THE BUZZ 3: Climate Defenders

By on June 21, 2017

What citizens are doing, what local government has done and what it still needs to do.

Halina Boyd in China.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Although Jackson Town Council members just signed a resolution to uphold the goals of the Paris agreement, one woman isn’t waiting for the ink to dry. On Saturday, Halina Boyd will host the first local meeting of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. 

With 418 chapters worldwide, the non-partisan initiative is a grassroots effort to institute a carbon fee and dividend. This would tack a fee onto fossil fuels based on the amount of carbon they contain.

“We can do important, everyday things, but that’s not going to change the way the fossil fuel industry operates,” Boyd said. “A carbon fee is a simple answer to a complex problem.”

Boyd is working with Bill Barron, regional coordinator for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, whose members were in Washington DC this past week to influence lawmakers.

“It’s a revenue neutral approach,” Barron explained. “At the source, (like a mine, well or port), a price is assessed and that money is collected and placed in a pool and distributed back to households equally.”

Advocates say instituting a steadily rising fee on fossil fuels would level the playing field for all energy sources. It would also foster an informed populace, delivering people cost comparisons of different fuels.

That the money would find its way back to its purchasers is also a selling point. All the net fees would be held in a trust and returned directly to people as a monthly dividend. Under CCL’s proposal, advocates say about two thirds of households would break even or collect more than they would pay in higher prices.

Indeed, it’s a palatable notion even among conservatives that condemn government involvement in most public spheres. In fact, a group of senior Republican politicos met with the Trump administration in February to argue the merits of a similar proposal.

While it may be a hard sell with the Trump administration, CCL’s non-partisan focus and use of civil dialogue seems to be working with some in Washington. Notably, Congress. In 2016, CCL helped establish the first congressional climate caucus. Founded by Florida’s Reps. Carlos Curbelo–R, and Ted Deutch–D, the House Climate Solutions Caucus is comprised of 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans. Its members explore policy for the impacts, causes, and challenges of climate change. 

People who attend the Jackson meeting will learn about key values of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and effective ways to get involved, like writing op-eds and letters to the editor, lobbying members of Congress, and attaining letters of support from prominent faith, business and community leaders.

For Boyd, a pro-snowboarder, it’s logical to take an interest in the health of the environment, something necessary for her to pursue her craft. She’s considered launching a local chapter of CCL since she met Barron two years ago at the Shift Festival. But her travels this past winter urged her to pull the trigger. That’s when she found herself in three mountain locales that all had one thing in common: unusual weather symptomatic of a changing climate.

In Jackson Hole, Boyd couldn’t snowboard at her home mountain after a fierce wind storm pulverized 17 steel electrical poles causing a widespread power outage. This prompted Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s first multi-day closure since 1986. The massive temperature swings that followed flooded and froze the valley. Avalanche danger, meanwhile, rose to historic highs, roads were shut down, and a state of emergency was declared for Teton Village.

Then in Valdez, Alaska, she arrived in America’s snowiest town and noted a relatively dry place. What little snow had fallen in the mountains was swept away, Boyd said, by relentless winds that shut down the entire Chugach Mountain Range for three weeks. Conditions became so blustery and treacherous, in fact, “you couldn’t even walk outside.”

Boyd’s next stop was China’s Altai Mountain Range. There she spoke with villagers who lamented it had only snowed three times that winter in a place where cold temps and regular snowfall were once commonplace.

In China, Boyd said people were quick to acknowledge the cause of shrinking winters. “Even in these little remote villages that feel like you’ve stepped back in time hundreds of years, the people are all talking about climate change with total acceptance,” Boyd said.

Climate change is indeed shifting weather patterns. Its effects are most noticeable in coastal areas where rising sea levels are flooding towns and cities, but also in mountainous places that depend on long winters for their economic and ecological livelihoods.

From the people to the politicos

Now that Jackson has cemented itself among the list of hundreds of American cities, businesses and leaders vowing to uphold the goals of the Paris agreement, residents are wondering what happens next.

The accord says its central aim is to limit a global temperature rise this century to below 2 degrees Celsius (about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). To be clear, such an effort involves a worldwide response, including from poor developing nations with the help and support of wealthy industrialized countries, like the United States. Because President Trump pulled out of the agreement, it’s now up to America’s towns, cities and states.

One of the directives of the town resolution is to create a climate action plan. Jackson has some initiatives in place that could become components of such a plan. For example, the town is committed to a “40 by 20 goal.” By the year 2020, it promises to increase energy efficiency and reduce waste and water usage in all town buildings and vehicles by 40 percent.

Still, Jackson lacks a cohesive climate blueprint, like those found in places such as Portland, Oregon (the first American city to enact a climate action plan) and Aspen, Colorado, which modeled its 2007 plan after Portland’s.

Aspen’s plan includes a climate change impacts assessment. Jackson, indeed, already has its own assessment, a 2015 privately commissioned study called The Coming Climate released by the Charture Institute. It is the first report to outline this area’s warming climate and the potential effects on the environment and the economy. The report could help inform a climate action plan in Jackson.

Another component to Aspen’s plan is education and advocacy. The key vehicle in Jackson for this is Energy Conservation Works, a nonprofit that works with the town and county, businesses and citizens to reduce carbon footprints, such as converting buildings and homes to their greatest level of energy efficiency.

But there remains an increasing need to inform the public. Many citizens, for example, are still unaware that Lower Valley Energy offers 100 percent renewable energy to all its customers for a 10 to 15 percent cost increase.

That millions of visitors pass through Jackson Hole each year also presents an opportunity to propagate strong messages of conservation to a global audience.

Phil Cameron of ECW says some efforts are underway now. “Walk to Home Ranch and the message about LEED certification is front and center,” he said. “We are looking for other opportunities to communicate that too. We started to develop videos about public projects and green power and homeowner initiatives.” But, he said it’s challenging to capture people when their attention span is “vacation like.”

Aspen’s plan also includes a monitoring mechanism to track its carbon emissions. The last time countywide greenhouse gas emissions were tracked here was in 2008. The results can be found in the report Jackson Hole Energy and Emissions Inventory.

Finally, a climate action plan would serve as a guiding document for all future policies proposed and developed in Jackson.

When asked about Jackson’s next steps, Mayor Pete Muldoon, who brought the Paris accord resolution before town council, acknowledged that crafting a climate action plan is critical. But he did not say when or how the town would proceed.

“Climate change has the potential for disastrous effects on our community, with grave social and economic impacts,” he said. “I will be discussing this with the council soon.” PJH

About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Planet Jackson Hole and Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

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