Monday, April 14, 2014

In the News: Governor's Plan for Washington State to Lead the Charge on Climate Change

Lainey Piland photo
Every once in awhile, a particular moment will remind me why it is so wonderful to live in Washington. A glimpse of Mount Rainier, the Cascades, or the Olympics on a clear day.  The peaceful sound of rain pattering on the roof.  A commanding Superbowl victory (go Hawks!). Blooming cherry trees on the UW campus. Watching our entire state rush to the aid of a fellow community devastated by a natural disaster.

Another of these pride-inspiring moments occurred recently as I tuned in to the live broadcast of a Climate Desk Live event hosted by the University of Washington, at which Governor Jay Inslee discussed Washington State's action plan for climate change. I felt my Evergreen State pride swelling as the discussions went on and the governor outlined his plan for Washington state, and the Pacific Northwest as a whole, to become global leaders in taking action against climate change.  Not only did I feel pride, but also an overwhelming sense of relief, that at least, our own state is under the leadership of someone who gets it.  Climate change is real, it's dangerous, and it's happening NOW.

Governor Inslee started off the discussion by insisting that Washington is the place to fight climate change because 1. It's kind of beautiful here (in case you haven't noticed), 2. Our families are here - this is our home and we will fight for it, and 3. With our abundance of natural resources, from apple orchards to oyster beds, action on climate change is not optional: our state's agricultural abundance is in jeopardy.  The governor also argued that Washington has the people to act on climate change.  We are world leaders, we are people who understand science, we are entrepreneurs, and we are people who have a moral obligation to future generations to pass along the same healthy Washington state that we know and love today.

Wow, so we have a governor who loves this state as much as we do and who believes that as a people, we have the fortitude and ingenuity to take on climate change? Sign me up, let's get this thing done!  Just what exactly are we going to do?  Here is the governor's plan:

1. Put a cap on carbon pollution.  This is a legally binding limit that dictates the amount of carbon dioxide emissions allowed, and is a mechanism that has been proven to work (with limiting the sulfur dioxide emissions that caused acid rain).

2. Get off "coal by wire".  14% of Washington state's energy comes from coal plants in Montana.  Time to bring that "in house" and obtain our energy from our state's own renewable resources.

3. Reduce carbon pollution from the transportation system.  Commuters need choices, and the accessibility and funding for public transportation needs to be improved.  Vehicles also need to utilize less-polluting fuels, and a low-carbon fuel standard should be set.

4. Buildings need to become more energy efficient.

5. Research and development on energy-reducing, efficiency-increasing, and renewable technologies.  Need to perfect existing and create new technologies.

These are a few simple, straightforward solutions that can have a big impact on Washington's carbon emissions and fight against climate change.  Another part of the discussion I loved: Inslee made no bones about the fact that he was going to get this done, and would use every tool at his gubernatorial disposal to make these actions a reality. He is not waiting for the federal government to take action, or for another country to set an example for us.  He wants Washington state to lead the world on this issue.

To underscore the urgent need for action, Dean Lisa Graumlich of the UW College of the Environment presented a few statistics specifically pertaining to climate change in Washington:
  • Since the 1880's the average temperature in Washington state has increased by 1.3 degrees F. Doesn't sound too significant, does it?  Well, not until you consider that as a result, we have lost 25% of our snowpack (ONE-QUARTER!), which has led to decreased summertime water supply, decreased hydropower production in the summer, and increased flooding.  
  • Sea levels are projected to rise 3" by 2030, and 7" by 2050.  Again, these figures don't sound very significant (as Dean Graumlich points out, normal daily tidal fluctuations result in larger sea level shifts than this).  However, a rising sea level means that agricultural land and deltas will flood, and saltwater will infiltrate coastal aquifers, leading to water supply issues.  Sea level rise will also lead to beach erosion.
  • Wildfires have increased sixfold in just the past 30 years.  The fires are more severe, last longer, and are fueled in part when trees are killed by pine beetles that are flourishing in our warming climate.
Bottom line: we need to adapt to our "new normal" in this era of climate change and mitigate carbon dioxide pollution as much as possible. We cannot change the damage that has been done, but we can work immediately to prevent it from becoming the "worst case scenario" that destroys our beloved Evergreen State and threatens our prosperity and survival.

Clearly, actions in Washington state will be meaningless against climate change if the rest of the globe does nothing.  However, if our efforts can be an example, a model, an inspiration, a tipping point for other states, countries, and continents to act, we will be well on our way to punching climate change in the face and transitioning to a more sustainable global society.

If you have the time, I highly recommend watching the hour-and-a-half long video of the discussion. I've summarized the main points from two of the four speakers here, but there is much more to listen to!

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