My take on the ARB Scoping Plan

What did I really think of the Scoping Plan? I skimmed it, really read the sections I was more interested in. I was mildly surprised that they think they can make huge reductions with low-hanging fruit, but I have no gut feeling for the scope of carbon emissions. They ran actual models and will show you their calculations and having no internal way to judge their predictions, I am inclined to believe them. I thought a couple other things.

When the first draft Scoping Plan came out, a predominant theme in the public comments was that the land use section and the agriculture section were too weak. Neither required enough emission reduction, both sectors got off too easy*. I laughed and laughed. Of course they did. That was foreordained. Edward Tufte says that any product looks like the entity that produced it. The California state government wrote the Scoping Plan, and the Scoping Plan looks just like the state government. All the little sectors divided out just like departments, with weak control over land use and agriculture.

The other thing I thought was that the Scoping Plan missed an opportunity. They laid out the reasonable sectors and asked people, hundreds of people, to say what you could do to reduce emissions in each sector. To my knowledge, what they never did was ask for any other kind of thought. If there is more out there, they’ll never hear about it that way.

And there is more out there. A very conspicuous example is that eating less meat and dairy will result in emissions reductions**, especially in California, which is a cattle and dairy state. But that gets no mention in the Scoping Plan. I thought the Air Board should have had a chapter called “Longshots, Crazytalk and Taboo”. They could have said up front that none of them would be mandatory in the first round of the Scoping Plan, so let loose! Who knows what they would have gotten. Who knows what the signal to noise ratio would be. But the cost of holding public meetings is pretty low, so if one or two ideas panned out, it would be worth it. The other thing that could happen is that it could flush some taboo ideas (an advertising campaign to reduce meat consumption) in a non-threatening way. It would have prepared the conversation for next time. But they never prompted people, “tell us something crazy, but might work”, and so no one did. We didn’t hear any new ideas in this round of the Scoping Plan (besides the idea of the plan itself), so I don’t know what is in the hopper for the next round, when the low-hanging fruit is gone.

*There are reasons, of course. Land use and agriculture aren’t point sources for carbon emissions, and Air Board staff wanted quantifiable amounts that they target with regulation. They didn’t feel the very first Scoping Plan could address diffuse, landscape size, hard to measure, hard to control carbon emissions. They thought they could get enough gains in the other sectors to meet their target. They knew the legislature was about to address land use. They figured they could work on the problem for a few years and come back to it in the next Scoping Plan. I’m sure they will.

**California grows feed for dairy and beef cattle. It takes energy at the pumps to move and apply water to the feed crops. It takes gas or diesel to tend and harvest the crops and move the feed. Dairies and CAFO’s are large sources of methane. Moving the meat takes gas or diesel. Reducing the amount of meat in our diet cuts down on all of those emissions very quickly, within a season.

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