Kyoto, here we come

Leslie Carlson

In early June, the Portland City Commission and Multnomah County will formally receive a progress report on local efforts to fight climate change. And for once, the news is good—so good that it’s possible to believe we might be able to make sustained progress on climate change on a local level.

In 1993, Portland became the first local government to adopt a plan to address global warming (Multnomah County signed on in 2001). The plan outlined a hodge-podge of more than a hundred action steps, each designed to cut overall greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2010—exceeding the 7 percent reduction standard set by the Kyoto Protocol.

Against all odds, these actions appear to be working. For the last three years, greenhouse gas emissions in Portland have dropped and last year, they dropped below 1990 levels. Even more significant, emissions are down 17 percent below what they were forecast to have been had we done nothing at all.

What’s most interesting about the data from this progress report, however, is that there is no one reason that our emissions have fallen. Instead, steady and concentrated effort on a wide and diverse number of fronts has brought success. These include:

A 75 percent growth in the use of public transit;
The City of Portland’s purchase of renewable energy for 10 percent of its energy needs;
One of the highest recycling rates in the nation;
The planting of 750,000 trees and shrubs;
Home weatherization;
Energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.

Portland isn’t alone in taking action on global warming. In the absence of any federal effort on climate change, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has organized a bipartisan group of 132 mayors across the country that have pledged to meet the Kyoto Protocol. (Portland, Eugene and Corvallis are all taking part). These mayors know that the potentially disastrous effects of climate change will be felt at the local level, and that in the absence of help from the feds, it falls to them to do something. With demonstrated progress on fighting greenhouse gas emissions, Portland may be able to play a key role in this group.

Of course, the news isn’t all good. Portland has yet to achieve even the 7 percent reduction in emissions that Kyoto calls for. Scientists believe we must reduce greenhouse emissions by 60 to 70 percent in the next few decades in order to stabilize the climate. Most troubling, other countries have a huge head start on the United States in cutting emissions.

And yet…it’s nice to see Portland make some measure of progress towards solving the pre-eminent environmental problem of our time. Portlanders, pat yourselves on the back—and don’t forget to take the bus.

  • mt (unverified)

    I completely agree Leslie.

    What surprises me most is that Portlanders all don't go out and test drive a hybrid. I had one for a week (borrowed a family members) and it cut my gas bill by 70%. I also breathed easier knowing that I was producing 90% fewer emissions. The other funny thing is that when stopped the Toyota Prius turns off! The very next time I drove my pure gas burner I felt guilty not turning my engine off at a stop light.

    I wish the tax credit was more than $1500 to offset the additional cost.

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    Hybrid sales are up nationwide 86% over last year and they are definitely the way to go for the short term. That said, Leslie points to the fact that we have a long way to go, but it is nice to hear some encouraging statistics.

    Gotta go. I've got some backyard burning to finish up, and I need to get out the barbeque grill for the weekend.......


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    Gotta go. I've got some backyard burning to finish up, and I need to get out the barbeque grill for the weekend

    Pat, don't forget to fire up your gas-powered mower and leaf blower...your yard is looking a little skanky.

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    Leslie, this is fantastic news. There was a recent article in the New Yorker about how grim things are going to become, even if we don't reduce our emissions. It threw me into a low grade depression. Maybe your news will pull me out.

    I'll go use my push mower in celebration!

  • Jud (unverified)

    I've always felt that a kick for emissions reductions would come when some luxury car makers or SUV makers starting banging out hybrids. And sure enough, Lexus took me up on my prognistication... Twice.

  • Jud (unverified)

    Good heavens. I haven't written such a poor set of sentences since I was 8...

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    Well finally some good news. Each summer afternoon, when I look off to the northwest - the gray cloud from Portland comes over the Cascades and towards my place. Even though I'm 150 road miles from Portland, I get to share that pollution.

    It's really good to hear that at least some urban environmentalists have decided to work on their backyard instead of mine.

  • Mark in Texas (unverified)

    What is the availability of E85 in Portland? That is a mixture of 15% gasoline and 85% ethanol. In adition to making the engine run cleaner, it uses only 15% fossile fuel.

    The interesting thing is that the auto manufacturers have made the Flexible Fuel engines that can use either E85 or regular unleaded gasoline mainly for SUVs and large pick up trucks. Picture the irony of a Chevy Suburban actually going more miles per gallon of gasoline than a Prius hybrid.

    In the midwest, E85 is selling for $1.59 to $1.83 per gallon.

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