City Council should be praised for its stand on climate change | Opinion Columns


I was disappointed by the Union-Bulletin’s editorial position on the Walla Walla City Council’s recent decision to reaffirm our community’s commitment to help solve the difficult problems of climate change, global warming and extreme weather volatility.

There are two significant flaws in the Union-Bulletin’s reasoning.

First, the editorial says the City Council should not take a position on climate change because it is a “hyperpartisan issues.” This might be true, but it ignores the fact that climate change has become a partisan issue only because a strident minority insists that the issue be addressed in those terms.

According to the Yale Project on Climate Communication, solid majorities of Americans, even in Eastern Washington, are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about the issue. Only 16 percent are not concerned at all, and it is only that minority who insists on framing this as a partisan wedge issue.

Allowing that minority to prevent debate or even discussion of the issue hands them an important victory they otherwise could not gain, a triumph of political posturing over scientific analysis and rational decision-making.

But the more important mistake the editorial makes is claiming that the City Council has “ no influence or authority” over this issue.

That’s just completely wrong.

As a member of the city’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability, I know the effort to update the Walla Walla Comprehensive Plan over the next 12 months or so, will require Council members and city staff to wrestle with the long-term implications of policies on building codes, land use, transportation, water quality and many other issues.

Those choices must take into account the likelihood that ongoing climate change and weather volatility will have an effect on our community’s quality of life. Those quality-of-life policy decisions should also consider how our community may contribute to, or reduce, global warming.

To help understand the importance of local decision-making, the City Council — and the editors of the Union-Bulletin — might take advice from a new book, “Climate of Hope,” by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the former president of the Sierra Club, Carl Pope. The subtitle of their book is “How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet.”

In addition, the author and environmental entrepreneur Paul Hawken recently published a book called “Drawdown: the Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.”

The book offers a list of 100 solutions that passed stringent criteria: Each proposed solution must be backed up by detailed climate and financial models, and survive rigorous review by outside experts and a 120-person advisory board that included geologists, climatologists, economists, engineers, and others.

It might surprise the U-B editors, but more than a dozen of the solutions that passed that test are found under the heading “Buildings and Cities.” Another dozen each are listed under “Land Use” and “Transport.” These are topics that fall squarely within the responsibilities of the Walla Walla City Council.

The Paris Agreement that the U-B views as a partisan political issue is based on a series of voluntary commitments by both nations and what the bureaucrats call sub-national governments, i.e. cities and states, to take a variety steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Despite ideological bluster from opponents, the necessary remedial actions are most likely to strengthen our economies, promote innovation, and improve public health.

The City Council should be applauded for reaffirming our existing commitments and for being willing to consider the difficult trade-offs that must be made to protect the climate our grandchildren will be forced to live under.

Bart Preecs is the Walla Walla leader of the Citizens Climate Lobby and a member of the Advisory Committee on Sustainability for the city of Walla Walla.

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