The science of climate change is more controversial in the United States than in most other countries — skeptics reject the evidence that temperatures are rising due to increased levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases or, if they accept the data that point to global warming, claim that a link to human activity is unproven. The result is inaction. That’s unfortunate — and worse, it’s counter-productive, because even if climate change were not occurring, most of the steps to combat it are things the country should be doing anyway.
That’s one point that comes through in Angus Duncan’s column on the opposite page today. Duncan is chairman of the Oregon Global Warming Commission, created by the Legislature in 2007. The commission’s charge is to prepare a strategy for the state to meet its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and to achieve a 75 percent reduction by 2050. The goal for 2010 — to stop the growth of emissions — has been met.
The commission will be in Eugene Thursday to hear comments about its report, Roadmap to 2020, which sets forth strategies for hitting the emissions-reduction target over the next decade. The recommendations affect energy and transportation systems, land use, forestry, agriculture and waste management. They range from the pursuit of renewable energy resources to pedestrian-, bicycle- and transit-friendly urban development, and from the adoption of energy-efficient construction standards to a recognition of the role of forests in the carbon cycle.
Such recommendations would make solid sense for Oregon even if no one had ever heard of climate change. They point toward a state that is less reliant on fossil fuels and uses all forms of energy more efficiently. Pursuing such strategies would cut Oregon’s bill for oil, gas and coal, which Duncan places at $9 billion a year. Nearly all of that money leaves the state, and much of it leaves the country. Spending less on imported energy would amount to a pay raise.
Strategies such as the ones offered by the Roadmap to 2020 would bring other benefits as well. A shift to renewable sources would diversify the state’s energy portfolio, improving reliability and reducing the risk of disruptions in supply. Most alternatives to fossil fuels are cleaner, resulting in less air pollution and associated public health problems. Oregon is already emerging as a center for the manufacture of wind and solar energy equipment, producing a direct employment benefit from investments in renewables.
Oregon can’t stop climate change on its own — the actions of one state will make a marginal difference in responding to a global phenomenon. But Oregon can prove that sensible decisions today can yield large payoffs in energy efficiency and diversity tomorrow, payoffs that will have clear benefits for the economy and the quality of life.
Rising sea levels, longer droughts, more severe storms, shrinking snowpacks — all of these consequences of climate change make action imperative. The science, as Duncan says, is clear. Fortunately for Oregon, effective action in response to climate change need not be based in science — economic self-interest makes a compelling case for following the commission’s road map. Making a meaningful contribution to the global effort to arrest climate change would be icing on the cake.
Click here to read the Op-Ed in the Register Guard by Chair of the Global Warming Commission, Angus Duncan.