The climate crisis deserves a response equal to the challenge

By Lenny Dee of Portland, Oregon. Lenny is the co-founder of Onward Oregon.

All of us have had friends whose relationships went through massive upheaval. Usually one friend of the couple is making sure that change is inevitable, while the other party thinks that everything is basically fine, that with a few tweaks the relationship can continue on its steady course. It seems that everyday the earth is telling us our weather is going to get warmer and more extreme while we plan to expand freeway capacity with the Columbia River Crossing, adding light rail and a bike lane to convince ourselves we're doing something about climate chaos.

There is overwhelming observable, scientific evidence that the Earth as we know it won't exist by the end of this century. Its happening as we sit here in the relative comfort of the Pacific Northwest-acquifiers drying up in the midwest, severe drought in the southwest, glaciers disappearing from Glacier Park. Despite a down economy world-wide emissions rose a record 6% in 2010. The Netherlands recognizing what is coming has a funded 200 year plan to mitigate damages which includes literally knocking down housing to provide space for rising waters. Will we be building moats around Miami, New Orleans, Washington D.C., and lower Manhattan? Arizona will be over 105 degrees 14 weeks a year, Texas is projected to be over 90 degrees half a year. How will the Northwest deal with thousands of climate refugees from a parched Southwest. There is a part of us that shuts down when hearing how monumental the problem is. We intuitively know that the way we live and work needs to change as its part of a problem that is overwhelming systematic.

Our politicians are guilty of capitulating their leadership responsibility. No one wants to be labeled as Dr. Gloom. Crisis can bring opportunity. The folks we vote for, give money to, and knock on doors for don't see a way of providing the forthright leadership we need. If asked would Governors Kitzhaber and Gregiore disagree with MIT's scientists projections of a nine degree temperature rise by the end of the century?

At Onward Oregon we share a similar lack of backbone. We've opposed the Columbia River Crossing on the basis of financial risks and faulty transportation projections. While that might be an affective short term argument it begets the primary question of why facilitate an economic lifestyle model that have to all to soon radically change. If we're going to spend $3 billion on a project in this region wouldn't it be smarter to start envisioning and planning a truly self sufficient economy. According to energy Secretary Steven Chu, California by mid-Century, is likely going to have a difficult time feeding its own population more less trucking food up I-5 to the Northwest. Oregon has some of the most fertile land in the world, yet our biggest cash crop is lawn seed. It seems like there would be a great opportunity to revitalize our rural communities while providing jobs and training.

After Pearl Harbor, in President Roosevelt's State of The Union address he announced a goal of producing 60,000 planes. He called in the automobile industry and they said to the President we are already making 3 million cars, we'll help but this is a pretty ambitious goal. President Roosevelt said you don't understand we're not going to be making automobiles anymore. The automobile industry was restructured and we wound up making 229,000 planes. Oregon needs to envision and implement that kind of change for our state. The kind of funding proposed for the Columbia River Crossing should be used to help us develop an adaptation plan.

Last week Thomas Friedman in the Times interviewed eco-optimist Paul Gilding, author of the Great Disruption. "As the impact of the imminent Great Disruption hits us, he says, 'our response will be proportionally dramatic, mobilizing as we do in war. We will change at a scale and speed we can barely imagine today, completely transforming our economy, including our energy and transport industries, in just a few short decades.'

We will realize, he predicts, that the consumer-driven growth model is broken and we have to move to a more happiness-driven growth model, based on people working less and owning less.'How many people' Gilding asks, 'lie on their death bed and say, ‘I wish I had worked harder or built more shareholder value,’ and how many say, ‘I wish I had gone to more ballgames, read more books to my kids, taken more walks? ’To do that, you need a growth model based on giving people more time to enjoy life, but with less stuff.'

Sounds utopian? Gilding insists he is a realist.'We are heading for a crisis-driven choice' he says. “We either allow collapse to overtake us or develop a new sustainable economic model. We will choose the latter. We may be slow, but we’re not stupid.'

As environmentalists we often downplay how complex and difficult the transition to a green economy is going to be. There is an opportunity before us to live a more harmonious life with our families, our neighbors, and our community but it won't be easy. Its time for Oregon to show how smart we are.

Comments

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    Great post- thank you! Dead-on correct about how serious the situation is and how little time we have to do something about it (the CRC isn't part of that something).

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    Lenny's analysis is reasonable, but I have a difficult time being an eco-optimist. Those profiting from the status quo have done a great job immobilizing society. The slow emergency is overcoming us quickly. The realistic expectation of positive feedback loops on a warming planet suggests we have little time to prevent runaway climate change. It may already be too late.

    My prediction is that our energy use will change more from increasing costs brought on by peak oil than by conscious efforts to protect the biosphere. I think our transition to a "green economy" will take the form of rebuilding local communities after current national and international structures disintegrate under the pressure of expensive energy and devastated climate. This is not a wise course. Unfortunately, we are not a wise species.

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    Tom,

    If I was a betting man I'd go with your scenario but if we're to have any chance of positive change soon we need to present a vision worth working towards

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    The world is coming to an end!

    Isn't anyone listening?! The world is coming to an END!

    We must quickly dispatch legislators to reorder the economy, centralize control and take away personal freedoms.

    All in the name of stopping global warming!

    Ignore that the globe hasn't warmed in over a decade! That is just a distraction. We MUST address this now!!!!

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      Check your data with climatologists and not climate cranks. You will find that you are mistaken, which is often the case when one's philosophy is at odd with reality.

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      here you go: 2010 ties 2005 as warmest year

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jan/12/2010-joint-warmest-on-record

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    @Todd Wynn: read Dr. James Hansesn's book, "Storms Of My Grandchildren". The science about climate change is documented and supported therein.

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