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Portland, Kyoto, & Prosperity

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  • Richard Risemberg
    ... [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 2, 2005
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      > July 3, 2005
      > A Livable Shade of Green
      > 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
      > year.
      > "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@...

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