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Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

80 by 30: How Palo Alto is planning sustainability

Jeslyn Chen

Five point four metric tons of carbon dioxide. This is the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent (MT CO2e) released by an average Palo Alto household per year since 2021, according to the City of Palo Alto’s sustainability and climate action plan.

Although five point four might seem high, compared to other neighboring cities, it is significantly lower by approximately 25 MT CO2e, according to Emeryville’s report on carbon dioxide gas consumption per household in 15 different Bay Area cities. This change in numbers is mainly due to Palo Alto’s community recognizing the urgency of fighting climate change.

One of the most recent steps Palo Alto has taken to fight climate change is implementing the Sustainability and Climate Action Plan, called “80 by 30.” In October 2022, the City Council passed this ambitious climate initiative, which aims to reduce Palo Alto’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below 1990’s levels and to become carbon neutral by 2030.

These initiatives were put into place in response to the pressing issue of climate change.

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“There could be tipping points out there, where if the Earth’s climate heats up to certain points, we may have effects that compound on themselves and we can’t reverse it,” said Brad Eggleston, director of Palo Alto city works.

Christine Luong, Palo Alto sustainability manager, agrees. Luong said worsening wildfires and rising sea levels could put Palo Alto homes in danger.

“All of the city infrastructure could be underwater,” Luong said. “These are real risks we have to address now, so we can prevent future possible disasters.”

Palo Alto City Mayor Greer Stone said the state of California has a similar, less aggressive goal, for greenhouse emissions to be 48% below 1990s levels by 2030, and to be carbon neutral by 2045.

“In order to be able to achieve that 80 by 30 goal, we need every tool in the tool chest,” Stone said. “Right now, we’re on track to be very close, but still miss it by single digits [of percent of metric tons]. I think around  six or seven digits. … It’s not terrible, but it’s not where we want to be.”

Eggleston said to reach the “80 by 30” goal, the Palo Alto Sustainability Committee has formulated a list of smaller goals. These goals include reducing commute travel by car by 30%, reducing miles traveled overall by 12% and having all natural gas appliances replaced with electrical appliances in single-family homes.

“By 2030, we need 85% of all Palo Alto new vehicle purchases to be electrical vehicles,” Eggleston said. “[This is to achieve] a fleet overall that’s 44% electrical vehicles in Palo Alto.”

“Right now, we’re on track to be very close, but still miss it by single digits [of percent of metric tons]. I think around  six or seven digits. … It’s not terrible, but it’s not where we want to be.”

— Greer Stone, Palo Alto City Mayor

Stone said a significant step Palo Alto has taken to increase electrical vehicle numbers is creating public charging stations in public parking lots throughout the city, as most apartments have old infrastructure without electrical vehicle charging stations. Because of this, Palo Alto is the No. 1 adopter per capita of electric vehicles in the country, according to Stone.

Other initiatives passed by the City Council include the recently implemented Palo Alto Link program, which allows citizens with the Palo Alto Link app to get rides from a city-sponsored driver and electric vehicle to any destination in Palo Alto. Additionally, according to Stone, Palo Alto has strengthened its bike-friendliness by increasing the number of bike boulevards around the city. This benefits local students such as Julie Zeitlin, a senior at Castilleja School, who bikes to school every day.

Zeitlin is executive director and co-founder of the Palo Alto Student Climate Coalition, a student-directed board focused on educating local adolescents regarding the history of Palo Alto climate policies. Zeitlin said the PASCC focuses on providing students with the tools needed to advocate for climate action. An example of this is the public commentary they voice at the weekly City Council meetings.

“Almost every Monday, we come during the public comment section to give the council specific tangible policies and ideas that we recommend that they implement, to move faster to meet their main goal of 80% emissions reductions from 1990 levels by 2030,” Zeitlin said.

“By 2030, we need 85% of all Palo Alto new vehicle purchases to be electrical vehicles. [This is to achieve] a fleet overall that’s 44% electrical vehicles in Palo Alto.”

— Brad Eggleston, Director of Palo Alto city works

Zeitlin said Palo Alto’s current climate initiatives are not enough.

“We will need to electrify nearly all single-family households and commercial HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] systems,” Zeitlin said. “We’re hoping that by setting a date for which natural gas will be phased out of the city, we can create a more comprehensive timeline that gets us to 80 by 30.”

Stone also said the majority of Palo Alto is powered by natural gas, which significantly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

“One thing the city has been doing is piloting a heat pump water heater program for residents,” Stone said. “We’re offering different financial incentives to be able to do that.”

According to Zeitlin and Stone, it is important to engage in activities that promote a green lifestyle.

“Anecdotally, from what I can see, it seems like there aren’t as many bikes on [bike racks] than there usually have been in past years,” Zeitlin said. “I think that’s honestly on our generation to make it [climate action] the cool thing that you do if you care about the planet. I think there needs to be a little bit more of a culture shift.”

Zeitlin said it is ultimately an individual choice to determine their stance on climate change.

“It’s very easy to become numb on the issue of the climate crisis and just too overwhelmed to think about it or take action,” Zeitlin said. “[But], we make the decision as the community to say, ‘Hey, I’m owning this. I’m doing something that’s good for the community,’ … I think that’s something that we all kind of need to foster.”

Stone said Generation Z and onward are the generations that will face the major consequences of climate change. Therefore, it is the younger generation’s responsibility to take action to face it.

“You [Generation Z] are the generation that’s going to be impacted the most by [climate change], so I hope that through the natural human desire of self-preservation, people are going to make those right decisions,” Stone said. “Part of it too is going to be the culture of young people and a culture that embraces biking and walking and public transportation. If you are able to change the culture around what is cool, that will change a lot.”