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Lynne Plambeck: Energy use and individual responsibility

The climate

Posted: January 21, 2009 10:19 p.m.
Updated: January 22, 2009 4:55 a.m.

"Each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet."

Whether you support our new president or miss our prior president, these words from President Obama's inaugural speech Tuesday ring true to almost everyone.

Many of us have been working hard to change the way we use energy for these very reasons.

From Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signing of Assemblywoman Pavley's landmark global warming bill that will revolutionize how we use energy in California, to the county's new green building regulations for new development, right down to my church congregation's efforts to take a carbon challenge and reduce our individual energy use, various levels of government and individuals have been working hard to change the way we use energy.

But it seemed like such an uphill battle when the federal government continued to support the old oil- and coal-based economies with everything from subsidies for Humvees to enabling the continued use of old polluting coal plants without upgrades.

With our state leading the way and a federal government to support us, perhaps we will start to see those solar panels on every roof and new green building standards automatically required for all new development.

Even if climate change seems to be a natural phenomenon to you, our terrible SCV air quality, among the worst in the nation, should be a reason to embrace this new direction in energy production.

In our family-oriented valley, the high levels of ozone pollution particularly harm our children, damaging their lungs and causing increased rates of asthma.

Ozone is something that we in Santa Clarita don't like to talk about. For some reason, sports games go right on in spite of "smog alerts" that call for reduced outdoor activity.

Is soccer really so important that we should risk the health of our children?

We ignore the air pollution problem in development hearings by saying there is no way to fix it. Although the City Council admits it exists, members refuse to require the very mitigation that would begin to address the problem.

From ignoring Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment's plea to require green-building standards in the new hospital office buildings, to ignoring the problems of urban sprawl, our council has not availed itself of opportunities to improve our local air quality.

But besides the national support that will now be directed to changing our energy use, another particularly inspiring aspect of Obama's inaugural speech was the call to personal responsibility:

"What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task."

Many people were motivated to turn out for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday "day of service," many more than in the past.

Trash was removed from parks and streams, public buildings were painted, packages were assembled to send to our men and women in the services, and food was handed out to the hungry.

Hopefully, this is the beginning of a new era where we demand change from our government, but also realize that we must change our individual habits ourselves, as well.

For energy use, that means simple economies at home, like turning off the lights when we leave a room, replacing old light bulbs with the new low-energy fluorescents, only running full loads in the dish washer and washing machine and using drought-tolerant plants in our garden.

These seem like such mundane adjustments, but when 300 million people make them, we will surely reduce the need for new coal plants.

Is it time to replace your old water heater? Solar water heating in states like California and Arizona will surely reduce the need for that new LNG port that no one wants, along with the air pollution it would create.
Combining chores to reduce car trips and choosing a vehicle that is electric or gets high gas mileage, even bringing your own bag to the grocery store will certainly reduce our dependence on foreign oil. These are easy, personal choices that we can make every day to improve our environment by taking personal responsibility.

We must continue to demand change from our government, both local and national. We must continue to demand green building standards, even if it means demanding these standards for the new hospital and its office buildings.

But we must also change our personal habits. We must take personal responsibility for the changes we want to see. So please look around your home and take personal responsibility for changing the world by reducing your own individual energy use.

Lynne Plambeck is a Santa Clarita Valley resident and president of Santa Clarita Org for Planning and the Environment. "Environmentally Speaking" appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmental writers. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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