Editorial: Climate Leadership Lacking

It’s 2041. Global warming has accelerated faster than predicted, and the economy is in freefall. Our children ask, “what were our parents thinking in 2021 when they had a chance to take meaningful action and punted. Now it’s very late to stop the damage.”


Two recent events highlight the challenges of reducing global warming and the dire consequences failure portends. One with global implications was the lack of meaningful actions at the UN Global Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, particularly from countries with the greatest CO2 emissions like China and the United States (see Table 1 below). The second with local implications was the Del Mar Council discussion on November 1st about what our city could do (or not do) to combat global warming. 


Joe Manchin notwithstanding, the primary reason the earth is warming is the burning of fossil fuels. If we hope to reach a carbon-free future, we must take much more action than the global community has promised and failed to deliver. That means that taking local action (as the draft county Regional Decarbonization Framework concludes) is essential to making meaningful progress. Some have argued (including Councilmember Druker) that it makes no difference what we as individuals in small Del Mar do if China, India and Russia don’t reduce their emissions and the US federal government moves slowly (thanks again, Joe Manchin) to reduce the use of fossil fuels. But let’s reject that argument and say that local governments and our citizens can take actions that make a difference, much as the State of California has been a leader for our nation in addressing climate change and its consequences.


Table 1. The top 10 countries based on CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2016

Del Mar has made a good start by joining the Clean Energy Alliance and opting for 100% clean energy for municipal buildings. But the discussion on November 1st, which was put on the agenda by Deputy Mayor Worden and Councilmember Martinez, was disheartening even though it contained no action items. Councilmember Druker said that it is too late to take any meaningful action because climate change is already here and we should focus our resources on adaptation to rising sea levels, higher temperatures, more wildfires, and extreme weather events. He repeated the mantra that Del Mar is too small to make a difference in global warming, so let’s just prepare for the worst. Mayor Gaasterland had more positive comments but her remarks were mainly focused on small personal actions that Del Mar residents can take, like switching to LED light bulbs. There was apparent agreement on restarting meetings of the Sustainability Advisory Board in January next year (after a 2-year hiatus), but important city actions such as adopting a building electrification ordinance (like our neighboring cities of Encinitas and Solana Beach) or updating our Climate Action Plan were supported by Councilmembers Worden and Martinez, but these proposals were met with scepticism from others as requiring too much staff time (staff will return with time estimates). Even though the majority of the council viewed climate change as an imminent threat, the sense that Del Mar can be a regional leader in facing this challenge was missing. Our nation is the second largest polluter in the world. Baby steps won’t cut it, at the local or international level. We are facing a climate emergency and need bold steps and bold leadership now.