Turning Up the Heat on Climate

The Peaceworker Editor’s Note: In this editorial, the Eugene Register-Guard demolishes many of the excuses offered for local climate change inaction. Apparently the Eugene City Council was listening because they passed an ordinance that strengthens the city’s Community Climate and Energy Action Plan. Next roadblock to overcome: OR Stats 455.040 which prohibits any local ordinance that  is different than the state energy code.

​Eugene Register-Guard Editorial

July 27, 2014

Eugene city councilors can find plenty of excuses Monday to walk away from an ordinance committing the city to an aggressive strategy for reducing local contributions to climate change. Amid the hubbub over a proposed paid sick leave law, an abdication of leadership on climate change might be little noticed. But the council should reject all excuses and approve the ordinance.

Excuse No. 1

Climate change is a global problem. Eugene’s contribution to the accumulation of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is minuscule, and even a successful effort to reduce local emissions would have a negligible effect on the world’s climate.

This excuse not only justifies inaction, it implies that people are powerless to control their future — individuals and small groups can have no effect on big problems, so they should shrug their shoulders and await action by those with more power or greater numbers. It also allows Eugene to duck responsibility for its share of the emissions linked to climate change.

Responsibility, however, lies everywhere, and particularly with people in societies that generate the greatest volumes levels of emissions. Though Eugene’s ability to combat climate change is small, the city should not shirk its duty to do its part. And when ten, a hundred, or a thousand other communities move in the same direction, their cumulative efforts will make a difference.

Excuse No. 2

Climate change policy should be established at the national level, not in City Hall.

This excuse wouldn’t hold water even if Congress were willing to go beyond the modest steps the Obama administration has taken to address climate change. Local governments have primary authority in such matters as land-use and transportation planning, which have lasting effects on emissions levels. Cities are key partners in any effective effort to combat climate change — and gridlock in Washington, D.C., imposes on local governments a further obligation to prove that action is possible.

Excuse No. 3

Eugene already has a Community Climate and Energy Action Plan. The plan, completed in 2010, contains many of the most important provisions of the proposed ordinance, including the goal of reducing citywide fossil fuel use by 50 percent by 2030. The plan supplements an internal city climate-change and energy-efficiency strategy adopted in 2008, which aims to achieve carbon neutrality in city operations by 2020. That target is also incorporated in the proposed ordinance.

The ordinance would elevate Eugene’s statements of intention to the status of law. The law might prove difficult to enforce, but it would also be hard to ignore. It would require the city manager to prepare concrete plans for achieving the city’s emissions-reductions goals, with periodic progress reviews and status reports. Future councils or city managers that failed to pursue emissions-reduction goals could be held accountable — they couldn’t allow the city’s climate change goals to die of neglect, but would have to comply with the ordinance, change it or find themselves in violation.

Excuse No. 4

At a time when Eugene is struggling to keep pools and libraries open, it lacks the resources to confront climate change.

But the city can’t afford to ignore this issue. An aggressive effort to combat climate change includes an aggressive effort to reduce energy consumption. Propelled by its climate goals, for instance, Eugene expects to save $200,000 a year in fuel costs by 2018 through the purchase of police cars that get better gas mileage. Even if climate scientists changed their minds and declared rising levels of carbon dioxide to be a matter of no concern, it would still be a good idea to pursue savings through conservation and efficiency.

But climate scientists aren’t changing their minds — instead, they’re turning up the volume of their warnings. Adapting to a changed climate will be most expensive for those who fail to prepare. It’s prudent to embark on a course toward reduced emissions now, rather than acting later in response to environmental or economic shocks.

Excuse No. 5

The proposed ordinance is a gimmicky feel-good exercise. The ordinance is promoted by Our Children’s Trust, a national organization conducting legal campaigns related to the issue of climate change, such as the Oregon lawsuit to compel state action to reduce emissions. But the fact that the proposal’s origins lie with a group concerned with children’s welfare, one that includes a high rate of participation by young people, is a strong point in the ordinance’s favor.

It’s not likely that members of the City Council will be around in 2100, but the young people involved in Our Children’s Trust may live to see whether Eugene meets the ordinance’s end-of-the-century goal of reducing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide. It’s the next generation that will be most affected by climate change, and the proposed ordinance reflects some of its members’ faith in the ability of institutions of self-government to make their world a better place. The impulses behind the ordinances are admirable and deserving of respect, not cynical condescension.

Those who will endure the worst effects will find earlier inaction to prepare for and mitigate climate change hard to forgive.

No excuses: Approve the ordinance.Φ

The Guard was first established in 1867 by J.B. Alexander. It passed through a succession of owners until Alton F. Baker, who moved west with his young family from Cleveland, Ohio, purchased it in 1927. Nearly three years later, Baker acquired the competing Register and merged the two into the Eugene Register-Guard. Early in his tenure as publisher, Baker adopted an editorial-page statement of purpose – “A Newspaper Is a Citizen of Its Community” – that remains in place to this day. Since then, The Register-Guard has endeavored to be a community leader, producing news that informs on issues of local interest and editorials that help shape public opinion and discussion of matters of community importance.

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