Sustainability

A real dump becomes Seattle’s best piece of architecture for 2016

The best piece of 2016 Seattle architecture is located near Lake Union and is, according to former Seattle Times architecture critic, Mark Hinshaw, writing for Crosscut, “a total dump.”

He’s talking of course about the new replacement transfer station on North 34th Street in Wallingford, a place that since 1966 people took their hard-to-dispose-of trash.

The new transfer station didn’t appear to be an architectural winner right away. It sort of came from behind, a long shot if you will. But when completed it showed itself as “sleek, serene and sophisticated,… it would make a foreign embassy envious,” writes Hinshaw, and it hasn’t lost its utilitarian mission looking like “a cross between a diplomatic compound in Eastern Europe and a border entry into Canada.”

Unlike Hinshaw, I have rather fond memories of the old transfer station, not that it would be my first choice of destination. It was a chore having to go there and boring waiting in line, but if felt cathartic, throwing things into the pits once we arrived, watching living rooms unfold and disappear before your eyes.  A couch, a chair, a lamp, a rug, even TVs back then, and the scene would disappear, churning, as more items poured in. I’m not so sure the new transfer station will offer quite that same experience…

It was closed the day we visited, New Year’s Day. “Let’s go see 2016’s best architecture,” I suggested to my husband. But even closed there was a lot to see – a bright new playground across the street with half a dozen kids running through the treehouse/slide; an adult playground, so to speak, around the parameter of the station, made up of about seven exercise stations that are part of the landscape; a basketball court; and a court yard with benches directly across the street from Essential Bakery, on Woodlawn, creating additional outdoor seating for the cafe. Then along 34th toward Stoneway more benches, this time designed into the building, accenting the sidewalk with views of both inside the building and the street. And to top it all off there is the public artwork, RECLAIMED by Jean Shin, made from the rebar of the old structure and capturing the soul of the place as its plaque describes, “….RECLAIMED highlights the potential of waste material to be reimagined into a vibrant second life within the community, and echoes the sustainable principle of reuse at the transfer station….”

The new building “may not be truly ‘civic’ but it is entirely civil to its neighbors,” writes Hinshaw.

It’s much less of a chore to come to, which is probably just what the designers, Mahlum, had in mind, and more of a treat.

The ages 5 to 12 playground across the street from the new transfer station

The ages 5 to 12 playground across the street from the new transfer station

 

U.W. gets high marks for sustainability

The Blue Heron just happened to come across a group of people burrowing up from the new U.W. Link light rail station for a tour of the sustainability features of the U.W. campus a sunny day last month in April, for Earth Month.

trailclosed

Burke Gilman Trail closed but should open sometime in June 2016.

The group’s first stop was at the ravaged Burke Gilman trail which has been in detour mode for months, feels like years now, but for a good cause; the segment between 15th Avenue and Rainier Vista is being widened from the current 12-to-16 foot lane to 24 feet and being made into separate pathways for bicyclists and pedestrians. It will be completed in July.

Biologysite

A state-of-the-art Life Sciences Building is going in at this site across from the Medical Center where the U.W.’s first urban farm once was. The botany greenhouse will also be replaced.

Just beyond that overlooking NE Pacific St., the U.W.’s first urban farm is being demolished to make way for a state of the art, 169,000 square foot Life Sciences Building to be home to the Biology Department. Forget images of isolated, lonely lab work; the building will be conducive to “’unexpected synergies’” to promote “entrepreneurial and interdisciplinary” approaches “to teaching and conducting research,” says the website. Adjacent to the new building, a 20,000 square foot biology greenhouse will replace the 67-year-old botany greenhouse. (Recently Huskies helped move plants to new homes.)

The building’s south side will have fins to reduce glare and provide shading. Those will be embedded with solar panels, which turn out to no more costly than aluminum save for the electrical wiring. “Even though the solar panels will not be optimally placed to generate solar power,” wrote tour leader Chris Toman in an email follow-up, “the cost to install them is on par with installing more traditional materials and will offset some of the buildings energy needs.“

There are also plans to reuse lab water to irrigate the greenhouse although that is dependent on funding.

All the new U.W. buildings are LEED silver, some gold. Not just construction but also transportation is going green. The university has 260 flexible-fuel vehicles in it 712-vehicle fleet. It will have a total of 42 electric cars by June 2016. There are 41 EV charging stations around campus, with five of those available for public use.

Bike racks double as landscape fencing.

Bike racks double as landscaping fencing.

About 4,000 of the smart U.W. students bike to class rain or shine every day making use of 650 bike lockers and numerous bike racks around campus.

Communicating with high tech trash, recycling and compost cans.

Communicating with high tech trash, recycling and compost cans.

Even the trash cans are smart. Once the Big Belly Solar waste receptacles are full they text maintenance staff to come empty them.

Make way for ducklings!

Make way for ducklings!

Sustainability features extend to the U.W.’s wildlife too – no not parties – ducks, the feathered kind that swim in the spectacular Drumheller Fountain. The fountain has a duck ramp so that baby ducks can get out. This used to be a problem as the ducklings couldn’t fly or scale the fountain’s steep sides. Now they have safe passage.

Home of a blue heron.

Home of a blue heron.

Just southwest of the fountain, hidden in a patch of tall trees known as Island Grove, Blue Herons have been nesting since 2007. As the tour group stood around peering up at the nests high in the trees, one flew in, gliding through the tree tops, circling and disappearing among the branches. The photographer was so captivated, she failed to take a picture, knowing there wouldn’t be time, instead watching as the bird appeared and was gone. “Sweet!” someone said.  And another remarked to Chris, “You planned that well.”

 

Bonus photo: a Secret Garden at the U.W. Hint: it is near the fountain.

Bonus photo: a Secret Garden at the U.W. Hint: it is near the fountain.

For a fascinating historical perspective, the U.W. has an online Environmental  History Tour.

The climate hour is late – Time to rapidly Break Free from fossil fuels

This is a cross post from Cascadia Planet, a Lake Union blog:

The climate hour is late, too late for anything but the most sweeping and fundamental efforts to break free from fossil fuels. Lying oil companies have skewed our political system, blocking effective response for over 25 years.  Now the Earth’s climate is severely twisting under the effects of fossil fuel carbon pollution.  Never has the disruption been more visible than in recent months.

This is the first of a series of blog posts leading up the largest direct actions against the fossil fuel industry in history.  From May 4-16 Break Free, staged by the global 350.org network and other groups, will mount actions at six U.S. locations and in 10 other countries around the world. Civil disobedience will play a leading role.  That will definitely be the case for the Pacific Northwest action, taking place from May 13-15 at oil refineries in Anacortes, Washington and organized by a broad coalition of mainly grassroots groups and collectives from around the Northwest.

After many years of political system failure, we can rely only on a massive people power wave capable of making demands for fundamental and rapid system change.  A political system corrupted by the greatest series of corporate crimes in history leaves no other option.

Investigative journalists recently uncovered how oil companies systemically lied about climate disruption, knowing the monstrous implications of their deceits. Journalists documented that Exxon scientists researched fossil-fuel-driven climate disruption in the 1970s and 1980s, and accurately predicted the outcomes.  These revelations are now fueling fraud investigations by 20 state attorneys general across the country.

Exxon and its cohort of oil companies knew exactly what they were doing when in the late 1980s they began funding disinformation campaigns meant to cast doubt on climate science and stop regulations that would have reduced carbon pollution.  Their tragic success already spells the death of millions of people and extinction of uncounted species.  It is the absolutely pinnacle example of how powerful corporate institutions driven by the imperative to preserve profit and the value of capital assets will take our planet down if we let them.

Thus, to break free from fossil fuels, we need to break free from the institutional corruption that pervades our society, and prevents meaningful progress.  To paraphrase John Lennon, we need to free our minds from the institutions that have held back our imagination of what this society could be if we decided to make a world fit for our children.

Make no mistake.  Our generation is well on the way to leaving a legacy of utter desolation. Severe climate disruption is already upon us.  We need to understand what this means.  Climate is an abstract word, and that is part of the challenge in drawing people to respond to it. Climate is in essence the pattern of wind and ocean currents that drive weather patterns around the globe.  It hits home in the amount and intensity of rain and snow a region receives, or does not, as well as extremes of heat and cold, and the way they lock in for extended periods.   Wind and ocean currents are becoming seriously twisted.

This is evidenced by the Pacific Ocean’s third monster El Nino in 34 years, affecting weather patterns across the Earth, and by warm winds blowing over the Arctic leaving the March 2016 maximum Arctic Ocean icepack tied for 2015 as the lowest ever recorded.  Going into melt season, this could set up record low ice cover this summer, with expanded patches of blue water soaking solar heat that white ice would otherwise repel into space. Heating of the Arctic is likely slowing and stalling the jet stream, one of the world’s major weather generators, resulting in massive deluges and snowstorms in some places, scorching heat and drought in others.  And, as much feared, it is now documented that Greenland icecap meltwater is interfering with North Atlantic currents that transport warm water from the tropics.  While the world is seeing record warmth, the North Atlantic is witnessing record cold.  The cold-warm contrast is already fueling more intense storms.

Underscoring the emergence of a climate emergency, scientific agencies reported that this January and February were by far the hottest ever recorded.  It was the largest spike over average temperatures on record.  At 1.35° Celsius, reported by NASA, it came perilously close to the 1.5°C limit set as an aspirational goal by the recent Paris climate summit, and regarded by many scientists as an absolute limit to prevent runaway climate catastrophe.    In fact, with climate-twisting carbon emissions at a record, we are well on the way to a 4°C increase as early as this century. This represents a massive crime against climate justice.

“As the planet warms, climatic conditions, heat and other weather extremes which occur once in hundreds of years, if ever, and considered highly unusual or unprecedented today would become the ‘new climate normal’ as we approach 4°C – a frightening world of increased risks and global instability,” the World Bank recently reported. “The consequences for development would be severe as crop yields decline, water resources change, diseases move into new ranges, and sea levels rise. Ending poverty, increasing global prosperity and reducing global inequality, already difficult, will be much harder with 2°C warming, but at 4°C there is serious doubt whether these goals can be achieved at all.”

The human face of this could be seen when the most powerful storm to make landfall in Southern Hemisphere history plowed into Fiji February 20, killing 42 and destroying the homes of 62,000.  At seven percent of the nation’s population, that would equate to 23 million Americans being suddenly driven from their homes. Category 5 Typhoon Winston, with winds up to 185 mph, was the second most powerful tropical cyclone to hit land in the planet’s history after Typhoon Haiyan that devastated the Philippines in 2013.  These storms underscore the tragic fact that the fossil fuel consumption, mostly by the richer countries, is taking from poor people of color what little they have.

In the face of all this, when the world should be taking desperate measures to reduce carbon emissions, 2015 saw record growth in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. The Titanic is headed toward the iceberg and the captain is ordering the boilers stoked to speed the ship toward its destination.

The climate emergency is now staring us in the face, as is the bankruptcy of politics as usual.  We must break free from fossil fuels, and relentlessly drive for a rapid and just transition to 100% renewable energy.  The next post will detail how we must undertake this energy revolution, which is well within our grasp.

This is all that Typhoon Winston, the most powerful landfalling storm in Southern Hemisphere history, left Kalisi and her three-year-old son, Tuvosa, when it hit Fiji Feb. 20.  Climate disruption created by the richest nations is hitting the poorest nations hardest. This compels us in the global North to rise up for climate justice.  Photo Courtesy Reuters/Unicef-Sokhin

This is all that Typhoon Winston, the most powerful landfalling storm in Southern Hemisphere history, left Kalisi and her three-year-old son, Tuvosa, when it hit Fiji Feb. 20. Climate disruption created by the richest nations is hitting the poorest nations hardest. This compels us in the global North to rise up for climate justice. Photo Courtesy Reuters/Unicef-Sokhin

Washington first state to price carbon by popular vote? The obstacle course

Washington state climate advocates are aiming at a political act never before achieved on this planet, enacting a state-level price on carbon pollution by popular vote.

Carbon Washington volunteers are on the streets seeking signatures to place I-732 on the November 2016 ballot. It would set a $25-per-ton carbon tax. The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy is exploring a carbon-pricing measure for that ballot, likely by a cap-and-trade similar to California’s.

So far the only U.S. electorate that has voted to tax its own carbon pollution is at a city level, that of the uber-liberal enclave of Boulder, Colorado. Residents in 2006 voted to tax themselves an average of $21 annually, and renewed it in 2012. In 2010 Californians voted down an initiative to repeal their cap-and-trade. But to this date, none of the many state, province or national carbon pricing systems has been enacted at the ballot box. The path to this date has been through legislative and executive decision-making.

Washington state would seem prime turf to set a precedent. Wildfires are scorching hundreds of square miles and forcing evacuation of whole towns. Record drought threatens water supplies. Salmon are dying by the hundreds of thousands in overheated streams. Carbon-acidified waters are driving out the shellfish industry. The state is on the climate chaos frontlines.

Nonetheless, passage of any measure at a statewide level is an obstacle-laden proposition. A tsunami of opposition funding from the fossil fuel industry and its allies will greet any initiative. (It would be a good time to own a TV station in one of the state’s major metros.) It is also famously difficult to gain voter approval for measures that impose new taxes or fees, even when most voters are not directly affected, as the 2010 two-to-one whomping of I-1098’s income tax on upscale incomes demonstrated. State voters instead have a record of voting for tax cuts, as the successes of initiative entrepreneur Tim Eyman have shown. (Though not so successful in recent years, Eyman is returning with another tax limiting measure this fall if it survives court challenges.)

CLIMATE FORCES DIVIDED

If these obstacles were not tough enough, a fractious politics creates additional hurdles. The Alliance and CarbonWA are in public and messy tensions with each other. Attempting an unprecedented political act against industry opposition and voter skepticism would seem at a minimum to require unity among climate advocates. Today climate forces are divided. This post looks at the roots of the struggle, tracks its unfolding chronology over recent months, and seeks to analyze what it means for ballot box success. There is a lot of ground to cover, so please bear with a longer-than-usual post.

The split tracks back to the failure of the federal climate legislation campaign in 2010. Very much an effort by environmental NGOs to bring the power of influential constituencies such as business to bear, the federal effort ended in dismal failure. But by that point a more grassroots-oriented climate movement was starting to emerge. Direct action against expansion of pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure was one aspect. Another was organizing for a carbon tax by citizens skeptical of the carbon cap-and-trade system proposed in the federal bill.

In Washington economist Yoram Bauman spearheaded creation of CarbonWA, which began pushing toward a carbon tax initiative. This set up tensions with Climate Solutions and allied groups leading federal and state legislative efforts. Climate Solutions was pursuing what it called the West Coast Agenda, passage of cap-and-trade through Washington and Oregon statehouses as a way of kickstarting progress back to Congress at some point. It would take a central role in forming and organizing the Alliance in early 2015 as the Washington vehicle to carry out the Agenda.

After talking about an initiative for several years CarbonWA was urgent to move. Losing patience with a legislative process that blocked Gov. Jay Inslee’s cap-and-trade in the 2015 legislature, the group submitted I-732 as an initiative to the legislature. Group leaders say they would have pulled the initiative if the legislature had moved on the Inslee bill, even if it was not their preferred policy design. Now CarbonWA aims to return to the legislature in January with 264,000 qualified signatures to secure placement in the 2016 general election. At this writing the campaign has garnered over 100,000, despite opposition and potential ballot measure competition from the Alliance.

“ . . . a powerful coalition that includes the state’s major green and labor groups is trying to squash the effort,” Seattle Times political reporter Jim Brunner reported in a July 26 Sunday edition story bannered across the front page, “Carbon-tax initiative divides environmentalists.” Describing CarbonWA as “scrappy, grass-roots” and “an upstart, eclectic bunch,” Brunner reported, “I-732 backers say they’ve waited long enough for action from the political establishment and are pushing ahead.” He quoted Bauman, “They say that there might be another measure. I feel like some of those folks have been saying that for years.”

Indeed, an Aug. 10 Seattle Times op-ed by Alliance leaders couched the ballot prospect. “Throughout the summer, the alliance will continue to explore possible climate ballot measures with the goal to file and qualify an initiative to the people in 2016,” they wrote.

Cascadia Planet broke the story about environmental group efforts against I-732 back in April. A few weeks later tensions between the Alliance and CarbonWA appeared to ease with a joint statement, “. . . we are not currently endorsing each other’s efforts. But we have no objections to individuals or groups supporting or working with either or both groups (or making a joint endorsement). We respect each other’s efforts to build a strong movement for climate action and will stay in close contact in the months ahead as the alliance completes its research work and as Carbon Washington moves forward with its signature-gathering campaign for I-732.”

Despite that seeming accord, the rift between the groups re-emerged with a June 12 memo signed by 23 members of the the Alliance Steering Committee. It raised objections that could not be interpreted in any other way than as an effort to discourage I-732 signature gathering. “. . . after extensive evaluation the alliance has determined we will no longer consider supporting its Initiative . . . As stated in the attached memorandum, recent polling unfortunately shows that I-732 is not winnable, and confirms that running multiple climate ballot measures in 2016 ensures across-the-board defeat.”

Pollsters reported, “just 39 percent of Washington voters back Initiative 732 when read the full and final language of the ballot question . . .The prospects for Initiative 732 look grim.” CarbonWA was presented with the results. Bauman’s response was, “The alliance thinks the most important result from the poll they conducted last month is that initial support for the Carbon Washington proposal is under 40% (i.e., 39%); Carbon Washington thinks the most important result from that poll is that support climbs to over 60% (61% Yes, 35% No, 4% Undecided) when the proposal is explained in simple language.”

Other analysis from the pollsters raises continued questions about whether the Alliance will go ahead with its own initiative: “Our survey explored a number of other potential ballot measure concepts, all of which started with more support than Initiative 732 – with some topping fifty and even sixty percent – though all were similarly impacted by negative messaging . . . However, further research should help to identify an alternative ballot measure concept with sufficient initial support and durability in the face of messaging to win voter approval in 2016.”

That a ballot concept considered to be viable has not yet emerged is not due to lack of polling. Public opinion researchers have been testing policy designs on likely voters for several years.

In important ways the governor has already taken matters into his own hands. He issued a July 28 order for a rulemaking to impose a carbon cap by regulation, he hopes by next summer. Based on existing state law for clean air protection, it requires no additional legislative action, though a court challenge is likely. The Department of Ecology proceeding is geared to create a system of carbon permits that polluters could trade among themselves. Though that market may de facto set its own price, a pricing system that brings carbon revenues into state coffers will require further action. Rumors have been flying that the governor will announce his own referendum as early as September.

COMMUNITIES OF COLOR WEIGH IN

That still leaves the problem of divided forces. The most profound and troubling evidence of a fundamental split came 12 days after the the Alliance Steering Committee memo. A June 24 climate justice open letter signed by leaders of eight Alliance member groups representing communities of color outright opposed I-732 on the grounds of equity and inclusiveness. The signers represent Got Green, Puget Sound SAGE, One America, Washington Community Action Network, Asian-Pacific Islanders Coalition, El Centro de la Raza and the Latino Community Fund.

The groups object to the way I-732 allocates carbon revenues. The initiative is dubbed “revenue-neutral” because it recycles all carbon revenues to tax cuts and credits. The state sales tax is reduced one percent. A tax credit of up to $1,500 is funded for each of the state’s 400,000 lowest income families. The business & occupation tax on manufacturers is eliminated. All the measures are intended to balance higher energy prices. The theory is that if carbon revenues are recycled, people will respond to the market disincentive of higher energy costs by spending on other items. A $30/ton revenue-neutral carbon tax has appeared to reduce transportation fuel use around 10 percent in British Columbia.

By contrast, communities of color leaders say, carbon revenues should be spent ensuring an equitable and a just transition from fossil fuels. A “Principles for Climate Justice” statement signed by the same groups last year was a clear precursor to the conflict, forecast by Cascadia Planet in a Nov. 25, 2014 post, “Climate justice in collision with revenue-neutral carbon policies?.”

The statement read, “Racial equity must be at the center of policies that address climate change . . . Revenue . . . should be invested directly in lower-income communities, indigenous communities and communities of color so that the economic benefits outweigh the policy’s economic burdens . . . The highest priority for reinvestment must be to mitigate financial costs of implementation to communities with lower incomes. Further reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Create clean, living wage jobs that open pathways for people with lower-incomes, people of color, and local residents to enter the green industry workforce. Enable people to live where they work with access to clean transportation, an affordable place to live, and clean and secure food sources.”

The June 24 letter echoed those statements: “This past January we helped form an inclusive statewide coalition with a mission that includes equity, the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy. Our diverse coalition includes faith, families, health, labor, business, and justice communities calling for action to reduce pollution, create green jobs, and invest in communities of color and lower incomes . . . Carbon Washington’s Initiative 732, crafted without inclusive input, fails to equitably reinvest revenue from pricing carbon pollution. It relies on a flat payout using the same regressive sales tax structure that has made our state dead last in fairness.”

To be balanced, the failed Inslee climate package supported by the Alliance and its member groups fell substantially short of the “Principles for Climate Justice,” without significant funds for green jobs or renewable energy, a minimal amount for affordable housing, and a transportation funding proposal that would have devoted far more to road maintenance than transit and other auto alternatives. It is expected, though, that a measure going to a public ballot will take a different shape than one designed to pass a legislative gauntlet.

I-732 defenders have their own equity argument. The sales tax cut would balance higher energy prices, while the currently unfunded Working Families Tax Credit would tip benefits to lower-income groups.

Bauman maintains, “. . . the household impact of the carbon tax and the sales tax reduction offset each other: most households will pay a few hundred dollars a year more for fossil fuels and a few hundred dollars a year less for everything else.”

At the same time, the Working Families Tax Credit would reduce the unfair tax burden on the 400,000 lowest income families with children. Writes Bauman, ” . . . funding the Working Families Rebate at a 25% level would provide the greatest improvement to the progressivity of the Washington State tax system since the sales tax exemption on groceries was passed at the ballot in 1977.”

The question of which policy design will bring the greatest benefits to disadvantaged communities remains in debate. Nonetheless, the considerable moral authority of communities of color has been brought to bear on the issue. The rift is real and all the more difficult to heal because it is ideological.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

The issue between CarbonWA and the Alliance might be mapped as centrist versus center-left.

CarbonWA and similar revenue-neutral advocates argue that measures which add new costs to grow the size of government will drive away centrist voters – Overcoming voters’ traditional aversion to voting new revenues will be overcome only if revenues are fully recycled back to them. The challenge is that skeptical voters might not believe they will really see the money.

The Alliance takes the position that just transition will require greater public sector efforts funded by carbon revenues, and that such programs will be needed to draw good voter turnout from low-income and people of color communities. The group also points out that low-income people without children will gain far less from the families tax credit.

Another way of drawing the distinction is less about ideology and more about makeup and organizing models.

While the Alliance claims membership of 125 groups of all shapes and sizes, its core is composed of professional advocacy groups, labor unions and progressive businesses. The Steering Committee is listed here.

CarbonWA, though it has a skeletal campaign staff, is more a volunteer-driven outfit that has drawn in local community climate groups and organized additional local chapters. It does have a board with several Washington state political veterans such as Bill Finkbeiner, former State Senate majority leader, and a heavy-hitter advisory board including a number of economists, who tend to like carbon taxes over cap-and-trade. The line-up is here. The initiative is also endorsed by several figures from the progressive side of state politics including Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata, former Mayor Mike McGinn, and former County Executive Ron Sims.

The obvious question is whether these differing tendencies and positions can pull together by November 2016. Can the fractures of 2015 heal by 2016?

Some of the answers will start to arrive in fall. CarbonWA expects most of its signatures will be gathered by the end of October. In a practical sense, that means it must accumulate roughly twice the number of names in the last three months of the campaign as it did in the first three months to assure enough qualified signatures. That will be a tough haul, but the campaign has built momentum and a large army of signature gatherers.

If I-732 fails, the question will be whether this citizen energy will flow to another initiative campaign. Signature gathering for any measure announced by the Alliance or the governor this fall will take place next year. It will have money to hire paid signature gatherers, so will have less need for volunteers. Nonetheless, without a lot of grassroots enthusiasm, it is hard to see any ballot measure surviving the deluge of fossil fuel opposition money. Most I-732 supporters will likely vote for any carbon pricing initiative. But will the fractiousness of this year dampen enthusiasm for deeper engagement?

If I-732 succeeds in ballot placement, the danger is that the fractures opened up in 2015 continue through until election day 2016. The best that can be done is to state the questions. If it is the only initiative, will the controversy this year depress enthusiasm among constituencies critical for passage? If there are dueling initiatives, will the tone of the debate be respectful or fractious? The wisest course in that scenario would be to set aside conflicts and advocate for an all-of-the-above strategy.

I have thought long and hard about the CarbonWA-Alliance conflict, and confess I am of divided mind. Personally, I lean toward the kind of investments for which the “Principles for Climate Justice” call. The title of my blog post says it, “Beyond Market Fundamentalism: The Climate War Requires Public Purpose and Investment.” Carbon frameworks that rely purely on the market-tipping effects of carbon pricing will not alone be sufficient to achieve the rapid and dramatic carbon emissions reductions for which science calls. Scientist James Hansen, who has lined out the needed reductions scenario and is also a preeminent advocate of revenue-neutral carbon taxes, himself acknowledges, “Although a carbon fee is the sine qua non for phasing out emissions, the urgency of slowing emissions also implies other needs including widespread technical cooperation in clean energy technologies.” (See Conclusions.) In other words, Apollo Project-scale or greater funding.

At the same time, a carbon price in itself is vital and CarbonWA’s $25/ton tax is an important first step. If I-732 were enacted, it would only be the beginning. The need for deep carbon reductions demands further steps. Future carbon revenues beyond the $25/ton figure could conceivably be devoted to carbon-reducing investments. The important consideration is to put a stake in the ground and give citizens familiarity with carbon pricing, whether through I-732 or an alternative measure proposed by the Alliance or the governor. To this point the I-732 campaign has been the only game in town, has built a deep-rooted network of enthusiastic volunteers, and has provided a way to spur the climate conversation at a grassroots level, engaging well over 100,000 people on the streets by now. That kind of engagement will be needed to pass any initiative, and CarbonWA is currently generating it.

WEIGHING THE ODDS

The ultimate test is viability at the ballot box. The bottom line question is – Can anything pass? Is Washington capable of enacting the first state-level carbon pricing in the world by popular vote?

The 2006 vote on I-937 provides a parallel, and leaves a troubling message. After many years of frustration seeking to pass a renewable electricity standard in the legislature, clean energy advocates went to the ballot box to enact a requirement for a 15% new renewable energy share in the state. Running up against utility industry charges the measure would increase electrical bills, the measure squeaked by with only 51.73%. In the case of a carbon pricing measure energy costs will indisputably increase. That is, in fact, the point.

Two strategies are in play to overcome this hurdle. CarbonWA seeks to bring in moderates and centrist voters with its revenue-neutral policy, and hoping they will believe it’s not a bait-and-switch. The Alliance is seeking to unify and turn out progressive constituencies with just transition funding. While I am philosophically more in tune with the position carbon revenues should fund energy transition, I have concerns there may be some strategic hubris in the circle-the-progessive-wagons approach. They center on the likely angle of attack opposition forces will employ.

It is easy to see it coming – “Seattle liberals want to impose new energy taxes on you, pushing up your gas and power bills to create yet another social program.” The targets will be suburban, rural and working class voters who already feel economically stressed, are alienated from the political establishment, and do not see benefits coming their way. The kind of voters Tim Eyman seeks to draw. It is not a pretty political reality, but it is a political reality,

Pulling a large margin in King County, the state’s largest, will be crucial to passing anything statewide. Even with climate impacts coming to Eastern Washington, a climate measure will still get creamed there, as well as in the Republican-leaning Southwest corner of the state. Margins in other Puget Sound and Westside counties will be narrower, so piling up a landslide victory in King County is the key to victory.

Important lessons are to be found in the April 2014 King County Proposition 1 vote to increase transit services. It asked voters to approve a 0.1 percent sales tax increase and a $60 annual car tab fee for 10 years. The vote saw Seattle vote 2-1 in favor, but the measure lost by an eight-percent margin. Seattle political consultant Ben Anderstone maps the results here. In urban areas where transit is a more viable option – such as the core of Seattle – the measure won big. It was crushed by suburban voters who could not see much of a direct benefit to them, and did not want to pay more for car tabs. Seattle was ultimately forced back to conduct its own successful transit funding vote.

Voters not seeing their direct interest is the danger any climate ballot measure faces. One which adds to the overall tax burden might face a steeper climb, especially if the benefits seem to be flowing elsewhere. Of course, we all have an interest in recovering a stable climate, and perhaps the intensification of climate impacts in Washington can put a measure over the top. The crux will be whether voters see the benefit of increasing their energy bills in order to protect the climate.

At this point, the best that can be said is the matter is in uncertainty, and a fractured climate movement does not improve the odds. The hope is that whatever measure or measures make it to the 2016 ballot, the movement will have re-gained sufficient unity and voters will be sufficiently motivated by climate impacts they see happening in their state and world to vote in carbon pricing. Washington state will make history if they do. But the obstacle course on the way is steep and deeply pitted.

 

Patrick Mazza is a Lake Union writer. This article is a cross post from his blog, Cascadia Planet.

The kids are all right!

From the Lake Union blog site, Cascadia Planet, the latest on how kids are doing something about climate change: The kids call us out — Filing lawsuits for science-based climate recovery.

Cascadia Planet -The Fennica Actions: “Bold, cultural revolution” comes to Portland‏

The same week Pope Francis in his climate encyclical called for “a bold cultural revolution” to win “liberation from the dominant technocratic paradigm,” a group of kayaktavists in Seattle boldly set themselves in front of Shell Oil’s monster oil rig departing to drill in the Arctic.  This past week the revolution came to Portland when kayaktavists and climbers hanging from St. John’s Bridge blocked passage of Shell’s icebreaker Fennica, a vital element of the Arctic drilling fleet.  Lake Union blog, Cascadia Planet, tells the story of the Portland actions and sets them in the global context.

 

 

Photo Caption: Streamers float in the wind under the St. Johns Bridge as activists hung under it in an attempt to prevent the Shell leased icebreaker, MSV Fennica from joining the rest of Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet. According to the latest federal permit, the Fennica must be at Shell’s drill site before Shell can reapply for federal approval to drill deep enough for oil in the Chukchi Sea.

 

 

 

Gov. Inslee orders carbon regulation – Credit to youth lawsuit?

Lake Union blogger, Patrick Mazza, is a climate activist and as things continue to heat up around the world, we’re happy to share some of his writing, especially when it is good news:

Washington Governor Jay Inslee today ordered the state Department of Ecology to place a regulatory cap on carbon emissions.  While a successful youth lawsuit to spur such an action is not being given direct credit, it is hard not to see the connection.

“Carbon pollution and the climate change it causes pose a very real and existential threat to our state,” Inslee said. “Farmers in the Yakima Valley know this. Shellfish growers on the coast know this. Firefighters battling Eastern Washington blazes know this. And children suffering from asthma know this all too well and are right to question why Washington hasn’t acted to protect them.”

Inslee is claiming regulatory authority under the state Clean Air Act. The rulemaking is expected to take a year. The action will provide Inslee a potential opportunity go to the U.N. Paris climate summit in December with a climate initiative of global significance.

In August 2014 a group of eight youths petitioned the state Department of Ecology to start a rulemaking for carbon caps much as the governor ordered today. Ecology rejected the youth petition.  Represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, they took Ecology to court. On June 23 in a decision unprecedented in the United States, King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill ordered Ecology to reconsider the petition based on scientific testimony and their own statements.

Of critical importance, the youth petition affirmed that existing laws provide Ecology with all the authority it needs to regulate carbon emissions. The governor today took the same position.

But the governor’s press spokeperson, David Postman said, “As far as I know, this effort is not related to the lawsuit against Ecology.”

Nonetheless it hard to believe that these developments are not connected.  Ecology is under the gun from Hill’s court order.  Andrea Rodgers, lead attorney in their case, has a similar view. “The only ones who asked the governor to do this are those kids. They deserve the credit.”

The eight are Zoe and Stella Foster, Ajia and Adonis Piper, Wren Wagenbach, Lara Fain, Garbriel Mandell and Jenny Zhu.

The youth petition asked the for carbon emissions reductions of four percent a year beginning immediately. This is based on science developed by world-renowned climate scientist James Hansen, who this past week released a new study indicating sea level could rise 10 feet in 50 years if deep emissions reductions do not begin immediately.

What is not clear from the governor’s announcement is how far his order will go to implement science-based goals. The announcement says, “The regulatory cap on carbon emissions would force a significant reduction in air pollution and will be the centerpiece of Inslee’s strategy to make sure the state meets its statutory emission limits set by the Legislature in 2008.” State carbon emission limits are substantially higher than the level required by science.

“We’re going to make sure that whatever Ecology does is based on the best available science,” Rodgers said.  “When we meet with Ecology tomorrow we are going to ask that they heed Judge Hill’s order.”

In her order Hill quoted Ecology’s own December 2014 report to the governor.

“Climate change is not a far off risk.  It is happening now globally and the impacts are worse than previously predicted, and are forecast to worsen . . . If we delay action by even a few years, the rate of reduction needed to stabilize the global climate would be beyond anything achieved historically and would be more costly.”

Ecology itself admitted the 2008 goals fall short: “Washington State’s existing statutory limits should be adjusted to better reflect the current science. The limits need to be more aggressive in order for Washington to do its part to address climate risks and to align our limits with other jurisdictions that are taking responsibility to address these risks.”

Noted Hill, “Despite this urgent call to action, based on science it does not dispute, Ecology’s recommendation in (the December 2014) report is, ‘that no changes be made to the state’s statutory emission limits at this time.’”

Judge Hill wasn’t buying that.  She told Ecology to take its own report and scientific testimony into account and reconsider the youth petition. That is what the agency will have to do.

The regulatory cap will not in itself set a carbon price as would have the governor’s failed carbon bill.  But that could come by future legislative action or a ballot measure. A carbon tax is the center of Initiative 732 being forwarded by Carbon Washington for the November 2016 ballot.

“This is not the comprehensive approach we could have had with legislative action,” Inslee said. “But Senate Republicans and the oil industry have made it clear that they will not accede to any meaningful action on carbon pollution so I will use my authority under the state Clean Air Act to take these meaningful first steps.”

Inslee also announced he would not implement a Clean Fuels Standard because it would have triggered a “poison pill” taking around $2 billion away from transportation alternatives including transit, bicycling and walking.

“In talking about the terrible choice the Senate imposed on the people of Washington – clean air or buses and safe sidewalks – I heard broad agreement that we need both clean transportation and clean air,” Inslee said. “I appreciate the commitment I heard from many to work with me to ensure our state meets its statutory carbon reduction limits.”

(I previously wrote that my gut told me Inslee would swallow the “poison pill.”  In this case I’m glad my gut was wrong.  Clean fuels should not be played against needed alternatives.)

Inslee’s announcement today signifies a tremendous climate victory. Whether or not they are given direct credit I believe can thank eight young people and the adults who backed them up.

 

Remembering the first Earth Day

Forty-five years ago today as a 17-year-old growing up in the Philly area I hitchhiked down to Fairmont Park to take part in the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970.  I had been reading The Environmental Handbook, created for the event. For all the problems it depicted it also portrayed remarkably hopeful possibilities for building a sustainable world.  In the midst of the fractures of the Vietnam War era, there was a ray of sunlight in all this.

Sitting on a grass hill on a sunny day with the Philadelphia skyline in the background, I heard an inspiring line-up.  Where else could you see Allen Ginsberg and Edmund Muskie on the same stage?  The range embodied the essential significance of Earth Day, the unification of what had been many disparate movements – wilderness and wildlife preservation, anti-pollution, opposition to freeways, worker safety, etc. – into a unified “big tent” environmental movement that led to an environmental revolution.

Earth Day 1970

More than two dozen environmental acts were passed in the wake of Earth Day, laws to strengthen protections for clean air and clean water, the Endangered Species Act, the law that mandates environmental impact statements for large projects.  It was the foundation for the environmental protections we have today. Earth Day planted the seeds of my own work as a sustainability writer and advocate from the 1980s to today.

A young man was there that day.  I’m sure he was on stage but I can’t say I recall him.  It was Denis Hayes, the first organizer of Earth Day.  He was travelling by train up the East Coast with Muskie, Ginsberg and the crew visiting different rallies. I later made my way to Seattle and came to know Denis as president of the Bullitt Foundation. Denis has wryly shared with me his ironic feelings about being primarily known for something he did in his 20s. But those in the know understand he’s done a lot more since.

As Jimmy Carter’s solar energy head, Denis shaped what is now the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.  When Ronald Reagan came in to rip the solar panels Carter had installed off the White House roof and tear down the renewable energy programs Carter had started, Denis successfully preserved the core of the most important research efforts. We owe a great deal of today’s clean energy revolution to the seeds he planted, and saved.

As president of Bullitt Foundation, Denis was a seminal funder of climate work in the Northwest, how I got to know him.  Safe to say without important start-up and continuing funding from Bullitt the regional climate movement would not be the powerful presence it is today.

Over recent years Denis led construction of the world’s greenest office building, the Bullitt Center, which generates its own energy from a solar roof and its own water from a rain-gathering system.  It is a true zero-energy building.  He also has a new book out, Cowed: The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America’s Health, Economy, Politics, Culture, and Environment.

Though most people might know Denis from Earth Day, clearly he’s never stopped being a sustainability pioneer.  So it was a pleasure to see him give a short talk at the Earth Day Climate Action Festival at Seattle Central College on this 45th Earth Day.  Under a sunny sky, and appropriately for the heavily youthful crowd, Denis called on a new generation to seize the day.

2015 Earth Day at Seattle Central College

2015 Earth Day at Seattle Central College

“Today we’re talking about passing the torch to a new generation,” he started.  “That has probably never happened in history.”

Instead, the new generation is going to have to wrestle the torch out of the grasping fingers of those who hold it now.  Much as his and my generation had to seize its own day, “The new generation is going to have to struggle.”

Denis overviewed the environmental crisis that was emerging in the years before the first Earth Day, pollution, pesticides, freeways ripping through cities, and compared it to China today.  These were national struggles that yielded national victories.

“What you have facing you today is very different that what was facing us,” he noted.  “You’re addressing global issues,” such as climate, ocean acidification, overfishing, migratory species. To address these, “We have to come together not as a nation, but as a people.”

Denis called to a moral obligation to stand up for the poorest. “Those who have done the least to change the planet will suffer the most.”

“The important stuff is always done by young people,” Denis said to the young crowd.  “This is not just a rally.  This is the beginning of a revolution.”

Truly we need as profound a global sustainability revolution as the environmental revolution spurred by the first Earth Day.  And many young people are coming to the fore to make it happen.  Denis is still in the fight, and so I am and many of our generation.  But it is the young who are our hope and inspiration.  You will seize the torch, and our aging bodies will keep up with you as long as we can.  Now as then – For the Earth.

–Patrick Mazza

 

Reprinted with permission from Cascadia Planet.

From Charm to Ruins to Waste

Eastlake is seeing a lot of demolition, but the hardest to watch fall are the old vintage houses and apartment buildings. I’ve probably been watching too many “Rehab Addict” reruns, being addicted to “Rehab Addict,” but something about seeing those old houses brought back to their former glory makes me high. Nikki Curtis, the show’s star, goes out in search of old wood flooring, doors, and built-ins to replace what’s been torn out of old structures, that cry, according to her, “Make me pretty again!”

So when there was a recent post on the Eastlake Social Club Facebook page about the sunny yellow bungalow on Minor Ave. being brought down (pictured above), I hoped that at the very least parts of it would be recycled or salvaged to find a new home in a house being restored or maybe repurposed to add some character to new construction.

After the demolition of the house on Minor Ave.

After the demolition of the house on Minor Ave.

But it turns out that was not the case as neighbors commented. Well how hard could it be to salvage the special architectural features of a house, was there a demand for it?

Not hard at all, and yes.

The demolition debris -- in it: smashed windows, iron railings, lots of old wood, and even a new washing machine, according to a neighbor.

The demolition debris — in it: smashed windows, iron railings, lots of old wood, and even a new washing machine, according to a neighbor.

The city of Seattle encourages it. And there are all kinds of good reasons for doing it – keeping the waste out of a landfill for one, providing jobs for the local reuse and recycling industry for another.

And that industry is hungry for salvage – architectural, plumbing, lumber, you name it.

The salvage shop closest to Lake Union, RE Store, over in Ballard no longer exists (although they do have a store in Bellingham), but there are two others, both in the SODO district, that are doing a lively business. Earthwise is a little hidden gem on 4th avenue near the West Seattle Bridge; it’s fun, like stumbling onto a Pee-Wee Herman set, and vast. Items are haphazardly and creatively arranged drawing you in.

Earthwise in SODO -- happy to salvage.

Earthwise in SODO — happy to salvage.

A few blocks away on 6th Avenue, the arty setting of Earthwise, gives way to a Home Depot-like atmosphere at Second Use. Second Use is huge with aisles and aisles of items inside and out, and was busy, this Saturday, with a line of pick-up trucks out front and customers loading goods.

A helpful clerk at Second Use let me know that stock turns quickly, usually within two weeks, so if I wanted something, I shouldn’t wait, and that the website is updated with some two hundred items daily, with measurements down to the eighth of an inch.

So what to do when there’s word of a vintage, unique structure that’s going to be torn down? The store manager for Earthwise told me over the phone that they’d love to hear about it. They’d be happy to reach out to the owner or contractor for permission to remove whatever non-structural items might sell. And Second Use had large moving vans in the parking lot at the ready waiting for calls.

Second Use, also in SODO, with trucks at the ready.

Second Use, also in SODO, with trucks at the ready.

Another option before demolition, one in the architect’s hands, would be something like Ada’s Technical Bookstore on Capitol Hill. It’s a wonderful example of combining new and existing architecture, taking the old Horizon House bookstore and morphing it into something bigger and modern. Ninety percent of the original wood was reused in the new structure. Last year, Ada’s won a Historic Seattle award for “Preserving Neighborhood Character.”  It would be great to see more of that kind of creative, adaptive reuse of old houses and apartment buildings that adds density but keeps the neighborhood charm.

 

Breaking News:  A little more searching on the web, and it turns out that the RE Store itself has been salvaged. It has a new life as Ballard Reuse.

 

Crazy Horse’s pipe centers multifaith ceremony at St. Patrick’s

Envision a priestess of the Goddess, a rabbi, a Sufi, a Methodist minister, a Lutheran pastor, a Quaker, a Hindu, a Muslim, Native American leaders and representatives of several other faiths passing around a pipe that once belonged to Crazy Horse, making prayers and sharing insights as the pipe came to them. All in a Catholic Church!

The 28th Interspiritual Celebration of Gratitude at Thanksgiving

The 28th Interspiritual Celebration of Gratitude at Thanksgiving

It happened in the neighborhood last Sunday. The 28th Interspiritual Celebration of Gratitude at Thanksgiving took place at St. Patrick’s with the theme, a Ceremonial Call to Illumine and Restore the Sacred. It was centered on the Sacred Pipe Ceremony. Hereditary Chief Phil Lane Jr, an enrolled member of the Ihanktonwan Dakota and Chickasaw Nations, noted that his tribe has had Crazy Horse’s pipe in its possession for several decades. But they are only bringing it out now.

This is a time when prophecies of Crazy Horse and other elders are being fulfilled, Lane said. After 500 years of darkness a spiritual renewal is bringing people of many faiths together to protect the Mother Earth. So Native people are beginning to share more of their ways with us. Bringing out the pipe was one manifestation of that.

Seattle spiritual leaders pass around Crazy Horses pipe

Seattle spiritual leaders pass around Crazy Horses pipe

Native spirit was at the center of the event. We were welcomed by Ken Workman, a member of the Duwamish Tribal Council and a fourth generation grandson of Chief Seattle. Sundance Chief Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation gave an extended talk with some deeply poignant moments. His son, Cedar George, was at the Marysville-Pilchuck High School when the tragic shooting happened recently. Healing was one of the intentions of the event. Rueben broke up for a moment describing how much he hurts for his son. Cedar spoke about how his grounding in Native spiritual ways gave him the strength to endure and help his classmates.

Native leaders from right to left: Ken Workman, red scarf; Phil Lane; Rueben George; Cedar George

Native leaders from right to left: Ken Workman, red scarf; Phil Lane; Rueben George; Cedar George

Rueben George and Phil Lane are both leaders of the Nawtsamaat Alliance of Native and non-Native people. The Alliance is taking a stand against oil and coal trains, ports, terminals, and pipelines in order to protect the Salish Sea, the inland waters from Puget Sound through the Georgia Straits.  This stance was the background of the Ceremonial Call. Faith communities such as those represented in the Sunday ceremony increasingly understand the Earth is sacred. They are prominent in the movement against coal and oil expansion because they understand that fossil fuels threaten our climate and our waters. Rueben talked about the growing movement coming together to protect the waters, noting how 25 years after the Exxon Valdez spill, Prince William Sound is still polluted. That could happen to our waters if we let the fossil fuel industry’s insatiable greed have its way, he said.

I have to admit I’m a recovering Catholic who rarely passes the door of a Catholic Church. But it’s no surprise I found myself at St. Patrick’s. The church is committed to keeping alive the ecumenical and progressive vision of the early 1960s Vatican II conference. This must have been challenging through the conservatism that has prevailed since, but the tradition of openness seems to be returning with Pope Francis. Maybe I’ll find my way back for a regular mass. It would make my mother happy.

Sunday’s Ceremonial Call was deeply moving, indeed stirring gratitude this Thanksgiving season. In a world where so much seems enveloped in darkness, this brought light.