How Regulations Are Enforced In Practice Matters

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Regulation in the built environment has its good intentions. Regulation is designed by decision-makers to redirect and improve general folks’ behaviors. Again, as humankind, we’re imperfect and can be irrational. Through regulation, government are trying to steer us into a better direction while preserving our freedom of choice. In other words, regulation is a manifestation of nudge theory.

Every time there is a new regulation put into effect by government, some vested interests get hurt, creating a certain degree of turmoil. Government, as the invisible hand, has every reason to assume responsibility and properly intervene in the situation, as supported by the influential economist J M Keynes.

Let’s suppose City A wants to increase ownership of hybrid vehicles and reduce fossil fuel reliant vehicles. If the city chooses to shut down all manufactures of all conventionally fueled cars, thousands of workers will go on strike, confronting government with bread and milk. City A will be too overwhelmed to deal with new energy car initiative. Such a shock therapy gets nothing done in this case.

Conversely, instead of striking the fossil fuel vehicles manufactures into a stroke, City B chooses to subsidize new energy industry in terms of their wages, research and development, tax rebate, etc. Higher wages attract more workers, who are nudged into the development of new energy industry without hurting their interest, or the economic health as a whole, while abandoning the conventionally fueled vehicle industry. In this example of progressive reform, government achieved what they set out to do, simply by nudging people into a new direction, while preserving their freedom of choice, as opposed to depriving them of the same.

Regulation itself is neutral; governments spare no effort to justify every rule and regulation proposed to be enacted. What dictates and differentiates the outcomes is the methodology, the doing, the mindset, the way how things get done.

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Agenda Alignment

Having an agenda can be a great thing. However, sometimes when you roll up your sleeves and really get into it, the agenda, so carefully lined out and prepared, gets influenced and needs some alignment to fit with new information and then even realignment after that.

Twelve bills introduced at session this year dealt with housing. One of them, HB 2607, was sponsored by both my Representatives. Morgan Irwin (R) and Drew Stokesbary (R) put forth a bill that promotes affordable multi-family development in urban centers of cities and even unincorporated areas by expanding property tax exemptions. These developments would still need to be within an Urban Growth Boundary but would be a step toward promoting transit supportive densities and efficient land use patterns.

Sumner is drafting a Town Center Plan (TCP) around our Train Station and this bill lends itself nicely toward accomplishing some of the goals of the new TCP. I planned to meet with Rep. Stokesbary to discuss this bill further, how he saw this really playing out, what questions he was getting and share a concern I have about some of the language.

While overall the bill is a great start to gaining much needed density outside the major city centers it leaves some critical definitions up to the ‘governing authority’. In Section 2a the bill states that the area for housing designation ‘must be within an urban center, as determined by the governing authority’. It goes on in Section 2b to state that ‘the area must lack, as determined by the governing authority, sufficient available, desirable, and convenient residential housing, including affordable housing’.

Well what happens if Sumner determines that they do in fact have sufficient, desirable, and convenient affordable housing options. What metrics are being used? Are we relying on planning staff to define and determine such important matters? How can we ensure jurisdictions are using the same definition for ‘desirable housing’? They couldn’t possibly, and this is what I hoped to discuss with Rep. Stokesbary. I wanted to share that the governing authority should not be the ones defining these terms for themselves that it should be defined at the state level and enacted at the local level.

Turns out meeting with legislators during a short session can be challenging. Especially if they are in a leadership position and not allowed to leave the floor which I was told by his Aide. However, if you win over the Aide you can pretty much get what you need. After being told there was no way Rep. Stokesbary had time to meet before session was out I decided to go anyway and try. It paid off.

I arrived at the Capital and went right into the viewing chamber to see some legislating in action. Disappointingly, they were caucusing, which means they’re discussing matters as a party off the floor. This was going to be for an indeterminable amount of time, so I visited his Aide, Gina, in the meantime. She was incredibly pleasant for someone with no access to daylight at a desk that’s immediately adjacent to the next Representative’s Aide.

She managed to confirm a quick meeting time with him at 12:45; I was to meet her in the hall and she would escort me to the wings where I would then finally meet my representative. For the next hour and a half, I waited in the viewing gallery to see what I could glean from the activity below and the constant parade of children on fieldtrips. During this time the Speaker of the House made an incredibly brief appearance to an almost empty chamber to declare session would start again at you guessed it; 12:45.

Thwarted as I thought I was it turned out just fine. I met Gina, was escorted, then ushered to a chair to wait for him to finish a conversation with another representative. At about 12:55 he came over and introduced himself. I shared that I would love to speak about HB 2607, which at this point hadn’t made it out of Committee, he wasn’t sure which bill I was talking about and shared that there were so many at this point it’s hard to keep track.  We agreed to meet in the coming weeks to discuss affordable housing options and what could be proposed next session.

He then shared that HB 3003 was dominating their attention. This bill is an initiative brought to the legislature by a non-profit to pass immediately into law regarding police use of deadly force. The intent is to dramatically increase the culpability of a police officer should deadly force be employed. Beyond his concern about the ‘extreme nature’ of the bill was the ability for ‘anyone’ to get a bill introduced if they have enough signatures and the precedent this sets.

It was now 1:15 and the Speaker had not yet called back the legislators to the floor. Odd way to run meetings. I was anxious that he was going to be called back any moment and made my way back to the viewing gallery. I then watched them reconvene, vote on several measures including an equal pay for women bill! Then it was time for HB 3003’s vote and representatives from each side explained why they support the bill and the Republican side also shared their concerns and why we would see some no votes from their side. It passed.

My Chamber of Commerce arranged for a Lunch with your Legislator for this past Tuesday. It was held at the Governor’s Mansion where we arrived to find a gourmet lunch laid out on Washington state china emblazoned with the seal in gold. Melanie Stambaugh from an adjacent district joined us to share about this past session and take questions.

She shared many interesting things and also focused a lot of time explaining her concerns about HB 3003, ironically, and how it’s constitutionality was in question. Since the bill was an initiative it had to be passed as written by the introductory non-profit. It was too extreme in the minds of ‘R’s & D’s’. A parallel bill was introduced by the legislature and passed simultaneously that will tamper some of the language in the original bill; this goes into effect the day after the original bill becomes law. This practice is prohibited. The intent of the process as it stands it that when an initiative bill is introduced its either passed as is or goes onto the next ballot for the voters to chose between that language or a proposed modification by the legislature.

While I came to the Capital to talk about housing, density and transit I left with those items still on my list. However, I learned about a bill that is also incredibly important to me, use of lethal force, and about the way it was introduced and passed. That process was skirted, and it remains to be seen how this will unfold; stay tuned.

Nudges on the House Floor

Two things I’d hoped to write about this quarter are HB 2412 (the “Buy Clean Washington Act”) and Thaler and Sunstein’s “Nudges.” I watched the hearings and read the bill and substitute for HB 2412, and wonder how Nudges might have come into play, both in conversation on the House Floor, and in the bill’s revision (which included dramatic shifts from the original language).

As an overview, HB 2412 is not so much about buying clean things from Washington, but about accounting for clean projects in Washington. HB 2412 initially required all WA State Public Infrastructure Projects to account for the emissions embodied in some materials used for their construction (e.g. wood, concrete, steel) and to select only materials whose emissions are below recommended levels for their category. This is important because embodied emissions have as much impact on our ability to reach climate change goals as operational energy. Even if we approach net-zero operations, at current rates of construction, embodied emissions from new construction materials will likely prevent reversal of climate change.

The primary obstacle to this bill is tied to status-quo bias. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), the process for emissions accounting, takes a level of initiative that many materials manufacturers have yet to demonstrate. HB 2412 requires that state infrastructure projects use only materials that have gone this process, and lobbyists showed up in force. To qualify their products, manufacturers would have to hire a verified 3rd party to calculate the emissions embodied in each of their products, establishing Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) labels for each. Meanwhile, someone working for the State would need to be aware of Product Category Rules (PCR’s) for each material they elect to use, so that they could select products whose EPD’s comply with the maximum allowed PCR allowable for that material type. The learning curve for LCA is steeper and more time-intensive to engage than an acronym-filled paragraph, and in reality, many manufacturers just don’t want to do it.

Anchoring and availability heuristics contributed to the idea that EPD acquisition is burdensome.  At HB 2412’s initial hearing, a National Ready-mix Concrete Association lobbyist claimed that there were “just too many” different mixes that there is “no way” to keep track of them. This generalization was later contradicted by an architect who testified that their firm had elected to use only products with EPD’s on one single project, and as a result, dozens of materials manufacturers established EPD’s to make their products eligible for use. While it is fully possible for companies to participate in an LCA process when incentivized to do so, the idea that calculation is “too hard” seemed easier for many Representatives to accept. Availability heuristics may have influenced industry-sympathetic Representatives to avoid the risk of placing unnecessary burden on WA businesses.

The conversation above veiled underlying obstacles to EPD-based materials vetting, including the need for manufacturers to better track and standardize their products in the first place so that those products could be evaluated, and the need for manufacturers to improve their manufacturing efficiency to reduce ecological impacts. These topics were avoided by both sides. I suspect that those sponsoring the bill may have let this avoidance happen, leveraging anchoring and availability heuristics in their favor to present the bill as one that will help WA business. Statements were made to the effect of: “Washington has the cleanest companies around; they should be rewarded for this effort, yet instead our public infrastructure projects are importing materials from China.” In reality, some products coming from China will remain quite competitive if EPD’s are established, because opportunity for efficiency gain in some materials is highest in production, rather than in shipping. This means that WA companies will have to improve their production efficiency to be competitive in addition to undergoing LCA, but this was not discussed.

The representative heuristic both hampered HB 2412 and allowed the substitute bill to pass. Those who disagree with projections about climate change and feel that environmental concerns are hypothetical were not convinced. Those same parties, however, were willing believe that a sustainability bill would favor WA business, based on projections about the green market being “hot” and the idea that US manufacturers are just more “innovative.” Ultimately, those some Representatives who were not convinced about climate change were convinced that Washington’s companies might benefit from sustainability incentives. The bill’s sponsors seemed aware of this “in,” as the eventual substitute bill was stricken of all language related to climate change;  this was replaced with language about helping WA business.

Herd mentality was harder for sponsors to garner; all parties needed more information before anyone would get on the bandwagon. Those already concerned about climate change needed to understand the relevance of embodied carbon, and those concerned about Washington business needed to see that potential for regional profits and benefits to worker health. All wanted to see the bill working in California, as well as case studies here, before getting on board, and the substitute bill was reduced to apply to a few test-projects. After changes in language and scope, accompanied by a robust bipartisan conversation, the substitute bill “be substituted” and “do pass” (why do they still use this kind of language?). Although the HB 2412 has since been tabled, I was impressed to see educated dialogue from many perspectives around this initiative. Hopefully the nudges above will apply in a more informed way the next time such a proposal comes around.

 

Speaking to the affordable housing and visiting Olympia

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We went through some of the topics this quarter talking about the issue of affordable housing and gentrification. As a landscape architecture major student, we also discussed these topics when we operated the design project. Yet, after this class, I realized that it was not enough to talk about this issue only from the theoretical framework according to other courses. We could also touch this practical issue from the policies and political perspective. As a result, I drove down to Olympia to meet Penka Jane Culevski who is the legislative assistant to Senator Jamie Pedersen and express my support of SB 5182 on March 5th.

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Before I went to Olympia, I went through all the bills on the legislator webpage which sponsored by our 43rd district senator, Jamie Pedersen and I was really interested about the SB5182 “Providing local governments with options of affordable housing in their communities.” So, I prepared some of the questions about the affordable housing to ask the legislative assistant and she told me she would try her best to answer these questions.

The language, which I am interested in the bill, reads that it is the purpose of this chapter to give communities a local option to preserve and increase healthy, high quality affordable rental housing opportunities for very low-income households for which the governing authority has found that there are insufficient healthy affordable housing opportunities. I was really curious about how practical about this option would be accepted or operated in every community in the state. Besides, it was hard for me to think about the “high quality affordable rental housing” won’t cause the house rent increase in the future if there was no other supplementary measure of rules or polices to prohibit or mitigate this situation.

In the bill, it also reads that upon adoption of a property tax exemption program, the governing authority must establish standards for very low-income household rental housing under this chapter, to assist very low-income households that cannot afford market-rate housing. I assumed that even the government could help people waived the tax expense and financial supported to find a house. The options for the affordable house were actually getting less annually in most of the communities. How to achieve the balance between the desire of housing and the increasingly unaffordable rental market was one of my concerns.

The legislator’s assistant commented that although she personally agrees with this bill and my questions, she felt there was still a long way to go for this bill to be passed. Especially when the average house rent in Seattle or neighbor cities such as Bellevue were going higher and higher, it was not difficult to imagine that some of the residents in their neighborhood probably don’t want to support this bill. Eventually, I told her the idea of the house sharing which we had discussed during the class could also be a realistic option rather than “creating” the affordable housing resources in the inherent communities and she said she would put the note for the senator.

Unfortunately, the legislative assistant also told me this bill didn’t get the full vote on the bill report on January 16th this year which means it didn’t go through deems. And she said based on the result from this year and last year, this bill has a high chance can’t pass in 2018, either. After she gave me the information about the progress of this bill, she also mentioned, Mr. Pedersen is actually the second sponsor of SB 5182, as she was his assistant, she also not familiar with the specific detail of this bill, all she could tell me is the situation and how far this bill goes in the legislature. She said Mr. Pedersen was the primary sponsor for most of the educational and learning related bills. At the end of the talk, she felt sorry and told me that she was not the profession at this field associated with the rental and housing-related bills. However, she still kindly offered me the information about another senator who was the primary sponsor of the bills in this category and told me if I needed she could help me schedule the meeting with her or her assistant next month.

Therefore, I mentioned that I was also curious about the detail of SB 5553 “Preventing suicide by permitting the voluntary waiver of firearm rights” which Mr. Pedersen is one of the primary sponsors. She told me the intention of this bill is to prevent the firearm suicide. People who had the suicide intention may file a revocation of the voluntary waiver of firearm rights and can’t purchase the firearm at any dealers. Accordingly, when they go to the store, the system will automatically pop up the record and prohibit them to purchase, and the dealers also can’t sell the firearm to them as well. Since I never and probably won’t have the experience to purchase the firearm, I asked her is that difficult to buy the firearm in the state? She said no, and that’s why they want to support this bill. Then, I asked her was it really helpful to postpone the right for only couple days of a person who has the strong suicide intention to purchase the firearm and prevent the suicide? She said she didn’t know, but at least, it could be the gap for them to get the firearm to hurt themselves or others. Besides, we also briefly talked about the bill SB 5598 which for the granting relatives, including grandparents, had the right to seek visitation with a child through the courts. She told me these two bills will go the governor and wait to sign on March 9th, then they will officially become Laws. I could tell how excited she was when she told me all the detail of these two bills.

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To sum up, I think this is a really good opportunity for me to know about the progress of how the bills became a law and also expressed my support of the bill. The legislative assistant patiently spent almost forty minutes to talk with me about not only SB 5182 but also SB 5553. Although most of the time was me listening to her, I was still appreciated of her efforts and time to help me figure out some of the unclear ideas. It is also interesting to hear about the detail and situation of a bill which almost became a law and another bill still work hard in the legislature!

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Washington Carbon Tax

After weeks of emailing senators and house representatives I had little to show for it. I was unable to get a commitment for a meeting time with anyone, the senators, representatives or even with their assistance’s. I was disgruntled and assumed my mission would be like trying to schedule a meeting with someone at the DMV. This first impression was shattered as soon as I got to Olympia. Not only did I not even need to use my GPS to drive strait to the capital complex but once I was there everyone was extremely nice and helpful. I was expecting to be faced with a stuffy bureaucratic wall of tired employees who dealt with lobbyists all day. Instead, within minutes I was directed from one happy front desk to the next until I was happily given the exact location of the senator’s office in whom I was looking for. I felt a bit out of place and nervous to just walk into the Senators office unannounced but when I got there the closed-door had a sign that said please come in, so I did. Unfortunately, the senator was not in that day, but his assistant was more than receptive to my proposal to chat about a carbon tax in Washington. As it turned out I had just walked into one the most conservative senate offices in Olympia. Although I knew Phil Fortunato was a republican, I didn’t realize he could be described as the most conservative seat on the senate. It was refreshing to see his assistant Mathew was a counter balance to the senator’s conservatism. Mathew was self-described as a middle ground man, like myself, who made no commitment to either party.

Only days before my trip to Olympia the senate bill 6203, for the carbon tax, lost the majority rule and was thrown out. This bill proposed a carbon tax with the revenues going towards sustainable technologies. I asked how the senator voted on this bill and for them it was a no brainer. Phil’s perception was that his vote was to represent the people of the district who elected him, which was the 31st district, including rural areas such as Enumclaw, and Buckley. SB-6203, as presented, adversely effected people in rural areas much greater than in urban areas. People in rural areas on average commute much longer distances to work and have higher automobile expenses which the carbon tax would exacerbate. In addition, there was a recent property tax and vehicle licensing fee increase for Seattle Department of Transportation projects this increase was fresh on the minds of rural residents who didn’t believe they would ever see benefits from these projects. Consequently, this district was hyper sensitive to any proposal that might increase their transportation costs. I presented the idea of modifying the bill to a form closer to I-732 where the bill could be revenue neutral for businesses and also revenue neutral for residents by reducing property taxes. This would provide an incentive to rural residents with out punishing them for being rural. Mathew agreed that the revenue neutral approach was likely the best way to go in finding success for the bill. He noted another factor leading to the bills demise in rural opinion was its unequal tax on power, since Seattle power is mainly generated by hydroelectric damns and many rural areas use coal, the rural population was again at risk to pay more for the tax. By nature, the bill targets high carbon users intentionally which happens to include rural populations. I brought up the point that a carbon tax could be beneficial for rural populations in the long run as it would stress them to progress towards using alternative lower carbon modes of transportation. This initial stress would create resilience in the event of another shock to oil prices. Mathew considered this point very valid for people of our generation however he noted there is a large population that is made up of older residents who either are retired or who will be retired soon, and they simply do not care to plan to that extent as the majority of their commuting days and therefore risk to oil price shocks was limited.

When asked what else might help a future carbon tax be successful, Mathew expressed the need for some sort of kick back that could be offered to people. For example, instead of the tax revenues going to green technologies, people may be more receptive to the bill if the revenues were put aside in a manner in which they could be earned back. He suggested that the revenues go into a grant and be set aside to then be used to subsidize any purchase homeowners made to lower their carbon foot print. This way it would be much more feasible for residents to improve their state of carbon usage and would empower them to have good reason to do so, whether their motives were for the environment or for their own financial wellbeing.

At the end of the day we are quickly running out of time to have an effect with climate change. Mathew, having taken college courses in energy physics and environmental engineering understood the urgency. I inquired about what frameworks need to change or where most prohibiting to the success of a carbon tax. The biggest issue Mathew saw with the Carbon bill, and for the most part any bill, was that they were drafted practically in isolation. He couldn’t believe how often bills would be drafted without ever leaving a single office. Its an incredibly counterproductive way to get things done, he gestured to a document on the table a few hundred pages long, a bill like this he said has probably been in drafting for the last year and now that its finished we go through it find all the things we can’t agree with and vote against it. Then they revise and try to get it passed the next year. That hole process could be so much more effective if the parties learned to work together on issues from the get go. Unfortunately, that is not the case and instead the parties wait until they hold the majority of the seats and then try to shove every bill through while they can.  Mathew admitted bills do sometimes earn the cooperation between parties but only when there is extreme public pressure to do so.

Mathew and I continued to chat for several minutes about various topics, how he came to work with the senator, and much more, with no rush. On my way out, he encouraged me to come back anytime and I immediately looked forward to it.Biz Card Fortunato.JPG

Consideration of Alternative Framework for Funding Transportation Capital Maintenance and Development

If you were going to charge people to uses roads and highways, enough to fund the maintenance and ongoing development of the system, on what criteria would they pay? Would people drive less? You might point out, people already pay for the roads and infrastructure through taxes so why would paying in another form be any different? Paying for the use of public roads on a day to day, or month to month, basis would surely prove to be a much different framework and lead to alternative externalities  than our current system. But would this system be any better or worse than the one in place now?

Implementation could be done in many ways. One option would be to require people to have GPS in their cars and to allocate cost by the mile, to the road that they were driving on.  This would seam fair as you would be paying for the roads you actually use. However, one consequence of this would be the unequal distribution of funds. Highly used roads may become cheaper as their capital costs would be spread across a greater number of transient users. In contrast, roads that were rarely used would either fall in disrepair or be extra expensive to drive on. The weekend hike could be very expensive if you wanted to travel to a remote location. As a result, this could induce a premium on outdoor recreation activities. This could limit outdoor use to more affluent demographics and limit low income household exposure to the great outdoors. When you don’t experience the outdoors, you don’t appreciate the outdoors, which could lead to a degradation of respect for the environment. In addition, an increase in the price to use rural roads could also have an adverse effect on Washington state parks. The price change could decrease visits to the parks, since the parks generate their own revenue, this could be a significant impact to their cashflows and in turn could put the parks under the threshold for being financially feasible to maintain.

Rural areas would not be the only ones with adverse effects of paying specifically for the roads they used. If the act was initially enacted solely for the state of Washington, there would be no way to charge visitors from other states or countries. This would mean that cities near state boarders would pay a higher rate for their roads proportional to the traffic in the area. This could be seen as a trade off as cities near the state border often benefit from out of state traffic. The context in which paying for the actual amount of road used would be key in its perceived fairness. For example, it would likely be perceived as fair that people who used more road paid more for the roads only if this was a condition before the majority of people had made the decision on where to live. On the other hand, if this type of act was imposed today there would be significant backlash because it would favor people living in denser areas over people living in less dense areas. Farmers who need to be in remote areas and truck goods long distances would be extra susceptible to the burdens of this idea. Because farmers provide a much-needed resource to the rest of the population it would be likely agreeable that their operations would be exempt from paying for their roads in full. One way to provide financial assistance to these uses would be to raise the cost in dense areas and have a portion of their costs fund the highways that served food producers. However difficult it might be to gain popular acceptance, changing the framework in which people pay for the maintenance and development of road ways has the potential to motivate the densification which in turn would preserve wildlife and increase efficiencies of our economy.

 

Saving the carbon footprint from the ticket

 

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There is no denying that people nowadays all have a common goal that we need to reduce mobile carbon emission. However, I think if we want to reduce the carbon footprint, we can not only put the effort form the vehicles but also from the tickets which we purchased. To be more specific, based on my personal experience, I was in Rome for the study abroad program last quarter. Due to this opportunity, I also went to visit many countries which I’ve never been before such as French, Spain, Germany And Netherland. Yet, after I came back to Seattle, I found out that there were a lot of tickets in my wallet. These tickets include the metro ticket in Paris, the bus ticket in Italy and the train ticket from French to Netherland…and so on. I suddenly realized that there were so many paper need to be used on these one-time use tickets. Not mention even we booked the ticket online and got the e-ticket, some of the websites still required us to print it out and carry to the train.

The same situation happened couple years ago when I was in Japan as well. I went to Chiba to visit my grandparent during the summer break, and I had to buy the IC card which called the SUICA that only available to take the metro, bus, JR railway in east Japan. However, if I wanted to go to Osaka or Kyoto in the west to visit my friends, I had to buy another IC card called ICOCA in order to take the public transportation there or I had to purchase the paper ticket for every single ride.

According to the two experiences I mentioned above, I wonder why we have to buy so many tickets every time when we got to the new place? Sometimes, it is really annoying to find the right ticket in the wallet or suddenly realized that we forget to bring the IC card which we bought last time when we just arrived the destination and need to buy it again. As a result, I assumed that if we can buy only one public transport card or even just put the deposit in one APP on our smartphone and use it to take the whole public transit system around the world, it will be a really delightful invention and also saving our environment. To elaborate, the idea is a little bit similar to the Husky card, we can use it to take the bus, metro, ferry or even pay in the grocery stores.

 

Reduce the paper printing and plastic to make the card:

If we don’t need to buy the one-time ticket or IC card every time when we go to the new countries or even a new city within the same countries, it can save a lot of the paper or plastic material to make these tickets.

Reducing the car driving:

The more public transit systems this card or APP can combine with, the less car driving will be needed. For example, people can use this card to transit form the bus to the bike-sharing system to work or travel instead of driving the car and reduce carbon emission. Especially it is really difficult to find the parking place in downtown area.

Reducing the waste:

It’s quite common to see the one-time use tickets been thrown away not only in the station but also on the street in the city. Reducing the printings can also reduce the waste and save our environment.

To sum up, I think Apple wallet is one of the good inventions which are able to store all sorts of the tickets on our phone and saving the paper printing. However, it is still not available in our daily public transit systems. If one day, we can have one card or an APP which enables us to use in all the public transportation around the country or even the world, I assumed, the saving of carbon emission and carbon footprint won’t less than saving from the vehicles.

Youth Lead the Way – Lobby for Climate Change

On February 19th, we drove down to Olympia to participate in the Climate Lobby Day event held by 350 Seattle and Youth Lead the Way. There I got the chance to join the youth from across the Washington state for their speech, march and the meeting with Miss Cindy Chen, the Executive Legislative Assistant to Speaker Frank Chopp, to express our thoughts and concerns related to the climate issues.

Although that was on President’s Day, there were still many other lobbyists groups there on Washington State Capitol Campus. When we arrived in the morning, other participants, mostly youths and their parents had already gathered on the big stairs in front of the Legislative Building, holding different posters and slogans crafted by themselves, and were listening to the inspiring speeches from several youth leaders. They talked about their own understandings of the urgent climate change problem, their former experiences of “fighting” for environmental justice and even recomposed a song for this. Later, we joined the march around the building, calling for shutting down the fossil fuels and keeping the carbon underground. And then we gathered on a lawn, sharing everyone’s insights, and held a ceremony of redwood tree gifting to the Capitol Campus. The weather that day was frizzing, but never was our passion. I was literally shocked by this series of events, not only because this type of activity is almost impossible in my country, but also youths’ self-awareness of their responsibility and legislation engagements in policy, which is super inspiring for me.

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After lunch was the lobbying time. Before the meeting, two youth leaders gave us a short orientation about the lobbying tips, which was informative for me. Then we were divided into two teams to meet with different legislators separately. In our meeting with Executive Legislative Assistant Miss Cindy Chen, firstly we had the children stated their own concerns and proposed the Act for Our Future Pledge, which is the purpose of this event. In the pledge that we wanted the legislators to sign for the sake of the environment, we came up with these three: (1) Immediately halt all new fossil fuel infrastructure in our state; (2) Commit Washington state to an economy running on 100% renewables by 2028; (3) Address the need to plant 1 billion trees in WA to sequester CO2. Then each of us talked about our own thoughts based on the understanding of the pledge and the related bills. For the first part, I expressed my feelings about climate change from the perspective of landscape architecture students, that for now, more and more focus in our profession has been laid on the design for climate change adaptation which addresses the resiliency of the natural system, such as stormwater management. However, with the actions above, instead of fixing the problems, we could actually prevent these problems from occurring. And from a broader view, these actions could bring other benefits for the regional economy and social development. For example in order to shift to 100% renewable energy, building wind power stations along the Washington coast could be a solution, and at the same time, creating more job opportunities for the market. And for the latter part, I expressed my support for the carbon tax bills, which related to cutting down the CO2 emissions in an economical way, acting as an addition to halting fossil fuel infrastructure and planting trees. I suggested the tax rate could depend on the carbon tax contents in each energy and therefore providing diverse alternatives, as I stated in the former posts. Due to the limited time for the group talk, Miss. Chen took notes of our ideas and said they would be conveyed to Speaker Chopp.

The journey of fighting for environmental rights never ends. I received continuous emails from Youth Lead the Way to follow up the event.  In the email that I got on March 9th, it is said that due to the lasting efforts of the 350 Seattle organization and the youth activists around the state, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon. Rep. Gael Tarleton, and Rep. Nicole Macri had sent signed copies of the pledge. I was so excited to see the results from the voices and advocacy of youth, and I hope and believe there will be more support from other legislators and representatives!

This was an amazing and new experience for me that I have never thought I would kind of take part in a social progress like this. Thanks to Youth Lead the Way which showed me the power of our new generation, that we have to be brave and bold to fight for our rights and for the environments. They create great opportunities for youth to foster the sense of responsibility and participate in the policy-making process. One suggestion is that if they could get more support from some professionals such as cooperating with other organizations such as CarbonWashington, their voices could be even more powerful. And also thanks to the event that although the legislative and economic system here is totally different from my country, this event made me realize the bottom-up power and the role of American democracy during the political process. We should be actively engaged in the system, and by expressing our concerns and thoughts to the legislators, we could make the changes happen and push the system forward and benefit all as much as possible.

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