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Climate conversation in Cleveland gets candid

Marc Lefkowitz  |  07/25/19 @ 2:00pm  |  Posted in Climate

“We will have 1,000 years of rising global temperatures,” David Orr, distinguished professor emeritus of Oberlin College’s Environmental Studies program led off a Candid Conversation on Climate Change at the Cleveland 2030 District and American Institute of Architects event. “We’ve cast a long shadow on our children’s future.”

<br />David Orr described how the Adam J. Lewis Environmental Center that he helped design in Oberlin in 2000 produces 45% more energy than it consumes thanks to solar power and energy efficient design. And that is 20 year old technology, he added, we know how to do this.

Ever candid and factual, Dr. Orr could offer little excuse for America’s inability to act on climate change.

“As a country, we’ve known about this since NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, our best scientist, warned us back in the late 1970s.”

Inaction will cost more than the excuses, Dr. Orr warned. The damage that will be caused by climate change is particularly vexing because of the long-lasting nature of carbon trapped in the atmosphere. It takes a thousand years for it to “weather” out of the system, Orr said. We have an estimated 11 years to act before it causes irreparable damage to the earth.

“When they say the budget is the limiting factor, tell them you pay for climate instability in crime, health and security,” he said.

An example of costs include refugees from countries where natural disasters led to unrest and destabilized governments. Orr predicts that Cleveland will be haven for climate refugees because of its abundant water and available space.

Cleveland Chief of Sustainability Matt Gray said Cleveland is already seeing climate refugees from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. He believes that cities must not delay. “With the federal government asleep at the switch and Ohio going backwards, what’s left? A lot of emissions are in cities. If we aren’t doing the work, we are screwed.”

Asked about LEEDco or the Lake Erie wind farm, a project to build six giant turbines on the lake, Gray said it’s a minor miracle that it has forged ahead despite the obstacles. Recently, it secured 14 permits from the state. The next hurdle is finding more power takers – there’s still a considerable gap, Gray said, pointing to the power from off shore wind’s added expense.

“The plan is to blend off shore wind with on shore to make it more affordable,” he added.

Not helping the Lake Erie and other Ohio wind projects was the state killing its renewable energy mandate this week.

“Ohio is bailing out two coal plants, one in Indiana, and paying for it by shutting the door on a fast growing industry,” Ohio Environmental Council Executive Director Heather Taylor-Miesle said, referring to House Bill 6.

Asked about a ballot initiative to reject HB6, Taylor-Miesle said the organization is getting a lot of calls to pursue a referendum from voters who want to “gavel it down.”

It will cost an estimated $30 million to run a ballot campaign against utilities like FirstEnergy who will spend an estimated $100 million, she said. The first $3 million will need to be raised in order to gather 250,000 signatures in the next 90 days, she said, in order to put a referendum on the 2020 ballot. The other option is a lawsuit.

With natural gas replacing coal, Cuyahoga County saw a 21% decrease in energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, said Cuyahoga Sustainability Director Mike Foley. But, transportation in our “sprawled out” region showed gains of 9% carbon emissions. Foley said the county is giving incentives for transit-oriented development and will support plans to grow transit use. The county will also push to have more green and bike friendly streets, he said. Plans at the county include establishing a Green Bank to pay for carbon reduction strategies, Foley added.

On the bright side, Orr believes that “we can win this” climate emergency with a moon shot-like effort.

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3 years ago

Tim - Dr. Orr did mention the President Johnson Panel. He has a pretty impeccable sense of the history.

The 11 years was cited from a report. I agree that putting a number on it loses the point. What matters is the thousand years of elevated risk from human generated or rampant carbon emissions. The number may not help but the point he was making is we see the window closing window in which to act. We are about to pass a runaway climate meltdown. Meanwhile, people are being displaced from their homes and 14 billion dollar disasters have occurred in the past few years. One of my favorite moments was one of the panelists said 'we need to be courageous in talking about climate change.'

3 years ago

With all due respect to the panelists, whom I respect, I have to take issue with several things stated here.

1. Dr. Orr: we've known about climate change far longer than that. President Johnson convened a panel on the issue, and it delivered a report in 1965.

I also don't know about this whole "we have 11 years or we're screwed" framing. That doesn't really accurately reflect what the IPCC 1.5C report says. Furthermore, while we want to avoid surpassing 1.5C and, obviously, 2C, there is no point of no return. Warming is a spectrum; we can control how much warming, and the more we cut emissions the better. It's not as though we hit, say 550 ppm of CO2, and after that the planet spontaneously combusts. 2C is better than 2.5C which is better than 3C which is vastly better than 4C.

2. Matt Gray's comment on "climate refugees" is flawed for a couple of reasons. Under current international law (specifically the 1951 Refugee Convention), there is no such thing as a climate "refugee." The correct term is environmentally displaced people. The international community has been considering this issue for a number of years, and it may require updating international law to reflect the reality of climate displacement. But, even if we do amend the Refugee Convention or create a separate framework that recognizes climate refugees, that would not apply to Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria. They are American citizens who moved within the borders of the US. One cannot be a refugee without crossing an international border.

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