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March 7, 2021

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In Our View: Climate action will aid environment, economy

The Columbian
Published:

The Vancouver City Council should be aggressive in pursuing strategies to curb carbon emissions. In addition to being beneficial for the environment, such strategies can be economically valuable and mark the region as a forward-thinking locale that will be attractive to the businesses and workers of the future.

In an effort to properly prepare for that future, city officials are considering proposals put forth by Cascadia Consulting Group, a Seattle-based organization that recently studied carbon emissions in the city.

An audit found that passenger vehicles account for 25 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, with 24 percent from air travel to and from the region — mostly through Portland International Airport — and 9 percent from cargo trucks.

None of that is surprising; transportation long has been known as the primary emitter in American cities. The question now becomes: What do we do about it?

“I’m excited that we’re undertaking this effort,” City Councilor Laurie Lebowsky said. “This is one of the most consequential projects we may see at the city, for the future.”

Indeed. The impact of climate change is increasingly alarming, as demonstrated by wildfires and hurricanes growing in size, frequency and intensity. And a vast majority of climate scientists — people who have studied the issue rather than taking talking points from the internet — agree that human activity in the form of carbon emissions contribute to it.

Catastrophe is predictable. As the NASA website asserts, “Effects that scientists had predicted in the past would result from global climate change are now occurring: loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and longer, more intense heat waves.”

That will impact global ecosystems and food chains, and it calls for preventive actions both large and small. Left unchecked, climate change also will lead to a global migration away from regions that are increasingly becoming uninhabitable.

Renewable energy such as wind, solar and hydroelectricity are essential to curbing carbon emissions, and Washington has done an admirable job of increasing reliance on those sources. But rethinking transportation and the way in which buildings are constructed is the key to progress.

A new report from the Coalition for Urban Transitions claims that cities can cut carbon transmissions by 90 percent before 2050, using only existing technologies, including the retrofitting of existing buildings. That sounds like an unwieldy and unlikely proposition, but we are past the time of allowing naysayers to scuttle climate goals with specious reasoning. Action is required to slow the tide.

Cascadia Consulting Group has presented the Vancouver City Council with four options for reducing the city’s carbon footprint. Similar cities such as Bellevue, Redmond and Everett have adopted plans to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050. “I’d like us to be shooting very high,” Vancouver City Councilor Ty Stober said. “Start high, and then let’s work backward, rather than starting at the base and working up.”

Critics argue that American cities cannot control China, which emits about twice as much carbon as any other nation. That is true, but it ignores the moral obligation for Vancouver to do what it can and for the United States to be a leader on the global stage.

Enhancing public transportation, incentivizing electric vehicle use and creating densely packed neighborhoods to reduce car trips would be a start. But it should not be the finish for a crisis that requires bold action.

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