drive Less campaign will also support a “next generation” transit system for Sonoma County that is an attractive and viable option to driving alone and provides equitable mobility for all. Few people only use one form of transportation, so creating a network of decarbonized options is essential for success.

All-Electric Buildings Campaign

Building energy is the second largest source of emissions in Sonoma County. The All-Electric Buildings Campaign will accelerate the electrification of existing buildings by taking advantage of new opportunities to meet almost all of our building energy needs with a clean electric grid.

The campaign proposes to integrate equity into building electrification plans by prioritizing funding for building electrification investments in disadvantaged communities; while also developing a date-certain, funded, and phased retrofit requirement for existing buildings to transition to all electric.

Zero Waste by 2030

The emissions produced by landfilling food and other organic material are also a significant issue. The Zero Waste by 2030 initiative will develop policies, programs, and education campaigns to eliminate waste sent to landfills.

At the heart of this campaign is developing a program to achieve zero organics to landfill by 2030. This would also require adopting a countywide construction and demolition ordinance that would support contractors to meet recycling goals for construction waste.

To achieve the needed shift in behavior, the Zero Waste by 2030 initiative proposes launching a community-wide zero waste campaign with a focus on reuse and reduced consumption. This will require working closely with each community in Sonoma County to meet residents where they are.

Decarbonization is not enough

We propose these high impact decarbonization strategies  to increase our chances of staying within a healthy range for human living and happiness. In a climate emergency, the most important thing we can do is to stop emitting carbon. The CO2 we emit today will stay in the atmosphere and influence the climate for the next 100 years, so decarbonizing is part of the “don’t dig the hole any deeper” principle.

But decarbonization is not enough. With CO2 staying in our atmosphere for generations to come, we need to find effective ways to pull carbon out of the air through sequestration, while also preparing for a changing world by strengthening our resilience. Most importantly, we will need to address equity to make sure everyone can make it through the changes ahead. 

What’s Next?

Our upcoming blogs will address sequestration, resilience and equity. The Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy will be presented to the RCPA Board of Directors on December 14 (check here for the agenda). In early 2021, RCPA staff will convene working groups to start developing funding and implementation plans. You can learn more and find ways to get involved on the Sonoma Climate Mobilization page.