Savings, Not Cost: Arresting Climate Change Makes Economic Sense

June 2, 2011

By Eugene Register Guard

[Climate change activists, noting global warming’s tainted credibility in some quarters, urge supporters to emphasize the economic benefits of doing the right thing. This editorial is a good example of that approach. – Ed.)

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The science of climate change is more controversial in the United States than in most other countries — skeptics reject the evidence that temperatures are rising due to increased levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases or, if they accept the data that point to global warming, claim that a link to human activity is unproven. The result is inaction. That’s unfortunate — and worse, it’s counter-productive, because even if climate change were not occurring, most of the steps to combat it are things the country should be doing anyway.

First Goal Met

That’s one point that comes through in Angus Duncan’s column (reprinted below). Duncan is chairman of the Oregon Global Warming Commission, created by the Legislature in 2007. The commission’s charge is to prepare a strategy for the state to meet its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and to achieve a 75 percent reduction by 2050. The goal for 2010 — to stop the growth of emissions — has been met.

The commission will be in Eugene Thursday to hear comments about its report, Roadmap to 2020, which sets forth strategies for hitting the emissions-reduction target over the next decade. The recommendations affect energy and transportation systems, land use, forestry, agriculture and waste management. They range from the pursuit of renewable energy resources to pedestrian-, bicycle- and transit-friendly urban development, and from the adoption of energy-efficient construction standards to a recognition of the role of forests in the carbon cycle.

Such recommendations would make solid sense for Oregon even if no one had ever heard of climate change. They point toward a state that is less reliant on fossil fuels and uses all forms of energy more efficiently. Pursuing such strategies would cut Oregon’s bill for oil, gas and coal, which Duncan places at $9 billion a year. Nearly all of that money leaves the state, and much of it leaves the country. Spending less on imported energy would amount to a pay raise.

Many Benefits

Strategies such as the ones offered by the Roadmap to 2020 would bring other benefits as well. A shift to renewable sources would diversify the state’s energy portfolio, improving reliability and reducing the risk of disruptions in supply. Most alternatives to fossil fuels are cleaner, resulting in less air pollution and associated public health problems. Oregon is already emerging as a center for the manufacture of wind and solar energy equipment, producing a direct employment benefit from investments in renewables.

Oregon can’t stop climate change on its own — the actions of one state will make a marginal difference in responding to a global phenomenon. But Oregon can prove that sensible decisions today can yield large payoffs in energy efficiency and diversity tomorrow, payoffs that will have clear benefits for the economy and the quality of life.

Rising sea levels, longer droughts, more severe storms, shrinking snowpacks — all of these consequences of climate change make action imperative. The science, as Duncan says, is clear. Fortunately for Oregon, effective action in response to climate change need not be based in science — economic self-interest makes a compelling case for following the commission’s road map. Making a meaningful contribution to the global effort to arrest climate change would be icing on the cake.

This editorial was published by the Eugene Register Guard, Tuesday, May 24, 2011.

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Get Involved in Forging Climate Change Solutions

By Angus Duncan

Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.”   — National Academy of Sciences ,May 2011

We shouldn’t need this kind of reminder this late in the deadly serious game of addressing climate change. That the National Academy of Sciences felt obliged to restate these conclusions says more about the politics of this issue than about the science.

Of course, we should never cease subjecting the science to rigorous, critical peer review. But arguing about it in policy forums has become an exercise in advocacy science that is not productive.

Instead, we should be identifying actions that merit support as cost-effective ways to mitigate the risks of climate change and that deliver a broad range of community benefits in any event — benefits such as improving cost- and energy-efficiencies in buildings and industrial processes; improving traffic flows; extending access to transit, especially to low-income households; and reducing the $9 billion or so Oregon exports annually to buy energy from oil, coal and gas.

These kinds of actions were the focus last year of Oregon’s Global Warming Commission, of which I am chairman. Working with 80 stakeholders and technical experts from around the state, including Lane County, the commission developed a Roadmap to 2020 that includes recommendations in energy, transportation and land use, industrial processes, forestry, agriculture and materials and waste management.

The proposals aim to help Oregon meet the 2020 greenhouse gas reduction goal set by the 2007 Legislature: 10 percent below 1990 levels (or about 30 percent below today’s levels). The Roadmap — and some 40 priority recommendations — can be found on the commission’s website: www.KeepOregonCool.org.

Setting Goals is Important, But Action is Needed

Oregon set its first greenhouse gas goal back in 1991 — don’t exceed 1990 levels — but it did not adopt a plan for meeting it. The result was steady emissions growth for the next decade.

In 2004, Gov. Ted Kulongoski asked a citizen’s advisory panel to draw up new goals and the means of achieving them. The first goal we recommended, for 2010, was to arrest the emissions growth curve and bend it back downward. We also recommended actions such as utility acquisition of renewable energy, developing lower carbon vehicle fuels and amping up our energy efficiency investments.

And Oregon hit its 2010 goal (we were on track to do so even before the Great Recession struck). We did it because the Legislature acted, and because local governments such as Eugene and Corvallis mobilized community strategies.

Getting to 2020 will be tougher in some ways — not just arresting an increase, but driving emissions down. But it can be easier in others. We’ll have access to more efficient technologies and building designs, electric vehicles and affordable solar cells. We’ve already decided to end coal burning at Oregon’s only in-state coal plant, PGE’s Boardman facility (but we still import lots of power from Wyoming and Montana coal plants).

How to Succeed in Adopting Change

Other choices will be tougher: Can we keep the feel of our residential neighborhoods while making them function more efficiently. Can we make it so we can choose to leave the car in the driveway when we have to make a quick trip to the store or the park or the doctor’s office?

The commission adopted its Roadmap to 2020 on an interim basis. We wanted time to consult with Oregonians about some of the choices proposed. We wanted to listen to better ideas.

So this spring, we’re taking the Roadmap on a road trip. Two, really.

At 6 p.m. Thursday at the Hilton Eugene, 66 E. Sixth Ave., the city of Eugene and the commission host a public workshop to ask those attending to sit down at a table with their neighbors and give the Roadmap a critical once-over. People are invited to look at our interim recommendations, tell us what they like or don’t, and what ideas they have. We’re holding similar events in other communities.

Opinions also can be voiced online at conversation.fuseinsight.com/topic/start/OGWC_Roadmap_3_3_2011/intro?SID=KOC.

The survey is open to all Oregonians. It takes 10 or 12 minutes to answer the multiple-choice questions, but most have taken longer so they could tell us what they think in their own words (the survey provides ample opportunity to do so).

Climate change is a difficult issue for most of us. We bring as many different histories, beliefs, concerns and frames of reference as there are people in the room. These differences can be difficult to reconcile, but diversity of opinion isn’t new in Oregon, and it’s a strength, not a weakness — so long as we treat differing points of view with respect.

We want the discussion Thursday night to focus on solutions, and on the Oregon values that should shape them. Φ

Angus Duncan is president of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation and chairman of the Oregon Global Warming Commission. This article was published in the Register Guard on Tuesday, May 24, 2011.

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