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Council Corner: Should Ashland be carbon-neutral by 2047?

No single issue carries greater long-term significance than the condition of our environment, and climate change is a factor in an increasing number of policy decisions made by the City Council.

Ashlanders want to make a difference, and the work of Ashland's ad hoc Climate and Energy Action Plan (CEAP) committee appointed by Mayor John Stromberg is rapidly progressing toward an early 2017 final recommendation to the City Council.

As the chairman of the committee, I am pleased to report that we've covered a lot of ground since our first meeting in September 2015. Here is a brief recap of what we've learned:

According to Oregon State University researchers, it's going to get a whole lot warmer in Ashland in the coming years. Taking no corrective action to reduce carbon emissions on the global level would result in average daily temperatures five degrees warmer in 2050 and a 66 percent reduction in average snowpack depth, which drastically increases wildfire risk.

Based on a comprehensive study, we also know that Ashland emits approximately 330,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2e) into the atmosphere per year. About half the emissions relate to the manufacture of goods and food we consume, known as consumption-based emissions. The other half is called sector-based emissions — fossil fuels used to heat and cool our homes and businesses, to power our vehicles, and methane emissions from our waste, etc. Sector-based emissions are easier to quantify and to prospectively control as a matter of public policy than consumption-based emissions.

Given this brief synopsis of comprehensive data coupled with robust citizen feedback garnered through 17 public meetings and two well-attended open houses, the CEAP committee recently made seven preliminary recommendations:

Strive to be a carbon-neutral community by 2047 for sector-based emissions. This would involve strategies to reduce or offset current emissions.

Explore practical ways to reduce consumption-based emissions even though it may be difficult to track or quantify success in doing so.

Have five-year benchmarks and intermediate targets starting in 2022. This would be the roadmap to how we literally go from zero to 100 percent carbon neutral.

Use the city's 2015 greenhouse gas emissions data as the baseline for calculations and benchmarking. The most current and complete data is a more realistic snapshot than what many communities reference in their current plans, which sometimes paints an overly rosy picture of progress.

Include fossil fuel and greenhouse gas reduction targets for City of Ashland operations. After all, municipal government must be a leader for a community climate-and-energy reduction plan to be successful.

Examine carbon offsets as an emissions mitigation strategy. Carbon offsets reduce, avoid or sequester CO2e to compensate for community emissions. Offsets can be purchased from a regulated market involving biomass, land use and forests, among other opportunities.

Consider tying the Climate and Energy Action Plan to a municipal ordinance, which carries more weight and significance than a policy or a resolution. For example, modifying specific goals and targets would require a public hearing.

Over the next several weeks, the city's consultant will draft actions, options and cost estimates based on these initial recommendations. Then comes the hard part. Are the implementation, adaptation and mitigation proposals feasible? Are they socially equitable? Can we afford them?

Do you have an opinion? If so, please share your thoughts with the CEAP committee in writing or in person. The next meeting is slated for Aug. 17. Public open houses are slated for Sept. 20 and Dec. 7 leading up to a final recommendation to the City Council in January 2017.

Becoming a carbon-neutral community by 2047 would be an extremely challenging task requiring adjustments in how we think and conduct business, for municipal government and residents alike. I contend we really don't have a choice but to try.

Rich Rosenthal is a member of the Ashland City Council.