Angus Duncan


I grew up in Southern Oregon where logging and pears defined our valley’s economy. Even then old growth was growing scarce, and mills were closing. As a kid I smudged and picked in the orchards, now at risk from warming temperatures. I saw my first Shakespeare play in Ashland at age 11; that hundred-year-old community enterprise now loses money each summer from smoke-canceled performances.

The hard fact is, climate change is coming — is here — and however much we may dislike the solutions, we can’t wish it away. Rural Oregonians are seeing these first effects already, from front-row seats.

HB 2020, the Oregon climate legislation choked off last month by 11 state senators, would have set a slowly declining cap on greenhouse gas emission sources, set Oregon on a path to a lower-carbon, lower cost future, and cushioned most Oregonians from the transition costs.

It would have enabled a near future in which low-carbon options would become more rapidly available: renewable wind and solar electric energy; electric vehicles (including farm and forest equipment); high efficiency heat pumps to heat and cool our homes and businesses.

It would have avoided one-size-fits-all carbon pollution regulation, instead applying a market-based trading tool (first proposed by Republicans) to allow industrial polluters to find among themselves the most cost-effective emissions control strategies.

The bill would have accelerated development of clean energy in Oregon, with much of the investment and jobs going to rural Oregon. These would be family-wage jobs erecting wind turbines and installing solar panels — the new hydropower — that will require local labor for many years to come.

No one should pretend the transition from a carbon-intensive economy to a low-carbon one will be easy. Neither is it avoidable. Responsible legislators will help manage the transition, not deny its reality.

A small minority of Oregon legislators — 11 out of 90 — frustrated the will of Oregon voters with an unconstitutional, anti-democratic tactic: hiding out in Idaho to deny the Senate a quorum and thwart a vote on climate legislation 15 years in the making.

In doing so, they put their constituents and all Oregonians — especially your children, and mine ... and theirs — at risk in a climate-altered future of fire, flood, drought and disease. These impacts will fall especially harshly on rural Oregon communities and their resource-reliant local economies, the very people these Senators purport to be defending.

Oregon agriculture especially is at risk of water shortages, fire, new crop diseases and pests migrating north.

The opposing legislators prefaced their objections with the lame qualifier, “I’m not a climate denier, but ...,” then willfully ignored the bill’s many cost management tools: free allowances for utilities and businesses that take action to reduce emissions; free allowances for vehicles working farms and forests; driver rebates, adjusted for rural miles driven, to offset higher fuel costs.

They ignored the economic upsides and rapidly declining costs of new technologies, industries and jobs already arriving in Oregon. They ignored the economic and environmental damage already being felt; the tropical diseases arriving to threaten our families; the struggles of asthmatic kids to breathe smoke-filled air.

They ignored the benefits of joining the many other states and nations committing to a low-carbon future, and seeing these benefits flow sooner, to more of us, bringing lower energy and transportation costs. Many of these new low-carbon technologies are already in the market, in our utilities and our homes where they will especially benefit the low-income households most at risk from climate change.

Therein lies the common-sense answer to the other nonsense proposition these legislators kept repeating: “Oregon’s carbon footprint is too small to matter. “

Wrong! Failure to move climate action forward in partnership with other cities, states and nations — that’s the failure that brings pain and forecloses gain.

Most Oregonians understand that some challenges can only be met with community effort. Saying “Oregon is too small to matter” is like saying one bucket of water won’t put out a house fire. Of course not. But a bucket brigade can. One sand bag won’t contain a flood, but all of us together filling and piling them up can.

Climate change is a bigger flood, a bigger fire; it needs the same frontier spirit to act together.

And acting together works. Oregon is one of 14 states joining with California in requiring stronger vehicle fuel economy standards in the face of Trump administration efforts to water these down. Collectively, our states make up 37% of the population and 30% of the new car market in the U.S. Collectively we are too important a market to ignore. So much so that the car companies are actually in Washington arguing our case for more fuel-efficient cars to the administration.

That’s the kind of clout Oregon would have had with HB 2020, and will with its successor. We’ll shrug off this legislative low blow and find the next pathway forward. We’ll look to all responsible Oregonians, irrespective of party affiliation and concerned only with problem solving in the Oregon way — and in the interests of our children — to contribute their best ideas; to bring their buckets to the fire.

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Angus Duncan is the chair of the Oregon Global Warming Commission in Portland and president of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

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