Palm Beach County plans a little peer pressure to help tackle climate change.
The county is updating its air pollution inventory, which estimates the damaging greenhouse gases generated each year by different segments of the community, from neighborhoods to industrial areas. And county government facilities are getting even closer scrutiny, with the county planning to compile new emissions estimates for everything from county offices to street lights.
The idea is that by showing where the pollution is coming from, residents, businesses and local governments will be encouraged to take steps to reduce the greenhouse gases generated when using fossil fuels. It\’s all part of a regional effort to find local ways to head off the effects of climate change.
\”One county is not going to be able to do everything on its own,\” said Natalie Schneider, who coordinates Palm Beach County\’s efforts to combat climate change. \”Once you start building an ethic to save water or reduce energy consumption it becomes infectious.\”
Palm Beach County is reacting to scientists\’ projections that greenhouse gases from manmade pollution trap too much of the sun\’s heat, melting ice sheets and raising sea levels.
Some elected officials, from Washington, D.C. to Tallahassee, question the severity of climate change projections as well as the role manmade pollution plays. But South Florida officials have said the region can\’t afford to ignore the warnings.
Low-lying South Florida is particularly vulnerable to the rising seas, supercharged storms and other hazards scientists expect from pollution-fueled climate change.
Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties in 2009 started the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact. The goal is to collaborate on efforts to avoid or adapt to problems that a warming Earth and rising waters could bring.
South Florida sea levels are projected to rise 3 to 7 inches by 2030 and up to 2 feet by 2060, according to scientific projections compiled by the four-county group.
Creating the greenhouse gas inventory is one of the proposals in the four-county agreement that identifies ways to combat climate change.
The effort seems to be working. The initial regional inventory, released in 2011, found that greenhouse gas emissions in the four counties dropped to 64.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2009, down from 69.7 million metric tons in 2005. And Palm Beach County, the third-most populated of the four counties, in 2009 had the third-most emissions, or 24 percent. The updated regional greenhouse gas inventory as well as the new Palm Beach County government facilities estimates are expected to go online in 2016.
For both approaches, proponents say that tracking the trends of greenhouse gas emissions can show where progress is being made and also where more energy efficiency efforts are needed. Using energy more wisely is good for the environment and helps save taxpayers\’ money as well, said Bonnie Finneran, an environmental director for the county\’s Environmental Resources Management department.
\”It\’s knowing what your energy use is and meeting goals to not negatively impact the environment,\” Finneran said.
But the regional climate change plan won\’t work unless local officials start putting more of its recommendations into place, according to the Sierra Club.
While Palm Beach County is pressing forward with the greenhouse gas inventory, the County Commission has also been changing building rules to make it easier to develop farmland near the northern reaches of the Everglades. Local governments need to protect remaining green spaces to help lessen South Florida\’s carbon footprint, according to Jonathan Ullman of the Sierra Club.
Ullman maintains that local officials should \”say, \’We are ground zero. We need to reduce carbon now. I\’m just not seeing it on the scale that it needs to happen,\” he said.
Energy efficiency improvements are already under way at Palm Beach County facilities, from installing low-energy lights to incorporating more hybrid cars, buses and utility trucks into the county\’s fleet.Longer-term efforts could include finding ways to make biking and public transportation a more attractive alternative to cars for local residents.
\”It\’s important to understand where your base lines are before you go about trying to change things,\” Schneider said. \”To understand what\’s going on and work with where we can find efficiencies and bring those emissions down.\”