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Climate plan victory: It’s up to me and you

Some hopeful news: With continued political will and funding, Ashland’s municipal operations can achieve climate goals established under the 2017 Climate and Energy Action Plan.

Not so good: Despite good intentions and many positive steps, we people and businesses of Ashland have not reduced our greenhouse gas emissions. But there’s still time to catch up.

This is the mixed message of Stu Green, climate and energy analyst at the city of Ashland, in his recent progress report to Ashland City Council (available at www.ashland.or.us/News.asp?NewsID=5070). He had a chance to elaborate in a follow-up Zoom discussion with local activists hosted by the Ashland Climate Action Project.

Ashland residents and businesses were heavily involved in developing the plan, which lays out goals and strategies for city operations as well as for the community itself. The City Council approved the action plan unanimously and then codified it into city law.

The essence of the climate plan, says Green, “is to be a resilient community that's not contributing to climate-altering emissions, that embraces equity, is taking care of our ecosystems and looking out for our children's best interests.”

For city operations, the plan sets a target of cutting emissions in half by 2030. Green sees this as “doable.” The city has already taken a number of steps to get there, he says, including switching its vehicle fleet to electric and renewable diesel. Made from biowaste such as vegetable oils and animal fats, renewable diesel reduces emissions by 74% compared to petroleum diesel. This estimate is based on analyzing the fuel’s entire life cycle, not just tailpipe emissions.

Emissions from city buildings also must be reduced to hit our targets. Green suggests that this too is achievable.

The Daniel Meyer Pool is by far the biggest fossil gas user among city properties. Since the SOU pool closed in 2015, the Meyer pool is being used in colder weather, spiking its fossil gas use by 339%.

The 40-year-old fun spot is slated for a rebuild. If the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission chooses to switch to a low-emission alternative like an electric heat pump or geothermal energy, the city could reach its goal to be 100% fossil-free by 2050. Enclosing it in winter could further cut energy usage.

Since there’s no funding yet to build the new pool, climate advocates have time to weigh in on this issue.

Far more greenhouse gas emissions come from residents and businesses than from city operations. Our overall goal is to reduce emissions by 8% per year, on average. This is The Big Kahuna, and we won’t succeed unless we, as members of the community, step it up.

Residents and businesses have made positive steps to cut emissions by buying electric vehicles and improving building efficiency, Green reports.

Unfortunately, we’re also driving more and using more fossil gas. “New developments are installing natural gas,” he says, “which is not compatible with our climate goals. When you add all this together, our emissions are flat.” And time is ticking to make a difference.

What to do? The top priority, according to Green, is slashing our gas vehicle miles. Walk or bike more, or use public transport, including RVTD’s low-cost, on-demand Ashland Connector. If we must drive, switch to an EV if possible.

Next: “Electrify your home heating and cooling,” he advises. “The opportunities and costs differ for every house and business. But it has to happen if we're going to make significant progress.”

Gas water heaters and furnaces operate for 10-30 years, so a new one locks in emissions for decades. “It's going to become a stranded asset,” Green explains. “The long-term trend on fossil gas is clear: it's going to go away.”

The city offers programs to make climate-friendly choices more affordable, while also reducing household utility costs. These include incentives for home energy-efficiency upgrades, electrifying home heating, water heaters and cooktops, and buying e-bikes and electric vehicles. Visit https://ashlandor.org/climate-energy/ and click on “find resources” to learn more.

Anything else? “My ideal would be 10 fresh faces at the public forum at every City Council meeting asking for climate action in their own words,” said Green. “Sustained encouragement of our elected leaders is critical because there's always issues of the day. Climate change is an emergency, but it's slow, so it doesn't garner the attention of something catastrophic and immediate. But the cost of inaction is vastly larger than the cost of action.”

Want to join our team of climate advocates (“fresh faces”)? Email me today.

Lorrie Kaplan is chair of the Ashland Climate Action Project of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now (https://socan.eco/ashland-climate-action/). She can be reached at Spotlight@socan.eco.