Editorial: Leadership Lost

Climate change is accelerating faster than predicted, and meaningful action cannot be delayed any longer without dire consequences. Two recent publications, one international (Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and one local (San Diego County Regional Decarbonization Framework (RDF), currently in draft form pending public comments) come to this same unsettling conclusion. We don’t need to enumerate the dire consequences because: 1) many are already apparent if you live in Del Mar and are paying attention; and 2) citing dire outcomes has not led to a sense of urgency in combating climate change. Like many other issues (e.g., response to the COVID-19 pandemic), climate change has been politicized to the point of outright denial.


Del Mar adopted a Climate Action Plan (CAP) in 2016 that included many adaptation plans that would have helped reduce our carbon footprint, if implemented, by 2035. Unfortunately, this plan was not legally binding and has been viewed (or dismissed) as an aspirational document.


Some progress has been made, such as joining the Clean Energy Alliance and securing a cleaner energy supply. But most of the goals and strategies in the CAP have not been implemented. Changes to transportation, the largest local source of greenhouse gas emissions, have been limited. Staff and budget cutbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic are one reason for the lack of progress, but council inaction is an obvious problem.  Leadership in adapting to climate change has been ceded to neighboring cities, and, surprisingly, the County of San Diego, with a history of court-rejected CAPs until the 2020 elections. 


During the recent Del Mar Council goal-setting priority meeting, most action on implementing the CAP goals was deferred for a lack of staff time, money, or both. The most disheartening statement was from long-term Council Member David Druker, who said: “We as a city don’t have a whole lot of effect on climate change at this point” and that a top priority was “to reduce the ocean from inundating the first row of houses on the beach.” 


The county RDF document asserts that local action is necessary in the absence of meaningful federal action on climate change. To put the RDF’s insights into action, regional governments including Del Mar should support state legislation (AB 1640) authorizing SANDAG to co-establish a Regional Climate Network with cities to leverage resources and facilitate collaboration and cooperation among our diverse communities. We agree, and it is time for bold leadership since the technical tools for needed changes are available, but the political will is lacking. It is time for our council to stop kicking the can down the road, and to reassert the leadership role they have ceded to others. Otherwise, you are dooming our children and grandchildren a bleak future they don’t deserve.