It’s Getting Hot In Here: A regional conference hopes to kick greenhouse gas reduction into high gear
“The good news is they didn’t go up,” says Angus Duncan, speaking about greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon over the past decade. But, he adds, “the bad news is they didn’t go down.”
For the past eight years, Duncan has chaired the Oregon Global Warming Commission, a group that makes recommendations to Oregon State Legislature and various governmental agencies on how to reduce carbon emissions. This commission is the closest thing that governmental agencies in Oregon have to a consciousness about global warming—and, as such, provides suggestions for correcting behaviors, like creating better transit systems so residents can drive less, and eliminating coal-based energy sources. But, much like New Year’s resolutions, suggestions by the commission are merely recommendations—and, after several years, that lack of accountability is showing its shortcomings in Oregon’s failure to make any real headway toward driving down carbon emissions enough and fast enough to avoid dramatic climate changes.
On October 13 – 14, a group of local thinkers and community leaders hope to brainstorm a number of immediate solutions and jumpstart initiatives in the region, all aimed towards reducing greenhouse gases. Alan Journet, a co-facilitator for the hosting organization Southern Oregon Climate Action Now (SOCAN) and professor emeritus from Southeast Missouri State University, points out that, yes, the conference is about creating awareness, but also action-oriented; “either to help communities prepare to withstand the climate changes underway (adaptation),” he says, “or reduce our contribution to the problem (mitigation).”
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s in Oregon, carbon emissions were steadily increasingly by one or two percent annually. By 1999, though, Oregon residents and governmental agencies did manage to stop those increases in their tracks.
It is an important date to note for two reasons: For starters, 1999 is a time before An Inconvenient Truth was released, before the Prius was available in the United States and wind generated power was eight percent of current capacity; and second, while Oregon’s carbon emissions peaked in 1999, most other states did not manage to curb increases until nearly a decade later.
But to avoid global warming disasters—like rising ocean levels and prolonged droughts—much more needs to be done. At this point, even with some recent behavioral modifications like more people ditching cars for bikes and cities switching to renewable energy sources, there is no evidence that Oregon as a whole is doing anything better than holding the line, nor is it making any motions toward reaching the ultimate goal—reduction of carbon emissions by 2050 to 75 percent of 1990 levels.
The conference hopes to help bend that trend in the right direction. Even so, Journet is frank about the current trends—and about opportunities to dramatically change those. Already, sea levels around the world have risen about eight inches since 1880 and are projected to rise another four feet by 2100, which portends horrible impacts to the 100,000 acres of coastline in Oregon and Washington that rest within 3 feet of the high tide line. Likewise, average temperatures have continued to inch upwards and rainfall downward. The last two years, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry, have been the worst for forest fires on state-protected land in Oregon in 60 years.
“While reducing greenhouse gas emissions is critical,” Journet says, “it is probably worth noting that a considerable focus in the conference will be on preparation for inevitable climate change. Since one of the main consequences of the trends is, and will continue to be, dwindling snowpack and water shortage, we will be including brief discussion of the successful strategy that Ashland is employing to promote water conservation in that city.”
He goes on to indicate other problems—and the need to talk about how the region can adopt. “It is worth noting,” he adds, “that forests and agriculture are suffering because of these trends and will continue to suffer. Problems in these areas will be considered as will solutions, notably efforts to promote forest resiliency as a means of withstanding future trends.”
The conference has three prominent keynote speakers: Mary Wood, a law professor from University of Oregon; Phil Mote, who has lead the legislatively-created Oregon Climate Change Research Institute for the past six years at Oregon State University; and Kitty Piercy, the dynamic mayor of Eugene who will talk about “The Successful Urban Action Experience” (9 am, Wedn. October 14).
Ultimately, the conference is not about doomsaying, but about potential solutions, both as personal habits for residents and also municipality-based. The conference is billed as one part inspiration, one part conversation, and one part kick-in-the-pants to step into action.
“The evidence suggests that we, as a planet, need to be fully weaned from fossil fuels by 2050 if we are to protect the livability of the planet for future generations,” explains Journet.
He goes on to point out some encouraging, existing solutions in the region, like a cluster of solar installation companies in the area, and programs in Ashland and Talent to reduce greenhouse gases, and installation of solar panels at the parking lot at Medford Airport.
With roughly half of electricity in the region from “fossil fuel combustion,” points out Journet, “we can make a huge dent in (greenhouse gas emissions) by encouraging renewable energy sources in the Basin.”
Rogue Basin Climate Summit
Tues, October 13 – Wedn, October 14
Inn at the Commons, 200 N. Riverside Ave, Medford