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Los Angeles’ Sustainable City “pLAn,” A Four Part Series (Part I)

Taking an unserious plan seriously in four parts.

When Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord on June 1st, world leaders united against him. German Chancellor Angela Merkel immediately rebuked the U.S.: “The time in which we could fully rely on others is a bit in the past,” Merkel said. “I have experienced that in the past several days. And, because of that, I can say now that we Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands — naturally, in friendship with the United States of America, in friendship with Great Britain, as good neighbors wherever that may work, with Russia and other countries.” Newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron offered a kind of sanctuary to American scientists: “To all scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, responsible citizens who were disappointed by the decision of the president of the United States, I want to say that they will find in France a second home.” And France has vowed to stop granting permits for oil and gas exploration.

And within the U.S., local and state officials are promising, in the parlance of our time, to go rogue. The day after Trump claimed he “was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” in fact, the mayor of Pittsburgh renewed his city’s commitment to 100% renewable energy by 2035. Also on June 2nd, Jerry Brown, governor of California, flew to China to meet with business and political leaders regarding joint climate action.

Make no mistake, we live in a rogue nation, joining Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries not signed on to the Paris Accord. Nicaragua, by the way, refused to sign on in protest, correctly believing Paris does not go far enough to combat climate change.

But the rest of the world will step up. China is chomping at the bit, ecstatic at the economic opportunities presented by the vacuum of global climate leadership. U.S. cities and states are ready to work around the federal government to implement the pledges made in Paris, and well over 1,000 private organizations and government bodies have joined the “We Are Still In” campaign.

So take a deep breath, dust yourself off. Pat yourself on the back and go home, safe in knowledge that the #ResistanceTM is alive and well and Trump’s tiny hands cannot hold us down.

And such is the danger inherent in the low bar that is “better than dumpster fire.” Because if we look at the Paris Accord not from the standpoint of the politically expedient but instead the objectively necessary, we see a devastating failure leading us toward an uninhabitable planet. But it is UnityTM!

That is to say, the non-binding and woefully conservative Paris Accord can look like the heaven-sent answer to climate change next to the swamp of denial in Washington D.C., when in fact it is no such thing. (Side note: if you, like me, enjoy the slow spiral of depression and yearn for the sweet embrace of death, catch up on all the effects of climate change here.)

I mention Paris and Cheetolini for a couple of reasons. For one, it is good that our odious policies are finally being carried out by an odious man. Barack Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy and Hillary Clinton’s Fracking Department were far worse than our current administration’s futile attempt to bring back coal, yet they were seen as Very Serious People implementing a pragmatic agenda. So, with Exxon Mobile as our Secretary of State, we have at least ripped the mask off of the true horrorshow that is U.S. energy policy. It is not so good, though, that mere tokens of action on climate appear to be success stories.

Which brings us closer to home and to the subject of this series: Los Angeles. LA has a plan. Or rather, Mayor Eric Garcetti has a “pLAn” for Los Angeles to become a sustainable city. The most sustainable part of Garcetti’s pLAn is the fact that the paper it’s printed on can be recycled, and for a cursory takedown of this failure of vision and leadership see Dick Platkin’s article in LA Progressive, “Los Angeles Needs a Real Sustainability Plan, Not Just Good Intentions.” For a more comprehensive overview, read on.

Given Los Angeles’ reputation, deserved or not, as one of the de facto epicenters of progressive politics in the United States, you might assume we’re also leading the nation on climate change adaptation and mitigation. This is so assumed, actually, that we don’t even seem to see, much less talk about, the extensive fossil fuel extraction happening often literally in front of our eyes. The oil rigs pumping right now within our fucking city limits. Or the largest methane leak in U.S. history, too, right up the street in Aliso Canyon while Governor Brown’s sister sits on the board of Sempra Energy (SoCal Gas, who operates Aliso Canyon, is a subsidiary of Sempra). Or that much of our current power comes from coal-fired plants in Arizona, which means all those Teslas zipping past you in the HOV lane are actually bringing about our collective ruin faster than you are, assuming you weren’t a complete asshole when you chose your vehicle. And let’s not forget the worst drought in a millennium.

But the pLAn is to fix all that, right? Kind of. Much like Garcetti’s political career, pLAn is a purely aspirational document, as substantive as the coat hanger propping up Garcetti’s empty suit. There are no enforcement or funding mechanisms. But over the course of this series of articles, we will treat the pLAn as a serious document, a real policy agenda, and consider its goals in terms of the scientifically necessary as well as in comparison to the climate commitment of other U.S. cities.

The sustainable city pLAn is divided into three broad categories: environment, economy, and equity. This series will take up each in turn, so stay tuned.

Part II

Part III