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Following Portland’s Lead, Seattle Calls for No New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

CSE Staff Attorney Nick Caleb in front of Portland City Hall Photo credit: Mia Reback

On June 12, 2017, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution for no new fossil fuel infrastructure, in both the city of Seattle and urged the state of Washington, home to the nation’s largest proposed oil train terminal in Vancouver, WA, to do the same. Less than six months earlier, grassroots activists including many members of the Climate Action Coalition, in Portland, OR pushed the City of Portland to pass the strongest ordinance in the country calling for no new fossil fuel infrastructure.

The Sustainable Energy & Economy Network (SEEN), a project of the Oregon-based Center for Sustainable Economy, launched a campaign shortly after Portland passed its first resolution opposing new fossil fuel infrastructure in 2015 urging elected officials to support Portland’s resolution for no new fossil fuel infrastructure and a just transition for workers, and pledge to do the same in their jurisdictions. SEEN succeeded in getting 39 elected officials to sign and pledge to put in place similar restrictions in their jurisdictions.  Among the signatories in December 2015 was Seattle City Council Kshama Sawant.

The resolution that passed in Seattle was passed with the strong support from local activists with 350Seattle, among others, and specifically cited Portland’s fossil fuel terminal zoning amendments and commits Seattle to enforcing the Paris Climate Accords as an additional justification for their call for no new fossil fuel infrastructure. The resolution reads, in part: The City of Portland, OR, has passed an ordinance prohibiting the construction of all new fossil fuel projects in the City, and when passing the ordinance, Portland Mayor Hailes stated: ‘we can build part of a green wall on the West Coast by saying we aren’t going to have these facilities in our city.'”

“We worked very hard in Portland over several years to push our City Council to say no to new fossil fuel infrastructure. We hoped that others in our region and around the nation would follow suit,” said SEEN founder and CSE Climate Justice Program Director Daphne Wysham. “This is the kind of no nonsense, bottom-up, grassroots action and bold local leadership we need everywhere if we are to meet and exceed the terms of the Paris Accords. With record temperatures, violent storms and weather-related crop failure and drought around the world, we urgently need every city in the world to follow Portland’s example.”

“Seattle’s decision to call for Washington State to reject fossil fuel infrastructure proposals as well as investigating local code changes to prevent new projects locally is an extremely welcome development,” said CSE Staff Attorney Nick Caleb. “We will help Seattle however we can and we encourage other jurisdictions to join in and say no to new fossil fuel infrastructure.”

To support our work, join the SEEN activist network and help us take local action everywhere to uphold the Paris Accords, and push for an end to new fossil fuel infrastructure, throughout North America, visit www.seen.org For more information, write: info@sustainable-economy.org or visit www.nonewffi.org

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    CSE Hires Nicholas Caleb as Staff Attorney


    For immediate release

    May 22, 2017

    For more information, contact Nick Caleb: 541-891-6761; Daphne Wysham: 202-510-3541


    The Center for Sustainable Economy (“CSE”) announced today that Nicholas Caleb has joined the organization as CSE’s Staff Attorney. Caleb will provide legal and strategic support to CSE’s Climate Justice program in a full-time capacity.

    Caleb comes to CSE after a stint as the Environmental Policy Analyst for Portland, OR City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. Caleb’s previous positions include: Staff Attorney at Neighbors for Clean Air, Local Climate Law Fellow at Our Children’s Trust, and adjunct professor of government at Concordia University.  Caleb also worked as a legal and policy fellow for CSE in the past.

    Caleb also helped Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler develop an environmental strategy for the City of Portland during the 2016 election. Caleb received his law degree from the University of Oregon and his LL.M. from Tilburg University’s Law and Technology Program.

    “Portland has put in place the strongest ordinance in the country banning all new fossil fuel infrastructure,” said Daphne Wysham, director of CSE’s Climate Justice Program.  “Nick was a key player in the grassroots coalition that worked hard to achieve this victory. We are thrilled to have his skillset in the mix as we develop a strategy for advancing climate justice campaigns at the state and local level, nationally.”


    “I am excited to join CSE,” said Caleb. “The climate movement in the Pacific Northwest is on fire and I feel so lucky that I get to work on the campaigns and projects that will ensure a livable future on this planet.” 

    CSE’s Climate Justice Program takes bold action around the urgent moral imperative of rapidly reducing our collective carbon footprint while ensuring our land use is sustainable for present and future generations. Specifically, we are working to ensure high value carbon sinks, such as old growth forests, are bolstered and expanded as rapidly as possible while ensuring that cities curtail all new fossil fuel export infrastructure as they advance a just transition agenda toward 100 percent clean, renewable energy. Please click here for examples of recent victories and achievements.

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      Ocean Acidification and Warming: The Economic Toll

      In a new study authored by Dr. John Talberth and Ernie Niemi of Natural Resource Economics, CSE reviewed the economic consequences of ocean acidification and warming – the two most prominent effects of climate change on our oceans – and estimated what increment to the existing social cost of carbon (SCC) needs to be made to account for these damages. Preliminary results suggest that proper accounting of an economic risk that could approach $20 trillion per year by 2100 would raise SCC 1.5 to 4.7 times higher than the current federal rate, to $60–$200 per metric ton CO2-e. The study has been published online by Elsevier as part of their Reference Module in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences.

      Climate change has the potential to disrupt ocean and coastal ecosystems on a scale that is difficult to grasp. There are two interrelated processes at work: ocean acidification and ocean warming (OAW). Oceans have absorbed roughly half of all anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide. Acidification occurs as the absorption of CO2 triggers a series of chemical reactions that increase the acidity and decrease the concentration of carbonate ions in the water. So far, absorption of CO2 has increased acidity of surface waters by about 30% and, if current trends in atmospheric CO2 continue, by 2100 these waters could be nearly 150 percent more acidic, resulting in a pH that the oceans haven’t experienced for more than 20 million years. Among the dire predictions associated with acidification include dramatic reductions in populations of some calcifying species, including oysters, clams, sea urchins, shallow water corals, deep sea corals, and calcareous plankton – the latter effect putting the entire marine food chain at risk. Some models suggest that ocean carbonate saturation levels could drop below those required to sustain coral reef accretion by 2050.

      The second process is ocean warming. The mechanisms of ocean warming are complex, and include heat transfer from the atmosphere, downwelling infrared radiation, stratification, reductions in mixing, changes in ocean currents, and changes in cloud cover patterns. Already, the global average sea surface temperature (SST) has risen by over 2.0 °F since the post-industrial revolution low point in 1909. Sea level rise is one of the most conspicuous effects with potentially catastrophic consequences. Models that account for collapse of Antarctic ice sheets from processes driven by both atmospheric and ocean warming indicate sea level rise may top one meter by 2100 and put vast areas of coastal infrastructure at risk.

      Obviously, all these physical effects have enormous economic consequences, yet relatively little research has been completed to date on their expected magnitude, timing, and distribution. Indeed, as late as 2012, several prominent climate researchers concluded that economic assessments of the effects of ocean acidification “are currently almost absent.” To help fill in this information gap, we combed through all published research on OAW economic consequences, updated figures where needed, and made some original calculations of our own to estimate some plausible worst-case scenarios. These scenarios appear in Table 4, below. Alarmingly, they suggest that OAW costs could near $20 trillion per year by 2100 in association with a variety of dramatic impacts, such as loss of all charismatic marine species.

      Table 4: Plausible worst-case scenarios and values at risk from OAW

      Resource or service at risk Scenario Values at risk

      ($2016 billions/yr)

      Net primary productivity Ocean net primary productivity reduced by 16% $9,232.00
      Coral reefs Loss of at least 50% of current coral reef area $5,661.70
      Coastal infrastructure Additional SLR of 3 meters via WAIS collapse $3,561.69
      Charismatic species 25% of charismatic marine species go extinct $1,104.08
      Carbon sequestration 50% loss of ocean CO2 uptake $641.16
      Mangroves Loss of at least 15% of current mangrove area $287.42
      Fisheries 400 million at significantly increased risk of hunger $245.74
      Coastal ecosystems Marine dead zones expand in area by 50% $126.82

      The relative lack of understanding about economic consequences has, in turn, translated into a lack of policy mechanisms and research focused on OAW. One of the policy mechanisms where OAW costs are notably absent is the social cost of carbon (SCC) – an increasingly popular regulatory tool for assessing both the costs of greenhouse gas emissions and the benefits of actions to limit emissions. Ostensibly, the SCC includes all known market and non-market costs, yet there are many categories missing or incomplete. One of the bigger holes is OAW and one of the justifications for its absence is the relative dearth of methods or data to quantify economic consequences and the assumption that such impacts are minor enough that society will be able to adapt. In the paper, we argue that such barriers need not restrain the government agencies participating in the SCC’s development and application from incorporating estimates for OAW based on the best available information and inclusive of high-impact but low probability scenarios – two factors that are baked into the regulatory framework for the SCC.

      We do so by demonstrating three basic approaches rooted in standard microeconomic models of externalities, capital investment, and risk aversion. The first is based on federal agencies’ current approach for quantifying externalities from GHG emissions using the Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy (DICE) integrated assessment model and economic damage functions suggested by existing literature. The second is a replacement or adaptation cost approach, which views SCC as a current capital investment liability that can be amortized over the adaptation time horizon. The third is an averted-risk approach based on willingness to pay to eliminate the risk of catastrophic changes, an approach that seems most compatible with worst-case scenario requirements under existing law.

      In the next phase of this work, the study will be presented to the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon and the National Academy of Sciences, who is conducting a review of SCC methods and accepting recommendations for changes in approaches and sources of information. If the SCC is to be an effective regulatory tool and send the right market signal to polluters it must be as complete as possible. By engaging with the IWG on how to best incorporate the enormous toll associated with ocean acidification and warming, we hope to help fill one of SCC’s most serious omissions.

      Further reading:

       

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        Forest Carbon Tax and Reward: Creating more jobs and carbon in the woods.

        Deforestation, forest degradation, and unsustainable forest practices are major drivers of climate change. Deforestation and other land-use changes have released approximately 150 gigatons of carbon to the atmosphere since 1850, roughly one-fifth of the current atmospheric total. The contributions from forest degradation (i.e. converting real forests into tree plantations) and unsustainable practices (i.e. those that cause irreversible damage to soils) are on the rise. Globally, emissions from forest degradation have increased from 0.4 to 1.0 gigatons CO2 per year between 1990 and 2015. In Oregon, emissions from deforestation and industrial forest practices are not monitored by any state or federal agency but are likely the scond largest source of greenhouse gas pollution each year.

        A swift transformation to sustainable forest practices that halt and reverse deforestation and forest degradation has the potential to capture and store much of the excess carbon that is now fueling climate change. For example, climate scientist James E. Hansen has calculated that we can pull 100 billion tons of carbon from the air through large scale restoration of areas denuded by logging and agricultural expansion. This has the potential to reduce CO2 concentrations by 30 parts per million by 2100, which can make all the difference as to whether humanity achieves the 2° C warming cap established by international agreements or blows past that critical threshold.

        As it has done in the past on so many other issues, Oregon can lead the way. It can do so by passing globally replicable legislation implementing a forest carbon tax and reward program to penalize clearcutting, chemical sprays, short rotations and construction of logging roads and dramatically scale up climate smart forest practices that enhance carbon sequestration and storage capacity of its state and privately managed forestlands.

        Here’s how it would work: Forestland owners who release more carbon through logging than is sequestered by natural forests on their properties would be levied a tax equivalent to the social cost of carbon – roughly $42 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted – on these net emissions. However, forestland owners would receive credits against the levy for a wide range of beneficial practices that bolster carbon storage including long rotations, selective harvesting and set-asides for streams, wildlife, non-timber forest products, recreation, and other beneficial uses. In addition, forestland owners that embrace these practices would be eligible for generous payments from a Forest Carbon Incentive Fund (FCIF) capitalized by the tax and managed by the Department of Forestry in consultation with the Oregon Global Warming Commission. Many forestland owners would make money on this deal – in particular, good actors who know how to produce timber while leaving a real forest behind.

        The revenue impacts of the proposed legislation have yet to be calculated. But a reasonable estimate is that the net (after credits and deductions) tax would generate $50 per thousand board foot harvested – equivalent to $120 million per year at current rates of harvest on industrial forestlands. Oregon’s Department of Forestry and the Oregon Global Warming Commission would keep what they need to fill in their budget holes and administer the tax and reward program. The rest (about $100 million) gets dispersed to forestland owners who agree to implement climate smart, labor intensive practices needed to boost carbon storage and transform Oregon’s private forest landscape from a veritable wasteland of clearcuts and logging roads into a green carpet of healthy, functioning, and naturally evolving forests. If managed well, Pacific Northwest forests have the potential to capture and store more carbon per acre than any other forest type on the planet. A forest carbon tax and reward program would help fulfill this potential and by doing so, create thousands of new jobs.

        A typical multiplier for money spent in the woods paying workers to restore timber plantations back to real forests and implement other climate smart practices is about 60 direct and induced jobs per million dollars invested. That’s 6,000 jobs per year associated with FCIF payments of about $100 million per year. Not a bad deal for skilled forest workers. And a welcome shot in the arm for distressed rural communities searching for ways to decouple from the booms and busts of industrial, high emissions logging cycles.

        Time is running out on the climate time bomb. One of the great contributions Oregon can make on the global stage is to recruit its state and privately held forestlands into its climate agenda, help restore the world’s most effective carbon sink, and create thousands of jobs in doing so. The Oregon Legislature and Governor Brown would do well to provide such leadership by enacting forest carbon tax and reward legislation this year.

        Further reading:

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