Climate change: Global crisis requires local action

World leaders are working to address climate change, but we should be aware of the work we need to do locally to meet their targets.

We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically to avoid the dire impacts of climate change, and we need to take those actions now.

Our goal is to keep the global temperature increase to less than 1.5°C of warming above preindustrial levels by 2100. Our current trajectory is between 2.7 and 3.1°C, and the proposed pledges might drop that to between 2.1 and 2.4°C. There are emissions reduction pathways to get us to less than 1.5°C but they require that we start now.

Bainbridge Island’s most recent greenhouse gas inventory (in 2018), indicates that the majority of our emissions are from electric power use (53%), followed by transportation (34%). So that’s where our most-dramatic reductions need to be. That pathway to less than 1.5°C shows we need to be targeting a 50% reduction before 2040.

Our community has a Climate Action Plan to help us achieve emissions reductions, but we are not implementing those actions quickly enough.

For example, our ambition around electricity is tied to our continued relationship with Puget Sound Energy. They are not committing to be carbon-free (under a mandate by state law) until 2045. Waiting until then puts us on a trajectory toward between 2.7- 4.2° C of warming above preindustrial levels by 2100.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change demonstrated that with their “reasons for concern” diagrams. Those indicate that at 1.5°C of warming we will certainly see high risk and impacts to unique and threatened systems (some of which we have in and around BI), and increases in extreme weather events.

That is not the world we want to live in, and it is not the world we want to leave our children or the millions of other species with which we share this planet.

What could we be doing now?

1. Find an electric power provider that will meet our need to supply only 100% renewable energy. About 66% of our power now is generated by fossil fuel combustion.

2. Increase energy efficiency. We need to use less energy in our homes and for transportation. There are many ways we can incentivize energy efficiency, as well as changes to code and zoning that would improve energy efficiency. The Green Building Task Force offered a host of suggestions in this area. Let’s start implementing their recommendations.

3. Increase local renewable generation. Many buildings on the island (residential and commercial) are generating more energy than they use annually. We need to encourage and maximize rooftop solar, as well as community solar projects, on public and private land.

4. Lower emissions from transportation. We need to make zero-emissions options attractive, safe and easy. This includes increasing use of non-motorized travel by foot and bike, and mass public transit (especially those new all-electric and hybrid options); while decreasing use of single-occupancy vehicles, even electric vehicles (EVs) as long as our electricity is fossil fuel-based. It also means converting the COBI fleet to EVs.

As we work to reduce emissions, we are already seeing the effects of climate change. We need to start making decisions given the reality of those changes from sea level rise to changing precipitation patterns and warm, smokey summers. This means applying a climate lens (such as the Climate Change Adaptation Certification Tool) in local decision-making and COBI activities. So far the lens has only been applied to one project (remodel of the Community Center). We need to make this part of the regular process.

The Climate Action Plan has actions to help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase resilience to effects of climate change. They recapitulate guidance enshrined in our updated Comprehensive Plan. But these plans only help if we take actions that reflect them. We need to be the leaders and the stewards required to enact the solutions.

Every day we wait makes the problem bigger, costlier and affords us fewer positive outcome options.

The Climate Action Plan also has a chapter devoted to what each of us can do. There are suggestions in six areas: reducing energy use, reducing waste, reducing water use and protecting natural resources, reducing use of internal combustion vehicles, reducing vulnerability to climate change, and participating in community climate action.

Let’s create a climate-savvy Bainbridge Island—today! Future generations and the environment deserve no less.

Lara J. Hansen, Ph.D., is chief scientist and executive director at EcoAdapt