Let’s Talk Climate Hope: Progress to Build On

Stephanie Kaza's recent article appears in the SE Examiner's January issue. Thus:

In the aftermath of the November election, many people are wondering what will happen with U.S. climate commitments.  Many people fear we will lose ground with cabinet nominees who seem bent on unraveling all climate action progress.  There are plenty of good reasons to imagine a backward-trending future under such leadership.

But let’s not go there for a minute.  Here’s something different for the New Year: let’s look at Oregon’s successes and celebrate how far we’ve come.  Celebrating success seems out of fashion in the midst of so much handwringing.  But it is still good to know our history and what we have to build on as our state legislature begins this year’s work.  

The Oregon Global Warming Commission is one of the lead state agencies for tracking climate progress.  In a recent memo to the Oregon League of Women Voters, the chair of the Commission, Angus Duncan, pointed out significant steps that have placed Oregon ahead, rather than behind the curve on climate action.

Starting in 1992, Oregon was one of the earliest to adopt greenhouse gas emission (GHG) goals. By 2007 the goals recommended by then Governor Kulongoski had been put into law.  These goals were set as targets to guide planning and decision-making and they have clearly generated significant results.  Oregon’s GHG emissions peaked in 1999 and have been going down ever since.  They should only decline further with the agreements that passed in the last legislative session in SB 1547.

This successful bill requires real steps toward climate progress: to close the coal-burning plant in Boardman by 2020, to end all coal fuel use in the state by 2035, and to increase renewables to 50% by 2040.  Though these goals per se are not yet achieved, the legal targets are already driving policy making at state agencies. This platform of commitments should set Oregon up for close to 90% carbon-free electricity by 2050.*

We can also celebrate the Global Warming Commission’s leadership as they try to think accurately about sources of GHG emissions.  The Commission broke new ground in developing a toolkit for counting consumption-based emissions.  This provides more complete accounting of GHG pollution from shipping and manufacture of consumer goods from out of state.  They are also working with the Department of Forestry to understand in a more sophisticated way how forest carbon storage changes over time under the impacts of fire, pests, and timber harvest.

In light of the potential for drastic changes in federal policy, it is more important than ever for states and cities to keep moving forward on their climate agendas.  Already the four governors of the western U.S. states and British Columbia have signed a compact to do exactly this and to support each other in their efforts.  Here at home, the recently updated 2016 Oregon Climate Assessment will soon be available to help us understand in detail the nature of climate change in Oregon.

To learn more about these developments, and to encourage your own sense of hope and possibility, please join us for the 2017 Let’s Talk Climate series.  On January 25, we will be hosting Angus Duncan, chair of the Global Warming Commission, along with Oregon Senator Michael Dembro and Shilpa Joshi of the Renew Oregon.  They are eager to speak with neighbors and citizens who want to engage these difficult climate issues, drawing on the positive steps we’ve already taken in Oregon.  This series takes place at TaborSpace in the Copeland Commons room, 5441 SE Belmont, from 7:00-8:30pm.

For more information, see http://www.letstalkclimatepdx.org/p/about.html or ask to join the mailing list at contact@letstalkclimatepdx.org.

Stephanie Kaza is professor emerita of University of Vermont where she taught for 24 years and most recently served as Director of the Environmental Program. A native Portlander, she has returned home to add her voice to local climate and sustainability actions.

*For a full discussion of Oregon’s GHG emissions and measures for continued progress, see the Global Warming Commission’s 2015 Report to the Legislature at: http://www.keeporegoncool.org/view/ogwc-reports.  


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