On Saturday, local leaders, community members and activists attended the “Cottage Grove Climate Town Hall,” to discuss local, regional and national impacts of climate change. The event included speakers, information tables, and discussion sessions to brainstorm possible ways in which the City of Cottage Grove can reach the goal of being carbon neutral by the year 2030. 

The event featured presentations by Tao Orion of Resilience Permaculture Design, LLC, and author of Beyond the War on Invasive Species: A Permaculture Approach to Ecosystem Restoration and Mark Nystrom, Lane County’s Climate Strategist. They discussed topics such as the science of climate change, the impacts of climate change, and how to develop climate actions and policies to help communities adapt to rising temperatures and the growing threat of natural disaster. A portion of the day’s events were ‘‘breakout sessions” to brainstorm ideas to improve Cottage Grove’s carbon footprint and resilience efforts. 

The event was organized by Climate Action Cottage Grove, EcoGeneration, Elder’s Climate Action, Forest Web, and Sustainable Cottage Grove nearly two years ago, before the COVID pandemic. Rosie Foraker is at the helm of Climate Action Cottage Grove, and was instrumental in the coordination of the town hall. “I live here. And I really feel like the climate crisis is a global issue with local impacts, and so, it needs local solutions,” said Foraker. “We put this together almost three years ago now, based on the need for community involvement and collective action.” 

The City of Cottage Grove has begun putting together infrastructure to support a “carbon challenge” which will allow neighbors and community members to track their carbon footprint, and find new ways to reduce emissions. The interface will allow companies and individuals to challenge each other, hold each other accountable and work together to manage the City of Cottage Grove’s overall footprint. While the site is not yet live, plans are in the works to launch it by the end of the year. 

During the event, junior Elizabeth Kubler of Cottage Grove High School gave a heartfelt speech, calling for cross-generational work and continued effort to combat climate change. “My generation lives in fear, because it’s only going to get worse from here,” said Kubler. “But it’s really, really important that we don’t give in to that fear. Just seeing how many people showed up here today tells me that we’re still fighting. That just gives people hope, that should give us all hope.” 

Cottage Grove Public Works Director Faye Stewart updated community members on the “purple line” project, which is a new, innovative approach to dispersing treated wastewater. “We hope that by expanding the purple line we can expand the use of our treated wastewater,” said Stewart. “We’re hoping to be able to deploy this. It’s not going to be a quick changeover but it’s something that we’re going to do, so we can replace the current water that we’re using in the parks with treated water. It’s really just the right thing to do.” The plan includes running the purple line to Trailhead Park and Bohemia Park, allowing residents to tap into the line for personal use, and incentivising contractors to use the treated water in building projects. 

Tao Orion gave a detailed presentation on rising temperatures, rising sea levels, and local habitats. “I work all over the state and throughout the Pacific Northwest, and have been seeing the impacts of climate change on our environment and community firsthand,” said Orion. “There was the holiday farm fire in 2020, and fires throughout Oregon. I know we all remember the air quality being low for our area for a long time. And last year, the Cottage Grove lake was as low as I’ve ever seen.” 

Mark Nystrom, Lane County’s Climate Strategist, outlined Lane County’s Climate Action Plan - a multipronged approach to reach net zero carbon emissions within 18 years. The approved plan evaluates the most significant sources of emissions and develops actions to address those emissions. It serves as a roadmap for ways Lane County can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This plan follows high-impact practices (HIPs) that have been globally recognized to provide the largest, most cost effective reduction in GHG emissions. Input included a community engagement campaign, recommendations from Lane County’s Climate Advisory Committee, and meetings with stakeholder groups.

The strategies are organized into three categories, those related to transportation, those related to energy consumption, and those related to food, goods, and services. The 10 High Impact Practices strategies can mitigate nearly 71% of the county’s emissions by 2040 with existing technology levels, with the remaining 29% requiring new technological advancements.

The action plan, which is based on findings in the county’s 2020 greenhouse gas emissions inventory, outlines 10 strategies to help reach net zero emissions. The strategies with the biggest impacts are related to transportation and fuel.

The most impactful of the strategies – rapid adoption of electric vehicles and replacing fossil diesel fuel with more environmentally friendly fuels – “will require rapid scaling up of availability and adoption,” according to the report.

“Sixty-six percent of Lane County’s local emissions are associated with transportation,” Mark Nystrom said. “We have technology available to do it. The bad news is it’s going to cost money and take some time.”

The 10 strategies’ potential effects range from a reduction of nearly 15 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses from electrifying vehicles to about 400,000 metric tons from improving energy conservation efforts. Achieving either of the two transportation-related strategies would reduce total county emissions more than the eight others’ combined effects.

De-carbonizing the electrical grid is the county’s highest-impact non-transportation strategy outlined in the plan. At best, achieving that goal would eliminate 3.6 metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalents from total county emissions.

“The reason we have a high percentage of transportation emissions ... comes from the fact we have this remarkably clean electrical grid,” Nystrom said. “Anytime you use electricity, it’s relatively low carbon emissions already.”

The county’s authority to regulate the kinds of driving and purchasing behaviors necessary to achieve the strategies’ potential is limited, Nystrom said. He said encouraging utilities, mass transit partners and the public will be required.

“The infrastructure and the investments haven’t caught up to the demand yet,” Nystrom said.

Nystrom ended his presentation with a call-to-action: “We need to get away from the loaded language. Even if you don’t want to use the same words, we can agree that something is happening, and we still need to make a plan. This issue has become polarizing, when it doesn’t need to be.”