It seems the news on most topics around the globe alternates between scary and hopeful. The Climate Crisis is no exception. I’m not sure if we are on a “one step forward, two steps backwards” trajectory or a “two steps forward, one step backwards” journey.

Starting with one step forward, the mayors of West Sacramento and Sacramento recently announced their goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by the year 2045. This is one very small, but local, example of efforts by mayors, city councils, boards of supervisors, governors and other sub-national jurisdictions around the world responding to the U.S. undercutting the Paris Climate Agreement.

And it’s not just the U.S. There’s definitely been some unraveling of commitment from countries that signed that agreement as they face actually following through on what they so nobly promised. As nations flee or falter, cities, counties, states, and businesses, under the “We Are Still In” banner, are rallying to do what they can to keep global temperature increase under 2 degrees centigrade.

Onward to the two steps backwards. Though the issue is currently stalled by the courts, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed to upend Obama-era regulation on the release of methane into the atmosphere. Methane makes up less than 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, but it’s about 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas. The Obama regulations aimed at reducing leakage from oil and gas wells, as well as other parts of the energy-supply chain.

Not surprisingly, a spokesperson for the oil and gas industry complained that the Obama regulations on methane “was the definition of red tape” and a “record keeping nightmare.” Similarly, the current White House was responding to complaints from the fossil fuel industry that harsh weather in the Arctic made it just too darn hard to inspect wells and pipelines.

The “two steps backwards” part of this is that the proposed regulations are responding to just one of a long list of requests from the fossil fuel industry. Which is better, the Obama regulations or the new ones? According to the industry spokesperson, “It all depends on who you trust. That administration trusted environmentalists. This one trusts industry.”

The fossil fuel industry is pretty loud in proclaiming the switch from coal to natural gas (about 70 to 80 percent methane by volume) underway as we speak is an environmental bonus, evidence that the energy industry cares about the climate crisis and sees natural gas as a “bridge” to an economy less reliant on coal. Sounds good, or at least positive.

Another step forward also happened right here in California. This could actually be two steps forward. The Governor recently signed a historic piece of legislation, SB 100, committing the state to a goal of having all electricity produced in the state come from non-greenhouse-gas-emitting sources by the year 2045.

He also signed an executive order requiring that, also by 2045, California removes at least as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it emits: effectively, “carbon neutrality.”

Making this a two steps forward item, in addition to the signing of SB 100, the Governor set a goal of 5 million electric cars on California’s roads and highways by 2030 and backed this up with $2.5 billion in vehicle rebates.

Going back to the one-step-forward-two-steps-backwards view of our present state, the Governor also convened a Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco early in September, bringing together most of the “We Are Still In” movement to announce steps taken at the local level, not just here, but around the world, to reduce carbon emissions.

Local governments such as the states of Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington are following California’s lead. Cities such as Denver, Orlando and Atlanta pledged to buy renewable power to meet all their electricity needs.

Lots of businesses made similar commitments, and many, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook are either at or committed to 100 percent electricity from renewables.

The two steps backwards part of this is that electricity is just a part of the problem in terms of emissions; cars and trucks and planes and trains represent another challenge, as do emission-intensive industries such as cement and steel — and this against a background suggesting growing apathy, or resignation, from many of the countries that signed the Paris Agreement.

Governor Brown, at the Global Climate Summit, summed up the situation. “We are at base camp of Mt. Everest. This summit is meant to put climate change on the agenda and keep pushing it higher and higher on the list until finally the whole world is engaged. And I’ll tell you one thing — it’s a hell of a lot better than doing nothing.”

— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column appears the first and third Wednesday of each month. Please send comments to

Crossposted from the Davis Enterprise

 Published online October 3, 2018
Printed October 3, 2018 edition page A8