A Greener San Diego: 2024 Edition

How much environmental progress has the San Diego region made since last Earth Day? Here’s our annual dive into the (mostly) good news.

In October, Wallethub again named San Diego the Greenest City in America, for the second year in a row. This accolade got us at Bluedot thinking about recent progress in America’s Finest City. We first did this retrospective last year, so what’s happened since?


Climate and Energy

The city is in a pitched long-term battle to create a city that’s more dense, walk- and bike-able, and less reliant on cars.

  • No sooner had the ink dried on the City of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan in August 2022, when two environmental nonprofits — Climate Action Campaign and the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation —  sued the city for not being tough enough with setting interim targets. The city settled the suits in February 2024, and agreed to better monitoring of progress. The goal is net-zero by 2035. 
  • It’s a good thing San Diego is monitoring more, because data the city released quietly in March 2023 showed the city’s impressive climate progress on electricity emissions being overwhelmed by increased emissions from cars in 2021. While that may be a blip due to the rebound from COVID in 2020, the city is in a pitched long-term battle to create a city that’s more dense, walk- and bike-able, and less reliant on cars.
  • Playing along, the San Diego Unified School District in April 2023 pledged to become “net-zero” by 2035 by purchasing renewable energy and phasing out all gas use in buildings. The plan doesn’t account for the 60% of the district’s emissions that come from tens of thousands of students getting driven to school each day. But the school district did get a grant to purchase 30 electric school buses for the dwindling number of students who do ride.

Air

  • In April 2024, a new U.S. EPA standard for fine soot pollution (PM2.5) will take effect. Only about a dozen counties didn’t meet the old benchmark, but about 100 more will not meet the new standard, including San Diego. PM2.5 is a particularly nasty form of pollution, responsible for a range of adverse health effects, so lowering the standard will save billions in health costs nationally. The San Diego County Air Pollution Control District says most of our PM2.5 pollution comes from homes, not factories or cars, particularly cooking, which is why reducing natural gas usage is key.

Water

The Sweetwater Reservoir is planning for a 9-acre raft of floating solar panels that would save the Sweetwater Authority about $500,000 annually in energy costs.


Waste

In 2014, California “banned” plastic bags, so retailers sold sturdier plastic bags to consumers for a dime apiece. The result: more plastic bag trash (by weight) than before the “ban.” State lawmakers are trying again with a toothier law that would ban ALL plastic bags.

  • San Diego finally finished doling out over 200,000 green bins all over the city, for composting food and yard waste (“If It Grows, It Goes!”). In September 2023, when the program was pretty much up to speed, the city collected 5,500 more tons of organic waste in the green bins than it had collected in September 2022, and 4,400 tons less of regular trash, meaning the program is working. 
  • San Diegans passed Measure B in November 2022, and in February 2024 the City Council approved a $4.5 million trash study to help the city revamp its trash collection, add new services, and figure out a fee structure. Here’s hoping they come up with a system where the more garbage you throw out, the more you pay.
  • In 2014, California “banned” plastic bags, so retailers sold sturdier plastic bags to consumers for a dime apiece. The result: more plastic bag trash (by weight) than before the “ban.” State lawmakers are trying again with a toothier law that would ban ALL plastic bags. Reminder: plastic recycling doesn’t work; use reusable bags, or paper.

Planning


Transportation

It’s been another year of grand plans, modest achievements, and stubborn realities. But we’re still proud to live in a San Diego that’s envisioning a greener future.

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Jim Miller
Jim Miller
Jim Miller, co-editor of Bluedot San Diego and Bluedot Santa Barbara, has been an environmental economist for over 25 years, in the private sector, academia, and the public service. He enjoys sharing his knowledge through freelance writing, and has been published in The Washington Post and Martha’s Vineyard magazine. He’s always loved nature and the outdoors, especially while on a bicycle.
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