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A New Shade of Green

By Sherry Listgarten

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About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

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Local Pols Debate Climate

Uploaded: Jan 19, 2020
We have discussions in this blog about the relative merits of individual action vs political action, so I thought it would be useful to spend some time on the policy side of things by summarizing a recent debate about local environmental issues. This information may be useful for those of you who want to push harder on policy by campaigning or donating, or who just want to cast a more informed vote.

This past Wednesday evening (January 15), a number of environmental organizations (1) hosted a climate debate featuring five of the seven candidates for our State Senate seat. For those who don’t know, the California legislature consists of both an 80-person Assembly (2-year terms) and a 40-person Senate (4-year terms). Jerry Hill, who represents the Senate District stretching from Sunnyvale to South San Francisco (Senate District 13) is terming out, so his seat is opening up.

The debate participants were:
- Josh Becker (Democrat from Menlo Park), entrepreneur and non-profit director
- Michael Brownrigg (Democrat from Burlingame), city councilman and former two-time mayor
- Alexander Glew (Republican from Los Altos), engineering consultant
- Sally Lieber (Democrat from Mountain View), former three-term state assemblymember, mayor, and city councilwoman
- Shelly Masur (Democrat from Redwood City), city councilwoman and director of an educational non-profit

Annie Oliva (Democrat from Millbrae) was unable to make it, and John Webster (Libertarian from Mountain View) did not attend.


From left: Moderator Dave Pine, Sally Lieber, Shelly Masur, Alexander Glew, Josh Becker, and Michael Brownrigg

This blog contains only a summary of the debate, and an imperfect one at that, so those who want more fidelity and/or depth can watch the Mid-Peninsula Media Center recording when it is available after January 25 on community cable and on their YouTube channel.

Introductory Remarks
The candidates each gave two minutes of introductory remarks, reviewing their background (2) and interest in climate and environment. In this case, Lieber went first, though the order rotated with each question. She expressed concern about what she referred to as a “climate collapse”, and she hopes that climate work on the Peninsula will serve as a model for other places. Masur mentioned the broad impact of climate change and said that growing up in Alaska strengthened her ties with nature. Glew said he would like to eliminate coal, reduce petroleum use, and increase nuclear power. He expressed support for sponsor Citizen Climate Lobby’s carbon tax (HR 763), and ended with a joke about his name: “Glew, I hope that sticks with you.” Becker says he is doing this for his kids, and believes that California, with its large economy and innovative organizations, can be a beacon not only for the country but also for the world. He seemed to be the crowd favorite. Brownrigg expressed concern that we are not moving fast enough to address climate change, and suggested more aggressive state-wide goals for zero-carbon energy, plastic reduction, clean water, and transit.

Q: What are your top three priorities?
All candidates were able to list their top three priorities without hesitation.

Masur: 1. Education, 2. Health care, 3. Housing and Transportation. She sees all three as related to climate change, and particularly emphasized her desire for dense housing coupled with better public transit.

Glew: 1. Health care, 2. Environment, 3. Transportation. He wants health care to be cheaper, and pointed to some alternatives (e.g., as in Singapore). He would like to see more of an industry focus applied to our environmental problems, and he would like to see more people care about the issue. And he would like to see much improved mass transportation, citing our 66-minute average commute.

Becker: 1. Climate, 2. Transportation and housing, 3. Education. He cited several endorsements he has from environmental organizations, and noted his interest in moving rapidly and in a way that makes economic sense.

Brownrigg: 1. Affordability, 2. Climate, 3. Families. He said “our communities are eroding” due to a lack of affordable housing and transit. He wants to accelerate our climate initiatives, noting that if the “richest, greenest” government cannot have clean power until 2045, then where does that put the rest of the US, and the rest of the world? He also emphasized the need to adapt to sea-level rise.

Lieber: 1. Climate, 2. Social justice, 3. Education. She wants to “reverse” climate change and fight for equity and social justice, while providing more funding for education.

Q: How should we address the high up-front costs of emissions-lowering technologies like solar panels, EVs, and heat pumps to make them more available to more people?
This was a great question, but the answers were largely disappointing. The most interesting comments I heard were as follows. Becker seemed the most familiar with financing options, and cited a variety including solar leases and “clean energy mortgages”. Glew said he is not a fan of rooftop solar since it is less efficient than larger solar farms. He would prefer to see a residential focus on energy efficiency (e.g., insulation). Others talked more generically about their desire to address inequality.

Q: How would you speed our transition to lower emissions in the next ten years?
All candidates had given some thought to this.

Becker listed a number of ideas for financing, including Governor Newsom’s $1B Green Loan Fund, a climate resiliency bond, and strengthening cap-and-trade. He also suggested aiming for 67% renewable energy and 80% of light-duty cars as zero-emission vehicles.

Brownrigg emphasized the need to think about the “three-legged stool” of demand, supply, and sequestration. On supply, he would set up a multi-disciplinary task force to come up with a plan (in one year) to create 10GW of clean energy in the next five years. He suggested off-shore wind might be a part of that.

Lieber said we must “leave fossil fuels in the ground”. Specifically, she would ban fracking and break up the influence of oil in our state capitol, noting that lobbyists spent $200M to fight the previous attempt to ban fracking. She also mentioned the importance of efficiently moving water and power across the state.

Masur expressed her support for declaring a climate emergency ala AB 1445 to accelerate the state’s transition to a zero-carbon economy. She advocates dense housing and jobs near transit, along with improved transit. She also mentioned the need for better recycling infrastructure.

Glew expressed interest in cleaner vehicles (EV, hybrid, or lightweight aluminum) and would consider fees to spur research into better battery technologies. He would also promote home efficiency upgrades such as insulation and heat pumps.

Q: Are you willing to work with youth groups, and how, to apply pressure?
The answers here were largely “Yes” and “Kids are effective spokespeople for this”, though Glew added that kids should set their own examples, and chastised those who might be wearing sneakers from Asia (citing the shipping emissions) or driving to school.

Q: The impacts of climate change are accelerating -- fire, drought, sea-level rise. How would you approach this?
Most of the candidates mentioned protecting our bay, and thanked the moderator Dave Pine for his work in that area. Lieber, for example, said we need to stop building into the bay. Masur also mentioned forest management (as did several others) and the need to stop building at the interface. Glew chose to point out that if the polar caps melt, then the sea rise of 200+ feet is almost unmanageable, before suggesting that we be more careful with our water and move people inland. Becker added on the importance of carbon removal using forests, soil, and buildings. (He mentioned carbon negative building materials a few times throughout the debate.) Brownrigg emphasized the degree to which his city (Burlingame) is economically threatened by sea level rise, with many businesses at low water levels, citing “tough choices”.

Q: The lack of housing here means long commutes. Do you support (the updated) SB 50?
Only Masur supports SB-50, and she lauded the recent changes. All others cited the need for more focus on affordability and a desire for local control of zoning. Brownrigg mentioned a recent update to Burlingame’s general plan that allows for up to a 20% increase in housing near BART. Becker suggested that big employers should be required to match new jobs with housing. Glew pointed out that our “transit stations” don’t in fact get people to where they need to go, and suggested we focus first on transit that works, given our status as the fourth largest metro area in the country.

Q: How should we be using power shutoffs?
All candidates took turns bashing PG&E, with several suggesting we convert it to community or state ownership. Masur made the point that if we do that, then we own the debt. Brownrigg suggested looking at SCE, which has had far fewer fires, though Lieber mentioned that they have different vegetation. Many also advocated the development of microgrids, though Becker said that PG&E has been blocking that.

Q: Water is scarce. How should we prioritize its use?
Most of the candidates mentioned a need for more use of recycled water, more efficient distribution of water, and improved use by agriculture. Lieber stressed the importance of removing “toxic chemicals” from the water supply. Becker emphasized the need for more metering. Masur talked about the deployment of technology to make recycled water drinkable. Glew expressed support for more storage in the form of (carefully placed) dams, and lauded the hydropower that goes with them. Brownrigg expressed dismay that the Central Valley has been sinking due to the depleted water table, but said he is “incredibly hopeful” that we can reduce agricultural use.

Q: Ocean ecosystems sequester carbon. How should we protect them?
Most of the responses here acknowledged the importance of the oceans and then went on to talk about the need to reduce plastics in our waterways. Lieber added that we need to stop drilling off of our coasts. Brownrigg highlighted the acidification of our oceans and the impact that is having locally, for example on kelp beds. (3)

Q: Environmentalists are not a particularly diverse group. How can we get a broader set of people involved?
Both Lieber and Becker emphasized the importance of green jobs. Brownrigg recalled how French workers lamented that “Macron cares about the end of the world, while we care about the end of the month”, and observed that making the economics work is critical, and ensuring we build a future that is better for all. Glew emphasized the importance of education, and Masur the importance of promoting leaders of color.

Q: What personal attributes and skills do you bring to bear?
Becker emphasized his ability to bring people together from different disciplines (e.g., researchers and entrepreneurs). Brownrigg touted his diplomacy skills and emphasis on service before self. Lieber said she has found success helping others because then they help you. Masur described herself as a fighter who likes to build coalitions. And Glew said he is a logical problem solver who learns and then sticks to his guns.

Yes/No Questions
The moderator asked four yes/no questions.

- “Would you ban fracking?”
All answered yes except Glew.

- “Should the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) divest from fossil fuels?”
All answered yes, though Masur noted it would need to be done over time.

- “HSR has grown increasingly expensive. Should we stick with it?”
All but Masur would abandon HSR; Masur said we should “Maybe” stick with it.

- “Do you advocate the use of nuclear power to help us reduce emissions?”
Both Lieber and Masur said “No”, while Becker, Brownrigg, and Glew answered “Yes”.

My Take
This is a tough format, sitting under bright lights in front of hundreds of people answering questions on the fly with your competition. These candidates also have many issues to think about besides the environment. So while I was somewhat disappointed with the responses, it was good to see the interest in mitigating and adapting to climate change. It was clear that some candidates (e.g., Becker) have climate as a higher priority than others (e.g., Masur). It was clear that some candidates (e.g., Brownrigg) have more policy-making experience than others (e.g., Glew). I was disappointed that Lieber, who places climate atop her priority list and has a strong resume, did not have more specific policy points. I wish that Becker had been less comfortable with his “audience favorite” position, and had spent more time explaining his positions and less time touting his endorsements. I wish that Glew had been more confident in his role as the sole Republican on stage, and had shown us how a committed Republican party can aggressively address climate change.

All demonstrated some strong points. Becker has a good grasp of financing mechanisms and a strong network. Brownrigg has a passion for increased climate ambition coupled with affordability. Glew has a keen interest in technology and environmental metrics. Lieber has considerable experience working at the state level and a drive to fight back against oil and gas. And Masur is an eager learner with many related interests. From this debate, just on its own, I would favor Brownrigg as a candidate, since he seemed to have a good combination of commitment and hands-on political experience coupled with strong local ties, humility, and an easy communication style. But there is much more to these candidates. Becker, for example, has published a climate plan, and of course there are many more issues in the election. Kudos to all five for participating in this debate, and thank you to the sponsors for organizing.

I’m curious what thoughts readers have on the candidates’ positions and/or what questions you would have asked them. If anyone else went to the debate, I’d also love to hear your impressions.

Notes and References
1. There were five co-sponsors -- 350 Silicon Valley, Acterra, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Midpen Media Center and Sustainable San Mateo County -- as well as twenty-one “participating organizations”.

2. You can find the websites for the candidates for Jerry Hill’s State Senate District 13 seat here:
- Josh Becker (Democrat)
- Michael Brownrigg (Democrat)
- Alexander Glew (Republican)
- Sally Lieber (Democrat)
- Shelly Masur (Democrat)
- Annie Oliva (Democrat)
- John Webster (Libertarian)

3. AFAIK, there is no great answer to this question. While the candidates could have mentioned some of the controversial ideas being researched, such as iron fertilization or increasing marine cloud cover, the primary way I know of to reduce the temperature and acidification of our oceans is to stop emitting greenhouse gases and to remove carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. Even if we remove all the plastic, our continued emission of greenhouses gases will warm and acidify our oceans, threatening much of our marine life.

Current Climate Data (December 2019)
2019 was the second warmest year ever

Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)

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Comments

 +   10 people like this
Posted by SC Moran, a resident of Atherton,
on Jan 20, 2020 at 9:25 am

Sherry - thanks! Are there any local pols who still are deniers?

It looks like Glew, as the token R, at least recognizes the magnitude (certainly compared to most Republicans.)

Three are misled about the nuclear fantasy, however. Too expensive and too slow to get up to operation. Op/ed from 2 days ago:

"The World Nuclear Industry Status Report succinctly sums up the situation while sounding the death knell for nuclear: "Stabilising the climate is urgent, nuclear power is slow. It meets no technical or operational need that these low-carbon competitors cannot meet better, cheaper, and faster."

Web Link

We must implement renewables quickly, and doing so will continue to drive costs down. The demand for battery innovation will continue in it's 'hockey-stick' phase and new storage solutions will be implemented this decade.

As has been pointed out by others, even in this blog: a crash program for new nukes wouldn't generate it's first watt for a decade.

I look forward to a detailed, factual rebuttal from the poster (my West A-town neighbor, who's fiscal basket is in the nuclear arena) in the 2020 blog. Particularly without platitudes, addressing costs and implementation, with US specifics. Example: why did Westinghouse go bankrupt in nuclear? How much are we paying to continue the shutdown/cleanup down the coast at San Onofre? What will the shutdown costs at Diablo Canyon cost?

How many nuke plants do they propose in the US - ten? fifty? What's the current cost of the last nuke built in the US?? At $10-15 billion per, how much renewable can we add to the grid in a FRACTION of the time?

Again - great blog, full of facts and open rebuttal. Others could learn.




 +   9 people like this
Posted by Send Greta to talk to China, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jan 21, 2020 at 7:30 am

Sherry,

Nice article!

I'm glad that at least a few of the panelists saw a need for nuclear power in their energy portfolio. Hard to take any climate alarmist seriously unless they can see the benefits of this clean and inexpensive power source.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Question Masur?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 21, 2020 at 12:17 pm

Since Masur serves on the Redwood City City Council, how does she stand on paving over the Cargill salt ponds to build or to restore them for more wetlands? How has she voted on this issue?


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Masur Gets It, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jan 21, 2020 at 1:11 pm

Masur has not voted on Cargill Salt Ponds, because there is no actual proposal on the table, just talk of one (and shady maneuvers with Trump's EPA). That said, as a Redwood City Council Member, if Masur was questioned on a potential Cargill proposal, she couldn't publicly express a position or she'd need to recuse herself from all future quasi-judicial hearings on the matter. She has, however, stressed that this area is already often literally underwater, suggesting that she recognizes this is not a good location to put housing given sea level rise.

It's disappointing that this write up doesn't highlight more of Masur's advocacy for landuse and transportation reform as vital climate policy for our region. Adding more housing near jobs and transit is vital for our district, which has thousands of car commuters traveling long distances, sitting in traffic to get into our very expensive region from the north, east, and south.

Please see this recent medium piece for a more thorough explainer about why this is so important. Web Link


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Masur? I don't think so, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Jan 21, 2020 at 6:43 pm

Masur? I don't think so is a registered user.

I attended the debate and Masur seemed the least knowledgeable of them all. Her passions seem to be education and women's health. I got the sense that someone(s) are supporting her run as long as she promotes a set of policies that she doesn't fully understand. Brownrigg has it right on housing.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by actual cost data?, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on Jan 21, 2020 at 7:30 pm

> the benefits of this clean and inexpensive power source

Answer the questions of the first poster. The only reason we do NOT build nukes is the prohibitive costs. If there was profit in it (other than as a jobs program for the huge construction contractors) we'd have a lot of them.

Nice try.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by actual cost data?, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on Jan 21, 2020 at 7:32 pm

> a crash program for new nukes

btw - great line! Anyone want a CRASH program for a nuke in their county?

CRASH?!?!? Beautiful.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Time To Get Real, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jan 22, 2020 at 2:22 pm

The major league whiners about global warming are generally the most wasteful consumers to begin with (aka the educated upscale).

They are the ones who throw away take-out plastic containers rather than washing & re-using them until these containers are no longer functional.

This is why that crap ends up in the oceans while plastic manufacturing continues to rage on.

A suggestion...spend some time as an inmate in county jail (i.e. Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas) where just about every 'disposable' container or plastic tray is re-utilized in a functional manner BECAUSE the options are limited.

Bottom line...don't be a wasteful and arrogant disposer of perfectly re-usable containers. Paper is probably an exception but there is no excuse for trashing plastic take-out containers. Just wash them out & re-use them.

It's the Woodstock generation turned yuppies that initiated this environmental mess & many/most have passed the wasteful practice on to their children.

I just got out of Elmwood and am continually amazed at the cavalier & unnecessary wastefulness of the arrogant & ignorant upwardly mobile who are making global warming & climate change their phony political bandwagon.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Jetman, a resident of another community,
on Jan 22, 2020 at 5:49 pm

It is really hard to take these environmental hypocrites seriously when Dave Pine, and Party leaders like Nancy Pelosi, Jackie Speier, and Zoe Lofgren use their full weight to push airport expansions in San Carlos, San Francisco, and San Jose.

San Francisco owned and operated SFO is the worst with plans to spend $587,000,000 building a giant steel and concrete seawall around the perimeter of SFO so the bay area's biggest polluter can continue to spew greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere even as sea levels rise and flood the airport.

"SFO to surround airport with 10-mile wall to protect against rising waters"
The Mercury News ~ October 10, 2019 Web Link


 +   4 people like this
Posted by neighbor, a resident of Midtown,
on Jan 23, 2020 at 10:25 pm

jetman has a good point re aviation. let's add to that by considering other big components of a carbon footprint.

IMO, the most revealing answers were to the following question:

Q: The impacts of climate change are accelerating -- fire, drought, sea-level rise. How would you approach this?

none of the potential senators mentioned automobiles, agriculture, airplanes...or solar panels. our current senator, jerry hill, drives an electric car on his commute to and from sacramento. to me, that says something more than promises or pledges.

the question i proposed, but which was not asked, was - what do you estimate to be your carbon footprint in 2019? not only would this question have caused audience members to consider their own ghg contributions, but may have helped show distinctions between the candidates.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Jan 24, 2020 at 7:07 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@GetReal -- You make a really good point that certain environments, and particularly those with fewer resources, tend to be much more careful about reusing things. This was also the case a few decades ago, when we had a culture of reuse. Our culture has changed. I'm not sure that "arrogant" is the right word to use to describe this, though. At least in many cases, this is just what people have become accustomed to --they lack awareness. The question is, once people are aware of the impacts of their actions, which is gradually happening, then what do they do, and why? Habits are hard to change, but it can be done. Anyway, thanks for the thought-provoking comment!

@jetman -- Here is an interesting article from England about just that point (airport expansion vs climate). It points out that "Transport experts have long shown that supply of transport infrastructures induces demand, creating a sort of vicious circle.", which as you may know is the main reason that our planners are so opposed to road widening. Maybe they promote airport expansion because they believe there are few good alternatives, unlike with road transport?

@neighbor -- Interesting question. Can you be a committed environmentalist without addressing your own carbon footprint? And, if not, is it appropriate to ask politicians what their carbon footprint is, or at least how it's trending? This seems to me to be sketchy territory, but it's good food for thought for sure. Great comment!



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