Op-Ed: Why we should all hail Durkan's fossil fuel plan
By Ben Brown
The lofty climate goals Seattle has set for itself may finally get some teeth. Earlier this month, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan proposed an update to the city's energy code that would ban the use of fossil fuels in many new buildings, a decision deserving of high praise as it takes a crucial step toward reducing carbon emissions and fulfilling Seattle’s promise of being a climate solutions leader.
In 2013, the city published the Climate Action Plan, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 58% by 2030 and, even more ambitiously, be carbon neutral by 2050. According to the 2016 Emissions Inventory, however, Seattle saw a 1% increase in overall carbon emissions between 2014 and 2016. Newer data suggests that emissions increased again—by approximately 1.1%—from 2016 to 2018. As long as the aggregate number continues to grow, we continue to stray further from our climate goal and, more importantly, cause irreparable environmental damage.
The city's 2018 Community Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory reported that building emissions alone have increased by 8.2% since 2016, and in fact was the only core emissions category to increase at all. Slowing that rapid growth is imperative to decreasing our overall emissions. Fortunately, Durkan is taking the necessary measures we have been scared to for far too long. I commend her for doing so and encourage the city council to approve the legislation for the sake of our city.
That being said, I have no doubt that the proposal will draw criticism from both camps—to the avid environmentalist, it doesn’t address the emission problem nearly enough; yet, to the conservative economist, the economic damage of beginning to discontinue cheap fossil fuel use isn’t worth the environmental gain.
To the environmentalist, I say this: Many potential environmental policies, including several similar to this one, have been struck down in Seattle before, with critics citing a lack of comprehensive action. Wake up. Seattle simply isn’t ready for sweeping, full-scale climate policy implementation. Not only do we lack the infrastructure to pull off a complete overhaul of energy sourcing, but it would be immensely difficult to garner political and public support for a policy of such magnitude. Instead, we need to work incrementally toward a more comprehensive clean energy plan with steps like Durkan’s code change, which allows for a growing familiarity with clean energy practices and the development of necessary infrastructure. It’s time to stop playing petty hold-out games. Climate change didn’t occur in a day, and it certainly won’t be solved in one. Nobody is arguing this new policy is the answer on its own, but it can play an important role in developing the city’s clean energy portfolio.
And to the free-market economist, I say this: The economic sacrifices made today will pale in comparison to the disastrous consequences that will continue to ravage this planet if we don’t make adjustments. We are trending toward downfall—a downfall not just of the economy, but also of the world as we know it. While that may sound dramatic, it’s a reality science has been confirming for years. Energy costs may rise for the average consumer, and workers may have to make the jump to new jobs in the renewable energy industry—I won’t deny that. But frankly, those are prices we all should be willing to pay for the sake of a livable Seattle—a livable Earth—and for the happiness and longevity of mankind in both the immediate and distant future.
There is no perfect solution to the climate change issue—that’s the depressing truth. But it’s become clear that our current trajectory only ends in disaster. An alteration of course is vital to our and millions of other species’ survival. I encourage those on the bookends of the climate debate to recognize the importance of steps like the proposed energy code change to protect our city, our plant, and our future.
Ben Brown is a Seattle native who attended Lakeside High School. He currently studies at Bowdoin College, where he is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies and Economics.
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