It's easy to become self-satisfied about climate change. Many activists say, "Shop local, ride your bike or public transit and buy energy efficient appliances."
But for those of us who are working or who have children, this is easier said than done. Between work, kids' activities, cleaning house, cooking and family time, it seems nearly impossible to put out my own curb-side recycling much less find time to bike or bus to work. It is a real challenge to take kids and groceries home on the bus. Of course, some of us do this for necessity, not to save the planet. Then of course, there is the added cost of organic foods, appliances and other home adjustments for "greener" living. I face these dilemmas and many Portlanders do as well when they attempt living a life that is environmentally friendly.
So if it's difficult and costs more, why should we care about climate change?
The realities of climate change are coming closer to home and Portlanders are starting to feel the effects. Here's how. Climate change is causing shifts in our weather and producing droughts, floods, heavy snows and a slow rise in average temperatures that affects how our farmers can produce food. It's one reason behind skyrocketing prices in the food we buy at the neighborhood grocery store. Nationwide, eggs are up 60 percent, pasta is up 30 percent and fruits and vegetables are up 20 percent. Lack of access to affordable healthy foods contributes to health disparities in our population and disproportionately affects low- income and minority people in Portland.
Another health problem is the increasing incidence of asthma and other respiratory problems, prevalent in areas of traffic congestion in and around North and Northeast Portland where Interstate 5 passes through. Increasing numbers of cars on the road, coupled with minimal adjustment in Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, have raised toxic car emissions that affect the environment.
We now know human activities are contributing to climate change. Those activities include, driving, use of fossil fuels for heating, and excessive consumption and its resulting waste. That is why Multnomah County has signed on to the Cool Climate pledge from the Sierra Club. Our goal? Engaging the community in ways to reduce our county's carbon emissions to the lowest possible levels.
Can one person, one family, change the course of climate change in affordable ways? The answer is YES. There are ways that residents of Portland can reduce our impact on the Earth that are realistic and affordable. A few tips:
Change frequently used light bulbs in your home to compact fluorescents. The bulbs last 10 times longer than regular bulbs and use half the amount of power to give the same amount of light. Plus they are much more affordable because of increasing demand.
Wash your clothes in cold water. This cuts your washer's energy consumption up to 90 percent compared to washing with hot or warm.
Check your house for proper insulation. In Portland, many of our homes were built before many of us were born. Those houses typically weren't well-insulated. Proper insulation saves on heating costs. The County has a weatherization program that insulates homes, purchases other weatherization measures for homes as needed and provides one-time utility payments for low income households.
When you can, use Trimet. We are lucky here in Portland to have an admired public transportation system. We have MAX lines, buses and a downtown streetcar that make it easy to get to work, school and play. Check out www.trimet.org to see if it could work for you.
These are small things that add up to a big difference when it comes to climate change in Portland. Let's do it together.
Jeff Cogen is Multnomah County Commissioner for District 2, North and Northeast Portland.