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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Brian G. Henning, Ph.D.: City Council to vote on historic climate resolution

By Brian G. Henning, Ph.D.

By Brian G. Henning, Ph.D.

On Monday, the Spokane City Council is scheduled to vote on the most consequential resolution to address global warming in Spokane’s history. At stake is whether to adopt and implement the revised Sustainability Action Plan. Read the full plan at my.spokanecity.org/sas.

For too long, Spokane’s attitude toward climate change has been like a patient whose doctor tells them that if they don’t lose weight, and fast, they are likely to have a fatal heart attack. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, the patient pledges to lose the weight by a certain date and they even buy a new scale and dutifully record the results monthly.

However, the pounds aren’t coming off. In fact, they keep going up. What is missing? A plan, of course! Without a plan with specific strategies for eating healthier and getting exercise, pledging to lose weight is an empty gesture.

Like this patient, for years, and under multiple administrations, Spokane has steadfastly pledged to achieve specific targets to reduce heat-trapping pollution by certain dates. It has also taken the time to periodically measure its progress in achieving those targets. What it has never had is an actual plan with specific strategies to achieve its climate pollution reduction targets. Until now.

Over the last two years, dozens of our neighbors from all walks of life spent hundreds of hours researching and debating strategies to help Spokane do its part to bend the curve on our heat-trapping pollution. After all of that hard work, and despite a global pandemic, the group then sent the draft plan out into the community for six months of public engagement that included over 30 workshops with more than 1,600 people and a survey that garnered over 1,400 comments.

The result is a new Sustainability Action Plan with 47 strategies across seven sectors. Here is a sample of 10 strategies: (1) ensure new construction is as efficient as possible; (2) increase transit ridership; (3) minimize food waste; (4) promote, support, and incentivize a circular economy; (5) protect water quality; (6) expand access to sustainable business practices and resources; (7) establish funding for education and outreach programs that promote natural resources stewardship; (8) expand urban tree canopy; (9) include climate impacts in disaster and emergency response plans; (10) upgrade existing buildings for high efficiency and renewable energy sources.

As exciting as these specific climate action strategies are, what is perhaps equally as significant is the citizen-led process that created it. As the Sustainability Action Plan itself notes, this is not a perfect plan that is set in stone. It is a living document that can and should be improved as technology changes, opportunities arise, and climate changes bite harder. What is gradually emerging is a democratic, citizen-led process for doing that.

Although we are told that climate action is a politically divisive issue, the evidence doesn’t bear that out.

Surveys from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication reveal that an overwhelming majority of Americans (74%) are either “Alarmed,” “Concerned,” or “Cautious” about global warming, whereas less than a fifth are “Doubtful” (12%) or “Dismissive” (8%) (tinyurl.com/6r5d6uyp).

Though of course reasonable people may disagree on this or that strategy, there is deep support in Spokane for taking responsible, common-sense action that does two things (1) does our part to reduce heat-trapping pollution (2) prepares our community to be resilient to a changing climate. This is exactly what the Sustainability Action Plan sets out to do.

Given the especially beautiful autumn weather we’ve had over the last few weeks, it is easy to forget just how difficult last summer was.

Average daily temperatures 9.5 degrees higher than normal combined with the lowest rainfall on record, put Spokane into “exceptional drought” for the first time in our history.

Another half a million acres of our beautiful forests burned and too often our air was unhealthy to breath. How quickly we forget the heat dome that killed at least 20 of our Spokane neighbors and more than 100 people across our state.

According to the Spokane Climate Project (SpokaneClimateProject.org), the summer of 2021 may be typical, rather than exceptional, by the middle of the century. That sounds far away, but my high-school-aged daughter will be 46 in 2050. The longer we wait to act, the more severe the consequences and the more disruptive the change.

The Sustainability Action Plan under consideration by Spokane City Council is a common sense step to get our community on a healthier trajectory so we can continue to enjoy our beautiful Spokane region for generations to come.

As with losing weight and getting healthy, it turns out the goals, measurements, and plans are the easy part.

The real test is whether we can marshal the will to transform our individual and collective habits, systems, and policies for a just and verdant world.

Brian G. Henning, Ph.D., is professor of philosophy and of environmental studies at Gonzaga University where he is director of the Gonzaga Center for Climate, Society, and the Environment.

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