Workshop urges cleaner air, water in addition to carbon reduction
As regional partners work together to curb greenhouse gas emissions, care should also be taken to improve clean air, clean water and protect low-income residents.
And how we implement policies to reach those goals could be most important of all.
Those were some of the initial conclusions of environmental experts and stakeholder groups that participated in a workshop at Metro this week. Convened as part of the regional government's Climate Smart Communities scenarios project, participants discussed how public transit, mixed use development and encouraging more hybrid cars could effectively create a greener community.
Chips Janger, with Clackamas County Urban Green, said he found connections between the climate change project and his own community's advocacy for the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project and a redesign of McLoughlin Boulevard.
"We're trying to find ways to build a future without greenhouse gas," Janger said. "So all of the things we talked about here today all contribute to that. That's why it's exciting."
For an event convened around climate change and the environment, there was hardly any talk of global warming science or icebergs. Instead, for four hours, activists, planners and experts explored the soup-to-nuts connections of land use, transportation and the natural environment.
In small group discussions, they plotted steps from policy to outcome. For example, if you increase mixed use neighborhoods, then you've increased the number of jobs and services within easy reach of households, reduced land consumption and – with green building standards – increased access to nature and preserved healthy soils for farms and forests.
Access to nature?
Maybe, said Sean Penrith of the Earth Advantage Institute, a green building nonprofit – if the buildings are built with designs that provide street level landscaping and easy connections to green space.
Access to nature could go both ways, group members agreed.
"If the number one contributor to greenhouse gases is transportation, and number two is buildings, then both of those need to go hand in hand," Penrith said later.
Another group discussed the potential effects of cleaner fuels and more efficient cars, such as gas-electric hybrids.
Efforts that increase green power and reduce carbon emissions could produce cleaner water, healthier soil and protect native species, said Tia Henderson, of Upstream Public Health.
"All three of these would contribute to resiliency and potentially to our aquifer health," she said.
On the other hand, the group couldn't find a link between high tech cars and access to nature – at least not a positive one.
"I don't know what access to nature means when it's over here," said Angus Duncan, chair of the Oregon Global Warming Commission. "If a vehicle costs you less to drive, you're more likely to use it … We improve access to nature, then we destroy it."
The potential to raise gas taxes or charge mileage-based fees also raised questions, especially about how the potential revenue might be used. Could it help improve public transit for low income residents? Or build roads that increase driving and pollution and potentially carbon emissions?
"Its outcomes are going to depend on how it's done," said Chris Hagerbaumer, of the Oregon Environmental Council. "You’ve got to do it right to get the right outcomes."
Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder said the agency wants to focus on more than just reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.
"What does a successful region look like through the lens of the environment?" he asked the gathering. "It helps with our larger mission of creating a sustainable place that's a great place to live and will be a great place to live for many, many years."
The event was co-sponsored by the Oregon Environmental Council and 1000 Friends of Oregon.
More workshops – focused on equity/environmental justice issues and business – and a summit are planned for the scenarios project later this year.