Oregon climate change order should focus on carbon sequestration
The governor's Executive Order 20-04 deserves to be celebrated for encouraging 19 state departments and agencies to adopt climate change mitigation and adaptation as criteria to consider when making decisions and allocating resources. But by focusing primarily on rulemaking aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the executive order still falls short of the 2035 and 2050 scientific targets set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change needed to keep global warming below an increase of 1.5 degrees centigrade.
It also falls short by minimally addressing ways the state could make use of forest and agricultural lands to sequester already-existing atmospheric carbon. Given the unwillingness of most industrial economies to take steps needed to meet IPCC goals, the second approach may offer an additional way out of the climate crisis. For that reason, we believe it is imperative that the governor strengthen recommendations for carbon sequestration already spelled out in EO 20-04 and charge the departments of agriculture and forestry to bring them to bear in their rule structures and work with farmers, ranchers and foresters.
The Department of Agriculture, for example, could be tasked with educating agricultural professionals about practices associated with regenerative agriculture known to significantly enhance the soil's capacity to sequester carbon as well as its ability to retain water, a critical factor as we face hotter temperatures and longer droughts. Once common practices aimed at reducing soil loss and maintaining soil health, including the planting of cover crops and crop rotation, need to become more widely used; in addition, farmers need to reduce their application of soil damaging fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides while minimizing the practice of tilling.
For these practices to become widely adopted, farmers and ranchers need to see how their use can reduce expenses and increase profits, something the state's agricultural agents could take on as a central educational goal. Equally important, agricultural professionals need to be given financial support from banks willing to help them make it over the three- to five-year bridge often required to revitalize damaged soils. Once this happens, the state's agricultural lands could begin to play a significant role capturing carbon we continue to burn.
The Department of Forestry could also take a more active role disseminating information about sustainable and climate-smart forestry practices. Forests in Oregon already capture significant amounts of carbon as well as water, natural services that can be disrupted by harvesting and replanting schedules that do not allow trees to reach maturity. Now often owned by outside-of-state investors, Oregon's private forests have become little more than profit-making instruments for distant shareholders rather than central elements in the maintenance of the state's ecological, hydrologic, meteorological and economic stability. Rulemaking in the Department of Forestry could go a long way to sustaining our forests and assuring that harvested trees are not shipped abroad but used in ways that benefit those who live here.
For changes like these to happen, Oregon's citizens will need to educate themselves and elect representatives knowledgeable about these issues and supportive of legal and policy structures required to make them real. Widespread awareness of the climate crisis and its causes and potential solutions could lead to responses capable of reducing its impact.
In the coming election, we encourage voters to choose candidates whose records have gained commendations from the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. For current officeholders, positions they took on recent climate legislation can help guide decision-making. After November, all Oregonians regardless of political affiliation need to let elected officials know about their concerns regarding climate change and support the appointment of people to relevant local and state boards knowledgeable about this issue.
All of us or our descendants will bear the consequences of the climate crisis; all of us must assume responsibility for finding creative and innovative ways to address it.
Gregory Smith is Professor Emeritus of Education from the Graduate School of Education and Counseling at Lewis & Clark College and a member of the West Linn Sustainability Advisory Board. Peter Hayes and his family own and care for working forests in the Coast Range and served on the Oregon Board of Forestry.
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