Oregon positioned to help shape debate on global warming
It's encouraging, finally, to see all the major candidates for president beginning to address what may well be the most important issue of our time - global warming.
Every report, it seems, shows that global warming is taking place faster and with more draconian consequences than the last. If what Nobel Laureate Al Gore and others have predicted comes true, millions of people around the planet could be displaced as the glaciers melt and submerge thousands of miles of prime real estate along the coastal regions of the Earth. It is an issue that could make the war in Iraq or the economic woes that have surfaced in the wake of the subprime housing loan scandal look trivial by comparison.
Both of the Democrat hopefuls - Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama - say they would jumpstart the transformation from a carbon-based economy to one that is clean and sustainable by making huge investments in research, modernizing of homes and commercial buildings, and by setting aggressive fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles. Republican John McCain wants to limit carbon emissions by harnessing nuclear energy - which is the wrong way to go about it because it raises a host of potentially more serious environmental consequences - but at least greenhouse gases are on his radar.
In Oregon, officials have begun beating the drum for 'carbon sequestration.'
If you haven't heard of carbon sequestration, that may be because it is a relatively new and largely theoretical approach to reducing greenhouse gases. It involves storing carbon dioxide (CO2) in geologic reservoirs, coal seams, abandoned mines and other pockets beneath the earth's crust. For example, a coal-fired electric plant, might be able to minimize the adverse effects of its greenhouse gases by pumping them into a hole in the Earth somewhere.
Columbia County Commissioner Tony Hyde, whose own perspective has been heavily influenced by working in Oregon's forests, recently suggested there might be another way to look at carbon sequestration - that is by letting trees do what they do best: Remove and store CO2. The idea is as simple as the high school biology lesson where every student learned about photosynthesis, that miraculous process by which plants consume CO2 and give off oxygen. In other words, one way to reduce greenhouse gases is by growing more trees.
Hyde may be onto something.
Of course, Oregon has always been a leader in growing trees and, in that sense, in reducing greenhouse gases, although it probably does not get as much credit as it deserves in this respect. Maybe now is the time for that to start happening.
The Department of Energy through its National Energy Technology Lab is currently spending more than $50 million a year on research into carbon sequestration. Perhaps in addition to studying the feasibility of sticking exhaust pipes from coal-fired plants into the ground, Clinton or Obama or McCain could persuade Congress and DOE to earmark funds for passive sequestration projects, like growing trees. Or maybe government could pay farmers not to cut trees, in the same manner it paid them not to plow up ground when it launched the Conservation Reserve Program back in 1985 to reduce soil erosion and provide habitat for wildlife.
The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management could start the ball rolling in this direction by adopting a more enlightened and forward-looking approach to forest management than allowing hundreds of thousands of acres of federal forests to burn every year.
Oregon, from the Bottle Bill to the Renewable Energy Act, has demonstrated many times over that it is a leader committed to meaningful environmental change, and with the presidential campaign still in limbo our state has an opportunity to help move climate change to the forefront of the debate. At the same time, Oregonians need to be cautious about jumping on every green bandwagon that comes down the pike and be willing to ditch those ideas, like ethanol-laced gasoline, that don't work out so well or actually cause more harm than good.