Environmentalists offer ways to challenge climate change
Actions for individuals and communities to protect the environment were the focus of a Legislative Conference workshop on climate change.
Brian Henning of 350 Spokane and professor of environmental studies at Gonzaga University, and Tom Soeldner of the Upper Columbia River Group of Sierra Club, led the session.
"We formed the 350 Spokane advocacy group three years ago, modeled on the national group, founded 10 years ago and part of an international, decentralized group," said Brian.
On climate change, he noted: "It's warming. It's us. Experts agree. It's bad. We can fix it."
Brian focuses on fixing it.
"The injustice is that those who benefit the most from polluting are affected the least, but those who contribute the least to pollution are the most affected and have the fewest resources to respond," he said, suggesting smoke shelters may be needed, like warming shelters, to bring homeless people out of wildfire smoke.
A sign of legislators' interest in climate change is a website on bills: waclimateleg.info. Brian listed several:
• One bill addresses liquid transportation fuels as the largest source of greenhouse gases in Washington—because most electricity generation is clean. He said biofuels grown in rural communities can help.
• The Sustainable Farms and Fields bill would provide grants to farmers to support such farm practices as better fuels and no-till—turning over the soil releases carbon, he said.
• The Climate Pollution Limits Bill sets targets to reduce greenhouse gases, requires the state to align goals with science and develop a carbon budget.
Brian suggests that to move toward 100 percent clean fuels, "we need to change our language. Natural gas is not 'natural' but a 'fossil gas.' When fracked, stored and transported, it releases methane that is 36 times more potent than carbon in trapping heat.
"Challenging climate change requires collective action to address systems, as well as individual action to change behaviors," he said.
He listed resources:
• 350wa.org has information on bills.
• 350 Spokane meets at 6:30 p.m., second Tuesdays at 25 W. Main.
• A 350 Spokane interfaith subgroup meets at 6:30 third Wednesdays in the Humanities Building at Gonzaga.
• The 50th anniversary of Earth Day, to be held from 2 to 4 p.m., Wednesday, April 22, includes a global climate strike at the Pavilion in Riverfront Park.
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As National Forest chair and member of the Spokane River Team of the local Sierra Club, Tom offered insights on forests, forest fire suppression and restoring forests.
Oceans, landmass and forests sequester carbon. Fossil fuel use, cement production and farming put 33 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, he said. Forests absorb 30 percent of that, oceans, 20 percent, and cold water and ice absorb more. As ice melts, carbon is released.
"Intact forests are the most carbon intense, biodiverse ecosystems, with 19 percent of carbon in plants and 81 percent in soil," Tom said. "Older forests sequester more carbon. U.S. forests remove sufficient CO2 to reduce national annual net emissions by 11 percent."
"Reforestation of areas cut and afforestation—planting areas that were not forest land—help, but trees do not sequester or store significant carbon until they are 50 to 80 years old," he explained.
"Proforestation keeps forests intact, preserves ecosystems, biodiversity, water quality and air quality. Natural forests, soils and wetlands are most effective at carbon removal," he said.
Tom suggested that logging seldom improves forest health because logging roads and the equipment that use them tend to spread invasive weeds and logging tends to promote erosion and the clogging of streams.
Logging removes biomass, larger drought resistant trees and tree diversity that makes forest ecosystems resilient, he said.
Tom suggested thinking about wildland fires beyond prevention and suppression.
Catastrophic fires in Washington result less from fuel in forests than from drought and weather, he said. With limited resources, the Department of Natural Resources frequently hires commercial companies to remove small diameter trees, but to make profit, these companies are often also allowed to take larger diameter trees, he said.
He urged people to contact Hilary Franz, public lands commissioner, about her plan and to challenge widespread thinning of forests for forest health.
"We should let fires that do not threaten communities burn," Tom said. "Natural processes are better for forest health and for sequestering of carbon in the face of climate change."
The workshop included a video on ways to improve the environment beyond modifying personal behavior, calling for systemic changes, including:
1) to go to 100 percent renewal energy standards;
2) to keep 80 percent of reserves in carbon-based fossil fuels in ground permanently, and
3) to lobby and petition institutions to sell stocks in fossil fuel industries and drain those companies of their wealth so other industries can rise up as individuals and institutions invest in socially and environmentally responsible companies or investment firms.
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, March, 2020