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Wednesday, December 11, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Caroline Woodwell: Better Spokane can do better

Caroline Woodwell

Michael Cathcart, executive director of Better Spokane, says that Spokane cannot afford the City Council’s energy mandate (“Spokane can’t afford City Council’s energy plan,” Aug. 18, 2018). He is wrong. The city cannot afford the business as usual model that he proposes.

As I write, air quality in Spokane is hazardous for humans. The sun has not been visible all day. Smoke hangs in the ponderosa pines and wafts down my street in white clouds. People with respiratory ailments and a history of strokes have been urged to leave the area. And this is only the beginning. There are vast forests in the West, just waiting to burn.

For forty years scientists have been warning us that burning oil, coal and gas produces carbon dioxide that accumulates in the atmosphere and traps infrared light, also known as heat, warming the Earth.

In 1979 four scientists warned of the perils of inaction on climate change in a report to the Council on Environmental Quality. “Man is setting in motion a series of events that seem certain to cause a significant warming of world climates over the next decades unless mitigating steps are taken immediately,” they said.

For forty years we have known and failed to take action. Now the predictions of those scientists are on full display. The West is burning, the Arctic is burning, the polar ice caps are melting, coastal cities are flooding. Breathing in Spokane today can be life-threatening. And the United States, the country which, over time, has produced more carbon emissions than any other country in the world, has withdrawn from collaborating in the two most important international carbon emission reduction agreements: the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and the Paris Agreement of 2016.

The excuses for inaction at the federal level are remarkably similar to the excuses for inaction offered by Mr. Cathcart at Better Spokane: It costs too much; you’re moving too fast; we’re already working on it; it will stifle economic development; it’s not fair; others have tried and found it hard; we don’t know enough; it will undermine our competitive position.

What we have learned over forty years is that those excuses lead to life as usual. And life as usual leads to the unusual new, smoky, scorching August weather that’s now typical in Spokane.

Mr. Cathcart believes that if and when a cost analysis of the proposal before the City Council is done, “the public will be horrified at the results.”

I am already horrified. I am horrified that breathing in my city is hazardous to my health. I am devastated that my children are inside during what should be the most glorious last days of summer. I am in deep despair that we, collectively, have known this future for forty years and denied it. We have squandered our chance to live in the climate we are adapted to, by believing excuses for caution, delay and inaction.

Humans evolved in a world where the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere was steady at 280 parts per million. Today concentration of carbon in the atmosphere is 411 parts per million, far beyond the 350 parts per million that most scientists believe is the upper limit for a stable climate that will support life as we know it.

We do not have time in Spokane to be cautious. Reclaiming pristine August days in the Inland Northwest, if it can be done, will require us to do something we have never done before: to imagine and create life in a new way. To leave coal and oil and gas in the ground and learn to power our lives with energy from wind and sun and water. Immediately.

Imagine if, instead of publishing a litany of obstacles, Better Spokane joined the cause. Imagine if Better Spokane, as advocates for business, were at the vanguard of a massive, creative, heroic and inspiring effort to build green businesses in Spokane. An effort that brought in jobs and money. An effort that could be replicated nationally. An effort that put the Spokane business community at the center of the world as an example of leaders in building sustainable cities, run on renewable energy.

Caroline Woodwell lives in Spokane.

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