After Early Momentum, Cascadia Region Loses Focus on Climate Action
Political infighting, misinformation campaigns, and serial communication failures have dashed any hopes that the Cascadia region would take the lead in the climate fight and significantly reduce its emissions by the end of last year. Now, angry young people are asking the courts to force their leaders to do a better job, and fast.
“If any place on Earth can show the world how to confront the climate crisis, it should be here,” writes The Tyee, speaking from its own home base on the Canada side of Cascadia. So thought the governments of British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington more than a decade ago, when they set “some of North America’s first mandates to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”—outlining steep reductions by 2020, and even steeper ones by 2050.
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“As of 2008, B.C., Washington, and Oregon were among only four provinces and eight states to legally commit to decarbonization,” The Tyee notes, adding that abundant hydropower capacity had already put the Cascadia region ahead of the game.
B.C. and Oregon were particularly ambitious, setting “long-term goals of 75 to 77% reductions from their 1990 emissions, reflecting the global carbon cuts scientists believed were needed by mid-century to avert the worst of the impending climate disaster.” Washington State, meanwhile, “came in with a relatively modest 50%-by-2050 goal.”
Positioned as they were, the region’s governments were able to chalk up “quick wins,” with B.C. scrapping plans for gas- and coal-fired power plants and Washington and Oregon passing “some of North America’s first requirements mandating privately-owned utilities to add a rising share of wind, solar, and other types of renewable power.”
That legislation, along with the prospect of healthy local tax revenues, “unleashed a boom in wind power development concentrated along the Columbia River Gorge, the natural wind tunnel that separates the states.”
And it worked—at least for the power sector. “These power moves delivered for the atmosphere, particularly in Oregon,” writes The Tyee. In 2007, coal had provided more than 33% of Oregon’s power; by 2017, it had less than 25% of the share, while, “emissions from electricity consumption had declined by 27%.”
Unfortunately, pretty much everything else was—and is—working in the other direction. “Buildings, industry, and especially transportation generate over two-thirds of Cascadia’s emissions,” reports The Tyee. But so far, Cascadia’s politicians have lacked the political will to deliver the complex policies and funding that would cut carbon in these sectors—and in that leadership vacuum, emissions have soared.
“Between 2013 and 2018, the most recent five-year period for which Cascadia’s governments have completed counts, emissions rose by about 7, 6 and 5% in B.C., Oregon, and Washington, respectively.”
B.C.’s trend is “particularly stark,” The Tyee adds. In 2018, the province was a hair’s breadth from hitting an all-time high with its emissions releases and, “over the five years prior, B.C.’s emissions grew about five times faster than the Canadian average.”
And given the province’s recent economic focus on liquified natural gas, those figures could get much worse.
It doesn’t have to be this way, notes The Tyee. “Between 2012 and 2018, California and Cascadia both booked a robust 26% increase in GDP. But California drove its annual emissions down by more than 5% while Washington’s emissions—and Cascadia’s as a whole—ballooned by over 7%.”
California got it done “simply “by ‘decoupling’ economic growth from rising carbon via a raft of law and policies that encouraged or mandated the use of efficient products and cleaner energy.” Meanwhile, “environmentally-conscious Cascadia” remains “stuck in first gear,” without the political will to capitalize on the technology and know-how it knows it possesses.
But instead, “the region has been beset by partisan wrangling, fear of job losses, disagreements over how to ensure equity for already polluted and marginalized communities, and misinformation obscuring the full potential of well-documented solutions,” The Tyee writes.
The Tyee has much more on the missed decarbonization opportunity in Cascadia.