Everett City Councilmember Paul Roberts, a city and regional leader on the response to climate change, compares the current situation to standing on the bridge of a spaceship — let’s call it Spaceship Earth — “and every single alarm is going off,” he said during a discussion with The Herald Editorial Board this week.
But an order of “Shields up!” isn’t going to be enough to address the impacts and find solutions to curb global warming.
Most have noticed that the conversation has shifted; away from the back-and-forth over whether human-caused climate change is real and toward a discussion over what realistically and effectively can be done. What can we do to prepare for the impacts of climate change and reduce the carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions that are resulting in global warming?
Regardless of what is or isn’t getting done at the international, national and state level, there’s discussion and work enough that needs attention at the local and regional level.
That work continues in Everett with the city council’s unanimous decision last week to direct the Everett Planning Commission to develop a Climate Action Plan, with participation from city residents as well as area agencies, to develop policies and programs for the council to consider and implement.
Among the policy objectives the council has asked to be considered:
Setting a goal for 100 percent renewable energy by 2045;
Support for zero-emission vehicles and infrastructure for changing electric vehicles;
Support for low-carbon fuel standards;
Improvement of building efficiencies;
Consideration of climate impacts on the city’s emergency response management;
And other policies that could develop during the process.
Most of the suggested policies are under consideration or development elsewhere. Edmonds and Snohomish County have adopted the goal for use of 100 percent renewable energy. And bills considering most of the other proposals are working their way through the state Legislature.
But Everett’s voice is needed here, too.
Everett’s process, through the planning commission, will provide the opportunity of public participation and education that can help build broad support for these initiatives and also strengthen relationships with relevant agencies, including Snohomish County Public Utility District, the Puget Sound Regional Council of Governments, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency and state agencies such as the Department of Ecology.
Two other regional efforts will help to further develop these strategies.
The Puget Sound Regional Council is continuing work to develop its Vision 2050 plan, intended to help regional governments guide their own plans for growth, transportation and economic development for the next 30 years. Consideration of climate issues and policies already are part of that effort, but Roberts and others have suggested that the plan gather those policies in one section of the plan to foster discussion.
And the Association of Washington Cities has recently released its report, “Growing the Green Economy,” that seeks to draw on the expertise and resources of the state’s cities, industries, utilities, state agencies, universities and others to respond to the challenges presented by climate change. The effort is intended to foster development of technologies and solutions along two tracks: those that seek to reduce carbon emissions and those that focus on how to adapt to a changing climate and mitigate its impacts. The report, originally drafted by Roberts, outlines four main areas where the state is best positioned to develop strategies: energy; water; agriculture and forestry; and building materials and efficiencies.
The state House budget has included $150,000 for Department of Commerce grants that could flesh out those strategies, with backing from Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett; and Rep. Jared Mead, D-Mill Creek. While the Senate budget doesn’t include the same funding, Roberts said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, has been supportive of its consideration in the Senate as the two budgets are later reconciled.
In all of these efforts, there has been strong recognition that the economy — and the costs inherent in both impacts and solutions — will have to be part of the conversation. Roberts has called this a matter of “Eco-Nomics,” emphasizing economics as much as ecology.
Following the rollout in Congress of the “Green New Deal” its proposals — fairly or not — were quickly dismissed as prohibitively expensive.
But the consideration of costs — for the Green New Deal and for the regional and state initiatives being considered now — has to weigh more than what would be spent in transitioning from current technologies to greener solutions. Roberts calls it a “triple bottom line.”
There’s certainly a cost to those new technologies, but there are costs incurred if we don’t respond effectively and soon to climate change: a cost to society and a cost to the environment.
The U.S. government’s own National Climate Assessment, released at the end of last year, estimates that the annual costs resulting from the impacts of climate change — including response to more frequent and more severe natural disasters — could soon total more than $100 billion a year.
Those costs — which also will include the loss of life, impacts to public health and drags on the economy — must get a fair accounting next to the costs of solutions and responses to climate change.
The alarms we’re hearing at a global level and in our own communities are a call to action.
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