President Barack Obama’s announcement of the United States’ first firm target for reducing carbon emissions represented a critical step toward a more sustainable future.

Yet according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the commitment falls short of the reduction that developed nations must achieve to avoid the dangerous and irreversible impacts of climate change.

Sonoma County has embraced a goal that gets us closer to where we need to be: a 25 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2015. This means transforming our energy, transportation and waste management infrastructure in just five short years.

The magnitude of this charge is reason alone for Sonoma County to move quickly on climate change solutions. But make no mistake: It is not the only reason.

A recent story in The Economist magazine describes how the United States can compete with China in the new global market. The definitive answer is that we must be on the cutting edge of developing technologies that will lower energy costs.  We all use energy, and that is why energy savings become gold.

If Sonoma County can stake out a position as a leader in energy-saving technology, we will generate millions of dollars in jobs and jumpstart our flailing economy.

To be sure, the economic downturn requires business and government alike to cut back and reduce expenses. Our vision, however, should remain expansive. Now is not the time to contract in our vision or allow ourselves to be encircled by the outlook of deprivation that has so dominated statewide politics.

The County of Sonoma is currently the largest employer in Sonoma County, with more than 4,200 employees.  We have the resources and the knowledge base to innovate and transform. Sonoma County has an opportunity to become a statewide, national and international leader in the transition to a green economy.

The Sonoma County Energy Independence Program (SCEIP) provides a perfect example of how powerful this leadership can be in creating the jobs we so badly need.

SCEIP allows property owners to finance energy- and water-saving retrofits with a voluntary assessment paid back over time through property-tax bills. $37 million in retrofit projects have been approved through this program since its inception in April 2009.

A recent report found that Sonoma County has seen an 8.4 percent increase in construction jobs this year, while neighboring counties (who have not implemented programs like SCEIP) have lost jobs or experienced only minimal increases. This report also found that a spike of 500 new construction jobs in July and August of 2009 coincided with $5.6 million in SCEIP projects contracted during that same time period.

Dr. Robert Eyler, director of Sonoma State University’s Center of Regional Economic Analysis echoed the report’s findings. “Energy independence is our future,” he said. “This program is exactly what we need to see in a sustained recovery.”

As a county supervisor, I look forward to supporting similar efforts in the years to come that protect our environment and revitalize our economy. These programs represent an investment in innovation.

After all, tough times cannot mean that innovation ceases to exist – we just need to be leaner and more creative in its pursuit.


Shirlee Zane is the Sonoma County supervisor for the Third District.