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Matt Petersen

Matt Petersen

Posted: October 6, 2010 01:21 PM

Rebuilding the Future

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Yesterday was the 10:10:10 global work day, an amazing show of action to combat global warming, and improve lives around the globe.

Sadly, yesterday also marked 30 days since a terrible tragedy rocked San Bruno. A natural gas line ruptured and exploded, causing a horrific fire that took 7 -- another was lost due to injuries from the fire, making the toll 8 -- precious lives, and consumed 53 homes and destroyed over 100 others.

The mourning continues for the human life lost in the San Bruno. It was a tragic blow to this small but dynamic community in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Of course, the first lesson we take from this tragedy is to make sure such accidents never happen again. Making our energy infrastructure -- in fact all of our nation's crumbling infrastructure -- as safe as possible is a critical priority. California state legislators and members of Congress are acting to address natural gas pipeline safety -- as is by necessity PG&E and other utilities -- to make sure these disasters never happen again.

The San Bruno fire also serves as a reminder of our addiction to fossil fuels in our daily lives. The impact this addiction can have is obvious in some cases: vulnerability to raising energy prices; ecosystems, lives and economies at risk due to accidents related to fossil fuel extraction (think BP Oil Spill in the Gulf Coast, and the Massey coal mine disaster in West Virginia); and pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions.

As thoughts turn to rebuilding in San Bruno, perhaps there is an opportunity to turn the challenge of rebuilding lives and homes into an opportunity to also reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.

Can we reconstruct the 53 homes destroyed, and repair the many more damaged, in such a way that helps the community to be more resilient, safer and become a model for renewable energy, and sustainability?

Given all the other challenges facing families and communities after such a disaster, it is a difficult notion to consider. I know, however, the power of putting forth a transformative idea for rebuilding a community -- to be greener, healthier, and more resilient -- after a disaster.

Just after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I put forth the vision of the sustainable rebuilding New Orleans. While not alone, Global Green quickly mobilized to create green schools, affordable housing, and neighborhoods in this great American city. Now, there is a growing green building and clean energy sector in New Orleans.

By rebuilding the 53 destroyed houses as net zero energy homes and making improved energy efficiency a target for improving the damaged homes, San Bruno can help lead the way in California. This will help the growing green economy in California, and help create clean jobs in San Bruno and throughout the Bay Area.

With San Bruno rebuilding under these standards, it can also help California move forward on several critical policy, economic, and environmental goals, including: a goal of all new construction to be net zero energy - all the energy needed in the building being produced on site or near by - by 2020; and requiring all existing buildings to increase their energy efficiency (due to AB758 passed and signed into law in 2009).

These goals and policies like AB 32 and others are some of the innovative ways California is addressing head on mounting evidence of the alarming impact of global warming. Sadly, Texas oil companies want to turn back this progress with Proposition 23. And our leaders in Congress repeatedly fail to act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase clean energy and energy efficiency.

All the while, cities and states continue to lead the way in creating the clean economy of the 21st century.

The City of San Bruno can be next. Given it is home to the ground breaking green Gap headquarters completed in 1997, San Bruno has already been at the front of the curve. Perhaps now San Bruno can take the leadership of cities to the next level.

In San Bruno, can we imagine a future community where homes could be rebuilt in a way that not only reduces their dependency on fossil fuels, but perhaps generates all the energy they need on site sustainably? Where the lowered energy bills and increased home values will provide long term benefits to the residents, neighborhood and City of San Bruno?

The initiative of individual families and the city - along with local, state, and federal incentive programs - will not be enough. The local utility PG&E will need to help make these ideas a reality as it assists the community recover.

 

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