Recent forest fires are yet another reminder of the effects of climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gases through, among other steps, better transportation systems.
CONFRONTED by the stark images of yet another destructive forest fire, this time afflicting our neighbors to the north in Alberta, Canada, we are reminded of recent fires raging across our own state. As we bear witness to a lengthening fire season and an increasing number of acres ablaze throughout the West, the fingerprints of climate change become harder to miss among the ashes.
Naturally, we seek explanations, and science is providing them. Our ever-warming climate that is drying our forests is irrefutably linked to the voracious consumption of fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in such quantity as to disrupt the Earth’s energy balance. Our days and nights have become progressively warmer: Over the last 100 years, 15 of the past 16 years register as the warmest on record.
Wildfire protection and suppression in the U.S. cost upward of $3 billion annually and account for more than 50 percent of the U.S. Forest Service’s budget — up from just 16 percent of the budget in 1995. The fire season is, on average, 78 days longer than it was in 1970. Given these alarming and costly trends, what solutions are available to more aggressively address the primary root cause? What can we do to more effectively and more quickly reduce carbon pollution?
Get engaged LiveWire on climate change
The Seattle Times LiveWire presents “Endangered Economy: The high cost of climate change,” a forum about climate change’s impact on the Pacific Northwest economy.
A panel of experts, including Spencer Reeder of Paul Allen’s company, Vulcan, will discuss how to protect a sustainable future as climate change threatens local marine life, agriculture, forestry and the billion-dollar industries that depend upon their growth.
The Seattle Times LiveWire series, presented by Microsoft, features meaningful discussions about vital issues impacting our region and its people.
The forum is at 6:30 p.m., May 17, at the University of Washington’s Kane Hall.
For ticket information:
Nationwide, transportation is the second-leading source of greenhouse-gas emissions, comprising more than 25 percent of the U.S. total. Here in Washington, transportation is the No. 1 source, comprising nearly half of all emissions. Reducing emissions would require a major transformation of how we move people and goods. To avoid the most severe impacts of climate change, we must electrify the transportation system on a grand scale and, in parallel, decarbonize our electricity supply.
Because of our more than century-long investment in a fossil-fuel-based transportation system, this transformation will not be easy. It will require political leadership, increased innovation from businesses and robust public-private partnerships to successfully implement. Cities are best positioned to lead the way due to their density, rising share of overall population, and ability to drive major investments in infrastructure. In addition, many cities are increasingly motivated to address the severe public-health consequences of poor air quality resulting from vehicle fossil-fuel combustion.
This is why Paul Allen, for whom I work, is partnering with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and the U.S. Department of Transportation on the Smart City Challenge, a competition among cities across the country to redefine the future of transportation and catalyze the implementation of this new vision. With $50 million in support at stake — including $10 million from Allen’s Vulcan — 78 cities from 30 states submitted proposals. In late June, Vulcan and the transportation department will announce a winner. Ultimately, hundreds of cities should benefit from the ideas and innovations that emerge.
It is heartening to see Seattle’s growing commitment in this arena. Mayor Ed Murray is to be applauded for his recent announcement of the Drive Clean Seattle initiative that seeks a fivefold increase in the number of electric vehicles by 2025. Challenge Seattle, a new private-sector initiative including many of the area’s top businesses and led by former Gov. Chris Gregoire, is launching with a similarly ambitious focus on transforming transportation. Both are good moves for a city with a host of transportation challenges and an ample supply of near carbon-free electricity. In fact, with a growing light-rail system currently powered by this clean electricity, we might ask: Are we expanding its reach quickly or extensively enough?
Inevitably, a fundamental transformation of any city’s transportation system will take time and money — and a commensurate level of public determination. It is clear that cities such as Seattle, the mayors pursuing the Vulcan and USDOT Smart City Challenge and visionaries like Allen and Foxx recognize their roles in helping lead the planet away from fossil fuels.
So, as we enter yet another destructive wildfire season, let us celebrate and support those cities that are charting a better path by seeking to disrupt climate change. Let us also encourage our states, provinces and national governments to follow their lead.