Last Tuesday evening, I made my report to the Olympia City Council about some of my experiences at the recent Paris climate summit. I was pleased to be able to report that Olympia will be in the history books as a participant and contributor to the massive effort underway to address climate change.
The lessons that I brought home with me from Paris were many. I heard directly from the leaders of developing countries of the consequences of inaction and the desperation they feel in not being able to meet what we would call the most basic of needs for their people.
My convictions on the urgency of our situation were confirmed by hard, undeniable data concerning the dramatic increase in the Earth’s temperature and the alarming increase in severe weather events worldwide.
And perhaps worst of all, I heard the clear and ever present message of the certainty that carbon emissions are not presently being successfully curtailed.
My greatest concern is that we will come up short in responding to the call of reason that has been loudly being voiced for 40 or more years — we must rapidly transition away from fossil fuels. We must stop the senseless continued extrication and export of coal and oil. If we fail to act, the current refugee dilemma that the world faces — with millions of people set adrift due to poverty and political unrest — will steadily transition to billions of people.
What I most want to see happen is for people who are willing to listen to the voice of reason to respond thoughtfully and reasonably. We can all contribute to the solution.
Individually we must critically assess our own behavior and step by step invest in new ways of meeting our own needs minus fossil fuels. I want people to understand how critical this is and that we also need to thoughtfully, compassionately and persistently support others to do the same — changing our patterns of consumption in ways that will move us into an era of sustainability and repair of planet Earth is essential for the well-being of our children and grandchildren.
I also come away from Paris with the conviction that cities will and can make the difference. As our nation-states fail to rise to the needs of our planet to make the dramatic and necessary transition away from fossil fuels, cities will make the difference. Nation states come and go — cities endure. Our planet’s future depends on the viability and steady technological advancement of city-based infrastructure.
Thank goodness that here in Washington state we have a governor who understands climate change and is willing to take action to reduce carbon emissions. The majority of U.S. states are not similarly positioned. All the more reason that we need to individually and as a city do even more than we have so far.
Thank goodness also for the Pacific Coast Collaborative and its determined action oriented agenda to address carbon emissions.
We can be proud of Washington’s continued leadership and engagement by our best and brightest in rising to the challenge that climate change presents. More than 17 years ago, Climate Solutions was a small start-up organization in downtown Olympia. Today it is leading the way for solutions on a planetary level.
This is what I expect Olympia to continue to do and continue to represent: We can and will meet this challenge. Let’s all invest and carry forward the messages that have come from Paris — the City of Light.
Stephen Buxbaum, whose term as mayor of Olympia ends this month, attended the recent climate talks in Paris.