April 13, 2010
SEATTLE-It was a packed house as the City Council opened up the panel to public presentation and comment. There were guest speakers invited by the council to give testimony and advice on the ways to the ends of Carbon Neutrality (a term one of the speakers derided as sounding too passive) that included a US representative, an executive director of a non profit, city employees and a leader in the sustainability field.
The crowd listened intently with applause and accolades coming at measured clap friendly quotes and themes for the mostly left leaning audience. One of the loudest applause lines was from Representative Jay Inslee when he touted the need for the US Senate to pass some form of energy bill like the House already has. This line was repeated at appropriate times throughout the meeting.
Representative Inslee also talked about bringing the conversation away from environmentalism and morality, but to economic stimulus and necessity. He gave examples of the green technological revolution China is undertaking as a matter of national directive. The biggest solar power plant is being built in China as we speak and the representative, channeling a diet version of the ghost of America being left behind, spoke of the amount of jobs, treasure and leadership the US was leaving unexplored because we do not have a governmental mandate for green technology.
Alex Steffen, executive director of Worldchanging.org, was a panelist whose views and ideas were all backed by science, data, and a heavy dose of cautious optimism. He spoke of the interconnection of social justice, women's rights, lowering consumption, and the emergence of a new city the size of Seattle being built every other day for the next forty years.
He spoke of the need for cities to be built smarter as nearly 70% of humanity will live in major metropolitan areas with the other 30% nearly all living in suburbs connected to major metropolitan areas by 2050. "We need a different plan; maybe they will be building their cities on the Seattle model," said Mr. Steffen. If we make Seattle carbon neutral though innovative technologies, and most important behavior change we could once again be a leader in the world in the face of an existential threat.
Mr. Steffen then dropped the most impactful line the entire night in response to a question about human population growth. The question was what are we going to do about a growing population that is expected to be 9 billion people by 2050. Mr. Steffen said, "Population doesn't matter. But if the rest of the world starts living the way the United States, and Europe does, that is a death sentence to this planet." No one clapped, no one even breathed. You could hear your neighbors breathing as the blame was shifted from those poor people having five or six children back to where the blame needs to be centered, our over consumption.
The council members had a chance to ask questions at the end of the presentations and Council member Licatta asked the question I've been hoping to hear from our political leaders for months now since the council published its 17 priorities. What about poverty and social justice? How can we ensure that the technology and planning does not leave behind the downtrodden and poverty stricken? The answers ranged from inclusion in the initial decision phases to diversifying the outreach for ideas.
The public questions were insightful for the most part with questions ranging from the viability of walking to schools, having a partnership with Metro and schools to eliminate school district run buses, to bringing bicycle sharing to the city as long as the city council doesn't get in the way. One speaker explained that bicycle sharing would create green, sustainable jobs and would not need any money from the city to get started. The audience applauded that.