Oregon’s target of a 75 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 (from 1990 levels) is ambitious, but in isolation it’s only symbolic. It’s a target that Oregon can’t realistically achieve on its own, and even if it could it would have little, if any, impact on climate change.
While reducing the state’s carbon footprint is an intuitively attractive response to climate concerns, it’s one that doesn’t fit with the global nature of the climate change problem and doesn’t leverage Oregon’s real opportunities to address the problem. Two papers we co-authored a decade ago, Outcome-Oriented Leadership: How State and Local Climate Change Strategies Can Most Effectively Contribute to Global Warming Mitigation and State Climate Change Initiatives: Think Locally, Act Globally, argued for an alternative set of metrics by which to promote state and local climate initiatives. It’s good to see the same argument resurfacing today, as in UC Berkeley Professor Severin Borenstein’s recent post, It’s Time to Refocus California’s Climate Strategy:
“We need to refocus on how California can realistically contribute to solving the problem of global climate change. Reaching emissions targets for California may be part of that strategy, but that should not be the singular or even the primary goal.
“The primary goal of California climate policy should be to invent and develop the technologies that can replace fossil fuels, allowing the poorer nations of the world – where most of the world’s population lives – to achieve low-carbon economic growth. If we can do that, we can avert the fundamental risk of climate change. If we don’t do that, reducing California’s carbon footprint won’t matter.”
Borenstein is right: Technology development and deployment will be key if we decide to really address climate change. But a state like Oregon can disproportionately influence the pace and outcome of climate change mitigation efforts in many ways (often while reducing emissions):
- More rapidly deploying EV and fuel-cell vehicles
- Facilitating the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles (a game-changer)
- Aggressively demonstrating new renewable energy sources like wave power
- Proving that energy storage can facilitate a growing role for renewables without losing reliability
- Experimenting with carbon pricing policies that deliver predictability rather than disruption
- Launching the next generation of energy efficiency policies and measures
- Experimenting with climate literacy and climate risk communications initiatives
- Proving that public/private and bipartisan partnerships can be built around climate risks
- Convincing foundations and philanthropies to re-engage on climate change
- Aggressively promoting the new “circular economy”
Oregon’s demographics, politics, energy mix and general values are particularly suited to experimenting with initiatives like these. Oregon was a national energy efficiency pioneer 30 years ago through the Hood River Conservation Project and was the first state to mandate GHG mitigation for new power plants. Oregon has unparalleled communications and advertising firms that can advance climate literacy and risk management messaging, a progressive business community and a broad renewable energy resource base.
What Oregon doesn’t have is a vision of how these and other threads can fit together into a state-wide coalition and movement that makes Oregon all that it can be in leading on climate change, while really addressing the needs of the problem. This coalition would help protect Oregon’s future, while attracting business interest and investment. Symbolic GHG goals are great, but Oregon can do a lot more, and it’s high time we got started. If not us, who?
This blog post originally appeared in The Oregonian’s “In My Opinion” section, June 22, 2014.