Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Earth Day: Working on Climate like we Prepared for Corona

I see this is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day tomorrow. I'm not feeling very good about Earth Day these days.

Electric cars were enough of a thing
to be on a stamp in 1901
The City Manager's update of April 17th has a note on our Climate Action Plan.

Really looks like we're queuing up a box-checking exercise
Rather than taking Salem's emissions and backing into reductions to meet a target, we seem to be starting with a list of seven categories for mitigation and adaptation.

Since transportation is some 53% of our emissions, a serious plan would be sure to tackle that as one of the leading matters for mitigation. Here, in the list of seven categories transportation seems very subordinate and likely to be buried in a kind of check list.

It continues to look like our Plan will be more flag-waving and virtue-signalling than substance, mostly small changes on the margins rather than the structural changes that actually scale to reduce emissions meaningfully. Electric cars are great, but we really also have to drive less often and drive fewer miles, for example. Better gadgets, composting, and upcycled cuteness alone won't do the trick. A handful of ADUs annually is not a meaningful change in city-wide land use. We aren't thinking enough about proportion, scale, and impact for each potential policy.

via Twitter
Last week The Oregonian published an opinion on the Pandemic and Climate by Barbara Dudley, "We can act in a crisis. Except when the crisis is climate change."

Dudley's identified as
senior policy advisor to the Working Families Party and a senior fellow at the Center for Public Service at Portland State University. She served as executive director of Greenpeace USA from 1992 to 1997.
She also has a local connection. She is one of the original partners and current Chair of the Board for Bethel Heights Vineyards, in the Eola Hills just above Zena and Spring Valley. Bethel Heights started in 1977, with their first commercial vintage in 1984. They were not the first here, but they were still pretty early.

Bethel Heights on a 1980s map of the Eola Hills
Several of the vineyard and winery names have changed
and many new ones have been added.
(Notes in blue added here)
Wine growers know all about our changing climate. Whether they own and manage a vineyard directly, or just purchase fruit, they are very close to farmers, and the produce each year is a concentrate of "liquid sunshine," a kind of elixir that can say something quintessential about the growing season. Our seasons are very much warmer and the harvest earlier than they used to be, and the wines show it directly. In the 1970s and 80s, rainy, cool harvests and leaner wines were much more common.

About climate and our refusal to act, Dudley writes
We can take extraordinary measures to flatten the curve of infection by the coronavirus but can’t even begin to meet the milquetoast targets of the Paris Climate Accords.

We seem perfectly capable of coming up with sudden infusions of trillions of dollars into the economy to rescue airlines, cruise lines, retailers and restaurants with instant cash bailouts. We build hospitals overnight. We even bail out workers displaced by the COVID-19 outbreak – unheard of in the United States since the Great Depression – but can’t wrap our heads around the need for a “Just Transition” for workers in the fossil fuel industry, with income support and job retraining as we transition to a clean-energy economy. We can use emergency measures to instantly transform auto factories into manufacturing ventilators and protective gear. But we haven’t the imagination to transform those same factories into making wind turbines and solar panels. We can mandate closures of entire cities, but we can’t mandate energy efficiency in those cities’ buildings. We can order everybody to stay in their homes, but we can’t ask them to insulate their attics.
The rhetoric might be a little overheated and too broad.

Still, in general terms, as I think she means, the comparison works: We are capable of putting the economy and society into a wartime-level or New Deal style transformation for the coronavirus, and we are capable of doing the same for climate. Even if our positive actions on the Pandemic have been imperfect and belated and uncoordinated, once in motion a number of them, especially by Governors, have been decisive and strong. We can act in a crisis.

More than action, though, is planning.

We put off, even ignored, preparing for the coronavirus (and any more general pandemic), and its consequences have been much more dire and deadly. The economic shock and the death tolls could have been much smaller.

Even more than our capacity to throw around infusions of trillions of dollars and mandate the closure of cities after the crisis arrived, it's our squandered capacity to plan intelligently and prudently before the crisis that matters here. Our capacity for trillion dollar infusions is not actually the most important detail. It's the planning or the refusal to plan that is key.

Equally, we are not preparing for climate, and the consequences will be much worse than they needed to be with better preparation. We are preparing for climate the same way we prepared for the coronavirus: Hardly at all.

If we are surprised by the number of dead and the wider costs in this Pandemic, let's be sure we are not "surprised" by climate. The warnings are all out there.

The Influence of Carbonic Acid
in the Air upon Temperature

by Svante Arrhenius in 1896

1 comment:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

I should have included this note on Sally Bush's 1909 electric car and a humorous episode of crashing into a storefront at the Grand Theater in 1910.