The Intersection of Public Policy & Environmentalism
By Cayman Raemsch, Treasurer & Service Chair
My passion for environmentalism was first ignited when I received an iPod Touch for my 13th birthday. The device allowed me to browse the internet freely for the first time, and I found it incredible that I suddenly had such a vast wealth of information at my fingertips. At the same time, thanks to social media, I was being exposed to a far bigger and wider world than I’d ever known before through the lenses of everyone else’s cameras. This was how I became aware of various social justice movements, including environmentalism, which immediately piqued my interest. I’d spend hours poring over articles and watching documentaries; going down a rabbit hole, as they say. This passion continued throughout my teenage years, and the more I learned about the severity of the climate crisis that we’re facing, the less I was able to tolerate being an idle bystander. I wanted to make a positive impact, and I’m currently getting an undergraduate degree in Urban & Regional Planning (Policy Track) and a minor in Sustainable Architecture & Planning in pursuit of that goal. I aim to become a city planner so that I can help push for the adoption of sustainable practices within my community.
As I’ve progressed in my academic career and gained a fuller understanding of the systems that shape our society through my urban planning courses, I’ve come to understand that the most impactful area of sustainability which I could help advance is clean energy. The United Nations Environment Programme’s 2021 Emissions Gap Report states that in order to meet the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C by 2100, current global greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced 55% by 2030 (United Nations Environment Programme, 2021). This is an incredibly ambitious goal, but it is necessary. A 1.5°C global increase in temperature will have severe consequences for ecosystems and food supply chains around the world, yet it is widely considered to be the best scenario that we can hope for at this stage of climate change.
Public sector urban planners are responsible for writing and updating their cities’ codes; that is, determining what can be built, where it can be built, and what standards new or updated developments must adhere to. These codes generally include some level of energy and emissions standards, and one state which I feel is really leading the way for sustainability in the United States is California. The California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 mandated that “statewide greenhouse gas emissions [be] reduced to 40% below the 1990 level by 2030.” (California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, 2016). In 2018, Governor Jerry Brown took this one step further by signing SB100 into law, a bill which demands that the state get its power 100% from renewable sources by 2045 (Baker, 2018). One of the methods that will be used to meet this goal is building decarbonization. This is an approach to building new structures, both residential and commercial, which results in no net emissions of greenhouse gasses (California Air Resources Board, n.d.).
Achieving this goal begins, of course, with using renewable energy sources. Oftentimes in new builds, this is accomplished by installing solar panels on-site. Another important factor is the energy efficiency of buildings and the systems within them. Some refrigerants used for air conditioning are more efficient than others, leading to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions due to their lower energy demands. The design of a building can also greatly impact its energy consumption; in hot climates like California and Texas, a building’s largest windows should be oriented in such a way that they will receive as little direct sunlight as possible during the summer months to prevent the sun from excessively heating the interior, thus requiring the air conditioner to consume a lot more energy to cool the space down. Insulation, of course, is also a major factor for reducing energy consumption in both hot and cold climates. All of these are strategies which could reasonably be mandated by a city’s codes, and as a public sector urban planner, I would have the ability to influence said codes. I personally believe that all U.S. states should follow California’s example in setting ambitious goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and I am eager to help facilitate that change in my community.
Furthermore, I’d like to make clear that I’m not going into the field of urban planning blinded by optimism and thinking I can save the world; I know that I can’t. Rather, my main goal is to mitigate damage to the climate as much as possible through my role as an urban planner. One of my favorite online environmentalist educators (and a fellow Aggie) has a motto that I try my best to live by,
“You cannot do all the good that the world needs, but the world needs all the good that you can do.”
Baker, D. R. (2018, September 11). Gov. Brown’s new climate goal: less than zero global warming emissions. San Francisco Chronicle. https://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/California-to-go-100-percent-clean-energy-by-2045-13218236.php#photo-16146563
California Air Resources Board. (n.d.). Building Decarbonization | California Air Resources Board. Ww2.Arb.ca.gov. Retrieved February 27, 2022, from https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/our-work/programs/building-decarbonization/about
California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, no. 32 (2016). file:///Users/caymanraemsch/Downloads/20150SB32_88.pdf
United Nations Environment Programme. (2021). The Heat Is On - A world of climate promises not yet delivered. In unep.org (pp. 1–20). https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/36991/EGR21_ESEN.pdf