'We need to start sounding the alarm.'
Lake Oswego Sustainability Network co-founder Duke Castle used a powerful analogy to describe the climate crisis during public comment at the Feb. 18 City Council meeting.
He said when your house is on fire, every day you delay putting out the flames causes it to burn that much more.
He compared this to the urgency of taking action to combat climate change and speed up the goals presented in the City's Sustainability and Climate Action draft plan.
Tuesday evening, council members heard residents and youth testify in support of the Sustainability and Climate Action Plan that would later be discussed during the council's study session.
"Addressing the growing climate crisis is hard, but necessary. Our world cannot survive if we stand by as the environment around us collapses, causing billions of dollars of damage and unquantifiable losses of human life," read a cover letter submitted from the two Lake Oswego high school Green Teams. "With that in mind, we fully support the Sustainability and Climate Action plan, and look forward to the implementation of solutions in our areas of concern."
While the council did not approve or vote on the draft of the plan Feb. 18, they unanimously supported the draft and requested staff to make minor tweaks and verbiage changes to present a more clean and clear version for approval.
"I think the plan is great," Councilor Skip O'Neill said. "I think we should get the plan approved and get this moving."
In 2017, the council had a goal to support the creation of a plan based on advice from the Sustainability Advisory Board (SAB). Together, SAB and LOSN worked to create a six-page climate action plan, which was voted to be incorporated into a revised Sustainability and Climate Action Plan in 2018.
Now the document runs more than 40 pages and has been revised to be more complete and address topics like waste and toxics reduction, climate adaptation, education and employee health, and engagement. It was also updated for relevancy, plausibility and to include wider sustainability actions. The plan includes goals to reduce transportation emissions, promote energy efficiency, promote water conservation, protect natural resources and reduce waste and exposure to toxins.
"The Sustainability Action Plan for City Operations 2014 has become obsolete and needed revision, thus combining the two documents into (a) Sustainability and Climate Action Plan was decided to be the best course of action to move forward, instead of having a separate climate action plan and City focused sustainability plan," Sustainability and Management Analyst Jenny Slepian's staff report read.
Slepian said one of the most significant changes made with the current draft is that it addresses climate adaptation.
"We do recognize that climate change is happening and yes, focusing on adaptation is not always that popular because it is saying, 'Hey, this is happening,' and we just have to respond to it. Adaptation is how do we respond?" Slepian said. "As far as Lake Oswego is concerned, that mostly relates to wildfire smoke and flooding and then issues with air quality as well. That's where we chose to focus our efforts, so that's a whole new section and something we haven't really looked at before."
Slepian added that not everything in this plan will result in greenhouse gas reductions.
"Some of them are just straight up boring sustainability actions — economic, environmental and social, triple bottom line goals — but that is indicated in the plan. There's a little column that highlights that," Slepian said. "We also put more of an equity lens on it as well, recognizing that it's often the most vulnerable populations that are most impacted by climate change and Lake Oswego does have vulnerable populations here and so there is also an indicator as to whether this needs some equity goals and reducing the impacts on those populations, or providing services for them to help them adapt to climate change."
Councilor Theresa Kohlhoff said that since this is a living, organic document — meaning it can be altered throughout the course of its existence — she wondered how often the plan could be worked on if, for example, new information and resources arise.
Slepian said no more than every two or three years, depending on the scope of the update.
Councilor Daniel Nguyen said he wants to build something into the plan that allows more than just every two or three years, like visiting the plan on an annual basis.
Slepian said you can't rewrite the plan every year but an annual update is a feasible goal.
A point of emphasis from the high school's Green Teams was to have Lake Oswego reach net-zero — meaning a balance between carbon emissions produced and emissions removed from the atmosphere — by 2030.
Councilor John LaMotte asked what it would take to make Lake Oswego carbon neutral by 2030.
Right now the plan follows the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggestion to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, followed by carbon negativity — "pulling greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere through soils, photosynthesis, and future technologies," the staff report reads. "By 2035, Lake Oswego's buildings will have no net emissions from electricity use. By 2045, Lake Oswego's buildings will have no net emissions from onsite combustion of fuels. By 2050, Lake Oswego will reach carbon neutrality through (reducing) or offsetting our carbon emissions from buildings, transportation, and manufacturing and disposal of products within the City."
Slepian said she agreed with what the high school students said but she didn't feel like she had enough support, control and funding to accomplish
Ultimately she said it's difficult to answer LaMotte's question because there hasn't been a recent greenhouse gas inventory completed. Clackamas County plans on completing one on behalf of Lake Oswego within the next 18 months, Slepian believed.
She said after the inventory is complete, the City will have a lot more to work with.
O'Neill said that the better choice was to approve the draft sooner rather than later. And since it's a living document that will change, along with the technology in this field and the brain power being funneled into improving the environment, he said if it's feasible to speed up goals and reach net-zero sooner than 2050, then no one will reject that.
Nguyen added that he supported the plan but looked at the goals as a bare minimum of what the City and its residents should be aspiring to accomplish.
"That said, I think that we as leaders of the community, we need to start sounding the alarm," he said.
To view the current draft plan here.
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