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Ashland Climate Commission sounds the alarm

Spotlight: Climate Solutions

Ashland’s Climate Policy Commission issued a strongly worded declaration to Ashland City Council this week.

“All is not well,” CPC told the council, citing the most recent progress report on the city’s 2017 Climate and Energy Action Plan, presented in May by city climate analyst Stu Green.

CPC Chair Rick Barth described a daunting trifecta of a deteriorating climate, rising community emissions and vacancies that have left the commission shorthanded for months.

To help the city get back on track with its four-year-old plan, Barth outlined an ambitious CPC work program for the coming year. CPC’s proposed deliverables would pave the way for multiple council actions to curb emissions and adapt to climate changes already upon us. The CPC’s 2021 annual report to the council is available at https://bit.ly/CPC2021Report.

In its aggressive posture, CPC is aligned with recommendations of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report. The IPCC advises that while climate change is occurring even faster than predicted by scientific modeling, any and all actions we take now to reduce emissions can limit future deterioration. But there’s no more time for delay.

City tracking data identify the main emission sources in Ashland as our use of natural gas and reliance on gas-powered cars in the community. The CPC calls for a new greenhouse gas inventory for the city in the 2023-2025 budget. The last inventory was done in 2016. The inventory verifies emission sources and trends to direct city policies and public education.

“There has been a significant increase in natural gas connections and volume since 2015, ”according to CPC. Natural gas — also called fossil gas — is composed primarily of methane. According to the U.S. EPA, when released into the atmosphere, fossil gas has 86 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide over 20 years.

Transportation emissions also continue to add up, despite upticks in the use of electric vehicles. CPC advises the city to integrate climate goals into the city’s Transportation System Plan to create “a functional, practical, safe, efficient and convenient bicycle and pedestrian transportation system.” CPC is also exploring additional electric bike incentives and an updated bike loan program for the city.

CPC is working with Ashland Electric to examine how its electric grid “will respond to the additional loads that come from fossil gas reduction” and expected increases in electric vehicle use. CPC projects will include ensuring that all city master plans are aligned with climate goals; expanding the city’s energy retrofit loan program; and developing a home energy score program.

Another interesting project is the addition of a “carbon note” to City Council agenda items. Implemented successfully in Eugene, the carbon note would help ensure that climate impacts are identified before the council takes action.

CPC urges more focus on helping the community adapt to climate changes that are already here. “We are no longer in a position where we can focus entirely on mitigation,” the commission advises. “The future of our community depends on our ability to navigate the impacts that are underway and worsening while we transform our relationship with energy.”

Climate adaptation is a key social equity issue, adds CPC. “The burden of climate impacts falls most heavily on Ashland’s low- and medium-income residents,” said CPC, “many of whom lack resources to gain refuge from smoke and excessive temperatures.”

Current members of the CPC are local residents Rick Barth (chair), Chris Brown, Bob Kaplan, Ray Mallette and Gary Schaff. The group has requested that Mayor Julie Akins “recruit new and diverse commissioners so it can accomplish its goals while representing a broad community cross-section.”

Three voting positions are vacant, and the SOU and Ashland School District nonvoting student positions are also vacant. Residents interested in serving on the commission should complete the “Commission-Committee” application available on the city of Ashland website. Commissioners are appointed by the mayor.

The commission meets monthly on the second Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. via Zoom. Learn more about the CPC at https://bit.ly/AshlandCPC.

What can you do? Even incremental reductions in your emissions can make a difference: drive less, reduce (or plan how to eliminate) your use of natural gas, try an induction cooktop, line-drying clothes, eating less meat, weatherize your home, and reduce your consumption of goods not produced locally.

The website Bright Action is a user-friendly tool for tracking your emissions, setting goals to reduce them, and following through.

Lorrie Kaplan is chair of the Ashland Climate Action Project of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now. She can be reached at ACAPSpotlight@socan.eco.