Ashland Climate Challenge kicks off with lunch, speeches at Armory

Climate change experts discuss strategy for plan to reduce Ashland's carbon footprint

By John Darling
For the Tidings

Posted Nov. 15, 2015 at 8:24 PM
Updated Nov 15, 2015 at 8:32 PM

Some 500 people Sunday gave the Ashland Climate Challenge a big kickoff, vowing to prune the city’s carbon footprint by 10 percent or more, work on climate-friendly changes individually and hammer out a city-wide climate plan to be put in action a year from now.
With lots of poetry, song, storytelling and a free lunch donated by local restaurants, people packed the Historic Ashland Armory’s grand hall to celebrate creation of an ad hoc Climate & Energy Committee that will name a consultant to engage the community, identify goals and select projects, such as a solar park, solar cooperative and electric mass transit to orbit inside the city, member Bryan Sohl said.
“The committee, with citizen input, will do the philosophical direction, and the consultant will do the nuts and bolts of it,” said Sohl, a physician, “and present it to the City Council in January 2017, to be put into action.”
The crowd heard from experts who’d worked on similar climate-and-energy task forces in Eugene and Fort Collins, Colorado, picking up the message that it’s doable to follow a formula, taking the amount of carbon we can stand in the atmosphere and dividing that by the number of people on the planet to get a per capita carbon goal.
“It’s a ‘three-s’ thing. It’s simple, serious and solvable,” said Scott Denning of Colorado State University, a main player in the Fort Collins plan.
There’s lots of fear and helplessness around climate change, as if “we’re going back to live in caves,” said Denning, but humanity has undertaken similar global projects, completely re-doing infrastructure and cities for both indoor plumbing and electrification, each at a similar cost, about 1 percent of the world economy, but instead of making life worse and creating a financial burden, it made life much better and created profit.
“The future is bright,” he said.
Presenters shared a survey of southwestern Oregon that showed large majorities believe climate change is happening and it’s human-caused, that everyone needs to consume less and live more simply, and that no magic new technologies are going to make it go away.
Germany, which has a climate more like Alaska than the lower U.S., knuckled down and, in this century, went from 4 percent solar/wind to 28 percent, Denning said, adding that solar has become much cheaper “going from 75 dollars a watt when I was in high school to 34 cents a watt now.”
Just appointed by Mayor John Stromberg, Ashland’s new task force is composed of City Councilor Rich Rosenthal and three members of the Conservation Commission: Sohl, James McGinnis and Roxanne Beigel-Coryell. Four other members are Claudia Alick of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, climatology Professor Greg Jones of Southern Oregon University, Stuart Green, the sustainability director of the Ashland Food Cooperative and Louise Shawkat.
The body hopes to engage the school system in carbon-cutting projects, make the city’s footprint smaller and see if the vehicle fleet can be weaned off fossil fuels, Sohl said.
To many oohs and ahhs, Sohl showed a shot of Oregon Institute of Technology’s large solar park, situated on a south-facing hillside in Klamath Falls and creating 35 percent of the energy for the campus, the most advanced such array in Oregon’s higher education system.
SOU started down the hard road of climate neutrality in 2007 and wrote its climate action plan in 2010, says Roxanne Beigel-Coryell, Sustainability and Recycling Coordinator for SOU. The school aims to achieve its carbon goals by 2050, though Denning noted that, once the momentum starts building, you start shaving decades off that goal year, as they did in Fort Collins.
Cutting the city’s carbon output 10 percent “will be easy,” said Marni Koopman, a climate change scientist with Geos Institute of Ashland.
The city has been clamping down on carbon and building solar arrays for many years, says Adam Hanks, energy conservation manager for the city. Hanks says he’ll keep helping people and city agencies in the switch to the most clean energy heat pumps, LED lighting and Energy Star appliances.
The committee already has a request for proposals out for the consultant to the task force and is ready to pay the position $100,000 a year.
—John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at [email protected].

Morning Brief Newsletter
Sign up today for our daily newsletter, a quick overview of top local stories and Oregon breaking news delivered directly to your inbox
You can unsubscribe at any time
Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.