Portland, Kyoto, & Prosperity
> July 3, 2005[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
> A Livable Shade of Green
> By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
> PORTLAND, Ore.
> When President Bush travels to the Group of 8 summit meeting this
> week, he'll stiff Tony Blair and other leaders who are appealing
> for firm action on global warming.
> "Kyoto would have wrecked our economy," Mr. Bush told a Danish
> interviewer recently, referring to the accord to curb carbon
> emissions. Maybe that was a plausible argument a few years ago, but
> now the city of Portland is proving it flat wrong.
> Newly released data show that Portland, America's environmental
> laboratory, has achieved stunning reductions in carbon emissions.
> It has reduced emissions below the levels of 1990, the benchmark
> for the Kyoto accord, while booming economically.
> What's more, officials in Portland insist that the campaign to cut
> carbon emissions has entailed no significant economic price, and on
> the contrary has brought the city huge benefits: less tax money
> spent on energy, more convenient transportation, a greener city,
> and expertise in energy efficiency that is helping local businesses
> win contracts worldwide.
> "People have looked at it the wrong way, as a drain," said Mayor
> Tom Potter, who himself drives a Prius hybrid. "Actually it's
> something that attracts people. ... It's economical; it makes sense
> in dollars."
> I've been torn about what to do about global warming. But the
> evidence is growing that climate change is a real threat: I was
> bowled over when I visited the Arctic and talked to Eskimos who
> described sea ice disappearing, permafrost melting and visits by
> robins, for which they have no word in the local language.
> In the past, economic models tended to discourage aggressive action
> on greenhouse gases, because they indicated that the cost of
> curbing carbon emissions could be extraordinarily high, amounting
> to perhaps 3 percent of G.N.P.
> That's where Portland's experience is so crucial. It confirms the
> suggestions of some economists that we can take initial steps
> against global warming without economic disruptions. Then in a
> decade or two, we can decide whether to proceed with other,
> costlier steps.
> In 1993, Portland became the first local government in the United
> States to adopt a strategy to deal with climate change. The latest
> data, released a few weeks ago, show the results: Greenhouse gas
> emissions last year in Multnomah County, which includes Portland,
> dropped below the level of 1990, and per capita emissions were down
> 13 percent.
> This was achieved partly by a major increase in public transit,
> including two light rail lines and a streetcar system. The city has
> also built 750 miles of bicycle paths, and the number of people
> commuting by foot or on bicycle has increased 10 percent.
> Portland offers all city employees either a $25-per-month bus pass
> or car pool parking. Private businesses are told that if they
> provide employees with subsidized parking, they should also
> subsidize bus commutes.
> The city has also offered financial incentives and technical
> assistance to anyone constructing a "green building" with built-in
> energy efficiency.
> Then there are innumerable little steps, such as encouraging people
> to weatherize their homes. Portland also replaced the bulbs in the
> city's traffic lights with light-emitting diodes, which reduce
> electricity use by 80 percent and save the city almost $500,000 a
> "Portland's efforts refute the thesis that you can't make progress
> without huge economic harm," says Erik Sten, a city commissioner.
> "It actually goes all the other way - to the extent Portland has
> been successful, the things that we were doing that happened to
> reduce emissions were the things that made our city livable and
> hence desirable."
> Mr. Sten added that Portland's officials were able to curb carbon
> emissions only because the steps they took were intrinsically
> popular and cheap, serving other purposes like reducing traffic
> congestion or saving on electrical costs. "I haven't seen that much
> willingness even among our environmentalists," he said, "to do huge
> masochistic things to save the planet."
> So as he heads to the summit meeting, Mr. Bush should get a
> briefing on Portland's experience (a full report is at
> www.sustainableportland.org) and accept that we don't need to
> surrender to global warming.
> Perhaps eventually we will face hard trade-offs. But for now
> Portland shows that we can help our planet without "wrecking" our
> economy - indeed, at no significant cost at all. At the Group of 8,
> that should be a no-brainer.
> E-mail: nicholas@...