September 10, 2006
Warming Up to a Global Concept
by Sherry Harbert
It is ironic that the revolution which ushered the masses into the global arena around 150 years ago launched global warming. The overwhelming amount of data places the Industrial Revolution as the starting gate for increasing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. When the sound for alarm about the environmental impact emerged from the scientific community decades ago, it drew only whispers inside government, the media and public. During the 1970s, the alarm grew loud as the 1973 Oil Crisis loomed, pollution had made waste of rivers and “Acid Rain” was a well-known term. What should have been catalysts for public change instead were swept away when energy was readily available. It did not stop the scientific community and others to sound the alarm. For many, it is an implicit need for survival, sustainability and the hope for future generations. Only this time, the sounds for alarm also come with new discoveries and innovations.
A Message to the Masses
Along the eastern banks of the Willamette River last month, a Clean Energy Fair brought together representatives from a number of environmental organizations, businesses and music to share ideas and solutions. Sponsored by the Alaska Coalition of Oregon, the event was a showcase of talent, concern and work done to educate and solve some of the effects of global warming. Over a dozen exhibitors featured everything from a flex car to solar applications, while speakers representing some of the major environmental agencies and businesses informed visitors of the impact of global warming and what is being done to counter some of its effects. For Portland Community College (PCC) students Nathan Jones and Jordan Rhodig, the event provided a venue for them to share their ideas and open dialogue with those outside the movement. “It’s important to break that bubble,” said Rhodig. “When people are receptive, I talk about it.”
One immediate venue for the two students is PCC. Though they face obstacles organizing on a campus that requires students and staff to travel each day, they are working to convince PCC’s transportation department to switch to biofuels to run their shuttle buses. Their aim is to increase the use of public transportation running on biofuel with a long term goal of reducing the amount of cars traveling to the campus. Convincing the administration to switch isn’t easy. Rhodig said issues of manufacturer warranties can complicate progress. “There is a lot of mis-information,” said Rhodig. “But there is progress. Students are making biofuels and a sustainability coordinator has been hired.” Students are working on a proto-type shuttle to demonstrate the advantages of switching to biofuels.
Their efforts go beyond their own campus. Jones has been working on student initiatives to bring all the campuses within the Portland area into a greener lifestyle. “They all have a huge impact on the city,” said Jones. “Campuses have a massive potential for waste.” Jones participated in the Sierra Student Coalition SPROG earlier this summer to help formulate a strategy for high schools as well as college campuses.
Jones and Rhodig’s passions go well beyond their educational goals. For each, it means a lifestyle change as well. “I’m on a low-car diet,” said Jones. “Anytime I can ride the bus, I do.” Jones has put in an organic garden to offset some of his food requirements. Rhodig gave up driving all together and rides his bike. Rhodig also gave up meat, because of the high-energy costs associated with production.
Both Jones and Rhodig explained their intentions are derived from the “1,000-mile salad” concept, which questions the need to use large amounts of fuel to transport food from large distances. “How much oil does it take to transport lettuce?” asked Rhodig. “Then there’s the packaging, fertilizers, farm equipment—all petroleum-based.” The question hits on what is emerging as the “carbon footprint.” Even British Petroleum (BP) uses it in their latest advertising campaign to inform the public about its work in alternative fuels. Though the campaign asks about the carbon footprint, it does not educate the public on exactly what that means.
Rhodig explained that the carbon footprint represents every piece of energy used by each individual. The footprint is the trail left from manufacturing, transportation, packaging and use. “I live on my greatest ideals and it wouldn’t even take off two-and-a-half years off global warming,” said Rhodig. “Even the best options available are not the best.”
Building a Sustainable Network
Neither the students nor others are waiting around in despair. During the Clean Energy Fair, Jones and Rhodig were working at the Oregon Global Warming Action Network (Oregwan) booth. The push to network with others is something Warren Shoemaker envisioned for Oregon. Shoemaker founded Oregwan this year to begin that trend. Between music sets, Shoemaker told the gathering of the legislative and business potential with the movement to address global warming. “This may be what we need to get our democracy back,” said Shoemaker, who works with sustainable solutions for industry. He closely monitors the agricultural industry to sees alternative fuels meeting immediate needs as it adapts to fluctuations in the future. Shoemaker said soybean and corn can provide both fuel and feed without taking one from the other, but will need to look to other sources as the markets peak in those areas.
Shoemaker sees a move to other alternative fuel sources in the long term. Cellulosic ethanol, produced from cellulose rather than corn, and algae are two biofuel sources for the future. But Shoemaker is also firmly planted in the present to find ways to address global warming today. He set out to establish a network of people and organizations to affect local and global responses from many organizations, government and business. His latest effort culminated in a ground-breaking forum, Aug. 8.
Oregwan’s Global Warming Forum featured Representative Earl Blumenauer, along with speakers representing some of the new wave of environmentally concerned organizations, Oregon State Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG), the Oregon Environmental Council, Sierra Club, the Oregon AFL-CIO and the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO).
“Clean energy is the perfect storm to bring so many people together,” Shoemaker told the audience. “It appeals to a lot of strange bedfellows—activists, business, political and religious groups.” Shoemaker said the challenge is the lack of awareness and the influence of the fossil fuel industry.
Oregon is not without its voices in global warming. It is one of Blumenauer’s priorities. He is almost a regular at many such venues, including the Power Shift Conference, held at Portland State University in April. At Oregwan’s forum, Blumenauer told the audience that he was inspired by the response from churches and college campuses. “In the way Silicon Valley created a culture, I want to see us as a sustainability center with businesses, churches, students and citizens.” It is a similar sentiment of Governor Ted Kulongowski, in his announcement earlier this summer to continue the Oregon Sustainability Act to direct all state agencies to focus on the issue, along with business and higher education.
Blumenauer said he would continue to work the issue on the legislative side. What he calls his “Green T” issues, Blumenauer is working to fund a variety of priorities. Having pushed for funding more bikes and walking paths, he hopes to rail and mass transit. “Despite a pathological destruction of rail by this Administration, the public won’t allow Amtrak to die,” said Blumenauer. “Rail is still most efficient.”
One of the legislative items that could drastically affect issues surrounding global warming is the upcoming Farm Bill. Blumenauer said that most of the subsidies go to six states. He wants to see that shift to more local funding that would establish permanent farmers’ markets in every city and increase the relocalization of food production. Blumenauer said he isn’t against international trade, but said it is one-sided. “We need open trade with poor countries,” he said. “And we need strong environmental protections so we can share.”
That will be a great challenge not only for Congress, but for every facet of the global warming movement. Most of the poorest countries in the world have the worst environmental conditions. In a pilot index issued this summer by Yale University, industrialized nations show an increasing environmental performance, while the world’s poorest countries are some of the most hazardous to their own populations and the world environment.
“Our energy policies have foreign implications,” said Jeremiah Baumann, an Environmental Advocate with OSPIRG. “We have a lot of energy problems. The problem is here and the problem is big.” Baumann said at the forum. He pointed to Oregon’s Clean Car Act as a positive outcome of the growing movement to address global warming, but said renewable energy standards must include energy efficiency and conservation as the quickest way to protect against global warming. In the long term, everything from improving tax credits for renewables to increasing wind and solar power were important. Baumann said any plan must include ways to help business work with the movement, not against it.
Sallie Schullinger-Krause of the Oregon Environmental Council said Oregon’s push toward the Clean Car Act was in part to citizen involvement. “People understand less is better,” she said, commenting that over 5,000 citizen comments were received during the campaign to convince Governor Ted Kulongowski to sign the act. Schullinger-Krause said that it helped cement Oregon as a leader, but it was only one step with much more to do.
Inclusion of Oregon’s AFL-CIO was one of the more unusual at the forum. After years of battles between the forest industry with jobs and the environmentalists, labor has been working toward the same goals as their former foes. “Our members went through the timber wars years ago and we’re still trying to get over that,” said Barbara Byrd of Oregon’s AFL-CIO. “We have learned since then that we don’t have to choose between jobs and the environment.” Byrd said that Oregon has lost jobs due to climate change, especially in the aluminum industry. “We believe the clean energy agenda and jobs are pro-active,” she said, detailing such things as retro-fitting buildings for increased energy efficiency. Byrd wants to see coordination between the growing “green” building industry and workers in low-income communities come together.
Having Faith in the Future
Another area that is changing the dynamics of global warming is the faith community. There is a growing movement within churches to address global warming. “Our denominations see this as one of the moral issues of our time,” said Jenny Holmes, director of Environmental Ministries at EMO. Holmes said EMO has formed a three-pronged approach, to include education, encouraging its members to go “green” and work more for public policy and advocacy. Holmes announced that EMO was sponsoring a campaign in October for 50 congregations in the Portland area to show “An Inconvenient Truth,” the global warming documentary. With the showings, Holmes hopes “to enter into a more sophisticated level of dialogue.”
One of the oldest organizations to work on climate change is the Sierra Club. Fred Hewitt of the Oregon Chapter said his organization has had lots of concerns. “This is the biggest thing we’ll ever see,” he said. “We’re going to see more difficult weather and more habitat changes.” He told the forum audience that what is done today will have an effect 50-100 years in the future. He congratulated Multnomah County for attempting to lower their emission levels. “The goal of reducing emissions by 20 percent in 2005 didn’t happen, yet I still see optimism,” Hewitt said.
With California’s recent agreement to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent, there is greater support for local and national initiatives. The City of Portland adopted a Local Action Plan on Global Warming earlier this year. It included switching much of its fleet of vehicles to biofuels. These are monumental strides in countering the effects of global warming. But they are miniscule when confronting one area—the driving public. Outside a showing of Al Gore’s documentary last month, a chilling conversation overheard in the crowd illustrates there is much more work to be done. “We have to support efforts like An Inconvenient Truth. It was fascinating, but we have to drive our SUV,” a man told his wife as they were leaving. “It’s for security and safety.”
© 2006, Foreign Interest
For more information:
Sustainable Oregon: http://sustainableoregon.net
Oregon Environmental Council: www.oeconline.org
Alaska Coalition: www.alaskacoalition.org
Sierra Club: www.sierraclub.org
Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon: www.emoregon.org
Oregon AFL-CIO: www.oraflcio.org
Contact the author: email@example.com