Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Draft Strategies for Climate Action Plan Still Evade the Heart of the Matter

The City and project team have published the first revision of a set of proposed strategies for our Climate Action Plan. The original was published in June. It seemed pretty chaotic and I wanted to wait for more clarity. The second, revised draft is still a welter, but we are approaching a deadline, supposedly with a Council Work Session next month, and so it merits some comment.

It's an awkward spreadsheet format
(and truncated here)

But before we comment, here is a really helpful typology of ways that people dismiss climate action by means of arguing for delay.

Typology of climate delay discourses

We will see several of them in the proposed strategies and actions listed in this current draft for our Climate Action Plan as well as the debate around them:

  • Individualism
  • No sticks, just carrots
  • All talk, little action and non-transformative solutions
  • Appeal to social justice (especially when talking about pricing parking or tolling)
  • Change is impossible

So this might be helpful in identifying delaying action or talk and in assessing the list of proposed actions and strategies.

Abstract of "Discourses of Climate Delay"

Our Climate Action Plan document leads with "Increase safety of and access to active commute modes to reduce vehicle miles traveled" (OTL1). Right off that's a carrot, no stick, and it also places the primary goal in a secondary position.

The proper primary goal should be "Reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled." Yet even that is not enough. It should be "Reduce VMT by XX% in 2035." It should be measurable, otherwise it is too squishy and symbolic.

And then under that goal we have nested a set of actions. Increasing safety and access is a means to that goal and a secondary, supporting action, inviting people not to make a driving trip.

Most of these are carrots, no sticks

The tone and structure here is backwards, essentially protecting autoism. It suggests we are not yet very serious.

It's not until the 27th item that we get to paid parking.

And with the 37th and 38th item, we get the old canard of "reduce congestion and emissions from idling." This really has no place in a serious plan for reducing emissions. The goal is not to make the driving trip, not to speed it along by reducing congestion and idling.

The congestion and idling myth

Reducing idling doesn't help us here.

Remember this from last September?

We should eliminate the driving trips, not speed cars through intersections, parking lots, driveways, and new practice of "ecodriving." (Non-transformative solution!) The ecodrive is the drive not taken.

Maybe there will be more to say in greater detail later, but on first glance the list does not look so promising. The total number of items is 173, and many of them, perhaps near half even, are identified as having "low" potential for greenhouse gas reductions. The list looks padded out with filler and symbol, and it is hard to see any total shape and a real path to that 50% reduction by 2035.

One thing that would be helpful is to pull out a list of those items identified as having "high" greenhouse gas reduction potential. Let's see those actions we think will be most successful, see the "suggested timeframe" and estimated cost range. Shouldn't that be the center of any plan?

Shouldn't this be the way we evaluate ideas?

We still haven't seen even a basic swag at charting effectiveness and cost. Not to mention any modeling showing analytically that a 50% reduction by 2035 is plausible under this current proposal.

This list as we have it is mainly symbolic, not oriented to actual reductions.

So it is hard to look at the list and take a very positive first impression from it. It looks instead like it continues to evade the heart of things and is not positioning Salem for success on a 50% reduction by 2035.

Earlier this month


Ken said...

As a member of the Citizens Advisory Traffic Commission (CATC) we were asked by staff at last meeting what we wanted to talk about at our next meetings. I asked about traffic calming, and was told it was a enforcement issue and that state guidelines made it difficult. At the next meeting I will ask specifically what the city can do to reduce vehicle trips.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Another angle is to follow-up to ask about specific provisions in "state guidelines" make traffic calming difficult. Find out exactly how the City justifies that stance. It is likely that at least some of those "guidelines" are not nearly as firm as the City would like us all to believe!

Susann Kaltwasser said...

You are spot on with regards to needing more precise, measurable goals. With out a target, how can you hit the mark?
Salem is very bad at this concept. I come from an education background where I had to create very specific benchmarks, then goals and strategies for achieving those goals. Those goals were measured frequently to see if they were being met or needed to be adjusted by adding strategies or making other modification. To set a goal of 50% would indicate failure. Can you imagine a goal for reading to say the child must learn 50% of the alphabet?

My suggestion to staff was to create materials in a convenient form for the average person on how to reduce their mileage. Then do one for businesses and so forth.

Examples are valuable because it encourages us to think in specifics and easy adjustments to our daily lives.

Something that our household has been successful at doing. The pandemic has actually helped!
We now have reduced our annual mileage to less than 2,000 miles a year between 3 vehicle. Please, don't jump on me for having 3 vehicles because each is needed at some point, but the overall use is very low.

Of course, every household varies, but we have found some basic changes in our lives has worked. And I am sure that with some examples and some thoughtfulness, most household can find strategies that work for them. But a lot of people need specific examples and where possible some analysis of the cost or time savings.

My husband keeps a log of all gas purchases with a milage log. Takes just a few seconds at the pump. So, he can see his monthly milage, cost of gas and MPG. One the past few years he has seen his consumption plummet due to Covid, but to translate that savings into dollars is impressive. Going from a tank of gas every 2 months, to just 2 a year.

In my vehicle the savings are not as dramatic because I do the shopping. But by just going shopping once a week and combining it with other errands, my milage has been cut in half. These are real savings to the environment and to our bank account!

But here is the significant question. How do we get the Climate Action Planners off this track and onto a real and effective one?

I make a suggestion and it gets added to the list of 173 items. But what does that help?

Staff presented an overview of the CAP to my neighborhood association. It was so passive that when time for questions, no one had any. No one had suggestions, but me, either. That tells me that either people do not think it is about them, or they did not feel engaged, or they don't care. All of these are bad for the world's future.

I wondered if that was the goal. To just go through the motions and say, we have a Climate Action Plan. But we really don't.