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Lefty Logic

Why I'm not making fun of Berkeley

By Novella Carpenter

Special announcement: I'm going to graduate school! That's right, I took the GRE, wrote numerous statements of purpose and took out a bunch of student loans. University of California Berkeley--that bastion of free speech, that place where my mom went to college and partook in radical sit-ins--I now call my own. So far, it's been a lot of paper writing and getting up way too early in the morning. Graduate school has also exposed me to a city I never cared to care about: Berkeley, Calif.

It's fun to make fun of Berkeley. Did you know the city passed an ordinance that says restaurants can't use styrofoam takeout containers? That coffee sold in restaurants must be fairly traded? Now the city of Berkeley has announced that it is following the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse emissions.

For those of you from planet Mars, the Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty that attempts to reduce greenhouse gases worldwide. Bush didn't sign the protocol (of course). Because the United States has never signed on, Berkeley's following of the mandate is voluntary.

At a press conference I went to the other week, Tom Bates, the mayor of Berkeley, stood behind two bar graphs that illustrated the city's 14 percent reduction of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

"This is good for our environment, and it's also good for our bottom line," Bates said. He pointed out that the city has saved $370,000 by replacing 20 city vehicles with CarShare vehicles, by using hybrids and by using biodiesel, a vegetable-based fuel that significantly reduces carbon dioxide, in its municipal fleets. The street sweepers, garbage trucks and many other city vehicles run on B20, a blend of 20 percent biodiesel, 80 percent diesel. Though that isn't my favorite blend, it is refreshing to ride my bike behind a garbage truck that smells a little bit like fries, and it still allows Berkeley to meet Kyoto Protocol goals.

At the press conference I also met Tom Kelly of KyotoUSA, an organization that coordinates local actions to reduce greenhouse gases. KyotoUSA's concept is that if the federal government isn't going to address global warming--even though the United States produces 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases--at least cities can affect change. So far, over 150 different cities have joined a coalition that promises to take local action to reduce global warming. Berkeley is also making plans to join four other cities--Oakland, Boulder, Chicago and Portland, Ore.--to sign on the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX). The CCX facilitates something called "carbon credit trading." This means that members of the CCX who fail to reduce their emissions by 1 percent must buy credits from members who were able to reduce their emissions by more than 1 percent.

In order to join the CCX, Berkeley first has to calculate how much it is polluting, then the CCX looks these numbers over and verifies them, and the carbon trading begins! Cities like Berkeley, which reduced emissions by 14 percent, are in a cherry position, because other CCX members include IBM, Ford and DuPont, who might need to buy credits from Berkeley.

Some of you might be wondering, as I did, why anyone would join a voluntary exchange where you might have to be punished? Oftentimes businesses and cities join CCX to get practice trading carbon credits, with the idea that they will be mandated by the feds eventually. Many of the companies, too, are international, so they are being forced to trade carbon credits anyway.

"Every gallon of gas used creates 20 pounds of CO2," said Nancy Skinner, a former city council member integral to making the initial energy inventory. "When we use biodiesel, it reduces that down to five pounds. We use thousands of gallons a fuel every month, so you can see how we could take these savings, sell them as credits and then reinvest that money in more energy-saving programs."

Linda Miao, a former city council member attending the press conference, said, "If we're going to make a difference in the future, it has to happen at the local level."

Well, that's my new city. They call it Berserkley, but it sure makes a lot of sense sometimes.

From the September 28-October 4, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© 2005 Metro Publishing Inc.

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