By CHRIS SMITH
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
As Ann Hancock labors to reduce the output of automobile exhaust and other greenhouse gases in Sonoma County, she knows some people have doubts about whether even the county’s best efforts will have any impact on global warming.
The question occurred to Hancock a decade ago when she and Mike Sandler put Sonoma County and its nine cities on the map as pioneers in local efforts to combat the potentially cataclysmic heating-up of Earth.
They knew from the moment they conceived the Santa Rosa-based Climate Protection Campaign in 2001 that those efforts would produce no scientifically measurable effect on the global problem.
So why bother?
Hancock, 62, continues to believe that what they demonstrate to the world is more essential than what county residents do to reduce man-caused atmospheric warming.
“That’s the most important thing we can do in Sonoma County,” she said. “We can be a shining example.”
Since then, Sandler has become climate protection program manager for the Sonoma County Transportation Authority.
And Hancock has continued to lead the campaign that persuaded the county government and all of the cities to adopt ambitious emission-reduction goals. Along the way, it has set some national precedents and won some notable victories.
In 2010, Sonoma County officials exceeded their goal to cut the year 2000 level of emissions by 20percent. Most of the county’s 9,125-ton reduction was achieved through renewable-energy projects and making government buildings more energy efficient.
But the county and its nine cities still must overcome huge challenges if they’re going to meet their targets of reducing 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2015.
“We’re one of the leaders in the country,” Hancock said, “and we have such a long way to go.”
Her goal to make the county a beacon to a warming world tests her optimism and stamina. She knows she walks a fine line as she attempts to win people over without depressing them with the enormity of the problem and the infinitesimal global effect of local action.
Some of Hancock’s favorite people are those who reduce their driving, purchase high-efficiency lightbulbs and in other ways reduce their carbon footprint, while accepting that even all that is insufficient. She urges them to push elected officials to pursue climate-protection innovations and make greenhouse-gas reduction a local, regional, state, national and international priority.
Attempting to reduce one’s impact on the atmosphere, Hancock said, “is still the best ‘act locally, think globally’ example that I can think of.”
Though the emission-reduction efforts by Sonoma County and its cities lag behind what Hancock would like to see, she’s grateful for certain steps forward. One is a $1.5 million grant to the Climate Protection Campaign and county Transportation Authority from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.They will use it to create a first-of-its-kind ride-sharing program that will allow drivers and passengers to link up through their smartphones.
Also, Hancock invites the public to an office-warming from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday at the campaign’s new offices at 520 Mendocino Ave., Suite 260, in Santa Rosa. The program it houses has grown to 10 employees and an annual budget of about $620,000, most of it coming from contracts for services, grants, business sponsorships and donations.
Hancock tells visitors her goal is to make the county a source of innovation and action for a world in peril from rising temperatures.
“I don’t want to just make a gesture,” she said. “I really want to make a difference.”