Seattle's News Elixir

Five months ago Alex Steffen challenged the City of Seattle to reach carbon neutrality by 2030, an off-the-charts goal that no other major city on the planet has yet committed to achieving.

In February, the Seattle City Council announced that that goal would be one of their 2010 priorities.

And then yesterday, "going carbon neutral" was the subject of an hour-and-a-half-long panel discussion at City Hall featuring U.S. Representative Jay Inslee, (D-1 WA), Steffen, and Climate Solutions policy director KC Golden, and Jill Simmons, acting director of the Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment. Council President Richard Conlin repeated several times that the City was going to take the goal very seriously, and that the Council was united on the issue.

The room was packed:

It gave me hope to witness how the idea of carbon neutrality by 2030---which would mean a staggeringly massive and rapid restructuring of how we do everything—was being treated with respect in the halls of power.

One common thread among the panel was that tackling carbon neutrality would put us on a path to creating a city that is more livable, economically competitive, and equitable. Steffen argued that even if climate change wasn't an issue, we'd still be better off if we pursued most of the strategies for achieving carbon neutrality.

What the discussion lacked, in my view, were details on concrete policy and actions that would actually start to move us in the direction of carbon neutrality. For example, given that transportation is Seattle's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, shouldn't we immediately commit to fully funding the pedestrian and bicycle master plans and implementing them as soon as possible? Or, as one audience member asked, how does increasing the 520 bridge from four to six lanes fit with a goal that demands a big reduction in vehicle miles traveled by 2030?

If the the council truly is united in taking carbon neutrality seriously, each council member should commit to championing and making progress on a specific policy that will have a significant and measurable impact on lowering Seattle's carbon emissions.

Maybe that's asking for too much too soon. For sure, lots more people from across the spectrum of the Seattle population need to come on board before the radical moves required by such a challenging goal have any chance of going forward.

The trouble is, when it comes to climate change, we're not made of time. 2030 is the right time frame, and it's just around the corner.
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