Irvine has been a leading City in environmental action since its founding.  On December 30, 1971, at the second meeting of the Irvine City Council, the City Council adopted an Urgency Ordinance placing immediate restrictions on cutting down mature trees on private property.  In the 1980s, UC Irvine and the City of Irvine led the way in safeguarding life on the planet by eliminating the use of CFCs and other ozone-depleting compounds that were destroying the Earth’s protective stratospheric ozone layer.

Now, in the 21st Century, we face a new existential threat.  Global warming and the worsening climate crisis threaten one million species with extinction — estimated to be about 10 percent of the planet’s animal and plant species.  Here in the U.S., property on the East Coast, West Coast, and Gulf Coast worth trillions of dollars will be inundated due to sea level rise.

Action Taken, But Much More Is Needed
In some ways, the Irvine community has already begun to take action in the face of climate change.  For 10 years, UC Irvine has been among Sierra Magazine’s Top 10 “Cool Schools.”  UCI is #1 again this year, in recognition of its impressive environmental protection and climate-protection programs.  Meanwhile, the Irvine Unified School District has installed solar panels on its various campus rooftops and parking lots to green its energy source, as well as save money.

These are important programs to combat climate change, but much more needs to be done, especially by the Irvine City Council and our entire municipal government.  The plain fact is that we face a climate crisis that is a global emergency.  The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states we have until 2030 to reduce our global carbon dioxide (C02) emissions by 45 percent in order to avoid catastrophic global climate change.  We will see worsened droughts, diminished air quality, disease epidemics, and skyrocketing food prices if we do not hit this 45 percent C02 reduction.

This seems an insurmountably difficult challenge, but it does not have to be. The good news is that the science and technology of solar panels and batteries has — this year, for the first time — cut the cost of generating and storing solar power to the point that it is actually cheaper than power derived from fossil fuels.

An Irvine Climate Action Plan
The Irvine City Council voted in July to create a Climate Action Plan. City staff reported that a scope of work is currently being defined and a request for professional environmental proposals will be issued in November.  Let’s be clear:  To be of real value, Irvine’s Climate Action Plan must be bold!

Right here in Irvine, we have the resources and the motivation to get to net-zero carbon emissions and even possibly to net-negative within 10 years.  The City of Irvine has led with this kind of boldness before.  In 1989, then-Mayor Larry Agran and the Irvine City Council led the way to combat another existential threat — the destruction of the Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).  Our very own City Council adopted a comprehensive municipal ordinance to eliminate CFCs and other ozone-depleting compounds.  A year later, cooperation between the City and UCI’s Nobel Laureate Sherwood Rowland led to the creation of ICLEI, an international organization of cities now known as Local Governments for Sustainability.  This organization has become the largest force for bottom-up environmental protection emanating from the world’s cities.  Irvine must again become the City to lead the world — this time to dramatically reduce, or even eliminate, our carbon dioxide emissions.

Irvine Energy Independence
How is this possible?  There are three big blocks of energy usage by residents in our City:  electricity, natural gas for heating and cooking, and automobile transportation.  Fortunately, we have — right within sunny Irvine itself — enough solar energy to power all of our energy usage by residents.  Plainly stated, the solarizing of Irvine residential rooftops will provide all of the solar energy needed to power all of our household electrical, heating, cooking and transportation needs.

A truly bold initiative as part of Irvine’s Climate Action Plan must include a major municipal program to install rooftop solar panels on new housing, as State law now requires; and it must also include retrofitting older housing with solar panels.

Also, Irvine’s Climate Action Plan should include incentives for the adoption of electric automobiles. With appropriate municipal incentives, such as rebates from solar savings, this is doable. We can replace gasoline-powered vehicles with electrified automobiles purchased right here in Irvine — at Irvine Auto Center dealerships!

With the timely adoption of a truly bold Climate Action Plan, along with strong implementing policies, Irvine can quickly achieve energy independence and — once again working with UCI and other leading public and private institutions — become a world leader as a sustainable City.  We can make this happen! 

Dr. Kev Abazajian, Gianna Lum, Ben Leffel

Dr. Kev Abazajian is Professor of Physics & Astronomy at UCI. His research on energy and the environment has led to involvement in policy action for implementation of renewable energy.

Gianna Lum is Associate Director of Climatepedia. She is an alumna of the Department of Earth Systems Science at UCI and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Climate and Society at Columbia University.

Ben Leffel is a Sociology Ph.D. candidate and a Kugelman Citizen Peacebuilding Research Fellow. He is also co-creator of the Center for Innovative Diplomacy at UCI.
Dr. Kev Abazajian, Gianna Lum, Ben Leffel

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