Unless you're completely off of the grid, you know. Our President, in a flash of his version of genius, has committed to pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord. This despite protestations from oil companies (does this mean I'm siding with Shell Oil???), his Secretary of State, numerous corporations, and ostensibly the majority of Americans.
Here's the thing - I don't pretend to be a master of environmentalism. I get many of the larger concepts, but breaking down the science is not my forte. But I believe in the people who have produced evidence-based science that climate change exists. With 90+% of scientists pointing to evidence of this change, it's hard not to. And with those same experts being able to point at carbon emissions as a key driver of climate change, it is impossible to not accept that we must make changes to protect future generations.
Of course, the liberal centers of the United States are already pledging to adhere to the Paris Accord principles. Which is awesome. But what does that look like when we are talking actual concrete and meaningful policy? The benefit of the Paris Accord is that it created a system wherein all countries (except for a couple - and now three) agreed to take action to reduce their carbon emissions. This goes to the idea that regionalism is preferable, because you literally get get more done (and have a more meaningful impact) on whatever the issue is your trying to solve or improve.
So what does that mean for Seattle? For one, we are going to watch politicians decry the Trump administration. It's an easy target. That dude is not popular here. But there is this slight problem: many of the actions we can actually take at the municipal level are also not popular.
Take transit. One of the easiest ways to reduce our carbon footprint as a city would be to expand the Electric Trolley Bus (ETB) network, allowing more ETBs to travel to more parts of the City. Concurrently, we could re-dedicate more traffic lanes to be bus only (and truly bus only - no "bus only, right turns permitted," but bus only, and right turn only on green arrow). All while removing street parking in major bike corridors to create safer bike infrastructure, so more people will feel safe taking this method of transportation (which also improves safety indirectly for pedestrians). Super easy.
But the politics - not so much. People like their cars. I remember watching "Singles" recently, and chortling when the environmental activist in the film admits she's not going to give up her car because she likes driving. This reminds me of Tesla drivers. They LOVE their cars, and will gladly espouse the great work they're doing to protect the environment and lower their carbon footprint.
Yet when they get their car tab renewal for this expensive car, they will also go whining to the media about paying more for mass transit. Sorry, bro - you're actively working to destroy the environment. Or when government subsidized parking is removed in exchange for moving people and goods as a top priority - why, that's a war on cars, and all cyclists are the devil! Again, sorry, bro - you're actively working to destroy the environment.
Of course, this extends to zoning and density changes. I've seen people complain that a building that might go up next to theirs - and house more families - is bad for the environment due to potential shading of solar panels. Here's the thing: putting solar panels on your roof is a feel-good measure. But in the grand scheme of things, if we continue to jack up the cost of housing in Seattle artificially by forcing all growth into 11% of the city, then the only units that will be built are going to be high-end - because that is the only place there will be profit. And that necessarily means more people will be pushed into suburbia, more people will be car reliant, and those pushed out as a result aren't going to be able to afford your Teslas or Priuses or Leafs. So your desire to feel smug and like you're doing your part is actually causing more harm to the environment, and exacerbating climate change. But hey - you may be eligible for a tax break and rate reduction for those solar panels, so kudos to you!
Providing more homes for people near transit - and expanding transit access while reducing car capacity - is going to be a requirement for us a city if we want to prove we actually give a shit about the environment. We also will need to work to incentivize and/or require more energy efficiency (or allow in some instances) for new construction.
Things like FAR bonuses or tax breaks for passivhaus structures; encouraging exterior stairwells (why do we need to heat apartment building hallways???), and explicitly allowing - and encouraging - cross-laminated timber (CLT) construction for mid-rise and higher buildings will put us on a path to actually be a green leader on the housing front.
And if we're willing to take the political hits on the transportation infrastructure front - double whammy. Add in rail directly to the port terminals to eliminate drayage, and partner with our region to improve freight corridors with trains more generally to decrease the reliance on semi-trucks, and we not only have a pro-environment program, but a jobs program. And with better infrastructure, we may well be in a position to partner with economically depressed places like Grays Harbor County, and support their efforts to bring back manufacturing - of new technologies like solar, wind, streetcars, and the batteries that power them - and the union jobs that go along with them.
These are just a few thoughts that come to mind when I think of how we can be a better partner to the environment. My hope is that the politicians seeking our votes have some even better ideas - and the political courage to implement them.