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GUEST OPINION

What can we do locally about climate change?

 Posted: 2:00 AM January 13, 2014

If you are like me, the subject of climate change can be overwhelming. As extreme weather patterns plague our valley and other regions, many of us wonder, "What can we do?"

That's why a group of local residents, initiated by young people in Southern Oregon, has come together to identify constructive steps we can take as a community. As Rogue Climate, our goals are to help save and create jobs, reduce energy cost increases, strengthen local businesses, and preserve and improve our quality of life.

We helped create awareness last year when more than 1,000 people created a 117-foot-long artwork depicting a salmon threatened by climate change. For 2014, we've identified three priorities for positive action.

First, we will encourage development and implementation of a practical plan for energy efficiency and cleaner energy use in our region. A 2011 study, "Renewable Energy Assessment for Jackson & Josephine Counties," identified the potential to put people to work increasing energy efficiency for businesses and homes through weatherization and more efficient lighting, heating and cooling systems, pumps, and motors. The study also found significant potential for installation of solar electric panels and hot water systems.

This year, public officials, climate researchers, local businesses, unions and other community groups should jointly identify next steps our community can take to translate those findings into real change.

Second, we need to prepare grassroots support for recommendations to the 2015 Oregon Legislature to speed the transition from carbon-emitting fuels such as coal that contribute to climate change to cleaner energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal, as well as conservation.

Last year in Salem, we organized a Climate Action Day in which 150 Oregonians visited their representatives. After hearing from many voters, the Legislature commissioned a study by researchers at Portland State University that will be considered early next year.

The study will look at one way to speed the transition to cleaner energy — a tax on greenhouse gas emissions — that would make cleaner energy more competitive with fossil fuels.

Oil and coal companies and their Wall Street backers will lobby hard against speeding the transition to cleaner fuels because their priority is their own profits. We will have to make ourselves heard to encourage legislators to put public interest first.

Third, residents of Southern Oregon are coming together to stop big corporate interests from forcing backward steps on us all. A prime example is the proposed Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas pipeline and terminal. The LNG project is designed to export natural gas overseas. This will create enormous profits for a few big corporations, but drive up energy prices for the rest of us.

The LNG project will require hundreds of miles of pipelines to Coos Bay, crossing through farms and ranches in Jackson County and other parts of the West without requiring landowners' approval. It also will result in the release of far more methane as a result of a process called fracking, making climate change dramatically worse.

This natural gas export scheme cannot move forward without local, state and federal permits. Gov. John Kitzhaber, U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden need to hear from all of us.

By developing a local energy efficiency and clean energy plan, encouraging the Legislature to speed the transition to cleaner energy, and opposing backward steps, we can slow the impact of climate change on our region — and none too soon.

A 2008 report, "Preparing for Climate Change in the Rogue River Basin of Southwest Oregon," found that, without a rapid transition to cleaner fuels and greater efficiency, we face a reduction in snowpack of at least 60 percent by the time today's newborns enter adulthood. Our water supply will have to be rationed. Days of extreme heat or extreme flooding will increase, as will wildfires and smoke. Streams and fish will be threatened. Forests will be damaged by greater insect infestation.

Changes like these will not only have major effects on our quality of life but also on jobs in industries that depend on the traditional climate, including forestry, agriculture, tourism, retirement services, fishing and many other local businesses.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16, in Southern Oregon Uiniversity's Stevenson Union, Room 319, local residents will get together to kick off our proactive climate change efforts for the year. All are welcome to come and hear what we can do together to prepare for a better future.

Hannah Sohl is coordinator of Rogue Climate, a nonpartisan group of Rogue Valley residents committed to constructive steps to preserve and improve our local economy and quality of life in the face of climate change.


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