This is the decade that will define Pullman’s fate

By Steve Austin

Now that our political crisis has for the moment waned, we must urgently focus on the climate crisis.  Locally, we are one year into the decade that will define the fate of Pullman over the remainder of the 21st century. Unfortunately, we haven’t done much that science recommends to mitigate and adapt to the crisis. It is as if we are ignoring science.  Or worse.  This is ironic considering that Pullman was literally created to support the propagation of scientific knowledge. 

The climate crisis is accelerating.   2020 is tied with 2016 as the hottest year on record.  This follows the 2010s, which were the hottest decade on record.  Ice is melting across the planet at a rapidly increasing rate, in line with worst-case scenarios.  The heating is exacerbating epic weather disasters; last year there were 416 such events globally. 

Here, trends are making it likely that even “normal” summers on the Palouse will become incredibly hot.  And drier.  Rainfall is forecast to become more prevalent in winter and spring, with less in summer.  

These impacts will affect us all here, especially heat sensitive people, those on limited incomes who may not be able to afford cooling, and farmers.  More broadly, the crisis puts all life on this planet is under threat, including hundreds of millions of our fellow humans. 

Looking forward, scientists estimate warming of nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5C) by 2030, decades ahead of earlier projections, and representing the threshold of a “safe climate.”  Currently, the world is on track for 7 Fahrenheit of heating this century, which climate scientist Michael Mann says “would constitute the end of civilization as we know it.” 

In order to avert the worst impacts and potentially unstoppable heating, science is clear as to what must be done:  we must halve fossil fuel use by 2030 (less than 470 weeks from now) and then end all use within the following two decades. This is what justice demands.  It remains to be seen whether we will do what is morally right. 

It won’t be easy. Ending fossil fuels will fundamentally change everything in our lives.  They provide more than 80% of all energy use and we rely on them to power transportation systems, create materials deemed essential to modern life, and grow food.   

Ending fossil fuel use will expose Pullman’s deep vulnerabilities in at least two related areas.  First, our region is completely dependent on fossil fueled transportation.   Ending fossil fuels could leave us dangerously isolated. The second area relates to logistical provisions, especially food.  Pullman is at the end of a very long, fossil fueled supply chain. 

So, we know what’s causing the crisis and what’s needed to end it.   What have we done in Pullman so far? 

Not Much. 

Pullman’s new draft Comprehensive Plan contains not one mention of climate change in 243 pages. Absurdly, Washington’s current planning laws don’t require it.  But it seems important to have climate mentioned somewhere in the plan for the 20-year future of the community. 

We’ve fallen short in other areas as well. There are no plans for large scale local food production, shade tree planting, or zero carbon city operations. Development codes have not been revised to ensure neighborhoods will be habitable. No realistic transportation planning has occurred to ensure we remain connected to the rest of the world. Smaller, yet no less symbolic, downtown bike lanes were eliminated, sending an incorrect signal about future transportation. And there is no region-wide plan for ensuring justice for those most vulnerable to climate impacts. 

To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson about a similar crisis, climate warnings are clear and stark, like a fire bell in the night. “The climate emergency is evolving faster than predicted,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said recently. “We must accelerate our response, with ambition and urgency.  This is the battle for our lives.” 

Are we in Pullman going to act on what science is telling us? 

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