“The idea that Portland, a city that produces little and consumes like a drunken sailor, should base its emission targets on the ‘production’ metrics used in the above report is pure bull feces.”

Welcome to the Comment of the Week, where we highlight notable comments. You can help us choose our next one by replying with “comment of the week” to any comment you deem worthy.


This week we highlight a comment by prolific post pundit “Soren.” Do you need a moment, regular readers, to let that sink in?

We chose this comment because it speaks to inconvenient truths about our carbon impact, and the breadth of change we need to make to reduce our footprint.

Soren critiques the Multnomah County climate change report. His point is that a significant portion of our contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) is not our direct GHG release, but rather the GHG released in all the places around the world that produce what we consume—and that we consume a lot. This is a “demand-side” argument which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) addressed for the first time in their sixth assessment report, released in February.

His comment kicked off an interesting thread. If you are someone for whom policy goes down easier with a little blood on the floor, this one is for you.

Toward the end, commenter “Steve C” directly asked Soren to describe in his own words what local policies he would recommend to promote reduced consumption. That prompted an excellent summary from Soren of the IPCC demand-side recommendations. If you are not someone who is going to read chapter 5, or Soren’s recommended summary of the full report, you could do worse than read a summary from Soren himself.

Soren wrote:

I try very hard not to talk about policy in my “own words” when it comes to the climate crisis so the policies I would like to see implemented are just rewordings of the IPCC scientific consensus and also informed by the scientific publications I’ve read.

In no particular order:

1. Some of the lowest hanging fruit would be to conserve energy by switching to energy efficient electric heating/cooling systems or appliances and incentivize (mandate) energy efficiency infrastructure, such as, high-quality insulation/windows. This is already becoming the default in other less oligarchical developed nations.

2. Creation of policy and strong incentives/disincentives that cajole Portlanders to sharply reduce their consumption of meat, dairy, and rice (or switch to dryland rice). This would have an immense impact on agriculture-associated consumption-based emissions, most of which occur outside of urban areas. (Most Portlanders don’t realize that the US imports an awful lot beef grown on clear cut land in Brazil, for example.) I personally would advocate for taxes on high-embedded carbon foods that would be used to subsidize better food choices and access to nutrition. (In the long-term we should turn to technology that dramatically reduces the land footprint of our food growing systems so that more land can be used for accelerated carbon capture.)

3. A somewhat more difficult set of policies would be to disincentivize the absurdly high levels of goods consumption (electronics, clothing, appliances, other stuff etc) in Portland and other very-high-income cities. A VAT-like system that taxes the embedded carbon of imported/shipped goods is one mechanism (European nations are pursuing this). Another mechanism would be to regulate and/or disincentivize rapid “warehouse to door” delivery of online goods. The negative externalities of online shopping and hypermarkets could also be mitigated via anti-trust actions by government. Cities like Portland could also disincentivize “hypermarkets” and disincentivize rapid warehouse-to-door deliveries with local laws.

4. Recycling in Portland and the USA has seen steep declines as a result of a nation-wide move towards mixed recycling and a societal de-emphasis of conservation. For example, much of Portland’s plastic recycling has gone to the landfill in recent years and we still use an awful lot of disposable plastic that has no recycling market (e.g. anything above 3). Governments should ban disposable and non-readily recycled materials. We need a system that incentivizes consumers to recycle and manufacturers to create recycling systems. For example industry should be charged steep fees if their products are not recycled and consumers should be charged bottle bill-like-fees for most items that do not have long life-spans (this should include electronic items).

5. Right to repair, right to receive “updates”, government mandated energy efficiency, and government-mandated longevity standards for all consumables, including electronics. Ideally we would create a system where items could be easily repaired by consumers- see the framework laptop for one example: https://frame.work/.

6. Existing buildings should be upgraded to low- or zero-carbon standards via a mix of government-based incentives, credits, and regulations. All new buildings should have to conform to government-mandated low or zero-carbon standards. (Existing low- or zero-carbon commercial certifications are unregulated and are often nothing more than greenwashing.)

7. The cost of driving low-occupancy vehicles in urban areas should be dramatically-increased in a manner that is sensitive to deeply unequal access to non-automobile transportation options. We should also ban or sharply limit use of low-occupancy vehicles in large swathes of dense urban centers (with equitable access for people who live in less dense areas — there are many ways to do this). I am personally agnostic about how de-automobilization happens and there are definitely scenarios where there isn’t much of an increase in people riding bikes.

8. All transportation should be rapidly electrified — none of this waiting for better BEV bullshit when it comes to mass transit. Trains can be electrified now — and so can most urban bus lines. Transportation that remains carbon intensive should be strongly disincentivized/regulated (e.g. air travel).

Note: I intentionally did not discuss decarbonizing energy generation because we all know what needs to happen – renewables, storage, and nuclear only as a transition to a decarbonized grid. (I don’t think a rapid transition is possible under the current capitalist utility system in the USA.)

Thank you Soren.

Read past Comments of the Week here.