We're Not Alone

by PAUL K. HAEDER & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he issue of our time, hands down -- according to various governments, corporations, grassroots groups and, of course, most scientists and planners -- is global warming.

Luckily, there is a sea change in how nations and communities are tackling increasing earth temperatures and the quickening of the ice caps melting. Many are preparing to go beyond the current greenhouse emissions goals set forth through the Kyoto agreement.

They're seriously looking to generate a new global compact by 2009 in Copenhagen to reduce the three greenhouse pollutants we have all come to know as culprits: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

Denmark is working with Japanese, Israeli and Chinese firms to electrify one sixth of its parking spaces in the next two years with the excess electricity generated by its grid of wind turbines from the low-draw nighttime hours, which will be loaded into next-generation battery arrays.

To put things into perspective, it's important to note that the traditional gas-powered auto in Denmark is levied a whopping 185 percent tax, but with this new small, sexy Tesla-battery powered car, the government intends to waive that fossil fuel penalty completely.

Sustainability isn't lost on China, which is moving its 1.3 billion people toward a quality of life that most Westerners began taking for granted in the 1950s. Yet the Chinese know what mega-cities like Shanghai can unleash on their populations in polluted air, water and soil.

The Chinese recognize America's major dinosaur -- General Motors -- and so the U.S.'s low-fuel-efficiency cars are banned for sale in there.

Other factoids tied to the world's most populous country are compelling: The third-richest capitalist in China manufactures solar panels; the head of environment in China has just recently been elevated to ministerial status.

Further south, there are hopeful signs coming from Australia as voters booted out John Howard and his "politics of fear and xenophobia" in favor of Kevin Rudd, who speaks Mandarin and whose first act as prime minister was to adopt the 1997 Kyoto emissions standards as a first step.

Looming on the horizon here in River City is the Mayor's Task Force on Global Warming and Peak Oil, a committee of 13, including its chair, Avista's Roger Woodworth, along with an architect, economic trade specialist and others with skills tied to sustainability. Along with the Task Force will be work groups drawn from the community as subject-matter experts and researchers in the areas of land use, transportation, global warming, economics and the built environment.

And there's the newly incorporated nonprofit called the Northwest Climate Change Center (NWCCC), led by Melissa Ahern of WSU Spokane with support from the Lands Council's executive director, Mike Petersen, and the proprietor of Pacific CAD, Ron Reed.

The idea is to do some think-tank visioning, planning, prioritizing and implementing in order to make Spokane sustainable: less reliance on fossil fuel; more strategies to plan for disruptions tied to the high cost of electricity and petrol; issues of depleted snow packs and the drying up of river systems, all possibly leading to crop failures.

Heady stuff on many levels, these global and regional initiatives. Heck, Seattle has just passed laws banning Styrofoam containers and putting a 20-cent fee on all paper and plastic disposable bags, beginning in January 2009.

In Spokane, NWCCC and Avista are teaming up with neighborhood councils by distributing 200 compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) to each of the councils to encourage homeowners to curb energy use, which results in less carbon dioxide emitted through electricity-generation derived from coal, natural gas and fuel.

There isn't a day that goes by when I'm not confronted by Spokanites, young and old, who are hungry for tips on how to help solve the global-warming calamity. There are practical things we can do as citizens to reduce energy use. One answer might be a solar water-heater retrofit, reducing up to 40 percent of a single household's energy use. Another would be enhanced roof and wall insulation. Maybe fewer car trips, more carpooling. Complete CFL changeouts of incandescent bulbs. Fewer packaged food items, more locally grown food. No more jet trips. Stop those dreams of an Alaskan cruise second honeymoon. Oh yeah, another tip might be to use only reusable grocery bags.

They want individual ways to stop global warming that do not cut too deeply into their own idea of what defines their quality of life. They're starving for instructions on how to make some small sacrifice that might reduce a modicum of their consumptive behavior, or some 21st-century tweak of technology that doesn't go against their accepted postmodern necessities that we certainly won't find on Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

The problem here is that many scientists like James Hansen, groups like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and government leaders like Mary Verner know we need large systematic mandates and we need to act quickly. Individual changes aren't enough. Governments, from local to federal, need to drastically change how we build, eat, commute and consume resources.

Here's the problem we're seeing here in Spokane County: We don't have leadership showing we are serious about cutting unnecessary fossil fuel consumption. Will the Mayor's Task Force and the NWCCC come out soon to admonish the two Spokane County commissioners, Todd Mielke and Mark Richard, for voting to spend $4 million of taxpayers' money for Spokane Raceway Park?

Money well spent? No. A government serious about changing our automobile culture? Never.