Cities, Climate Change and City Council Elections

What can you do to change household emissions?

In the last week of September, we passed right by 400 ppm (parts per million) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a major milestone on our way to climate disruption. It’s alarming given all that’s at stake, but we have available to us now all the solutions that we need to dramatically reduce emissions and secure a livable future for us, our children and our grandchildren. 

Addressing climate change will require decisive action from households, businesses and every level of government. At some point we must talk about the important role of our dysfunctional federal government, but that’s a different guest viewpoint. 

Similarly, there are dozens of influential decisions made at the state level, including policies that determine where and how we spend our transportation dollars — rail, biking, transit anyone? — as well as the state building code that drives the energy efficiency of new buildings. (We simply can’t afford any new buildings that, as a matter of design, devour fossil fuels.) 

But what about local government? How do my city councilor’s decisions influence my household emissions? There are plenty of ways, and I would like to highlight just a few. 

First, Eugene land use code determines how many homes go where, how close homes are to the services we use every day and, by extension, how easy it is for me to get to the grocery store, school, park or church without relying on a car. The land use code can be painfully technical, a little dry and more than a little frustrating, but the land use decisions made by your city councilor have a significant impact on your emissions, particularly over the long term. 

Second, the city develops transportation system plans. They design, permit, construct and maintain the roads, bus routes, bike lanes and sidewalks we use to get to and from work every day. If we find the system isn’t making it easy for us to choose low-carbon transportation, our city councilors have a significant role to play. 

Third, the city of Eugene regulates waste haulers — Sanipac, Lane Apex and others, creating a major influence on the fate of your food scraps — and the fate of your food scraps has a significant influence on greenhouse gas emissions (no joke). Fortunately, the city of Eugene and waste haulers have an effective program that is diverting commercial food waste from the landfill — and household food waste collection is on the way! These are a few of the big ways your councilor influences your emissions, but there are many others. From determining the energy efficiency of new city buildings to managing sewage, the list is long. To put it bluntly, local elections have real consequences. 

So what are you supposed to do about any of this? You are a responsible Eugenean trying to get your kids to school, feed them a healthy meal and find a few minutes somewhere in between for some down time with your partner. How are you supposed to influence these things? 

Well, you can vote for city councilors who pay attention to this stuff, and then you can regularly remind them that you want them to make decisions that reflect your priority to combat climate change. 

If you are like me and you live in Ward 1, you can vote for a councilor who has been pushing Eugene to address climate change since the city’s Sustainability Program was established in 2007. You can vote for a councilor who has expertise in land use and transportation policy, who has frequently testified to council and who has volunteered his time to sit on the city’s Budget Committee where he has fought for transparency between council’s budget decisions and council’s climate goals. You can elect the person who has been endorsed by Sierra Club and Oregon League of Conservation Voters, (that non-partisan group with the mission to: “Pass laws that protect Oregon’s environmental legacy, elect pro-environment candidates to office and hold all of our elected officials accountable.”) 

You can vote for Joshua Skov. Fortunately for all of us, Josh is not just a climate hawk. He also works hard to address housing affordability, improve social equity, sustain police oversight, prioritize balanced budgets and build government transparency. Consider carefully your decisions this November, and if you live in Ward 1, vote for Joshua Skov.

Matt McRae is the climate policy strategist for Our Children’s Trust and served the public as the city of Eugene climate and energy analyst for eight years.