Among California’s counties, Orange County stands out as the most populous without a Climate Action Plan (CAP).  The nearby counties with CAPs include Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside, and San Bernardino.  Only six of Orange County’s 34 cities have completed CAPs.  Among those cities that have them, many are outdated or inadequate to address the looming crisis of climate change.  Addressing the problem is important at all levels from individuals to international policy bodies such as the UN.  Clearly, cities and counties must be a part of the solution.

A few weeks ago I, along with thirty community members from throughout Orange County, attended the regularly scheduled meeting of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.  We came to urge the Supervisors to begin serious work on a CAP and to report their progress to the  public.  Five speakers addressed the Board on the issue.  This action was initiated by leaders of the five Orange County chapters of the non-partisan Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) representing close to four thousand Orange County members.

According to the Institute for Local Government, “Climate action plans are comprehensive roadmaps that outline the specific activities that an agency will undertake to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”  Orange County needs to set an example and encourage cities within its boundaries to develop their own CAPs.

A comprehensive CAP is an ongoing process and not simply a one-off report.  A “roadmap” sets the direction to be followed with a clear destination.  In the case of a CAP, that goal should be carbon neutrality by a certain date, with intermediate goals along the way.  The CAP then should outline the actions and policies that will result in achieving these goals, with dates and timelines for those policies and actions to take place.

There are numerous reasons why a CAP is important for Orange County.  The first is that the county needs to be part of the solution to the climate crisis and not a net contributor.  As important, the county must be responsive to the needs of its own citizens who are already suffering some of the consequences of climate change.  The failing bluffs in San Clemente that have disrupted the only rail corridor to our neighbors to the south, the increase in wildfires and the consequent health problems, and our eroding beaches are all indications that the county needs to act.

There are also opportunities that could come to Orange County with a comprehensive CAP.  It would signal to business entrepreneurs that Orange County is a friendly place to invest in clean energy enterprises.  The US lags behind much of the developed world in clean energy projects.  This must change and Orange County is ideally suited to be at the forefront of such investment.  Clean energy projects, both private and public, would bring good paying jobs to the area.  The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act includes significant funds for such projects.  Orange County could be a recipient of the funds, both as the result of privately initiated projects and public projects created by the county.

There are also direct financial benefits that could accrue from the actions taken as a result of developing a CAP.  An inventory of the sources of pollution will reveal numerous wasteful practices that, when eliminated, will bring cost savings.  Investing in clean energy projects will  be financially beneficial in the long run.  The cost savings that result in the the lower cost of pollution related health care could be the most significant of all. 

Given that the need for a CAP is so urgent and that it can be greatly beneficial to the county, the only question that remains is why hasn’t the Orange County Board of Supervisors developed one?  A Chapman University survey of Orange County residents in 2020 showed that 73% felt that climate change was a reality and only 8% thought it did not exist.  Since then the scientific evidence has grown.  The problems associated with climate change have increased world-wide and even here in Orange County.  The urgency to address this issue has only increased.

Good leadership does not simply respond to problems as they arise, but anticipates and plans for the future.  Carbon pollution in the atmosphere is the cause behind these climate related problems.  The County has the means to both plan to mitigate the problems that that are inevitable and also to be a part of the solution.

The Board of Supervisors needs to begin the process of developing a CAP.  The first step is to compete an assessment of the county’s contribution to carbon pollution. Next, it should outline policies and actions that can reduce pollution with realistic timelines that meet or exceed the California goal of carbon neutrality by 2045.  This process needs to be transparent with community input along the way.  There is no time waste.

Karl Reitz is Professor Emeritus, Chapman University.  He is a resident of San Clemente and co-leader of the Orange County South Chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.  He holds a Ph.D. in Social Science from the University of California, Irvine.  He enjoys his eight grandchildren and two step grandchildren and his walks on San Clemente’s beach trail.

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