By Laura Fishman
Temperatures are on the rise and humans are to blame.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control’s fourth Climate Assessment Report determined with near absolute certainty that human activity has directly caused severe global warming over the past two decades. The report went on to suggest that the probability that climate change came as a result of natural climatic processes alone is less than five percent.
“We’re using the atmosphere as a sewer to dump our waste,” Dr. Stephen Schneider told City on a Hill Press (CHP). Schneider has been actively involved with the IPCC since it was formed in 1988. He is currently the Coordinating Lead Author of the Fourth Assessment Report, Working Group II, Chapter 19: “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.”
“We’re going to have to adapt to our monsters, and put our cars on a diet,” Schneider continued, “And we can’t just do it in a week.”
In its 2001 report, the IPCC suggested a 66 to 90 percent probability that humans caused global warming.
Over 90 percent of the scientific community has since confirmed the 2007 report.
Susi Moser, a research scientist for the National Center of Atmospheric Research, agreed with the IPCC’s findings, and emphasized the importance for humans to recognize the effects of global warming.
“I think we should mitigate and try our hardest to stop emissions,” Moser said. “We can do a lot to stop emissions; if not, then we will have to spend a lot of money adapting—unless we want to suffer.”
Unfortunately, it looks as if the United States—who, as the world’s single largest producer of carbon dioxide emissions, accounts for one fourth of the world’s greenhouse gas production—has a long way to go before being ready to face the facts regarding global warming.
In 1997, the United States under President Clinton created the framework for what became known as the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty aimed to significantly reduce greenhouse gas production. But when it came time to ratify the treaty in 2001, President George W. Bush backed out. The administration cited concerns that placing a strict restriction on businesses’ gas emissions would cripple the economy.
The United States, in general, has yet to embrace the fight against global climate change.
Of 1,000 adults queried nationwide in a 2006 Gallup poll, 62 percent answered “no,” global warming would not pose a serious threat to their way of life.
You can count the people of Santa Cruz, however, among the other 38 percent that believe it will.
Many UC Santa Cruz students and staff—along with researchers and community members and the city council—are determined to stop global climate change, and their efforts have not gone unnoticed.
Due to a student ballot measure in the spring of 2006, UCSC became the first college campus in California—and the third in the nation—to run entirely on renewable energy, according to a Jan. UCSC Press Release. By increasing student tuition three dollars per quarter, the campus was able to purchase 100 percent renewable alternative energy. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently ranked UCSC the sixth-largest renewable energy purchaser among college campuses.
UC Santa Cruz professor Michael Loik, who teaches a class entitled “Forecast Global Warming,” believes that the campus is right to take action. Loik explained that if current trends continue, the city and surrounding region are set to face potentially considerable environmental damage in the future.
“One potential impact may be a change in our fog regimes that will effect the redwood forests,” said Loik, who has done extensive research in the Sierra Nevadas and the southwest deserts examining the physiological responses of plants and ecosystems to climate change. “We may also be more susceptible to wildfires in the future because of changes in the amount and the timing of rainfall, which affect the drying of vegetation, [and thus] the supplier’s cycle.”
Lisa Sloan, a professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UCSC, is another one of the university’s leading researchers on climate change. Sloan has also performed studies in the Sierra Nevadas and has researched the impact of global warming on California’s water supply.
“The snow pack will be reduced by about 60 percent in the next 50 years,” she said. “And the snow pack provides about half of all freshwater to the state.”
Not only are freshwater supplies in danger, one of the most significant global concerns is that an increase in temperature will cause Arctic glaciers and Greenland’s ice caps to melt, which will raise sea levels. Sloan believes that in within 50 years, a number of cities among the America’s coasts—including Santa Cruz—could be partially submerged underwater.
In light of this possibility, the UC system has begun to practice more methods of sustainability.
According to Marik Munn, associate director for energy utility services at the University of California’s Office of the President, the UCs now have a system-wide policy in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the university has just joined the California Climate Action Registry, a governmental group that monitors the greenhouse gas emissions from energy facilities.
“We’ve been instructed to pass policies that reduce greenhouse gases,” Munn said. “By investing in renewable energy, we’ve really stepped up to the plate and started taking it on.”
UCSC, in particular, now reports all greenhouse gas emissions to the public, while continuing to develop even more energy-efficiency projects. The campus is currently working to replace florescent lights with energy-efficient, low-wattage bulbs, and a plan is in place to update a special boiler plant—used to heat all the buildings on Science Hill—so that gas can be burned more efficiently.
As the campus energy manager, Patrick Testoni is in charge of studying UCSC’s energy consumption.
“It’s up to me to figure out how much electricity we’re using on campus, and to figure out how much renewable energy credit we need to buy in order to reduce the environmental impact of the campus,” Testoni said. “It’s important for the city to know that the university is having less of an impact [on energy consumption] and that we’re environmentally-conscious.”
Up until two years ago, none of the universities in the UC system ran on any renewable energy sources at all. In 2003, the UC Board of Regents passed a clean energy building measure that required 17 percent of energy consumed by the UCs to be from renewable sources.
Tommaso Boggia, a senior affiliated with CALPIRG, was a driving force behind the ballot initiative that switched UCSC completely over to renewable energy. Boggia, who currently serves as the co-coordinator for the UCSC Green Campus Building Program—a non-profit that promotes energy efficiency on college campuses—also works with other student groups, including the Student Environmental Center, in order to spread awareness about climate change.
“I’ve been trying to create a movement out of global warming, to try and unify conversations within [related] clubs in Santa Cruz,” Boggia said.
Several programs, such as the Education for Sustainable Living Program (ESLP), have been developed in part due to Boggia’s efforts. What started as a campaign for the Student Environmental Center (SEC) has since grown into a student directed class which invites guest speakers from around the world to come and speak on issues of sustainability.
Campus club Global Chillers, formed in fall 2006, is also dedicated to spreading the word on global warming. The group plans to make a sign visible to the public that would display the amount of carbon dioxide (in parts per million) being released into the air.
According to Tom Ivy, president of the Global Chillers, the earth would suffer dramatically should carbon dioxide levels rise above 450ppm—and there is approximately 375ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere right now.
“Everyone [performs] actions that create a lot of carbon emissions, but people also [take] actions that can prevent that,” Ivy said. “It’s urgent that we take action now.”
Fourth-year Brendan Banister, another member of Global Chillers, said that it’s not difficult to make energy conservation a part of anyone’s daily routine.
While UCSC as a campus has made a notable effort to stay green, Banister says that the university’s approach to dealing with increased emissions from its transportation programs leaves room for improvement.
“I ride my bike to school instead of driving a car,” said Banister, an environmental studies major. “But In my time at UCSC, I’ve seen an increase in parking facilities and a decrease in public transportation.”
Banister pointed out that a good place for change to begin would be to re-convert the gasoline used for campus busses back bio-diesel fuel.
According to Guy Lasnier, a spokesperson from The Office of the Chancellor, UCSC’s buses once utilized bio-diesel fuel—until the cost became too great.
Students like Angela Harris, a former waste prevention coordinator for SEC, feel that money should no longer be an issue since students—who have proven willing to accept higher registration fees in exchange for a greener campus—are now paying an extra fee for bus services as well.
“Last spring, [there was] a measure to increase bus fees, and the students voted it in,” Harris said. “I think that should mean an improvement in service, which should mean going into a sustainability direction.”
Lasnier confirmed that the university is looking to bring bio-diesel fuel back.
“We have every intention to use bio-diesel again if the cost difference gets closer and the quality and supply are consistent,” Lasnier told CHP via e-mail. “We continue to hope that bio-diesel will be available to fuel our fleet in the months to come.”
However, the potential return of bio-fuel would still only make a dent in the fight against global climate change. Harris pointed out that regardless of what preventative measures are taken by the UCSC campus, the problem remains—and the large majority of Americans show a continued lack of awareness toward global warming.
“There’s a lot of hope in certain administrators and certain professors, but there are always ignorant people who will consume and consume and consume without caring and without a second thought,” Harris said.
But, Harris insists there is no reason to give up.
“Though the country is not taking very much action on a national level to recognize global warming, cities and universities can still do something,” she said.
Professor Sloan, who is also a vice provost and Dean of Graduate Studies, applauded UCSC’s progressive efforts.
“You’d think the big UC schools would be leading the way,” Sloan said. “But Santa Cruz seems to be more innovative and willing to try new things—[UCSC] realizes that change needs to be made.”
The city is doing its part, as well.
On Jan 3, Santa Cruz mandated the Green Building Ordinance, requiring all new construction projects in Santa Cruz to comply with green building regulations to help lower carbon emissions. Santa Cruz also belongs to The Cities for Climate Protection Program, which works to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions.
“Energy efficiency is key,” said Santa Cruz Public Works operations manager Mary Arman. “The less energy we use, the less coal and natural gas will be burned for energy.”
Dr. Schneider is hopeful that there’s still time to make a difference—not just in Santa Cruz, but across the world.
Claire Walla contributed to this report.