When it comes to the climate crisis facing Southwest Washington and the world, it is far beyond the time to act decisively. In fact, we have already ignored warnings dating back decades:
- An oil industry executive told a meeting of his colleagues that burning fuel releases carbon dioxide which, over time, would heat the atmosphere, melt ice caps and submerge New York City. It was in 1959.
- Scientist and author Carl Sagan went to Congress to explain this so-called greenhouse effect and its long-term consequences. âThere is a tendency to say, ‘It’s not my problem. â¦ Let the next century deal with it, âhe said. âBut the problem isâ¦ if you don’t care now, it’s too late. It was in 1985.
- Almost 200 nations – the so-called Council of the Parties – have agreed to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It was in 1992.
- These parties entered into an international treaty known as the Paris Agreement, which set a goal of preventing the planet from heating more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, knowing that even then many would suffer. It was in 2015.
- “Our house is on fire,” warned Greta Thunberg, a teenage climate activist, speaking on behalf of the generation on the verge of inheriting the predictable results of our collective inaction. It was in 2019.
Today, the climate crisis is no longer theoretical. In June, an unprecedented heat wave killed hundreds in the Pacific Northwest and pushed mercury in Vancouver to a record 115 degrees. Our region can no longer count on a durable snowpack in the mountains to supply our rivers and support our cultures. Abnormal weather and hellish forest fires are becoming more and more frequent and intense.
Yet this month, when the Council of the Parties met for the 26th time, it reached an agreement that, once again, does not treat climate change as the emergency it is. Our house is on fire but – good news! – we agreed on a paint color.
Nevertheless, we can draw some encouragement from the COP26 pact. He finally names the enemy – fossil fuels – and promises to “gradually reduce” coal, the dirtiest of them.
The countries have agreed to return by the end of 2022 with firmer plans to reduce carbon emissions. The conference also explained how countries will report on their progress towards the goals set by the Paris Agreement.
Although climate change is a global problem that requires international cooperation to be resolved, we can do our part locally. And we have.
Our state has said ânoâ to the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals at Longview, which would have been the largest transfer site in North America for ships loaded with coal bound for Asia.
Vancouver officials have shown leadership by declaring a moratorium on fossil fuel projects, which expires on December 8. The council should renew this moratorium.
And the city is creating a compact development model in the Heights neighborhood as an alternative to the norm of single-family homes with cars overflowing with garages. As expected, the neighborhood would be a pedestrian cluster of apartments, offices and shops where people would live, work, shop, all while driving less.
This is what it will take to get us out of this mess: reorienting our lifestyles.
As United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said, âOur fragile planet is hanging by a thread. We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe.