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Farewell from Luis Neuner, Decarbonize the North Coast Advocate

Luis Neuner.

I have the unfortunate duty of announcing that I am stepping away from my role at EPIC, where I've had the privilege of working on decarbonization issues. It has been an incredible honor working for such an EPIC constituency to address the climate crisis locally. As my journey takes me next-door to the Humboldt Area Foundation (don't worry, I'll still be doing climate work), I know that EPIC will continue its gallant efforts to move toward a net-zero carbon society.

From the moment I joined the EPIC team, I was immediately impressed by my colleagues' dedication, passion, and profound know-how—both on staff and amongst our sister organizations. Their continuous drive towards creating a better and more sustainable future is inspiring, and I am so thankful for the generosity of knowledge.

My half-witted reflections? Doing something about climate change is not going to be easy. You probably are thinking, "Duh, I already knew that," which would be fair. But I think it's worth a reminder that effective change will require us to fundamentally alter how we do business. Adequately addressing the climate crisis will also challenge the traditional notions of conservation in environmentalism. For some of us, that may be a tricky task. It will require being okay with new and, at times, uncomfortable development projects.

In the energy sector, for example, decarbonizing will require expanding the renewable energy sector with large-scale utility projects. Solar (including roof-top) can only take us so far, as the sun going down is an inherent limitation. Coupling commercial solar projects with large-scale energy storage, such as batteries, can address parts of the issue, but the technology is costly and resource-intensive. Similarly, the inconsistencies in wind patterns and land-use issues surrounding onshore wind turbines in Southern California make us unable to rely on them for consistent grid supply. And while these clean energy tools are certainly better than natural gas or coal-fired power plants, it's also worth noting that they tend to have immense environmental impacts and affect communities in their respective regions.

Offshore wind turbine.
Offshore wind turbine. Photo by Luis Neuner.

A decarbonized energy sector will realistically require a mix of different renewables. As of now, offshore wind must be one of the critical components in California's energy portfolio. We can fill the gaps here on the North Coast and drastically commit to climate action by seriously considering the proposed development projects off of the coastline.

For me, it's easy to oppose things like old-growth redwood logging. It's easy to want clean water and air. I will admit, however, that it's not easy to support a large-scale clean energy project with various potential environmental impacts. But at the end of the day, I always have to remind myself that you can't have your cake and eat it too. I rely on electricity. From refrigerating my food to ensuring that the local hospital has the power to save my life, electricity is a vital component of our daily life. And if we don't change the way we get electricity in a timely fashion or change the way we build our homes, the way we get to work, and the way we enjoy our vacations, we risk destroying the very things we cherish unequivocally; things like the redwoods, salmon, water, our homes, and for many people, our livelihoods.

That's not to say that other considerations, such as receiving free, prior, and informed consent from tribal nations and minimizing cultural, environmental, and socioeconomic impacts, shouldn't play a central role in distinguishing good projects from bad. EPIC remains steadfast in ensuring that the clean energy transition in Humboldt works for all. But are the real solutions always going to be within our comfort zone? Probably not. But that can’t mean that we shouldn't take action.

Instead of signing off with this touch of doom and gloom, I also want to point out that the decarbonization sector has a lot of potential. Being bold and leading the way on climate action doesn't just set a precedent for the rest of the country—it could also bring about some real solutions to various regional problems. Moreover, wouldn't it be nice to be able to shut down the gas-powered Humboldt Bay Generating Station?

On that note, please continue your support of EPIC! They are such a wonderful team doing critical work on the North Coast, and I am so thankful for being able to have been a part of that.


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