Because the major impacts and consequences of global warming are not immediate, it’s easy to shove the issue to the side. Plus, solutions won’t show much measurable impact for a long time. Those twin truths pose problems for a society that needs to keep the issue alive for the sake of future generations.
For example, the hottest issue on the presidential trail is energy policy. Should we lift the moratorium on offshore oil drilling? Do we open Rocky Mountain oil shale for exploration? What can we do to alleviate the pain at the pump and the grocery store? A lot of strategies would produce even more greenhouse gases. That’s why the initial excitement over biofuels has begun to dissipate.
Conversely, some environmental concerns could serve to exacerbate global warming. Can all species be saved? What if attempts to save salmon result in dirtier power production? If, say, the four Lower Snake River dams were removed, their energy production would have to be replaced from sources that aren’t as clean as hydropower. The same is true if dams are forced to increase spills to help the fish. Will environmentalists stand in the way of nuclear power, which burns cleaner than coal and natural gas?
A common misconception is that by embarking on climate-change solutions now, we can preserve the plant as is. But climate science tells us that man-made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere today will take 100 years or so to dissipate. There will be warming.
Or, as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Jeff Burgett recently told the Idaho Statesman, “If you are talking about sustaining the world we have now, it’s too late.”
So is the problem just too big for individual communities? The answer is no, and the good news is that the city of Spokane has embarked on a progressive program to plan for climate change and to mitigate the impacts.
Mayor Mary Verner deserves credit for taking on an issue that promises few short-term political rewards. She devoted a large chunk of her first State of the City address to reducing our dependence on oil and how that can help the local economy in the long run. The city recently hosted a “Take Part in Your Future” symposium, which gave the mayor’s sustainability task force an opportunity to pick the brains of experts on climate change and energy security.
The city has already taken many measures to reduce energy use and to limit greenhouse gases, including the use of fluorescent bulbs at City Hall, converting to cleaner-burning vehicles and installing LED bulbs at traffic signals.
The city is not going to solve global warming. No single entity can. But when our grandchildren look back, will they be able to say we did our best?