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Learning how Ashlanders think about climate action

Welcome to Spotlight, a new regular Tidings column brought to you by the Ashland Climate Action Project of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now.

ACAP is led by a small team of Ashland residents focused on raising awareness of the Climate and Energy Action Plan adopted by Ashland City Council in 2017. Our shared belief is that by working together, residents, businesses and the city can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, increase our resilience to changing climate conditions, and improve our prospects for a livable future.

We’re learning a lot about how Ashlanders think about climate change and climate action, thanks in part to a survey of Ashland residents we conducted over the summer. More than 200 residents took the survey, telling us they are highly concerned about climate change. Nearly nine in 10 described steps they’ve taken to lighten their own impact on the planet and expressed their belief that all of Ashland can do so too, and we can still have a healthy and resilient economy. In the shadow of COVID, many residents view climate action as a major economic opportunity for our community.

Climate-conscious residents are calling for leadership and action. In September, ACAP hosted a series of Zoom forums to learn where our candidates for mayor and city council stand on climate issues. Videos of the forums are on YouTube and have been viewed by hundreds of city residents. The local elections are over, and we now need to turn our attention to helping our new mayor and council walk the talk.

Addressing climate change may seem daunting. And yet cities and towns of all sizes worldwide have committed to doing their part. More than 10,000 cities representing more than 900 million people have signed on to the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. This includes nearly 200 U.S. cities, ranging from Los Angeles (population 3,990,456) to Eagles Nest, New Mexico (population 257). No city is big enough to do it alone nor too small to not matter. No city is so rich or poor that it can afford to ignore this crisis.

What about Ashland?

Ashland adopted the CEAP after extensive community engagement, input and review. We committed to a goal of cutting our community’s greenhouse gases by 8% per year on average. When Ashland set this goal three years ago, an 8% annual reduction worldwide would have reduced the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to less than 350 parts per million by 2050. Scientists, climate experts and policymakers overwhelmingly agree that 350 ppm is a “safe” level of atmospheric carbon dioxide. On Election Day 2020, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels hit 410.76 ppm worldwide, and “carbon dioxide equivalents,” which include other potent greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases, topped 500 ppm.

Clearly, things are going in the wrong direction. Collectively we must — and can — do much more. But how? We need to be informed, engaged and inspired. We need the energy and momentum that comes from working together as a community toward a common goal.

Mobilizing our community to take climate action is ACAP’s mission, and Spotlight is a new hub for hosting these conversations. We will give voice to the questions Ashlanders raised in our survey and dig for the answers. Questions like: Is climate action possible only for people who can afford to buy a Tesla? What is the city doing to implement the CEAP? What would it take to make our city safe for cyclists of all ages and abilities? How can we speed up the transition to affordable renewable energy to heat our homes? How can renters get access to solar power? What can Ashland do to reduce climate-related wildfire risk and mitigate residents’ exposure to extreme heat events?

Working together, Ashland can achieve our climate goals. Let’s have the conversations. Send your ideas to us at ACAPspotlight@socan.eco.

To learn more about Ashland Climate Action Project survey results, see socan.eco/AshlandSurveyReport

To see Ashland Climate Voter Project city candidate forums on YouTube, visit https://socan.eco/ashland-climate-voter-project/

The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy can be seen at www.globalcovenantofmayors.org.

Lorrie Kaplan is chair of the Ashland Climate Action Project of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now.