By Matt Cutler and Melody Parker

On Sept. 25, the three most powerful public institutions in Santa Cruz spoke to a crowd of about 100 gathered in the courtyard of the Museum of Art and History, as allies in the fight against global climate change.

Santa Cruz Mayor Emily Reilly, UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal, and Third District Supervisor Neil Coonerty all had their moment behind the mic — powered by volunteers pedaling a stationary bicycle set-up on the side of the stage — before they all signed the Climate Action Compact (CAC).

The CAC formalizes an agreement binding the three powers to work together to set goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and to attract more environmental innovators and green businesses to the Santa Cruz area.

If all goes according to the proposed plan, signers of the CAC will have set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions substantially by Jan. 1, 2008; it also details a specific Greenhouse Gas Reduction Action Plan to be implemented the following year.

When he spoke to the crowd, Chancellor Blumenthal addressed the campus’s role in environmental issues.

This year the university has introduced an auto-sharing network called Zipcar (see sidebar). Blumenthal also praised the climate change practices already present on campus; for example, UCSC already offsets all fossil fuel use by purchasing renewable energy credits through PG&E. Blumenthal also noted his commitment to the campus’s ongoing research for renewable energy.

Signing this contract, which came only a few days after Blumenthal’s confirmation as chancellor, may be a step toward smoothing conflicts between the city and the UC.

Though both have struck one another with lawsuits over campus growth — particularly regarding the Long Range Development Plan’s Environmental Impact Report — County Treasurer Fred Keeley said, “The compact affects [the disagreement] in a positive sense. It reduces tension over growth, because growth has environmental impacts.”

Meanwhile in the city, Virginia Johnson, head of Ecology Action, said, “The CAC accelerates nonprofit work toward local solutions.” According to Johnson, the city’s involvement with groups such as Ecology Action has brought over $30 million into the community, at least a third of which was used as an incentive for businesses and residences to practice sustainable living techniques.

Mike Dalbey, professor of biology at UCSC, was cautiously optimistic about the compact.

“Adherence to the spirit of the CAC will vary dramatically, between people who will be ten steps ahead of [the CAC] and those who will deny to their dying breath that global warming is a problem,” said Dalbey, who volunteered at the event as a bicycle valet.

Fifth District Supervisor Mark Stone added, “The CAC is only a vehicle for implementation. Community leaders and members must act.” Stone also discussed the county’s new five-member Environmental Commission, which will be partly responsible for putting the new climate change policies into effect.

Neal Coonerty summed up the issue succinctly.

When he took the stage, he looked out over the crowd with his baby granddaughter, Claire, in his arms. He held her up and exclaimed, “Claire is why we are here … we’re here for the children, we don’t want to leave them a planet that is crippled and dying.”