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We should support climate action in Oregon

I am a biologist by training and career. Several decades ago, I was teaching an ecology course at Southeast Missouri State University when ecological theory and climate reality collided.

As I was discussing how temperature and precipitation patterns determine the distribution of natural biological systems (forests, grasslands, deserts etc.) across the planet, I realized how the climate projections of the day would, if they came to pass, destroy these natural systems on a planet-wide basis. I also taught conservation biology because I care deeply about the survival of planetary natural biodiversity; I care about lions, tigers, bears, and dickie birds, oh my. But, for those who don‘t care so much, but like to eat or live in a house, note that the same projected climate conditions would globally destroy our agriculture and forestry.

It was then that I began researching climate science to assess its credibility. I became convinced! As the years have passed, my confidence in this body of science has increased. To those who question this science, and — unbelievably — there remain some who question climate science and others who behave as though they question it, I point out that we now have enough data to test the modeled projections; they stand up to the test. Rather than offering exaggerated visions of future catastrophe, the Business-As-Usual (BAU) models actually underestimate the severity of the trends we are currently experiencing: temperature increase and ocean level rise, for example, are at the high end of BAU model expectations, while summer Arctic ice melt is way ahead of what these models projected.

We can see on our 20 acres of forest in the Applegate that Douglas firs are dying. This is a harbinger of the future absent climate action. Analyses of the influence of likely future climate on tree species indicate that by century’s end, the viability of many commercially and ecologically important species throughout Oregon will be drastically reduced. Rather than opposing action to curtail emissions, agriculture, timber and logging interests should be demanding it. Without substantial climate action, their livelihoods will be compromised within the century.

By the same token, those who feel that SB1530/HB4167 does not go far enough in reducing emissions should reconsider the urgency. There exists no legislative alternative to the current proposal that would impose a meaningful reduction in Oregon greenhouse gas emissions in the near future. Postponing action until such a proposal is developed will only make the required reduction trajectory steeper and more difficult to achieve. Additionally, in terms of the social justice concern, the current proposal states that 10% of funds raised must be used to assist Native American tribes, $10 million or 10% per biennium must be assigned to support a just transition for potentially dislocated workers, and a majority of the remaining funds must assist impacted communities. It may not be perfect, but it’s better than no proposal.

It’s true that Oregon’s emissions are small compared to the U.S. and the world, but we must ask ourselves: Do we wish to continue as part of the problem, or become part of the solution? As Gandhi famously urged, we should “Be the change we wish to see in the world.” Unless Oregon joins the jurisdictions addressing this problem, we will have no moral authority or credibility in urging others to reduce emissions. Even red-state Utah has just established a plan for dramatic emissions reductions. This should not be a partisan issue. Simply put: If 100 nations each responsible for 1% of the problem address their emissions, we can bring the climate crisis within tolerable limits.

To have a reasonable chance at holding global warming within a range that might protect life as we know it, we need to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Indeed, other nations, and even states in the U.S. have pledged to achieve this goal. The current climate action proposal would be better if it included the net-zero target, but the urgency of our current situation indicates that, first and foremost, we must establish a steep downward trajectory in greenhouse gas emissions. This proposal does that, which is why we should all we support it.

To opponents who have proposed no meaningful alternative — Oregon Industry, Timber Unity and the entirety of the minority caucus in Salem — I say if you don’t care about the livability of the planet for your children and grandchildren, please care about it for ours.

For complete testimony submitted by SOCAN on Oregon SB1530/HB4167, visit scoan.eco/cej.

Alan Journet of Jacksonville is co-facilitator of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now.