By Don MacGillivray

A man-made climate emergency threatens our city, our state and the natural world. 

Although Portland is playing its part to restore a safe climate and we continue to set a positive example, our clean climate efforts have plateaued and Portland has lost its place in the top 10 US clean energy cities in.

Local sources of air pollution result in increased respiratory, heart and cancer diseases along with other serious consequences. 

Nearly 40 percent of people of color here live within 1.2 miles of major sources of air pollution. Exposure to diesel pollution alone is estimated to cost $3.5 billion a year in health costs. According to the Oregon Environmental Council, every dollar spent to reduce air pollution delivers $17 in health benefits.

Last June, Portland City Council declared a “Climate Emergency” and set a new goal for 2030 to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent from the city’s 1990 levels. To date, Portland has reduced carbon emissions by 20 percent in the last 25 years.

City Council proposes to accelerate the transition to clean, renewable energy and address environmental justice by establishing fees on Portland’s largest polluters. Any facility that releases over 2,500 tons of airborne carbon a year will pay a fee of $25 per ton annually. 

35 facilities have been identified as the first industries to pay the fee. This fee is anticipated to raise $10 million each year. Oregon businesses pay some of the lowest taxes in the US, nevertheless, the proposal is likely to face opposition. 

At the federal level of government, many republicans and democrats are working to address Climate Change as the executive bias against it reverses.

The Republican Party, with the help of big business in 2017, addressed Climate Change by publishing The Conservative Case For Carbon Dividends, that states, “market-based policies are the most efficient approach to slowing Climate Change.” 

It was signed by over 2,600 economists, including 18 Nobel laureates. British Petroleum, Exxon-Mobil, GM, JPMorgan Chase, AT&T, IBM and others. The Republican elder statesmen James Baker, Henry Paulson Jr. and Martin Feldstein are widely quoted.

The fundamental failure of our economy is that market prices do not include the costs that production impose on the environment. Economists agree that the solution is a gradually rising carbon fee collected from fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. This fee revenue can be returned to citizens in the form of monthly dividends. 

A family of four would receive $2,000 per year and it would increase over time. 70 percent of Americans would receive more in dividends than they would pay in increased prices. This will encourage energy companies, leading industries and American consumers to move toward cleaner, more efficient choices. The government would keep only enough to pay program costs.

The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019 (H.R. 763) was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2018 with bipartisan support that proposed a fee on carbon to reduce greenhouse gas emissions similar to the above strategy. It was also introduced in the Senate as S. 3791. Democrats widely support this legislation and their Green New Deal.

If there is any question about the veracity of Climate Change, the recent film and book, A Life On Our Planet, is a powerful witness statement illustrating the life lived by Sir David Attenborough, the British naturalist and broadcaster. 

Since the 1950s, he traveled a changing world year by year and saw first-hand the monumental scale of the world’s environmental changes. The film presents a wide variety of distressed ecosystems along with solutions that could improve all life on our planet. This 90-minute film is available on Netflix.

The earth is changing quickly toward becoming uninhabitable. There are fires in Australia, Siberia, California and the Amazon, floods in China, Bangladesh and India, heat waves in the northern hemisphere, and the Arctic, Antarctic and Greenland are losing trillions of tons of ice. These systems are all linked like dominoes.

The damage done to the Earth has crept up imperceptibly and must be reversed. The sustainability revolution must continue while we detach from the addiction of growth by distributing resources more evenly and reforming our lifestyles. 

New fortunes will be made by innovators and entrepreneurs that devise products and services to help solve problems.

If we change to plant-based diets, only half the farmland will be required. 

The Netherlands has increased its farm yields tenfold with less water and fewer chemicals while emitting less carbon. 

Costa Rica has replanted native trees over half of the country after its extreme deforestation in the 1980s and today, Morocco generates 40 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources.

This film, along with Attenborough’s other works, illustrate the tools and solutions required to fix it. The new federal administration promises to do all that can be done to address Climate Change both here and around the world.