Editorial: Fighting climate change with economic might

By The Herald Editorial Board

Much of the opposition that meets efforts to address climate change — and even the denial that it exists — stems from the concern that solutions, such as carbon caps and other regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, are too expensive for industry and consumers, will hurt jobs or will affect our quality of life.

But just as there are challenges in finding ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the inevitable changes to our climate and environment that we’re too late to reverse, there may also be opportunities to meet those challenges that can sustain the economy and our communities while we protect the environment.

Everett City Councilman Paul Roberts is proposing an effort to develop an “eco-nomic” center in Washington state that will foster the development of new technologies and products that address climate change, touching on a range of economic centers found throughout Snohomish County, the Puget Sound region and the state.

The proposal is a continuation of work throughout Roberts’ career, much of it spent in city government in administration, public works, planning and community development. Before his retirement from his own consulting firm in 2012, Roberts advised clients on land use, transportation, environmental policy, economics and aviation. He has served on the Everett council since 2006.

Roberts, past president of the Association of Washington Cities, talked up his proposal with the organization that represents all 281 cities and towns in the Evergreen State. AWC is on board and is now gathering funding, support and participants for a study that would investigate the creation of a center to develop the state’s green economy.

Everett, Snohomish County, the Puget Sound region and the state are well-positioned for the work, say Roberts and Peter King, chief executive for the AWC. The region and state have the resources, economic strength, educational facilities, base of manufacturing and technology, trained labor, available property, venture capital and proximity to world markets and the global supply chain that are needed for success.

The effort could bring together a wealth of participants from industry and business, economic agencies, reseach and development centers, universities and colleges, building and trades groups, environmental agencies and state and local governments.

Many already are working on those technologies, such as the Snohomish Public Utility District’s project to develop large-scale battery storage systems that can work with renewable and clean energy sources such as wind and solar by storing their energy at peak production to use later on demand, making solar and wind energy as reliable as fossil fuels.

The eco-nomic proposal seeks to facilitate the development of such technoligies in four key sectors: energy, water, agriculture and foresty, and building materials. The proposed study will assess the existing capabilities and resources throughout the state to direct development in each of those sectors.

One focus, and just not because its in Roberts’ hometown, would be Everett and what he refers to the Manufacturing and Industrial Center. The area around Paine Field is home to Boeing and other aerospace industries but also businesses that address some of those four emerging sectors, including clean water technologies, clean energy production and storage, carbon-fiber manufacturing, clean fuels and more. In addition to a highly skilled labor force, there is also abundant land for development. And, thanks to last week’s vote to fund extension of light rail to Everett, in time there will be one more spoke in the wheel of the region’s transportation system.

But each region of the state would offer its own advantages and opportunities, including Eastern Washington for water, agriculture and forestry. The state’s regional universities could become hubs for such developments.

The launch of such an effort requires some work that some might find to be on the dry side, such as forming an advisory committee and technical groups, mapping out the initial research, studying trends and taking an inventory of state resources.

But the result could help bring about new technolgies that, Roberts and King say, address climate change by “managing the unavoidable and avoiding the unmanagable.”

If that can be done — and at the same time develop jobs and foster local economies throughout the state — we have nothing to fear from tackling climate change, no reason to pretend it does not exist.

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