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2016 Lake Oswego Story Project: 'Honoring a grandfather's legacy'

Editor’s Note: If you could peer into the future and read a description of your life history and your role in the community over the next 35 years, what would you hope to find? That intriguing question is the core premise of a new project created by the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network to help raise awareness about climate change and spur community action to combat it.

The network calls it the Lake Oswego Story Project, and the goal is to collect a series of short stories from Lake Oswego residents — written as memoirs from the perspective of a community member in the year 2050 — about the actions that present-day Lake Oswegans took to help combat climate change.

All of the submissions to the Lake Oswego Story Project will be catalogued on the Sustainability Network’s website ( www.losn.org/story.html ), and a selection of stories will be published by the Library in various community publications and venues.

The Review also will publish a series of entries. Here’s the first, by Duke Castle.

CASTLEMAY 2050 — I miss him. My grandfather, Papa Taylor, passed on exactly 10 years ago this month. He was an important part of my life, and someone I later came to realize was a major contributor to the quality of life we enjoy here in Lake Oswego.

I was lucky because he and Mama Taylor lived just a few blocks from our home. My earliest memories go back to 2015, when I was 5 years old and he would walk me to the school bus each morning and walk me home when I returned from school in the afternoon.

He was warm, kind-hearted and seemed to get along with everyone. What I didn’t know at the time was that he was also very active in his church group, where he dealt with the issue of climate change. It was an issue I really didn’t know much about at the time, but I later came to realize how perilous things were.

Humanity was experiencing unprecedented heat waves, drought and storms that were the result of rapidly increasing greenhouse gasses, increases that we human beings were causing. Not consciously. At least not initially. But we came to learn that it was things we were doing, primarily caused by burning fossil fuels, which had led to these increases.

Papa Taylor later told me that there had been a growing concern about what was happening long before I was born, but that people were at different levels of dealing with the issue. Initially, many were in denial that it was really happening, or that humans were really at fault. But as more began to realize that it was real, that we were causing it, many became angry. Why wasn’t something being done? Why did everyone seem unable to grasp the seriousness of it and deal with it?

And then, when the heat waves came with rising seas flooding places like Miami and New Orleans, many people became depressed. It seemed hopeless and that we were all doomed.

However, Papa said that a significant number of people decided that it was never too late and that something could be done. His epiphany occurred at his church. The pastor had participated in a gathering of local church leaders shortly after the late Pope Francis issued an encyclical stating that climate change was a moral issue that all had to face. Papa’s congregation discussed what they could do and began to work with other groups in Lake Oswego — business organizations, school PTAs, senior citizen groups — and found that there was a common bond that transcended age, politics and most other things that had divided people. They decided the time to act was now.

Papa said one thing that affected him was hearing stories from his grandparents about the Great Depression of the 1930s. What he heard from them was how difficult a time that was, but how people banded together to help each other out. Later, Papa’s generation, called “boomers,” experienced prosperity and an unprecedented quality of life as the result of decisions their parents and grandparents had made. Papa said it was a similar impulse that brought everyone together around climate change. They were going to do whatever they could to see that their children and grandchildren had a similarly good quality of life. But they also realized that at this stage, it wasn’t about increasing material prosperity but instead about relationships — relations with each other, relations between groups and relations with nature.

They realized the first step was to deal with the causes of climate change and that the biggest factor was the burning of fossil fuel. One study showed that almost 90 percent of human-caused increases in greenhouse gas emissions were due to burning fossil fuel. So movements began at all levels of society to focus on significantly reducing fossil fuel consumption. It wasn’t easy, because so much of the economy and human activity depended on using fossil fuels. But when people began to realize that electricity could provide many of the same services that fossil fuel did, there was movement to electrify everything — cars, bikes, heating, etc. — using 100-percent renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydro. Even things that couldn’t be electrified, like air travel, began using biofuels made of algae that didn’t compete with growing food.

At the same time, there were changes in Lake Oswego and other communities that reduced the need for all the energy we were consuming. Things like well-insulated, net-zero homes; safe bike paths; and walkable neighborhoods, with easy access to food and other necessities. Car-sharing services such as ZipCar and Uber came to Lake Oswego. Public transit was expanded, including the opening of streetcar service to Portland. One clever idea that was initiated in Lake Oswego was the use of school buses during the day for public transit when the children were in school.

With all of these and numerous other changes, fossil fuel consumption has been reduced by 90 percent in the past 35 years. But the changes didn’t stop there. All of this brought our community closer together. Just the ability to get outdoors to safely walk and ride bikes got people to set aside many of their smart phones and other electronic gadgets and interact with each other.

Interestingly, another factor that brought neighbors closer together was the “Really Big One,” the recognition that at any moment the Pacific Northwest could be by hit by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake. Remarkably, this issue came up at the same time as people began to seriously deal with climate change. Knowing that people were going to be dependent on each other when this event happened, neighborhoods began to prepare for mutual support and in the process began to interact with each other in ways they never had before. The “Big One” has not happened, but the neighborhood meetings have. Relations between neighbors and among various community groups have gotten stronger.

I am really grateful that I grew up in Lake Oswego. I am grateful for what my grandparents and the other citizens in our community did at that time. The effects of climate change haven’t totally disappeared, but the impact has significantly been reduced from what it could have been.

What I am also really grateful for is how it brought our community together. My parents tell me that relations within our community are as good as they have ever been. Papa and his generation may not have anticipated that outcome when they took on the challenge of climate change. But that is one outcome that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Duke Castle is a retired business and sustainability consultant. He and his wife, Jan, have lived in Lake Oswego since 1984.

Read the Stories

For more on the Lake Oswego Story Project or to submit your own story, visit www.losn.org/story.html.