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Sustainability Commission to council: 'act expeditiously'

In its May 18 issue, the News-Times summarized a lengthy letter from the Forest Grove Sustainability Commission to the Forest Grove City Council and promised to post the full letter at fgnewstimes.com.

The News-Times then failed to post the letter online. So we are running it in full here, along with the response by Mayor Pete Truax (See sidebar).

“We the members of the Forest Grove Sustainability Commission have put together this recommendation for the Forest Grove City Council. All the members of the Forest Grove Sustainability Commission acknowledge that the people of the world (including the citizens of Forest Grove) are currently facing serious global environmental problems. These problems will have deleterious impacts on all living inhabitants of the earth, if they are not Mayor Pete Truaxremedied soon. Time is not on our side and we must take action now. Humans are having such a significant impact on the planet that scientists are proposing a new name for this time period or epoch called the “anthropocene” (Steffen et al. 2007). We share the beliefs of scientists that the following global environmental problems need to be addressed with urgency and that these problems are all interconnected.

Overpopulation

The estimated human population is over seven billion people. Currently the human population is growing exponentially (growth is just over 1 percent per year). If this growth rate is maintained the population will double in less than seventy years (more than 14 billion people). Unfortunately continued exponential growth of the human population is not sustainable, particularly in developed countries where the majority of the earth’s resources are used (e.g. the U.S. is less than 5 percent of the global population and uses 25 percent of the earth’s fossil fuel resources — World Watch Institute 2006). A population growing exponentially also results in exponential growth in resource use and waste production.

Food

The majority of global food production is dependent on fossil fuels. In the United States it takes 10 calories of fossil fuel energy for every one calorie of food eaten. If fossil fuels become limiting so will global food production. In addition, the unsustainable practice of large-scale agriculture damages all environmental compartments (air, water, soil, and biota). Pesticides damage all ecosystems and negatively impacts human health. The inefficient use of irrigation water has resulted in the depletion of large aquifers in the U.S. Fertilizer use and animal wastes have created dead zones in coastal waters and blooms of toxic algae. Topsoil is being lost at a rate faster than it can be produced. In addition, human diets in developed and developing countries are negatively impacting human health, leading in a shift of the top global diseases from acute infectious diseases to more chronic diseases (heart attack, stroke, diabetes, depression).

Pollution

Toxic chemicals are so prevalent that they have infiltrated every part of the globe. These chemicals have a wide variety of deleterious health effects on species and ecosystems. Humans are exposed to thousands of chemicals in a variety of ways. Every aspect of human life results in exposure to toxic chemicals (air, food, water, and consumer products). The medical profession realizes that toxic chemicals significantly contribute to human disease.

Loss of species/habitat

Currently we are experiencing the sixth mass extinction. The current rate of species loss is unprecedented in earth’s history. It is estimated that the planet is experiencing a 1,000- to 10,000-fold increase in the natural extinction rate. The loss of species and habitat also means that the planet loses essential ecosystem services (food, medicine, clean air and water). The fossil record shows that some previous mass extinctions were likely caused by sudden changes in climate.

Energy

Over 85 percent of global energy use comes from fossil fuels, with oil being the dominant fossil fuel used (British Petroleum 2014). Most of life in developing and developed countries is dependent on products derived from fossil fuels (e.g. food, housing, consumer products etc.). Fossil fuels are a finite resource and at the current rate of consumption proven reserves will be depleted in one generation. For example, at the current rate of consumption, global proven reserves of crude oil will be depleted in less than 40 years. In addition, the use of fossil fuels significantly contributes to other global environmental problems including climate change.

Climate change

Climate change is the result of human activity and is the result of an increase of greenhouse gases in the earth’s troposphere. The majority of these greenhouse gases come from the burning of fossil fuels. Climate change may be the most serious global environmental problem facing humans because it cannot be reversed. Once the earth reaches the critical threshold of a 2°C increase in surface temperature we cannot go back from this. Climate change will impact every aspect of human life, including food production, water availability, energy production, and livable space due to overcrowding of cities with climate change refugees. The leading scientist on climate change, James Hansen, has recently predicted that in the next 50 years sea level increases will be in meters not millimeters as originally predicted. If we burn the rest of the current proven reserves of fossil fuels the planets surface temperature would increase by more than 2°C. This would be devastating to the worlds human population.

Act in timely manner

The Forest Grove Sustainability Commission request that the Forest Grove City Council acknowledges the following: The global problems listed above are serious and that they will have a serious impact on the people of the world, including the citizens of Forest Grove if not remedied expeditiously.

Based on the serious global problems listed above we also request that the Forest Grove City Council act in a timely manner on proposed policies and recommendations made from the Forest Grove Sustainability Commission and other policies related to topics on sustainability. In addition, we request the Forest Grove City Council provide the leadership necessary to help the City of Forest Grove cope with these daunting issues.

We look forward to a response from the Forest Grove City Council on our requests.”