How voters can fight climate changeLast week the City Council considered a proposal to let Mountain View voters set specific goals for reducing the city's carbon emissions. Then they unanimously rejected the idea.
The proposed measure, put forth by some (but not all) members of the city's environmental sustainability task force, would have asked Mountain View voters whether the city should push for an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and create a plan to meet that goal. Modeled after a Berkeley measure, it would have cost $25,000 to put on the November ballot.
The council was right to reject it, for two interrelated reasons. First, climate change is a global-scale problem, and from a policy standpoint it is best dealt with on the state or national level. Although reducing carbon emissions is also the responsibility of individuals, setting policies to do so should be up to our leaders in Washington, not City Hall.
The second reason was stated above: Reducing carbon emissions is the responsibility of individuals, and that means local citizens should do what they can to make sure they're living in an environmentally friendly way. But no city government can force them to do this. Conversely, no city government needs special permission from the voters to run its services, design its buildings, plan its streets — or even provide incentives to its citizens — with the goal of minimizing carbon emissions. They should just do those things anyway.
This last point was made at the council meeting by Cynthia Kapphahn, one of the task force members opposed to the measure.
"The council should take leadership, it should not be looking behind to find out if the community supports it," she said.
In light of all this, last week's street protest by MoveOn.org members was at least looking in the right direction, i.e. towards Washington. The protesters, waving signs with messages such as "Big oil buys another president," said they wanted the public to know that Republican Sen. John McCain would be a bad choice this November.
Why? Because, they said, his connections to the oil industry will lead to even higher gas prices and increased carbon emissions.
This is strange reasoning, since higher gas prices have been so effective in getting people out of their cars. Years of dire predictions and several-hour commutes had no effect at all on drivers. But gas hits $4 a gallon, and it's standing-room-only on Caltrain.
It seems to us that a surefire way to get even more people out of their cars would be through a gas tax. That's a policy no one at City Hall can set — but the next president would be well positioned for it. (We suspect McCain would be much less inclined to support such a tax than his Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama.)
Mountain View voters already have an important decision to make this November when it comes to climate change: Choose your next president wisely. As for the rest of the year, we can fight climate change by living responsibly — biking or walking, buying local produce, etc. — and on this score the environmental sustainability task force will no doubt be a great help and resource for the people of Mountain View.