Riding the 15 bus downtown with my girls last Saturday, a sign caught my eye as we turned the corner at SW Salmon. It was a standard lawn sign, like those used for political campaigns, and it was stuck in the ground outside the Lincoln HS track fence. It read: Climate Change Town Hall, June 29th 6.30pm Lincoln HS. I made a quick note to myself on my calendar.
And that’s how I found myself in the Lincoln HS cafeteria last night listening to Sam Adams’ vision of Portland in 2050, at the heart of which is the reduction of local carbon emissions by 80%.
The plan is ambitious and doable, when you consider the impact individuals have on our city’s carbon footprint, which the city and county estimate to be 50% of all local carbon emissions due to residents driving, and the heating, cooling and powering of our homes. Our track record is impressive in the 15 years the City and Multnomah County have been working together to reduce carbon emissions. In 2007, the carbon emissions were 1% below 1990 levels, despite the rapid population growth and economic expansion in the region. In the US as a whole, by contrast, emissions increased 17%. source: Multnomah County and City of Portland Climate Action Plan 2009 Draft We already recycle at rates far above the national average (64% of all Portland’s waste is recycled-the nat’l rate hovers in the 30’s); we are one of the bike friendliest towns in the country with nearly 300 miles of bike lanes and a bike commuter rate of 9% in some neighborhoods; and of course there is our near legendary network of streetcar and light rail public transportation. This is the Portland we all love and evoke fondly when we regal far-flung family and friends with the magical spot we call home.
But, as I told the mayor in the few minutes after the meeting concluded, when we were both grabbing our bike helmets and heading out the door, the 800lb gorilla in the room (or more accurately NOT in the room) was the contribution of our industrial neighbors to this master plan. I wondered aloud what changing my light bulbs and bringing my own bags to the supermarket would compare to the emissions emanating from the industrial smokestacks 1000ft from my front porch. With yet another EPA report underscoring the high load of industrial pollution that Portlander’s carry, with Multnomah County yet again ranking in the top 10 counties in the nation with increased risk of cancer due to industrial air pollution, I wondered where was industry in this Climate Action Plan conversation, or for that matter the DEQ?
And again the answers: City and County have no jurisdiction over industrial pollutants and the funding at the DEQ (the agency that DOES have direct jurisdication over industry in the state) has been slashed so much that they have no teeth. What’s a citizen to do? I have a couple ideas for you 🙂
1) Let the City of Portland and Multnomah County know that you are concerned by the lack of attention and accountability regarding industrial specific emissions in the Climate Action Plan. You can read the plan here. Send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. You might also email Mayor Adams (Office_of_Mayor_Sam_Adams@mail.vresp.com) and Jeff Cogen, the Multnomah County Commissioner atop the Sustainability Program: email@example.com. While they say the county and city has no jurisdiction, they sure do have a strong record of innovation and results.
2) Show up to the next Climate Action Town Hall and plan on attending the City Council hearings on the topic. There is one more Town Hall Mtg in this 1st round: Tuesday, July 7th, 6.30pm University Park Community Center. Mayor Adams mentioned that it is important to show up to be heard (and seen) that this issue is a priority. I strongly believe that our citizen support on this issue can also be parlayed into leverage on increasing pressure on our industrial neighbors to meet this challenge of innovation and nation-leading mitigation of industrial emissions that threaten our health and well-being.
3) And of course, change your light bulbs, bring your own reusable bags to the grocery store, buy local, and ride your bike, walk and use public transportation instead of your car. For a more thorough calculation of your personal carbon footprint and ideas of how to reduce it, click here.
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