Olympia, Representative Jessyn Farrell, and HB 1144

For my final project, I visited Olympia to meet with my district (46th) representative Jessyn Farrell, and to attend the legislative session that same afternoon. Being that Representative Farrell is actively involved with several environmental related bills, and is the Vice Chair of the Transportation Committee, I found several bills that she had either primarily or secondarily sponsored that piqued my interest, as well as related closely to class discussions. I ended up focusing on HB 1144, currently having undergone 2 substitutes, which focuses on greenhouse gas emission limits “for consistency with the most recent assessment of climate change science” and amending RCW 70.235.020. The amendments focus on to what degree the State of Washington will decrease its greenhouse gas emissions. RCW 70.235.020 currently reads that emissions will be reduced 25% of 1990 levels by the year 2035, and 50% below 1990 levels by 2050. The proposed amendments will increase those targets to 40% below 1990 levels by the year 2035, and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Further amendments require strict reporting of per capita greenhouse gas emissions and total greenhouse gas emissions as compared to other states. Further, the commerce “department shall survey the agencies of state government to determine each agency’s annual expenditures made during the biennium to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to support the achievement of the greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals identified in this section, as well as each agency’s annual reduction of greenhouse gases during the biennium, and shall include that information in its report, along with a tabulation of the cost per ton of greenhouse gas emissions reductions undertaken by each agency.” Lastly, the amendment would include that the Department of Natural Resources report on the amount of carbon dioxide released by forest fires, and to promote active fire prevention such as thinning and prescribed burning.

I was not so interested in changing the language of the bill, but was more interested in how Representative Farrell and the other sponsors concluded that those numbers should be changed so drastically. Has Washington been especially effective in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions that lawmakers now think we can set more aggressive goals? Or does the evolving climate science simply demand that we more dramatically diminish emissions?

Before heading to Olympia, I spoke several times with Nigel Herbig, Representative Farrell’s assistant, who was very helpful in coordinating my visit. He encouraged me to come on the 8th because the legislature would be in session, therefore allowing me some time to watch the proceedings, and that Representative Farrell would be available to come out and speak with me for a few minutes that afternoon. Mr. Herbig was very adamant, however, that he had “no idea” how the day would progress, what would be discussed on the floor, and if the Republicans “would be filibustering” all day.

I arrived around one o’clock in the afternoon on the 8th and was happy to find the legislature in session. The session was not all that entertaining, as I had no background on the bills being commented on, but could follow along (somewhat) by following proceedings online (which Nigel encouraged). After 45 minutes to an hour, I asked security if they would be kind enough to notify Representative Farrell that a constituent of hers was in attendance and that I would like to speak to her for a minute or two. I was surprised by how quickly she met my request, and I met with her for 3-5 minutes in the foyer. I introduced herself, and told her about my studies at the UW. I was then able to ask her opinion of HB 1144 and how she saw the amendments progressing, and whether she thought we could meet the thresholds outlined. Representative Farrell was extremely positive and optimistic about the changes, and although she felt Washington has been a thought leader in climate change, she maybe felt more strongly that the bill amendments were out of necessity, not simply because we were so far ahead of current goals. She emphasized the need for private industry to be more accountable, and for a more uniform way of accounting for, and reporting, climate impacts. The amendments are currently in House Committee and will need to be specifically funded through the appropriations act by June 30, otherwise the bill will be void.

Out of curiosity, I also quickly asked about the cell phone handling bill that passed the House the previous day, a bill for which Representative Farrell as a sponsor and vocal supporter. The bill prohibits any handling of cell phones in cars, which Representative Farrell felt was an extremely urgent issue, and could go a long way in preventing fatal and non-fatal auto accidents across the state. A similar bill passed the Senate, so a joint bill must be agreed upon and passed before being enacted possibly late this year or early next year.

After my meeting, I took in another 30 minutes or so of the session before making my way back to Green Lake. Through this experience, I learned more about the legislative process than I originally thought I might. I knew it was no easy task to pass a bill, but after understanding more about the sponsors, substitutes, amendments, committees, votes, etc. I’m surprised anything can get passed through. Regarding the bill HB 1144, I was not too surprised to hear Representative Farrell’s responses about the need to limit our climate impact. I did, however, find it fascinating that her emphasis on accounting and reporting of emissions was directly in line with our class discussion on frameworks and systems of measurement. Without a unified way to report emissions, types of emissions, sources and costs of emissions, it makes it exceedingly difficult to come up with a plan to reduce them. So to me, in many cases it seems, there may be more of a problem in holding people to account for their emissions more so than getting emissions reduced.

Overall, I came away excited and motivated by my trip to Olympia, and maybe more motivated by the willingness of my Representative to take a few minutes out of her jam-packed day to meet with me. Given the relative ease of the experience, I won’t hesitate to contact my lawmakers in the future, and if they are all as receptive as Representative Farrell, it is not out of reason to think my input could make a difference in the outcomes of future bills.

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Moving Forward

For my final post, I wanted to express my appreciation for all our discussions and encourage everyone to continue having a voice as we move the conversation from the classroom to our jobs, families, and friends. Given our unique position of being young professionals and students who will be shaping the future of our industries, communities, and children, it is more important than ever to be voices of reason and truth. In the next 50-100 year’s we will see dramatic shifts in the Earth’s climate, and in response, we will see shifts in the way people live and where people live. Regardless of whether any of us become CEO’s of multinationals or Senators or Mayors, we all play a role in how climate change and sustainability is discussed and managed. Although I am often disheartened by the fact that I may never have the platform to reach thousands of people or make broad proclamations to influence the events of climate change, I have found some relief in my ability to take charge of my own footprint and reach people on an individual basis. Often we hear activists, politicians, athletes, actors, artists etc. say that if they can influence one life for the better, then their work has been worth the effort. And I have come to appreciate that message, and although trite, I think together we could make a big difference if we all just reach two, three, or ten people with an understanding of climate change and how to address it on a personal level. Through the course of this quarter, I have honestly taken to heart that message, through working with my local community council, to riding the bus to work 3 days a week, to getting my brother to turn out the kitchen lights when he leaves for class each day. I have asked my parents to take a carbon footprint calculator online, and they have pledged to reduce their energy bill by a quarter over the next 2 months. These small changes give me some hope that we can slowly but surely make a difference. Instead of wondering if I will ever have the platform to influence the conversation around sustainability, I’ve found that taking small actions each day has had positive direct and indirect impacts on the people around me, and if that’s all I can ever contribute, then at least I didn’t stand idly by.

Greenlake Farms

In a previous post I wrote about the city of Todmorden and the cities sustainable farming practices, which to me tied in directly with the idea of taking delight in sustainability as we discussed in last week’s class session. In my previous post I had also touched on Seattle’s P-patches and how we could do more to create urban farms/gardens across the city. So last night, I brought up the idea of incorporating a P-patch into Greenlake Park to the Greenlake Community Council, of which I am a member. Another member then proposed the idea of associating with Alleycat-Acres; a Seattle non-profit that turns unused public or private parcels into community farms. Thus far, Alleycat has three gardens, one in Columbia City, another in the Central District, and a third in Leschi. I have since been in contact with Alleycat, and proposed finding a space in the Greenlake neighborhood. Making changes at the grassroots level, and creating spaces which can delight, is something that is very exciting to me. I have already identified several locations that could potentially accommodate a small local garden, and look forward to pursuing this idea. In all honesty, if I had not had to write these blog posts I would have had no idea about any of these projects, and hope that I can somehow contribute to sustainable practices and education regardless of how small that contribution may be.

http://www.alleycat-acres.org/

When will it change?

Through class and recent readings I’ve done, I’ve become exceedingly interested in the effects large fossil fuel companies are having in shaping climate policy and climate change itself. In my last post, I discussed some of the largest carbon emitters in the world, and their massive contributions to our changing climate. Well what many assumed to be true about these companies is apparently true, and at least some people are upset; the SEC and a number of states Attorney Generals have recently launched an investigation into ExxonMobil and whether they deliberately mislead investors as to the effects they were having on climate change. A similar lawsuit could be in the works for oil giant Shell. A recently rediscovered 1991 short film produced by Shell and made for students and other public forums warned of the disastrous effects of increasing global temperatures, how our current energy system was unsustainable, and how carbon emissions were and are the biggest contributor to climate change. As we all know however, both Exxon and Shell have invested billions of dollars into fossil fuel exploration and capture, as well as millions into lobby groups such as the (thoughtfully named) American Petroleum Institute, Global Climate Coalition, and American Legislative Council; all of which seek to undermine policies promoting carbon regulation and taxes, while also working to sway public opinion against the facts of climate science. It is a sad reality that emphasizes short term investor goals and ignores long term global impacts. Thankfully, progressive states and government entities are beginning to take action, which could potentially call to account the actions of these companies, and the disconnect between the climate science they speak of in private and the climate denial they project to investors and the public. 

It is also worth mentioning that not all energy giants are soulless in their approach to business. In researching some of the largest energy companies, I was lightened by the example of Statoil, a Norwegian multinational energy company (the 11th largest oil and gas company in the world by profit according to Forbes). Statoil has taken the unusual approach of fully embracing climate change and their role in the crisis. Since 1996 they have invested heavily in reducing their CO2 output and have developed technologies that significantly limit their footprint as compared to other oil and gas companies. For over 20 years Statoil has been refining technology used to separate CO2 from their oil and gas extracts, and then sequestering that CO2 in deep subterranean formations where it will not leak into the atmosphere. No other oil and gas company in the world has adopted such a progressive model, or implemented this type of technology at any sort of impactful scale. Statoil has been so successful that they have been recognized as not only the most sustainable oil and gas company in the world, but the 4th most sustainable company in the world regardless of industry by the Carbon Disclosure Project. Statoil has also promoted and lobbied for increased carbon taxes and funding for climate research and climate impact mitigations. 

So there are both sides of the coin. Many of the American driven, solely profit driven companies want to take a back seat to climate change and ride out the fossil fuel glut as long as possible. But Statoil is a great example of how accepting climate change, acknowledging ones role in that change, and in doing so pursuing policy and technology to mitigate those impacts, can still result in huge profits, and maybe more importantly a respectable public image. Sadly, it may take several multi-billion dollar lawsuits for other industry players to come around.

Taking Responsibility for Climate Change

As much as I want to help curb climate change by recycling and using less energy, the fact is that big business is at the epicenter of climate change. Nearly all political discussion surrounding the climate is motivated by corporate interests and economic output, and in turn by the groups and lobbyists those companies employ to fight for or against climate policy. The NY Times article Industry Awakens to the Threat of Climate Change was encouraging in the sense that companies such as Nike and Coca-Cola are now accounting for climate effects (albeit because they are affecting the companies bottom lines). So I was curious what other companies are taking initiatives to reduce their climate impacts, and who are the biggest climate effectors? This lead me to the work of geographer Richard Heede. Mr. Heede “spent years” researching the annual production of the largest fossil fuel companies in the world and using those numbers to create a record of their carbon emissions. His research found that nearly two thirds of all carbon emissions since the Industrial Revolution (1751) are accounted for by only 90 companies (either directly or indirectly i.e. selling gas to consumers like myself), half of which has been emitted after 1988. 90 companies! That was amazing to me. Obviously, the ExxonMobil’s and Chevron’s of the world cannot and should not be held responsible for the entirety of climate change. But at the same time, it makes clear that huge steps could be taken in reducing global carbon emissions by the action of a few key players. By encouraging these companies to invest in, share, and create/expand practices for energy efficiency and renewable technologies, not only would they more quickly move to renewables, but would protect their bottom lines when fossil fuels inevitably become highly regulated or simply exhausted. Some fossil fuel giants such as ExxonMobil and BP have, in fact, launched their own initiatives to create more sustainable business practices and invested in research and development to reduce their carbon impact. However, I have to imagine that if they spent half as much money on sustainable technologies as they do on lobbying and protecting their practices of old, we could move much more quickly on achieving goals related to reduced carbon emissions. At least, I would propose a council of the leading fossil fuel company executives in which they could outline promising technologies or techniques for a sustainable future, create open information sharing, and create a competitive marketplace for adapting and implementing such practices. It should also be illegal to hire scientists who have no academic background or qualifications and have them lobby the government and American people in the sole interest of corporate profit… But that discussion may be for another time.

Sources:

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/08/just-90-companies-are-blame-most-climate-change-carbon-accountant-says

Incredible Edible Todmorden

Not many people have heard of the small town of Todmorden, located on the upper east side of Britain, but thanks to a novel community project, Todmorden has become a sort of cultural icon and ‘foodie’ haven. The Incredible Edible Todmorden project began back in 2008 when a small group of volunteers proposed construction of several vegetable gardens throughout town. They called their plan Incredible Edible, and their goal was to promote local sustainability and food sourcing through community gardens accessible to all residents and passerby alike. The new food plots were constructed at the local rail station, police station, and schools, and soon began popping up at the hospital, along the streets and lining the towns canal. The plots are completely open to the public, and everyone is encouraged to pick and harvest whatever they may need, whether that’s ingredients for dinner, parties, or just a snack while passing through. Fast forward 9 years and Todmorden has over 50 public gardens (for a population of only 17,000) operated 100% by volunteers and has become a case study in sustainable food practice, with affiliated projects in 20+ other English towns and dozens more abroad. Today over 60% of residents say they “regularly buy local,” and 47% report to have grown food at their home in the past year. Food enthusiasts, anthropologists, celebrities and city planners alike have ventured from around the globe to visit, interact, and/or study Todmorden’s sustainable food practices.

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Canal Gardens, Todmorden

After reading about Todmorden, I did some research into food waste in America and was shocked to learn that as much as 40% of our food supply is wasted, and that on average Americans throw away 20 pounds of edible food each month. In turn, organic waste accounts for the second highest component of landfills in the country. So what steps are we taking to reduce our impact, what can we learn from Todmorden, and what more can be done?

Todmorden is considerably smaller, more isolated, and less diverse in terms of political, religious, and ethnic backgrounds when compared to Seattle, so in that sense, I presume it is far easier to organize/create a community identity around sustainable food practices than it would be in Seattle or another large metropolitan area. Seattle has been doing better to push for more sustainable food sources through farmer’s markets, Fresh Bucks SNAP program, open space for gardens (P-Patches), and encouraging nutrition education in our schools. The Office of Sustainability and Environment reports over 26,000 pounds of fresh food donated by P-Patches in 2013 (last year data is available). Total sales from farmer’s markets also increased year over year from 2010-2013. These are encouraging signs, but there is room for improvement and there are lessons we can take from Todmorden and apply to a larger community such as Seattle. First, encouraging our public spaces and offices to include edible gardens. Currently, the Puget Sound region has 85 P-Patch gardens. Todmorden has over 50 public gardens. The difference is glaring on a per capita basis. The Seattle metro area has a population of roughly 3.8 million people, which equates to 1 P-Patch per 44,706 people. Todmorden’s ratio? One public garden per 340 people. Granted we are talking about much different demographics, and these numbers only consider the P-Patch program, but it does shed light on the stark contrast between the two locales. Seattle is also not devoid of local food options, such as PCC and the variety of restaurants sourcing locally grown food. However, it is the success of the P-Patch program, farmer’s markets, local restaurants, and farmers that leads me to believe there is so much more room for improvement.

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Cascade P-Patch, Seattle

What are the options? Much like Todmorden, existing public buildings such as police stations, libraries, schools, and hospitals could be encouraged to re-purpose unused/landscaped land. Instead of taxpayer dollars going to the maintenance of lawns and flowers, they could go to upkeep of public edible gardens. New public construction could also easily accommodate implementation of small public garden spaces. Further, many new multifamily and apartment complexes have some amount of outdoor space for communal gardening. But these areas are often small, on roofs, or crammed in between buildings. While the inclusion of gardens is commendable, there leaves a lot to be desired in terms of access, upkeep and participation. Developers could be incentivized or required to include gardens in their open spaces that are viable and well-tended, whether through zoning recommendations by the city, or through their sustainability accreditation in LEED or Green Globes. City parks can also be required to have some type of public edible garden whether through the P-Patches program or otherwise. I am a member of the Greenlake Community Council and there has been much discussion in providing community gardening areas at Greenlake Park, yet another vehicle in which to implement sustainable food practices.

As Todmorden has learned, creating public gardens has not only dramatically increased the populations consumption of locally produced food, but inherently decreases food waste, promotes healthy eating, and provides education in sustainability to the local community. All of which are massive benefits for a relatively simple initiative.

Sources:

http://www.seattle.gov/environment/moving-the-needle/food

https://www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk/home

http://orgprints.org/24956/28/24956.pdf

https://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/programs-and-services/p-patch-community-gardening

http://www.worldfooddayusa.org/food_waste_the_facts

 

 

 

Re-Framing Sustainability

In discussing The Carbon Efficient City, frameworks, and strategies of how we can move society and its corporations toward more environmentally friendly and sustainable practices, I began to think more critically about my personal carbon footprint. I recycle, I separate my garbage and compost, I often ride the bus to school, I turn the lights off in my house when I’m not using them, and do my best to conserve energy in my home by turning down the heat and using hot water only as necessary. But if I was asked to quantify my energy consumption and/or my household impact on the environment, I would be at a loss. Of course, I could start by tracking my energy use through bills from Puget Sound Energy, Seattle City Light, and Seattle Public Utilities, and then try to factor in my gas consumption, other transportation related energy uses, garbage and waste, etc, but to do that, I would have to be exceedingly more diligent in tracking these factors, and spend significant time calculating my impact on a rolling basis. And although this is something I might do out of my own personal interest, for the lay consumer this is a lot to ask in the name of sustainability (if they even believe in climate change).

I make this point because, to me, the primary obstacle in fighting climate change and moving to more sustainable practices in daily life is social in nature. Although there are resources for the environmentally minded to assess their impact such as Ducky AS (a browser and soon to be app that allows you to calculate and compete to lower your carbon footprint), as well as various carbon footprint calculator’s, it is my belief that we need to make environmental impacts more easily realized in our daily lives. By framing daily environmental impacts on a personal level, we could begin to alter the public mindset around sustainability and climate change, and start to better educate people on their own footprint. Moving the discussion from the abstract and distant (i.e. glacial melt, sea level rise, CO2 levels, temperature fluctuations) to the personal and at-home would help to change the social dialogue on the subject.

Could we more succinctly demonstrate environmental impacts to the average consumer? Are there tools or nudges we could incorporate into daily life that would help people to better understand their impact? What neighborhood and community actions and incentives could be implemented?

How can we as a society better relate the environmental impact of a full garbage bag or recycling bin, of a gallon of fuel burned by our vehicle, of a 3 gallon flush of a toilet? If we can somehow better frame and relay the impacts of the environmental decisions that we make tens of times a day (knowingly or unknowingly), we could begin to change the dialogue and actions surrounding sustainability, efficiency, and the environment.