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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 4:24 pm | A Few Clouds 66º


Tam Hunt: We Are All Environmentalists Now

A different kind of climate change is sweeping the nation and society

It’s about time. Yes, it’s about time the mainstream of America joined this party. For decades now, self-identified environmentalists have constituted about 20 percent of the population. Whether it’s due to reticence to label ourselves, or being turned off by the more extreme type of environmentalism, for some reason most Americans have not described themselves as environmentalists.

Tam Hunt
Tam Hunt

So what’s changed? Well, awareness is changing — which leads to behavior change. So even if people don’t want to label themselves as environmentalists, most of us are now acting like environmentalists. There’s a new paradigm in town and this paradigm is serious. (OK, sometimes a bit too serious.) I’m talking about concerns about climate change, of course. For most Americans, the debate over the need to take action on climate change is over. Our very own Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in 2006: “We know the science. The debate is over.” And it’s heartening to see that even those who don’t agree with particular plans, like those presented by Schwarzenegger or President Obama’s cap-and-trade proposal, aren’t offering criticism on the grounds that we shouldn’t be doing anything. Rather, they’re criticizing these plans on the grounds that they’re the wrong remedy or will cost too much, etc. This shift in approach is in itself a sea change.

A similar sea change occurred recently with the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. County staff brought before the board a set of “climate change principles” and a request to create a plan to reduce the county government’s own emissions 15 percent by 2020 — in line with California’s goals. On a board that is famously split between North and South, the vote was unanimously in favor of these two items! A third item, a request to create a plan for 15 percent county-wide emissions reductions by 2020 received just one dissenting vote.

For those of us who have been working on these issues for many years, it was a moment to be remembered. So what caused this change?

Many factors were at work, as they are in all complex policy discussions. But it seems that key elements were a growing awareness in the public about the need to mitigate climate change at the local level, combined with the state’s pending regulatory hammer, combined with billions of dollars in new federal funding for energy efficiency, renewable energy, smart growth and better transportation. And we can thank Obama’s follow-through on his campaign promises for the last factor. We can also thank everyone who voted for him, giving him the chance to put his campaign rhetoric into action.

We can also thank Obama for showing how environmentalists can be effective: calm, reasonable, reassuring and understanding. Too often environmentalists and other activists become overly frustrated with lack of progress on their key issues: “why don’t they get it?” we ask ourselves. What is so clear to us simply isn’t first on the minds of others who have a multitude of other concerns facing them.

This article is not meant to be a paean to our new president, however. Rather, it’s a paean to a growing awareness and concern for our environment among all Americans. It’s about time — but it’s certainly not too late to really make a difference.

As we celebrate Earth Day on April 19, we can expect environmental awareness to grow even higher. Please come to Alameda Park and join the Community Environmental Council as we celebrate our planet and the progress made in addressing climate change and achieving our “fossil free by ‘33” goal for our region. As we explore this year’s theme of “Life After Oil,” check out the green home we are building in the park for a Tea Fire family, see the new Tesla electric car and an array of other electric, advanced and alternative-fueled vehicles, and learn from hundreds of vendors how we can make the world a better place. Listen to some great music on the solar stage, have a drink at our new beer and wine garden (if you’re of age, of course) and share your stories about how best to achieve the change we know we need.

Click here for the latest information on the 2009 Earth Day festival.

— Tam Hunt is energy program director and an attorney for the Community Environmental Council. He is also a lecturer in renewable energy law and policy at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at UCSB.

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