WHAT ARE WE MISSING? Part 3: Dealing with the Climate Crisis
Updated: May 9, 2022
“We are in a climate crisis of our own making to which we must respond … The urgency to substantially reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and make our community more resilient to climate change requires that we take significant action now. Waiting puts our community, economy and our children’s future in peril.”
Thus reads the opening of Bainbridge Island’s Climate Action Plan, which BI adopted in November 2020. Its framers are not ignoring the elephant in the room: the climate crisis is a far more crucial problem than any other. To develop its climate policy, Bainbridge carefully relied on experts, research, and community buy-in. It has incorporated the climate plan into its comprehensive plan—and by contrast, Poulsbo’s 20-year comprehensive plan contains almost nothing about climate change. So, to Mayor Erickson and the Poulsbo Council: climate is a very, very big “What Are We Missing.”
We’ve based this blog largely on (1) Bainbridge’s laudable work, and (2) a climate roundtable, held on 4/13/2022 and sponsored by Kitsap’s League of Women Voters.
What Is the Problem?
Human activities are the primary driver of climate change, mostly due to the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas. The emissions from burning these fuels act like a blanket around the Earth, trapping the sun’s heat and raising temperatures. (Clearing land and forests also releases CO2.) The world is now warming faster than at any point in recorded history. To keep the temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees C, we need to reach net zero global carbon emissions by 2050—less than 30 years from now. After that, scientists say, we’re cooked.
Local Evidence of the Problem
1. HEAT: June and August 2021 saw Poulsbo’s temperatures reach unprecedented highs of 106°F and more.
2. SEA LEVEL RISE: Human action has caused Puget Sound’s sea level to rise more than 9 inches in the last century (NOAA, 2019), and the rate is accelerating. Our area will experience a rise of at least 1 foot between 2000 and 2060 according to conservative predictions; other assessments say we’ll reach a foot by 2040. (BI Sea Level Rise Assessment, 2019) The first illustration (“Risk Zone Map”) shows what just one foot of sea level rise will do to downtown Poulsbo, including obliterating parts of Front Street—and the second shows the obliteration of Fish Park, Liberty Bay Auto, and more land with the 10 ft. rise that scientists and researchers predict by the year 2100. As temperatures rise and glaciers melt, these timelines will likely need adjustment.
3. WILDFIRES AND SMOKE: 674,000 acres of Washington’s land burned in 2021. As winter snow packs decrease and temperatures rise, the fires are growing more intense and frequent. In the first 4 months of 2022 alone, though peak fire season doesn’t normally hit until June, severe drought has already caused more than a million acres to burn in the US.
Smoke from West coast fires has afflicted Kitsap for two of the last four summers. During these periods, terrible air quality can cause severe health problems. Plan ahead for wildfire smoke, by the way: make a filter fan to filter out the small particles that are common in wildfire or wood smoke. Use this guide from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency to make your own air filter at home with a box fan and a furnace filter.
4. CATASTROPHIC STORMS now occur regularly through the south, midwest, and east. As we write, the tornadoes across the midwest are wreaking unprecedented damage. The windstorms here in winter 2022 are a sign of things to come.
5. RAPIDLY DECLINING BIODIVERSITY: In Kitsap, rapid die-offs in progress, of hemlock, madrona, many amphibians, salmon, and orcas, are a few of the more obvious signs of the problem. Bee population collapse (caused mainly by pesticides, but also deforestation and land clearing) will eventually make the growing of food crops impossible.
What Can Be Done?
The two general areas of action are mitigation and adaptation.
Mitigation—reducing greenhouse gas emissions—can be achieved through approaches such as more sustainable development, higher-density development, fewer vehicle miles traveled, more use of non-motorized transportation, more electric vehicles, green building standards, and renewable energy sourcing.
Adaptation means increasing resilience to the effects of climate change that include sea level rise, altered precipitation patterns with related flood and drought impacts, and increased temperatures. Approaches include: low-impact development; retreat of buildings and infrastructure from rising seas; climate certified zoning, permitting, and procurement; and climate-savvy hazard mitigation and resource management
Action must be now, not in 2030. Poulsbo has to develop clear, enforceable policy and practices. Poulsbo’s stalling has one advantage: it now has the luxury to follow models set by other municipalities that are acting with more urgency.
What Is Poulsbo Doing?
Last month, Kitsap’s League of Women Voters sponsored a climate roundtable which included leaders of Poulsbo, Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, and the Suquamish Tribe, and other elected officials. What struck us about this conversation was BI’s aggressive action to combat the effects of the climate crisis, and its commitment to involving and educating the community at every turn through surveys, workshops, and meetings. Bremerton wasn’t far behind.
By contrast, Mayor Erickson, though she participated knowledgeably in the conversation, did so in a kind of abstract way, as if the climate crisis doesn’t really affect Poulsbo. Planting trees, refusing permits to building projects if too close to flood plains … that was about all she had to report Poulsbo doing. Poulsbo, she remarked, is changing its definition of “significant trees” so that it can retain more trees. She also said that the City is developing density, “so rural land stays untouched.” Tell that to all the rural land that has been plowed into big single-family housing developments!
The mayor continued: “we’ve got to go solar.” We couldn’t agree more, but we see little City policy or action that is making that happen. “I call it live small. Walk. Don’t use your car unless you have to. Don’t cut trees down. Plant a tree.” These formulas are not policy, they do not lay out an action plan for either mitigation or adaptation on a governmental level. They are not enforceable, and they’re totally dependent on market-driven building—i.e., at lowest cost and biggest profit—by developers who don’t live here.
A review of the city budget at the May 4 City Council meeting reveals that Poulsbo is flush with cash: fiscal 2021 ended with revenue exceeding expenditures by over a million dollars. It’s not as if Poulsbo can’t afford to tackle this most serious problem of our lifetimes, and to do it in 2022.
Some of what Bainbridge Island Has Done
Bainbridge’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), a 138-page document, was officially adopted in November 2020. Here are a few examples of the long list immediate actions initiated by the CAP:
Develop a “climate lens” that can be used by the City when making decisions (this has been done — see BI’s 2018 Climate Change Adaptation Certification Tool)
Hire a Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Officer to help in the implementation of the CAP (done)
Develop a Clean Energy and Building Fund to provide resources to residents and businesses to make their homes and businesses more energy efficient (done)
Develop a plan to transition the City fleet to all electric vehicles (done)
Develop an ordinance to ban single-use plastics (done)
Poulsbo’s Attitude Problem, and What to Do
We’ve mentioned it before, but let’s bring up the emblematic case of The Patio.
Poulsbo City Hall has two areas of “green” rooftop, originally planted with grasses to absorb runoff in an ecologically sound way. Mayor Erickson appears bent on converting one of them to a hard-surface patio, using around $300K of taxpayer money. The public would love to use it, she argues (although their access to it would be another issue), and the vegetation is overgrown anyway (but maintenance twice a year wouldn’t cost $300K!). We cite this plan as an egregious example of Poulsbo’s negligent, backward thinking in the face of looming climate catastrophe. How about solar panels for City Hall’s roofs!?
Another example: the City is hiring an electrical engineer to rework power at the new Poulsbo Maintenance Facility—but it’s NOT including plans for charging stations for (future) electric utility vehicles. Further, Poulsbo is purchasing eight new police cruisers—gas-powered, of course.
“Little Norway” would be smart to look beyond its Viking trappings to the climate policies of present day Big Norway [hot link- https://www.preventionweb.net/news/norways-comprehensive-climate-action-plan ]
How should Poulsbo begin?
First, a climate officer, hired onto City staff and given budget and authority, could start with an environmental audit of the City and its policies in all departments.
Second, Poulsbo can now look to neighboring municipalities for models and guidance to rapidly develop policies and regulations. See Bainbridge Island’s Climate Action Plan.
Third, Poulsbo city government needs to start thinking in environmentally responsible ways NOW. Tourist parking at Poulsbo Village, with a shuttle on weekends! Charging stations there! Solarize City Hall! A moratorium on approving any new single-family housing projects that would replace green space!
Mother Earth is not waiting.