The Thomas fire, now the largest in California history, swept through parts of Ventura County leaving fear, destruction, massive loss and plumes of smoke clearly viewable from outer space. The links to climate change are undeniable. While scientists have long issued dire warnings about humanity’s direction in this respect, they have often gone unheeded. Nature itself is now demanding that we no longer ignore the reality of our less hospitable world. Our seriously degraded atmosphere, impacted by greenhouse gases, no longer allows excess heat to escape resulting in the rise of the surface temperature of the entire planet. Our choice is simple: either reduce and stabilize levels of these heat-trapping gas emissions and/or adapt to the climate change already in play. There remains hope for humanity that relief can come, although it may be decades from now and only if we completely change course in the next three to four years.

Our state has set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 14 tons of carbon dioxide for every man, woman and child in California down to about 10 tons per person by 2020. Translating such goals into effective action requires educated masse action and that entrenched interests give way. 

Community Choice Energy (CCE), enabled by our state legislators in 2002, allows for counties and cities to join in a plan that gives their ratepayers cleaner, cheaper energy. After serious consideration, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors led by Linda Parks, District 2, with Steve Bennett, District 2, and John Zaragoza, District 5, and encouraged by community members, voted Dec. 12 to join Los Angeles Community Choice Energy (LACCE).    

Many California cities have already successfully taken this step. Lancaster has been rapidly converting towards 100 percent renewable energy by 2020. Just as Ventura County has geared up to join LACCE as an ally in rebuilding in our own neighborhoods destroyed by fire and in negotiating for cost-effective, resilient renewable energy, this effort has suddenly come under unexpected, and possibly illegal, challenge. 

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), in violation of the explicit instructions of the California legislature and in a departure from its own protocols and legal requirements to “designate the earliest possible effective date for implementation of a community choice aggregation program,” is attempting to delay our participation and that of many other CCEs. The resolution (E-4907) proposes a one- to two-year review process for each new or expanding CCE on the pretense of preventing “double procurement,” which they say is necessary to assure adequate energy supply. The CPUC has only given the three weeks during the wildfires and holidays for public comment (deadline Jan. 4) before a vote Jan. 11 with no chance for a public hearing about simple fixes that can allow CCEs to move forward.

This move by the CPUC favors the interests of So Cal Edison who recently proposed a new, bigger long-distance transmission line to bring renewable energy to our area. So Cal Edison prefers this approach to one where local CCEs take control of planning distributed solar generation from rooftops and parking lots and offshore wind that is much less vulnerable to wildfires or earthquakes.

This effort by the utilities and their captured regulators slow the inevitable development of local energy democracy, resilience and speedier emissions reductions. The CPUC is supposedly protecting the public, but it has historically been out of step with the transition to a clean energy economy and resolution E-4907 is the latest challenge.

The CPUC is serving to maintain the status quo at a time scientists are telling us is critical for our survival. Even the World Bank is acting out of concern for climate change. It will end financing for the planet’s new oil wells after 2019. Global media outlets, including the BBC and the New York Times, echo the scientific community’s predictions of increasing climate change-caused drought as a factor in future California conflagrations. 

The Union of Concerned Scientists tells us, “Temperatures are increasing much faster in the Western U.S. than for the planet as a whole. Since 1970, average annual temperatures in the Western U.S. have increased by 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit, about twice the pace of the global average warming.” Studies are predicting dire future risks and significant economic loss to California’s coastal infrastructure due to flooding and coastal retreat. As rising global temperatures turn landscapes into tinderboxes and atmospheric CO2 levels reach their highest level in 650,000 years, denial and stalling become societal suicide.

The 2017 Climate Science Special Report (Trump Administration) states that, “There is no climate analog for this century at any time in at least the last 50 million years.” This assessment concludes, based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG), are the dominant cause of the observed global warming since the mid-20th century. NASA backs the nearly 200 worldwide scientific organizations that attribute climate change to human actions.

The failure of our current administration to embrace renewable energy is crippling the viability of the economic future of the United States. Our in-the-know military is prepping rather than denying as they attempt to secure 128 U.S. bases vulnerable to rising sea levels. Led by India and China, $287 billion has, reportedly, been invested in clean energy in 2016. A child born in the United States emits 160 times the carbon emissions of a child born in Bangladesh; this begs our participation in the Paris Agreement now ratified by 171 parties. It is concerning that our own nation fails to be represented in an effort that will, ultimately, impact us all. 

Perhaps the Thomas Fire has more to teach us than first meets the eye.

Cindy Peister is a Ventura resident and longtime activist.