In August 2021, leaders within the city of Irvine voted in favor of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. Officially titled the Irvine ACHIEVES (Address Climate Change in Irvine’s Environment, Values, and Energy Sources) resolution, the program was created by Irvine’s Green Ribbon Environmental Committee and set out the intention of reaching a carbon neutral future five years ahead of California’s zero-carbon goal of 2035.
Yet, a year later, climate activists and environmental experts in Orange County say they are disappointed with the lack of progress Irvine has made on its climate goals. And now the fear is that unless Irvine takes significant steps in order to reach these goals, some climate milestones may already be out of reach.
To address this concern, more than two dozen organizations in Orange County co-signed a document titled, “Irvine Must Act Now to Meet Its 2030 Carbon Zero Commitment,” which was dated August 10.
The letter was addressed to Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan and the City Council and calls for the immediate electrification of buildings and the elimination of natural gas in new development within Irvine.
“Every home built in Irvine with gas pipes and appliances puts Irvine families at risk,” a portion of the letter read. “In order to be the climate leader that Orange County needs and protect Irvine families, Irvine must stop allowing the construction of buildings that use gas as a fuel, and help existing homes replace gas appliances with electric appliances. 60 California cities and counties have now committed to phasing out gas in new buildings, including the other two Cool City Challenge winners – Los Angeles and Petaluma. Irvine’s absence is notable.”
Ayn Craciun, OC Policy Manager of Climate Action Campaign, a grassroots nonprofit organization, spoke to Irvine Weekly via phone to discuss the letter.
“We were very supportive of them joining the Cool City Challenge and adopting that 2030 zero-carbon resolution,” Craciun said. “But, unfortunately, what we’ve seen in reality is Irvine is not following through on that cool city commitment to reach zero carbon by 2030. The city manager has been saying that instead of reaching zero carbon by 2030, we should just stay in line with the state’s goals – carbon neutrality by 2045 – which would mean Irvine postponing its climate promises for 15 years.”
On September 28, Craciun spoke on a sustainability panel, hosted by 2nd District Supervisor Katrina Foley. During her comments, Craciun pointed out that less than 20% of cities in Orange County have adopted climate action plans. From her perspective, Orange County is falling far behind its neighboring county of San Diego.
“Only 14% of cities in the county have adopted a climate action plan – compared to San Diego County that is at 95% [of cities that have climate action plans],” Craciun said in her comments during the panel.
The lack of action in Irvine is a “scandal” given the current climate crisis. Given the current landscape, Craciun said the coalition letter written to council outlines several additions to the city’s climate action plan that she hoped would be implemented.
Craciun also emphasized that the gas industry is also playing a role in the rate at which Irvine adopts climate policy.
“The Southern California Gas Company is a long-time opponent of climate policy. We know that SoCal Gas and their team of lobbyist in Orange County has been meeting with city staff and the elected officials there, and trying to get them to postpone inevitable and necessary action – especially on this building modification policy,” she said. “Numerous environmental and health organizations have come out in opposition to it, because it is a delay tactic from the gas industry.”
Craciun’s comments come at a time when environmental experts everywhere are emphasizing the dangers of climate change and continue to push for the reduction of greenhouse gasses.
In 2021, Michael Prather, UC Irvine Professor of Earth Sciences, contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In his findings, Prather warned that there is no technology available that will help us correct this climate crisis, and there probably will never be.
As environmental alarms sound, more populations will be forced to adapt to these environmental impacts at a rate never seen before, Prather explained.
“The climate crisis is at a point where we don’t have time to fiddle around and distract ourselves with ideas that are not going to take necessary resources away from technologies that work today, that can be implemented, and have been implemented by 60 cities in California,” Craciun said.
Dr. Kathleen Treseder, a candidate for the Irvine City Council and a professor at UC Irvine, has spent the last 20 years studying biology, fungi, ecosystems and global change. In a phone interview with Irvine Weekly, Treseder explained that she was optimistic to see Irvine adopt the ACHIEVES resolution last year. But now she is less optimistic the city can follow through with its promises.
“2030 is coming up really fast – since there has been not as much action on those [policies] as we had hoped. Although one thing I’m really pleased about is that the City Council did vote for the city to put on 100% renewable energy for residents and customers in the OC Power Authority,” she said. “That’s a big step toward that goal.”
Treseder was also involved with Irvine’s Cool Block Challenge.
The Cool Block Challenge was part of Irvine’s Cool City Challenge and started as a call to action by the city of Irvine, seeking 200 volunteers to help form environmental community groups, known as Cool Block Teams. Funded by the Empowerment Institute, Irvine was awarded $1 million for its efforts in organizing local teams.
Treseder, who became a Cool Block leader, said she supports educational programs of this nature, but added that it takes a lot of climate responsibility away from the city – by putting the action on the residents.
“I don’t think that program itself will add a big change in the city’s carbon goals. It’s a bit limited and not every resident is going to join that. What I don’t want to see is organizations or municipalities putting the work back on individuals to fix the climate,” she said. “Individuals have some ability to moderate their activities and try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but cities have so much more [ability] including ordinances they can pass and city-wide programs. I get worried the city might be embracing a program because it kind of lets them put the onus back on the residents.”
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