The purpose of sound policy is to best serve the people of Ashland
By Marni Koopman and Jim Hartman
This election cycle has taken an unexpected turn, artificially separating candidates into those that favor “people” vs. “policy.” One camp is being labeled policy wonks who care more about saving carbon than saving lives. Meanwhile, the other camp is putting themselves forward as “people focused” due to their community roles and relationships. And yet, the purpose of sound policy is to best serve the people of Ashland. Those people include people of all ages, backgrounds, races, abilities and incomes. Policy grounded in empathy, equity and basic human rights is something many of us value and prioritize. Those of us who care about climate policy do so because of a deep understanding of the ways in which all people, and the ecosystems we rely on, are going to be impacted if we don’t reduce our emissions quickly.
As two of the original members of the Mayor’s Ad Hoc Committee tasked with creating the Climate and Energy Action Plan (CEAP), we met for over a year, held numerous community workshops, conducted surveys, and worked with a contractor to develop a plan that addresses the greatest challenge of our lifetimes (climate change) with empathy, equity, and justice. We focused not just on today’s residents, but also on future residents who also have rights to basic safety, health, and livelihoods. We almost walked out of the planning process when it threatened to veer away from science-based solutions towards political expediency. Yet we stuck with it, and the resulting plan is one we can all be proud of.
The CEAP was developed in 2016-17 in response to mass climate school strikes by young people, internationally declared climate emergencies, unprecedented disasters, and awareness of the very thin line we are walking between global warming (what we are experiencing now) and unfathomable climate catastrophe and collapse (what we still need to prevent). Ashland’s youth, from ages 6 to 18, showed up at meeting after meeting to tell us about their anxiety, fear, sadness, and anger about continued greenhouse gas emissions and the future (or lack thereof) they face.
Hundreds of Ashland’s youth attended the final vote on the CEAP and its accompanying ordinance, as the skies were filled with smoke and school kids did their homework on the floor of the overflow room in City Council Chambers. It was a moment of immense pride and hope in Ashland. A moment where we all came together and showed young people that their voices are heard and their future is of more value than short-term political cycles. It meant we acknowledge the severity of the threat that we have created for our own children to navigate. And we are dedicated to reducing that threat together, as a community. It meant that we are willing to put their future first, even if it is the “hard” thing to do. It was a promise to Ashland’s youth that they could go back to school and sports and activities while we, the adults, took the lead on climate change.
The ordinance that was passed that day required that the city form the Climate Policy Commission (CPC). A primary reason was to ensure that all actions the city takes on climate change also build equity within our community, rather than investments in clean energy going to already wealthy (and mostly white) homeowners and retirees. If implemented correctly, the CEAP is intended to further socioeconomic equity and racial justice.
The CEAP is a promise to young people and an investment in the sustainable future of Ashland. How we implement the CEAP (where and in whom we invest) is key to living up to our values.
Whether or not we implement the CEAP is not even a question if you understand that catastrophic climate change will lead toinsurmountable levels of the very problems that so many skilled and dedicated leaders are trying to fix — housing (and unhoused) crises, racism, hunger, child poverty, severe health impacts, high food prices, natural disasters. We cannot afford to not address climate change. We cannot afford more “business-as-usual” (see graph at top).
What does climate action look like? It’s pretty spectacular, actually. Clean energy for renters and low-income residents. Electric buses that serve people of all incomes and abilities, making Ashland more affordable for workers. Safe bike lanes and far more bikes. Locally grown food and goods, with scraps composted and returned to the soil for continued abundance. Well-paying jobs weatherizing, fire-proofing, and building even more resilience in our community. Compact, affordable and efficient homes and heating-venting-air conditioning (HVAC) systems keeping all people safe from heat and smoke. Close-knit neighborhoods that look out for one another. Our hard-earned dollars going to local companies for clean energy, and circulating within our local economy.
The time has never been better than right now to implement this beautiful vision that promises to pay for itself in savings, grants, avoided costs (of climate impacts), and return on investment. A recent study by Deloitte, a leading financial firm, shows that, if we fail to address climate change, it could cost the U.S. economy $14.5 trillion by 2070. On the flip side, decarbonization (eliminating fossil fuels) over the next 50 years leads to gains of $3 trillion in GDP each year and 1 million more jobs. Achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, which is the goal of the CEAP, is seen as “not just an aspirational goal, but an economic growth imperative.” If we think beyond dollars, the benefits of decarbonization can also be counted in lives saved, health benefits, fewer and less severe heat waves, retention of some of our snowpack and forests, and many other ways.
A local survey by SOU and SOCAN shows that 90% of Ashland residents are alarmed or very concerned about climate change, and respondents are supportive of energy measures but wary of cost and equity issues. Luckily, the funds for energy upgrades are increasingly available! The Inflation Reduction Act passed by Congress promises to invest $386 billion dollars in energy and climate upgrades. Additionally, if the city pursues it, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)has made $10 million available for Ashland to offer interest-free loans for homeowners and landlords to install renewable energy systems and upgrade homes for air quality, efficiency, and fire protection. Also, the State of Oregon is investing significant sums in electric heat pumps, electric vehicles, renewable energy, and protecting people from fire, heat and smoke.
We are at a pivotal moment, right now, to finally move away from corporate fossil fuel-based business-as-usual. Our community could wash its hands of the environmental racism (taking decades off the lifespans of people of color), exploitation and environmental destruction associated with this multi-trillion-dollar industry.
These unprecedented investments and opportunities are only there for those who actively pursue them. Communities like Eugene are going full steam ahead on bringing these investments to their community, and will reap the benefits for decades to come.
So, what is needed? We need leadership. Strong, visionary, and deeply knowledgeable leadership at the highest levels of the city. Climate change is complex and change is hard and can be bumpy. But isn’t this what we always tell our children? Do the right thing, even when it’s the “hard” thing? We promised them we would do the hard work of weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels, creating equity, and uplifting and empowering those who are most impacted by climate change.
When you vote, please remember that promise.
Vote for candidates who are strong leaders on climate change, sustainability and clean energy.
Marni Koopman, a climate change scientist, and Jim Hartman, a retired Ashland High School science teacher, are residents of Ashland.