Oregon Global Warming Commission’s Orwellian 2015 Report (translated): Failing faster, but slower than our prior guesses!

In this 2015 Biennial Report we describe two more years’ worth of data from Oregon’s emitting facilities and energy suppliers and confirm our previous finding that Oregon clearly met its 2010 GHG reduction goal – to arrest the growth of emissions and begin reducing them. We note that Oregon’s GHG emissions are now nearly back to 1990 levels at 61 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (or million MTCO2e). In addition, the combination of recently-enacted policies, including the Clean Fuels Program for vehicle fuels, expected utility Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) performance, and PGE’s commitment to end coal combustion at the Boardman power plant, contribute to a GHG forecast that both begins at a lower level and holds projected future increases to a slower rate than previously predicted.

That’s the first paragraph of the Executive Summary of the Oregon Global Warming Commission 2015 Biennial Report to the Legislature–the only paragraph most people will ever read or see quoted, and a real masterpiece of Orwellian doublespeak. The very next paragraph — which avoids the word BAD in favor of the exquisitely deceptive “less good news” begins thus:

The less good news is that despite these successes, we project Oregon’s 2020 emissions to be 11 million MTCO2e above the target level set by the Legislature for that year, with the gap between emissions and our goals widening each year to 2050 and beyond unless additional action is taken to contain and drive down emissions.

To mark the conclusion of the global climate talks in Paris, this issue of OregonPEN will focus on the frighteningly inadequate response to climate disruption by Oregon’s government, as summarized by the Commission’s own report. 

2015 looks to be another drought year – fourth in a row, and including 11 of the last 15 years of below normal water, if you’re counting – for the western states. While California’s plight gets most of the headlines10, southern and eastern Oregon are suffering along with states of the American Southwest. The snowpack in the Oregon Cascades is ~75% below its long-term average, the result of average rainfall but winter and spring air

Snowpack shortfalls mean summer water shortages for agriculture, for fish, for power generation, for recreation. And unless the state is unusually lucky, they mean another above-average wildfire season on top of bad years in 2013 and 2014; and not just for Oregon, but for most of the western states11.

“Fire and water” is an easy shorthand for the onset of climate change effects in Oregon, but the list is longer. The recently released “Oregon Climate and Health Profile” report12 documents growing risks from invasive tropical diseases like West Nile Virus, from heat- related effects especially on older Oregonians, from aggravated respiratory illnesses like asthma, and other public health concerns. In response to these growing health threats, the Oregon Health Authority is developing a new statewide plan to prepare Oregonians for emerging health threats from climate change.

Public infrastructure like roads and bridges are at risk from flooding and landslides. Public water supplies may dry up in some years (as they have for many California towns). Forest ecosystem health – forests, fish, and other species – is threatened.
In 2010, the State adopted a “Climate Change Adaptation Framework,” the product of deliberations among state agency heads and staff. The State Climatologist, Dr. Phil Mote, and I also participated. The Framework identified eleven areas of serious risk, and suggested responses for each. It was an admirable piece of work for its time and place. It was also limited by assumptions of near-term affordability (Oregon was in deep recession) and political viability. It has also suffered from neglect since 2010. Individual state agencies have pursued adaptation elements, and several communities have actively identified their own priority tasks, but the state as a whole has not dealt with climate risk systematically.

In discussions with the Governor’s Office, the Commission has considered whether the Framework needs revisiting especially in light of accumulating evidence of risk and better definition of its distribution across Oregon’s landscape and communities. The Commission is considering undertaking this review, in consultation with the Governor’s Office, with State agencies that share the responsibility, and with the many Oregon communities that have already begun to document their vulnerabilities and identify their strategies to cope.

9 There are other federal pollution control requirements in place, including those related to emissions of other pollutants, which may also act to shift generation sources, although the PacifiCorp and PGE Integrated Resource Plans on which this Report’s projections are based take such existing regulations into account.
10 and with a snowpack at 6% of historical average, deserves them temperatures 15 degrees to 25 degrees above normal that prevented snow accumulation. The Governor has declared a 2015 drought “emergency” in 23 of Oregon’s 36 counties.

11 A University of Utah study documented seven more wildfires on average per year since 1984 across the western states, burning 90,000 acres more each year.

12 Prepared by the Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division