By Don MacGillivray
The world increasingly talks about Climate Change and Global Warming, yet rarely is the story completely told. The basic problem is the excessive release of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere from a variety of sources. Many sources of CO2 emissions are natural and they account for nearly ten percent and of annual emissions.
Portland is a leader in the movement to reverse the changing climate. The City started this work in the the mid-1990s with the first Climate Action Plan published and adopted by the City and the County in 2009. The second draft Climate Action Plan was recently released and is open for public comment through the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. It is a good read with numerous diagrams, charts, graphs, and photographs. The city is soliciting public comment through April 10 2015.
The current level of CO2 in the atmosphere is 398 parts per million or 0.0398%. The norm for the pre-industrial world varied from about 180-280 parts per million. A little background might be helpful. CO2 is measured in gigatons meaning billions of tons. Between 1850 and 2000 1,565 GT of CO2 was released into the atmosphere. From 2000 to 2012, there was an additional 405 GT increase. The current annual increase of CO2 into the atmosphere is 39 GT. The fossil-fuel reserves of CO2 are estimated at 2,860 GT.
The obvious solution to the excessive release of CO2 would be to better control our consumption of energy. Another would be to change our energy sources to those that release little or no CO2 into the atmosphere. Science is working to develop a variety of potential solutions to address this situation. Eventually, national security will become a critical reason for acting to reduce climate change. It is ironic that the United States’ so called “military-industrial complex” is probably the largest polluter in the world.
Forests are our friend as long as they remain strong and healthy, but ongoing deforestation around the world is another large source of CO2 emissions. The natural decay of organic material in forests, grasslands, volcanic activity, and forest fires release 439 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year.
Preserving and restoring forests, understory plants, healthy soils and wetlands helps slow climate change. Yearly natural processes remove half of the world’s natural carbon emissions from the atmosphere. Physical and biological processes annually remove 450 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere leaving the human generated CO2 as the critical source of increased of hydrocarbon emissions.
Biological carbon sequestration utilizes naturally-occurring processes to capture carbon dioxide and store it permanently. Plants play a large role in reducing the effects of CO2 increases by naturally using carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. Forests comprise twenty percent of the total land area of the world and have the potential for absorbing about one-tenth of global carbon emissions. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that in 2012 forests offset 16 percent of the country’s annual carbon emissions.
A prime location for permanent excessive carbon dioxide storage is underground in deep geologic rock formations. The United States Geological Survey has determined that the United States has the potential capacity of storing 3,000 GT of CO2 in the form of a pressurized liquid. While the costs and other factors are not fully known, this is expected to be a safe way to store CO2. It is surprising that we may extract energy in the from of oil and gas from the earth and then send its nitrogen back to where it came from to prevent its negative impacts in the atmosphere.
This Climate Action Plan identifies 20 objectives and more than 100 actions in nine categories that will put Portland and Multnomah County on a path to reduce carbon emissions by forty percent from 1990 levels by 2030. It focuses principally on major actions to be taken in the next five years to accelerate emission reductions. To draft this Climate Action Plan, City and County staff worked with a Steering Committee, an Equity Working Group and many technical advisers. These groups helped to identify the near term actions most likely to result in the long term changes necessary to achieve these ambitious climate action goals, while advancing other community goals related to prosperity, and environmental health.
Portland is already very successfully achieving positive results from the first Climate Action Plan.
Residential and commercial recycling has been increased by 70 percent and landfill use has been decreased by 35 percent. Portland has added major light rail lines and the Portland Streetcar which has helped to double transit ridership and reduce gasoline consumption by 29 percent per person.
Portland has over 260 miles of bikeways and we bike to work at nine times the national average. Three million new trees have been planted in natural areas. There are more than 250 green building projects, solar energy in 3,000 buildings, and local government operations annually saves of over $6 million in energy usage. While this is a great beginning, more will need to be done to achieve the goal of a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.
For the complete story of Climate Change in Portland please read the draft Climate Action Plan and make your comments and suggestions by April 10, 2015. The Plan is available at: www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/climate