To average citizens who want to make a difference, many of the world's most pressing problems-terrorism, the economy-may seem overwhelming. But if you're looking for a way to make a direct impact, however small, the environment is a good place to start.
High energy prices and limited supply, poor water quality and dwindling quantity, lack of recycling awareness, issues affecting the ecosystem in the U.S.-Mexican border region-at least some environmental problems can be positively impacted by changing a handful of bad habits.
Kurt Kammerer, the San Diego Regional Energy Office's director of programs, warns that while the imminent threat of rolling blackouts has subsided, the energy crisis has not. “We still have some real challenges going forward,” he said. “If we don't mitigate our consumption [of] water, land and the environment, we're going to have to build more infrastructure, more power plants, which means more emissions and more power use.”
To help stave off this bleak forecast, the Regional Energy Office plans to push its self-generation program in 2003. The program provides cash incentives to homes and businesses that produce their own energy with microturbines, small gas turbines, wind turbines, photovoltaics, fuel cells and internal combustion engines.
The office will also continue its focus on making renewable energy generation a larger part of San Diego's energy portfolio. Until recently, only 1 percent of San Diego's energy came from renewable sources, Kammerer said. That changed only when the state Legislature required San Diego Gas & Electric to use more; now about 12 percent of the city's energy comes from renewables.
Some critics have decried renewables, arguing they are too expensive to ever make up a significant portion of the energy supply.
“If you keep saying that, they never will,” Kammerer said. “When you look 30 years out and see the depletion of natural resources, then renewables look a lot more needed, and little incremental steps today compound themselves. Renewables need to be a significant portion of our supply.”
The San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club also promises to continue its efforts to focus attention on energy conservation and promoting renewable energy.
“We need to be... concentrating on reducing our need for energy,” said Sierra Club conservation coordinator Geoffrey Smith, “using more efficient lighting, turning off lights we don't need, and redesigning and engineering buildings to use outside air instead of using artificial conditioned air.”
In addition to promoting wilderness protection, water quality and conservation and smart growth that protects the county's backcountry, the Sierra Club in 2003 will focus more strongly on environmental issues facing the U.S.-Mexican border region. “With all the new focus on free trade, there are very significant implications for San Diego and the border region,” said Smith.
Specifically, the Sierra Club is addressing proposals by multinational companies proposing to build liquid natural gas (LNG) processing plants on the coast in Tijuana. “It's a huge LNG facility that would include a 1-kilometer-long port for seagoing vessels, and a 1-kilometer-wide breakwater. There's nothing there now. It would be a huge processing facility with large quantities of petroleum, storage tanks and lines to transport it inland and into the U.S.,” Smith explained.
Another important issue facing the ecology of the border region is a proposal to build a triple fence on the international boundary. Only one fence now divides the region. “The Sierra Club deals specifically with the environmental side, and [the fence] has implications for wildlife migration as well as [water flow] because canyons drain and flow across the border,” Smith said. “Blocking those [flows] would have serious implications, and not only for that 1,000-foot-wide area that will be cleared of vegetation.”
Marco Gonzalez, chairman of The Surfrider Foundation's San Diego chapter, says his organization plans to continue its campaign against coastal armoring and commercial urban runoff in 2003.
“Over many decades, we've managed to stop the natural flow of sand onto our region's beaches. As a result of our narrower beaches, we now see more dramatic impacts from erosion,” Gonzalez said.
The response to this problem thus far, he explained, has been to erect seawalls. They may protect the structure of the bluff, but they result in a smaller beach for the public to enjoy. “It's another example of the general public subsidizing the rich private citizens,” he said. “Surfrider wants people to take notice of the issue, whether it's [in] Oceanside, Solana Beach, La Jolla, or San Diego, and let the local governments know that they won't stand for it.”
Gonzalez reminded that it's illegal for anything but rainwater to go into a storm drain. “Every single sunny day we see gallons upon gallons of water running into the storm drains from businesses that either don't know better or don't care,” he said. “They use the water to wash their sidewalks, bar-mats, over-irrigate, whatever.” Gonzalez suggests citizens follow the course of water flows in times without rain and locate the source; then tell the responsible party to stop the water flow and that they're violating the law.
One of the simplest ways for San Diegans to make a difference for the local environment is by recycling. Nicole Hall, a spokesperson with San Diego's Environmental Services Department, says she hopes residents will not just take advantage of curbside recycling programs, but that they will also educate themselves about what can and can't be recycled.
“Different markets will buy different products. Some cities have Styrofoam. Some cities have margarine containers or yogurt containers. We do other things some [cities] wouldn't take,” Hall said. Plastic milk jugs, aluminum and tin cans and food boxes that hold things like cereal and crackers are among San Diego's recyclables. More information is available on the department's website.
San Diegans can also find information on the site about the proper disposal of furniture and old appliances. “Illegal dumping is an eyesore for a community and can contaminate the ground and groundwater, and storm drains,” Hall said. “Dumping a TV in a public area-that makes your community look terrible and may start a trend where other people think that [area] is a dumpster.”
The Environmental Health Coalition hopes this will be the year all sides can agree to make a park out of what's left of the pristine property lining the San Diego Bay in Chula Vista. “The last undeveloped property on San Diego Bay is about 100 acres on the Chula Vista Bayfront,” said Laura Hunter, director of EHC's Clean Bay Campaign. “It's a very environmentally sensitive area. It's really the last hope for public and community open space on the bayfront for the people of western Chula Vista.”
Now that a proposal to develop luxury high-rise condos there has been nixed, Hunter is promoting the development of a large park. “It would allow significant community space and public open spaces, and the jobs created with the small development projects there would be good jobs that sustain families,” she said.
When it comes to individual activism, the sky's the limit. “Citizens have the ability to make a difference in their own world in many different ways,” Smith said. That includes driving a fuel-efficient vehicle, making fewer trips in vehicles and working at home one day each week instead of commuting to an office.
Despite the common misconception that writing to elected officials is an exercise in futility, Smith says “it absolutely works. It's the elected officials that make the decisions... about whether to invest in a transit system, whether to enforce water and energy conservation measures or whether development is going to occur in the backcountry.”
“If you want to do something” to make a difference environmentally in 2003, Smith said, “there's something to do.”